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That Time Again

Cup week, and specifically the New Zealand Cup, always brings out a bit of controversy, and providing it’s not too negative, the publicity surrounding it, can only help to promote and create interest in the great race.

Apart from the usual setbacks and below par performances that some of the runners have suffered in the lead up, the biggest gripe this year seems to be that there is one horse in particular that shouldn’t be there, and due to circumstances, has resulted in one of the favourites being (apparently) drawn badly.

Personally I struggle with the idea that the draw can make any difference in a standing start 3200 metre event. Over the years, any draw can be lucky or unlucky, I recall Blossom Lady galloping away from what was supposed to be the ideal number one, and that’s just one instance of many.

One journalist has been particularly outspoken on this issue, and I’m not going to say he’s wrong, but to criticise the Club for putting the horse in just because it affects the barrier draw of another horse is a little hypocritical. Would he still be ranting if that horse that ‘shouldn’t be there’ had drawn one on the second row…I doubt it. Most owners have a dream that they will never realise, and that is to have a runner in the New Zealand Cup. I wonder if that same journalist will be making the same noise if a horse he owns reaches a similar status, and is then denied a start by the Club?

Anyway, let’s bring on the biggest day/week of the year, and let’s forget that there is a screaming hot favourite. Do the Australians get bored with Winx just because she is paying nothing on the tote….doesn’t look like it. He’s the best we’ve got, so let’s revel in the magic when/if he wins the big race. If he doesn’t, we’ll have another super horse in our midst.

It’s the fiftieth Cup Day I’ve attended in a row, which is great in some ways, but makes me feel a bit ancient! Good fortune to all involved and have a great week.

Pete Cook

The Magic of Kaikoura

I know you’ve heard it all before, but harness racing really doesn’t get much better than a fine day at the South Bay racecourse. Congratulations must go the Club officials who have worked tirelessly to ensure that, despite the horrendous happenings of a year ago, this year’s event went ahead, including the building of some excellent new boxes.

Last year, the two day concept was launched with a successful outcome and judging by the crowd and given that many Marlborough residents found it too difficult to get there, it seems that the experiment will be a permanent fixture on the calendar. No, the track doesn’t suit all horses, but nevertheless the field sizes held up well and there were some excellent finishes. Having been given the privilege of being permitted to drive there this year, my pre-race research revealed that, despite the tight track, horses can win from any draw, even over the 1900 metre sprint, and so it proved.

I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to the trip up and back, and it was heart-breaking to see the massive damage that has befallen that beautiful coastal road. However, the massive repair work is progressing as quickly as possible. An interesting side-line to the drive through the road-works, was the workers on the side of the road, who had obviously been asked to wave to all passing vehicles and, to a man (and lady) seemed happy to comply. By the end of the day, I felt a bit like Her Majesty the Queen, feeling obliged to acknowledge their greeting with the ‘royal wave’ as we sailed past!

Hopefully next year things will be back to some normality, and this highlight on the harness racing calendar can continue to thrive.

Pete Cook

National Council Meeting October 2017

Chair Rob Lawson presided over a recent meeting of the Trainers & Drivers National Council, attended by Jay Abernethy, Ken Barron, Jamie Gameson, Gordon Lee, and Todd Macfarlane. Unfortunately Nathan Williamson was unable to be present.

Matters of discussion following on from the last meeting not on the agenda, included attempts to have cobalt levels publicised being resisted by the RIU, the possibility of Clerks of the Course and other race-day officials being employed by the RIU, potentially improving their overall competency overall, and on-going negotiations with Fast Track Insurance to take over sulky insurance, with funds from the Sulky Fund covering the premiums.

Rob reported on a recent audit of HRNZ to gauge efficiency among staff etc. The results were generally positive, however it recommended some alteration to the structure which would be formalised in the coming months. It had been decided that repairs to the current HRNZ building may be too expensive, and an alternative site nearby was being investigated on a lease/buy arrangement. The bulk funding of Clubs was proving to be a success, with Cambridge, for example, performing much better, due to one bad meeting result not being as detrimental as previous.

Rob advised that the Racing Board wanted more venues with permanent fixtures used more often, to reduce costs of transporting staff and providing better facilities for the public. He outlined a proposal for a new multi code racing complex in the Waikato area, and also advised that the Manawatu Club could be considering moving their track out of the town precinct. There was general discussion concerning other venues around the Country including Dunedin, Timaru, Nelson, Blenheim and the West Coast. While the last three’s meetings during the holiday period were iconic and should be preserved, there were doubts about the viability of their other dates. Gordon questioned the wisdom of the decision to move the Racing Board staff from Southland to Dunedin.

Gordon and Rob outlined aspects of new Rules regarding whip use to be introduced shortly. Future charges will be called ‘in breach of the whip regulations’ and a video was being made to illustrate what was, and was not, acceptable. The word ‘continuous’ was a contentious issue.

Ken and Rob led discussion over proposed changes to the points System that were to be raised at the upcoming Handicapping Sub Committee meeting. The two major proposals were that discretion should only apply to horses rated over 80 and below 50 to ensure clarity in the system, and the removal of points for horses finishing 2nd and 3rd. The latter would prevent anomalies such as horses moving every start so they may not remain in the same grade, moving up a grade at a two day meeting due to a placing on the first day, and placed horses behind one driven by a concession junior driver receiving a penalty. Other issues discussed included the disparity between penalties given to winners of different stakes, and Clubs programming races based on other criteria than ratings.

Those present agreed strongly with Rob that it was time for a big push to be made for the establishment of a Canterbury Racing Bureau. Jamie advised that he had been involved in meetings to set this up in 3 stages, and progress was being made. All agreed that such a bureau was long overdue and would give better service to the Industry.

Reports were delivered on happenings in the various Branches, with Gordon advising that workouts and trials in the Southland region would be videoed in the future, a regular newsletter was being produced by Southland Harness Racing, and a new Nuggets Series had been launched with a $12k final every four weeks. He also felt that the rating bands were working well in the region. Ken expressed concern at a lack of participation at Branch meetings, but spoke of the new Addington CEO P.Jensen making a good impression when he attended the recent AGM. Todd reported the controversy over days for the Pukekohe workouts seems to have been overcome, advised that he, D.Balle and B.Purdon had been co-opted onto the Auckland TC Programming Committee, and a $10 driving fee was being introduced at workouts. Rob questioned the GST content of this and advised caution. It was hoped that this payment could be incorporated into the HRNZ system.

While it was up to Clubs how they paid out their stake money, the meeting felt that HRNZ should regulate that a percentage should always be paid to the winner, as it was this horse who earned a penalty. It was decided that this minimum should be set at 56% of the total stake, and that opinions on this be sought from Clubs etc. prior to the National Council’s May meeting, with a view to putting up a Remit to the HRNZ Conference.

Discussion ensued as to whether the Association should pursue the matter of nomination fees for Group 2 & 3 races, the remit proposing the abolition of such payments having been defeated at the recent HRNZ Conference. It was decided to obtain the opinion of various parties before deciding. Rob outlined how the stakes for some of these races were made up, with often minimal financial input from the Clubs involved.

Ken expressed dismay at the Auckland TC policy of programming races for $17,500 which was marginally higher than the M1 threshold in Australia but not high enough to make it worthwhile to win. He cited the example of the NZ Metropolitan TC who, if a stake was to be higher than $14,999, made it $20k. Apparently the Auckland club advised they didn’t care about this issue, as they wanted horses to stay in NZ, however this was proving a dis-incentive for Canterbury horses to travel up, which are normally much needed for their major meetings to be successful.

Todd was supported in expressing concern at the standard of driving skills being shown by some inexperienced young drivers, particularly in the North, citing their performance during a recent accident. He advised that, along with others, he was working on the appointment of a driving mentor in the North, who would advise, review and analyse the performance of young drivers. This was considered essential to improving the standard, given that the new ITO courses did almost nothing to teach their pupils the basics of driving. Jamie also reported that this concept was being pursued in the South. Ken suggested that there seemed to be a spate of drivers taking hold abruptly, not only Juniors, when they failed to get the lead. Discussion around the abandonment of races ensued, with the general feeling that the system was working satisfactorily. However there was concern at unauthorised people being on the track in the aftermath of an accident, risking action being taken against the Directors in the event of a mishap. Also the use of drugs and, in particular, thresholds for Juniors, was discussed.

Cup Week Bowls

If you’re looking for something to do while in Christchurch for Cup Week, whether you live there, or are visiting, we’ve been advised of a bowling tournament being staged at the Burnside Bowling Club on Sunday 12 November.

The Club (recently awarded Canterbury Sports Club of the Year 2016 and Bowls NZ Club of the year 2016/17) has created a Bowls Tournament for the Racing Industry (all three codes) to coincide with Cup Week 2017 here in Christchurch.

The Te Akau Racing Cup Week Triples Tournament will be held at the Burnside Bowling Club on that date.

It is their belief that many visiting Trainers (particularly) would welcome the opportunity for a roll up and/or to have somewhere to go on the Sunday, between working and feeding out their horses etc, and they would be very welcome at Burnside.

Any enquiries to Barry Bunting on 021 895 063 or barry.bunting@burnsidebowlingclub.com  - click here for PDF of flyer

Check in next week for a report on the recent Trainers & Drivers’ national Council meeting.

Pete Cook







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