by Adam Hamilton
Former Canadian administrator Greg Gangle has been pleasantly surprised by the quality of horses in Australia since moving Down Under with his family almost a year ago.
Gangle, 35, built a good reputation as assistant racing manager and then moved into the top job during a four-year stint at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in Canada.
The prospect of expanding his knowledge and experience, along with a family connection, lured him to move to the other end of the world for the next chapter of his career.
“We arrived across on June 5 last year and, such was the time, we went straight into quarantine for two weeks,” Gangle said.
He officially started his new gig as CEO of the Wagga Harness Racing Club, in the rich and historic harness heartland of NSW’s Riverina, on Sept. 5.
“I just wanted to advance and diversify my career and to continue to learn,” he said. “It certainly helped that my wife (Anna) is from Victoria (Australia), too.
“I’d had the four years at Western Fair and loved it, but it was the right time of life to try something new and different.”
Gangle’s timing was perfect to see two of the pacing “giants” of Down Under – King Of Swing and Ladies In Red — really strut their stuff.
King Of Swing finished his stellar career in a blaze of glory with a second Hunter Cup win and then unprecedented third Miracle Mile victory before being retired to stand at Cobbitty Equine, run by Belinda and Luke McCarthy, who trained the champion pacer for his glory days.
Meanwhile, Ladies In Red stamped herself as the greatest filly Down Under has seen for at least 20 years, finishing her 3-year-old season with 20 starts for 17 wins and three seconds.
“I did time my arrival well, didn’t I?” Gangle said, laughing. “Seriously though, I want to start with Ladies In Red first. She’s as good as anything I’ve seen. She’s out of this world.
“Even when she got beaten at Menangle last start, it was as good as a win. The fractions they ran with her back in the field made it impossible, but she still almost won.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if she smashed the boys in some big races this year, she’s that good.”
And that raises a point where Gangle thinks the U.S. does something much better than Down Under – catering for top-flight mares.
“It’s a problem down here. Look at Ladies In Red, she’s turned 4 and now she’ll have to take on the boys in so many big races because there just aren’t enough feature mares’ races,” he said.
“It’s so different in North America. Look back to what Shartin did and no doubt it’s the reason we’ve lost Amazing Dream from Australia to continue her career in North America… because there are so many more opportunities with big purses for her to race against her own sex.
“It’s something which urgently needs addressing in Australia, in my opinion.”
More broadly, Gangle thinks Australia needs to be increasingly mindful of the loss of horses to North America.
“We’re losing lots of horses and think the number will keep growing,” he said. “I know of trainers in North America who are basing their business model around importing horses from Down Under.
“It’s because they know the breed and quality of horses Down Under has improved so much over the past decade.
“I see that myself. The first time I came to Australia was eight or nine years ago. The quality and speed of the horses is night and day compared to back then.
“And so, the challenge is for Australia to look at its prize money structure and see if it can boost the free-for-all purses for a start. Take a horse like Ignatius for example, he’s gone to the U.S. simply because of lack of suitable opportunities down here.”
King Of Swing is one horse Gangle would love to have seen take on the best in North America.
“It was never going to happen because of his stud value, but I think he would’ve been up with anything in North America, especially if Luke McCarthy had taken him across and campaign the horse himself,” he said.
“As great a horse as he was, I was in awe of the way Luke and Belinda (McCarthy) managed the horse. They were able to peak him every time it mattered and were very structured in where they went and what races they aimed at.”
The King Of Swing package was amplified by the sheer presence and charisma of the horse himself.
“When I was back in my media days, about 15 years ago I was at the North American Cup and watched Somebeachsomewhere come back after the race and literally bow to the crowd. He knew he was a special horse,” Gangle said.
“King Of Swing was like that. I say they should build a statue of him at Menangle where he won the three Miracle Miles and I mean that because he was such a relaxed stallion and had such presence, he would stand there like a statue, facing the crowd, after his big wins.”
Having been a lot more exposed to trotting “back home,” Gangle also thinks trotters are still largely untapped in Australia.
“Victoria does a great job promoting the trotters and Menangle is starting to do it as well, but they can be so much more than that,” he said. “In NSW, I’d love to see them racing at places like Bathurst and down in the Riverina where I am as well. There’s a gap in the market.”
Some other comparative observations Gangle has made since moving Down Under include:
“It’s huge down here and that’s a great thing. Clerks of the Course and Track Attendants are not mandatory back home for the most part, so sometimes there won’t be anybody following the field if a horse gets loose,” Gangle said. “There are no Track Attendants in North America which is something they need to look at, especially to prevent a horse returning to the paddock for an equipment adjustment which delays the race. Also, to monitor the race and be first at the scene if there is an accident.”
DRIVER SUPERANNUATION/MATERNITY LEAVE:
“People back home won’t believe it when they read this. I’m based in NSW and HRNSW here pays the superannuation for all the drivers. Now that’s leadership for you. It’s amazing really,” Gangle said.
“Throw in the fact there is a paid maternity leave program in some states as well and that’s really impressive.”
FUNDING/COMPETITION BETWEEN TRACKS:
“The funding is so different. So many tracks back home rely on the money from slot machines, but you don’t get that here. Instead, you get a higher take of the wagering money from the TAB and Sky International (betting turnover),” Gangle said.
“There is a lot more competition between states down here, especially between NSW, Victoria and Queensland. I think that’s a good thing. It drives more innovation and change, which continues to move the industry forward.”
“That’s something which really stands out for me. Back home the rewards are for excellence with bonuses at the top end, but here it’s about looking after the little guy with bonuses for your first win which keeps everything even regardless if you’re a hobbyist or a full-time trainer,” Gangle said.
“It is a different model. In North America you have a commercial breeder and a trainer and not much in between, but here there are a lot more hobbyists and part-timers who are important back bones of the industry.”
In summary, Gangle is thrilled he made the move, loving the (much) better weather and said the hospitality has been incredible.
“Aussies remind me of Canadians so much. I think if you pulled people from all over the world and put them in a bar, you’d find the Aussies and Canadians drinking together in the same corner,” he said.
“I’m also starting to get my head around the lingo and the Aussie slang, too.”
And, fittingly, that’s how Gangle signed off when I thanked him for his time.
“No worries, mate. Too easy.”