A lobby group set up by powerful thoroughbred figures to campaign against the sale of Rosehill has said it ‘mistrusts’ the Australian Turf Club’s board and executive’s intentions and will pursue all avenues in its bid to preserve the future of the western Sydney racecourse.

A Save Rosehill lobby group says the process surrounding the proposed sale of the racecourse disenfranchises Australian Turf Club members. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

The Save Rosehill group has the support of figures such as trainers Gai Waterhouse, Chris Waller, John O’Shea and Anthony Cummings,  former ATC board members Julia Ritchie and Matt McGrath as well as prominent owner and breeder Debbie Kepitis.

Top of the group’s agenda is a campaign to ensure that no decision on the future of Rosehill is made without the consent of a majority of members, with group spokesman Jason Abrahams, confirming via a statement it was considering a range of options to ensure this was the case.

“In our view, this whole process contemplates disenfranchising ATC members and threatens the future of premier racing in Greater Western Sydney, because there is no viable alternative to Rosehill Racecourse in the foreseeable future,” Abrahams said.

“All options presented so far are significantly flawed and highly unlikely to be implemented.  Metropolitan Sydney racing cannot survive with only one Group One quality track, that being Randwick.” 

“We intend to vigorously pursue all avenues to hold the board of the ATC accountable to the members.”

The “all avenues” aspect could possibly encompass an attempt to spill the elected members of the ATC board in order to pursue their agenda.

The ATC board comprises seven directors, four of which are elected by the members.

Abrahams said the decision over the future of Rosehill rested with the members, and not the executive, the board, or indeed the state government.

“This is about preserving a racecourse that is vital to not only western Sydney but the wider racing community and equally about defending our right as members to decide Rosehill’s fate,” he said.

“As members of the ATC, we demand full voting rights on the future of Rosehill. This process should not be taken over by politicians or unelected racing officials.”

ATC chairman Peter McGauran has insisted that the Rosehill decision will go to a member vote.

However, as The Straight revealed in April, the NSW Cabinet Office received advice in November that the Rosehill proposal would only need to be approved by the board.

Racing NSW lobbied government on Rosehill proposal ahead of public announcement
Peter V’landys met with representatives of the NSW government to express his support for the sale of Rosehill while raising concerns about the Australian Turf Club’s board structure weeks before the contentious proposal was announced.

Despite McGauran’s assurances, Abrahams said the Save Rosehill group, which was launched in March and is building support among powerbrokers in the NSW thoroughbred industry, did not have trust in the current process.   

“A recent letter to members by the ATC Chairman, saying members will be consulted on any sale, has not assuaged our mistrust in the ATC Board and the senior executives involved in negotiations,” he said.

“The revelations in the NSW parliament and the fact that the assessment of the Rosehill sale proposal has been handed over to Racing NSW to manage have also caused us great concern.”

The issues surrounding the Rosehill sale, which have received substantial coverage in The Straight over the past six months, hit the mainstream headlines again on Monday with a front page story in the Sydney Morning Herald on the Save Rosehill group.  

Peter McGauran
Australian Turf Club chairman Peter McGauran (left) insists members will vote on the future of Rosehill. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images) (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

That public scrutiny is likely to continue after the NSW Upper House recently voted to establish a Select Committee inquiry into the Rosehill process.

The Straight understands that the nine members of that Committee, which will be chaired by Shadow Minister for Planning Scott Farlow, are expected to meet this week and set out a precise timeframe for the inquiry, which is likely to involve three days of hearings.

The inquiry's scope includes the nature of the unsolicited proposal, the involvement of the NSW government prior to the proposal being put forward, the proposal's role in meeting state housing targets, and the impacts of both the Sydney Metro and parkland in Western Sydney.

It will also consider the impact on the racing industry in NSW and the impact on animal welfare and any integrity concerns associated with the proposal which relate to animal welfare.

Inquiry could delay Rosehill plans but ATC ‘happy to cooperate’
The Australian Turf Club has said it will fully cooperate with a parliamentary inquiry into its proposed sale of Rosehill, which threatens to push back the timeline of the $5 billion proposal.

It has the power to call witnesses, which could include ATC chairman Peter McGauran, members of the ATC executive and Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys.

It could also call Premier Chris Minns, who has the option of participating in the inquiry or not. Minns’ close relationship with ATC executive Steve McMahon is likely to be highly scrutinised.

In our view, this whole process contemplates disenfranchising ATC members and threatens the future of premier racing in Greater Western Sydney, because there is no viable alternative to Rosehill Racecourse in the foreseeable future” - Save Rosehill spokesman Jason Abrahams

The ATC has said it will be “only too happy to cooperate with the Parliament”.

Abrahams, the chief executive and founder of syndicator Champion Thoroughbreds, said the ATC had failed to show necessary transparency through the Rosehill process to date and he was looking forward to the findings of the Select Committee inquiry.

“There has been a lack of transparency about how a proposal to sell off the Rosehill Racecourse has come about and legitimate fears persist that proponents of the sale will pursue options to sell-off the land without allowing ATC members to vote on a proposal,” he said,

“So, we very much welcome the Upper House inquiry into this matter.”