A turnout of around 90, certainly the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at a horseman’s meeting (and I’ve been to one or two), showed up to give their opinions, and learn the background to what was going on in the Industry.
For about an hour before the HRNZ officials arrived discussion centred around whip use, Clerks of the Course, forms of stakes payments, and the points handicapping system. Those present were advised that changes to the whip rules (including the dropping of that word that has many other sinister connotations ‘whip’) were being devised by Gordon Lee of the Association National Council to be presented to the RIU for consideration, and it was planned for HRNZ and the RIU to make an instructional video. There were also changes to the fines structure for this offence in the pipeline. Work was also being done on changes to the way Clerks of the Course were trained and employed.
The meeting voted strongly against the current 2% out of total stakes being paid to all starters, while retaining the payment for driving fees. It was considered that more money should be paid to place-getters and that there was too little difference between pay-outs to placed horses and those who ran last. This was later conveyed to the HRNZ representatives, and a suggestion was made that a questionnaire be sent to all owners on the subject.
A four point submission from the National Council that had already gone to HRNZ was read to the meeting (see details in last week’s update) and was later discussed in detail with Edward Rennell, Ken Spicer and Andrew Morris from HRNZ. It would go forward to the Handicapping Sub Committee, which included horsemen and officials from around the Country. It should be stressed that any decisions to come out of that are not, as some perceived, the decisions of the Handicapper who was not part of that Committee.
Other issues covered with the HRNZ reps included imminent stakes increases due to the Racing Board extra funding, plans to bulk fund some major Clubs similar to the Southland model, caps on two and three year-old ratings, and programming. It was revealed that programmes had been done by HRNZ since March, and were submitted to Clubs for approval so they could allocate stakes accordingly. This appeared to be working well.
Statistics were distributed showing that since the nationwide introduction of the points handicapping system, there had been fewer short priced favourites, winning dividends were up, as were field sizes. Unfortunately turnovers had remained static, which was in line or better than those of the other codes.
Overall it would be fair to say that the meeting did not achieve a great deal, partly because the submission requesting changes had already been formulated and sent to HRNZ, however it did provide an opportunity for those present to hear various opinions and ideas, and also to learn facts about how the Industry works instead of rumours and hearsay. Time will tell how many of the opinions will result in change but while it is difficult for some to recognise the fact, good or bad, the Industry operates under a democratic system governed by the Racing Act, and one person’s ideas may not be those of others in decision making positions.
The meeting turnout indicates that there is deep concern at what is happening to Harness Racing and there are some ‘blame games’ going on. However, take it from an old stager, the ‘us and them’ mentality has been tried more than once and failed miserably. Working together is the best and only way forward for survival.
The meeting began with Chairman Rob Lawson outlining a number of changes to Rules and Regulations that were either already in force, or about to be introduced. These included the changes to the scratching penalties, basically eliminating the need for veterinary certificates, the notification time for horse movements reduced from 14 days to 7, and a reduction in the allowable level of cobalt from 200 to 100mcg. The meeting felt strongly that the RIU should publish cobalt levels of horses in a similar way to TC02 so that trainers were aware if they were approaching dangerous levels and take action.
Other issues discussed in general were Clerks of the Course (there were on-going negotiations concerning the employment and training of these officials), the financial positions of some Clubs, RIU visiting rights, nomination/acceptance fees for Group races, Sires Stakes dates, and the future of yearling sales.
The meeting welcomed the recently announced pay-out from the Racing Board in anticipation of income from the Race Fields legislation. As a result, HRNZ planned to extend the current $1500 bonus to first time winners through to the end of next season, but the $50 bonus to all starters was to cease at the end of this season. Those present did not support the current trend of paying all starters apart from driving fees and, after discussion decided to submit a proposal that a standard percentage payout be adopted nationwide for all races. The ratio being: Winner– 57%, second – 15%, third – 10%, fourth - 5%, and fifth - 3%.
Concern was expressed at the current ceiling of $2000 on payments for damaged sulkies from the Sulky Fund, as the majority of the newer models were worth far more to replace. A suggestion that HRNZ should seek independent insurance and pay the premiums from the Sulky Fund was supported, and this idea would be forwarded to HRNZ for consideration.
There was detailed discussion on various aspects of the new points handicapping system. It was acknowledged that it was working well for maiden horses, however there were some perceived anomalies in other areas. Following a report from an informal meeting of Canterbury trainers, and consideration of other suggestions, it was decided to place a submission before the next Handicapping Sub-Committee requesting the following: 1) That all winners be awarded the same points so that trainers knew exactly where they were immediately after a race, in other words a ‘black and white’ system. 2) That no points be allocated to horses placed 2nd to 5th (it was considered that these horses showed that they were in their correct grade and shouldn’t be penalised), 3) That discretion should be used only for downward movement after unplaced runs, and 4) That no winner should be given more than 10 points other than in Group races.
A proposal from the Amateur Drivers Assn. regarding amalgamation with Graduation drivers was discussed but rejected at this time. However the meeting agreed that Advanced Amateur Drivers should be permitted to drive at official trials without having to have a Trials license.
Following a recent incident, concern was expressed at the lack of first aid experience by crash crews, who were normally the first on the scene of an accident, and efforts were to be made to rectify this situation.
There was overall disappointment at turnouts to Branch meetings in the North and Canterbury, and ideas to improve the profile of the Association and participation in Committees were discussed.
Footnote: Next Tuesday evening 23 May, the Greater Canterbury Branch is staging an ‘informative’ meeting in the Christian Cullen Lounge at Addington to discuss all aspects of the Points Handicapping System. The meeting will commence at 6pm sharp, with HRNZ officials joining in at 7pm. This is your opportunity to express your views through official channels.
Due to a number of meetings and associated issues, updating the website has become a little difficult lately, but from now on we should be back on track.
Last Tuesday saw a bi-annual meeting of the Association National Council and there will be a full report on that, next week.
However prior to the meeting itself, RIU Chief Steward (Harness Racing) Nick Ydgren came along to discuss matters of mutual interest. He began by announcing that penalties for excessive use of the whip would shortly be altered. Gordon Lee led a discussion on whip use, including suggesting a name change from the words ‘whip’ and ‘excessive’, the striking of dust sheets as opposed to the sulky, alternatives to the current whip, and the use of the whip prior to the 400m mark. Gordon agreed to work on changing the wording of the regulations to make them clearer, and Nick spoke of plans by the RIU to make a video to illustrate the standard that was required. All agreed that the standard of whip use and the overall ‘look’ of racing in the straight had improved markedly under the new regulations. Other matters covered included the option for connections of horses affected by interference and/or relegation to apply for financial compensation wherever the horse finishes, the use of third parties as witnesses in hearings, a preference for increasing fines as opposed to mandatory suspensions, and concern at Trackside focussing on drivers in the straight driving their horse out. There was general consensus that due to the lower levels of fines being given for interference, that they were an insufficient deterrent which was resulting in a current situation where safety is being compromised, and while there was reluctance for the Association to promote heavier fines, this may be the best way to combat this behaviour.
'Apologies - no update this week due to unforeseen circumstances.'
Tuesday 9 May sees a meeting of the Trainers & Drivers National Council in Christchurch with a few important topics to be discussed. Included in the agenda are the Points Handicapping System, whip use, Sires Stakes scheduling, and Yearling Sales.
If anyone has a topic that they wish to be tabled at the meeting, please contact me before Friday 5 May.
Just a footnote to my comments on the proposal to programme two year old races from January, and run them with four starters. A couple of Clubs had a go at doing just that this weekend. No it isn’t early January, it’s nearly May and all they attracted were fields of 5 and 4 respectively. Both would have been a financial debacle for the Clubs (i.e. the Industry), and of no value whatsoever to anyone except the few people who own the horses.
It’s rather ironic that the gentleman who made the ludicrous suggestion regularly claims that standing starts are bad for the game, because they dissuade the possible involvement of the big galloping punters. You can only wonder what they made of the two year old event at Addington where four of the five inexperienced horses that lined up had a gallop at some stage of the race. A good advertisement for our code?
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