The Australian Turf Club has made the extraordinary decision to close its membership, meaning new applicants will have to go on a waiting list like they now do for the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It is the first major play from new chief executive Jamie Barkley, who joined the ATC last October after 17 years at the helm of the SCG Trust.
The ATC will announce on Tuesday morning that patrons have until January 31 to become a new member before introducing a waiting list from February 1. Existing members will still be able to renew their membership ahead of the autumn carnival.
While it is clearly a move from Barkley to make membership of the ATC more prestigious, he does so at a time when Sydney racing is on the up.
ATC membership last year hit a five-year high with about 15,000 members. The SCG has roughly 18,000 members and aspiring members can wait years before they are accepted.
Much of the ATC's success can be attributed to the rise and rise of glamour mare Winx and The Everest meeting, which attracted a record crowd of more than 40,000 at Royal Randwick last October despite miserable weather and the Opera House controversy.
“The waitlist for new ATC Member applications will help add to the prestige and value of annual ATC Membership as well as limit numbers to make some major raceday experiences more comfortable,” Barkley said.
“The changes are part of a full review by the ATC of all member facilities which will include … premium seating, toilets, and specialty food and beverage options at all venues.”
Barkley said membership was the best way to ensure entry on the key race days this year, including the Golden Slipper (March 23), Winxs likely last appearance in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on day two of The Championships (April 13), The Everest (October 19) and the newly created Golden Eagle, a $7.5 million race for four-year-olds at Rosehill Gardens on November 2.
“Sydney racing is the hottest ticket in town and locking in a membership with the ATC provides a premium experience in world-class facilities,” Barkley said.
“After January 31, anyone wishing to become a new member will be placed on a waiting list and may miss their chance for the best seats in the house. We will continue to review waiting lists before accepting new members to ensure existing members have a comfortable raceday spectator experience.
The Everest was targeted at a younger demographic and that's been reflected in the ATC's membership. In the last 18 months, 55 per cent of membership sales went to those under 35. In other words, its membership age is decreasing.
Barkley told the Herald last week that he intends to continue target the younger generation but making spaces at Sydney's four tracks relevant to them. He did something similar when the Bradman-Noble Stand was built at the SCG, installing a craft beer brewery.
“We have the opportunity with young people saying, I want to be part of that,” Barkley said. “We have never invited everyone to be at the track and thats what we want to do.
“We have spaces for everyone. Days and experiences for everyone. A day at Randwick or Rosehill should be a social experience but at its core is racing.
“We are in a great space where people want to reconnect with racing. Sydney racing is the hottest ticket in town at the moment. I dont think, right now, in Australia there is another sporting event that dominates the marketplace like The Everest. We want that to flow on to the Golden Slipper and the autumn carnival, that is one of the challenges.”
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.