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National Council



National Council Meeting

Next Wednesday will see another bi-annual meeting of the Trainers & Drivers National Council.

There is a widely varying range of topics for discussion on the agenda, some of which are listed below:

An HRNZ Report from Rob Lawson, Whip Use, JCA Penalties RIU Investigators Rights, Junior Concessions – should they be nationwide, HRNZ Insurance scheme for expensive sulkies, the Points Rating Handicapping System, Open nominations, Media Releases, Clerks of the Course - Succession plan, the number of Clerks per meeting and who should employ them?, Unruly Horses, Scratching Penalties and a Rules Committee plan.

That will be followed up with general business, but I’d imagine that segment could be fairly minimal, given the above items.

Just a quick reminder to investigate Fast Track insurance at www.fasttrackinsurance.co.nz to obtain competitive insurance rates, and assist the game with a portion of your premium going to harness racing clubs.

Pete Cook

Northern Branch Annual General Meeting 2016

A pleasing turnout of 25 license-holders attended the recent Northern Branch AGM held at Pukekohe.

Chairman Todd MacFarlane read out his report to the meeting outlining the past year for the branch. He thanked the Committee for their input over the past year as regards attending meetings, & the efforts of National Council addressing matters regarding the branch. Many meetings were attended, one being the track managers meeting where himself & Rob Lawson spoke regarding grass tracks, pylon placement, crossings & safety procedures. The National Starters meeting was also attended with consensus that all starters want to get fields away cleanly & work hard on trying to do so. Todd recognised that the Auckland Trotting Club is making massive strides as regards its development, and he offered thanks to Kevin Smith for liaising & communicating on any matters regarding the Branch from this club.

The main change affecting members this season is the new handicapping system & while still in its early stages is showing positive signs. Betting figures & horse numbers show that with some further development this system will be beneficial for racing in the North.

The annual northern awards dinner was again a great success & thanks to the organising committee for a great job. This event is an important part of the year, and a great fundraiser for the kindred bodies.

Also of note this season for the Association was a negotiation in a driving fee rise. Although only small it was a move in the right direction and it is hoped this will continue to be so.

Todd concluded by thanking National President Rob Lawson, Vice presidents Logan Hollis & Jay Abernethy, and Secretary Dave Neal for their efforts throughout the past year. He stressed that the Branch Committee is always receptive to input from license-holders, and would hope that they are contacted by any concerns that may arise for our members.

Secretary Dave Neal read out his report to the meeting advising of a satisfactory operating profit for the past season. This was again bolstered considerably by the success of the awards dinner which continues to go ahead. He offered a big thank you to the ladies on the dinner committee for their efforts. Thank you also to the ATC for their continued support of our junior members at this event. Dave advised that the Branch had maintained its annual sponsorship commitments, and that there were other events coming up this year that could be discussed at Committee level for the Branch to support. He thanked the Committee members for their input, maintaining that Branch members should be very thankful for the tireless work of these people. Whether it be locally or at National level, the Branch is always well represented and in conjunction with our National Council and Secretary Peter Cook, the Association is in very good shape. The current Committee was re-elected for the coming season, consisting of Chairman – Todd MacFarlane, Vice Chairmen – Logan Hollis and Jay Abernethy, National Chairman/HRNZ representative – Rob Lawson, Secretary – Dave Neal, and Committee – Salesh Abernethy, Derek Balle, David Butcher, Ival Brownlee (amateur rep), Peter Ferguson, Bernie Hackett, Robert Lynch and Stephen Doody – Central Districts representative.

Matters discussed under General Business included the new handicapping system with Kevin Smith giving an overview of the system as it stands, the guidelines in place and the discretion that is used. He advised that where possible he has tried to let the system operate under its own steam, apart from standard points, but it is obvious that discretion has to be applied at certain stages. Points raised that will be reviewed by the Handicapping Sub-Committee included the length of drop back period – are horses dropping quick enough when not competitive? The option is there for any trainer to discuss this as regards their horse. There was consensus that there is more variance in the classes with this system, and more opportunity for a horse to be competitive as opposed to the old system of stricter classification. John Green asked for discussion as regards the open nomination system and that the Auckland TC has gone down this road as it is a critical part of the points system. The meeting agreed that this was paramount to the new system continuing to work and trainers would have to adjust to it. Kevin Smith advised that keeping rating bands close together was helpful and would help trainers to know they would end up in a competitive race . He advised that some horses were coming up from South and appeared to be rated too high initially but this could be remedied after their race performances. Overall, with the backing of positive betting figures & field sizes the new system was off to a good start. The meeting was advised of a further review at the end of November.

Rob Lawson advised that there was serious thought being given to Australia banning whips altogether. This would be based on a tiered system over several years starting with 2yo’s.There was strong pressure from animal welfare but mostly based on perception and often not checked as regards the actual horse after the race. It was thought that there would have to be a modification of use perhaps to help with this. The matter would be raised at next Committee meeting.

Salesh Abernethy raised concern over comments during a race by some commentators as to what may or may not have happened, sometimes making fairly serious judgements and offering “advice” as to the outcome. The meeting agreed that the Secretary be requested to contact M Twentyman requesting more discretion in this area.

Dave Neal/Pete Cook

Well served by Trackside

It’s fair to say that compared to the thoroughbred code, harness is a rather poor relation when it comes to magazine programme time, at least where air time is concerned.

However, with the addition of the new Standard Bred series, the lack of hours is compensated somewhat by the quality. I know this is a trainers’ website, but to see the first of the series devoted to young couples whose passion for our game is undeniable, must be a breath of fresh air to counteract the growing band of doomsayers who often seem to hog the headlines these days, and cast doubt in the minds of licence-holders and others who depend on harness racing for their livelihoods. No, things aren’t as good as they might be at present, but is that in the minds of those featured people on Standard Bred? Not on your life.

And isn’t it great to see one of the initial stalwarts of Trackside, Sheldon Murtha back in the limelight. I’m afraid the guys’ natural easy going manner contrasts starkly with some of his successors, who have so obviously sat in the same classrooms and come out as clones of their instructors.

While we’re in a good frame of mind, the first Box Seat of the season, albeit a few weeks too late (and I’ve heard and unsuccessfully argued with, the financial reasons why that is), looked to have a fresh outlook, with some sensible discussion, constructive criticism, more interviews with Industry players, and less tipping us into $1.30 favourites. Still a fraction too much argument over whether so and so should be paying $1.80 instead of $1.90, but definitely going in the right direction, in my humble opinion.

We don’t get a huge amount of coverage outside race broadcasts but at least we are getting entertaining, informative and even educational content. Long may it last.

Pete Cook

Junior Concessions

At the recent Greater Canterbury Branch AGM, Mark Jones suggested that the current concessions scheme for Junior Drivers that is programmed in the Auckland area, along with other parts of the Country where there are insufficient Juniors to fill specific races for the younger brigade, should be employed in the Canterbury area.

In other words, instead of, or as well as, having specific races for Junior Drivers only, a horse can be entered and start in a race of a lower grade than its’ current assessment, providing it is driven by a concession Junior Driver. Those present at the AGM thought the idea had merit and Mark has asked for opinions from anyone on the idea. Please feel free to respond through the website and I’ll pass on any reactions.

One response received to date came from a prominent trainer who felt that there was a more pressing problem, that of the young folk who come out of their time as Juniors and struggle. Some are supported by their families who are firmly established in the Industry, although some of these have bravely ‘flown the nest’ and gone to work for other trainers, albeit probably helped by their names and contacts.

It is the ones who don’t have such connections that can be cast adrift, consequently become disillusioned, and are often lost to the Industry. There are obviously exceptions to this scenario, with the likes of Sam Ottley, Robbie Close, Matt Anderson and Katie Cox wonderful examples of how it can be done, albeit often with the support of leading stables. Having said that, through a combination of hard work and talent they have proven themselves in a tough environment, and have earned their spots with their respective employers.

So what, if anything, can be done to help these young people maintain a foothold strong enough to keep them from seeking other easier and probably more lucrative employment? Anyone who has any bright ideas on sorting that one out is welcome to put their ideas forward.

Is there some way, for instance, to programme the odd race around them, similar to horses that are struggling in their grade. For example a C1 pace for drivers in their first year out of Junior ranks who haven’t driven more than five winners in that season. Thinking caps on please…we need as much young blood staying in the game as possible.

Pete Cook









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