Next Tuesday night, HRNZ CEO Edward Rennell has kindly offered to attend our Branch meeting to discuss dates, plans re resourcing, handicapping, Race Fields, training facilities, and anything else he can help with.
Anyone who has a matter that they would like to be brought up, let me know by e-mail by Monday and I will make sure it is covered off with him.
There have been discussions going on for a while now, both behind closed doors and in stable areas, about the current situation surrounding Clerks of the Course in this Country.
There have been three aspects to those discussions, one surrounding the training and subsequent skill levels of these important officials, the problems faced if a regular Clerk is unavailable, and how many Clerks there should be at a race meeting.
A couple of years ago I obtained a copy of a Victoria training manual for Clerks of the Course which was hopefully to be used to up-skill our local equivalent. Not quite sure what happened to that (I suspect not a lot) but it’s certainly something that needs to be looked at, given the quality of some of the officials being used currently.
The second issue is some form of succession plan, particularly at our major tracks. There is no question that most, if not all of the Clerks at our regular meetings are great horse people with the expert skills needed for their position. However it is a job that demands full fitness of both horse and rider to do it properly, and should something untoward happen to the current incumbent, it is essential that there is a back-up capable of taking over the role with minimum fuss.
The third issue is a prickly one. At a time when Clubs are desperately looking for ways to cut race-day costs, an easy target is to employ just one Clerk of the Course. For some reason, on many of the major race-days some Clubs deem it necessary to have two on duty, possibly because of the crowd volume and associated problems with communications. From a safety point of view, and that’s what these people are principally there for, it seems odd that there should be less officials present at lower grade meetings where, from a logical point of view, the horses performing are less experienced, and more likely to cause accidents.
Of course, all of the above points are governed by one thing – money. Clubs don’t want the extra expense of having two Clerks on duty, don’t want to pay for their training, and don’t want to face the possibility of having back-ups on some form of retainer.
The other side of the coin involves a matter that we are always hearing is ‘paramount’ in harness racing – safety. Having recently witnessed an incident where having only one Clerk on duty on a large grass track almost resulted in a major incident involving both a horse and the general public, there can be no question that a small saving on the one hand has the potential to be the cause of a major disaster, which could result in massive penalties being imposed by various watchdog Government departments, not to mention harm to people and the image of our Industry.
The solution to the above won’t come easily but it needs to happen soon, before a serious incident makes it compulsory. I know we often grizzle about always following Australia but on this issue, maybe they have the solution. As far as I can tell, every tin pot harness meeting across the ditch has two Clerks. The difference between our ones and theirs is that they perform many of the roles currently carried out by our starters assistants, holding on to horses while gear adjustments are made, and even escorting difficult horses towards the starting position. Our equivalents are normally posted hundreds of metres away in front of the start point. How about we do away with say, two of the current squad of starters assistants and use that money to pay an extra Clerk who can take over their important duties? Probably too simplistic but it seems to work fine for our Trans-Tasman mates.
All the best for the New Year
Over the past couple of weeks, the Trainers & Drivers Assn. has come under scrutiny, as it always should, in this case over the way that it handled the introduction of the 10 strike whip policy. Much has been said and written as to what was discussed at our recent National Council meeting, and whether the matter was voted on or not. Fortunately, as I do with all phone conferences, I tape the meetings so that I can go back and refer when writing the minutes if needed.
During the 28 October meeting, Chairman Rob Lawson raised the issue of whip use, and announced that Australia was planning to ban whips from next September. Subsequent to that the RIU and HRNZ, who did not favour following the Australian lead, were apparently proposing to introduce a 10 strike whip policy. Mark Jones said that he had spoken to RIU’s Nigel McIntyre, who had told him of the proposal, and Mark told the meeting that it seemed to be “not a bad meet in the middle”. At no point in the ensuing discussion did any of the Council members express opposition to the policy as such, and the last word on the matter was Mark again who said, “I don’t have a problem with it.” Due to there being no dissenting voice on the issue from anyone involved in the meeting, there was no formal vote. Why would there be?
Two weeks later the horseman’s representative on the HRNZ Board, Rob Lawson took part in a vote on the matter and voted for it, saying that he had the support of the NZHRT&D National Council, which of course at the time, and as far as he knew, he did.
It has been suggested that all horsemen should have a say on this issue. Just to clarify the situation if you are unaware, the National Council of the NZHRT&DA is the legally represented body of the horsemen. The Council represents all the branches and the horsemen affiliated to those Branches. As in any democracy the leaders are elected or appointed to represent the views of the members.
That is, they have to make decisions on behalf of the members - the members having had the confidence in those elected to accurately and honesty reflect their views, and also to represent in a manner that ensures the prosperity of the Harness Racing Industry. Every horseman or woman has the opportunity to put themselves forward as a local Committee member, ensuring they have a say in matters such as this.
Members of any Committee are entitled to change their minds after a meeting, however there are proper channels available to advise of that. Mark Jones comes from a family that for decades has given their time and energy in spades to establish and progress a body to represent all trainers and drivers, and he himself has for a number of years, been a valuable and insightful contributor to every meeting I’ve had the privilege of attending with him. It is terribly disappointing to hear that the Association and indeed, horsemen in general, will be losing his knowledge and vision over a perceived faulty meeting protocol.
There is a lot more I could say, but it’s the season of good will to all, well most anyway, and enough has been said on this classic ‘storm in a teacup’ in the public domain already, so I’ll save it for another time.
All the best to you and yours for the holiday season, and may you all win your fair share except when I’ve backed something else in the race, or am lining up against you in Central Otago.
It’s great to see HRNZ plan to investigate the setting up of training facilities in the Canterbury area, similar to the excellent complex already in place South of Auckland, just long overdue.
I haven’t personally made it to the upgraded Pukekohe yet, but the other day I did get out to Woodend Beach North of Christchurch to see the equestrian area developed by David and Catherine Butt. To say I was impressed would be the understatement of, well at least the last half hour anyway. Granted it was a lovely day, but the overall peaceful atmosphere, wide open spaces, and general good feeling about the various training set ups dotted about the property must be wonderful for both the horses and the people that work there. Little wonder that, outside the All Stars, many of the best horses in Canterbury, if not Australasia are trained there.
Yes, there is a rather fine looking track on site, which looks as though it would only be used for jog trips, but of course the major feature is the beach. And what a beach, it goes for ever in both directions, offering plenty of room for wave after wave (no pun intended) of horses, mostly pairs, to rip along on a forgiving surface, followed by a beneficial walk in the sea, although some are keener on that than others!
Not only that, but the undulating path of soft sand that leads out to the beach offers a perfect warm up and down, easy on legs yet good for muscle building – I can attest to the benefits, having ploughed along it to watch the horses work! I would suggest that, if money is to be invested in a training facility, there would be no better location than North Canterbury beaches to spend it.
Just as an aside, it was noticeable that every single person (and there were plenty) that went past in a sulky greeted us with a cheery comment or acknowledgement, yet to the three thoroughbred personnel that we passed on the path, we were obviously invisible! Just saying.
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