In 1995 Aushorse was launched by its then Chairman Brian
Agnew, at an industry function at the Champagne Bar at Flemington Racecourse. The Federal
Small Business Minister at the time, Chris Schact, gave a speech in which he predicted the
volume of thoroughbred sales to Asian markets would grow to $420 million in the next 5
Aushorse's mission was to capture a significant slice of
this market and provide a springboard for a raft of supporting services, ranging from
racecourse design to training in horsemanship, to be sold to the Asian market. The body
had a range of other ambitions, among them development of a code of ethics, fostering
veterinary research, quality assurance and even marketing Australian thoroughbreds for
equestrian pursuits such as showjumping.
To support all of this, a "politically correct"
Board was appointed with representatives of the sales companies, Australian Trainers
Association, Federation of Bloodstock Agents, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, Commercial
Thoroughbred Breeders Association and Austrade.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Aushorse's high ambitions and
diverse Board members' priorities, combined with a limited budget, have led to the
position where it was unable to achieve all of its objectives. A rethink on Aushorse's
composition and mission has led to the announcement this week of a new slimmed down
organisation composed entirely of commercial breeders.
Plans for the "new" Aushorse were put in
place earlier this year and explained to the larger commercial breeders at meetings held
in Sydney during the Easter sales. According to Aushorse Chairman, John Messara, a new
Board was recruited and put in place at a meeting in May where a number of Aushorse
The new directors, Messara from Arrowfield, Anthony
Thompson from Widden, Duncan Grimley from Coolmore, John Kelly (Newhaven), Mark Pilkington
(Collingrove) and Ron Gilbert (Highgrove) represent a cross section of Australia's most
Messara said "our aim is to represent the larger
commercial breeder. The annual membership fee for Aushorse is $500 which effectively locks
out the smaller breeder". He went on to say "we have invited the top 150 farms
to become members and they represent the bulk of the 4-5000 commercial broodmares".
The funding base for Aushorse will be derived from
membership fees from these members, together with an annual fee of $5000 for each stallion
standing at members' studs. These funds with be supported by funding from both the major
sales companies, William Inglis and Magic Millions.
Director Mark Pilkington, brings a much needed Victorian
(and he joked a South and Western Australian) view to the Aushorse boardroom by virtue of
his industry experience as a bloodstock agent and working for Lindsay Park. As a major
buyer of horses for Asian interests, he sees the marketing problem for the Australian
industry from both sides of the fence.
Pilkington was quite blunt in stating that "the new
Aushorse is the industry's last throw of the dice to create a truly representative body to
promote the interests of commercial breeders both at a national and international
level". He went on to say that "historically Aushorse had been seen by breeders
as being a vehicle to promote the interests of the New South Wales breeders and the new
organisation needed to break down that perception".
Prominent breeders are guarded in their response to the new
initiative. While Messara claims that Aushorse has been responsible for a large increase
in interest from overseas buyers, notably from South Africa and Asia, other breeders claim
that much of the interest has been fostered by individuals using personal contacts and
business relationships rather than from any industry initiative such as Aushorse.
Whatever its achievements, to date Aushorse has suffered
from an exceedingly low profile, to the point where few people in the racing industry have
any idea that it exists. Messara admitted that "the organisation has slowed down a
bit in past 18 months".
One aspect of the "new" Aushorse which is
different from its initial objectives is the aim of targetting increased sales to the
Australian domestic market by adopting plans to promote racehorse ownership to business
owners and professionals in growing sectors of the economy such as computers and
Messara suggested that " in the US there has been an
industry strategy of finding people who have had business success and getting them
involved in racehorse ownership". He was critical of the fact that this was not
happening in Australia. "We want to 'grow the pie' so we can sell to people who are
not currently part of the horse industry", he said.
Pilkington expanded on this theme by stating he would
"like to see Aushorse adopt a code of ethics banning the giving of secret
commissions". This is the process whereby a prospective owner gives a buying order to
a trainer or an agent who bids on the horse and splits the excess over an agreed price
with the vendor. In Pilkington's view, nothing diminishes buyer confidence more than the
realisation that they have been conned.
Pilkington wants Aushorse to adopt a national approach to
marketing the Australian thoroughbred similar to the successful strategy employed by
Thoroughbred Marketing New Zealand. He said that Aushorse should also provide industry
leadership on issues such as the taxation treatment of bloodstock and aspects of the GST
such as those affecting horses which are sold to overseas buyers but remain in Australia
for breaking-in and pre-training.
Both Messara and Pilkington were at pains to point out that
they didn't see Aushorse as being a competitor to the various state based TBA's. Messara
said "We see the TBA as being better able to represent the interests of the smaller
breeder although there are many initiatives we can take through Aushorse which will
benefit all breeders".
Pilkington mentioned subjects such as sales company
commissions, a standard policy for pre-sale X-rays and a rewrite of sale entry terms and
conditions as areas where the greater commercial bargaining power of Aushorse could
produce changes of benefit to all breeders.
The TBA's were seen by Aushorse as essentially state based
organisations and unable to represent the commercial breeders as a national body.
Discussions were taking place however, which could lead to Aushorse representatives being
on the board of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia.
With only one full time staff member, former racing
journalist Bronwyn Farr, as secretary, Aushorse looks to have a lot of ground to cover
with few resources. However if it can get some scores on the board within the next few
months, Messara's vision may yet be realised and the Australian breeding industry will
have an effective presence in the global marketplace.