Mestrov’s Million Dollar Baby

FOR Greyhound Racing NSW CEO Tony Mestrov, Saturday night’s finale to the Ladbrokes Million Dollar Chase Series at Wentworth Park means a lot more to the industry than just the life-changing $1 million to-the-winner purse that comes with it.

Adam Dobbin

18 October 2018

FOR Greyhound Racing NSW CEO Tony Mestrov, Saturday night’s finale to the Ladbrokes Million Dollar Chase Series at Wentworth Park means a lot more to the industry than just the life-changing $1 million to-the-winner purse that comes with it.

It’s also a celebration. A celebration that an industry that was well and truly on its knees midway through 2016, underfunded and in many ways heading down a rudderless path, has turned itself around almost immeasurably, to the point it stands on the cusp of a bright and viable future for its legion of stakeholders.

And now 11 months into his role as GRNSW CEO – a position that hasn’t come without its share of critics and naysayers – Mestrov caught up with the Recorder this week to discuss the success of the Million Dollar Chase concept, attributing much of that success to major sponsor Ladbrokes and their unwavering support of the NSW greyhound industry.

“I’ve gone on the record at a lot of the regional finals to say that Ladbrokes is a huge supporter of the NSW greyhound industry and that partnership is acknowledged by all of our stakeholders – they stuck with us through the tough times and they are a much valued corporate partner,” said Mestrov.

“When the Million Dollar Chase concept began to really gain momentum Ladbrokes was the perfect fit to be involved. They wanted to be involved in the world’s richest greyhound event – given their relationship with the industry – and it tied in perfectly with the tracks they sponsor across New South Wales as well.

“At the end of the day our industry is primarily a regional one – that’s our heartland – and Ladbrokes’ affiliations and sponsorships allow the clubs to grow their income base, which can only be a positive for the future of racing in those areas.”

Pouring millions of dollars into NSW greyhound racing annually, be it sponsoring the Coonamble Long weekend Carnival, the Richmond Riches Puppy Auction, the countless Ladbrokes Monthly Medal events, or the pinnacle – this weekend’s Million Dollar Chase – Ladbrokes’ support of the industry is immense and more importantly, far-reaching.

“The thing that resonates most with Ladbrokes and in particular my dealings with their CEO Jason Scott is the passion they have for greyhound racing and their clear desire for the industry to succeed and prosper into the future,” added Mestrov.

“Greyhound racing is their fastest growing wagering product, increasing organically all the time, but the passion runs deeper than just that and we are currently discussing with them ideas around some other great initiatives as well.”

Incredibly, over $1.5 million in prizemoney will be distributed at Wentworth Park this Saturday night on a champagne card of greyhound racing, not bad for an industry that had been handed its last rites midway through 2016.

And having overseen considerable change in his 11 months at the helm of GRNSW, Mestrov said the industry showcasing itself on the big stage this weekend, as it continues to claw back community confidence, was integral to the sport’s continued resurgence.

“One of the key reasons for staging the Million Dollar Chase was to make a statement to the broader community that we are very serious about animal welfare, but also to lift the profile of the industry and demonstrate to people that we are here to stay – and we are achieving that,” added Mestrov.

“This Friday we are releasing our Strategic Plan and we are on the verge of a number of commercial strategies and initiatives which will grow industry confidence, ensuring there is a strong and sustainable future for our participants.”

With monies generated from the Million Dollar Chase going to GRNSW’s Greyhounds As Pets, plans are well underway to lift the profile of the rehoming program, a key pillar to the sport’s future.

“Everything we do will revolve around animal welfare and our Greyhounds As Pets program, as we’ve seen with the contributions from the Million Dollar Chase,” said Mestrov.

“The welfare of the animal will underpin our future and increasing brand awareness for our rehoming programs – which we’ve achieved through the mainstream media this series has generated.

“We’re not too far away from announcing an international known ambassador for Greyhounds As Pets and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to build a culture around rehoming we can be really proud of.”

Whilst the Million Dollar Chase this Saturday night is the main act, the support program bats long and deep.

The time-honoured Sydney Cup, first won way back in 1963 by Wally’s Best, and by the great Zoom Top five years later in 1968, will be staged over the 720m journey, where the race favourite is John Finn’s outstanding chaser Poco Dorado.

And whilst the Sydney Cup carries a long and decorated 55-year history, in stark contrast, the Ladbrokes Masters Meteor (520m) will be staged for the very first time, carrying a cool $100,000 to-the-winner for our veteran gallopers, where the favourite is Evelyn Harris’s Gosford Cup winner Cosmic Bonus from box one.

With the action on the track sure to be competitive, the work around promoting the event off the track to a broad new audience has been equally fierce, with a bumper crowd expected to pack in to the iconic Glebe venue at the weekend on the back of a relentless marketing campaign.

“The weather isn’t being kind but we are hopeful of a very strong crowd to witness the first running of the Million Dollar Chase – it’s a great field and of course I’m hoping a NSW trained dog wins it – I think the NSW trainers undersold themselves a bit through the series,” said Mestrov.

“It’s our first year and you have to start somewhere but whatever success we enjoy Saturday night we’ll be sure to build on that for next year. The marketing around the event has been strong and that positivity and awareness is only good for the industry.”