A couple of the presentations at the recent HRNZ Annual Conference looked at ways that the Industry could be both sustained and improved, both in terms of humans and horses.
The first dealt with the recently formed HRNZ Youth Council, chaired by John Coulam, which is tasked with improving the lot of young people in the Industry, both those starting out, and when they make the transition from Junior Driver to the Open ranks. Already this body has, through funding from the Racing Board, organised subsidies on license fees for those under 30, and also arranged a generous gear allowance for when they reach milestones, such as trials and/or Junior drivers.
Enlisting help from a number of young industry people such as Andrew Fitzgerald and Stevie Golding, the Council is currently investigating a number of other initiatives, including an optional savings scheme, where money earned as a Junior Driver is put into a type of trust fund, similar to apprentice jockeys, that can be used to help establish themselves when they graduate to open ranks, or start training. If anyone out there has any bright ideas how this excellent initiative by HRNZ can be developed, don’t hesitate to talk to John or Trevor Beaton.
Another interesting presentation at the Conference came from breeders Chair John Mooney. Titled ‘Breeding and Utilisation’, it dealt with the reality of how what is happening right now, is going to effect the Industry in the future and how the situation can be improved. As he pointed out the impact of the number of foals born this season would be felt in 2021, and nothing can be done in the interim time to change that.
The calculations from the breeding model that have been carried out by his organisation, show that in any year the racing crop is 10 per cent, give or take half a per cent, of the total mares bred in the previous nine years.
Over the past fifteen years the breakdown of horses racing in any one season has been constant and is:
10% are 2YO’s, 32% are 3YO’s, 33% are 4YO’s, 22% are 5YO’s, 12% are 6YO’s, 7% are 7YO’s, 4% are 8YO’s, 2% are 9YO’s, and 1% are 10YO’s
John maintained that, while the export market of around 600 per year is a big factor in these figures, we do not need to breed huge numbers more, although that would help, we need to use what we have better. He produced figures to illustrate that, if the current percentage of around 9.5 starts per season of all our horses bred could be increased to around 10.5 in coming seasons, that would be enough to arrest the current risks of running out of horses to race.
He also expressed concern that in the figures they had come up with,
fillies and mares are under-represented, with 53% of colts & geldings getting to a race, compared with only 43% fillies and mares. He maintained that if the figure surrounding fillies and mares could rise to 50%, that would result in an additional 648 starters in a season, or about 6 race meetings. In conclusion, John felt that there wasn’t an
either or scenario, it would require a team effort and there needed to be a mix of:
Strategies to arrest decline and stabilise breeding, a change in behaviours and attitudes, incentives to win and race, increase number of starts per horse, increase fillies and mares opportunities, especially below top 10, programming, stakes, and Regional coordinated programming e.g. Southern Harness were planning to programme pacing mares race every fortnight.
Plenty of food for thought there.
It has been brought to the attention of the Association that some trainers, hopefully a small minority, have gear in their stables with various attachments, which may have been used in an attempt to ‘educate’ horses.
Far be it from me to support the ‘nanny PC state’ mentality that we are constantly having thrust in our face, but, while this practice might have been acceptable decades ago (although I shudder to think that it was), the Industry and those involved in it, have moved on considerably.
Should a trainer be found with this type of ‘modified equipment’ they will be liable under Rule 1001(1) which states:
Every person commits a serious racing offence within the meaning of these Rules, who, in New Zealand or in any other country:
(i) at any time uses or permits or causes to be used or attempts to use or to cause to be used on or in relation to any horse any electrical, mechanical or galvanic device, equipment, appliance or apparatus which may affect either at the time of use or attempted use or subsequently the speed, stamina, courage or conduct of such horse.
(ii) inflicts undue suffering by any other means
To be quite frank, particularly given recent happenings in Australia, the Association is disappointed that a notice of this type is necessary, but as a service to members and the Industry as a whole, such ‘old school’ practices have no place in harness racing in 2017.
You have been warned.
Happily, the mood at the 2017 HRNZ Conference was in stark contrast to that of the previous year, with a number of positives either under way, or being announced over the two days.
However, just before I give a short rundown of what happened, I’ve found out a bit more about the ‘Best Bets’ situation that I was ranting about a couple of weeks ago. Speaking to Racing Board Customer Services Chief, Gary Woodham, I received an assurance that in the near future the publication date for that form guide will revert to a Thursday, as opposed to the current Friday. A change in publisher meant that initially Thursday was not an option, but while it may not happen overnight, it will happen. As Gary said, “I want it on Thursday for myself.”
The Conference was opened by another address by our very own ‘energiser bunny’, AKA Racing Board CEO John Allen. Rather proud of being the only one in that position to last three HRNZ Conferences in recent times, (a pretty sad indictment of the quality that we have had to put up with), he once again, talked the talk, stressing that the positive news surrounding ‘Race Fields’ legislation and stake increases was only the beginning, and there was still much to work through and achieve, to get the racing industry not only back on its’ feet, but thriving. As I’ve said before, the difference between this guy and his predecessors, who were all good at talking, is that he does the walking bit as well. There is certainly no chance for grass to grow under his dancing feet!
His speech was followed by a question and answer session with some of the Racing Board Management team, and an address by RB Chair Glenda Hughes, who sang the praises of the current Board.
Harness Racing Australia Finance Manager Cameron Brown gave a short overview of the Industry across the ditch, admitting that the plan to ban the whip had failed miserably, and advising that there was serious consideration being given to introducing a points based handicapping system, similar to ours. Who says we copy the Aussies all the time?
The first day ended with a progress report from Southern Harness, suggesting that many good things are happening in that part of the World.
More next week.
For the past few years the Harness Racing New Zealand Annual Conference has been held on a Friday and Saturday early in the new season, with the Awards night being the climax on the Saturday night. However, this year that has all changed, with the Conference being on a Thursday and Friday, and the Awards night being held on the Thursday night.
Apparently the reason behind the change was the 50/50 chance of a Super Rugby Final being held on the Saturday night.
What a great move! Because of this, working people who are representing their Clubs have had to take an extra day off, and trainers and drivers and their staff, who would normally be able to enjoy a night out on the Saturday and have Sunday off, have to front up to work early on the Friday.
Why? Because there might be a game of rugby, with not even the national team involved, that could happen on the Saturday night and, heaven forbid, some addicts who may never have heard of MySky or its’ equivalent MUST watch the game live. Never mind that there is a glittering night of acknowledging our Industry leaders having to be shifted to a midweek night……I wonder if the Thoroughbred equivalent would be so shamefully treated?
Nothing short of a demeaning disgrace, and maybe an indication of where some peoples’ priorities lie.
Way back in the mists of time, the TAB’s Michael Dore presented a very persuasive presentation to the HRNZ Conference, convincing those present that Thursday night harness racing was the way of the future.
Things went okay for a while until the novelty wore off, and now both of the two major Clubs, NZ Met and Auckland, try and avoid Thursday nights like the plague. Turnovers on that night are sliding, but we are stuck with it as one of the three basic time slots for our code.
It would be nice to think that the Racing Board would be trying their best to encourage turnovers to head in an upward direction, so it’s pretty disappointing to find that their new look ‘Best Bets’ is now being circulated on a Friday instead of the Thursday that it has been for many years.
For harness racing that move has a two-fold negative effect. Firstly it robs punters of any form guide for Thursday night racing, as if it needed such a kick in the guts. Not only that, but when the TAB bookmakers kindly put up the fixed odds for Friday night racing, punters have no form guide with which to assist in making their selections.
While the new look publication is a quality product, it seems quite clear that the producers are more focussed on better coverage of Australian gallops, than worrying about Thursday night harness followers. That tends to go against their often claimed priority to local racing.
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