News -  From 2016


National Council



The Cold Hard Facts

Over the past couple of weeks, the Trainers & Drivers Assn. has come under scrutiny, as it always should, in this case over the way that it handled the introduction of the 10 strike whip policy. Much has been said and written as to what was discussed at our recent National Council meeting, and whether the matter was voted on or not. Fortunately, as I do with all phone conferences, I tape the meetings so that I can go back and refer when writing the minutes if needed.

During the 28 October meeting, Chairman Rob Lawson raised the issue of whip use, and announced that Australia was planning to ban whips from next September. Subsequent to that the RIU and HRNZ, who did not favour following the Australian lead, were apparently proposing to introduce a 10 strike whip policy. Mark Jones said that he had spoken to RIU’s Nigel McIntyre, who had told him of the proposal, and Mark told the meeting that it seemed to be “not a bad meet in the middle”. At no point in the ensuing discussion did any of the Council members express opposition to the policy as such, and the last word on the matter was Mark again who said, “I don’t have a problem with it.” Due to there being no dissenting voice on the issue from anyone involved in the meeting, there was no formal vote. Why would there be?

Two weeks later the horseman’s representative on the HRNZ Board, Rob Lawson took part in a vote on the matter and voted for it, saying that he had the support of the NZHRT&D National Council, which of course at the time, and as far as he knew, he did.

It has been suggested that all horsemen should have a say on this issue. Just to clarify the situation if you are unaware, the National Council of the NZHRT&DA is the legally represented body of the horsemen. The Council represents all the branches and the horsemen affiliated to those Branches. As in any democracy the leaders are elected or appointed to represent the views of the members.

That is, they have to make decisions on behalf of the members - the members having had the confidence in those elected to accurately and honesty reflect their views, and also to represent in a manner that ensures the prosperity of the Harness Racing Industry. Every horseman or woman has the opportunity to put themselves forward as a local Committee member, ensuring they have a say in matters such as this.

Members of any Committee are entitled to change their minds after a meeting, however there are proper channels available to advise of that. Mark Jones comes from a family that for decades has given their time and energy in spades to establish and progress a body to represent all trainers and drivers, and he himself has for a number of years, been a valuable and insightful contributor to every meeting I’ve had the privilege of attending with him. It is terribly disappointing to hear that the Association and indeed, horsemen in general, will be losing his knowledge and vision over a perceived faulty meeting protocol.

There is a lot more I could say, but it’s the season of good will to all, well most anyway, and enough has been said on this classic ‘storm in a teacup’ in the public domain already, so I’ll save it for another time.

All the best to you and yours for the holiday season, and may you all win your fair share except when I’ve backed something else in the race, or am lining up against you in Central Otago.

Pete Cook

Training Complexes

It’s great to see HRNZ plan to investigate the setting up of training facilities in the Canterbury area, similar to the excellent complex already in place South of Auckland, just long overdue.

I haven’t personally made it to the upgraded Pukekohe yet, but the other day I did get out to Woodend Beach North of Christchurch to see the equestrian area developed by David and Catherine Butt. To say I was impressed would be the understatement of, well at least the last half hour anyway. Granted it was a lovely day, but the overall peaceful atmosphere, wide open spaces, and general good feeling about the various training set ups dotted about the property must be wonderful for both the horses and the people that work there. Little wonder that, outside the All Stars, many of the best horses in Canterbury, if not Australasia are trained there.

Yes, there is a rather fine looking track on site, which looks as though it would only be used for jog trips, but of course the major feature is the beach. And what a beach, it goes for ever in both directions, offering plenty of room for wave after wave (no pun intended) of horses, mostly pairs, to rip along on a forgiving surface, followed by a beneficial walk in the sea, although some are keener on that than others!

Not only that, but the undulating path of soft sand that leads out to the beach offers a perfect warm up and down, easy on legs yet good for muscle building – I can attest to the benefits, having ploughed along it to watch the horses work! I would suggest that, if money is to be invested in a training facility, there would be no better location than North Canterbury beaches to spend it.

Just as an aside, it was noticeable that every single person (and there were plenty) that went past in a sulky greeted us with a cheery comment or acknowledgement, yet to the three thoroughbred personnel that we passed on the path, we were obviously invisible! Just saying.

Pete Cook

Handicapping Anomalies

It’s always going to happen with any new system, be it handicapping or anything else. Anomalies will crop up that nobody had anticipated and they have to be dealt with by the people that manage the system s they are discovered.

However, an unfortunate anomaly has surfaced in the deep South, which has little to do with the new points based regime. A race was programmed as being for ‘C1 horses with earnings up to and including $500 in the last 4 starts’. Pretty straightforward you would think, but not so. In these days where many Clubs are paying appearance money, and HRNZ are generously topping that up with another $50, things can get a bit murky.

Two of the C1 horses that were nominated for the event had pretty similar earnings, one had earned $612.50 in its’ last four runs, including driving fees and appearance money, the other $855.00, also including appearance bonuses. So why is one allowed to line up and the other decreed outside race conditions? Because the one with less earnings had actually had the audacity to finish fifth in three of those four races, albeit two of them being six months ago, and the other around 6.5 lengths from the winner. Apparently, because a fifth placing is deemed ‘competitive’, that counts against him, even though there is no mention of that in the conditions.

Perhaps this might have been a suitable occasion to dust off that controversial word that seems to be all the rage at the moment, discretion?

Pete Cook

JCA Hearing Protocols

There’s an old saying the fore-warned is fore-armed – or is it the other way round? Any whatever the case, the JCA have just come out with a new set of protocols to be followed during a hearing, and it might be useful for all to familiarise themselves with them , just in case they should end up on the wrong side of the RIU. This is how it will go:

Commencement of Hearing

• Chairman opens proceedings and introduces Committee.

• Requests confirmation that all parties have been given notice of the hearing and are present at the inquiry.

• Chairman reads the information.

• Chairman inquires of all parties do they understand the protest rule and does any party require the rule to be read. The Rule will not be read out unless a request is made by a participant in which case it is to be read by the Committee panelist.

Introductory Comments by JCA Committee

• The Chairman invites all persons present in the inquiry room to identify themselves and state their status or connection to the protest.

• The Chairman inquires of parties who they nominate to speak on behalf of their position/horse’s interests.

• Brief statement by the Chairman emphasising that the hearing must proceed in an efficient and timely way and setting out the process the Committee will follow at the hearing which is to include the following explanation of the process that will be followed:

a. There are to be no more than two people to speak for each party (those nominated by parties having already been identified). Note: however, where an owner who is not one of the nominated representatives wishes to raise an additional matter, a committee may exercise its discretion to allow a brief and focussed comment to be made.

b. No right to cross examination. If any party wishes to ask questions those questions are to be put through the Chairman.

c. Each nominated person will only be given one opportunity to speak.

d. Inform parties after the completion of their evidence the Stipendiary Steward will be invited to provide his analysis of the protest and to express an opinion on the Protest merits.

e. In the instance of a Stipendiary Steward protest then the Stipendiary Steward should be given the opportunity of ‘right of reply’.

The Hearing

• Chairman invites the Stipendiary Steward (but not the Stipendiary Steward who will be asked to provide an opinion on the protest) to set the scene by showing all available films of the incident giving rise to the protest for the purpose of identifying the affected horses. No view will be expressed at that stage by any Stipendiary Steward.

• Parties present evidence (in accordance with process outlined above).

• Stipendiary Steward asked to provide his analysis and opinion on the Protest merits.

• No expectation of further comment by parties (other than in exceptional circumstances or where a new issue arises that may require, in the interests of fairness, a limited opportunity for comment).


• Chairman asks if everybody is satisfied they have had a fair hearing. [this is not an opportunity to repeat points already made].

• Inform the parties the Committee’s written decision with full reasons will be provided as soon as possible.

• Everyone leaves the room while the Committee deliberates.

Decision Announcement

• Judicial Committee record outcome (ie: protest upheld or protest dismissed) formally on the Information including directions as to payment of dividends and stakes. A Stipendiary Steward and any representative of the parties (if available without delay) will be called into the room and told the outcome (without reasons) by the Judicial Committee Chair.

Pete Cook

No Excuse Really

I’ll begin by admitting that I have never bred a horse, but that’s only because I haven’t had a property big enough and/or the finance to support a mare and foal. Having got that out of the way, I am becoming more and more perplexed at what I keep hearing from breeders.

“There’s no future in it”, “It’s too expensive,” “If you’re not breeding to certain stallions you’re history”, etc. etc. Obviously these people are more experienced than I about such things, and I know this is supposed to be a trainers and drivers website, but I just want to point out something that I noticed this week. If it convinces one breeder to send one extra mare to the stud, then, in the long term, it will be helping trainers – that’s my excuse anyway.

I was having a look though the fields for the first night of the Perth Interdominions, which despite the pitiful track they are held on, are always of at least passing interest. Something struck me, so the nerd in me came to the fore, and I tallied up some amazing statistics. At the time of writing there were 112 horses down to line up on the first night of the carnival, not counting the emergencies. Of those, a staggering 70, yes seven zero, horses had the letters NZ beside their name indicating that they were bred in this Country. In other words, without New Zealand bred horses, there would probably be no meeting!

Not satisfied with that ridiculous stat, I went through the Interdominion heat fields and found that of the 30 starters, 17 were Kiwi bred. Harness racing in Perth is thriving, and it would seem likely that without horses bred in this Country, it would probably be dead! Isn’t that a pretty good reason to breed a horse for that market?

More praise for the “Box Seat” team for another interesting, well balanced and entertaining hour this week. It’s taken a while, but in my opinion the programme has matured from being a pointless tipping-a-thon (if that’s a word) to a topical vehicle for industry issues and interesting topics that don’t usually get air time. It should now become compulsory viewing for everyone who loves the game. Keep it up, please.

Pete Cook

Whips and a Close Shave

One or two eyebrows have been raised at the Trainers & Drivers Assn. supporting the new Rule governing the use of whips.

As from 1 December this year, drivers will be restricted to using the whip ten times between the 400 metre point, or face a charge. It probably means that some horsemen will have to brush up on their mathematics, and hopefully the RIU will be a little discerning as to what constitutes a strike with the whip and a harmless flourish. Almost certainly there will be a period of getting used to the new restrictions, and hopefully some leeway will be shown initially.

So why did the Association agree with the new Rule? The simple answer is that whether they did or not, in the near future the same or similar restrictions were going to happen. At the HRNZ Annual Conference, Australian HRC boss Geoff Want predicted that there would be no whips permitted in his jurisdiction within five years. If the rumour machine is to be believed that prediction could be out by quite a margin!

No we don’t have to follow the Aussies in everything they do and at this stage, there seems little appetite by anyone in this Country for a full ban on whips. However it would be naïve to think that one day in the not too distant future that could change. There is no question that a whip can be, and often is, used to control an unruly horse in a race, letting it know that what it is doing is not acceptable, and could result in a safety hazard. What happens when that option is taken away remains to be seen, but it will be a pity.

The happenings earlier this week in the Marlborough and Wellington regions have been horrendous, not only for the people affected, but the Country as a whole, particularly from a financial point of view. We in Canterbury not only felt the shake, but can relate to how shaken the latest victims must be. From a strictly harness racing point of view, we should breathe a collective sigh of relief that the disaster didn’t happen exactly two weeks earlier, in between the two day meeting in Kaikoura. The loss of the Club’s big day, and the logistical minefield surrounding the stabling and transport of horses back to Christchurch doesn’t bear thinking about.

Pete Cook

November 2016

That is an astounding month date that will long live in the memory of many people for many different reasons.

The Chicago Cubs won whatever they won after over 100 years of trying, the Irish rugby team beat the All Blacks for the first time in about the same time frame, a reality show host became the ‘leader of the free world’ and, oh yes, a four year old (actually still according to nature, three) effortlessly won the New Zealand Cup by 10 lengths and carved 1.5 seconds off the World (well New Zealand anyway) record.

I wonder if the aliens have left their planet in time to arrive before the end of the month to complete the picture?

Pete Cook

Matters of Interest (hopefully)

Despite having been robbed of an opportunity to compete on track by what I understand was an undemocratic decision inspired by somewhat petty pressure from one person, along with the rest of the Industry, I was thrilled with the results from the two day Kaikoura meeting.

It was a big risk to go down the two day road but, as we know, without risk nothing would ever be achieved, and there can be no doubt that a new highlight of the season has been well and truly established. I’ve been racking my brains (admittedly not a huge task) trying to come up with another venue where an identical carnival could be held, but sadly haven’t come up with anything. The magical setting, along with the public holiday, and reasonably close proximity to a large horse population creates for lack of a better phrase, ‘The Perfect Storm’.

I know the average Kiwi looks begrudgingly at our neighbours across the ditch as ‘big brother’ and very often (sometimes because of their population advantage) they do show us the way. Recent days have seen examples of how to, and how not to, perform from our Aussie mates.

I’ve mentioned on here before about absurd notion that they keep persevering with, concerning the declaration of tactics prior to a race over there. Well, they took things to an even more ludicrous level the other day, costing poor Nathan Purdon a $500 fine. Why? Sooner than attempt to explain the reason, I’ll copy the quote from Harness Racing Victoria:

“Mr Purdon explained that prior to this race he was unaware of the change of tactics notified for Stunning Grin to be driven less aggressively circumstances permitting and given that, he was satisfied to remain in a position back at the wheel of the leader Stunning Grin during the early and middle stages, despite the relatively slow tempo during the lead time and first quarter.

Mr Purdon added that given the manner in which Stunning Grin had been driven to maintain the lead at its previous start he was reluctant to challenge for the lead.”

No this isn’t a joke – Nathan probably had more important things to worry about and hadn’t heard about the change of tactics, yet he was supposed to take them into account anyway, and drive accordingly. I’ll leave you to likely repeat what I said when I first read this!

However, on the other side of the coin, having seen some scenes from Melbourne Cup Day, it appears that the powers that be over there have a slightly (actually massively) different attitude to race-day revellers than their equivalent in this Country. Having been well informed of the circumstances surrounding the recent ridiculous attempt (thankfully unsuccessful) at placing draconian restrictions on the Central Otago HRC, and apparently other Clubs, there seems to be a gap as wide as the Tasman Sea between the Aussies idea of unruly behaviour and the local one. Must be something to do with their convict background I guess.

Pete Cook

National Council Meeting October 2106

As has become the norm, the recent meeting of the Associations’ National Council saw a wide range of topics up for discussion.

Unfortunately a number of these topics were still to be resolved, or are in the process of being worked through, so it would be unwise to publish any details at this point. As soon as there is some closure on these, it will be reported here, so watch this space.

One of the matters that was debated was the situation of the rights of the RIU representatives to come onto a license-holders property. It was confirmed that while the RIU can access your stabling area, it is within your rights to ask them to make an appointment and return at a more suitable time. It was also recommended that you ensure there is an independent witness present when being interviewed for the sake of both parties.

Mark Jones questioned whether the Junior Driver Concession system in place in the North Island and Southland could be introduced on a nationwide basis, as it gave out of form horses more opportunities. However it was determined that this was simply a matter of some Secretaries, particularly in Canterbury, becoming more flexible in their programming.

It seemed that the Points Handicapping System trial in the North had has been generally well accepted, and had resulted in rises in both turnovers and horse numbers. A full review was to be held by the Handicapping Sub-Committee on 6 November which would consider some minor tweaks in the system, and whether it should be introduced nationwide. Apparently Australian authorities were considering the introduction of a similar regime. The introduction of open nominations was also considered essential for the smooth running of the system, however Ken Barron felt that this would be impossible in Canterbury where different Club Secretaries were focussed on attracting as many horses to their own meeting, at the possible expense of another Club racing that same week.

The situation surrounding Clerks of the Course came under scrutiny, with the general feeling that there should be two of these officials at every meeting regardless of the status. It was reported that in some areas, in particular Canterbury, while there were young competent clerks available, they were getting little work and were becoming disillusioned. There appeared to be no succession plan in place. There was also discussion over whether these officials should be employed by the RIU. There would be on-going work done on this matter.

Some of the other issues discussed at the meeting included whip use, JCA penalties, sulky insurance, unruly horses, scratching penalties, a Rules Committee and the Manawatu HRC lights. As mentioned previously, work on all of these is in progress and will be updated on the site as they are resolved.

Pete Cook

National Council Meeting

Next Wednesday will see another bi-annual meeting of the Trainers & Drivers National Council.

There is a widely varying range of topics for discussion on the agenda, some of which are listed below:

An HRNZ Report from Rob Lawson, Whip Use, JCA Penalties RIU Investigators Rights, Junior Concessions – should they be nationwide, HRNZ Insurance scheme for expensive sulkies, the Points Rating Handicapping System, Open nominations, Media Releases, Clerks of the Course - Succession plan, the number of Clerks per meeting and who should employ them?, Unruly Horses, Scratching Penalties and a Rules Committee plan.

That will be followed up with general business, but I’d imagine that segment could be fairly minimal, given the above items.

Just a quick reminder to investigate Fast Track insurance at to obtain competitive insurance rates, and assist the game with a portion of your premium going to harness racing clubs.

Pete Cook

Northern Branch Annual General Meeting 2016

A pleasing turnout of 25 license-holders attended the recent Northern Branch AGM held at Pukekohe.

Chairman Todd MacFarlane read out his report to the meeting outlining the past year for the branch. He thanked the Committee for their input over the past year as regards attending meetings, & the efforts of National Council addressing matters regarding the branch. Many meetings were attended, one being the track managers meeting where himself & Rob Lawson spoke regarding grass tracks, pylon placement, crossings & safety procedures. The National Starters meeting was also attended with consensus that all starters want to get fields away cleanly & work hard on trying to do so. Todd recognised that the Auckland Trotting Club is making massive strides as regards its development, and he offered thanks to Kevin Smith for liaising & communicating on any matters regarding the Branch from this club.

The main change affecting members this season is the new handicapping system & while still in its early stages is showing positive signs. Betting figures & horse numbers show that with some further development this system will be beneficial for racing in the North.

The annual northern awards dinner was again a great success & thanks to the organising committee for a great job. This event is an important part of the year, and a great fundraiser for the kindred bodies.

Also of note this season for the Association was a negotiation in a driving fee rise. Although only small it was a move in the right direction and it is hoped this will continue to be so.

Todd concluded by thanking National President Rob Lawson, Vice presidents Logan Hollis & Jay Abernethy, and Secretary Dave Neal for their efforts throughout the past year. He stressed that the Branch Committee is always receptive to input from license-holders, and would hope that they are contacted by any concerns that may arise for our members.

Secretary Dave Neal read out his report to the meeting advising of a satisfactory operating profit for the past season. This was again bolstered considerably by the success of the awards dinner which continues to go ahead. He offered a big thank you to the ladies on the dinner committee for their efforts. Thank you also to the ATC for their continued support of our junior members at this event. Dave advised that the Branch had maintained its annual sponsorship commitments, and that there were other events coming up this year that could be discussed at Committee level for the Branch to support. He thanked the Committee members for their input, maintaining that Branch members should be very thankful for the tireless work of these people. Whether it be locally or at National level, the Branch is always well represented and in conjunction with our National Council and Secretary Peter Cook, the Association is in very good shape. The current Committee was re-elected for the coming season, consisting of Chairman – Todd MacFarlane, Vice Chairmen – Logan Hollis and Jay Abernethy, National Chairman/HRNZ representative – Rob Lawson, Secretary – Dave Neal, and Committee – Salesh Abernethy, Derek Balle, David Butcher, Ival Brownlee (amateur rep), Peter Ferguson, Bernie Hackett, Robert Lynch and Stephen Doody – Central Districts representative.

Matters discussed under General Business included the new handicapping system with Kevin Smith giving an overview of the system as it stands, the guidelines in place and the discretion that is used. He advised that where possible he has tried to let the system operate under its own steam, apart from standard points, but it is obvious that discretion has to be applied at certain stages. Points raised that will be reviewed by the Handicapping Sub-Committee included the length of drop back period – are horses dropping quick enough when not competitive? The option is there for any trainer to discuss this as regards their horse. There was consensus that there is more variance in the classes with this system, and more opportunity for a horse to be competitive as opposed to the old system of stricter classification. John Green asked for discussion as regards the open nomination system and that the Auckland TC has gone down this road as it is a critical part of the points system. The meeting agreed that this was paramount to the new system continuing to work and trainers would have to adjust to it. Kevin Smith advised that keeping rating bands close together was helpful and would help trainers to know they would end up in a competitive race . He advised that some horses were coming up from South and appeared to be rated too high initially but this could be remedied after their race performances. Overall, with the backing of positive betting figures & field sizes the new system was off to a good start. The meeting was advised of a further review at the end of November.

Rob Lawson advised that there was serious thought being given to Australia banning whips altogether. This would be based on a tiered system over several years starting with 2yo’s.There was strong pressure from animal welfare but mostly based on perception and often not checked as regards the actual horse after the race. It was thought that there would have to be a modification of use perhaps to help with this. The matter would be raised at next Committee meeting.

Salesh Abernethy raised concern over comments during a race by some commentators as to what may or may not have happened, sometimes making fairly serious judgements and offering “advice” as to the outcome. The meeting agreed that the Secretary be requested to contact M Twentyman requesting more discretion in this area.

Dave Neal/Pete Cook

Well served by Trackside

It’s fair to say that compared to the thoroughbred code, harness is a rather poor relation when it comes to magazine programme time, at least where air time is concerned.

However, with the addition of the new Standard Bred series, the lack of hours is compensated somewhat by the quality. I know this is a trainers’ website, but to see the first of the series devoted to young couples whose passion for our game is undeniable, must be a breath of fresh air to counteract the growing band of doomsayers who often seem to hog the headlines these days, and cast doubt in the minds of licence-holders and others who depend on harness racing for their livelihoods. No, things aren’t as good as they might be at present, but is that in the minds of those featured people on Standard Bred? Not on your life.

And isn’t it great to see one of the initial stalwarts of Trackside, Sheldon Murtha back in the limelight. I’m afraid the guys’ natural easy going manner contrasts starkly with some of his successors, who have so obviously sat in the same classrooms and come out as clones of their instructors.

While we’re in a good frame of mind, the first Box Seat of the season, albeit a few weeks too late (and I’ve heard and unsuccessfully argued with, the financial reasons why that is), looked to have a fresh outlook, with some sensible discussion, constructive criticism, more interviews with Industry players, and less tipping us into $1.30 favourites. Still a fraction too much argument over whether so and so should be paying $1.80 instead of $1.90, but definitely going in the right direction, in my humble opinion.

We don’t get a huge amount of coverage outside race broadcasts but at least we are getting entertaining, informative and even educational content. Long may it last.

Pete Cook

Junior Concessions

At the recent Greater Canterbury Branch AGM, Mark Jones suggested that the current concessions scheme for Junior Drivers that is programmed in the Auckland area, along with other parts of the Country where there are insufficient Juniors to fill specific races for the younger brigade, should be employed in the Canterbury area.

In other words, instead of, or as well as, having specific races for Junior Drivers only, a horse can be entered and start in a race of a lower grade than its’ current assessment, providing it is driven by a concession Junior Driver. Those present at the AGM thought the idea had merit and Mark has asked for opinions from anyone on the idea. Please feel free to respond through the website and I’ll pass on any reactions.

One response received to date came from a prominent trainer who felt that there was a more pressing problem, that of the young folk who come out of their time as Juniors and struggle. Some are supported by their families who are firmly established in the Industry, although some of these have bravely ‘flown the nest’ and gone to work for other trainers, albeit probably helped by their names and contacts.

It is the ones who don’t have such connections that can be cast adrift, consequently become disillusioned, and are often lost to the Industry. There are obviously exceptions to this scenario, with the likes of Sam Ottley, Robbie Close, Matt Anderson and Katie Cox wonderful examples of how it can be done, albeit often with the support of leading stables. Having said that, through a combination of hard work and talent they have proven themselves in a tough environment, and have earned their spots with their respective employers.

So what, if anything, can be done to help these young people maintain a foothold strong enough to keep them from seeking other easier and probably more lucrative employment? Anyone who has any bright ideas on sorting that one out is welcome to put their ideas forward.

Is there some way, for instance, to programme the odd race around them, similar to horses that are struggling in their grade. For example a C1 pace for drivers in their first year out of Junior ranks who haven’t driven more than five winners in that season. Thinking caps on please…we need as much young blood staying in the game as possible.

Pete Cook

Greater Canterbury AGM 2016

There was a disappointing turnout for the recent Greater Canterbury Branch AGM, but that didn’t prevent some vigorous discussion on a wide range of topics.

Flowing on from last years’ meeting was the on-going investigation of HRNZ being involved in insuring sulkies, and Chairman Ken Barron expressing frustration that Clubs in the Canterbury area were now, in effect, the only ones not covered by a regional bureau.

Ken was also frustrated at the lack of progress in abolishing official trials in favour of holding qualifying events prior to workouts. This move had the support of the RIU, yet HRNZ seemed disinterested, despite the majority of Trial organisations apparently losing money.

HRNZ had sought the opinion of the Association on the abolition of crossbars and those present supported the move, providing the sulkies met all the current engineering specifications. Kevin Townley voiced concern about the safety aspect of this move, however it was pointed out that their use would be a matter of personal preference.

There was general support for the new Points Handicapping system, although there was disappointment that the original simplistic proposal had been complicated since its’ approval. Colin DeFilippi praised the concept, saying that every time a horse went to the races there was some benefit, either stake money or a change in its’ points rating. The meeting felt that a major benefit of the system would be giving the opportunity for horses to race that, under the old system, would not have been persevered with. Presumably this would result in more races, thereby creating turnover.

Other matters discussed, some of which will be referred to the National Council for consideration, included the level of fines in Group races, the standard of cadet training and whether it was advantageous for a senior driver to be allocated to Junior drivers as their mentor, wooden sulkies – should they be banned, Forbury Park, detrimental and unnecessary comments by some Trackside commentators, and whether the Junior Concession scheme operating in some parts of the Country could be introduced nationwide.

To encourage more licence-holders to participate in meetings it was decided to hold six meetings a year, two in Rangiora, one in Ashburton, and three at Addington, with the first scheduled for late November in Rangiora.

Pete Cook

John Allen ‘Conversations’

I dare say I’ll be accused of pushing the ‘party line’ by putting this on the site, but anyone who has heard and met Racing Board CEO John Allen, can’t help but be impressed by him. For the many that couldn’t attend his recent road tour, which will apparently be repeated in a few months, this is what he had to say as a follow up.

Hi everyone,

Thanks to everyone who was able to join me at the industry conversations recently. It was great to meet and talk with people from all parts of our industry, be they Club officials, trainers, breeders, owners, jockeys/drivers, punters, or any of the myriad of other roles that keep our industry going.

Over the course of 10 days and a couple of dozen meetings, there was a lot of robust, honest and open discussion, concerns were raised and a number of interesting ideas were offered. There is simply no way to include all of the questions and comments that were discussed at the sessions here without writing a short novel. But there were clear key themes across all of the sessions, and these are the ones I’ll recap here.

These sessions were an important step towards building a closer, more open relationship between NZRB and the wider industry. I know some people came to these sessions with a mistrust of NZRB. I understand that and know we need to earn people’s confidence. We must be able to talk honestly about where we are as an industry, where we are going and what we need to do to get there.

The quality of our racing industry – both its animals and its people – is truly remarkable. But there is insufficient money and growing uncertainty within the industry. Quite simply, people aren’t getting the returns they require to thrive.

NZRB is very conscious of the dependency of the racing industry on our performance. This is why we are investing in key areas which will deliver an estimated $5055 million per year in annualised profit once fully implemented. All our profit goes to the racing industry.

However, we also know that this will take time we estimate it will be two to three years to fully realise the benefits of this work, and that time is something not everyone has the pressure is on now. There is a valid concern about the level of costs incurred by NZRB, and the rate by which these are increasing compared to profit.

We recognise the need to deliver change now, and have begun to do so. Our annual accounts are currently being finalised and audited, so we don’t have final figures to release just yet, but we are looking at exceeding our budgeted Net Profit for the year. Early indications are that we will exceed our profit targets and see a year on year increase of around 4% (taking out the impact of gains on building sales of Petone and Christchurch in both this and the previous year). We’ve improved our customer numbers and our turnover and revenue figures for both betting and gaming, and while margins have been impacted by a continuing shift to Fixed Odds Betting and lower margin sports betting, encouraging improvements have been seen in domestic racing FOB particularly for Harness racing.

It’s not game-changing, but it is progress in the right direction. And while we are investing in our business to generate long term growth, we’ve also committed to increasing distributions to the Codes over the next two years through anticipated revenue/profit due to new race fields legislation.

We will also revisit distributions each year and we expect them to increase further as benefits from our investment strategy are realised.

I’ll talk more about what we are doing to address the issues facing our business and industry in the following look back at the main questions from the sessions.

Q. Is our future secure?

I want to start with this probably the most fundamental of questions. My answer to the group of young trainers and to everyone who posed the question ‘Do we have a future here, or should we move to Australia now?’ is an emphatic yes, we have a future in New Zealand.

Creating a sustainable future for the industry is exactly what NZRB is here to do. And we have a plan that will create real additional value for the industry.

I spent about 20 minutes at each session walking through the details of the ‘what we’re doing’ as outlined in the latest NZRB Statement of Intent. I think it’s worth briefly reiterating this here. We are focused on:

• Implementing a full automated fixed odds betting platform. We've seen a noticeable shift from tote to fixed odds betting (FOB) in domestic racing and the largest proportional growth in overseas FOB and inplay sports betting in recent years. FOB now represents 36% of all racing turnover. Investing in a new FOB platform will improve the margins and improve competitiveness as a result of increased offerings and efficiencies.

• Addressing the impact of offshore betting. The proposed Race Fields legislation is designed to help ensure that those using offshore betting and those offering offshore betting on NZ product contribute to our industry. Betting exists in New Zealand to support the racing industry so it makes sense that all should contribute to that.

• Optimising the racing calendar. We are working collaboratively with industry to draft a plan that will result in an industry agreed domestic racing calendar that enhances profitability, reduces costs (I particularly discussed broadcasting costs), and prioritises infrastructure investment (tracks/lights/facilities).

• Increasing customer numbers to generate revenue. We have to remain relevant in a domestic and international market and attract new punters. Our international competition invests heavily in this space. Australian betting businesses, for example, spend over 10% of revenue on customer acquisition and retention. We spend between 67%. As part of that we need to strengthen our channels – particularly our retail network. We need to offer a consistent experience that meets the needs of our customers – both current and future.

Through these efforts we will generate some $5055 million per annum more for the industry. Yes, more is needed and we will work to deliver more but we believe this is a good start.

Q. How can you say costs at NZRB are under control when, according to the Statement of Intent, OPEX has gone up?

We are also clear that if one side of the issue is the need for more money to invest in the industry, the other side of the issue is cost control. It’s important to clarify that getting costs under control is not the same as a freeze on spending. It is about being careful where money is invested and tightly managing our costs in all areas.

It is equally true that there was an increase in our operational expenditure over the past year. This was largely a result of upgrading our technology support to a managed service with Spark and staff costs associated with closing the Phone bet service. The Spark change was necessary to give us access to resilient technology and means we avoid substantial capital costs buying new equipment, and the Phone bet change will provide save us $2.6 million per annum from the current financial year.

Looking at the current year we’ve put the brakes on the former year on year leaps in operating expenses. Our budget is that operating costs will only increase by $0.3 million, or 0.2% primarily due to increases in health and safety expenditure and technology expenditure, and these have been largely offset by a decrease in budgeted staff expenses of $1.9 million.

One other example of cost management is that the senior leadership team will get a 0% increase in wages and no bonuses will be given. While there will be people who say that is not enough and that it’s easy to freeze salaries when they are ‘already so high’, for me it shows that our people are genuinely committed to cost control and growing profits and returns to the Industry.

Q. How can nonracing industry people effectively run NZRB?

Firstly, I think it’s important to say that NZRB is a part of the racing industry, and those of us here at NZRB are, through the very nature of our roles, racing industry people. While the length of our time in the industry may vary, our commitment to the industry and desire to see it grow and succeed is very real.

We do have a number of people both in our senior leadership team, on our Board, and indeed throughout NZRB, who have significant backgrounds in New Zealand racing. Many are still closely involved outside of their role at NZRB, and there are a number of people on my leadership team who are serial owners and enthusiastic punters.

An understanding of, and passion for, racing is beneficial to any role at NZRB, however we do also need to ensure that we have people with the right skills and knowledge to do their job, and some of those skills and experience are in areas that are equally applicable outside the racing industry. We would be doing the industry a disservice if we limited our pool of potential recruits to only those with direct experience in racing, rather than getting the best people for the job.

Q. We need to keep the diehard ‘older’ punters but we also need to attract new people – are we doing enough for both?

It’s a difficult balance to manage, both keeping and looking after our existing customers, while also providing a fresh and exciting product to attract a new and broader audience and all while managing our costs. We know we have to grow our customers significantly if we are to lift profit and we are dependent on a very narrow group who we can’t risk losing in the process.

The recent change to telephone betting to Phone bet is a good example of this challenge. We had a channel that historically been popular receiving 30 million calls per year at its height that had decreased to a point where it was no longer economical to run, but was still used by a small group of customers. The need to manage costs and knowing other channels including a telephone option (Touch Tone) would still be available, the change made sense, but we were aware of the potential impact on this group of often older customers so we tried to make the transition to our other channels as easy as possible for this group.

While we’re changing how we do things, we also continue to explore and invest in new technologies that will be attractive to new punters. And yes, that means making changes to enhance the flexibility of Jetbet. While that technology has served us well, it is now hampering us in offering things that young punters are telling us they want – things like the ability to withdraw money from their online account, or to create a league table they can use to compete against their friends.

Q. Can one of the Codes go it alone and leave NZRB?

In my view, the current legislation does not anticipate this. The structure of the industry under the Racing Act is vertically integrated, with the NZRB empowered as leader. As a consequence of that we get monopoly protection, we get a ban on advertising in New Zealand by offshore betting providers, tax benefits in that we and the Codes don’t pay corporate tax but we do pay levies and duties, and we have the ability to use our gaming profits to benefit racing and amateur sports.

Putting aside the legislation itself, if you start disaggregating the industry, the risk you run is that those other benefits will be affected. In addition under a disaggregated model it is likely to be more difficult for the NZRB to fund critical areas of its operation such as Broadcasting and Retail.

Q. Was moving Trackside exclusively to Sky a good idea?

While there is a lot of debate about the move to Sky, it has enabled us to move to better technology through our partnership with New Zealand Live which provides the production and studio facilities we use in Auckland, and has meant we are now broadcasting thousands more races a year which directly correlates with increased betting on those races.

Leaving our broadcasting operations unchanged was not an option; we had to move to high definition to meet our obligations under our broadcast agreements with Tabcorp, and the technology we were working with could not support this. Partnering with NZ Live meant avoiding significant capital costs of new equipment. Moving exclusively to Sky gave us the ability to offer two different schedules of racing over our two TV channels, rather than replicating content on both.

Having said this we would love to get more New Zealanders watching racing. Both free to air and digital channels would help us achieve this. We are aware that this is a fast changing landscape and that there are some very interesting digital options opening up. We need to be smart about our decisions here and look at this through the lens of asking ‘What is in the best interest of the New Zealand racing industry and its people?’.

Q. Isn’t selling assets like buildings short sighted?

The reason we have sold buildings in recent years is twofold first, it provides money to invest in projects to improve returns to the industry things like the Fixed Odds Betting platform and the customer projects that I mentioned; and second, buildings need maintenance and we are not property managers . The Christchurch building, for example, needed significant work to bring it up to scratch, which would have been a big cost to the business.

Q. Can we lift minimum stakes?

I absolutely agree we need to lift stakes. There has been big debate in the industry about where you lift the stakes in the Maidens, move Saturday racing to $40,000, or do you lift stakes at the top end with those very large meetings? I've heard support for all three of those models.

This is a particularly good example of one of the big challenges for our industry as it’s not one that NZRB can change alone it will take the racing Codes, who set the stakes, to support any action, and we know from experience that getting people lined up and behind new ideas is hard.

Part of that is there are so many ideas out there about what is best for the industry. I personally supported the idea of a $10,000 minimum, but because we couldn’t get agreement on that option over others, we couldn’t gain traction. We must find a way to get alignment within the industry if we are to successfully make changes like this that can lead to fundamental improvements to our industry.

Q. Why can’t we have appearance fees regardless of the Code?

Different racing Codes have different perspectives on this. The Harness Code is looking to expand appearance fees while the Thoroughbred Code is not currently looking to do so. There is some debate about that but those are decisions that are made by the Codes in terms of how they want to structure their distributions and stakes.

Q. How do we keep people coming to the races?

There’s no doubt that one of the best ways to get people interested in betting and racing is to get them to come along to a course and see something fantastic. It has to be good racing and an enjoyable on the course experience. There is a lot of the infrastructure that is not up to scratch.

Everyone knows this – it’s no secret.

For me, the only way through that is for us, as an industry, to do two things.

First we have to prioritise and focus our efforts on the most important infrastructure for the industry. We just don’t have the money to spread across all the infrastructure in every jurisdiction. The work we are doing with the industry around optimising the calendar and thinking about the structure of the industry with the Codes will enable us to focus infrastructure investment around courses and facilities.

The second thing we need to do is work on getting track surfaces that are more robust. We need tracks that can stand up to the reality of our weather conditions and can be raced on more intensively. If we can get more intensive racing on fit for purpose tracks, we can get more races broadcast, we’d save the costs of moving horses around the country etc. There are real benefits for the whole of the industry to be had here.

We’re also looking at setting up an infrastructure fund. I know that NZTR has had an infrastructure fund and we’re not interested in duplicating things already in place, but we, as an industry, have to take a long term view around infrastructure and we’re going to need to put some serious funding in place.

My observations

As I said in the beginning, there were lots more questions and observations made during the sessions. While they aren’t all reflected here, please know I heard you. And I appreciated the passion and enthusiasm that was so evident everywhere I went.

While we need to work on getting more people along to these sessions, I’m very pleased that we did them. We’ll schedule another round of get-togethers for late 2016 early 2017 with dates and times advertised well in advance. I look forward to talking with you more then. In the meantime, if you have ideas or concerns, please send me an email ( ), or if you see me at a race meeting, please come and say hello.

The discussion at these sessions confirmed that we (NZRB) have more work to do. I heard the scepticism and I understand it. We have outlined a high level plan in the Statement of Intent and now we have to deliver on it. I get that and I know my team is as committed as I am to doing so.

Interestingly, more than one person said to me that the racing industry is its own worst enemy, possibly reflecting on how challenging it can be to make changes. That may or may not be true, but the key thing for me is that NZRB is making changes. We have a responsibility to the industry and its people to do so. These changes will improve the returns to the industry. It won’t be easy, but we as NZRB, and as an industry, have an obligation to find our way through. And it can only happen if we all work together.

I still have a number of meetings to be scheduled in Hawkes Bay, Taranaki and the West Coast. I am looking forward to continuing what have been very valuable conversations.

I appreciate everyone’s time in attending.



The difference between John and his predecessors is that he appears to be ‘walking the walk’ as well as what they did.

Pete Cook

Awards Galore

First of all, a bit of housework, the Greater Canterbury Branch will be holding its’ Annual General Meeting next Tuesday (13 October) in the Breckon Winners Room at Addington Raceway, kicking off at 7pm. All license-holders are welcome.

Last Saturday night saw two awards functions, both kindly sponsored by Woodlands Stud, one in Auckland and the other in Christchurch. Hopefully next year we can find some dates where the two do not clash, but anyway the following were recognised at the respective functions.

North Island:

Auckland Harness Trust Premier Cadet Award: Mark Johnson, Dunstan Amateur Driver: Cheree Wigg, Premier Horse Transport Groom: Nathan Delany, Magness Video Ltd / Vid - Com Ltd Licence to train/owner-trainer: Tim Vince, Mitavite Junior Driver: Kyle Marshall, PGGW 2 year old colt or gelding: Vasari, PGGW 2 year old filly: Partyon, Breckon Farms 2 year old Trotter: Heavyweight Hero, Breckon Farms 3 year old Trotter; Temporale, Crombie Lockwood Bloodstock 3 year old colt: Shandale, Crombie Lockwood Bloodstock 3 year old filly: Arden’s Choice, Merv and Meg Butterworth Female Racing Accomplishment Award: Lyn Neal, Garrards Horse and Hound Owners: Stonewall Stud, Caduceus Club Filly/Mare: Dream About Me, NISBA Breeder: Woodlands Stud, IRT Driver: Josh Dickie, Veterinary Associates Equine and Farm Trainer: Steve Telfer and Chris Garlick, Veterinary Associates Equine and Farm Broodmare: Scuse Me, Woodlands Stud Stallion: Bettor's Delight, HRNZ Trotter of the Year Speeding Spur, Auckland Trotting Club Pacer: Have Faith In Me, Sir Lincoln at Lincoln Farms Racing Achievement Award: Luk Chin, A Rocknroll Dance Alabar/Nevele R Stud Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing: John and Colleen Butcher.


Flair Award: Rose Dakin. NZ Cup Week Golf Most Winning Owner of Trotters: Richard Cornelious. Nevele R Stud Pacing Breeders of the Year: H.Scott, K.Lawson, S.Smith & Equine Investments. Robbie Close Junior Driver Award; Stevie Golding. Philip & Glenys Kennard Most Winning Owner of Pacers: Poronui Family Trust & Peter Higginbottom. Pacing Broodmare of the Year: Hyde Park Royal. Dexter Dunn Drivers Award: John Dunn. NZ Cup Week Golf Canterbury Owners of the Year: Philip & Glenys Kennard. Trotting Breeders of the Year: Ken & Dianne ford, Amanda & Mark Tomlinson. Trainers Award: Mark Jones. Trotting Broodmare of the Year: Diedre Darling. Woodlands Stud Outstanding Contribution Award: Michelle Morrison & the Team from Recycled and Rehomed Standardbreds.

Obviously I could only make the Canterbury edition, but from all reports, both nights were a resounding success.

Pete Cook

Online Nominations

Interesting to see the NZ Metropolitan club shares my thoughts that more, if not all, trainers should be using the excellent online nomination facility provided by HRNZ.

From 1 September, the trainer of every horse nominated online goes into the draw for $500 cash. This applies to all meetings of that Club except premier meetings. In a similar vein to the Met Multiplier, it’s yet another positive move from the Met to incentivise trainers to start their horse at Addington, and also get used to availing themselves of the technology that is available.

On a related note, Harness Racing New South Wales have introduced an interesting policy surrounding what they call set-conditioned races, e.g. two & three year old races. Part of the press release reads:

“As of September 1 horses nominated for set-conditioned races cannot be withdrawn. However, this will not apply to Divided Stakes events where the Handicapping Panel frame race conditions and select race fields from the nominations received.

After consultation with industry stakeholder groups, HRNSW chief executive officer John Dumesny believes this amendment will help races “stand up”.

“We tried an increased fee change over the last two months to help clubs and owners with assurance of what races will stand up but this has not assisted the situation,” Dumesny said.

“Races to be conducted on and after September 1, horses nominated in a set-conditioned race, for example a two or a three-year-old race or maiden race, trainers won’t be allowed to withdraw between the close of nominations and the release of fields.”

Some food for thought on the other side of the Tasman maybe?

Pete Cook

Rule Changes

It’s always a bit of a surprise to me when, sometimes years after the HRNZ Rules have been changed or added to at an Annual Conference, license-holders who operate under those Rules claim to have no knowledge of them. Unfortunately for those people, as in the law of the land, ignorance is no defence.

So with that in mind, I will relay an update received from our recently appointed Chief Stipendiary Steward for Harness Racing, Nick Ydgren, outlining two changes to the HRNZ Rules made at the recent Annual Conference that have a direct effect on trainers and drivers, both having the full support of the Association.

‘The first relates to the new candy poles that are being installed across the country. These are placed fifty metres prior to each mobile start point. Drivers are now required to have their horses in position behind the mobile when they pass the candy pole. They shall then maintain their position until reaching the start point. This will ensure second line runners are no longer inconvenienced by a front line driver holding his horse back to gain a 'flying start'.

The second is that trainers no longer have to provide the horses papers when being presented for inspection. RIU Stewards are in possession of all the horse’s details (brands, markings and sex) and will notify HRNZ of any changes noticed at inspection time. This process can be further streamlined if Trainers ensure the brands are recently clipped and checked prior to presentation.’

So there we are, two relatively positive moves for our Industry that you should be aware of.

Pete Cook

P.S. Apologies for the photo, they are in Venice which has little to do with harness racing!

Extension of Nominations

At the risk of being labelled a broken record, I still cringe every time a Club extends the closing time for nominations, which is just about every meeting, every week.

At a time when all sectors of harness racing (particularly trainers) are continually being preached at to become more professional, this sort of thing just looks, well, amateurish. This week in particular the NZ Met held open their entries when the only other meeting in the South Island was in Gore. Hardly likely to be too many dual nominations! As it turned out the original number of entries for the meeting went from a very respectable total for this time of year of 142, to 138. Hardly a raging success. Yes, there was a shuffling of nominations around different events, but that can be done without extending nominations.

The powers that be tell me that there are a number of trainers who leave it until the last minute to nominate and very often cause the extension. Would it be such a bad idea to teach these apparently regular offenders a lesson, and let them explain to their owners why their fully fit horse isn’t starting this weekend? Would they do it again – I think we all know the answer to that one.

Which brings me to another regular question – why the hell don’t at least 90% of trainers use the brilliant online nomination system set up by HRNZ. When you have in front of you the horses name, the races it’s eligible for from North Cape to Bluff, and all it takes is the press of a keyboard button, why would you poke around going through all the programmes etc. for hours trying to find information that the HRNZ computer has already found? And it can be done on a Sunday night when there is no pressure of having to work horses, or other distractions.

It even sends you an e-mail confirming what you’ve done so you can check it. Come on, lets’ drag ourselves into the now not-so-new century and make life easier for everyone at the same time. Register now!

Just a reminder to get your tickets soon for the Northern and Canterbury Awards nights (not both though) on 3 September. Northern contact is Suzanne Herlihy 027 407 1057, or, or for the Southern edition contact Robyn Boyle on 027 217 3643 – (03) 383 0503 - email:

Pete Cook

Geoff Want

As has been the case at recent HRNZ Annual Conferences, the address from Harness Racing Australia Chairman Geoff Want, was an informative and entertaining highlight.

He began with an outline of how much money is involved in gambling on horse racing across the ditch, quoting, not surprisingly, some pretty sizeable amounts. However one staggering statistic to me was the amount of money spent on advertising for customers per annum by the wagering companies across the ditch. $600 million, with $500 million of that down to Tabcorp. Yes, you did read it right, that’s just on advertising!!

Breeding figures saw a slight decrease in stallion services to 5800 (about twice our number), which tends to beg the question why on earth they are so keen to buy our horses – must be something to do with quality, I suppose. Geoff reported that there had been a large number of trotting broodmares imported into Australia recently, adding more fuel to the idea that trotters are the way of the future.

Not surprisingly that word ‘integrity’ got an airing, and apparently Queensland has seen a merging of integrity departments of the three codes, and Victoria looks like going the same way. They can learn something from us, after all!

On handicapping, Geoff suggested that ‘everyone is looking for the miracle cure’ in his neck of the woods. HRA members believe that the current handicapping system is not the problem – the answer lies in programming. If that sounds familiar, it should do, I recall knowledgeable people in New Zealand saying the very same thing at least five years ago. Australia is holding a programming summit shortly – I hope they are more successful than we have been.

Interestingly enough, and obviously defending his decision to impose a new import fee structure, imports from here to Aussie have remained static, although Geoff did acknowledge there had been a reduction in lower priced horses.

In an earlier life, Geoff was heavily involved in the media, and he stressed the importance of the industry keeping ahead of trends in communication. His claim that the thoroughbred code in Australia wanted to ‘control the clock’ had a familiar ring to it! He recommended tuning into TrotsTV ( There had also been a significant increase in exporting of product to overseas markets, particularly Europe, and this should be encouraged at all costs.

Describing it as ‘the elephant in the room’ Geoff warned that ‘equine welfare is the biggest challenge we will face in the next decade’ and it will be essential to ‘satisfy everyone we warrant our social licence’. While his organisation has worked closely with the local RSPCA, and gained praise for their approach to animal welfare, Geoff warned that the recent live baiting scandal that has swept the greyhound code in Australia has empowered the fringe animal rights activists, and they would be closely monitoring the other racing codes for any misdemeanours. Some of these people ‘do not understand logic or rational debate, and want all racing banned’.

Related to this, Geoff spoke of the new whip laws introduced in his Country from 1 May, and predicted that whips may be a thing of the past in five years.

As usual, a sometimes sobering, sometimes positive address by Geoff Want, but always most informative and entertaining – worth the price of admission alone!

Pete Cook

Harness Racing Conference 2016

After the doom and gloom and hard talking that featured at last years’ Annual HRNZ Conference, there was probably (and hopefully) only one way for things to go. And fortunately they did.

The tone was set by the ultra-enthusiastic Racing Board CEO John Allen who once again impressed, speaking for over half an hour without a note in sight and, after (with tongue firmly in cheek) congratulating himself for lasting longer than many of his predecessors, proceeded to offer facts and figures to counter the popular belief that the Racing Board is the root of all the Industry’s ills.

As he put it, there is still a very long way to go, and progress is slow, however any progress in the current climate has to be positive, and the delegates were left in no doubt that, if there was one guy who could put us back on course for the future, John was that person. (His speech was recorded by and is available on that website – well worth a listen).

To their credit, four of the Racing Boards’ executives fronted up for a question and answer session and, once again, they impressed with their confidence and honesty, covering issues surrounding betting, Trackside, and customer services.

Other topics of interest over the two days included a sales pitch for ‘Fast Track” insurance, well worth investigating as for every policy taken out, money goes to racing, progress on the ‘Super Club” concept, which is making progress in the North and deep South, but striking some resistance in some areas in-between. A very impressive presentation was made by a couple of Southlanders on the set up in that area, and there is no doubt that harness participants have got their heads around making things work for them, and are about to reap the rewards.

Other presentations included a stunning overview of the Auckland TC commercial developments, discussion on the new handicapping points system, and a somewhat unnerving forum on how the new liquor licensing laws are being enforced and how they will affect Clubs. Some pretty scary stuff there, not to mention some way over the top actions by some of our police force. John Allen assured delegates that he was going into bat on this issue and was due to meet the Assistant Police Commissioner and the Minister in the near future, to argue on their behalf. Hopefully some common sense will prevail!

The Conference proper was more or less just a rubber stamping exercise, lasting less time than any I can recall, and was marked by the retirement speech of Gary Allen (later to be honoured at the Awards Night), a talented and tireless administrator and breeder, who is undoubtedly passionate about harness racing.

One of the highlights of the two days for me was the annual talk by Harness Racing Australia Chair, Geoff Want, always revealing and entertaining, and I’ll summarise that next week.

Pete Cook

Northern Branch Meeting July 2016

Chairman Todd MacFarlane presided over the recent Northern Branch meeting, where the Committee was joined by Auckland TC Racing manager Kevin Smith.

The Committee finalised nominations for the general categories for the upcoming Northern Harness Awards night on 3 September, as well as Racing Achievement award & Outstanding Contribution award, and these will be forwarded to the dinner committee. Rob Lawson advised that a large number of items from the recent National Council meeting were on-going & would updated at the next meeting. One of those items was the question of whether crossbars were needed for sulkies, and the consensus was that, as long as crossbars were not taken off sulkies that were manufactured with them, there was no problem.

Jay Abernethy advised the Committee of a proposal to have all owners of a claimer horse to sign a minimum claim price sheet. This would negate having to prepare paperwork every time a horse was put up for claim. There was, of course, no problem with the price being higher than this amount as long as the minimum was observed. Those present agreed this was a good idea & would make life easier for everybody.

The Committee discussed all remits for the upcoming HRNZ Annual Conference, and had no problem with any of them. It was a case of wait & see regarding the Owners Association proposal. Peter Ferguson advised that he had raised the matter of cadets having to trial a horse to a certain time whilst not using a stop watch. This was also done in many cases on a track the driver was not familiar with. He reported there were cases of horses receiving very harsh runs, which was not altogether the fault of the driver. Committee discussed this issue and thought it was illogical to persist with this when using a watch was a skill & something that cadets did every day for their employers. It was proposed that the matter be raised at next National Council meeting.

Kevin Smith from the Auckland TC led discussion on the implementation of the proposed handicapping points system. The Committee discussed all aspects of the system, and agreed the following opinions. The starting point was just that, and it was hoped that racing would even out the points bands as horses found their levels. Whilst the system was still open to input from the handicapper as regards points, it was hoped that in general the basic points received for racing would monitor the system as a whole. Kevin emphasised that as with anything of this nature, there was a trial period, and there would of course be areas that may require further adjustment. He added that the handicapping sub-Committee welcomed any input as regards the system, and there certainly had already been some. It was reiterated that the trial was in the North Island only at this stage, and there would of course be further discussion at the end of this period.

With regard to the new Auckland TC payments, Kevin clarified that payments as regards starters and the HRNZ owners’ payment were inclusive of stakes. There apparently had been some confusion that these were paid on top of any stake earned. Kevin advised he would clarify this in next news-letter.

There was concern voiced by the Committee that the surface of the Alexandra Park track was becoming very deep on the inside, and some remedial work was required. Other points raised with Kevin included installing a speaker close to the weigh in area as drivers couldn’t hear the placings, revamping of the winners circle for safety, the installation of a countdown clock in the stables, and the parking system for horse floats. Kevin advised he would attempt to make some progress in all these areas.

Dave Neal/Pete Cook

The Box Seat

I guess it’s a bit like someone you see on a regular basis for a while, then when they are suddenly not around, you realise how much you miss them.

Like the majority of harness fans, 8.30pm on Wednesdays is either a time to watch Trackside 1, or have the recording device set on ‘series link’. But am I the only one that thinks it is slightly flawed?

Don’t get me wrong, it is great, in fact essential, for our Code to have a regular magazine programme, but I can’t help feeling that some of that valuable air time could be better spent. I mean, am I the only one that struggles to see the value in our hosts, (including apparently the ‘best analyst in the business’ who, even after all this time still looks terribly uncomfortable in front of a camera – and I do have concerns about his conflict of interest issues) tipping out half a dozen odds on favourites per programme, and then discussing with a co-host whether or not he would ‘take the $1.60’. In the event that he wouldn’t, there is then discussion over whether $1.70 would be acceptable! Does anyone really believe that your average harness fan gives a rodent’s backside what they think the horse in question should be paying? Actually, in my humble opinion, the night Matt Cross took the place of that ‘best analyst’, showed up glaringly how little he knows about the racing itself, other than the odds and sectionals.

I don’t know how many of you saw the last Box Seat the week after the Jewels review – to me that was a perfect example of what could be done with the programme. A fascinating piece on the wonderful horses that were born and raised in a tiny area of Southland, and the dizzy heights they achieved (did you know Cardigan Bay appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in America in front of an audience more than twice the population of New Zealand?).

That was followed by an entertaining interview with recently retired (now on the JCA) trainer Dave Anderson and his wife Sue.

This game that we love is full of both colourful history and equally colourful characters – I mean I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of Maurice Holmes, especially now when Dexter is being spoken of in the same breath, but how many of those a bit younger than yours truly knows anything about the man and his achievements?

Please, I know there is expense involved, but how about retiring one of the experts and spending that money on something more interesting than being told that a $1.30 shot is expected to win!

Just my thoughts.

Pete Cook

Good News/Bad News

Good news is that the Annual HRNZ Awards night is a sellout. Bad news is that some people might have missed out on the big celebration night of the season. (I understand there are suggestions of an alternative dinner for Delegates at the Commodore the same night, which seems a bit odd to me.)

Good news is that those who have missed out, along with those who already have tickets, still have two other awards nights to go to, the Combined Canterbury Awards at Addington, or the Northern Awards (Details to come). Bad news is they are both on the same night, Saturday 3 September. Good news is that the Sponsor of both events, Woodlands Stud have gracefully accepted this situation, brought about by scheduling of race meetings and rugby games. Both organising Committees will be working together to avoid this situation next year.

Good news is that tickets for the Canterbury function are available now from Robin Boyle (, and more good news is that the price for the excellent meal and the talents of MC Mark McNamara is staying at $50 per head, with discounts for early booking Junior Drivers. There will be mail outs shortly to Industry participants, so with numbers limited, it might pay to book now with Robyn to ensure you are there.

More details on the Northern evening when they become available.

Pete Cook

Reflected Disgrace

Up until yesterday I had heard about live baiting of greyhounds but, not being a fan of that code, and not having seen it on any news broadcast (mainly because I don’t watch the pap that masquerades as “The News”), hadn’t given it much thought.

However when I heard the announcement on Trackside about the Australian move to ban greyhound racing, I made the unfortunate decision to watch the video evidence that led to this radical move. Being an animal lover, that was a big mistake, and those images of piglets and possums being tortured will stick in my mind for a long time.

Why am I writing about this on a harness racing website, you are asking? Well, in my experience, people who are against gambling and racing in general and consider the whole Industry to be corrupt etc., don’t tend to differentiate between the codes as we do, and this horrific publicity, hopefully in a small way, only tends to fuel their arguments.

It’s a brave move taken by the New South Wales Government to ban an entire Industry, but on the evidence I’ve seen and heard, an excellent one.

There is no room in any form of racing for animal cruelty, and I only hope that what has happened across the ditch will serve as a warning to anyone who, like those indescribable creeps in the video, thinks it is acceptable and even funny.

On a lighter note, I have just retired two horses and taken them to be broken into saddle. Unbelievably they were both being ridden the day after we dropped them off and will find new homes shortly. For anyone who thinks finding homes for retired, well mannered, standardbreds is difficult…….it isn’t!

Pete Cook

 Fine Print

A member has asked some questions about the declaration that he has been required to sign on their license renewal that they have read and understood the Health & Safety summary provided by HRNZ.

We requested clarification from HRNZ and, in turn, Darrin Williams sought the opinion of the expert on such matters, Stu Cashin. This is what he came back with:

Amateur driver: This is quite straightforward as they are effectively “volunteers” and as such are entitled to the same rights as a worker and have the same responsibilities.

Hobby trainers are still a PCBU and have all the outlined responsibilities associated with the PCBU, viz: “This includes all businesses or undertakings regardless of whether a person conducts a business alone or with others, or whether or not it is for profit or gain”

People who drive their own horses and don’t drive for anyone else would still be a PCBU (and a worker), as they are still responsible for their own safety.

Any other queries on this topic, don’t be afraid to ask as we all need to be clear about what is required and where we stand.

Pete Cook

National Council Meeting June 2016 Part II

Gordon Lee expressed concern at a lack of notice being taken of the condition of tyres by the RIU, when a driver is charged with careless driving due to striking a wheel. He claimed that some JCA members had voiced similar concerns, considering that a cheap tyre, or one in poor condition, would be more easily damaged than a new one. It was suggested that the minimum amount paid out for tyre replacement be raised to ensure better quality tyres were used, and this would be followed up with HRNZ. The meeting also felt that hitting a wheel accidentally should be changed to a Minor Infringement offence and a $100 fine, except when there was obvious carelessness involved.

Gordon also raised the issue of horses drawn wide on a handicap being interfered with by unruly horses on the front row. However those present were unable to come up with a solution to this problem.

There was lengthy discussion on the proposed new Handicapping Points system, details of which have been widely publicised. The meeting supported the new system and hoped that as soon as possible after the start of the North Island trial, all horses in the Country would be allocated their respective points level and have them posted on the HRNZ website, so that connections could become aware of how their horse is positioned, and understand how the new system would work for them. Ken Barron stressed that the only way to change a horse’s rating was to line up at the races, which will help increase field sizes.

A proposal by Jay Abernathy that each Claiming horse should have a minimum claiming price signed by all owners instead of having to get permission to change every time it was listed at a different price, was supported by the meeting.

A submission by Jason Broad on trainer education on nominations and withdrawals was considered, and while there was sympathy for him and other Club officials having to put up with trainers being late with entries etc., it was felt that the only solution was to take a hard line with offenders, in the hope that they would learn to comply with deadlines. The meeting expressed surprise that more trainers were not using the excellent online nomination facility, and Jay suggested that it be extended to allow drivers to be notified by the same method after nomination time, instead of having to contact the Club.

Other issues discussed from the agenda included differing stake levels around the Country for qualifying for the Harness Jewels, changes to the Association’s Strategy Document, and following a unanimous vote, Rob Lawson was re-appointed as the Association’s representative on the HRNZ Board.

Under General Business, Ken questioned whether a central JCA panel could conduct hearings by teleconference to cut costs, however Rob felt that body language and attitude were often taken into account by JCA panellists, and cost savings would be minimal. There was also discussion over the calling of other drivers as witnesses. Those present felt that it was unfair to expect drivers who were often friends to give evidence in a hearing, particularly when technology offered ample evidence of any misdemeanour without their input. The suggestion was that other drivers should only be called as defence witnesses, however they would also be subject to cross-examination.

The Association had been notified of concerns at the standard of some Clerks of the Course and whether anything was being done to improve them by training. Rob promised to investigate this matter with the RIU. There had also been complaints over the current stand down period of an injured horse, which meant that should such a horse recover in time, it was not permitted to start on the second day of a circuit meeting. It was hoped that the current move to eliminate the need for a vet certificate and stand down period following a scratching, would eliminate this problem.

Pete Cook

National Council Meeting June 2016 (Part 1)

Rob Lawson recently presided over a meeting of the Trainers & Drivers Assn. National Council, consisting of Jay Abernethy, Ken Barron, Mark Jones, Gordon Lee, Todd MacFarlane and Nathan Williamson.

Matters arising from the last meeting to be covered included continuing efforts to reduce the starting level of the fine for careless driving from $500 to $400, approval for an increase in the driving fee from $75 to $80, and on-going negotiations for the abolition of vet certificates, and other alterations to the scratching penalty conditions.

Plans were underway to introduce ‘candy poles’ 50 metres prior to starting points for mobiles which should eliminate the issue of drivers hanging back from the gate, and the ‘Harnessed’ magazine would no longer be compulsory for license-holders. There was lengthy discussion on insurance for the newer, more expensive sulkies, with Jay asking why it should still be compulsory for a trainer to have a sulky when many drivers were using their own. Those present were unaware if these drivers paid for sulky insurance as part of their license fees. The need for crossbars on sulkies was also covered and, following explanations from Gordon on the various engineering aspects of this matter, the meeting agreed that crossbars could be made optional, however they should not be removed from existing sulkies.

Under Agenda Items, Rob reported on various matters being discussed at HRNZ Board level, including the greyhound code pursuing their objections to the Racing Board funding model, the introduction of a $6000 minimum stake including 2% to all starters, and the payment of $50 to all starters by HRNZ from 1 August. The current travel subsidy would be discontinued from that date. There was concern that percentage payments may vary considerably due to differing field sizes, and Gordon outlined the bulk funding system being introduced in Southland. Rob also spoke of the Racing Board considering contracting out some of its’ betting systems, and also a drop in the allowable level of cobalt from 200 to 100.

As reported on this site last week, Ken and Mark described their recent dealings with OSH and the Labour Department, and stressed that it was a matter of when, and not if, all trainers would face these issues. They strongly suggested that members should seek professional help prior to being visited so that penalties can be avoided (see contacts in last weeks’ item).

Once again issues with race starting were discussed, with wide variations in methods of different starters still evident around the Country. All present felt that the important aspect of starting races was communication between the starter and drivers, and some starters were lacking in this, seemingly trying to catch drivers out. Other matters covered included the varying speed of the mobile, and why the starter should be walking around the assembled horses prior to the start, when he has assistants to cope with any tasks that might arise. The meeting agreed that the Australian method of the gate moving to the centre of the track one minute before the start was ideal.

Apologies for the lateness of the post due to personal issues – Part 2 next week.

Pete Cook


At the risk of being a scare-monger, we are hearing reports of racing stables being inspected by both the Labour Department (looking at work conditions, wages etc.), and OSH looking at Health & Safety.

The best option is to pre-empt any of these visits by seeking help from experts who can help avoid the inevitable penalties. For Health & Safety issues check out, and for labour Department matters contact mary.reynolds@xtra.conz. A small outlay now with these people could help avoid discomfort and financial disaster later on.

A couple of examples of what is involved – one major stable had their safety helmets inspected. They had eight of them, and every one was deemed outside the specifications and had to be disposed of! Another trainer had no written records of holidays (among other lapses), so that when an employee left, he was forced to pay out thousands in holiday pay. There are ways around all of this, but saying ‘she’ll be right’ isn’t one of them.

Pete Cook

 National Council Meeting

Next Wednesday sees Chairman Rob Lawson preside over our slightly delayed National Council Meeting in Auckland.

Items on the agenda include Health & Safety, proposed changes to Handicapping, insurance for expensive sulkies, condition of tyres that deflate during a race, placing of unruly horses in front of handicapped horses, education of trainers re nominations/withdrawals, and Harness Jewels qualification criteria.

Should anyone have any other matters they wish to be raised at the meeting, either contact one of the Council members, or through the website before Monday.

Pete Cook



 Jewels Invites

I suppose there are varying reactions to the demise of the Australian representation in our Harness Jewels, which has now been virtually snuffed out, barring a horse that has been here for weeks anyway.

There will be the ‘we told you so’ brigade that are still vehemently opposed to the Aussies getting a free ride into the fields, when the locals have to have earned it, and there will be those that will be disappointed that our trans – Tasman cuzzies aren’t here.

You do have to spare a thought for those at HRNZ, in particular Darrin Williams, who have put hours, if not days, of effort into trying to get international representatives here, and they are probably wondering what they could have done better. The answer is, probably nothing.

If you listen to the likes of Mick Guerin in defending the invitations, he compares them to the likes of Kiwi horses going over the Australia for the likes of the Breeders Crown, or the Miracle Mile with no complaints (well not public ones) from the locals. I’m not sure that the two situations are comparable, as it is very rare for a horse to be sent across the ‘ditch’ for just one start in one particular race. In most, if not all cases, there are warm up or follow up races for those horses, so that they are not reliant on one event of a few minutes duration where something could go wrong, or the horse could have an off day.

The Jewels is a different scenario, one start, one chance, one very risky prospect.

I’m sure there will be ideas floated on how to avoid this year’s rather embarrassing situation, but it won’t be easy. At least we’ve apparently conned the Aussies into putting the Jewels on their main Sky channel, so maybe all the effort has been worthwhile.

Pete Cook

 Training Terms & Conditions II

Following on from the article a couple of weeks ago, it appears that HRNZ are reluctant to add information regarding the customary ten per cent payment to trainers when a horse is sold, to their invoices.

However they did point out that there is a Trainer/Owner agreement produced by the Association in conjunction with HRNZ a while ago, and it is on the HRNZ site albeit, not that easy to find. To be honest, I had forgotten about it, so it makes sense for it to be available on our site.

The idea is that trainers and owners fill it in and sign it when a horse enters the stable (or maybe when a new owner comes along) so that everyone knows where they are and there should be no disputes - a bit of a pain maybe, but probably a good idea.

Anyway the agreement is available on the left hand side of the Home page and easily downloadable.

Pete Cook

 A Bouquet & A Rant

Hats off to Trackside for their series of Harness Jewels Historics. Slick production, in-depth interviews, race highlights and aftermaths make for an enjoyable and informative look back at our Industry’s big day out.

I had a quiet chuckle hearing Mark Purdon struggling to recall which Group One race Major Mark had won the season he scored at the Jewels. For the vast majority of trainers every single detail of such a race would be etched in their memory till the day they fell off the perch! Yet another indication of the astonishing success rate of the All Stars machine.

The rant is the result of another rant, by a prominent breeder announcing he is out of the game through frustration at the different levels at yearling sales, recently published in an on-line publication.

His comments concerning the sales echo what I wrote a few weeks ago, so no argument there. What did get up my goat was his dig at trainers for having the cheek to put up their training fees, and blaming that for some of the current problems.

I would estimate that, on average each horse in full training would involve an hour of work each day by the time it is trained, groomed and fed – in other words just the basics. There would be very few tradesmen these days whose charge out rate would be less than $50 per hour, and most would be a lot more. So why do owners like this character consider paying $50 per day to a trainer to be exorbitant? Oh yes, and then there’s the feed, gear and general maintenance involved too.

It seems obvious that guys like him consider it almost obscene that a horse trainer should make a profit from looking after a horse that, to him is an enjoyable luxury!

My mood was not improved when I recall the same person telling me a while ago, (during an exchange of some fairly forthright e-mails) that he made about $1million a year from selling life insurance, which, having worked for a short time in the insurance industry, I consider to be one of the major rip-offs of the modern era.

Pete Cook

 Cause & Effect – Flat Tyres

A couple of weeks ago, our Otago/Southland representative Gordon Lee raised concerns over the current situation regarding tyres being punctured during a race:

‘I have some concerns about the hitting wheels Rule. Everyone of us has had a disappointing instance from a flattened tyre during a race. Some may have also had the experience of causing it - there's no argument that the issue has been there since Harness Racing began. But mostly we unwillingly accept it. Annoyed at times? - of course. But it’s part of racing.

I believe currently there are mitigating circumstances that are not being taken into account, or Drivers are not using these reasons for a good defence:

(1) What was the pressure of the tyre?

(2) What was the condition of the tyre, was it old and worn?

(3) What was the brand of the tyre, a cheap import, or one of a high standard. etc etc etc

Any fair JCA panelist would be obligated to taking these things into account, and not just accept it was a "hit and flattened" tyre - therefore the whole onus is not just on the offending Driver, but also the condition of the tyre as well.

Surely this is a much fairer way to conduct an Inquiry, and a much better outcome for this Rule for all concerned.’

There have been a number of charges laid both before and since his comments, one of which, I must admit, was rather close to home. In fact, the contact on that occasion was so miniscule the Stewards slowed the film down as much as they could and even then, there was just a minor wobble of the doomed tyre visible.

Common sense would suggest that there is some merit in what Gordon is saying. Horse’s hooves hit wheels on a regular basis in many races, yet when the tyre deflates, the driver is charged with careless driving (with the accompanying fine or suspension). However if it stays up, almost without exception, a warning is given, or nothing is said. In other words it is only careless driving when there is an effect on the tyre, which could be caused by other factors such as wear and tear.

At a recent Starters meeting, concerns were raised by the RIU at the condition of some tyres that are being presented on race-days, mainly because they need attention at the start and can cause delays. If that is a problem for officialdom prior to a race, perhaps that attention needs to extend to inspecting tyres after they are deflated during a race.

Pete Cook

 Training Terms and Conditions

Over the past few days, I have been made aware of a dispute between a trainer and one of his owners, over the payment of a 10% commission on the sale of a horse overseas.

While there is no mention of the need for the payment of such a commission in the HRNZ Rules, it’s been an accepted part of an owner/trainer relationship for as long as I can remember, and probably longer. How many times have you heard trainers claim (quite justifiably) that the only actual profit to be made training a horse is from percentages from stakes and the sale of the horse.

In the past, the Association has produced Trainers Account Books which, on the reverse of each invoice, had a list of terms and conditions pertaining to both trainer and owners and, a number of years ago, a Court of the land ruled that, if the owner paid that invoice, he or she technically agreed to those terms, similar to the fine print that most of us don’t read in an insurance policy.

These days, apart from a few stalwarts who still prefer to use those hand written accounts, most invoices are done either online or through the excellent service supplied by HRNZ. Trouble is, of course they don’t include any terms and conditions.

Consequently it has been recommended that we publish those ‘Terms & Conditions” on this site and you will find them as a downloadable PDF on the left of this page. This could be supplied to new (and even existing) owners so that everyone knows where they stand and, hopefully, avoid embarrassing situations.

We have also asked HRNZ if it is possible for them to include some type of clause on their invoices, mentioning that the 10% sale commission is an ‘accepted practice’.

Pete Cook

  Health and safety plan – how to proceed.

(1) Introduction

With the new health and safety legislation now introduced there is a lot more emphasis on those responsible for the workplace and workers to ensure that workplace is a safe place for everyone. While the new legislation does not specifically require PCBU’s to prepare a health and safety plan there are advantages in doing this to ensure that you comply with the requirements.

For smaller stables and breeders the plan may be quite simple and cover the critical points of the legislation listed below.

(2) Duties and responsibilities

The HSAW Act sets out a number of duties for PCBUs. The relevant duties for trainers who employ staff and who manage or control a workplace include:

1. A duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the trainer, while they are at work. (example training and induction, hazard identification)

2. A duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the trainer, while the workers are carrying out the work. (example training and induction, PPE, H&S meetings,)

3. A duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other people is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the trainer’s business. (example induction of contractors and visitors , listed hazards and signage)

4. A duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the trainer’s workplace, the means of entering and exiting that workplace, and anything arising from the workplace, is without risks to the health and safety of any person. (example fences, signs, pathways, horse containment, hazard management and identification)

5. A duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that fixtures, fittings or plant at a workplace are without risks to the health and safety of any person. (example hazard management and identification, maintenance schedules, training and induction.)

“Workers” is widely defined to include employees, contractors, trainees and volunteers. “Workplace” is also widely defined to include any place where a worker goes, or is likely to be, while at work.

Developing a safe and healthy workplace makes good business sense. Your employees will feel more valued and visitors will be protected from harm. It’s likely to increase productivity and reduce the cost impact on your business of any downtime from employee injuries.

(3) How to prepare a H&S plan

Step one

Meet with your staff to identify all the hazards in your workplace. Since this is a continuous improvement cycle, you need to return regularly to the review step to monitor your planning and action steps, investigate any incidents that have occurred and review your injury management and emergency readiness. Any suggested improvements feed through to the planning step. A hazard planning template along with other suitable forms are available on the web site below.

A “hazard” is something that could harm you or someone else and can include the following:

• Activities – such as racing, trackwork, working at heights.

• Arrangements – storage of heavy items, work place set up.

• Circumstances – deadlines imposing a heavy work load.

• Events – transporting unstable heavy loads.

• Processes – mowing, spraying, maintenance.

• Behaviour – such as impairment through alcohol, drugs or fatigue.

• Situations – work place layout, dual use.

Step Two: Plan

1. Control Measures are actions taken after the risk assessment, to remove the identified hazard from the workplace. The control measures listed below are in order of preference for the resolution of a hazard in the workplace.

Elimination - Allows hazards to be designed out and control measures to be designed in. It will require a modification to the process, method or material to eliminate the risk.

Substitution - Replacing the material or process with a less hazardous one

Engineering - Redesigning plant or work processes to reduce or eliminate risk.

Administration - Adjusting the time or conditions of risk exposure (e.g. job rotation, increased supervision). Ensure staff members have received training, information and instruction regarding the particular hazards and Safe Work Method statements (SWMS) within the stables.

Personal Protective Equipment - Using appropriate safety equipment where other control measures are not practicable.

2. Appoint a staff member to be a H&S representative and arrange regular H&S staff meetings.

Step Three: Action

Map out your health and safety programme. Remember to assign responsibility for each required action, include a budget if necessary and set a timeframe for completion.

Commitment and communication

Two further key elements in the WorkSafe Cycle are commitment and communication. It’s important to get your whole team involved in health and safety. Commitment starts with you. If you don’t take health and safety seriously then why should others?

Open and honest communication throughout the cycle is vital to keep everyone involved and contributing to the health and safety improvement cycle.

(4) Accidents and Incidents

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) you must notify WorkSafe when certain work-related events occur.

A notifiable event is when any of the following occurs as a result of work:

• a death;

• notifiable illness or injury, eg any injury requiring professional medical treatment;

• a notifiable incident, eg an accident that could have resulted in an injury that would have required professional medical treatment.

Use our Notifiable Event tool below to help you with understanding which events are notifiable, what you need to do and when, and how to notify WorkSafe.

(5) Summary

Meet with your staff and identify all hazards in your workplace.

List all the hazards identified and prepare an action plan to control these.

Review this weekly at your staff health and safety meetings (remember hazards can change regularly).

Review all your H&S signs, are they adequate?

Ensure that all staff, visitors and contractors have suitable inductions.

Ensure staff training schedules are maintained.

List out notifiable events and the process to follow.

Maintain an incident register.

Contact your local WorkSafe representative and ask them to review your plan.


Common types of hazards

Use these notes to help you identify and assess hazards that might occur in your workplace.

Chemical hazards

Chemicals can affect the skin by contact or the body either through the digestive system or through the lungs if air is contaminated with chemicals, vapour, mist or dust. There can be an acute (immediate) effect, or a chronic (medium to long-term) effect from the accumulation of chemicals or substances in or on the body.

Noise hazards

Excessive noise can disrupt concentration, interfere with communication, and result in loss of hearing. High impact noises are particularly damaging. Noise can also mask out signals, affecting communication or danger warnings.

Radiation hazards

Equipment such as radioactive gauging devices or the radioactive trace element used in analytical chemistry produce Ionising radiation. Non-ionising radiation covers infrared radiation (heat-producing processes), lasers, ultraviolet radiation (welding, sunlight), and microwaves (high-frequency welders, freeze drying).

Electrical hazards

These include the risk of injury from all forms of electrical energy. Such as the use of extension cords and electrical equipment in damp conditions or wet areas. Also be aware that extension cords can create trip hazards, they should be routed around high-traffic areas and should never be a long-term solution to a power supply problem

Lighting hazards

Inadequate lighting levels are a potential safety hazard. A common problem area is the reaction time needed for the eyes to adjust from a brightly lit to a darker environment — such as a forklift driver coming indoors from bright sunlight. Temporary lighting is often inadequate.

Vibration hazards

This includes whole-body vibration — for example, truck drivers, people standing on vibrating platforms, and operators of mobile equipment — and also more localised vibration effects from such equipment as hand tools, chainsaws, and pneumatic hammers.

Temperature hazards

Extremes of cold or heat can cause problems such as tiredness, vulnerability to infections or reduced capacity to work.

Biological hazards

These include insects, bacteria, fungi, plants, worms, animals and viruses. For example horse’s environmental hazards include ringworm, leptospirosis, gastrointestinal and other skin infections. Biological hazards that arise from animals and zoonosis are infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Ergonomic hazards

Ergonomics (the ‘fit’ between people and their work) covers risk of injury from manual handling procedures, incorrectly designed desks or workstations, audio and visual alarms, and colour coding control mechanisms.

Physical hazards

These include a wide range of injury risks— as diverse as being caught in or by machinery, buried in trenches or hurt by collapsing machinery. This category also includes the hazards from working in confined spaces, being hit by flying objects, falling from heights and tripping on obstacles.

Other hazards

Include stress, fatigue, the effects of shift work, and even assaults from other people.

Handling horses

Working with horses also involves dealing with hazards such as kicking, biting, being crushed or trodden on, falling off while riding.

Click here for a PDF copy of the - Horse Racing Safety Guide (Stables) April 2016

 Health & Safety Update III

It goes without saying that the majority of you will by now, have acted to ensure your property complies with the new laws introduced on 1 April. Wow, that was a particularly large pig that just flew past the window!

The good news is that there is simple help at hand. Apparently there are a number of companies who have set up to make life easier for you, and Carla Robertson-Holmes has been kind enough to point the Association towards one of these outfits. You can find them at and a quick perusal of their site indicates they could be the answer to a prayer or two for our members.

Yes they charge a nominal fee for their services, but when you consider all the time and effort that a trainer could put into organising the necessary signage and paperwork, it sounds like pretty good value.

Have a look at what they can do for you – that costs nothing, and could save you plenty.

Pete Cook

 The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA)

HWSA became law on Monday 4th April accompanied by some hysteria and misinformation from some media outlets. However, every PCBU such as Trainers, Driver’s, Clubs, and Breeders must review their workplace Health and Safety to ensure that they comply, under the new law there is a lot more emphasis on those responsible for the workplace to ensure that it is safe for workers.

WorkSafe have recently clarified the reporting criteria for a notifiable event and it would be worthwhile printing out this information, as noncompliance can result in substantial fines.

What is a notifiable event?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) you must notify us when certain work-related events occur.

A notifiable event is when any of the following occurs as a result of work:

  •  a death
  •  notifiable illness or injury, eg any injury requiring professional medical treatment
  •  a notifiable incident, eg an accident that could have resulted in an injury that would have required professional medical treatment.

Use our Notifiable Event tool below to help you with understanding which events are notifiable, what you need to do and when, and how to notify us.

Deaths, injuries or illnesses that are unrelated to work are not notifiable events eg:

  •  a diabetic worker slipping into a coma at work
  •  a worker being injured driving to work, when that driving is not part of their work
  •  injuries to patients or rest home residents that are triggered by a medical reason (eg injuries from a fall caused by a stroke)
  •  a worker fainting from a non-work related cause.

NZRB/Club raceday health and safety agreement (shared duties)

The New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB) and the code bodies are drafting up a shared and overlapping duties agreement pursuant to the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSW Act) on advice from the Lawyer’s. This agreement will be sent out to clubs to sign in conjunction with their NZRB oncourse representatives in the next few weeks. In the interim club’s do not have to pursue any individual agreements with the racing Board.

HRNZ Web site Health and Safety information.

Trainers who wished to prepare their own Health and Safety plan would like to see more guidance placed on the web site. An overview on how to prepare your H&S plan and where to start can now been found on the web site.

The horse riding and stable safety brochure on the HRNZ web site is a comprehensive document with detail on how to make your stable and work environments safer to avoid the most common and preventable accidents. The document can be found on the following link.

ACC levies

ACC levies will increase this coming year because of an increase in claims from the Industry. In conjunction with ACC, we have been looking at actions that could assist the Industry to reduce the injury rate and improve injury recovery, with the objectives of making the industry safer and reducing ACC levy payments.

From observations and feedback the following actions were recommended.


All staff should wear suitable footwear when working in the stable environment or with horses at the race track. Stables and race courses are work environments and regulations require staff to dress appropriately. There were 35 claims for serious foot injuries (Thoroughbred and harness) last year due to staff not wearing suitable footwear.

Staff are required, for safety purposes, to have appropriate footwear that is easy to walk in and will protect their feet if stood on by a horse. High heels and Jandals are inappropriate and unsafe examples of footwear. They should not be worn when working around or leading horses as the handler may have less control over the horse and risk injury to themselves or worse, someone else. Stewards may direct a person not to lead a horse if there are safety concerns.

Staff should also remember that when a horse is led or ridden within the confines of any racecourse or training track under the jurisdiction of a club it is recommended that it should have a bit in its mouth. When the horse is lead either by reins or a lead they must be attached to the bit. 

Mobile telephones and horses don’t mix

There were reports that people were using their mobiles while being engaged in work with or around horses or while riding. As we all know horses can be unpredictable animals and while engaged in their care mobile phones must not be used.

Slips/Trips/Falls –

The high number of injuries around stables caused by slips/falls/trip is of concern, most of these injuries are preventable with work place tidiness being high on the list of prevention. If gear is packed away rather than left lying around it reduces the risk. Other main causes are unsuitable footwear, lack of hazard identification and lack of maintenance around stable flooring and pathways.

 Handicapping – The Solution?

Over the past few years, I’ve often heard it said that the current ‘Drop Back’ system is the best thing to have happened to harness racing in years, and few would argue that point.

It is also often said that, whatever handicapping system is in place, there will be some that are advantaged and some that are disadvantaged. So it was probably inevitable that the success of the scheme in prolonging the racing life of dozens of horses has brought its’ own problems, which are fast approaching being a serious problem for the Industry.

Consequently, as mentioned in this column a few weeks ago, a group of people have come up with what they believe to be a relatively simple solution to that problem, and with the support of the Association, have submitted it to the HRNZ Handicapping Sub-Committee for consideration. The following is the final draft of that submission:

(click on Image below to enlarge)

There has been much discussion recently within our code regarding the shortcomings of our current racing handicapping system, and its impact on the various sectors of the Harness Racing and Breeding industry.

We have attempted to cover some of these discussion points in the following presentation.

We have also tried to provide some suggested ideas for improvement on the current system and hope that this presentation can act as a catalyst for further discussion with the aim of improving racing conditions for owners and breeders.

It is important to stress that the ideas explored in this presentation are NOT intended to be the blueprint for a new faultless handicapping system. We acknowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect system. Our hope is only to achieve a fairer system which allows horses to race competitively in their own grades.

We also hope that it would lengthen the “racing life” of a large number of horses in our current racing pool, by reducing the frequency of a horse “meeting their mark” and becoming unviable to train due to the costs involved.

Background Statistics

In the current racing industry (using the 2006 foal crop as an example) approx. 47% of all foals progress to racing Qualification standard. Of these horses, only 61% then progress to actually win one race on NZ tracks.

This – based on 2006 – gave us approx. 1370 horses that “enter” into the racing programme each year as maiden horses (of all age groups). Of that number approx. 520 did not win a race.

Another approx. 480 were only able to win 1 or 2 races.

Despite making allowances for exported horses who may have raced overseas, there would on the face of it appear to be a major “leakage” or “wastage” of horses between the Qualification and C3 stages of racing.

When clubs are struggling to fill fields on many occasions it seems to be a crying shame that we are not utilising this bracket of horses.

For an industry like ours to have only 47% of starters winning a race is a shortfall we cannot afford. 53% of the horses that attain Qualification standard are finding it too difficult to compete in a grade alongside their peers within our current system.

Although it could be argued that this percentage has in fact increased over recent years it still demonstrates a huge wastage of racing opportunity.

Why is this Happening?

This is partly because these horses cannot compete competitively in the current grades available. This is also because of the large number of horses benefiting from invitational, age group and penalty free races, returning to the same familiar hunting grounds and beating opposition they have already previously outclassed.

Unfortunately the issue is magnified with the evaporation of an Australian export market for lower valued racehorses. Currently a horse placing consistently in the lower grades has no value to the Australian market due to the import levies imposed by HRA.

Many grass root level owners are being forced to cut their losses and we are losing many from the industry. These are the participants that it is crucial to retain. Not the participants with deep pockets who can cherry pick their stock after it has already been proven through the endeavours of somebody else.

We believe that this could be addressed pro-actively with certain amendments to the current handicapping system which we will outline further in this presentation.

Racing Classification Aims

It is our belief that any successful handicapping system should be judged on its ability to provide racing opportunities that enable “like horses to compete against like horses”.

Such a system should allow horses to continually be selected for racing opportunities from within their own class or pool of competitive horses.

While the current system broadly allows for this approach, it can on many occasions result in considerably mismatched racing fields due to its limited “class” parameters, and current penalty free race provisions.

Often we also see high class horses compete in lowly assessed races due to the vagaries of off shore racing classes, penalty free races and age race concessions.

These conditions will always have a place in the handicapping system; however they should be balanced by a more equitable classification system to enable fairer fields.

We currently have an administration body that employs people to be the guardians of these aspects of our industry. We implore them to utilise their time to explore some of the suggestions or ideas proposed in this submission and think of positive ways to implement the necessary changes to our current system.

Points Rating System Suggestion

A system which would maintain industry integrity and also address the issues of horses not being competitive in their grades could be as follows;

At qualification time a horse is assigned a point assessment for handicapping purposes. This could be any number but for the sake of this presentation we will say 50 points.

For each subsequent win the horse receives a point handicap commensurate with either the winning stake of the race or as in this example the class or location of the race.

Metro Win @ 10 points

Country Win @ 8 points

Group, Feature, Listed@ plus 50 % penalty

100 K plus

For each subsequent 2nd or 3rd or 4th there would be no change in point value as the horse is proving to be competitive in that grade. See illustration below. For each subsequent placing of 5th or worse a horse would receive a 2 point reduction in their point value.

It is very important to note that within this system Conditions could still be written into race field selection. Penalty free races (Junior Drivers etc.) and Age Group concessions could still apply as they do in the current handicapping system. The need for them may not be so frequent, but this is now and will remain the domain of those employed to make these decisions.

Races could either be programmed in point blocks ie. 50-55 points or more sensibly, open nominations could be taken for a meeting and the races organised in groups from either the lowest or highest points. Race meetings could then be programmed on points and split into “blocks” at Withdrawal time, without the need to specify races pre nominations. The lowest or highest graded 12-13 horses would constitute the first field and so on. Race programmes could also be a combination of both options.

In settling on this concept the racing clubs then know that if a horse is available to race it will be nominated by its connections. The same connections would have the same rights of withdrawal as they currently have once the nominations were carded into a race programme.

Interestingly this announcement was made in December 2015 online regarding QLD Harness…

Jeroen Nieuwenburg ‏@arbit_jeroen 17 Dec 2015

All QLD metro races in Jan now field selected in HIGHEST to lowest point score order – nice to see the role of the handicapper made easier

In this system horses would naturally find their correct level and one in which they are competitive in a relatively short space of time. Of course there is no perfect system and there will be anomalies but we believe a system like this will minimise those.

Pete Cook

  Health & Safety D-Day

Traditionally 1 April is a day when some people enjoy spreading scurrilous information on various matters that might just fool some of the people some of the time.

Sadly this is not the case with the new Health & Safety rules which are introduced on that day, they are real, and here to stay. Consequently HRNZ has issued a statement with recommendations to Clubs and Trainers on what is required in the near future. Sooner than pick bits out that relate to trainers only, I’ll just reproduce the entire document:


Safety signs draw attention to objects and situations affecting health and safety and explanations of their functions and meanings should be included in induction programs. They do not replace the need for systems or measures to control the particular hazard and can generally be grouped in the following categories:

(a) Regulatory signs: containing instructions, which if not complied with constitute an offence at law or a breach of standing safety procedures, e.g. fire, naked flame and smoking prohibited; head protection must be worn; hearing protection must be worn; drive between yellow lines only.

(b) Hazard signs: warning of hazards such as fire risk, explosion risk, toxic hazard, forklift hazard, electrical shock hazard.

(c) Emergency information signs: indicating the location of facilities such as emergency exits, safety equipment, first aid facilities.

(d) Fire signs: advising the location of fire alarms and fire-fighting facilities.

There is a Standard that provides detailed guidance on the design of different types of signs, and how and where they should be displayed. The Standard recommends that explanation of the functions and meanings of safety signs should be included in employee training and induction programmes. When a new sign is displayed, or the location of an existing sign changed, employees should be informed of this, and the reasons for the change explained. Safety equipment suppliers provide a range of safety signs that comply with the Standard.

The stable must erect signs in any area where there is a potential risk to health and safety. Signage should warn stakeholders/patrons/visitors/workers of the danger within the specified area and, where necessary, exclude nominated people from entry to these areas.

The key areas that must be covered, but not limited to are:

entry gates;

float drop off;

stable and tie up stalls;

horse barns;

horse exercise yards;

connecting walkways;

machinery and equipment sheds;

storage sheds (hazardous substances);

building/venue evacuation procedures.

Signage should also be erected at the entrance gates to the complex, particularly where the course attracts a lot of traffic. These signs should warn people that they are entering a horse containment area and be aware of horses and riders at all times and advise all visitors/contractors to report to the office (if appropriate).

Other examples of when you need signs

Signs are needed when you store chemicals and fuels above certain amounts. However, it is recommended that appropriate signs are put in place when storing hazardous substances not matter what the volume or amount. Some common hazardous substances are:

toxic pesticides, such as paraquat and Counter

ecotoxic products, such as diazinon

oxidising fertiliser, such as calcium nitrate

Petrol/diesel/kerosene in drums, containers or bulk tanks

Where to put signs

Signs must be displayed in all storage area entrances, including vehicle access points, and should be at eye level. They must be close to the storage area but not so close that people come across hazardous substances before being warned. If your storage area is in a room inside a building, display signs at the building entrance and at the entrance to the room. If chemicals and fuels are stored in an outdoor area, signs must be displayed immediately next to the storage area.

What to put on signs.

Signs must be big enough so they can be read from 10 metres away. Signs must tell people, in plain English or pictograms:

that the storage area contains hazardous substances;

the hazards of each product in the store;

the precautions needed to manage them safely;

what to do and who to contact in an emergency.

Remember to source your signs from a certified safety supply company so they comply with NZ Standards, some examples below.

This is useful and important information – it would pay to act sooner than leave it until there is a problem.

Pete Cook

 ‘The HarnessXpress’

Many of you may be aware of a new on-line publication called ‘The HarnessXpress’ which, in effect, fills the void left when the “Harness Weekly” went into recession to be replaced with the monthly ‘Harnessed’. (Hope you’ve got all that)

During recent dealings with Publisher and Editor Frank Marrion (formerly of the ‘Harness Weekly’) during which I was fortunate to win a punting competition, I am advised that the response to the call for subscribers to the publication at the start of the year from license-holders, has been very disappointing to say the least.

I can appreciate that many trainers either don’t have much of an interest or are simply too busy to be reading anything beyond programmes and other stuff they really need, but this is an excellent publication and if you had any intention of subscribing at some point, you might like to consider taking a moment to make the call and get yourself organised, because it’s not that difficult, or expensive.

Or the old saying of ‘use it or lose it’ may come to pass.

Frank tells me that his biggest obstacles in getting this venture off the ground has been “a little bit of fear and a lot of apathy”.

“Because we’re dealing with mostly an older demographic and many people have not grown up having to get acquainted with, or rely upon PCs, it has become clear that a lot of such people who were enjoying receiving the publication for free, just threw their hands in the air when informed they would need to subscribe via a website and Paypal,” said Frank.

“I can understand and appreciate that, however while it was necessary to get as many people as possible signed up at the start via the automated system, at no stage were we ever going to turn anybody down, and getting subscribed is as easy as simply letting us know with a phone call or email, etc.

“The initial response has been very encouraging and the numbers are building by the day, but we need to reach a minimum number of subscribers within the first 12 months.

“At that point we will have a pretty fair idea what the annual income of the publication is going to be and we can reassess the costs involved and whether or not it is going to be viable in the longer term.

“Even without the costs of printing and ‘snail’ mail, just paying the people involved in producing 100-odd issues a year runs into six figures.

“Everything comes at a cost and at the end of the first year, I can look at either increasing or decreasing the content, or pulling up stumps altogether.

“I know the latter would disappoint an awful lot of people, but if enough people aren’t willing to support such a publication, then it has no future.

“I did this following the chorus of disillusionment when the Harness Racing Weekly went to a monthly publication, so I find it very disappointing that many of those same people who were moaning about the demise of “their Weekly”, haven’t yet supported a twice-weekly publication which can be easily printed off and read like a normal magazine.

“There can be no doubt that most people want their news delivered in a fresh, timely and easy manner, while not always being presented through ‘rose tinted glasses’, and I think we do that pretty well, among other things.

“But I do wonder if we’re suffering from the ‘out of sight out of mind’ syndrome now that many people are not getting because they haven’t yet subscribed.

“I also know that many people in the industry are struggling and they’re probably putting things off that aren’t absolutely necessary, but I don’t think $15 a month or $160 annually is going to break too many budgets.

“Mostly I think we’re just going to have to work our way through the general apathy of people and build things up over time.

“As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

So there you have it folks.

I guess some might like to consider that a publication like the HarnessXpress is serving a purpose in generating interest and therefore participation and betting within our industry.

Our industry has already contracted significantly in recent times and when people aren’t getting the sort of information they desire, then they’re likely to lose interest and eventually wander off.

So supporting a publication such as the HarnessXpress is going to be beneficial to the long term viability of the industry as a whole as well as ‘you’ as a stakeholder.

As such you might like to consider doing your little bit and get on the phone to Frank now on 03-9815645 or 021-065-6793 to arrange your twice-weekly read before you forget again.

Pete Cook

 ‘Men’s Problems’

I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression that a medical condition that no-one wants to really get into detail about is described, by both sexes, as ‘woman’s problems’.

Well Roxburgh trainer Geoff Knight has recently discovered that there is a malady which could be even more accurately described as ‘bloke’s problems.’ I’m sure there’s some Latin or Greek name for it used by the medical profession, but your average person like me knows it as Prostate Cancer (and not ‘prostrate as I have heard it called more than once – that means something completely different)

Geoff recently had his prostate gland (that’s a medical term that I picked up somewhere – probably when I was tested myself last year, fortunately with good results) removed after his recent tests showed a problem in that area.

“I went for a ‘man's test' last year. It was up a wee bit, so they kept an eye on it, and they sent me in for another check and there was a wee bit of cancer on one side,'' Knight said of his recent experience. "It gives you a fright when you get told, but when they give you all the stats and outcomes, it eases your mind a lot.''

Knight is happy to speak out about the process, as he knows the reluctance of many men to visit the doctor.

"We're terrible at it,'' he said. "I'm 57 this month and when I was 50, I never went. I put it off, saying there's nothing wrong with me. We send our wives along to get the cervical cancer and mammogram tests, and we don't go ourselves because we think we're too good for it.''

Knight had no symptoms to suggest there was anything wrong. He had no problems passing urine and no pain in the area, which is why he is urging other men in the racing industry to get checked once they turn 50.

"I had no pain, not a symptom in the world, and that's the scary thing,'' he said."They got it really early and their advice was to get it out. It was a five-hour operation, so it was a biggie but I'm feeling good.

"Unless they don't detect it early, there's a huge chance of full recovery. They said since you're so young, go and get it out.''

The blood test is the first step, and is a simple process for men afraid of invasive procedures.

"It's a blood test for a start and then if they suspect it, they'll give you the finger treatment. It's not that bad, it's 10 seconds and it's over,'' he said.

Knight joked the biggest casualty of his recuperation in recent days was his TAB account, as he spent many hours on the couch watching Trackside.

This website is meant to be a service to trainers and drivers, hence the reason for relaying this story to members. As Geoff says,” "It's nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to be scared of,'' he said."I'm not scared to talk about it and not scared for anyone to know about it. Get on to it early if you've got it and get it dealt with.''

Good advice! Quotes from Geoff came via an article written by Otago Daily Times racing scribe Matt Smith. Check out his excellent website on

Pete Cook

Update: Geoff saw the surgeon this morning, and they took tests from all surrounding areas when they took the prostate out and those tests are 100% clear, so he's a very happy man. Naturally, he'll need some regular check-ups, but otherwise it's all looking promising for him.

 Open Starters Meeting

Representatives from the Association were recently invited to participate in a meeting of all Open Starters from around New Zealand.

Pete Davis, Gordon Lee and Todd Macfarlane and the undersigned were joined by Edward Rennell and RIU representatives for a wide ranging and frank discussion on how to improve both standing and mobile starts nationwide.

The catchword, and what all were aspiring to is consistency, and it was agreed that while there could be some discretion among starters, the basic standing start procedure is walk in, pause, and providing all horses are facing forward, let them go. There was discussion on perceived favouritism being given to horses that play up and, also drivers who attempt to cheat by hanging back and gaining extra momentum when the tapes are released. A suggestion that the Association should speak to these drivers and also to trainers of unruly horses was not supported. The Association however, fully supported these drivers being penalised by Stewards until the practice is stamped out.

Methods of parading before the start were discussed with a request that the outside and inside horses come into line at the same time and the horses drawn in the middle be brought up as soon as possible from the two circles. It was stressed that drivers should ensure that they closely follow the helmet of the horse drawn next to them when the whistle is blown.

Other items covered off included it being mandatory for a farrier to be present at the start of all races 10 minutes prior to the start time unless otherwise engaged, a review of front line limits to be undertaken at all tracks, the introduction of a barrier strand some distance behind the marshalling horses to prevent drivers from straying too far, and the introduction of ‘candy poles’ to indicate 50 metres from the starting point in mobiles.

All present supported the introduction of a requirement for all horses to have to trial satisfactorily at either starting method prior to fronting up on raceday, and consideration was to be given to adopting the Australian method of marshalling prior to a mobile start, where the gate is further away from the horses, and the field forms a moving line before reaching the moving gate.

Other issues discussed included the need for open communication between drivers and starters, a suggestion that starters raise their arms and drop them as they say ‘right’, the need for trainers to check their tyres are fully inflated before going out on the track, the need to improve starting races on time, and plans for the training of Clerks of the Course.

As you can see a wide range of topics was covered, and it was felt by all present to be a worthwhile exercise which will likely become an annual event.

Pete Cook

 Another Year/Another Sale

I’m not a big fan of the Yearling Sales concept, but I’m told we need it in one form or another – and not necessarily the traditional one, criticism of which got me in hot water a couple of years ago – I haven’t had a copy of the catalogue sent to me after that!

However it was obvious over the past week that the Sales are becoming more and more a case of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, both from a buying and selling point of view. There was no better illustration of this than the last lot of the Christchurch sale, who followed the much sought after brother to Fight For Glory. You breed and prepare a horse for the big day, only to watch the vast majority of buyers wandering off just as your pride and joy enters the ring. Disheartening doesn’t describe it.

The big money stables are buying the best bred and conformed horses and that is being reflected in the field sizes of series for young horses. Very few lesser financial trainers have anything capable of even lining up to make up the numbers. But that’s another story.

A couple of points from someone who isn’t a breeder though, so totally independent. Surely it’s time that stallion numbers were limited – it must be obvious to even the connections of the top stallions that they are stifling the Industry by breeding umpteen foals – or don’t they care?

The other issue which, to my mind, is totally obsolete, is the plethora of black type in a horses pedigree that indicates one of its’ ancestors broke the two minute barrier. For heavens’ sake, these days two year olds having their first outing at the trials can break two minutes! Surely there needs to be an updated approach here?

Pete Cook

 Greater Canterbury Branch Meeting February 2016

For a number of reasons, the Branch had not met since the AGM in September, and at this time, there were two major issues on the agenda.

The first was the circulation of a proposal to introduce a new handicapping system which had been prepared by a number of individuals for consideration. It is designed to alleviate the ever growing problem of having a glut of C1 horses, due to penalty free races and 3 year-old concessions, compounded by the alarming number of horses dropping back to that grade. This was causing a large disparity in ability between horses racing in the same class.

The proposal is based on a points system which, if introduced would also cater for those hundreds of horses that qualify and are unable to compete in the current maiden grade. At this stage the Branch is gathering comments and suggestions, so it would be premature to release details, however we will update progress as it occurs.

The other major topic of the meeting involved discussing aspects of race starting. Representatives of the Association from the Greater Canterbury, Northern and Otago/Southland branches have been invited to the meeting of HRNZ, the RIU and Starters to be held on Monday 29 February.

Points considered included the need for consistency, particularly in standing starts, around the Country, the introduction of a ‘candy pole’ 20 metres from the mobile despatch point, the use of 10 metre tapes, and restricting horses from moving away from the start area and causing delays.

Also covered off were the two circle method of parading, the need for Stewards to penalise drivers who attempt to gain an unfair advantage at the start, and the perceived preference given to poorly mannered horses at the expense of the well behaved ones. The meeting supported the introduction of trialling horses prior to their race-day debut from a stand.

Mark Jones expressed concern at times being registered at workouts with high class horses making it difficult for average ones in the same or combined grade events to keep up, and consequently deriving little benefit from what was supposed to be just a workout. The meeting supported his thoughts, however it was considered difficult to police any restrictions.

Pete Cook

 Lyn O'Connell

We’ve all heard the somewhat clichéd expression on Trackside describing someone as ‘one of the good guys of harness racing’.

Sadly we have just lost one of the good ladies of harness racing, Lyn O’Connell.

Lyn’s contribution to our game during her far too brief life has been many facetted, being involved in breeding, owning, preparing and training standardbreds, as well as, how the majority of people knew her, along with her off sider Maria, the cheery, friendly, helpful person on the phone or counter dealing with licensing issues at HRNZ.

From my dealings with her, Lyn had the knack of always showing a genuine interest in what you were doing, despite going through serious health problems herself over the past few years.

The Trainers & Drivers Assn. wishes to offer sincere condolences to the O’Connell family for their tragic loss.

Pete Cook


That pesky Irishman Murphy with his law strikes again. A few days after I waxed lyrical about the quality of Trackside, we saw the coverage of the Invercargill Gold Cup sawn off at the knees in favour of some non-descript galloping race from Western Australia. What made matters worse was that, having shown no aftermath of the Cup whatsoever, they proceeded to show numerous replays and post-race comments of the galloping race.

Not being one to hold back when riled about such matters, I fired off my words of anger to the powers that be, and received a response from Senior Producer Scott Freeman, who acknowledged that, while they were committed to showing the galloping race, which had, in my opinion, been unrealistically scheduled straight after the Cup (not Tracksides doing), admitted that they should have shown follow up of the Invercargill race instead of some non-descript Aussie gallops event.

While pleased to have been proven justified in my complaint, I pointed out that the winner had been driven by a young guy making his way in the Industry, who had been robbed of having both his name, and that of his sponsor, up in lights. As I also pointed out, there is no way that a feature Thoroughbred race would be treated with such contempt, and the actions of the director only served to feed the popular perception that Trackside is unfairly biased towards the galloping code.

Uncomplimentary reports have been coming thick and fast at the recent state of the Rangiora all-weather track for trials and workouts. The Association has written to the Racecourse Management Committee requesting that this matter be urgently rectified. Having horses finding it impossible to qualify due to the state of the track as a result of a lack of proper preparation is simply not acceptable, and results in expense and frustration for trainers and owners alike.

Nothing to do with racing but it leads into an important issue, I heard an advertisement for the new Star Wars movie on the radio the other day, which was followed by the censors warning that it ‘contains violence and science fiction themes’. Seriously? Is there anyone on this planet who has either seen or heard of Star Wars who thinks it’s real??? What that sort of leads into (in my convoluted mind anyway) is another reminder that 1 April is the day trainers and all horse related people need to have acted to comply with the new Health & Safety regulations. I understand there are more workshops planned, the next at Ruakaka on 11 February. While you might have forgotten about this, rest assured the Government agencies responsible won’t have.

Lastly, an interesting point for those who still consider the Amateur driving movement a scourge. Last week at Geraldine and this week at the Amberley meeting, there is a race each for 6 year old and older horses. Nine entrants of the fields of 11 and twelve respectively are horses that are either owned by Amateur participants or have recently competed in Amateur driver events, and it is fair to say that without that facility, the majority of these would not be racehorses any more. So just in one week of the season, you have two races carrying minimum stakes, yet providing income for both the Clubs and professional drivers. Just saying…….

Pete Cook

We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are

Those of you ancient enough to remember a bloke called Fred Dagg, arguably one of the most talented entertainers this Country has produced, will recall his brilliant ditty bearing that name.

In a slightly obscure way, continuing on last week’s musings about the difference between our harness racing and that of our ‘bigger bro’, an article I read earlier this week brought home how fortunate we are to have the Trackside coverage of our races, compared to our Aussie cousins.

A few years ago, when Trackside decided to screen Australian races, there was an outcry – and I was one of the louder voices – that New Zealanders would not accept the ‘wall to wall’ coverage that we were about to be bombarded with, similar to what had been seen in Australia. Despite the fact that turnover on overseas racing has been essential to the survival of the Industry here, I still stand by my first thoughts that kiwi punters are more refined (is that the word?) than their Australian counterparts and, in general, don’t appreciate having race after race jammed down their throats every two minutes.

Thankfully, with the advent of a second channel, putting up with such a scenario is no longer necessary, at least not all the time. We now get far better coverage of previews and aftermath than anything I’ve seen in Australia, and for that, the hard working Trackside people (and while you’ve heard that phrase a few times, it is certainly true) produce a far superior quality product.

It is very obvious that, in harness racing anyway (I rarely watch gallops), the presenters have a good rapport and enjoy a mutual respect with Industry participants, and consequently the information and entertainment they provide is about as good as it gets. I’m sorry, but with all due respect Gareth Hall scrambling around at the start interviewing drivers is not only a bad look, but puts those being interviewed in a difficult position – that’s if you can hear what they’re saying! I mean asking a driver if his or her charge has warmed up well…..we’re all waiting for one of them to say ‘know it feels like s…t – don’t back it!

Live television is always fair game for criticism, and like us all, there are flaws and mistakes happen, but there is no question that we are very fortunate to enjoy the quality and coverage or racing that we do in this Country, and hopefully those continually firing bullets at the Racing Board for spending money will take a moment to acknowledge that. It doesn’t come cheap.

Pete Cook

 The Spice of Life

I’m sure you’ve all watched plenty of harness racing from across the ‘deetch’, and I dare say I’m not alone in thinking the way their races are structured and run is, in general, seriously boring.

There’s usually a couple of drivers hell bent on leading, often to their detriment when the post is reached, then they back off until a running line forms and it’s pot luck whether your horse gets out in time or gets trapped, and is basically no chance. Yawn.

Thankfully there is no appetite here for the adoption of similar racing, and for me, that is also the best possible reason for not following the lead of Victoria in eliminating standing starts.

We have a unique product in this Country with a wonderful variety of standing and mobile despatches, combined with racing on all weather and grass tracks. That is something to be jealously guarded and maintained, particularly when there is no proof that punters are put off by any of those scenarios. It certainly doesn’t deter them betting on the New Zealand Cup.

Yes, standing starts are not perfect, but we are dealing with live animals and human nature here. Let’s concentrate on improving them and enjoying the spectacle.

I have to laugh at some punters who complain that on the odd occasion in harness racing their chances are gone at the start. Are these the same people who back gallopers who often hit the starting gates and lose their chance, or dogs who are regularly out of the contest or on the deck after a skirmish on the first bend!

I know we are famous overseas for our sheep, but thankfully it doesn’t mean we have to behave like them and follow our Aussie cousins in everything they do.

Pete Cook

 Good Samaritans

Forgive me for kicking off the year on a personal note, but I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge one of the aspects that makes the harness racing industry a privilege to be involved in. Over the years we’ve all read about trainers etc. being in trouble and others rallying round to help – I’ve now had personal experience of that camaraderie.

New Years day saw my partner Sue Blake and I set off on what was our first trip away being fully responsible for horses, heading South to the wonderful Central Otago circuit. We had planned everything down to the last detail, with our ageing but recently serviced Land Cruiser and new float stacked to the gunnels with gear, feed, and even a couple of suitcases for the humans.

All went swimmingly until we turned inland and began to negotiate the rather steep hills that lead to arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the Country. Despite some overheating problems (it was 26 degrees that day) we pressed on until we got to Ranfurly (about 50 kms short of our destination Oamakau) when, with boiling water spraying on the windscreen we sought out the local AA agent, who did some rather hopeful work on the radiator to help us complete our journey.

Sadly, it was all in vain and after about 10 kms of overheating, we pulled over and called for help. As you will understand, unlike children, you can’t just tell horses to sit in the back seat, shut up and play with their i-pads, so the first priority was to find a paddock to unload them. Re-enter our friendly AA agent, Richard, who rang a farmer mate who, in turn, arrived and organised a paddock near where we had ground to a halt, where the horses were set free for a drink and a pick.

Fortunately, Gavin Cook, whose property we train from, had travelled to Cromwell the day before, and he drove from there to collect our float and transport the horses to Omakau, while Richard transported myself and our vehicle back to Ranfurly, and arranged a rental car. The diagnosis on the vehicle was not good…a rather expensive repair ensued and transporting it back to Christchurch (which at time of writing is still days away) made it an expensive exercise!

Thankfully over the next few days the horses, who probably handled the situation better than their human connections, performed admirably, but we still had to get them and our float, back to Christchurch.

Enter other trainers, some I knew, and others I did not, who went out of their way to help sort out our issues, Grant Townley towing the float home, and Neil Edge and Ngaire Buchan looking after our horses when we had to return and offering two berths in their float, and neither wanting any reward for doing so, although that part of the deal was not accepted by us!

These lovely people, along with Robbie Holmes and Ginger Woodhouse, and of course Gavin Cook, helped turn our major catastrophe into a trip that had a reasonably happy ending.

We learnt a great deal during our experience, nothing more relevant than how generous harness racing people can be when you are in trouble.

Pete Cook








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