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National Council

 

 

Handicapping Changes

As a result of a submission from the Association’s National Council, HRNZ have recently announced changes to the current Points Handicapping system to come into force on 1 August. They are as follows:

-8 points for wins up to and including $10,000 (was $9,000)

- 10 points for wins over $10,000 (was $9,000)

- Trotters awarded same points as pacers

- Horses placing second and third will increase one point but can’t go past last winning or revised rating

- Non-win horses brought in line with winners – points for placings second and third only

- Reduced Age Group Caps: 2YO Trotters – R65, 3YO Trotters R85, 2YO Pacers R75, 3YO pacers R95

- Non-tote races up to $5,000 will be penalty free for non-win horses (applied retrospectively also)

- Unplaced horses in claiming races will drop points for placing fifth to last

- Horses above the age group caps and horses close to the caps will be re-rated at season’s end

While the above do not go as far as introducing all of the changes that were requested, they are definitely a step in the right direction and, bearing in mind that any Handicapping system is an evolving beast, there are still opportunities for further changes, depending on how the above pans out.

There will no doubt be those who will complain that HRNZ have not gone far enough, however these decisions are made by a panel of experts, including trainers, and I am told that factual statistics were introduced to illustrate the negative effects of some of the recommendations, it was difficult to argue.

As with any similar system, changes can benefit one party, but can also be detrimental to others. Perhaps we should look at it in a similar way to training a horse. Add or change one piece of gear and it can fix the current problem, only to introduce a new one. Add more than one piece of gear at once, and it can be impossible to know which one has worked.

Pete Cook

Support For Industry Personnel.

Let’s face it, when most people think of the Racing Integrity unit, they think of that outfit that ‘polices’ racing, ensures that the Rules are complied with, and dishes out fines and/or suspensions. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to receive a communication from the head of that body, Mike Godber, describing some behind the scenes work being done to help look after the welfare of people involved in the Industry, something that is probably overdue. This is a copy of that communication:

“The RIU and the Salvation Army have entered into an agreement to run a twelve month trial providing programmes to support industry people who are having drug, alcohol, and gambling problems.

The trial will be centred on the Waikato/Auckland region but will be able to address issues in other parts of the country if necessary. The trial will encompass all three racing codes. It will involve a case worker that the Salvation Army will appoint to work with the industry. The industry will be involved in the selection process for the appointment to ensure that there will be buy in and support from industry participants for the person appointed to the role.

In addition to the drug, alcohol and gambling services the Salvation Army can also provide a full wraparound of social services be it, budgeting advice, and pastoral services.

Background to the Trial

The Salvation Army have been involved in providing services to New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) for a number of years. This commenced with the appointment of Andrew McKerrow as the Racing Chaplin and was primarily driven by Simon Cooper of NZTR. The relationship was passed on to the RIU when Simon Cooper left NZTR in 2016.

Andrew McKerrow’s work is funded by the Salvation Army and will continue to do so in the future. He has recently been provided with funding to allow him to work fulltime in Racing. His has primarily been involved in thoroughbred racing, examples of his work include support provided around the time of the Ross Doherty and Rebecca Black’s deaths. Andrew McKerrow grief counselled a number of riders following Ross Doherty’s suicide and took the service for Rebecca Black which was held at the Gore Race course. He also played a crucial role with Chris Johnson working on a rehabilitation programme after his drug positive in June 2016. In determining the penalty in that case the Judicial Control Authority discounted the penalty by one month (from three to two months) due to the rehabilitation programme being undertaken under Andrew McKerrow’s guidance.

It is important to acknowledge that the industry does not provide any funding for these services. In addition the industry does not pay for any of the programmes for drug or alcohol rehabilitation that licence holders may undertake. The cost of the programmes is met from the regional DHB budgets.

The Salvation Army is not in a position to expand its support to the industry throughout the country so the RIU and Salvation Army have been involved in discussions on how to replicate the success in Canterbury throughout the rest of New Zealand. Attached to this letter is a brief background paper setting out the need for the industry to have a strategy addressing drugs and alcohol dependency and problem gambling.

As a result of the discussions with the Salvation Army a twelve month trial has been devised which, while it will be primarily based in the Waikato/Auckland region will be able to address issues in other parts of the country during its operation. The trial will be funded by the NZRB.

The Details of the Trial

The trial requires the appointment of a full time case worker to provide the following services

• Education for employers, employees, Stable Hands, Dog Handlers, Junior Drivers and Apprentices.

• Advice and Education for Trainers, Club and RIU staff.

• One on one support and advice for participants with Drug, Alcohol and Gambling dependency issues.

• Alcohol and Drug dependency assessment for those returning positive tests.

• Referral to an appropriate level of treatment that meets the individuals need. Taking the person through the agreed treatment programme.

• Aftercare and follow up after the treatment has been concluded.

• Referral to Chaplaincy support if required.

• Assessment and advice where people with a history of Alcohol and Drug dependency wish to re-enter the industry.

The Next Steps

The Salvation Army is seeking a person to carry out the role of Case Worker based in the Waikato. The specific qualifications are that the person needs to be DAPAANZ registered or a registered health professional.

The RIU is providing support in the appointment and will be involved along with key experienced industry people in the selection process.

The RIU and Salvation Army wish to employ someone with a knowledge of the industry. They would therefore ask you to help attract a suitably qualified person with an interest in racing by advertising the position through the members of your organisation.”

A summary of the position can be obtained from Mike Godber of the RIU.

On a totally different note, it would be remiss of the Association not to acknowledge the recent astounding achievements of a guy by the name of Dexter Dunn. If anyone had predicted say, ten years ago, that a 27 year-old would reach 2000 winners in this Country, they would have been ridiculed. Yet this young man has achieved the milestone with what can only be described as his freakish ability, and done it with aplomb. Congratulations Dex, may you long continue to be our champion.

Pete Cook

Northern Branch Meeting June 2017

The recent Northern Branch meeting, chaired by Todd Macfarlane, dealt with the usual varied bunch of issues.

Secretary Dave Neal advised that he had discussed driving fees for the Pukekohe workouts with Karen Blanchard and they were working through what was involved to process the fee as per official trials. Dave undertook to update the Committee once the ATC had looked into it.

Rob Lawson advised that the recent Handicapping Committee meeting had discussed discretion, and maximum points levels. No points for placings had been proposed, however as of 1 August it had been decided that there would be no points for fourth placings. Maximum levels set were 2yo trotters - 65, 3yo trotters 75, 2yo pacers75, and 3yo pacers 95.

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The Committee finalised nominations for trainer, driver, junior driver, licence to train, and groom, for the upcoming Northern Awards Night. Suggestions were also discussed for Outstanding Achievement and achievement awards. These were to be forwarded to the dinner Committee.

Consideration was given to the HRNZ Conference Remits, and the Committee only objected to one Remit that being the first one - rule 403(2) & 100(1) The Committee unanimous in considering that in its current form it was too vague, and needed more work before being introduced. The Committee also felt that this remit should have been discussed in consultation with Association and vets, and finalised before it was put up.

Rob Lawson outlined stake improvements for the Cambridge Raceway. The Club will now pay to 5th. Minimum stakes with ratings as follows - 60 6k up to 8k, 70 up to 8.5k, 70+ up to 9k. Maidens would also enjoy an increase up to $7655. The Committee welcomed this incentive and all agreed it was very positive news.

The committee was advised that Kevin Smith was now doing fields for the Auckland TC now as handicapper, and this will also soon include Cambridge. This was seen as the start of the racing bureau that had been proposed. Rob Lawson advised that proposal for the new Waikato Racing complex was ongoing, with it hinging on decision from Te Rapa. Land and building plans had been outlined, but things such as agreements for selling of current venues etc. would have to be finalised.

The Committee discussed recent meetings arranged by licence-holders objecting to the scrubbing of the Auckland TC $150 payment at end of the season. There was disappointment that the Branch was not approached to discuss this and asked for their viewpoint. However the Committee agreed that as long as money was put back into stakes, there was no problem with ending the payment. Recent announcements of stake increases at Alexandra Park, and the proposal of further incentives ultimately leading to $30k minimum races in the future, have supported this decision. The Committee was unanimous that matters such as this must go through the Association, as the Branch has always enforced this with its members. Dave Neal was to contact Dominique Dowding and advise that the Branch supported her referral of anything of this nature back to the Branch for discussion and a decision, and also to commend the club on recent stake announcements. The Committee noted that those who were unhappy with the ending of the bonus payment had been invited to the Committee meeting, but did not attend.

Peter Ferguson advised that Northern cadets were still not using a stopwatch when doing time trials, which was ludicrous. Most trainers were now very reluctant to offer horses for this purpose for this reason. It was also considered that the standard of dress code was not good enough for these tests. Dave Neal was asked to contact cadet branch and voice these concerns. Logan Hollis advised that the Auckland TC had put on several very worthwhile seminars on matters that a trainer would need to know or improve on. Topics included budgets, legal matters, stipes and judicial, and basically anything related to industry. More were planned for near future and the Branch was appreciative of the clubs work in this area.

Dave Neal/Pete Cook

Conference Remits

As has been the case in recent years, the remits for this years’ HRNZ Annual Conference at the end of July fall pretty much into the ‘housekeeping’ category, all the controversial issues being dealt with in workshops and informal discussions.

One that might create some discussion is the one put up by the Trainers & Drivers Assn. requesting that entrance and acceptance fees be abolished on all races except some Group One events. In 2006, the Rules were changed so that acceptance fees could only be charged on Group and Listed races. Since then, many thousands have been paid in acceptance and/or sustaining payments to compete in some Group races, which have artificially bolstered the stake levels for no other reason than to make them look more impressive. Very often that money is paid back to owners in ‘appearance’ money following the race. That might be good for the Clubs concerned, but is an unnecessary impost on owners and, most importantly, an unwanted donation to the Government coffers in the form of the GST that such payments attract, for non-registered owners.

Hopefully, for the sake of the Industry overall, delegates will see the futility of these payments, and vote to scrap them from the start of the 2018/19 season.

Pete Cook

Forbury Rates Relief

There are a number of websites available to harness racing fans, but there is one I would recommend that may not be already in your favourites, the racing section of the Otago Daily Times or odt.co.nz/sport/racing. Written by Jonny Turner and regularly updated, there are well written stories and opinion pieces of interest, both national and local.

One of these, which actually made the front page of the paper, dealt with the Dunedin City Council withdrawing rates relief from both the Forbury Park and Otago Racing Clubs, which they have enjoyed for many years under the council’s policy, allowing it to be granted to community good, not-for-profit groups. That in itself is bad enough, but what has really rattled cages, is the manner in which it was done and the reasons behind the decision.

Last September the Clubs concerned won an appeal which gave them a one year extension on their rates relief. After winning their appeal, the clubs were told the council would compile a report on their cases for rates relief and both clubs were offered the chance to state their case to council at a meeting in March. However, that offer seems to have been conveniently forgotten, and a decision has been made without any further consultation.

And now we come to the reasons given. According to a council official, "The council made the decision not to grant rates relief to the clubs after weighing up the benefits to the community against the harm from gambling." Effectively what that means is that the two venues that have, in the past, offered their facilities to community groups and the like, will now have to either refuse that access, or charge for it. The other issue here, and perhaps the most disturbing, is as Club officials have pointed out, the gambling turnover on events such as rugby games at the local Forsyth Barr stadium would be far and away higher than that of almost, if not all, race meetings held in Dunedin. Yet this facility has been unaffected by this seeming anti-gambling policy.

So basically the Dunedin council has decided that racing, through its’ perceived connection to ‘problem’ gambling, is being discriminated against by some misguided and ill-informed bureaucrats. It can only be hoped that officials in other areas are made to realise the employment figures involved in horse racing that they are penalising, before this type of policy becomes widespread.

Pete Cook

‘A Rose is a Rose’

To the surprise of very few, the powers that be across the Tasman have postponed their ban on the use of ‘roses’ which was due to kick in on 1 September. (I should explain that I’m using the word rose instead of whip in line with Mr Shakespeare’s well known saying ‘a rose by any other name is still a rose’, or something like that), due to the general feeling that the ‘w’ word needs to go. (Any suggestions for another word for ‘rose’ are welcomed)

Their unilateral decision to almost overnight, ban ‘roses’ last year, was always fraught with problems, not the least of which was the backlash from drivers, who appeared to have been ignored when it came to discussing the matter. The latest press release from HRA Chairman Geoff Want reads: "The HRA executive remains committed to achieving real progress this year," Want said. "To that end, we will focus on implementing on 1 September an even more rigorous rule restricting the use of whips during harness races, to be accompanied by severe penalties for those unable to comply.

"This is likely to mean that only an extremely limited wrist action will be allowed in racing. That would make the use of the whip in Australian harness racing among the most controlled in the world, and we will impose some of the heaviest penalties for misuse."

Apparently they experimented with a ‘prototype device’ to replace the ‘rose’ in Tasmania, but it needs further development. In other words it was a failure.

Could it be that the moves made by the RIU and HRNZ earlier this season might have been the wiser option than blundering in all guns blazing, and ending up with faces liberally coated with egg?

There are further moves in this Country on the ‘rose’ issue in the pipeline – watch this space.

Pete Cook

Awards Nights

With the Jewels behind us, the often difficult decisions are due to be made on who will win the season awards, both on a national front, and also at the various regional functions.

The first and arguably the most prestigious, is the HRNZ Awards function on 5 August, following on from the Annual Conference, at a venue yet to be announced.

Next up is the North Island Awards dinner on 2 September at Alexandra Park and, amazingly this is the 25th edition of this highly successful event. Tickets are available for Suzanne Herlihy, and they tend to sell out well in advance.

A week later on the 9th, the slightly younger Canterbury Awards night is set down for Silks Lounge at Addington Raceway, with the inimitable Mark McNamara doing the MC duties. Tickets for that one are available now from Robyn Boyle on 027 217 3643, 383 0503 or by email: boyles4@xtra.co.nz. Even though they’re a wee way off a number of tables are already gone for both evenings, so get in now and look forward to a great night.

Pete Cook

Flagship Days

It’s fair to say that harness racing in New Zealand has two days which can be called ‘flagship days’, or in other words race meetings that are anticipated for months ahead, and showcase the best horses and horsepersons in the Country.

However, it is also fair to say that comparing one to the other is a totally futile exercise as they are poles apart in many more ways than the time of year they are held. On the one hand New Zealand Cup Day is attended by the biggest crowd of any race day of the year by far, yet the vast majority of those present take very little interest in the racing, preferring to party hard and observe the human population around them as opposed to the equine one. Harness Jewels day however, sees a comparatively miniscule crowd, the vast majority of who are there to witness the exciting racing, and see some wonderful horse (and human) flesh in action.

It would be nice to think that there could be some interchange between the two events, a bigger social crowd at the Jewels, and more horse interest in the racing on Cup Day, but there are numerous reasons for that not to happen, so I guess we just have to make the most of having the two big days to look forward to every year.

Best of luck to all concerned at Ashburton on Saturday.

Pete Cook

Canterbury Branch Meeting Report May 2017

A turnout of around 90, certainly the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at a horseman’s meeting (and I’ve been to one or two), showed up to give their opinions, and learn the background to what was going on in the Industry.

For about an hour before the HRNZ officials arrived discussion centred around whip use, Clerks of the Course, forms of stakes payments, and the points handicapping system. Those present were advised that changes to the whip rules (including the dropping of that word that has many other sinister connotations ‘whip’) were being devised by Gordon Lee of the Association National Council to be presented to the RIU for consideration, and it was planned for HRNZ and the RIU to make an instructional video. There were also changes to the fines structure for this offence in the pipeline. Work was also being done on changes to the way Clerks of the Course were trained and employed.

The meeting voted strongly against the current 2% out of total stakes being paid to all starters, while retaining the payment for driving fees. It was considered that more money should be paid to place-getters and that there was too little difference between pay-outs to placed horses and those who ran last. This was later conveyed to the HRNZ representatives, and a suggestion was made that a questionnaire be sent to all owners on the subject.

A four point submission from the National Council that had already gone to HRNZ was read to the meeting (see details in last week’s update) and was later discussed in detail with Edward Rennell, Ken Spicer and Andrew Morris from HRNZ. It would go forward to the Handicapping Sub Committee, which included horsemen and officials from around the Country. It should be stressed that any decisions to come out of that are not, as some perceived, the decisions of the Handicapper who was not part of that Committee.

Other issues covered with the HRNZ reps included imminent stakes increases due to the Racing Board extra funding, plans to bulk fund some major Clubs similar to the Southland model, caps on two and three year-old ratings, and programming. It was revealed that programmes had been done by HRNZ since March, and were submitted to Clubs for approval so they could allocate stakes accordingly. This appeared to be working well.

Statistics were distributed showing that since the nationwide introduction of the points handicapping system, there had been fewer short priced favourites, winning dividends were up, as were field sizes. Unfortunately turnovers had remained static, which was in line or better than those of the other codes.

Overall it would be fair to say that the meeting did not achieve a great deal, partly because the submission requesting changes had already been formulated and sent to HRNZ, however it did provide an opportunity for those present to hear various opinions and ideas, and also to learn facts about how the Industry works instead of rumours and hearsay. Time will tell how many of the opinions will result in change but while it is difficult for some to recognise the fact, good or bad, the Industry operates under a democratic system governed by the Racing Act, and one person’s ideas may not be those of others in decision making positions.

The meeting turnout indicates that there is deep concern at what is happening to Harness Racing and there are some ‘blame games’ going on. However, take it from an old stager, the ‘us and them’ mentality has been tried more than once and failed miserably. Working together is the best and only way forward for survival.

Pete Cook

National Council Meeting May 2017

The meeting began with Chairman Rob Lawson outlining a number of changes to Rules and Regulations that were either already in force, or about to be introduced. These included the changes to the scratching penalties, basically eliminating the need for veterinary certificates, the notification time for horse movements reduced from 14 days to 7, and a reduction in the allowable level of cobalt from 200 to 100mcg. The meeting felt strongly that the RIU should publish cobalt levels of horses in a similar way to TC02 so that trainers were aware if they were approaching dangerous levels and take action.

Other issues discussed in general were Clerks of the Course (there were on-going negotiations concerning the employment and training of these officials), the financial positions of some Clubs, RIU visiting rights, nomination/acceptance fees for Group races, Sires Stakes dates, and the future of yearling sales.

The meeting welcomed the recently announced pay-out from the Racing Board in anticipation of income from the Race Fields legislation. As a result, HRNZ planned to extend the current $1500 bonus to first time winners through to the end of next season, but the $50 bonus to all starters was to cease at the end of this season. Those present did not support the current trend of paying all starters apart from driving fees and, after discussion decided to submit a proposal that a standard percentage payout be adopted nationwide for all races. The ratio being: Winner– 57%, second – 15%, third – 10%, fourth - 5%, and fifth - 3%.

Concern was expressed at the current ceiling of $2000 on payments for damaged sulkies from the Sulky Fund, as the majority of the newer models were worth far more to replace. A suggestion that HRNZ should seek independent insurance and pay the premiums from the Sulky Fund was supported, and this idea would be forwarded to HRNZ for consideration.

There was detailed discussion on various aspects of the new points handicapping system. It was acknowledged that it was working well for maiden horses, however there were some perceived anomalies in other areas. Following a report from an informal meeting of Canterbury trainers, and consideration of other suggestions, it was decided to place a submission before the next Handicapping Sub-Committee requesting the following: 1) That all winners be awarded the same points so that trainers knew exactly where they were immediately after a race, in other words a ‘black and white’ system. 2) That no points be allocated to horses placed 2nd to 5th (it was considered that these horses showed that they were in their correct grade and shouldn’t be penalised), 3) That discretion should be used only for downward movement after unplaced runs, and 4) That no winner should be given more than 10 points other than in Group races.

A proposal from the Amateur Drivers Assn. regarding amalgamation with Graduation drivers was discussed but rejected at this time. However the meeting agreed that Advanced Amateur Drivers should be permitted to drive at official trials without having to have a Trials license.

Following a recent incident, concern was expressed at the lack of first aid experience by crash crews, who were normally the first on the scene of an accident, and efforts were to be made to rectify this situation.

There was overall disappointment at turnouts to Branch meetings in the North and Canterbury, and ideas to improve the profile of the Association and participation in Committees were discussed.

Pete Cook

Footnote: Next Tuesday evening 23 May, the Greater Canterbury Branch is staging an ‘informative’ meeting in the Christian Cullen Lounge at Addington to discuss all aspects of the Points Handicapping System. The meeting will commence at 6pm sharp, with HRNZ officials joining in at 7pm. This is your opportunity to express your views through official channels.

Happenings

Due to a number of meetings and associated issues, updating the website has become a little difficult lately, but from now on we should be back on track.

Last Tuesday saw a bi-annual meeting of the Association National Council and there will be a full report on that, next week.

However prior to the meeting itself, RIU Chief Steward (Harness Racing) Nick Ydgren came along to discuss matters of mutual interest. He began by announcing that penalties for excessive use of the whip would shortly be altered. Gordon Lee led a discussion on whip use, including suggesting a name change from the words ‘whip’ and ‘excessive’, the striking of dust sheets as opposed to the sulky, alternatives to the current whip, and the use of the whip prior to the 400m mark. Gordon agreed to work on changing the wording of the regulations to make them clearer, and Nick spoke of plans by the RIU to make a video to illustrate the standard that was required. All agreed that the standard of whip use and the overall ‘look’ of racing in the straight had improved markedly under the new regulations. Other matters covered included the option for connections of horses affected by interference and/or relegation to apply for financial compensation wherever the horse finishes, the use of third parties as witnesses in hearings, a preference for increasing fines as opposed to mandatory suspensions, and concern at Trackside focussing on drivers in the straight driving their horse out. There was general consensus that due to the lower levels of fines being given for interference, that they were an insufficient deterrent which was resulting in a current situation where safety is being compromised, and while there was reluctance for the Association to promote heavier fines, this may be the best way to combat this behaviour.

Pete Cook

National Council

Tuesday 9 May sees a meeting of the Trainers & Drivers National Council in Christchurch with a few important topics to be discussed. Included in the agenda are the Points Handicapping System, whip use, Sires Stakes scheduling, and Yearling Sales.

If anyone has a topic that they wish to be tabled at the meeting, please contact me before Friday 5 May.

Just a footnote to my comments on the proposal to programme two year old races from January, and run them with four starters. A couple of Clubs had a go at doing just that this weekend. No it isn’t early January, it’s nearly May and all they attracted were fields of 5 and 4 respectively. Both would have been a financial debacle for the Clubs (i.e. the Industry), and of no value whatsoever to anyone except the few people who own the horses.

It’s rather ironic that the gentleman who made the ludicrous suggestion regularly claims that standing starts are bad for the game, because they dissuade the possible involvement of the big galloping punters. You can only wonder what they made of the two year old event at Addington where four of the five inexperienced horses that lined up had a gallop at some stage of the race. A good advertisement for our code?

Pete Cook

Glorious Uncertainty

Poor old Motukarara has now, thanks to a certain sharp-witted commentator, been forever labelled the ‘Bermuda Triangle’, a reference to the unusual happenings where horses which you wouldn’t back with your worst enemy’s money, roll home with frightening regularity. Actually for someone like me who relishes the challenge of trying to catch long priced winners, it’s always been one of my most successful hunting grounds.

However, all that turned to custard, or more accurately mud, last Monday with the last grass track meeting of the season. You would have thought, given the track was virtually a bog, and I can personally confirm that, the meeting would be an even bigger graveyard than normal. Ooooh no, of the eleven races, eight were won by the win favourites and the biggest win dividend was $6.10! Good result for the Club and most punters, not so good for yours truly.

I know every owner wants to win a New Zealand Cup or pretty much any Group 1 race, however for those of us who are never likely to have a runner in any such event, let alone a winner, a penalty free win is a worthwhile target and a nice bonus. For some reason, there are those in the corridors of power that think the words ‘penalty free’ rank alongside paedophilia or pornography, so there is a strict limit to how many of these opportunities are to be had.

So, for those in the Canterbury area, next Thursday presents a golden opportunity to try for that ‘free’ win, when the Timaru Club have had the courage to programme a Claiming race. There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions about Claiming races that tend to stop people entering their horses in them, the big advantage is that you can handicap your own horse by deciding what price to put on it, and race for a penalty free win in what is generally a much easier field than Junior Drivers races. Also, you can retain your normal driver. And, if you should win the race stake and the horse is sold, is that really the disaster that some people think it is? Take the plunge and put an entry in before Monday.

Pete Cook

Good and Bad

That’s how you would describe the suggestions that are aired on our flagship television programme and I like to think that, in the past I have given credit for the good ones. However, sometimes they are almost so stupid that it makes you wonder how if the instigator has any idea how the Industry works.

Okay, having said my piece about two year-old racing a while back, I admit I could be conceived as being a little biased on the subject. But seriously, suggesting, even demanding, that there should be a two year old race programmed every week from 1 January onwards with the proviso that it would be run with four starters, what planet is this person living on? Oh yes, it would be great for those impatient characters who want their purchases at the races probably long before they are capable of being there. Well actually, I’m not sure it would be great for even them, as their charges would probably be burnt out by the time the major two year old races come round!

For the rest of the industry, such a move would be a financial disaster. Can the suggestor (spellcheck is telling me that’s not a word, but you get my meaning) honestly say that he would spend money punting on a four horse field of two year olds he knows nothing about? No, and nor would anyone else. So Clubs (and the industry as a whole) are supposed to throw money at such races, knowing full well that they would lose considerable funds doing so, just to please a couple of owners.

On the other hand, at the same time it was revealed that former top galloping trainer Jim Gibbs is totally enamoured with harness racing and can’t understand why some of his mates aren’t cross-coding as well. Along with Auckland Racing Club Chairman Paul Kenny (of Adore Me and many others fame), who I had the pleasure of sharing a table with at a recent Awards Night, and who also thinks our code is great, you have to ask if HRNZ, or someone, should be using these gentlemen to promote our side of the racing industry.

Then you see former champion jockey David Walsh scooping up horse poo in the middle of the Addington Stable block the other night! Things you see when you haven’t got a camera or a phone on you.

Pete Cook

Best Laid Plans

There’s an old saying that goes something about the ‘best laid plans of mice and men,’ (that’s all I know of that one) but it describes perfectly what happened to the plan by the Greater Canterbury Branch of holding a meeting in North Canterbury.

Due to the local track being out of commission, many of the license-holders that were planning on coming to the meeting, had to take their trial and workout horses to Ashburton that day and, not surprisingly, by the time they got home, had no chance of making it to the meeting.

However, while the meeting was short on quantity, those present were involved in some robust discussion on a number of issues, many of which will be taken forward to the Associations’ National Council meeting on 9 May for consideration.

Among them were why the Sires Stakes Board are using established events such as the Welcome Stakes as qualifying events for their Finals, basically accepting sustaining payments from owners while contributing nothing towards the stakes of such races. There was also criticism of the scheduling of age–group racing, and discussion on the possibility of the Yearling sales being run by the Breeders Assn. and/or HRNZ instead of a private company, so that the substantial profits on offer can be channelled back into the Industry.

The new points handicapping came under scrutiny, and while it was acknowledged that it was helping field sizes and creating less short priced favourites, the common complaint the Association was getting from members was the concept of ‘discretion’. The original proposal from the Association contained no allowances for discretion, the idea was that the entire system would be governed by computer, and everyone would know exactly where they stood points-wise, immediately after their horse had raced. There was also criticism of the current programming of splitting races by sex and age, which, in effect, defeats the purpose of having ratings.

A request for support had been received from the Ashburton TC concerning the change of their traditional Boxing Day date to 1 January. This date was considered unacceptable for a number of reasons, the most notable being a clash of the Ashburton and Central Otago Cups the following day. A letter of support has been sent to the Club.

Pete Cook

Upcoming Meetings

The Greater Canterbury Branch is going a bit outside the square next week. In the past we have had comments that license-holders can’t get to meetings to voice their opinions because it’s too far to go. As a response, next Tuesday we will be holding our Committee meeting at the Plough Hotel in Rangiora.

Even though it will be an official Committee meeting, we are inviting any license-holder in the North Canterbury area to come along, and both voice their concerns (or joys), and hopefully understand what the Trainers & Drivers Assn. is about. You never know, the odd one might decide to join the Committee.

There will be a bar tab in operation from 6pm with the meeting starting at 6.30. See you there.

The other meeting is a National Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday 2 May in Christchurch. If there are any issues that you would like discussed at that meeting, let me know, or better still come to the Plough next Tuesday.

Pete Cook

The Missing Middle

I’d better start by emphasising that the spiel below does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Trainers & Drivers Assn., and it comes from the keyboard of some bloke who has never bred a horse, sold one at the Yearling Sales, or raced a two year old. Given my current financial situation the first two are unlikely to happen, and the third definitely won’t, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

I was reading an article by John Mooney, Chairman of the Breeders Assn. which bemoaned the fact that we had lost many of the ‘middle’ people, breeders, and owners. That’s a fair summation, as he says the top ones are doing okay, and the small hobby types are relatively happy also. Anyone who knows my punting habits will know that I am totally against backing two year olds. That isn’t going to cause the industry to go under I realise, but there are a number of reasons for the ‘policy’. I’m going to upset a whole raft of people by saying it, but I believe that two year old racing is responsible for a large slice of why we are in some trouble. There is now what I think is an obscene amount of money thrown at two year old racing, yet the rewards and benefits to the Industry as a whole are minimal to say the least.

It begins with the pressure on breeders who want to sell at the sales to put their mares to a handful of stallions that are renowned for leaving young horses. How many times have you heard the auctioneers say a horse is bound to ‘come early’ or make a two year-old. That, in turn, immediately places pressure on the trainer of the horse in question who, if he or she can’t get the horse to race as a youngster, can be perceived as having failed. On the other hand, if said trainer manages to get the horse to perform before its’ body is ready for such exertions, it may well be ruined for life and lost to the owner and the Industry.

Then there’s the recent argument that, instead of moaning about our leading stable winning everything, trainers should strive to measure up to them – more pressure to push horses into situations they are not ready for. I have huge admiration for the way the All Stars perform, however it pays to bear something in mind. A trainer who is trying to match them might buy 4 or 5 yearlings and get them up and running. Even if they are physically capable of matching the best of their year, if something goes wrong with some or all of them, that trainer is out of play. If something goes wrong with 4 or 5 of the All Stars youngsters, they’ve still got about another 40 odd to keep them busy, and at the forefront of the Group races!

I don’t have the figures to back up my argument, but I would guarantee that the betting figures on our major two year-old races bear no relation to the amount of money that they cost the Industry. In other words, while the majority of owners and trainers are crying out for higher stakes for the majority of horses, a very small number are reaping big rewards. Is that healthy for the Industry as a whole?

Here’s an idea. Why not scrap two year old racing and use the huge amounts saved to set up a rich series for older fillies and, in particular, mares, with some of the prize money being held in trust for when the owners of the place-getters (or even more) to cover stud fees for later breeding. That would hopefully serve to not only keep our better mares in the Country, but also encourage them to be bred from.

Intriguingly enough, the other day I was chatting to a long time breeder and sales vendor and thought I would wind him up by suggesting that we should scrap two year old racing. To my astonishment, he thought I made a good case, and tentatively agreed. Maybe I’m not the idiot I think I am!

Pete Cook

Some Happy, Some Not

It’s way too early to start judging the new points handicapping system, and that is what anyone who wants to have a moan to you should be told.

Just think of any rule or system change in any walk of life. Some people will think it’s wonderful, generally speaking the one’s that gain an advantage as a result. However you can guarantee that there will be some others who will swear black and blue that it’s a disaster, and it’s a pretty fair bet that they are personally disadvantaged. It’s called human nature, and we all have to live with it.

The announcement that HRNZ would allow purchasers of horses at the recent yearling sales would be allowed to change that horse’s name free of charge, was generally welcomed as a good idea, right?

I thought so, until I was chatting to a long time breeder and seller at those sales, who includes the same word in the names of all the horses he breeds, and is recognised as being the breeder of those horses by everyone in the game – and he’s had some good ones. He thinks the HRNZ initiative is a disaster, as those horses he has produced will be racing under names that are no-one will associate with him, in other words, his brand.

See, human nature!

Pete Cook

Good Idea?

The other day I heard a suggestion that young aspiring trainers should ring around the owners or breeders of all the horses that were passed in at the recent yearling sales, offering to train the horses for nothing, with a view to selling them later on a 50/50 basis.

My initial reaction was to applaud the idea as I’m all for trainers showing initiative and trying to promote themselves by whatever means. However, like a lot of things in life, once I thought it through and looked into the workings of the scheme, I became less and less enthusiastic. In fact, I now think the idea is an awful one!

So the young trainer in question, almost certainly paying rental or the owner of a sizeable mortgage takes on one, two, three or maybe more yearlings and trains them for six months. We’ll be conservative and just say the one and, also conservatively, that trainer is looking at about $800 - $1000 worth of training per month. Yes a lot of that is labour costs but if you want to do the job properly as you would, there are plenty of unavoidable costs involved as well – and the rent/mortgage still has to be paid. So six months down the track, and $5000-6000 later the horse (a) needs to go for a spell, (b) gets injured, or (c) worst of all, isn’t any good. Our plucky young trainer, keen to keep the contact of an owner or breeder says, “not to worry, I’ll train your horse for another six months for nothing.”

Hopefully by now, you’re starting to see the direction I’m going with this. The odds of that yearling being a saleable product six months after the yearling sale are frighteningly low and there is every possibility that, even if it has ability, no one would be willing to buy it for twelve months or probably more. In other words the trainer has provided more than $12000 or a lot more of free training for a horse that may be worth (and I strongly emphasise the word MAY) $30,000. That’s what he gets 50% of. I’m no mathematician but those don’t look very good numbers to me, and that’s only if the horse is worth decent money.

As one mature trainer who has sold many horses over the years said to me, if it was that easy, every trainer in the Country would be doing it!

So the moral of the story is that old standard, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’ Yes by all means get out and promote yourself to new owners, but don’t sell yourself short. You are a professional with skills, and how many tradesmen or professionals work for nothing until they get established?

Pete Cook

Greater Canterbury Branch January 2017

Due to the length of various detailed discussions, the entire recent meeting of the Greater Canterbury Branch, presided over by Chairman Ken Barron, was taken up with HRNZ CEO Edward Rennell kindly giving his time to outline various aspects of the industry, and answer questions.

He began by advising that a proposal for the setting up of a training centre in Canterbury had been shelved. Investigations by HRNZ had revealed that the actual demand for such a facility was currently limited, with numerous spare boxes being available on other properties. The purchase of a property now to be developed later had been considered, however the outlay of such funds in the current climate on a non-essential project was not considered a viable option. The NZ Met. had been approached for financial support, but had declined.

Details of the introduction of the new Handicapping System in the South Island had been recently circulated, and public meetings would be held during February to educate trainers on the workings of the system prior to its’ introduction on 12 March. Edward urged everyone to attend these forums so that they were conversant with all aspects of the system, and could ask the presiding HRNZ staff any questions that they had. It was planned to have all South Island horse’s assessments available by 3 February, and trainers would be notified of the rating of all horses in their stable. He announced that former Auckland TC racing manager Kevin Smith was now employed by HRNZ to assist in the introduction, and day to day running of the new regime. This was considered essential so that the job was not reliant on just one individual, who could become unavailable due to leave and/or illness. The setting of the rating numbers would be done manually by the watching videos of all races by Andrew Morris and Kevin Smith, taking into account any discretion involved. They would also be involved in the setting of programmes nationwide, prior to them being submitted to Clubs. It was envisaged that the larger pool of horses in the South would mean closer rating bands when fields are drawn up, which would assist in having more fields of horses with similar ability. A meeting of the Handicapping Sub-Committee would be held shortly to consider some suggested minor changes, with discretion being a major issue to be discussed. Edward reported that the North Island trial had resulted in fewer hot favourites in races and better field sizes, although the introduction of appearance money may have also helped in this. Also, the number of horses racing twice against the same opposition would be reduced, despite some concessions being retained. Discussion continued on a number of points such as discretion, concessions and non-winners having a separate grade, the latter being well received.

On the subject of dates, Edward felt that the current season had seen a good balance of dates. The Racing Board had been doing work on an ‘Optimising Calendar’ but had found it a difficult task. The ideal would be to have Addington and Auckland race every Friday night, but this was not always possible. It was hoped to have more harness meetings on Saturdays in the near future. There were also difficulties around the congested Christmas dates, with efforts being made to change them around, so that only five new outside broadcast units need to be purchased by the Racing Board instead of the current six. There had been a proposal to change the Ashburton Boxing day fixture date, but as the results for that day were good, there was reluctance to change peoples’ habits for holiday racing. Next season presented difficulties due to there being two weeks between Kaikoura and Cup Week, which meant the normal Christmas at the Races schedules following Cup week were affected. There would be some dates dropped next season, mainly in the North Island. Responding to questions, Edward advised that every effort was being made to separate clashes with Premier meetings, and it was his preference that Premier meetings be stand alone. Also the lack of racing at Addington in January was queried, the reason apparently being due to staff being given time to take holidays. The latter was not well received by those present, and Edward was asked that this situation be rectified in the future. The meeting was told that the calendar was always changing, and was governed to a certain extent by whether Clubs could fill fields. Turnovers on Thursday nights had reduced, and were now generally below those recorded by Sunday meetings. Concern was expressed by trainers present at the extra costs of taking staff to the races on Sundays and public holidays, due to the recent tightening up of regulations surrounding pay rates and conditions. Edward acknowledged this problem, and said that Clubs were facing the same difficulties.

Current and future issues around funding were covered off by Edward, including the legal moves by the Greyhound code to change the method of distribution, the outcome of which was still being awaited. It was hoped that the Race Fields legislation could be introduced into Parliament prior to the Election to avoid further delays, and discussions were in progress over whether the TAB should invest in new equipment, or negotiate to use the hardware already in place in Australia, the latter option being the preference of HRNZ. Stakes for this season were up 6% on the last, exclusive of the appearance money being paid by some Clubs. Discussion ensued on the merits or otherwise of bonuses paid for horses turning up at the races, for starting so many times, or those paid to trainers and breeders. Mark Jones and Nigel McGrath dismissed them as being of no use to them in relation to the costs being faced by owners, and in the case of the breeder’s and trainer’s bonuses, unfair, as the majority of the cost for getting horse to the races were borne by the owner. However Edward advised that the payments were a useful vehicle for Clubs to attract bigger fields, and it appeared the strategy was working, at least in relation to smaller trainers and owners. He stressed that the $50 being paid to each starter by HRNZ was an experiment, and its’ worth would be evaluated at the end of the season.

With regards to Club amalgamation, Edward said that progress was being made, with a settlement surrounding Central Districts Clubs due soon. The Canterbury area remained a challenge, however he acknowledged that the Southland model was an excellent example of how such an arrangement could work, and aspects of that model would be used in negotiations with other Clubs.

Edward Rennell explained the timeline involved in introducing the change in the whip Rule, and told the meeting that it had been changed as a pre-emptive reaction to the imminent whip ban in Australia. While there had been no approaches from local animal welfare groups, the media had contacted HRNZ when the Australian ban was announced, and they were able to advise them of the local changes. HRNZ and the RIU remained opposed to any ban on whip use being introduced here. The majority of those at the meeting were supportive of the 10 strike criteria, however there was concern at the level of fines, the confusion over what constituted a strike, and the RIU apparently being given no discretion when charging. Edward admitted that some aspects of the introduction could have been handled better. He advised he had prepared a report on the matter for the Board. With that, Edward was thanked for his attendance and left.

Discussion then took place on the circumstances surrounding the T&D National Council support for the whip rule changes. Pete Cook explained that, as there had been no dissenting voices during the phone conference on the change, there had been no need for a vote on the matter. However it had not been mentioned that the matter was to go before the next HRNZ Board meeting. When it was raided and voted on, Trainers & Drivers Representative Rob Lawson advised that the Council supported the change, and voted accordingly. Since 1 December to the 22 January, there had been 40 charges laid, with 36 in the South Island and 6 in the North. Concern was expressed at the entry level of fines being handed out, and Pete Cook was asked to approach the JCA voicing disappointment at these, and requesting a review.

Pete Cook

Another Round

Yet another round of yearling Sales have come and gone and, as usual, the majority of casual predictions of yours truly have proven to be up the spout! Some I thought would go for plenty hardly attracted a bid, and others went for what I thought were significant overs – I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m not big on buying horses at the yearling sales!

One thing I have been on the money with, however, was my prediction two years ago that the Aussies would soon come knocking for horses when they start running out, which is now starting to happen.

As usual there will the happy and the disappointed, both now and when the youngsters are up and running, that’s the nature of the beast.

Human nature is a funny old creature, when the all–conquering All Stars team are cleaning up on our side of the Tasman they are despised by some, yet see them dominating across the ditch, and they are national heroes. Of course, the likes of the wonderful Feiss’s and Butterworth’s have the best of both Worlds, buying and having them trained here, so that they can target the major races in both Countries. All power to them.

For those who are not so blessed financially, a scheme that Harness Racing Victoria are setting up caught my attention the other day – yes I know everything the Aussies do isn’t necessarily great, but I reckon this idea has merit:

Harness Racing Victoria’s (HRV) Own the Moment (OTM) program is breaking down the walls that trainers have to scale to advertise syndicates legally. An OTM Marquee will be set up at Sunday’s Melbourne APG Sale, with HRV offering trainers the opportunity to legally syndicate horses through the correct channels and advertise on OTM website trotsownthemoment.com.au

In an industry first, HRV will cover the associated costs involved in producing the documentation required by Victorian law to advertise syndicate opportunities legally. This gives trainers the opportunity to advertise and promote the sale of shares, greatly increasing their chances of securing new owners.

“Harness Racing Victoria is committed to assisting trainers to legally promote syndication opportunities,” HRV Ownership Manager Tori Glenister said. “This new initiative will be a game-changer, with trainers able to actively and legally promote syndication on our Own the Moment website and through their own channels.”

HRV will also be offering all owners of eligible yearlings the chance to save over $500 on their Futurities payments for Vicbred and Breeders Crown in a one-day-only opportunity.

Might be worth looking into in the future on the better side of the Tasman?

Pete Cook

Handicapping Meetings

Reports I’ve received back from the various workshops around the Country to discuss the new points handicapping system have been pretty positive.

Expectations that, particularly in the deep South, there could be fireworks proved to be unfounded, according to Southern Harness General Manager Jason Broad.

“The Dunedin area where 20-25 were in attendance, were well receptive to the new system. Very minimal questions came out of it, but there were questions regarding the higher graded horses in the South Island of regular racing, which is an endeavour to have a programme set for these type of horses.

The Southland meeting had 41 people there if I counted right, and while some questions and answers were put out there, I think people could find an overall place for the system and see how it goes.

The hardest part I think for all from the meetings, is where the discussion around Ratings R52-R55 would not mean a lot at this early stage of things.”

While there were some serious discussions during the Christchurch meeting, a good attendance seemed to be generally supportive at this stage.

It’s only natural that, as with any major changes in an Industry, there will be concerns, however it seems that the majority of these are based around the horses that various trainers have, and how they are directly affected. While that’s understandable, the system has to be suitable for as many as possible, and if there are changes made in one direction, it’s a fair bet that someone else will start complaining about the detrimental effects on them and their charges.

I’d maybe liken it to a parent being upset about their child’s treatment at school, having to conform with everyone else, despite a certain policy not being considered acceptable. Not sure about my parents, but I’m certain I grizzled about it!

In any case, regardless of all that waffle, it is pleasing to hear that the workshops were reasonably well attended and hopefully informative. In twelve months’ time we’ll all be talking about something else but handicapping – perhaps the long overdue retraction from a certain section of the media, admitting that their ‘sources’ got it wrong. Was that a pig just flew by?

Pete Cook

Education Free For All

As most will be aware, I’ve been around for a wee while, and in that time I’ve seen a few Handicapping Systems come and go. When I first started following the game, a non-winner was a 2.20 class and, as far as I can remember, every win would see a horse come down one grade (or second) to 2.19, 2.18 and so on until I seem to recall Cup Class being 2.10. No penalty frees’ or concessions in those days. Don’t ask me what those numbers meant or referred to, the thought of any horse having a mile rate of 2.20 next to its’ name seems ludicrous, even in those distant days.

Since I’ve been doing this job, I’ve heard that many grizzles about the current handicapping regime, I am finding my eyes glazing over much earlier than they used to. Recently I’ve had correspondence from the North Island slating the new points system that seems to be attacking me on a personal basis, as if I’m the one bright enough to have come up with the damned thing!

Anyway the point is, that while the North seems to have embraced the new idea in general, the Southerners are waiting with breath well and truly baited for the nationwide introduction on 12 March. Andrew Morris and Kevin Smith are working feverishly to make the transition as smooth as possible, but the success of the change will be judged on how familiar trainers are with its’ workings. One of the early concerns I heard was, how much education will there be from HRNZ before we have to use the new system. Well the answer to that is, plenty. Not only will there be information sent out in various forms (and not just via computer), a series of Regional Consultation Meetings are being staged around the Country, at time of writing some Northern area ones have already happened. However the dates and venues are as follows:

The importance of everyone involved in the industry, be they trainers or owners, attending one of these get togethers’ cannot be stressed too highly. This is the time to find out the details of what you will have to do very soon, and ask any questions or voice concerns that you might have. Complaining after 12 March that you don’t understand how it works, or it hasn’t been advertised enough will be met with some derision, especially from me!

Pete Cook

Greater Canterbury Meeting January 2017

Next Tuesday night, HRNZ CEO Edward Rennell has kindly offered to attend our Branch meeting to discuss dates, plans re resourcing, handicapping, Race Fields, training facilities, and anything else he can help with.

Anyone who has a matter that they would like to be brought up, let me know by e-mail by Monday and I will make sure it is covered off with him.

Pete Cook

 

 

Northern Branch Meeting Jan 2017

Chairman Todd Macfarlane opened the meeting by nominating Peter Blanchard for a position on the Committee, which was accepted.

The current sponsorship of a Junior Drivers series and associated prizes for the current series were discussed, the series having been well received. The current competition would use vouchers for prizes, but the idea of a scholarship was put forward for future series as well.

Some Trackside commentators came under the spotlight, and the Secretary was asked to send a letter to Trackside regarding race and post-race comments being made that could influence enquiries.

Rob Lawson reported that there had been anomalies between North and South Islands as regards the application of the admission of guilt reduction in fines. He had sent a letter to the JCA on this asking for the status quo to be returned, which had since been enforced. On the proposal to set up a training centre in Canterbury, Rob advised that when tracks such as Ashburton were not at full capacity, and with Andrew Stuart moving from Rangiora, the idea had been shelved. If a new facility was to be built you would expect other venues to be full.

The Committee discussed the current handicapping points system and concerns from trainers on certain aspects of it. The main point was the perceived inconsistency of discretion, and uncertainty of what some horses would receive. The Committee decided on the following points to be taken to next Handicapping Sub-Committee meeting by R Lawson.

1 – Strict guidelines for points. No discretion for wins under 8K = 5 points. 9K & over =8 points. It was felt that there had to be set criteria for this to take away doubt with trainers as to what their horse would receive, and establish a level playing field. It was hoped that adhering to this the system would self-level most horses and alleviate some other concerns.

2 – No points for placings under 2K. 1 point minimum over 2K, otherwise they stay the same. There was the strong feeling of the meeting that any money earned in this area, especially if you have travelled, only covers costs. It was also felt that discretion in this area was not being applied evenly.

3 - BAND WIDTH – If this is more than 6 points for a race, a preferential draw should apply. The Committee felt that there should be less preferential draw racing in general, and that the system would eventually make for closer band racing.

4 – 3YO’s should receive ½ points for every second win. 2YO’s should receive 1/2 points for races under 15K.

5 – R Trotters should only go to 50 points regardless of rating. A Pacer should receive only 5 points or stay on the same rating.

6 - DISCRETION APPLICATION – Trainers can apply to HRNZ for a points drop. At present this should be sent to E. Rennell who will forward to Andrew Morris to present to the appropriate committee. It was hoped trainers would be pro-active in this area, if they feel their horse does not warrant staying in a rating band.

The meeting also discussed the framing of races as regards whether they should be on rating or sex i.e fillies & mares etc. It was hoped that in this area, individual clubs will do a capable job of utilising horse numbers on what suits best.

The Secretary was asked to contact the Auckland Trotting Club regards swab & urinal boxes, where horses were still slipping on wet or sub-standard material.

Peter Blanchard suggested it was time an increase was made in this area in general, and that a minimum amount should be set. Costs were becoming prohibitive and fees had remained well behind these for many years. Concern at lack of younger people training and coming into the industry, and costs were the main factors for such a move. The Committee discussed this matter, and a minimum fee of $50 per day was proposed. The Secretary and Rob Lawson agreed to follow up on this idea.

Dave Neal/Pete Cook

Greater Canterbury Meeting January 2017

Next Tuesday night, HRNZ CEO Edward Rennell has kindly offered to attend our Branch meeting to discuss dates, plans re resourcing, handicapping, Race Fields, training facilities, and anything else he can help with.

Anyone who has a matter that they would like to be brought up, let me know by e-mail by Monday and I will make sure it is covered off with him.

Pete Cook

 

One Clerk or Two?

There have been discussions going on for a while now, both behind closed doors and in stable areas, about the current situation surrounding Clerks of the Course in this Country.

There have been three aspects to those discussions, one surrounding the training and subsequent skill levels of these important officials, the problems faced if a regular Clerk is unavailable, and how many Clerks there should be at a race meeting.

A couple of years ago I obtained a copy of a Victoria training manual for Clerks of the Course which was hopefully to be used to up-skill our local equivalent. Not quite sure what happened to that (I suspect not a lot) but it’s certainly something that needs to be looked at, given the quality of some of the officials being used currently.

The second issue is some form of succession plan, particularly at our major tracks. There is no question that most, if not all of the Clerks at our regular meetings are great horse people with the expert skills needed for their position. However it is a job that demands full fitness of both horse and rider to do it properly, and should something untoward happen to the current incumbent, it is essential that there is a back-up capable of taking over the role with minimum fuss.

The third issue is a prickly one. At a time when Clubs are desperately looking for ways to cut race-day costs, an easy target is to employ just one Clerk of the Course. For some reason, on many of the major race-days some Clubs deem it necessary to have two on duty, possibly because of the crowd volume and associated problems with communications. From a safety point of view, and that’s what these people are principally there for, it seems odd that there should be less officials present at lower grade meetings where, from a logical point of view, the horses performing are less experienced, and more likely to cause accidents.

Of course, all of the above points are governed by one thing – money. Clubs don’t want the extra expense of having two Clerks on duty, don’t want to pay for their training, and don’t want to face the possibility of having back-ups on some form of retainer.

The other side of the coin involves a matter that we are always hearing is ‘paramount’ in harness racing – safety. Having recently witnessed an incident where having only one Clerk on duty on a large grass track almost resulted in a major incident involving both a horse and the general public, there can be no question that a small saving on the one hand has the potential to be the cause of a major disaster, which could result in massive penalties being imposed by various watchdog Government departments, not to mention harm to people and the image of our Industry.

The solution to the above won’t come easily but it needs to happen soon, before a serious incident makes it compulsory. I know we often grizzle about always following Australia but on this issue, maybe they have the solution. As far as I can tell, every tin pot harness meeting across the ditch has two Clerks. The difference between our ones and theirs is that they perform many of the roles currently carried out by our starters assistants, holding on to horses while gear adjustments are made, and even escorting difficult horses towards the starting position. Our equivalents are normally posted hundreds of metres away in front of the start point. How about we do away with say, two of the current squad of starters assistants and use that money to pay an extra Clerk who can take over their important duties? Probably too simplistic but it seems to work fine for our Trans-Tasman mates.

All the best for the New Year

Pete Cook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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