28 December 2022

Horse-racing coverage was in trouble, until this Canberra man came along

| James Coleman
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Gary Crispe

Gary Crispe, Executive Director at Racing and Sports, plans to ‘stay ahead of the game’. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Go back 20 years and you wouldn’t be reading this here. There’d be a broadsheet newspaper draped over your knee. And if you were interested in horse racing, you’d find the form guide in the sports insert.

It was Canberra’s Gary Crispe and his business partner Robert Vilkaitis who first noticed the growing problem with this in the early 1990s. The world was changing, and the traditional coverage of horse racing was quickly being left behind.

“I realised the days of print media were numbered,” Gary says.

“And the horse-racing industry seemed to lack interest in moving forward into the new era of the internet.”

Gary, together with his son Stephen, now head up Racing and Sports, a comprehensive website where all you could possibly want to know about horse racing meets the latest information technology. And in the past few years, the coverage has expanded from two countries (Australia and New Zealand) to 30, from analysing 107,943 horses to 1.5 million and, as a result, growing its database from 200 megabytes to 821 gigabytes.

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The idea is going global.

“In the last five to six years, we’ve grown very quickly with the explosion of online wagering operations and the need for quality content and data,” Gary says.

“We never thought we’d get the business to this position. It’s always been profitable, and we have very loyal staff. After all, racing is a way of life, it’s not a job. If you love racing, you’re in for the long haul.”

Gary grew up in Queensland, and studied civil engineering at the Queensland University of Technology. This landed him his first job, with the Brisbane City Council working on roads and bridges and other important infrastructure.

From there, he moved to civil aviation and worked as an airport inspector in Brisbane. While at the old Brisbane Airport, he expanded on his education by attending university again “four nights a week and every Saturday”.

“That was a long haul,” he says.

Gary and his son Stephen, now CEO of Racing and Sport. Photo: Rohan Thomson /The Photo Pitch.

He was promoted to engineer following the study and transferred to Canberra in 1979, but spent most of his time back in Brisbane assisting with the development of the new airport. Work in Sydney followed and it was then he realised he’d reached a crossroads in his career.

“I realised I’d have to do more study if I was to climb the rungs in the public service,” he says.

Accordingly, Gary applied for a scholarship with Harvard University and, after a lengthy application process, received the offer. But it was also then he received an offer to help build a new horse-racing business in Canberra.

“It was a hard decision, because I had worked so hard to get entrance into the Harvard scholarship and my wife and I had three young kids at the time, so there were a lot of practical issues to consider.”

But the racing in his blood won out.

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“Racing has always been in my family, and once it gets in your blood, it’s hard to get rid of.”

Gary’s uncle on his father’s side was a horse trainer in Queensland, while on his mother’s side, his great-great-grandfather won the first Grafton Cup.

“I guess it was inevitable someone in the family would end up in the racing game,” he says.

When Racing and Sports was established in 1999, the internet was still very much in its infancy. Robert provided the IT knowledge, while Gary used his vast experience to provide the data and analytics side.

“It’s been an interesting journey with lots of twists and turns along the way in the 20-odd years, but we’ve done a lot of things,” Gary says.

The free website draws on hundreds of millions of pieces of horse-racing data, form and ratings information – as well as detailed race records of more than 660,000 thoroughbred racehorses – from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, South Africa, UK, Ireland, France and Germany, with more to come.

Horse racing at Thoroughbred Park, Lyneham. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

This database allows for every individual run – in every race – to be thoroughly and efficiently analysed – and provides the foundation for Racing and Sports’ market-tested global handicap.

“We were first to market with a lot of things, including – most recently, the visualisation of the action at Flemington Racecourse during Melbourne Cup week.”

The plan now is to “stay ahead of the game”.

“We’re confident we still have a lot of tricks up our sleeve, and that’s important because as the demographic of horse racing changes, you have to recognise that and plan to do something about it, because you’re not going to be around for long if you can’t change.”

Visit Racing and Sports for more information.


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