Peter V'landys

published: 03 Nov 2015 in Movers and Shakers

PETER V’LANDYS is an achiever. The forthright administrator thrives on a challenge, with many a fruitful result. He achieved great success while running the NSW Harness Racing Club and his subsequent role as Chief Executive of Racing NSW has also been rewarding and at times headline making. 

Q: You migrated to Australia from the island of Kythera in Greece as a three year-old. Did your parents have any background or interest in racing?
A: “No there wasn’t any interest in racing at all from my parents. The interest actually came through my childhood best friend Wayne Pearce (not the footballer). He introduced me to Jim Porter who owned horses who were trained by Howard Wilson at Kembla Grange. Howard eventually relocated to the Gold Coast and passed away a few years ago.  “I was fascinated by the stories Jim would tell me and accordingly I became a punter at the age of 8! Being too young to place my own bets I persuaded a frequent TAB customer to put them on for me. I actually had a remarkable strike rate which, unfortunately, has since left me as an adult.”
Q: You grew up in the city of Wollongong didn’t you, and what sports did you play?
A: “That’s true. I attended Keira Boys High school, which was a public school for boys only, and then went to Wollongong University. I played rugby league for most of my youth and retired from the game at age 21. I was also a member of the Illawarra Blue Stars Athletic Club.”
Q: What was your first job? 
A: “My first job was at the age of eight. I worked at my uncle’s café, which was also a takeaway food outlet. We served the best hamburgers and milkshakes in Wollongong. I would work there on weekends and school holidays and we were extremely busy from breakfast until midnight.
  “I kept working at the café until I was 14, but I also did a milk run, which started at 2am, and worked in a petrol station as well. When I was 17 I worked as a furniture removalist. This was by far the hardest job I can remember, lifting fridges and pianos on straps in 40 degree heat up flights of stairs.” 
Q: Before you became Chief Executive of Racing NSW, you were Chief Executive of the NSW Harness Racing Club. I understand you were, at that time, the youngest CEO of a major metropolitan race club? What were some of the positive changes in NSW harness racing while you were in that role? 
A: “Yes I was the youngest CEO at the age of 27. Some of the biggest challenges were; turning a loss of $1.5m in the year before I commenced to recurring profits, representing harness racing in the TAB privatisation, procuring a very satisfactory outcome for harness racing, and procuring $25m to upgrade Harold Park from the then Racecourse Development Fund. There was also a reconstitution of the club to enable Harold Park raceway to operate poker machines. We were the first racecourse in Australia to operate the machines and by the time I left, the club had 220 poker machine licences.
  “The club won a World Harness Racing Award for best promotion for the 10 for 30 Promotion. The promotion attracted the 18-30 demographic with large crowds in attendance. There were also numerous awards for catering, especially in the 700-seat Miracle Mile Restaurant, which was famous for its seafood buffet. We also purchased a number of businesses including two newspapers, a laundry and a printing business to supplement the racing revenue.”
Q: You became CEO of Racing NSW in 2004, and in that time you have had major issues to deal with, such as the EI crisis. What are some of your biggest challenges and successes while in that role? 
A: “I started reviewing copyright in NSW racing information when I commenced as CEO in 2004. This was to ensure wagering operators who were profiting from NSW racing paid for the product. The revenue base for racing was under serious threat. This work ultimately led to Race Fields Legislation and it provided NSW racing with an additional $70m per annum in revenue.
 “After the EI crisis hit in mid-2007, I successfully helped to procure a $235m rescue package from the Federal Government for participants in the New South Wales and Queensland thoroughbred industries. This was for assistance for the two-month period when the racing industry was halted in those two states due to the outbreak of equine influenza.
  “Reducing Racing NSW cost structure provided an additional $51m in real terms to industry participants. In conjunction with John Messara and the board of Racing NSW, we procured parity with Victoria on the amount the NSW State Government takes of TAB gross wagering revenue. This will ultimately mean that the additional $70m is returned to the NSW racing industry each year.
  “I also negotiated the sale of the computer generated racing game ‘Trackside’ to Tabcorp for $150m to fund construction of the Randwick grandstand. Although I obtained the funding for the grandstand the design and construction was carried out by the ATC.”
Q: And what are your views of the Theatre of the Horse? 
A” “Personally I’m not a fan of the Theatre of the Horse as I feel it should be at the front. I think the stand is for the ‘higher end’ demographic and falls short when it comes to public facilities. Further, I was a big fan of the previous betting ring and believe it was a major mistake to take it away.”
Q: Over the years in both racing codes did you have any “favourite” horses? 
A: “In harness racing as a child I was absorbed by Paleface Adios. Whilst at Harold Park, I’d say the best horse I saw was Christian Cullen. When it comes to thoroughbred racing, as a child I loved Purple Patch. He was trained by Jack Denham and ridden by his son Allan. As a youngster I went to as many Golden Slippers as I could and fondly recall Toy Show and Luskin Star. I also had a soft spot for Saintly and Apache Cat.
  “I was fascinated in the Takeover Target and Joe Janiak journey and in more recent times I think the feats of Black Caviar speak for themself.”
Q: Were you at Randwick when Black Caviar came for her two T.J. Smith victories? 
A: “Yes I was fortunate enough to witness a number of Black Caviar’s races. She was the ‘Phar Lap’ of our generation as a personality horse. The great mare captured the imagination of the broader population as well as racing folk and her name will be spoken for many years to come.”
Q: The NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust is sponsored by Racing NSW, and is regarded as a model for other states to aspire to when it comes to rehabilitating and rehoming racehorses. Can you tell me a little about how it works? 
A: We have piloted a program in conjunction with NSW Corrective Services, whereby retired or unraced thoroughbreds are sent to St. Hilliers Corrective Centre where the prisoners take care of them. Whilst undertaking this process, not only is the horse rehabilitated, but also the prisoner. 
  “From the prison the horses are sent to Canterbury for final preparation. They are then sold for pleasure horses or for other equestrian purposes such as dressage, showjumping or eventing. Racing NSW is pleased to assist in meeting all the costs of the horses as they undergo the rehabilitation process.”
Q: Are there any important projects for the near future that Racing NSW will be focusing on?
A: “The major issues we at NSW Racing will be focusing on are welfare issues for the racehorse and working on attracting more of the 20-30 year old demographic to the races. We will be also using technology to its limit, hoping to continuously grow the industry revenue.”
Q: You are married to Philippa, I understand there is an interesting story concerning how you two met? 
A: “Philippa was a tenant in one of the houses the NSW Harness Racing Club owned while we were at Harold Park. She came up to complain that there were no locks on the windows of her house. Philippa was very forthright to say the least, and needless to say she gave me concussion at that first meeting!
  “We have three children, Katerina, who is five, Nicholas, four and Maddie, two. Although they aren’t into racing yet, they like to ride the rocking horse every day!”
Q: I guess you wouldn’t have any time for hobbies then? 
A: “No, between my work commitments and the three children, it doesn’t allow any time for hobbies.”
Q: Do you travel overseas to any race meetings? 
A: “Well I’m lucky enough to have travelled to many of the major racecourses around the world, and I still say that my favourite is Royal Randwick.”
Q: Do you have any advice for somebody who wants to be successful?
A: “I’d tell them success is 80% hard work and 20% luck. The 20% luck is useless without the 80% hard work. Also don’t be afraid to say what you’re thinking even if gets you into trouble!” n