There's an old saying that self-praise is no recommendation, but there is also an old adage that if you don't talk yourself up, no-one else is likely to.
So, given the glowing accolades I was giving the Roxburgh Club officials the other week for their voluntary efforts, I thought it might be timely to remind members how much time and effort the National Council and local Committee members of the Trainers & Drivers Association put in.
For the guys whose mug shots you can see on the left of this page (that reminds me I have to arrange for Ken Barron to be featured) what they do on behalf of license-holders is voluntary and financially unrewarded. In fact, by the time the likes of travel and phone calls are taken into account, there is actually a personal cost involved.
Some might think that these guys' involvement is restricted to a few meetings and the odd phone call, however, being in the middle of it all, I can tell another story. On an almost weekly basis, there are e-mails and phone calls going back and forth, among the Council in particular, on various issues (sometimes late into the evening), many of which come out of left field and require urgent attention. Add that to having to field queries, complaints and concerns from people at the trials and races and sometimes deal with officialdom at the same venues, and you can see how time-consuming their positions are. Oh yes, and maybe we should remember they have teams of horses organise and driving engagements to fufill at the same time too!
So perhaps the next time you are about to say, or hear someone else saying how useless the ‘bloody horsemans' association' is, remember that the people involved are doing it largely for the benefit of others and doing it because they are passionate about the Industry.
Peter T Cook
HRNZ is currently undertaking a review of their licensing structure and have asked the Association for opinions on various proposals.
The first idea is the introduction of photo licences to give a more swept up look to the cards carried by all licence-holders. Apparently stock of the old style cards is almost exhausted so it seems a good time to review the system, and the costs involved in producing the photo version is not much more than the current model. Of course there would be some initial work to be done in obtaining and collating photos and HRNZ is conscious of not demanding that those involved have to supply a photo immediately, and will likely introduce this type of licence on a voluntary basis over a period of time.
The Association can see merit in this change, making the cards more professional, and assisting in policing stable and other access at major tracks.
There is also a proposal to combine the registration of colours (every 3 years) with trainers' licences, and the Association is suggesting a similar move with sulky WOFs.
Another proposal being investigated, and likely to proceed, is the introduction of a pay online facility for HRNZ customers (yes, that's you!). This could eventually be extended to the payment and registration of licences etc. by way of a "My HRNZ" facility.
This raised the idea among the National Council, of being able to withdraw, scratch, notify/change driver etc. directly onto the website, which has been in vogue in Australia for some time. There was concern is some circles that this would cause issues for Club Secretaries being unaware of the current situation. Following discussion, a proposal has been forwarded to HRNZ suggesting the following:
1. Nominate on line (with or without driver as is currently the case)
2. Nominations close and are posted on line- Trainer can then withdraw on line if they wish - Obviously if they want to change race they will have to ring.
3. Withdrawals close - trainer cannot withdraw now unless they scratch which will incur a Scratching Penalty and they must produce Vets certificate prior to say midday of races to ensure only 4 day stand down otherwise will be 10 day stand down.
What this would do is very quickly "teach" trainers that they cannot withdraw after withdrawal close.
4. Fields posted - with driver submitted at time of nomination. If no driver or driver changes must be done on line before close of driver notification time. - Only trainer can access and do this, that way the trainer must know who is driving it as they will have conversed with the trainer.
5. Again, any scratchings after that time and before 7.30 Raceday can be done on line with the scratching penalty provisions.
Anyone with any responses or suggestions on the above proposals, let us know.
The HRNZ Board is currently grappling with two decisions concerning illegal substances. On the one hand, they are pressing for the banning of all steroids, on the other they are deciding on whether to raise the allowable level of TC02 in horses from the current 35 m/mol to 36m/mol, which is apparently the level accepted by every other racing jurisdiction in the World. While the Association strongly supports the fight against drug use, there is one steroid, Boldenone, which is still very much subject to conjecture (in fact has been clinically proven) to be found in horses through other means than administration. It seems incongruous that the Board is adamant on the steroid issue to bring us into line with the rest of the World, yet (despite recommendations from the RIU and others dating back to 2012) is stalling on following the standard policy on TC02.
Apparently they have little concern that innocent trainers could be caught in the net and prosecuted for something they have not done.
Peter T Cook
The Northern Branch held their last meeting of 2013 shortly before Christmas and, among other matters, discussed various issues to come out of the recent National Council and Starters meeting.
There was concern at the proposed blanket ban on steroids, and a feeling that the matter needs more investigation, particularly in the case of Boldenone, and also the TC02 level issue. There was also concern at the recently advertised ban on the use of leg wraps etc. and the fact that no consultation had taken place prior to its' release with either the Association, or apparently HRNZ.
Other matters covered at the meeting included the season date change proposal, points system, and Junior Driver concessions which were welcomed. The matter of appearance money was discussed, however it was hoped that the current travel subsidies would remain regardless.
Bernie Hackett expressed disappointment at unruly horses holding up starts and causing headaches for starters. The meeting agreed that Starters needed support in having these horses as a last priority, as that is the reason they are unruly. Bernie, being a sulky WOF agent, felt that it was confusing for some when their sulkies needed to be checked. He suggested that sulky WOFs could be done in conjunction with license renewals, a proposal which was supported.
Rumours had been rife that the Central Otago New Year circuit was the place to be at that time of year, and the opportunity arose for me to trek down there this year. I have fond memories of attending the Roxburgh races a few times when they had an Easter Monday date and, on consulting the Club Honours Board, was astounded to realise I was there when Bachelor Blue won the Cup in 1971! (Incidentally I had got to know the trainer of that horse, Barry Anderson quite well, and would be pleased if anyone could let me know what became of that gentleman).
What the trip reminded me of, was how the enthusiasm and hard work of the locals made the meeting into a great success, and attracted what was apparently a record crowd, and an on-course increase of $36k in turnover. President Bill Bain, along with Geoff Knight and their crew couldn't do enough to make visiting trainers and owners enjoy their time in Roxburgh, from the social and Calcutta function the night before the meeting, to the get together after the last race. I swear I have never seen so much meat as there was on the barbecue on Cup Eve, everything from wild pork to the traditional patties, steaks and sausages. I presume anyone with vegetarian leanings would have quietly snuck away in embarrassment!
What a great set-up they have at Roxburgh. Geoff and Jude Knight train about 30 horses in a complex that could easily house twice that many, with a swimming pool, gas hot water for washing horses in that chilly Central winter, a straight line training track (the old airstrip across the road), and of course the Roxburgh track itself. Having the Knights there is what they call a win/win situation, as it not only pays for the maintenance, but also ensures that the facilities are kept up to scratch for their annual day in the sun.
On behalf of all the visitors who were treated so wonderfully well, many thanks to the Club officials for all their efforts. I will know join the chorus of people recommending they check it out next year. I know I plan to return.
Dave Neal (Northern)/Peter Cook(Southern)
It's traditional at this time of year for folks and organisations to look back at the rapidly closing year and assess happenings and progress.
For me there have been two major highlights concerning the Association over the past twelve months.
The first was a meeting of leading Canterbury trainers at the Yaldhurst Hotel on 9 May. Not only was this the largest meeting numbers wise that I can recall in the area, it proved to be the catalyst for some of the most radical changes to our handicapping and programming systems ever. It was testament to the support that this meeting attracted, and the fact that virtually all the recommendations that came out of it, have, or are about to be, instigated by HRNZ, that drastic action was overdue.
The second highlight was the granting by the HRNZ Board of extra funding for the Association, following the submission of a ‘business plan', so that it can afford to hold two face to face meetings per year again, and function as an effective body representing a large number of Industry participants.
Like everyone else, the site will go into racing mode for the next couple of weeks, but will return in the New Year with some fresh ideas and news.
Good luck for the holiday racing season wherever you are.
Peter T Cook
At this time of year, matters of administration tend to either dry up and/or be put on hold while our members get involved in what they do best, train and drive horses.
While the majority of workers in New Zealand are about to put their feet up for a week or two, because harness racing is part of the entertainment industry, the holiday period can be one of the busiest times of the year for horses and their connections.
If that sounds like an excuse for not being able to come up with anything in particular to put on this site this week, you're right - it is!
So, what I will do is reprint an e-mail sent to various industry figures earlier this week by our Otago/Southland Chairman, Gordon Lee. I've taken the liberty to edit/censor it a little, but the following is the general idea:
Consider the word perception,a word we consistently hear from HRNZ and the RIU. If we continue to keep making decisions for this Industry based on that stupid word, our Industry is in for huge failure. For those people who wish to listen,let me give you a lesson in grammar. The dictionary meaning of perception: "a process by which one detects or interprets information from a means relating to the senses or power of sensation". There is absolutely no mention of the word meaning factual,yet we allow so called intelligent people in this Industry to continually use it to justify their decisions which far too often is then interpreted as fact. These people need to take a step back and open their eyes to the fact they are dealing with human lives where their actions can so easily ruin individuals and families forever,when they are quite clearly innocent of any wrong doing.
Don't know what I'm talking about ?? Well try that one on someone else. I'm living proof and I do know. So, by what means do we approach these issues that will give people a better understanding of our Rules? Obviously the RIU believes perception is extremely important because the they have not changed their position or approach,they have recently announced dumb statements about some race-day treatments etc. that are quite farcical, and further theyfailed to involve the NZT&DA in any consultation. The whole announcement gives the perception these treatments, some of which are simply icepacks, are a means of cheating. Why not tell the public the truth - they have NO effect on the performance of a horse. Simple. So let's get rid of all this theoretical rubbish and assumptions about corruption going on in the Industry, if Board members, RIU and the like keep running around saying and agreeing with 'dickheads' that the drug culture is rife in the Industry, we might as well all throw our licenses in now. These people need to grow up and show a bit of honesty, maturity and common sense. Try working with the license-holders instead of accusing them generally of being cheats. I have not ever heard one public statement where the license-holders have been given high accolades of honesty - why? Because, they don't believe it.
Gordon Lee/Peter Cook
You will no doubt by now have seen the notice issued by the Racing Integrity Unit, entitled "Race day treatment of Racehorses Notice".
The Trainers and Drivers Association is disappointed with both the content of this document, and also the way that it has been presented.
First of all, there has been no consultation with the Association on the matters contained in the notice prior to its' publication. The RIU has, a number of times, been critical of articles written and comments made by representatives of the Association, and we have been asked to discuss any matters of concern or interest prior to going public. Sadly this policy appears only to apply to one party in this arrangement.
It is understood that the details of the notice have been worked out between the RIU and the Equine Veterinary Association, who have been described as "the professionals in the Industry who are the obvious group to consult". It seems the professionals who are most affected by these guidelines, i.e. trainers, are not considered to be quite so obvious, despite the stated RIU policy of "preventative action though providing information to participants".
The Association has been regularly told that the RIU merely exists to administer the HRNZ Rules, and do not make them, yet many of the items included in the notice do not appear to be covered under the Rules of Harness Racing. Rules 1004 (5) & (6) cover the possession of a prohibited substance and the race-day use of any substance by injection, nasal gastric tube, ventilator or nebulizer. The Association is fully supportive of these Rules, however we struggle to see where these or any other Rules cover the use of the likes of magnetic or ice boots. Such products are considered beneficial to the horses' welfare and are not performance enhancing.
Also, the paragraph entitled ‘Topical Applications' is considered vague at best. For instance, does a treatment for greasy heel such as EMU oil, which contains no medicaments, fall into this category or not?
Perhaps some constructive consultation with the Trainers & Drivers Association may have assisted in making this notice a useful tool to "assist trainers and veterinary surgeons in interpreting some of the ‘grey areas' associated with the definition of a race day treatment," instead of a document which creates more questions than answers, and will probably result in yet more costly and damaging legal arguments.
Peter T Cook
Due to the raft of changes and refurbishments going on around Addington Raceway at present, what will be our last Branch meeting for the year was held in a corner of Spectators, the new (and excellent) eating place and bar adjacent to the birdcage.
We were joined by Dean Mckenzie, CEO of the Addington who outlined recent and future developments at the Raceway. These include the relocation of the administration offices from the building in the car park, to the space in front of the birdcage which used to house the RIU, race-day office, and winning owners room. While winning connections will temporarily be entertained in a marquee, the Stipes and race-day personnel will be situated in the suites in front of the car park on the roof of the stables. The old office block has been leased to the Rugby Union, so it's a win/win for all.
Plans are also in hand to relocate the drivers' room to above the stables, and to close in the popular barbeque area by the stables, so that it can be used in comfort in all weathers.
While Cup Day was a success as far as corporates and catering etc., Dean was concerned at a marked drop off in off course turnover, despite there being 6 more runners on the day compared to last year, which he puts down to the worrying trend in large punters using overseas betting agencies. He intends to stress this issue with the Racing Board. While it might seem beneficial from a personal point of view to use opposition to our TAB, it could be perceived as being rather short sighted, given that these other agencies contribute nothing towards stakes etc., and without that injection of finance, harness racing will fast disappear from the landscape. What do we bet on then - Australian greyhounds?
We were astounded to find that Dean knew nothing of the Associations' literally decades-old crusade to eliminate shadows caused by the light poles Addington. He agreed that, if there was a safety issue involved, action had to be taken, and Ken Barron will be conferring with Track Manager John Denton prior to the preparation a formal request for action on this issue.
Other matters that we discussed with Dean included the replacement of the troubled infield indicator (there were issues with technology compatibility to be sorted out by the Racing Board there), our assertion that the points system currently being trialled would only work properly if no horses were accepted for two races, and a request from the Club for horses preparing for a 1950m race to assemble adjacent to the Lindauer Lawn area. This would allow the public to be closer to the horses while, thanks to safety barriers, they would be far enough away not to cause problems. The meeting agreed to this, providing the mobile gate was not moved back from its' current position.
Dean outlined the initiatives being offered to connections to persuade them to start their horses at Addington, such as the Super Series where every starter was given $500 and $250 for the Final and Consolation respectively. Also the Met Multiplier had been an outstanding success for both the connections of the horse involved, and also to assist is getting tighter class races off the ground by increasing starters.
The controversial mile start at Addington got a decent airing with the Committee being unanimous that it should not be used for a race of the stature of the NZFFA. There was some agreement that the odd low grade mile race for fillies and mares would be acceptable. Dean acknowledged the concerns raised by those present, however reported that horse numbers and tote returns supported the retention of the mile start. This was countered by the fact that the favourite had drawn badly this year, thereby spreading the betting on other entrants. Dean advised that no decision had been made on the distance of next years' event.
Chairman Ken Barron led the meeting in praising Dean and his team for their ongoing efforts to improve Addington Raceway and, in particular, the splendid state of the track prepared by John Denton and Co.
In general business, an issue surrounding the recent race abandonment where it was perceived to be unfair that a horse that caused the interference that created the abandonment was permitted to start whereas the victim was unable to. However the meeting felt that scratching the perpetrator would be setting a dangerous precedent and did not support such action.
Other matter touched on included the interference Rule changes, regional secretaries, and concern over proposed changes to what gear is allowable to be on horses presented at the races. The meeting considered that items such as ice-boots and ‘back-on-tracks' were more for the welfare of the horse and not performance enhancing. Anthony Butt reported that Australian authorities have taken matters to an even more ridiculous stage and banned the use of Molasses!!
Peter T Cook
As previously advised, the Association is now able to provide a legally binding Employment Agreement specifically designed for Stablehands and other horse workers.
This has been kindly provided by Mary-Jane Thomas of Preston Russell Law of Invercargill, specialists in harness racing legal issues. As an employer, you are legally bound to have a written employment agreement. I have heard a number of incidents that have arisen from trainers failing to have a formal agreement with their staff, so to avoid such situations, it would be prudent to use this facility.
Anyone requiring a copy (free of charge) of the Agreement, e-mail the undersigned on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter T Cook
The curtain comes down on another Cup Week with its' usual mixture of highs and lows.
However, this years' edition saw what will probably go down as one of, if not the most momentous victories in our industrys' biggest race. In the space of less than four minutes, the harness racing fraternity, along with the odd once a year attendee who was still sober enough to understand what was going on, went from sadness and even despair when one of the participants in the predicted two horse war in the Cup disappeared out the back of the pack in a wild gallop, to grasping for superlatives as that same unfortunate animal demolished his rivals with a powerhouse display. Simply jaw dropping.
Congratulations to all concerned and, in particular, unassuming master reinsman Ricky May for doing almost the unthinkable feat of breaking Cecil Devines' cup winning record. I doubt if anyone reading this will be around to see that record broken, unless Ricky does it himself!
The other highlight for me was seeing Master Lavros monster the Dominion Handicap field and fulfil a plan years in the making for Mark Jones. An emotional moment for both him and owner Kypros Kotzikas who, with all due respect to the lady who was by his side, must have wished he could have shared the thrill with his lovely late wife Mary, who apparently doted on the horse.
Having said that about the winner, the feat of Paul Nairns' old warrior Stig to make a race of it with his younger rival was staggering. He just won't lie down.
Just a couple of other things I will remember from the week, the emotion and tears from Gerard O'Reilly as he brought Sires Stakes winner Tiger Tara back to the birdcage, and the other emotions surrounding the passing of two stalwarts of the Industry, John Devlin and Reg Curtin. Sincerest condolences to the families of these men, both of whom I was privileged to have had dealings with over the past years. Harness racing has lost two more irreplaceable characters.
Congratulations must go to the team at Addington Raceway for what appeared to be flawless organization of the carnival, which doesn't come by accident - just hard work. Also the people at Trackside who, once again captured the atmosphere and emotions of the day on Tuesday, are to be praised. No praise is high enough for the voice of Cup Week Mark McNamara. His unmatched skill and flair has become so established that we tend to take him for granted!
Sorry to end on a slightly critical note, but can we please ditch the idea of starting races on a bend i.e the mile. To quote our leading driver ‘It's an absolute joke."
Peter T Cook
Northern Branch Chairman Peter Ferguson described the Dates Committee meeting he had recently participated in as being ‘difficult', and wished Ken Barron luck when he attended the next edition.
Peter also outlined changes to the Equine Industry Training Organisation, that had now been incorporated into the much larger Primary ITO, which covered the likes of farm employees, etc. He advised that this organisation was responsible for the overall education of young people as well as the specialised aspects of the trades they were training for. Ken and Mark Jones spoke highly of the organisation of recent practical experience sessions for cadets that they had assisted in. Peter advised he would be requesting a change to Level 4 of the course which featured practical driving lessons, as most of those who had reached that level already had trial, or even race day driving licences.
The merits and otherwise of paying appearance monies were discussed at length, with many varied opinions expressed. These included whether such payments should be made to trainers or owners, whether trainers should pass on such subsidies to owners, and support for the concept, providing it didn't come out of the total stake money. Rob Lawson stressed that the Racing Board should make it clear if it's preference was for less races with more starters, or more races with less starters, so that any form of appearance money could be distributed to achieve the best results. The meeting felt that the new drop back and proposed points system would encourage more starters, and that an article on various aspects of handicapping should be a regular feature in the Harness Weekly. Ken advised that the recent Super Series finals at Addington had included appearance money for participants, however it was also reported that the money paid to Harness Jewel starters barely covered costs if inter-island travel was involved.
The meeting unanimously supported the promotion of claiming races, and suggested that trainers should promote them to owners as being the only avenue available to their horse to win money. In addition, it should be emphasised to owners that claiming races were penalty free, also that their horse was unlikely to be sold and, if it was, they could always buy it back. Mark Jones was supported when he suggested that every horse four year old and older should have a registered claiming price, whatever that level might be, so that owners were more aware of their options. The meeting also considered that Clubs should programme Claiming races every week so they became the norm instead of a rarity.
A number of issues surrounding the RIU were discussed, along with Rob Lawsons' proposed change to Rule 869 covering disqualification and relegation. This was supported and would be referred to the HRNZ Rules Sub-Committee for consideration.
Chairman John Lischner outlined some matters involving gaming money, with some Trusts reportedly withholding funding for racing due to the Racing Board buying up their own sites. He also stressed that 15% of all stake money currently came for gaming funds, including almost all Harness Jewels prize money.
Ken Barron suggested that Tentative Programmes should be scrapped, with only Junior Driver and Group Races being advertised, and all other horses in general being catered for. He felt that Clubs felt a compulsion to run the races they had advertised, despite conditions having subsequently changed.
Following discussion on the topic, it was moved and supported unanimously that from the start of the 2015/16 season all nominations should be made online or by fax.
Once again the issue of Regional Secretaries was raised with concern that, despite the Correspondence Item promoted by the Association being supported at Annual conference level, no action had been forthcoming. While claims had been made that no cost cuts would be achieved by instigating this policy, a report that the Methven club was being charged $7000 per meeting ($28,000 per season) by Ashburton Racing to assemble its' fields suggested otherwise. However the meeting agreed that the main benefits of having Regional Secretaries would be efficiencies, and the advantage of one office having full knowledge of the circumstances surrounding all Clubs, trainers and horses in the area.
A number of the Council had been interviewed by the independent review of the JCA, although they felt that little had been achieved by this. However it was agreed that the performance of the JCA had improved markedly in recent times.
All in all, a very diverse and intense few hours of discussion, with many decisions made and many issues to be tackled in the future. Those present left with a feeling that the Association was in good heart, and would only grow in stature.
Peter T Cook
The recent National Council meeting, presided over by John Lischner, proved how important it is that we have at least two face to face meetings a year, which will now be possible thanks to the recent increase in funding for the Association.
This was stressed in Johns' opening address, along with a plea that any matters relating to licence-holders be referred to the National Council, so that any submissions can be made to HRNZ or other bodies from one central source, instead of individuals going through the media. He also maintained that decisions made by the HRNZ Board, while sometimes unpopular, are made for the overall benefit of the Industry and to maximize wagering and profit. There were serious issues to be faced in the future in relation to the loss of gaming machine revenue, which made up 15% of current general stakes funding, and 100% of Harness Jewels finance. There was also the threat of a change to Section 16 of the Racing Act.
There were many and varied topics to be covered during the National Council meeting, some of which were able to be decided upon immediately, and others that will be ongoing for some time. The following is a brief summary of most of those topics, and the action that the Association plans to take:
Anabolic Steroid Ban; While the Association in no way condones the use of anabolic steroids, it was considered that the decision to introduce a blanket ban was being rushed, particularly when recent cases had proved that some steroids, such as Boldenone can be present in feed. It was planned to discuss this with officials from the thoroughbred code prior to making any submission. During the discussion on steroids, instances of the RIU suggesting that various leg wraps, ice boots and ‘Back On Track' items were illegal if used at the races. Rob Lawson advised that there was no Rule to cover a ban on such aids, which were simply for the horses' welfare, and in no way performance enhancing.
TC02 Testing; The Council fully supported a rise in the allowable limit to 36mmol/L as suggested by HRNZ veterinary consultant Andrew Grierson, which would bring New Zealand into line with all other Countries. However there was concern at the number of horses that have been found to have naturally high TC02 levels, which tended to contradict the statistics supplied to HRNZ (see the report mentioned in last weeks' post).
Change of Season; A proposal to change the season end from 31 July to 31 August was supported, the feeling being that this would assist in maintaining field sizes during that time, until the majority of horses re-appear in the Spring. However following a suggestion from HRNZ that the two and three year-old concessions could be extended to cover the month of August, it was agreed that this would be preferable to having to change the Racing Act. The Association would request this to be implemented from next season.
Points Ranking System; Hopefully, you will all be aware of the system (detailed on this site and in the Harness Weekly) drawn up by the Greater Canterbury Branch, in association with National Council members. Ken Barron and Mark Jones outlined the benefits of the system, and it was supported by other members. While trainers in the Southland considered that their current arrangement was working, Ken explained how the points ranking could improve it. Mark suggested that from say, 1 December this year, every horse should be given a points ranking next to its' name on the HRNZ site. That way, it would heighten the awareness of the system, and if Clubs wished to use it, the information was easily available to them. Mark was to discuss with HRNZ whether this was possible.
Funding; As previously explained, extra funding had been granted to the Association to ensure its' viability. It was decided to maintain the current funding regime to the three Branches, with the extra money ensuring that regular National Council meetings, and those with other bodies, could be held when required. It was also decided that a copy of the National Council minutes should be forward to HRNZ.
Trials/Amateur Licence; The meeting agreed that it should not be necessary for advanced Amateur drivers to hold a separate trials licence in order to drive at trial meetings.
Junior Driver Concessions; Peter Ferguson gained support for his push for more penalty free concessions for Junior Drivers in open events, particularly in the Central Districts. The meeting agreed that Juniors learnt more by driving against senior drivers than only among their peers, and the penalty free aspect was an incentive for connections of horses to support meetings away from the main centres. However there was no support for three year-olds being re-introduced into Junior Drivers events.
Betting Rules; Peter Ferguson also reported on his involvement in an HRNZ Sub-Committee on betting by drivers. While the Association supported a ban on drivers betting at windows in their driving apparel, it was considered unnecessary to impose any other restrictions. Those present felt that connections of a horse would welcome a driver betting on their horse, suggesting a level of confidence. However, in order to appease the authorities, it was decided to support the proposal that drivers should not be allowed to bet on any race that they are participating in.
Part II next week.
Peter T Cook
After what has been too long a break, the Associations' National Council will meet in person in Christchurch next Tuesday 29 October. We are grateful to the HRNZ Board for granting us extra funding so that we can resume our bi-annual meetings, and perform our functions in a proper fashion.
The agenda for the meeting is a comprehensive one, including the following:
- Disqualification/ Relegation Rule
- Anabolic Steroids Ban
- TC02 issues
- Change of Season (1st Sept) in line with Australia
- Points Ranking System
- Funding - Voice of NZTDA
- Trials Licence / Amateur Licence
- 3yo Concessions (Junior Drivers)
- Betting Rule- Drivers
- Recent Starters Meeting
- Handicapping - D Butcher / J Lischner
- Dates - K Barron / P Ferguson
- Rules - R Lawson / J Lischner
- Equine ITO - P Ferguson
- Race-day Appearance Money
- Meeting with NZRB - Chris Bayliss
- RIU Professionalism
As you can see, it will be a busy few hours! Anyone who has any thoughts or opinions to contribute to any of the above should e-mail through the website before Monday 28 October. A report on the meeting will be on this site as soon as possible.
If you have taken the time to read reports on the numerous legal issues that have peppered the Industry during the past few years, you will be familiar with the name Mary-Jane Thomas. Hailing from a strong Southland harness racing family, Mary-Jane has ‘taken up the cudgels' for numerous trainers and drivers, using her knowledge of the industry to good effect. She and her company, Preston Russell Law, have also carried out the odd task for the Association, often as a favour, so it is only fair that we should promote her to members. Obviously they deal with other matters than ‘horsey' ones, but with Mary-Janes' knowledge she is the ideal person to approach on any matters, from horse or property sale disputes to serious driving offences. A direct e-mail contact to her can be found in the favourite links section of this site.
The other recent matter of interest is the ‘power point' presentation from Chief Veterinarian for HRNZ Andrew Grierson on such things as anabolic steroids and TC02. Anyone who would like a copy of this presentation can e-mail the site.
As indicated last week, the Greater Canterbury Branch has instigated the creation of a points system, purely for use in field selection, mainly for maidens and one win horses.
While there has been input and tinkering already from amongst the Associations' other Branches, the proposed system has not been discussed or ratified by the National Council, or HRNZ. The sole purpose of releasing it to the general public is to attract suggestions on how it can be improved, so anyone who has any comments or ideas, don't hesitate to contact the Association so that your ideas can be taken on board and discussed at the National Council meeting on 29 October.
The following is the proposal, to be linked into imminent changes to the Handicapping System;
All horses that qualify obtain 20 points (regardless time)
At a set date to be decided, any horse that has had more than 5 starts, points will be totalled up from their last five starts beginning with a 20 point starting figure.
Each start after this gains or loses the horse points.
1st 10 points 4th 2 points
2nd 6 points 5th 0 points
3rd 4 points 6th - last - 2 points
Penalty free wins still count regarding points. eg if you win a junior drivers race as a C1, you stay a C1 but the 10 points goes on your card.
Fields can be picked in Ascending or Descending order (ie bottom to top/top to bottom)
This would lead to trainers/drivers not being able to split horses and no influence from anyone in which race they can start in.
Horses would race like with like, i.e 0 - 12 points, 13 - 20 points, 21+ points
Stakes could be run at the same level for all point levels. Gives the lower points horses the chance to win as much money as the higher points horses.
Trainers would have an idea who they would be racing against at nomination closing time.
Only thing that can change is with withdrawals the medium point range may fluctuate up/down.
In addition to the above the Greater Canterbury Branch has issued an appeal to trainers and owners to support a push for more Claiming races in the region:
Attention South Island Owners and Trainers,
We aim to promote and foster Claiming Races in the South Island. We need you to register your horse as a claimer so we can increase the pool of Claiming horses and get more of these races off the ground.
Our region has the most trainers and horses, and the least number of Claiming horses.
The clubs cannot provide races without a pool of horses to target. All races are penalty free and can be preferential draw from a mobile or handicapped from a stand start. This would create fairer contests and be governed by your own claiming price.
Worldwide, claiming races are seen as the ultimate way of placing your horse at the level you desire. All prices will be accepted, and we aim to run races with a claiming price up to $100,000 if we can get enough horses registered.
It is expected that the majority of horses to be in the $2000 to $25,000 bracket.
So please support us as we endeavour to get these races off the ground and therefore create a whole new lot of opportunities for our current horses.
As usual, should you have any feedback on anything in this column, don't hesitate to contact us.
Peter T Cook
New Chairman Ken Barron recently presided over his first Branch Committee meeting which was attended by Brain Rabbitt and Richard Bromley from the Addington Raceway Racing Department.
Brain advised that, during Cup Week, the storeroom opposite Garrards in the stable block would serve as a drivers lounge and, following a suggestion from Anthony Butt, it was agreed that this area would double as a drivers changing room. It was stressed that this was only a temporary measure with plans for a more permanent drivers' facility in the pipeline.
The subject of ‘Reserve races" was discussed at length with Ken and Mark Jones being supported in expressing frustration that these were still being included in the NZ Metropolitan Club programmes, as it was suspected that few trainers nominated for them because the words ‘Reserve Race' were attached. While Brian acknowledged that they received numerous calls asking if these events would go ahead, he felt that they were necessary in case all the standard programmed races were filled, which would cause problems with trying to gain extra TAB Trackside time-slots. However the meeting considered it most unlikely that, given the current struggle to fill fields, this was likely, and in any case, would be a good problem to have to face.
The proposed points system for field selection was discussed at length, with all present agreeing that it was a positive move. There had already been some tinkering with the details, and it was likely that the Branch would advertise the proposal in its' current form prior to ratification by the Associations' National Council. The education of trainers would be an essential part of the introduction of the system. There was also a call to programme and promote Claiming races, with the success of the Methven even being an encouraging sign. These races also need to be understood by trainers and owners as being a form of handicapping, in addition to a means of buying and selling.
The other major issue covered at the meeting was the proposal to change Rule 869(8) covering relegation for interference. Discussions had been held recently with the RIU, and the meeting agreed that the Rule needed to be changed to bring it into line with other overseas racing jurisdictions. There was also a call for a portion of any fine incurred by a driver for interference should be given to the connections of the horse which suffered that interference. These matters would also be finalised at an upcoming National Council meeting at the end of October.
Other issues discussed on the night included the proposal to invite Australian horses into the Jewels, which was unanimously opposed, closer ties with the local Standardbred Breeders and Owners bodies, and a couple of issues surrounding aspects of Addington Raceway. To this end it was decided to invite CEO Dean Mackenzie to the next Branch meeting, following Cup Week.
Peter T Cook
Recently representatives of the Trainers & Drivers Association were invited to participate in a meeting of Race Starters from around New Zealand, along with members of the RIU, and Edward Rennell from HRNZ.
This was the first of such meeting for four years and it was generally agreed that such get-togethers should be held on a far more regular basis.
The meeting began with Edward outlining that the aim of all starters is to ensure every horse is given as fair a start as possible and to do so in a manner that is consistent nationwide.
The first item on the agenda was a review of the Starters Manual which included such matters as drug testing of officials, the proposal for shorter intervals between races, the need for Clubs to ensure a farrier is present at the start of every race where possible, and having guests on the mobile vehicle. The latter was agreed to, providing permission was gained from the Stewards and seat belts were worn.
One item to be discussed at length was the current directive concerning false starts. It was agreed that as long as the field reassembled at the start point following a false start, it was at the discretion of the Starter whether the horses should follow the gate round to that point, or stop and go back. A request was made to inform Trackside presenters of this directive, to avoid ill-informed comments.
Other issues covered off included the position of the starter for standing starts, starters wearing microphones (at their discretion), and race stopping and re-runs, which would, in future, be at the sole discretion of the Stewards. A re-run must be held within 45 minutes of the original start time, with a minimum number of horses involved.
A new initiative from the RIU that, unless a trotter interfered with another horse, it would not, in future, be stood down, gained support. The meeting agreed that punters knew the risks involved in backing trotters and making them trial against one or two horses had little value, and was an extra cost to owners.
General discussion concerned various aspects of standing starts, including drivers taking their horses an unnecessary distance away from the others when parading, and often gaining a running start. Various suggestions to prevent this were aired. The RIU and Trainers & Drivers representatives both assured the Starters that they would support them in taking action against drivers who tried to cheat the accepted starting procedures.
Following concern at the current unsatisfactory employment conditions of Starters, the RIU have agreed to look into whether they can be employed by that body, and investigate if such a move will be of benefit to the Industry as a whole.
All in all a worthwhile meeting, which is likely to lead to more dialogue and possible workshops involving these officials, who perform a vital task in the running of harness racing.
Peter T Cook
P.S. Don't forget the Northern Branch AGM October 1 at the Franklin Trotting Clubrooms
The last week has seen a lot of discussion and work behind the scenes on a number of issues, with many of them still ongoing.
As well as the controversy over the decision to invite Australian horses into the Jewels, the Association has been responding to request from the HRNZ Board for us to produce a "Business Plan". As the task of producing such a document fell in my lap I found it difficult to come up with such a document, especially given the Association often has no idea what issues and/or tasks it is going to have to grapple with from one day to another!
However, with some help from sources who know what these things involve, we have come up with a generic document entitled "A Statement of Responsibilities and Intentions". This will be presented to the Board at their next meeting and I will then reproduce it on the website.
Next Tuesday, 24 September the Association will be well represented at the Annual meeting of Open Race starters. Items up for discussion include a review of the Starters Manual, Starters Position at the start, Crash procedures and abandonment of races, the marshaling area for unruly horses, and a review of the mobile false start policy. A report on the meeting will be included in next weeks' update.
It would be fair to say that the majority of proposals that came out of the meeting of Canterbury trainers at the Yaldhurst Hotel in May have, or are likely, to be introduced following a recent meeting of the Handicapping Committee. However one request, that of doing away with ‘Reserve races' doesn't seem to have caught on. HRNZ have sent out advice to Clubs that they do not have to programme these races, and they are now optional. Whether Clubs have chosen to ignore that suggestion or haven't picked up on it, we don't know, but another reminder has been issued. It's difficult to understand why such races aren't simply programmed as normal ones, particularly at a time when field sizes are not exactly brimming.
Full credit, as someone once said, to HRNZ for the recently issued Licence Holders Directory and Diary. A very useful publication, professionally produced, and chock full of all the information any harness follower or participant could possibly want.
Finally, an early reminder that the Northern Branch is holding its' AGM on 1 October at the Franklin Trotting Clubrooms. If you can't be bothered to comment on what we do through the website, go along, meet the Committee, and have your say in person.
Peter T Cook
For the second year in a row, the HRNZ Board have, out of the blue as far as everyone else is concerned and with no consultation with, well anyone, decided to change the conditions surrounding our flagship race-day, the Harness Jewels.
Last time, along with the majority, I could see no sense in extending the four year-old Jewels to include five year-olds, when there was never going to be an issue of filling the fields, that being the reasoning behind attaching the same conditions to other major four year-old events. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth from numerous sources, the Board admitted the error of their ways and, at some considerable expense, separated the older horses out and gave them their own race.
One would have thought that, given the outcry that followed last years' decision, they would have trod carefully when considering tinkering with the ‘holy cow' again, but it appears they, once again, underestimated the backlash their actions would create from some sectors. Personally I can see both sides of the argument and, as the matter has not been discussed officially by the Association, I am not about to pass judgment here. What I will do is throw out some relative points from both sides of the fence.
There is an old saying that goes something like, ‘if you are standing still in business, you are going backwards'. The ‘Jewels', in particular the last one, was acknowledged by all as being one of the best race-days seen on either side of the Tasman. However, does that mean we should rest on our laurels and risk it stagnating? Whether you like it or not, the "Jewels' is a business venture that depends on financial support from a number of sources. Are there, as we are led to believe by certain media personalities, opportunities for beneficial gains from increased Australian participation?
Maybe (and I stress that word) offering ‘free spots' to the best that the Australians can produce will increase publicity on both sides of the Tasman, and possibly increase turnovers, although I remain sceptical that our TAB will be a significant beneficiary of any hike in betting from across the ‘deetch'. Why would the Aussies bet on our TAB any more than we do on theirs? What is more conceivable is that if there is a significant number of visiting horses, that could translate into an increase in visiting owners and supporters, by way of tour parties (I understand some interest has already been shown). That would enhance both the coffers and the atmosphere on the day.
The other financial benefit of such a move could be more mileage for sponsors without whom, as we are forever being told in after race speeches, we would not survive as an Industry. With stake levels such as those on offer on ‘Jewels' day, this is never more evident. Would more publicity in Australia be advantageous to local sponsors, or would we even attract Australian sponsors - who knows?
Most of the criticism of the decision seems to involve the fact that Kiwi horses will miss out after having battled to gain enough stake money to participate, and that's perfectly understandable. You can imagine the reaction from connections of the last qualifier, whether it be No.12 or No.13, when told that unfortunately, its' place has been taken by an invitee that has done all of its' racing off shore. I understand a decision on whether all the fields will have 13 horses regardless of the presence of a visitor or not, has yet to be made. I would humbly suggest that doing so would be a very good idea!
That raises another point, if the field size was restricted to 12 to allow all a fair chance when the Jewels were first dreamt up, how come that can be increased with the stroke of a pen? Apparently the RIU don't consider such a move to be a safety issue, just that it makes it that little more difficult to get in the money, as if it wasn't hard enough already.
The argument from Luke McCarthy that sending a horse over for the Jewels' early is expensive and a real hardship doesn't cut much ice with the writer - how does he think the major Kiwi trainers get on when they campaign horses in his neck of the woods? And because of the exchange rate, it costs them another 15 - 20% to do so.
One positive note that hasn't been widely noted. Should this plan come to fruition, I understand that if the horse initially selected by the Australian panel to represent in the various sections decides not to come to New Zealand, no further invitation will be made, thereby preventing a watering down of the honour.
There is one other relevant point to bring up. Last time the Jewels were held at Cambridge, there were four Southland horses eligible, yet, for whatever reasons, not one of them lined up in their respective race. Maybe when it comes to the crunch, the idea of starting in the Jewels might not be the magic attraction for those a long way from the action, and including a leading Australian horse might be better for the overall look and success of the event?
No doubt the discussion will continue for a while yet.
Peter T Cook
Following his recent election to Chairman of the Greater Canterbury Branch, Ken Barron has formulated a wish list (or I should probably say in the current corporate atmosphere ‘business plan'), which he hopes to achieve during his reign. He is realistic enough to understand that some of these goals will be easier to attain than others, but knowing Ken, he will not die wondering!
This is his list of aims:
1. Achieve closer unity with other Branches of the Association.
2. Introduce the Interference Rule that was defeated at last years' Annual Conference (he is very strong on this point).
3. Ensure the introduction of the Points System to supplement recent changes to programming/handicapping
4. Work with trainers and Clubs to increase the number of race starters
5. Work together with Club Secretaries to gain more starters at Trials instead of horses being spread over numerous workouts. Trial clubs need 80 horses to reach a break-even point to cover expenses (judges, starters). Many of the horses who go to workouts could easily run at official trials
6. Push for faster uploading of Trackside trial videos on the website, and wide shots of fields at the 1600/800 and 400 marks during race broadcasts, to aid punters in assessing horses' performances.
7. Make the most of his appointment on the HRNZ Race Dates Committee (always a challenge)
8. Introduce concessions for mares in trotters' races. Interestingly, this proposal was not supported by trotting supremo Kevin Townley, who maintained there was no difference in ability between the sexes when it came to trotters.
9. Push for the introduction of some form of race-day appearance money
10. Change the New Zealand season to be in line with the Australian i.e commencing 1 September. This issue was raised at the 1999 HRNZ Annual Conference, however rejected by the Board at the time, despite being supported by the Standardbred Breeders.
11. Change Committee meeting start times to 6pm, and arrange to meet relevant industry participants to discuss issues at 5pm prior to the meeting.
When Ken outlined these proposals at the AGM there was general support for all of them (with the exception of the trotters' one). As Anthony Butt put it, that was why he was standing down, to allow fresh blood and ideas!
Watch this space for progress.
Peter T Cook
Safety Vest Notice
4th September 2013
TIPPERARY RIDE LITE VEST
The Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) hereby gives notice that approval of the TIPPERARY RIDE LITE VEST for use by Licensed Drivers has been withdrawn effective immediately.The RIU takes this action in the interest of driver safety after being alerted to concerns that the Australian authorities had received expert reports advising that testing, of both new and used vests, had revealed that the Tipperary Ride Lite Vest did not comply with the SATRA Vest Standard.As a consequence the Australian Racing Board suspended the Tipperary Ride Lite Vest from its list of approved vests.Similarly as Harness Racing New Zealand applied the SATRA standard the prohibition was imposed.Therefore the TIPPERARY RIDE LITE VEST may not be worn by:1. Any licensed driver in a race or trial effective 5th September 2013The Australian authorities are working with the manufacturers of the Tipperary Ride Lite Vest to address the safety concerns and the RIU will be updated with developments.
Co-Chief Stipendiary Steward
RACING INTEGRITY UNIT
A small but select group of members attended the recent AGM of the Greater Canterbury Branch, along with Edward Rennell and Andrew Morris from HRNZ who kindly gave up their evening to cover a few current issues and answer questions.
Edward outlined recent staff changes at HRNZ following the resignation of Kevin Craik who, prior to leaving, commented on a fear of burnout due to 95% of contacts to his handicapping role taking the form of complaints. Andrew Morris would become responsible for general handicapping matters. With the imminent resignation of Wayne Reid, Darrin Williams would take on registrations as well as overseeing handicapping. Pete Ydgren was responsible for media liaison, promotions, and the Weekly, with changes in the format of the latter likely to be imminent. Trevor Beaton had been employed on a one year contract and was reviewing methods of education for cadets. This was likely to involve more hands-on tasks as opposed to school type work. Edward acknowledged the assistance of a number of trainers in achieving this.
Turnover for the past season had been static, however the number of races required for funding purposes had been staged. Unfortunately field size numbers were down from 11.2 horses to 10.4 per race. Stakes had risen 5% but there was still concern at the money from gaming situation, ($7-8million per year) despite the Flavell Bill having been defeated. Clubs were being encouraged to claim this money to fund other things such as promotions and race day functions. Edward felt that, because politicians and others were only invited to major days like Cup Day, there was a perception that harness racing was an industry for ‘fat cats', and such people should come along to Thursday night meetings to get a better idea of the reality of the current situation.
The idea of publishing nominations sequentially was discussed with Edward suggesting that the first meeting may suffer as a result of this policy. The one nomination policy was showing promise, with Anthony Butt asking if original nominations could be given preference. The problem with that was that it could prevent trainers doing what they were being asked to do, that is, nominate new horses. Following a comment from Kevin Townley, it appeared that only trainers who had nominated a horse for a specific meeting were receiving texts advising that nominations had been extended. Edward agreed that was of little use and Andrew Morris was directed to extend the service to all trainers in the area.
In outlining his new role in the handicapping department, Andrew felt that he and Darrin Williams would work well together, however they had different philosophies on some matters. He offered an open door policy and was keen to hear various opinions. He was in the process of developing the planned points system and this should be ready around December/January following consultation with the Association. Discussion had already taken place on various matters with trainers such as Ken Barron, Bruce Hutton and Mark Jones. Anthony Butt and M.Jones commented that they felt things were heading in the right direction in this area.
Edward spoke of the vast financial differences between Clubs in various regions of the Country, making it difficult for HRNZ set to set policies on a nationwide basis, comparing the Alaxandra park tenant Clubs with the Northern Southland Club. Progress was being made on an Age Group race review in conjunction with the Sires Stakes Board, and one proposal was to reduce the number of premier dates from 8 to 6, with at least 5 Group races at each meeting and a minimum of $20,000 for the supporting events.
During a subsequent question and answer session, matters discussed including the one horse - one race nomination policy, which was looking ‘promising', and whether HRNZ could pay stakes instead of Clubs so that GST could be avoided by owners. Edward advised that HRNZ had investigated various options of paying stakes and the current was the best of those. A battle with the IRD to exempt trainers and drivers percentages from GST had been lost on appeal - these payments were classed as ‘services'.
Another issue discussed was the assertion that the lowest level of horse racing in New Zealand was the highest in the World, and opportunities should exist for horses that qualify but struggle in the current maiden races and are often sacked. Edward acknowledged this, however gave examples of where different stake options had been programmed by Clubs, and the majority of trainers opted out of the high stake races, therefore making the supposed lower class events hard to win also. He gave an example of Group race winner Alto Christiano lining up in a maiden race against a full field, something that would not happen in New Zealand, and asserted that the Australians ‘had a mentality to race'. It was hoped that the proposed points system would help in this regard, as horses would handicap themselves based on their current form and race those of a similar level.
Other discussion topics were the future and viability of the Forbury Park and Cambridge clubs, a suggestion that four year-old awards be handed out for the past season, and a request for more fillies and mares races in Canterbury. In responding to the latter, Edward questioned the lack of support for the recent Golden Girl series.
John Versteeg asked for more maiden only and one-win only races for trotters to be programmed, maintaining that this would assist in horses progressing through the grades. All those present acknowledged that the trotter was the way of the future and as such, should gain more recognition. Edward reported that had the Auckland Club not been able to stage three trot races at their recent meetings, it was doubtful that those meetings would have gone ahead. He also advised that negotiations were underway with France to show more of our trotting Group races in that Country. Surprisingly, turnovers on the races that have been exported to France to date have exceeded the Australian turnover on the same races.
Finally Edward reported that, while HRNZ would be doing everything in its' power to increase stakes, the average prize money in New Zealand was currently the second highest in Australasia, after new South Wales.
In general business, Anthony Butt reported on a recent check of helmets and safety vests by the RIU, and urged members to make sure their equipment was up to standard. He also advised that the date of manufacture should be checked on helmets before purchase.
As reported previously Anthony has decided to stand down as Chairman of the Greater Canterbury Branch, and Ken Barron was voted in to replace him.
Anthonys' shoes will be very difficult ones to fill, he has been extremely active and pro-active as Chairman, both in the public eye and behind the scenes, being part of numerous Committees on a wide range of matters, and handling countless other issues and dramas that have cropped up during the years of his tenure. He has graciously agreed to continue to be part of the Committee, and will no doubt contribute much more in the future.
Ken has some ideas for the future, which will be detailed in a later update.
Peter T Cook
Forbury Park in Dunedin has, for many years, been one of those racetracks that polarises people. The ‘powers that be' categorise it as a Strategic Venue and therefore essential to the welfare of the Industry, others consider it a cold hole that stages race meetings that would be better off held in either Canterbury or Southland, without the huge time and cost involved in travelling.
Personally I have a bit of a soft spot for the place, although I admit it would be more than ten years since I've been there in person. I'm one of those small punters that enjoys betting against hot favourites, and there is no place better to practice that art than Forbury!
A great deal of money and effort in upgrading the track, so that it is now recognized as one of the best surfaces in the Country, and ongoing development of the facilities have ensured that they can be used for numerous functions other that racing, to boost Club revenue.
Now, I don't profess to be an expert in the political upheavals that have been swirling around Forbury in the past few years (in fact, make that decades), but having spoken to Club President Peter Gillespie at the last two HRNZ Annual Conferences, there is no doubt that he has a passion for the place, has put in a huge amount of preparatory work, and seemingly has the skills to make it more successful.
It is with some sadness and even distress that I hear that his plans to establish a new governing body that would be more ‘business-savvy' has been scuppered by a vote taken at a special meeting the other night.
As previously stated, I don't know for sure whether that was a good move or not, although after speaking to Peter, I suspect it won't help the Club in the future, but I am seriously concerned at the way the matter was decided.
The Forbury Park Trotting Club has 195 registered members and yet only 30 bothered to turn up to a meeting that was quite possibly critical to the way the Club will function in the coming years. 21 of those who did attend voted for the proposal, 9 were against, which meant that the motion failed (by a mere 5%) to gain the 75% majority it needed to succeed. Or in other words, if just two more members had gone along and supported the idea, it would have been passed!
Now I know that the Club has to be operated on a democratic basis and all that, but let's remember we are talking about a multi-million dollar facility operating as part of a multi-million dollar industry. And because two people had better things to do that night, the entire course of the Club may have been drastically altered.
Question: Is what happened at Forbury indicative of why harness racing is currently beset with problems, with a few well-meaning amateurs (some possibly with personal agendas) making decisions affecting the future of our multi-million dollar business?
Peter T Cook
As usual there is plenty going on in the Association's week, but most of it involves preparation for upcoming events.
The Northern Branch is busily involved in the organization of another of their very successful Northern Awards nights, this years' edition to be held at Alexandra Park on Saturday 31 August. If past years are anything to go by, tickets will be in short supply by now, so a call to Suzanne Herlihy on (09)2981757 would be a wise move if you're planning on going along to what is a brilliant evening.
On a slightly more serious note, the Greater Canterbury Branch is holding its' Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 27 August in the Addington Raceway Canteen (which is doubling as a Board room at present). A 7pm start and the guest will be new HRNZ Handicapper Andrew Morris. Anyone license-holder who wishes to come along will be welcome, or if you can't make it, e-mail the undersigned with anything you would like the meeting to discuss.
On an even more serious note, the Associations' National Council has been invited to meet with NZ Racing Board CEO Chris Bayliss to "discuss strategies in the running of the TAB, to gain broad perspectives and to hear concerns and ideas of industry stakeholders in relation to the current and future prospects of the industry as a whole."
Unfortunately due to financial and logistical problems, we were unable to accept the invitation for a face to face meeting, however a telephone link-up is being arranged for 3 September. Once again, any license-holder who has an issue that they would like to be discussed with Chris should contact the website. Obviously a report on both of the above meetings will be on the website soon after they happen.
Peter T Cook
Once again the panel discussion at the HRNZ Annual Conference provided a highlight, and once again it sparked some fascinating debate.
This year the panelists, Mick Guerin, Adam Hamilton (happily doing a little extra work for the cost of importing him for the Awards night), HRNZ's Pete Ydgren, and indisputably the best looking of the bunch, Monique Cairns (Manager, Corporate Affairs, NZ Racing Board), tackled the thorny subject of how harness racing should handle the media.
It's no secret that the printed media is shrinking rather alarmingly and that the future for the daily newspaper is somewhat bleak, however the organisations that produce them are trying desperately to keep up with technology, and will, in the near future at least, continue in some form or another. Some, such as Jamie Searle of the Southland Times (http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/sport/racing/) and Matt Smith of the Otago Daily Times (http://www.odt.co.nz/sport/racing) are excellent exponents of this, with almost daily updates on their respective websites. They do not simply focus on their local regions either.
The most interesting comment from the two media representatives was that journalists are notoriously lazy (their words not mine, before the arrows start flying), and that they like nothing more than a story and a photo or two being handed to them on a plate. Their suggestion was to ‘buddy up' to your local members of the ‘fourth estate', treat them as your mates, and keep them informed. Believe it or not, the public are interested in hearing about something out of the ordinary that happened in your stable, or to a horse that people know the name of. It makes good copy, and helps both the journalists and the Industry, not to mention getting your name out there. You only have to watch the mainstream television news to understand that, on a quiet news day, they drag out some odd-ball human interest story (often more interesting than the main news stories) to fill in the hours viewing that they are required to produce.
Another point raised was using an accident to promote the Industry. Actually that's probably already happening to a certain extent - probably 80% of harness coverage on the main networks is made up of accidents and mishaps. Why should we be shy about this? How much coverage does motorsport get apart from the crashes? We know our sport is made as safe as possible safe by all the safeguards that have been introduced in the past decades, such as pylons. People (and therefore the media) enjoy watching crashes, especially when both the equine and human participants walk away with just a bruise or two.
The old saying that ‘any publicity is good publicity' is corny but still very relevant. I still recall the anticipation of massive fallout from infamous "Blue Magic" saga - contrary to expectations, turnover on harness racing went up the following season!
So, trainers, if you've got a story to tell (and who hasn't) have a chat to your local racing reporter (if you can find him of course) and maybe you can be the start of a "Harness Anecdote of the Week" series that the readers will enjoy and look forward to.
The media is forever hungry, and it is our responsibility to keep them fed.
Peter T Cook
I've been to more HRNZ Annual Conferences than I would care to remember - I even went to some when they were the Trotting Conference Annual Conference, which was a bit confusing!
It would be fair to say that I've heard quite a few different Racing Ministers and just as many Chairmen and CEO's of the New Zealand Racing Board, or whatever it was called in past years. Most, if not all have ‘talked the talk', but sadly few have followed that up with much ‘walk', fading into obscurity or disgrace, or both!
So, to the ears of an old cynic, there was a somewhat refreshingly different air about the talk given by the latest Racing Board CEO Chris Bayliss. Some of his predecessors have done reasonable jobs of trying to pull our Industry up by its' proverbial bootstraps, some, such as the last expensive import from the UK, have been bloody awful.
However, they seem to have all been guilty of looking at the problem from the top, and trying to solve the high profile issues, maybe to make their mark, or maybe to justify their salaries. Chris Bayliss is different.
Instead of rushing in with great gusto and a big stick, he has taken one or even more steps back, delved deep into the dark recesses of the New Zealand Racing Industry, and actually discovered why things are happening, and what is the best way to deal with them.
Unfortunately there were so many facts and figures being bandied about during his address, trying to take it in and write it all down was beyond me, but I managed to make a few notes. For instance, it was rather sobering to hear that, while owners' costs came in at around $283m, the returns were about $68m, or 24%. The aim was to get that to around 30% at least, which would compare favourably with other countries. On the other hand, about 45% of the horses that lined up last season actually won a race, which was a little more encouraging.
Australians (and other overseas markets) were obviously targets for turnover growth with only 4% of their betting being on our harness racing, and there were various strategies being considered to achieve this, along with incentives both here and overseas. A Lotto type product run by the TAB looks to be a certainty in the near future.
Other issues covered included the growth of sports betting, (surprisingly the highest turnover on any sport by the TAB is basketball!), the establishment of a media liaison desk, and plans to re-jig the television channels to avoid the current duplication. This would involve having a dedicated local content channel with longer lead-in times (yay), and the other concentrating on the race a minute overseas stuff. It was estimated that this would enable the second channel to broadcast another 5000 races per year, with a relative increase in turnover.
This was certainly one of the more positive Conferences I've been to, and the general feeling was that the future of our game was in the best hands it's been in for a good while.
Peter T Cook
Following a request from the Association the RIU have agreed to change their policy regarding the use of the I-STAT hand tester for TC02 levels.
From 1 August a trainer will be able to ascertain the level recorded on the I-STAT machine prior to the race. Should this level be above the acceptable level, the trainer will be given the option to scratch the horse.
While charges could still be laid for presenting the horse to race, a trainer who decides to scratch, will be given credit for his or her actions at a subsequent hearing.
In addition, the RIU will henceforth publish the results of all tests done for TC02 testing on their website at the earliest possible moment, so that a trainer can be made aware if a horse is recording a level close to the limit. This is something the Association has also been requesting for a while.
The RIU is to be commended for making these policy changes to ensure that trainers are fully informed of the TC02 level that their horse is recording, and act accordingly.
Peter T Cook
As you may recall, over the past few months, mention has been made on this site of problems being experienced with a brand of gear as a result of a number of breakages of virtually new hopples etc.
The Association has been liaising with representatives of the RIU to try and sort out the problem, and Greater Canterbury Branch Chairman Anthony Butt recently met with representatives of the company concerned, Zilco Ltd.
It seems that there has been a problem with the Deluxe model of hopples in the past, in particular those manufactured in 2008/9.
In an attempt to rectify this, Zilco has put an extra strap around the block. This has worked to a degree, but to start with they have made this strap too long and the stitching was coming away on it on the inside of the loop near the block. They have now made theextra strap shorter and sown it into the loop in a better way so it shouldn't come away now. On the right is a photo of the new hopple and where the changes have been made.
The Association suggests that all trainers check their Zilco Deluxe hopples to ensure that their current hopples have the new strap sown in. Anyone who is using older hopples that they are not sure about, should replace them.
The Association acknowledges that Zilco have worked hard to resolve this issue, and are they are confident that there should be no more problems.
Peter T Cook
The National Council recently held a telephone link-up prior to the HRNZ Annual Conference.
The only Remit to be presented that is related to the Association is the one concerning on-course betting by drivers. While it is understood that this Country and Germany are the only two places where on-course betting is permitted by horsemen, and the Racing Board are keen to bring us into line with international policy, there is a feeling that the change is unnecessary. The Association fully supports a Rule that prevents anyone in driving gear placing an on-course bet, however, given the number of hobby trainer drivers in New Zealand, any change seems to be somewhat draconian to such people. Conference delegate Peter Ferguson was given leave to speak against the Remit.
Peter expressed concern at the large number of trotters being stood down and asked to trial in the North. He argued that horses could learn little from starting in 2 or 3 horse trials, and the current policy was causing horse shortages. The meeting agreed that punters knew the horses that could gallop, but felt that this was only an issue in the North.
The current issue of trainers not being advised of TC02 levels recorded on the new ISTAT pre-race was discussed. It was considered that no-one benefitted from this policy, and an approach was to be made to the RIU asking that it should be changed. Concern was also expressed at the level of fines being handed out for undue use of the whip, with little or no consideration being given to whether the horse was being actually hit or not.
Complaints had been received over the performance of some Clerks of the Course, and it was suggested that every track should have two of these officials on duty. Unfortunately the cost of this, and a lack of capable Clerks made this virtually impossible. However, there were some problems that could be rectified. An example was given of the single Clerk at the Blenheim track who was stationed on the galloping track with a full length running rail between him and the all-weather track. This made it impossible for him to obtain immediate access to any incident that might occur. Anthony Butt agreed to speak with Dave Ferriman on this matter. Anthony also advised the meeting that he was due to have an informal meeting with a gear manufacturer over the continuing problem of new or near-new gear breakages.
Other matters discussed during the link-up included the criteria involved in voting for the Annual Awards, and whether or not it should include Australian form, and varying opinions on the merits or otherwise of the Auckland TC policy of open nominations. Peter Ferguson advised that there had already been consultation with trainers over this, and advised that another meeting with the Club was scheduled for 7 August. Any trainers who are continually grumbling into their beer, or sounding off in the media, are urged to go along to this meeting and air their views to the Club and Kevin Smith.
Peter T Cook
Like a large number of our horses, I'm heading across the ‘deetch' this week for a few days of warmth, however, I'm definitely coming back.
As many of you will know, also this week, sees an important meeting of the HRNZ Handicapping Committee where, mainly as a result of proposals put forward by a bunch of Canterbury trainers recently (see below), there will be some robust discussion on what is right and/or wrong with the current handicapping system.
Unfortunately I won't be able to report on the outcome of that meeting until I return, however I am becoming rather angry at some of the comments being made, particularly those asking why we can't have a system like Australia.
There are a number of reasons why that can't happen - here are the important ones;
1) Whereas New Zealand has a population of 4 million, Australia has 22 million, or over five times more. Hypothetically, if the same percentage of people bet on racing in both countries, our turnover would be multiplied by five times and, as stake levels are directly related to turnover, our stakes would be five times higher than they are now. I doubt if there would be many complaints if that were the case.
2) Because their population and turnovers are much higher, they can support and finance a meeting a day in the major racing States, therefore are able to cater for all range of horses. Can you imagine how long this Country (let alone region) could sustain a meeting a day without going down the gurgler?
3) We all know that while trainers in New Zealand have a hungry market for selling horses (how many times have we heard trainers say selling is the only way they make money?), the Australians have very limited options in that direction. Consequently, they race their horses more often, week after week, until they run them into the ground. While a lot is made of the success enjoyed by some average horses when they are exported, there are plenty who don't even recoup their purchase price and end up in places like South Australia racing for total stakes of $1500 per race - no that's not a misprint!
4) Trainers in this Country often find themselves in a ‘Catch 22' situation where they have a nice horse but they and/or their owners are scared to line them up in case they come up against one or two better ones, and the saleable value of the horse takes a hit. That means they are reluctant to race the horse that could create turnover, and the Club and consequently its' stakes levels suffer. There are valid arguments for both sides of that situation, however it's not the fault of the Handicapping System!
5) Speaking of being scared to race a horse, there is the other scenario happening far too often, where maybe 15 or more horses are nominated for a race, yet when a horse of outstanding ability is included, there are often mass withdrawals, meaning the race is canned, and everyone loses. Compare that to Australia where they are happy to line up one win horses against the likes of Alta Christiano for example, and perhaps you can see how futile it is to suggest that we should adopt the same system as them. Obviously, often earning place money for the owners is less important than maintaining the sale price. Once again, not the fault of the Handicapping System.
No, the Handicapping System isn't perfect, in fact there probably hasn't been one anywhere that is, but let's at least keep the arguments and criticisms to ones that include common sense. See you soon.
Peter T Cook
It's hardly a huge revelation to announce that the media, in its' various forms, can have a huge influence on how the public act and react, and often their revelations and ‘scoops' can be extremely valuable.
The trouble is, when they get involved in a subject that they obviously know little if anything about, they not only end up with egg on their faces, they can also do a great deal of harm to individuals and the occupation or sport they are connected to. You have probably read recent articles about Northern trainer Nicky Chilcotts' day in court, and the subsequent drivel that was served up to TV One news viewers that night. Even the prosecuting lawyer thought it was a disgrace!
I don't intend to comment any further on the content as it is still ‘sub judice' except to say that it is far from the first time the general media have shot from the hip over racing and got it very wrong! One of the most annoying aspects is that TV One has completely wiped its' hands of any racing coverage, live or otherwise, yet suddenly, when a bit of apparent controversy is there to be blown up out of proportion on a quiet news day, there they are.
I was initially involved (I haven't watched that channels' news for years) when I received complaints that an image of Mark Purdon was shown in the introduction to the piece. Following an approach to the channel, I managed to extract the following apology to Mark from the Executive Producer Graeme Muir:
I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the inadvertent use of an image of you in the introduction to the ONE News story on Nicola Chilcott last night. It was chosen as a generic harness racing image to show behind the presenter, but as I have just said to my production team it was not generic enough and we need to be much more careful.
You will note the words of the introduction clearly referred to the subject of the story, Nicola Chilcott. However, I am sorry if this has been the source of any embarrassment.
Unfortunately for Nicky, that was not the worst part of the deal for her!
I know that the Racing Industry can shoot itself in the foot sometimes, but it is very frustrating when the media focus is usually on the negative, whereas other sports/industries seem to get more balanced overall coverage.
Of course it may pay to recall that, if it hadn't been for former RIU Chief Cameron Georges' ‘reds under the beds' assertions that openly suggested that drug use in New Zealand was rife (with little or no proof then or now), neither this episode or the ‘Delightful Christian' debacle would have occurred - but that's another story.
On a more positive note, in an obscure sort of way, I was pleased to read the decision on costs surrounding the recent Geoff Small case of mistaken horse identity.
A couple of years ago, I campaigned long (and rather noisily) about some of the punitive costs that the JCA panels were awarding against defendants at the conclusion of their hearings. Credit where credit's due, and it is obvious that much more thought is now going into what costs are actually being accrued, instead of the previous policy which seemed to view costs as a form of add-on to the penalties. The following excerpt from the Small hearing transcript reflects a reasoned and fair approach:
53) Due to this matter being heard on a raceday the JCA are not seeking any costs. The JCA Practice Note on Costs and Filing Fees (Nov 12, Para 5) provides that costs should not be awarded in proceedings where the hearing commences during a race meeting and is adjourned to be heard during another race meeting at which a Judicial Committee is appointed to preside.
54) No costs in favour of the RIU are awarded, but the Committee has given careful consideration to the RIU's application. Our reasons for not awarding costs are primarily that this hearing was opened at a race meeting on 1 June 2013 and adjourned to another race meeting. This Committee has no evidence that the RIU objected to the adjournment and in fact we understand that all parties agreed to the hearing date, time and venue.
55) As to costs for transcribing interviews the Committee believes that because all parties allowed the transcribed material to be admitted by consent it avoided the need for one or more witnesses to be called to give their evidence in person. As such it reduced the hearing time, enabled the matter to be dealt with expediently on race night and saved all parties the burden of unnecessarily incurring additional travel costs.
Maybe we are making some progress in some areas!
Peter T Cook
Few hate messing with harness racing traditions more than the writer, but sometimes, sooner or later, reality kicks in, and changes need to happen.
The proposal to amalgamate all the Clubs that currently race at Alexandra Park, to be discussed at a 9 July meeting, has been coming for a very long time. I recall talking to a stalwart of the Franklin Trotting Club some five years ago, who spoke of doom and gloom when it came to the Clubs' financial future, so I would be surprised if many involved in Northern harness racing are shocked at what is being suggested - saddened certainly, but not shocked.
The current situation borders on the farcical, with an Auckland Trotting Club meeting regularly paying over $10,000 in stakes for all races one week, followed the next week by one of the host meetings offering an average of $6000 per race. Oddly enough, the Auckland meeting attracts relatively reasonable entries, and the other struggles along with a number of 6-7 horse fields. Often the same standard of horses is involved, sometimes even the same horses.
That's a result of trainers understandably aiming to maximize their horses' earnings, but your average punter couldn't give a hoot, and refuses to bet on the smaller fields. Result - the host Clubs (who pay a healthy premium to race at Alexandra Park) sink further into the mire with every race meeting they hold. Quite obviously that cannot be allowed to continue.
The move will make life less complicated for both trainers and administrators, who can race and programme on a more regular and structured basis, hopefully for better stakes.
There is also the huge promised carrot for the Industry of extending the Pukekohe training facility. Not surprisingly, the chances of the average young trainer having the wherewithal to purchase his or her own property in any part of the Country are bordering on the impossible, let alone the Auckland/Waikato area. This would be a massive leg up to anyone wishing to start a career from scratch.
Having said all that, it is hoped that some of the traditional races are allowed to continue, similar to the situation when the three Addington Clubs amalgamated, and even more importantly, the voluntary personnel that have served the smaller Clubs so well in the past, can be welcomed into the fold of the new organization with open arms, and not be cast adrift with a sour taste in their mouths.
Speaking of industry stalwarts, I was lucky enough to have time enough to have my second look through the amazing Hall of Fame at Alexandra Park recently. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted like a long lost friend by an acquaintance of many moons ago, former Racing Minister Gilbert Myles who, with his usual flair and ‘gift of the gab', gave my partner and I a fascinating trip down memory lane, and showed that his enthusiasm for the game had not diminished one bit.
The exhibition is one that anyone keen on memories and the history of our wonderful ‘sport' could easily spend a week going through (and that's without sleep breaks!) and still miss something. It is a real credit to the people who have put it together and nurtured, and I guarantee Gilbert will welcome you with open arms and a good story, should you pass through the doors.
Peter T Cook
Nothing major to report to date this week, just the challenges for trainers of working and maintaining the fitness of horses around a storm (I refuse to call it a ‘weather bomb') that is sweeping its' way up the Country.
Full marks to HRNZ for pre-empting (Trackside's favourite word) the problems surrounding the Forbury Park meeting scheduled for the middle of the mayhem, and shifting it to Saturday, weather permitting. That way the connections are not robbed of an opportunity to race, and the Industry doesn't lose valuable turnover.
Having experienced and survived the Oamaru meeting last Sunday, it shows that, unlike our cousins across the Tasman where someone only has to spit on the track and the meeting is ditched, races can go ahead, even under the most challenging conditions. It is a huge credit to the track preparers that this can happen, and I heard no-one complaining that the Oamaru track was unacceptable, barring the obvious lake. This follows a superb surface being presented at Nelson, just weeks after the track had been partly washed away.
Even though the Greater Canterbury Branch asked the NZ Met Club to experiment with changing the 1950m start back to the old 2000m for a couple of months, it would be fair to say that not everyone thought it was a good idea. The ‘jury' will deliver its' verdict at the end of July.
One thing the change has done is indicate how far the trotting breed in this Country has progressed in the past few years. The two Breeders Crown heats held last week saw the existing two and three year old national records bettered by about four and three seconds respectively. Given that there were small numbers contesting the heats, you would imagine that a full race field would see an even more substantial reduction in those times. You would presume that the record book for both pacers and trotters will be re-written next season if the change is persevered with.
I suppose, considering where he finished on the points table, it would be daft to congratulate Northern Branch Vice-Chairman David Butcher on his performance at the recent World Drivers Championships. However, it's possible that this might be one of those occasions that participation was more important than the result, and I'm sure David will have not only enjoyed himself immensely, but gained valuable ides of ‘how the other half trot', so to speak. Whatever the outcome, I know he considered it a huge honour to represent his Country overseas and I'm sure he was a perfect ambassador for New Zealand, albeit without understanding a lot of what the locals were saying! It will be interesting to see who is selected to attend the next World Drivers Championships in Sydney in 2015.
Peter T Cook
I'm sure I'm not the only one that gets frustrated with the ‘PC world' we now seem to be lumbered with, being unable to say or do anything without checking first to see if we are in danger of upsetting or offending anyone.
As in most situations and controversies, there are two sides to every story, and there are a couple of stories floating around harness racing at the moment that fit that scenario well.
The first concerns licensing, and how lenient the Industry should be in dishing out licenses to drive in a race. We all know there are already a few souls out there who are not cut out for race driving, yet because they have somehow obtained a license in the past, the authorities are powerless to do anything unless they make a serious error, or cause an obvious problem.
However, that should not be seen to be an excuse for giving out new licenses to all and sundry if there are doubts about their ability or competence. There are the odd ones that are licensed to drive in certain races, i.e. trotters races, and those restrictions were put in place for a reason. We are forever being told that the safety of drivers and horses must take priority, and that should be enough to prevent new licenses being issued to those who are not considered, by their peers, to be capable of managing themselves in a race.
Trouble is, in the current climate where litigation is king, trying to convince a High Court judge how that works could be an uphill battle!
The second current issue concerns access to the stable areas at Addington and Alexandra Park. For obvious safety reasons, both areas are policed, to prevent unauthorized entry, but that, in itself, can cause problems.
When the Addington stable block was built, one of the main attractions was going to be that owners could go and inspect their horses in indoor comfort and close proximity, as opposed to walking 200 metres in the cold and wet to the old boxes. Trouble is, Mr OSH has reared his ugly head since their completion and, sometimes with good reason, the Club has had to be cautious in its' approach to the matter of access.
This week they have issued the following policy statement;
"A review of health and safety policies at the Raceway is currently being undertaken.
An area of specific emphasis being reviewed is our access to the Stables Policy.
The policy that is in place at present will remain in force as is for the immediate future, except for the implementation immediately of a new policy that excludes: Prams / Pushchairs / Strollers from the Stables."
Like I said, you can see both sides of the argument, the last thing the Club or the Industry needs is a serious accident in the stables, but with a number of our leading trainers having young families, such a policy prevents their family from being part of the environment that rules their life. As my partner points out, surely children are safer in push-chairs etc, than being carried in their mothers' arms?
It's a difficult balancing act, and one which the authorities are never going to win, whatever policies they introduce.
Peter T Cook
Last week saw the proposals resulting from the recent meeting of Canterbury trainers (see below) tabled at the HRNZ Board meeting. As a result, some progress has been made, and other issues are to be considered by the HRNZ handicapping Committee in July.
The following is a summary of a report on progress from the Association's Board member, John Lischner:
1) Sequential nominations; Darrin Williams (HRNZ Handicapper) is to consult with Canterbury Clubs with the aim of introducing staggered closing times of nominations, to be published in sequence.
2) One horse, one nomination per meeting; This was to be incorporated into programmes and trialed for the balance of the season in Canterbury.
3) Abolition of Reserve races; This was approved, however it will require a change to Programming and general Conditions.
4) Drop Back System; Referred to Handicapping Sub-Committee. However, in Canterbury, Darrin Williams is to incorporate additional drop back conditions into programmes.
5) Points system for field selection; The NZ Metropolitan club is to prepare a submission on this for presentation at the Handicapping Committee meeting.
6) Addington start points and field sizes; Mobile events will be restricted to twelve starters (eight on the front row and four on the second) during June and July. A change from the Addington 1950m start to 2000m will also be trialed during that time.
7) Fillies and mares races and Junior concessions for trotters races; Darrin Williams would be addressing these issues on an on-going basis.
8) Two year-old maiden events; Addington would stage one of these at all of their June and July meetings. If there are seven or more acceptors, they will be tote events, six or less they would be $2000 non-tote races.
Changes to 2 and 3 year old concessions will be discussed at a full Handicapping Sub-Committee meeting on 10 July.
There will be two changes to the make-up of that Committee with Rob Lawson replacing David Butcher (who will be overseas), and Ken Barron replacing Anthony Butt, who has resigned. Others involved are John Lischner, Pat O'Brien, Hamish Hunter, Mark Jones, Kevin Smith, Steve Phillips, Erin Crawford and Brian Rabbitt.
Peter T Cook
The recent greater Canterbury Branch meeting was dominated by discussion on aspects of the proposals raised at the meeting of Canterbury horsemen documented below.
These proposals were due to be discussed at this weeks' HRNZ Board meeting and, if approved, would be then considered by the HRNZ Handicapping Committee, and hopefully introduced as soon as possible. The instigators of that unprecedented meeting at the Yaldhurst Hotel, Mark Jones and Ken Barron, requested opinions from the Branch Committee on various aspects of the proposals.
Items considered included two and three years old concessions, with the consensus being that the two year old ones should be retained as current, with the stake ceiling for races carrying a penalty being reduced to $20,000. As for three year-olds, it was agreed that the first two wins would carry a penalty and thereafter, every second win should be penalty free. This would help to alleviate the current bottleneck in the one and two win grades, and also prevent situations like the recent Border Control fiasco.
The proposed points system was fully endorsed, and in particular, the idea of some fields being selected from the bottom up, despite the race carrying a good stake. There was also strong support for the drop-back system.
While these are the main points of the current thrust, the meeting also considered the abolition of Reserve races, one horse/one race nominations, sequential nominations (Thursday/Friday fields out prior to Saturday/Sunday nominations closing), and the abolition of tentative programmes, so that Secretaries could set programmes for horses available, closer to the time of the meeting. There was also a suggestion that concessions for mares be introduced into trotting races similar to those used in the likes of Country Cup events, along with more races for fillies and mares in Canterbury. The re-introduction of the 2000 metre start at Addington was not unanimously supported, but would be trialed.
Following that lengthy debate, other issues raised included concern at the cabbage trees along the Addington back straight and the possibility of their leaves falling on the track, incentives for using on-line nominations (Canterbury had the lowest percentage of trainers using this facility), and clarification required of aspects of the race abandonment procedure, particularly regarding the re-running of the race.
The RIU have advised that they are introducing a policy of requiring helmets to be replaced every five years, however this would be phased in gradually with a period of grace allowed.
Peter T Cook
Terms & Conditions of Training