I’d better start by emphasising that the spiel below does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Trainers & Drivers Assn., and it comes from the keyboard of some bloke who has never bred a horse, sold one at the Yearling Sales, or raced a two year old. Given my current financial situation the first two are unlikely to happen, and the third definitely won’t, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
I was reading an article by John Mooney, Chairman of the Breeders Assn. which bemoaned the fact that we had lost many of the ‘middle’ people, breeders, and owners. That’s a fair summation, as he says the top ones are doing okay, and the small hobby types are relatively happy also. Anyone who knows my punting habits will know that I am totally against backing two year olds. That isn’t going to cause the industry to go under I realise, but there are a number of reasons for the ‘policy’. I’m going to upset a whole raft of people by saying it, but I believe that two year old racing is responsible for a large slice of why we are in some trouble. There is now what I think is an obscene amount of money thrown at two year old racing, yet the rewards and benefits to the Industry as a whole are minimal to say the least.
It begins with the pressure on breeders who want to sell at the sales to put their mares to a handful of stallions that are renowned for leaving young horses. How many times have you heard the auctioneers say a horse is bound to ‘come early’ or make a two year-old. That, in turn, immediately places pressure on the trainer of the horse in question who, if he or she can’t get the horse to race as a youngster, can be perceived as having failed. On the other hand, if said trainer manages to get the horse to perform before its’ body is ready for such exertions, it may well be ruined for life and lost to the owner and the Industry.
Then there’s the recent argument that, instead of moaning about our leading stable winning everything, trainers should strive to measure up to them – more pressure to push horses into situations they are not ready for. I have huge admiration for the way the All Stars perform, however it pays to bear something in mind. A trainer who is trying to match them might buy 4 or 5 yearlings and get them up and running. Even if they are physically capable of matching the best of their year, if something goes wrong with some or all of them, that trainer is out of play. If something goes wrong with 4 or 5 of the All Stars youngsters, they’ve still got about another 40 odd to keep them busy, and at the forefront of the Group races!
I don’t have the figures to back up my argument, but I would guarantee that the betting figures on our major two year-old races bear no relation to the amount of money that they cost the Industry. In other words, while the majority of owners and trainers are crying out for higher stakes for the majority of horses, a very small number are reaping big rewards. Is that healthy for the Industry as a whole?
Here’s an idea. Why not scrap two year old racing and use the huge amounts saved to set up a rich series for older fillies and, in particular, mares, with some of the prize money being held in trust for when the owners of the place-getters (or even more) to cover stud fees for later breeding. That would hopefully serve to not only keep our better mares in the Country, but also encourage them to be bred from.
Intriguingly enough, the other day I was chatting to a long time breeder and sales vendor and thought I would wind him up by suggesting that we should scrap two year old racing. To my astonishment, he thought I made a good case, and tentatively agreed. Maybe I’m not the idiot I think I am!
It’s way too early to start judging the new points handicapping system, and that is what anyone who wants to have a moan to you should be told.
Just think of any rule or system change in any walk of life. Some people will think it’s wonderful, generally speaking the one’s that gain an advantage as a result. However you can guarantee that there will be some others who will swear black and blue that it’s a disaster, and it’s a pretty fair bet that they are personally disadvantaged. It’s called human nature, and we all have to live with it.
The announcement that HRNZ would allow purchasers of horses at the recent yearling sales would be allowed to change that horse’s name free of charge, was generally welcomed as a good idea, right?
I thought so, until I was chatting to a long time breeder and seller at those sales, who includes the same word in the names of all the horses he breeds, and is recognised as being the breeder of those horses by everyone in the game – and he’s had some good ones. He thinks the HRNZ initiative is a disaster, as those horses he has produced will be racing under names that are no-one will associate with him, in other words, his brand.
See, human nature!
The other day I heard a suggestion that young aspiring trainers should ring around the owners or breeders of all the horses that were passed in at the recent yearling sales, offering to train the horses for nothing, with a view to selling them later on a 50/50 basis.
My initial reaction was to applaud the idea as I’m all for trainers showing initiative and trying to promote themselves by whatever means. However, like a lot of things in life, once I thought it through and looked into the workings of the scheme, I became less and less enthusiastic. In fact, I now think the idea is an awful one!
So the young trainer in question, almost certainly paying rental or the owner of a sizeable mortgage takes on one, two, three or maybe more yearlings and trains them for six months. We’ll be conservative and just say the one and, also conservatively, that trainer is looking at about $800 - $1000 worth of training per month. Yes a lot of that is labour costs but if you want to do the job properly as you would, there are plenty of unavoidable costs involved as well – and the rent/mortgage still has to be paid. So six months down the track, and $5000-6000 later the horse (a) needs to go for a spell, (b) gets injured, or (c) worst of all, isn’t any good. Our plucky young trainer, keen to keep the contact of an owner or breeder says, “not to worry, I’ll train your horse for another six months for nothing.”
Hopefully by now, you’re starting to see the direction I’m going with this. The odds of that yearling being a saleable product six months after the yearling sale are frighteningly low and there is every possibility that, even if it has ability, no one would be willing to buy it for twelve months or probably more. In other words the trainer has provided more than $12000 or a lot more of free training for a horse that may be worth (and I strongly emphasise the word MAY) $30,000. That’s what he gets 50% of. I’m no mathematician but those don’t look very good numbers to me, and that’s only if the horse is worth decent money.
As one mature trainer who has sold many horses over the years said to me, if it was that easy, every trainer in the Country would be doing it!
So the moral of the story is that old standard, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’ Yes by all means get out and promote yourself to new owners, but don’t sell yourself short. You are a professional with skills, and how many tradesmen or professionals work for nothing until they get established?
Due to the length of various detailed discussions, the entire recent meeting of the Greater Canterbury Branch, presided over by Chairman Ken Barron, was taken up with HRNZ CEO Edward Rennell kindly giving his time to outline various aspects of the industry, and answer questions.
He began by advising that a proposal for the setting up of a training centre in Canterbury had been shelved. Investigations by HRNZ had revealed that the actual demand for such a facility was currently limited, with numerous spare boxes being available on other properties. The purchase of a property now to be developed later had been considered, however the outlay of such funds in the current climate on a non-essential project was not considered a viable option. The NZ Met. had been approached for financial support, but had declined.
Details of the introduction of the new Handicapping System in the South Island had been recently circulated, and public meetings would be held during February to educate trainers on the workings of the system prior to its’ introduction on 12 March. Edward urged everyone to attend these forums so that they were conversant with all aspects of the system, and could ask the presiding HRNZ staff any questions that they had. It was planned to have all South Island horse’s assessments available by 3 February, and trainers would be notified of the rating of all horses in their stable. He announced that former Auckland TC racing manager Kevin Smith was now employed by HRNZ to assist in the introduction, and day to day running of the new regime. This was considered essential so that the job was not reliant on just one individual, who could become unavailable due to leave and/or illness. The setting of the rating numbers would be done manually by the watching videos of all races by Andrew Morris and Kevin Smith, taking into account any discretion involved. They would also be involved in the setting of programmes nationwide, prior to them being submitted to Clubs. It was envisaged that the larger pool of horses in the South would mean closer rating bands when fields are drawn up, which would assist in having more fields of horses with similar ability. A meeting of the Handicapping Sub-Committee would be held shortly to consider some suggested minor changes, with discretion being a major issue to be discussed. Edward reported that the North Island trial had resulted in fewer hot favourites in races and better field sizes, although the introduction of appearance money may have also helped in this. Also, the number of horses racing twice against the same opposition would be reduced, despite some concessions being retained. Discussion continued on a number of points such as discretion, concessions and non-winners having a separate grade, the latter being well received.
On the subject of dates, Edward felt that the current season had seen a good balance of dates. The Racing Board had been doing work on an ‘Optimising Calendar’ but had found it a difficult task. The ideal would be to have Addington and Auckland race every Friday night, but this was not always possible. It was hoped to have more harness meetings on Saturdays in the near future. There were also difficulties around the congested Christmas dates, with efforts being made to change them around, so that only five new outside broadcast units need to be purchased by the Racing Board instead of the current six. There had been a proposal to change the Ashburton Boxing day fixture date, but as the results for that day were good, there was reluctance to change peoples’ habits for holiday racing. Next season presented difficulties due to there being two weeks between Kaikoura and Cup Week, which meant the normal Christmas at the Races schedules following Cup week were affected. There would be some dates dropped next season, mainly in the North Island. Responding to questions, Edward advised that every effort was being made to separate clashes with Premier meetings, and it was his preference that Premier meetings be stand alone. Also the lack of racing at Addington in January was queried, the reason apparently being due to staff being given time to take holidays. The latter was not well received by those present, and Edward was asked that this situation be rectified in the future. The meeting was told that the calendar was always changing, and was governed to a certain extent by whether Clubs could fill fields. Turnovers on Thursday nights had reduced, and were now generally below those recorded by Sunday meetings. Concern was expressed by trainers present at the extra costs of taking staff to the races on Sundays and public holidays, due to the recent tightening up of regulations surrounding pay rates and conditions. Edward acknowledged this problem, and said that Clubs were facing the same difficulties.
Current and future issues around funding were covered off by Edward, including the legal moves by the Greyhound code to change the method of distribution, the outcome of which was still being awaited. It was hoped that the Race Fields legislation could be introduced into Parliament prior to the Election to avoid further delays, and discussions were in progress over whether the TAB should invest in new equipment, or negotiate to use the hardware already in place in Australia, the latter option being the preference of HRNZ. Stakes for this season were up 6% on the last, exclusive of the appearance money being paid by some Clubs. Discussion ensued on the merits or otherwise of bonuses paid for horses turning up at the races, for starting so many times, or those paid to trainers and breeders. Mark Jones and Nigel McGrath dismissed them as being of no use to them in relation to the costs being faced by owners, and in the case of the breeder’s and trainer’s bonuses, unfair, as the majority of the cost for getting horse to the races were borne by the owner. However Edward advised that the payments were a useful vehicle for Clubs to attract bigger fields, and it appeared the strategy was working, at least in relation to smaller trainers and owners. He stressed that the $50 being paid to each starter by HRNZ was an experiment, and its’ worth would be evaluated at the end of the season.
With regards to Club amalgamation, Edward said that progress was being made, with a settlement surrounding Central Districts Clubs due soon. The Canterbury area remained a challenge, however he acknowledged that the Southland model was an excellent example of how such an arrangement could work, and aspects of that model would be used in negotiations with other Clubs.
Edward Rennell explained the timeline involved in introducing the change in the whip Rule, and told the meeting that it had been changed as a pre-emptive reaction to the imminent whip ban in Australia. While there had been no approaches from local animal welfare groups, the media had contacted HRNZ when the Australian ban was announced, and they were able to advise them of the local changes. HRNZ and the RIU remained opposed to any ban on whip use being introduced here. The majority of those at the meeting were supportive of the 10 strike criteria, however there was concern at the level of fines, the confusion over what constituted a strike, and the RIU apparently being given no discretion when charging. Edward admitted that some aspects of the introduction could have been handled better. He advised he had prepared a report on the matter for the Board. With that, Edward was thanked for his attendance and left.
Discussion then took place on the circumstances surrounding the T&D National Council support for the whip rule changes. Pete Cook explained that, as there had been no dissenting voices during the phone conference on the change, there had been no need for a vote on the matter. However it had not been mentioned that the matter was to go before the next HRNZ Board meeting. When it was raided and voted on, Trainers & Drivers Representative Rob Lawson advised that the Council supported the change, and voted accordingly. Since 1 December to the 22 January, there had been 40 charges laid, with 36 in the South Island and 6 in the North. Concern was expressed at the entry level of fines being handed out, and Pete Cook was asked to approach the JCA voicing disappointment at these, and requesting a review.
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