Top end of town: new ATC chief Jamie Barkley on Winx, the Everest and remaking racing
The Australian Turf Club’s new chief executive officer talks race crowds, lessons learned from The Everest and the joy that is Winx
Jamie, you have recently moved from being chief executive officer of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust to the Australian Turf Club. What, in your view, are the main challenges facing racing in this day and age?
Like all mainstream sports, racing needs to attract a younger audience that attends more often. It is why an event such as The Everest at Royal Randwick is so important. The average age of about 80 per cent of ticket purchasers to The Everest last year was under 35, so we are on the right track. Sydney racing at the moment has a great window of opportunity with world-class racing in some of the very best facilities our city has to offer. The opportunity is to make the race-day experience appealing and enjoyable to everyone including our members in a city where there is so much to do.
How do you propose to go about growing racetrack attendance? Is it big race days such as The Everest or is there work that can be done at a grassroots level to get young people more into the sport?
It’s both. The Everest has created interest and headlines around the world. Its concept and status as the richest race in Australia has appealed to a new market. But we are also building other events at each of our four racecourses. At Rosehill Gardens we have not only the Longines Golden Slipper in autumn but now a new race, the $7.5 million Golden Eagle in spring, which will become Australia’s second-richest race. We are bringing bigger name acts such as Jimmy Barnes to Longines Golden Slipper Day to add value and entertainment to the race-day experience. At Canterbury Park, our night-racing season through summer coupled with food markets and free family entertainment has attracted record crowds, up some 400 per cent in the past two years. At Warwick Farm, we have worked hard with our partners Inglis to bring feature racing and similar family attractions to a new race meeting in February which attracted a record crowd.
Racing weathered a bit of a storm around The Everest last year. What lessons did you take out of that?
That at times, any publicity can be good publicity! The people voted with their feet at The Everest and we had a modern-day Royal Randwick record crowd of 40,512 attend the race day.
Racing is changing and the ATC is at the forefront with The Everest and now the Golden Eagle in spring. How do you balance innovation versus tradition?
One of the first things we have done since I started was to close membership of the Australian Turf Club and introduce a waiting list for new members. This recognises the prestige of being a member and rewards our most passionate and loyal members with a premium experience. I want people on the other side of the fence to look into Members Reserve spaces and aspire to be there one day. Tradition will always be important but it won’t hold us back from trying new things and continuing to make a day at the races a social and exciting experience with family and friends. All of our members have specific needs and we aim to exceed those expectations, from a 30-year stalwart to the under 35s, women and families.
What’s a big surprise for everyone this autumn?
It’s not so much the surprise but the chance to witness live Australian sporting immortality in Winx. She now only has one more run left for people to witness her live — Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day at Royal Randwick on April 13. This will be a day in the future when people can say “I was there to see Winx’s last races’’. She is the best horse in the world in 2018 and some say better than Phar Lap. We urge you to get out to the track.
How important is it for the country to have a champion racehorse like Winx that we all can love?
Winx has actually changed the lives of ordinary Australians. Chris Waller and the owners are asked on a daily basis by people if they can just visit Winx, especially people of all ages who are suffering from poor health or even disabilities. Winx inspires them. She will be remembered for decades to come. The Australian Turf Club has three of the top 10-rated races in the world. Winx, the highest-rated horse, will have her final two runs in two of those races, right here on Sydney’s doorstep.
Are there similarities between managing the SCG Trust and the ATC? Both are incredible Australian institutions. How do you go about continuing to foster love and respect for those institutions?
I have been very fortunate to lead both of these significant institutions in this great city, and I enjoy the success and excitement that they bring to people’s lives — not only in Sydney but in all of Australia. It is a great opportunity for the people of NSW to share their passion for sport and racing staged at venues such as the SCG and Royal Randwick. We should always remember the history and traditions that make them so special while celebrating the special moments that will be remembered in the future. How lucky we are to have that here in Sydney?