Stadium guru Tony Partridge set to sex up the racing experience for ATC

Horseplay: the Ben Hur stadium spectacular at ANZ Stadium in 2010. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Horseplay: the Ben Hur stadium spectacular at ANZ Stadium in 2010. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Even without Charlton Heston, Ben Hur, unlike royalty, popstars and pontiffs, won't go around at Randwick like he did at ANZ Stadium. Mind you, the production pulled 55,000 over three nights but overheads created more havoc than reckless driving.

"It was an interesting learning curve, but not the most profitable event," said Tony Partridge, the executive general manager (sales and commercial) for the Australian Turf Club.

Partridge is the hope of the new team for Sydney racing, certainly in limbo since the merge of the Australian Jockey Club and Sydney Turf Club stalled during the building of the new Randwick grandstand.

When he joined ANZ in 2001, just nine events were on the calendar. "Now they regularly do 50 a year and 1.5 million people. In 2013 when I left they had, outside the Olympics, a record year, 1.6 million, and six sell-out events of 80,000-plus."

On Tuesday, in the sumptuous Randwick directors dining room, Partridge hosted a team of hacks and hackettes to promote the BMW Sydney carnival, but there was no mention of The Championships or horses coming from abroad. The lunch centred on the campaign of "It's Going To Get Racey" with advertising and videos centred on characters, including the Punter, the Glamazon, the Show Pony, the Turf Cutters, the Aristocrat and the Squillionaire.

For budgetary reasons, the video was produced in Uruguay and it shows. Max Whitby, the well-known owner, wasn't available for the Aristocrat role so they got a South American lookalike.

Perhaps some will be stimulated by the video's musical backing, Peaches, by the Stranglers. Worthwhile? Yes, but I'd keep it away from Nick Cave doing the Barossa Valley video screening at Paddington's Verona.

My prime beef fillet, cooked just right, regurgitated when Partridge mentioned, possibly misinterpreted, about a lack of passion from the assembled freeloaders concerning the turf.

"I want [you] people to remind people of the importance of the live experience," he said. "They'll never experience the same thrill unless they are at the course."

Thrillseekers should be appeased at Randwick on Saturday when Boban, outstanding and ready to make the next step, takes on Rain Affair in the 1200-metre Expressway. Boban has never won over the metric six but Chris Waller expertise hadn't come into play, while Rain Affair, Sydney's fastest sprinter, wasn't right in the coat nor action last campaign and a return to his best will make a great race.

The sprint sure looks good for the Punter, while the Show Pony and Rock Star can suit themselves, probably at the bar. But it takes all types to make a race crowd, and Partridge is working on it.

"Racing is years behind other sports in terms of digital and database management, the ability to tailor communications to racegoers to what they are interested in," he said. "The ticket system for example: the rugby league has a system where when you buy a ticket immediately goes into the database and they start communicating with you.

"Racing is where the sports were years ago, which means you can't communicate pre- and during the event. We are fixing that.

"Understanding the racegoer is a priority. I want to know why they are here: for the punt or drink or corporate entertaining.

"I don't want them all to get the same message. I don't want punters getting overwhelmed with fashions on the field. At the moment everyone is going into the same bucket. People interested in socialising are getting messages about the results of [barrier] trials."

By the dessert - with the beef comfortably settled with a good red - Partridge, on mineral water, mentioned the industry in the category of turning an ocean liner.

"I use the analogy of trying to create the PBL version," he said. "Like 30-minute breaks between races, that's a bigger ship to change because you need the involvement of the regulator and others."

However, racing holds an ace.

"I came from a venue promoters had to hire," he said. "The sport involved had its own commercial programs, sponsors and interests, as did ANZ.

"In racing you can let sponsors do anything. That's what marketing managers are looking for: not being told what they can and can't do."

The western Sydney contingent in attendance highlighted the the raw deal Rosehill gets from the ATC.

The former STC's enthusiasm is sadly lacking with the ATC besotted by the new Randwick structure that promises to test all but the Aristocrats and Squillionaires at the BMW carnival.

Randwick trainer John O'Shea figures Rosehill should have its own management team, impossible because of economic constraints, but Partridge, with his ANZ experience, knows the demographic.

Ben Hur, with Cassidy, Rawiller and Bowman in the chariots, would be more cost-effective and handle the environment at Rosehill, which once hosted hurdle events.

This story Stadium guru Tony Partridge set to sex up the racing experience for ATC first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.