Open letter- An update from HRSA’s CEO Dean Elliott

HRSA's CEO Dean Elliott

I’m writing to you as the newly appointed CEO of HRSA, which officially came into effect this week on Monday May 2.

During my interim period, a list of high priority matters have been identified. The list below, in no particular order, require full attention from HRSA:

  • Horse and participant population
  • Wagering outcomes
  • Prizemoney levels
  • Integrity
  • Key stakeholder relations (government, clubs, committees, participants, wagering partners, sky channel, etc)
  • Facilities
  • Ratings system & programming
  • Welfare (equine and human)
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Governance
  • Clear communications


I’ve been advised via BOTRA that some of our participants would like a status update and summary here. Please see below, as requested. Apologies for the length of the email, I’ve attempted to keep it as concise as possible:

Horse and participant population

The SA horse population is declining by an average of 7.5% per year in recent times. The flow-on affects mean there is no greater issue in our industry currently.

A horse population is primarily determined by 1) the local breeding program, and 2) recruiting horses from interstate via various channels including tried horse purchases and public auction. Given a) our local and national foal crop numbers are in decline, b) the current national rating system is now more conducive for horses in the larger states to remain racing there, and c) a redistribution of prizemoney in SA, we find ourselves with a population concern.

The HRSA board is currently working on a strategic plan, with assistance from executive level. On this subject, I’ve presented potential solutions that range from conservative to high risk/high reward. As we know, this is not an area that can be fixed in a matter of weeks and will require ongoing effort on numerous levels.

Furthermore, the average age of our participants continues to rise, meaning it’s crucial we continue to encourage the next generation to the industry. Clear and accessible pathways into SA harness racing are a must moving forward.  

The HRSA strategic plan will be published online and distributed to key stakeholders in due course.  

Wagering outcomes and prize money levels

These two matters are intertwined. To increase prizemoney levels on a sustainable basis, an increase in wagering revenue is required. There are many elements involved in achieving this, including but not limited to: Sky 1 coverage, full and competitive fields, horse population, programming, ratings system, integrity, access to detailed/accurate form, visibility to our current/potential audiences, in-depth wagering analysis, relationships with wagering providers, government relations (POC tax rebate), SA market share, and favourable macroeconomic conditions.

We must capitalise on wagering to ensure maximum prize money levels can be achieved in the future. This is an ongoing process.


HRSA is recruiting for additional support to our Stewards’ department, which is currently under-resourced. The subject of Integrity also includes an expectation that all individuals associated with harness racing act with honesty, within the rules, and without personal agenda of a sinister nature. There will be some movement on this front in due course.


Key stakeholder relations (government, clubs, committees, participants, wagering partners, etc)

Government: HRSA has a meeting set for Wednesday May 11 with the Minister for Racing, Hon. Katrine Hildyard, where several matters will be tabled. This is an opportunity for a clean slate relationship, with HRSA currently well-positioned to showcase harness racing in an optimistic light. Government support is critical to our future growth.

Clubs: A strong emphasis and much effort has been placed in this area, and I would like to thank all our clubs for their hard work. It was fantastic to see a number of club committee members present at the SA Cup function last Saturday in the SAHRC committee room. Without unity among clubs and the peak body, there will simply be no additional support from the government.

Participants: A busy schedule doesn’t allow me to attend all race meetings, however an effort is made to be on course at least one per week. I currently take meetings between races in the BOTRA room on a Monday (or equivalent) at Globe Derby. As always, feel free to make a time to visit, as these meetings are much welcomed.

Ongoing consultation and open communication will continue to be a key feature from my office, and I would like to arrange an industry information session (presentation with a Q&A format) for participants within the next 8 weeks. Stay tuned for further details.  

I would also like to add that my staff, in particular the Racing Office are on hand to help with any queries and feedback. The vast majority act with courtesy and cooperation, which is much appreciated. What won’t be tolerated on these phone calls is behaviour that’s deemed unacceptable to the HRSA code of conduct. This includes conduct which is offensive, belittling, or abusive, and language that is improper or foul.

In what has been a testing landscape for our participants in recent times, I would like to make a point of your resilience, passion and approach shown towards your craft. It has been a pleasure forming these relationships, and I look forward to building on this in the future and producing the best possible outcomes for you.

Wagering partners: I’m in weekly contact with our big 3 wagering partners (TAB, Sportsbet, Entain) which make up more than 80% of our wagering revenue. Data analysis, wagering agreements and operations are the three major topics of ongoing discussion.  


Currently, the most realistic way to improve and upgrade our facilities is via government support/funding.

Ratings system & programming

After an extensive consultation period and survey, HRSA received approx. 6,500 words of feedback from participants, which has been collated and noted.

On March 28 David Thuen attended a Rating Review Team (RRT) meeting with his fellow Racing Operation Managers at HRNSW headquarters. If you would like a summary of notes from this meeting, please email me, and I’ll reply within 48 hours.

A RRT meeting with all state CEOs will be held online by HRA on May 17 to discuss potential changes to the national rating system. HRSA will also be considering local rule amendments. More to follow here.

Welfare (equine and human)

After several meetings with the new look Welfare & Integrity Committee, in addition to correspondence with government, and representatives from other states & codes, HRSA is progressing with its equine welfare plan. This will be released in coordination with the strategic plan. More to follow.

Data-driven decision making

One of the committees I’m attached to is the RISE Steering Committee (in addition to the IAC, Finance Committee, and Integrity & Welfare). RISE is the technology service provider to the Australian Harness Racing Industry. The next RISE Steering Committee meeting is May 26, with one key item on the agenda being an upgrade of technology. RISE is a valuable tool that continues to provide insights on SA Harness Racing that can assist decision making for topics such as horse population, ratings system, wagering outcomes, etc.


 Good governance starts at Board level, and we’re fortunate to have a Chair who specialises in this area. Much work is being done behind the scenes to ensure HRSA reaches the highest possible standards of governance. If harness racing is a house, then governance is the foundation of that building.

Clear communications

Strong and visible communications are a vital aspect to any industry or organisation that contains competition and gambling, in addition to being an effective method to provide clarity over matters in which there are various theories, narratives and grey area. Recently, there has been an increase in the visibility of integrity matters, which shall continue.  

Furthermore, a new look website that will maximise promotion, education, and information is a much-needed tool, and one that I’m eager to launch asap.

If you’ve reached this far in the email, I’d like to congratulate you! Looking forward to catching up at the HRSA Horse Of The Year Dinner on Friday May 20th at The Mawson Lakes Hotel.

Best wishes


Dean Elliott