Bernard Saundry

published: 03 Sep 2015 in Movers and Shakers

THE CEO of Racing Victoria, Bernard Saundry has had a passion for racing that began when he was a teenager. Trips to Moonee Valley races with his parents, who were avid racegoers, gave him the opportunity to see some of our racing greats.

   Watching Dulcify win the 1979 Cox Plate, Kingston Town win three Cox Plates and Manikato with his five William Reid Stakes victories were some truly memorable moments. Jockeys such as Harry White and the late Roy Higgins were much admired. Gradually, Saundry would venture to the races by himself and at age 17 the Moonee Valley racetrack soon also became his workplace.
  “I was working in admin for the Moonee Valley Racing Club and also had a part-time job working in admin for the harness club when they still had their meetings there. I spent 14 years at the Moonee Valley Racing Club and then nine years as CEO of Harness Racing Victoria.”

Q: You then moved on to become the CEO of the Western Bulldogs AFL team?

A: “Yes. At the end of my tenure at Harness Racing Victoria the opportunity was there to take on the role of CEO at the Western Bulldogs Football Club. I was in this position for just over 12 months.”

Q: Were you a Bulldogs supporter at the time?

A: “No. Actually I was a Bombers (Essendon) supporter, but I soon became a Bulldogs supporter and have been with them ever since. I was nearly forced into it really I suppose, you couldn’t walk into a room of Bulldogs supporters and say you had gone for the Bombers. I wouldn’t have got out of there alive!”

Q: Did you play football or any other sport when you were in school?

A: “I attended school at St Bernard’s College, West Essendon and played for St Bernard’s Old Collegians Football and Cricket Clubs. I played football from Under 15s right through until the age of 31. Slowly, but I was still playing.”

Q: Have you ever been a racehorse owner?

A: “Back in the 1980s I was part-owner of one, but since I have been at Racing Victoria, well I’ve been in, I don’t want to call it, a ‘self-imposed ban’ but one day I would love to own again and breed, because I really love the sport.”

Q: Racing is obviously a very big part of your life, what other things do you enjoy?

A: “My first priority is my family. I have a wife Samantha, or Sam, and we have been married 26 years. We have three children, Claire who is 24, Alexandra is 23 and our son James is 19. They enjoy going to the races when they can, but do have their own careers they are busy pursuing. I also play a bit of tennis and golf and love getting down to the beach.”

Q: I’m sure you would have attended some overseas race meetings, what racecourses have you been to?

A: “I was very fortunate that while I was at the Moonee Valley Racing Club I was able to spend three months working at the York racecourse in the UK when I was in my early 20s. When I was 28, I had the opportunity to go on a racing trip where I attended race meetings in the US, the UK and Hong Kong. Since I’ve been in my role as CEO at Racing Victoria, I have also been to the Hong Kong International race meeting, and last year I attended Ascot.” 

Q: How would you say our product here compares to racing around the globe?

A: “I think we are very fortunate here, and in Victoria in particular, to have a funding model that can sustain racing 10 times a week. It’s a product people like to wager on, and we are very fortunate to have 55,000 owners who have a passion for thoroughbred racing. You don’t see that size of ownership base in other parts of the world.
  “In the broader country and regional centres we rely on a lot of volunteer labour, it’s the heart and soul of thoroughbred racing. We’ve got the metropolitan clubs who manage the meetings professionally at all levels, and there’s a healthy competition between them all too.”

Q: You have had a desire to bring racing to a greater audience, how have you implemented this?

A: “One of our key strategies has been to recognise the digital platforms and products that are playing a big role for the future. We have advanced our media strategy so that Victorian racing can be seen anywhere, anytime, on any platform. That’s why we have gone down the path of the joint venture with Channel 7, licensing our vision to wagering operators, building and importantly, protecting the existing market with Sky Channel. We are now able to complete our objective, which we started off the back of the sensation of TVN.”

Q: What has been the feedback with what you have done so far with these strategies?

A: “I think it’s terrific that people who haven’t got Foxtel can see Victorian racing, and it will be seen, or be available, to 98% of the Australian population. Now when you are talking that scenario, you are talking of it being available to north of 20 million people. It certainly is a massive step forward and it’s an opportunity racing clearly has to take its product to more people. We can expose owning and breeding, and to show what a wonderful industry we have, to a broader group. More eyeballs! Our message is pretty simple, we want more people engaged in thoroughbred racing, whether that’s going to the races, owning horses, breeding horses, or working in the industry.”

Q: Victorian racing was not on Sky Racing TV for seven weeks from mid-June. How are you feeling now that this dispute has been resolved?

A: “We said throughout our media rights negotiations that we wanted Victorian racing to continue to be shown on Sky Racing’s wall-to-wall channels in homes, pubs and clubs, and we were naturally pleased to reach commercial agreement with Tabcorp for this to occur over the next five years. It was unfortunate for punters and participants that there was a period where our races weren’t broadcast on Sky Racing, but pleasingly our turnover was comparable year-on-year during this period as punters migrated to other broadcast options. With the Sky Racing broadcast on pay TV, the Seven Network broadcast free-to-air TV, and a number of digital broadcast agreements with wagering operators, people can now choose to watch Victorian racing whenever, wherever, and however they choose.”

Q: Do you have any plans for the near future that you would like to see happen?

A: “The launch and on-going development of our new free-to-air channel will continue to be a focus throughout coming months as we enter a very exciting period with the Spring Racing Carnival and the running of our marquee races. Beyond that we’ll be rolling out the final year of our current strategic plan, where we’ll continue to focus on investments in infrastructure, integrity, our clubs and our participants, and embark on the development of our next long-term project.”

Q: Do you have any advice you could give to somebody who was hoping to become successful in the racing industry?

A: “I’m a great believer in learning by asking questions, being patient and learning from others who are successful. Also being a good listener is something I would consider important. All of these I believe will build resilience in the long term.
  “From my perspective, anything you do in your working life, you can’t get it done without working with people, and through people. You can’t be a ‘one man band,’ you need a good team around you to drive the development of any business; and that certainly can be said for thoroughbred racing here in Victoria.
  “I’m very proud of the people who work here at Racing Victoria who represent the industry and work to develop it. We are very fortunate to have not only good people who work for Racing Victoria, but owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and stable hands who are very passionate about caring for their horses. They are also working to develop the sport and entertainment of racing.”