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National Council



Circuit Racing

Two or even three day circuit racing has been around for decades and is a traditional, and often integral, part of the season’s calendar. The Christmas West Coast meetings are wonderfully patronised, although in recent years the horse numbers have dropped, and Nelson/Marlborough in January is similarly well supported.

Running these meetings when the majority of people are on holiday makes perfect sense, but can the same be said of holding a similar circuit in March or June?

Let’s take a look at things from an Industry point of view. The recent Westport meeting had 113 horses accepted for the first day. Of those, a total of 6 are trained on the West Coast. That means the connections of 107 had to pay to transport their horses a sizeable distance, and cover the cost of accommodation for trainers for the two days (actually, in most cases 3 nights). An estimate of the total would be about $70 – 80,000, possibly more. That’s apart from any extra expenses and workload to have their horses they leave at home worked and fed.

Then there’s the Racing Board/TAB. From memory, (not infallible) the cost of getting their mobile Trackside unit and staff there and accommodating them runs to about $30,000 for the two days. Oh yes, and don’t forget the tote staff and RIU/JCA expenses.

Talking strictly from the head and not the heart, wouldn’t it be better for the Industry if these meetings were held at Addington with its’ permanent facilities, or if you wanted to retain a ‘country’ feel, Rangiora? A ‘guesstimate’ would be a reduction in costs of maybe two thirds.

I know there will be those screaming about the locals losing interest in harness racing if their meetings are taken away from the area, however there is absolutely no suggestion of moving the flagship events at Christmas, which is where they are apparently financially viable.

Here’s an idea. How about the Racing Board paying for as many buses as it takes to transport the local enthusiasts to the Canterbury venue, and even chip in for accommodation. Whatever it cost, it would be a fraction of the current situation, and everyone would be catered for.

Pete Cook

Youth Development Officer

The North Island Branch has appointed Scott Phelan as Youth Development Officer for the region. The role has been created to assist the youth of the industry with their development and knowledge and act as a support role for any young person who may require assistance or advice.

Todd Macfarlane of the Branch explained that Phelan will be available for all youth in the industry on an open door approach. “There is a lot of talent out there and we want to help nurture them and help them be the best they can be,” said Macfarlane. “Scott will be available in a support role at race meetings and trials and can be contacted at any time.”

“He can also assist in enquires and view race videos, and if a rule has been breached he can also help explain what could have been done to help drivers learn from mistakes. The stipendiary stewards are also very supportive of Scott and we feel that this is a positive support base for cadets and young drivers and trainers.”

“The Trainers and Drivers Association also would like to thank the North Island Amateur and North Island Owners Associations for their support financially in creating this role.”

Anyone wishing to seek advice or support from Phelan is encouraged to contact him directly on 022-329-9455.

The Northern Harness Racing Cadets in conjunction with the North Island Branch of NZ Trainers & Drivers Association will also hold an Industry Field Day at Franklin Park Training Centre. This will be on Monday 26 March starting with lunch at 12 noon and the activities beginning at 12.30pm.

Both groups are encouraging the North Island harness trainers to send along their stable hands, cadets and junior drivers so they have the opportunity to gain knowledge from our industry leaders.

Speakers on the day will be Graeme Henley on pedigrees, Tony Grayling on stud duties from getting mares in foal until they are ready for the next step which is Yearling preparation. This topic will be covered by Logan Hollis and Shane Robertson. Brent Mangos and Steven Reid will part with their knowledge and opinions for selecting Yearlings to purchase and then following on Derek Balle and Owen Gillies will demonstrate how the breaking and gaiting process works. Syndication with ATC Syndicate Manager Andrew Jamieson will be the last topic on the day.

The day will have its share of fun along the way with quizzes, prizes and giveaways for those in attendance. Scott Phelan in his role as the Youth Development Officer along with a delegation of the North Island Trainers & Drivers will be there to co-ordinate and over-see the afternoon.

The North Island Trainers & Drivers have organised for an MVP Award for the 2017/18 season with a trip to leading trainer Gary Hall in Perth. This will be points based with all cadets and junior drivers eligible.

For any further information on the day contact Sally Waters the North Island Education & Training Co-ordinator on 027 494 2850.

Even the Best

If there was ever an example of the uncertainty of horse training, it has to be the recent run of ill-fortune experienced by the All Stars team.

Undisputedly the leading training set up in Australasia, sorting out the plans for their many superstar horses is almost as difficult as getting them ready for the respective races. However, as any owner or trainer knows, making long (or even sometimes short) term plans for horses can be a task fraught with danger and disappointment.

At the end of last year, the big money races in Australia looked to be almost totally at the mercy of the All Stars horses, it was just a question of which one would be set for, and probably win, which event. Two months later, after a succession of injuries and a pesky and obviously virulent Aussie bug, those plans lay in tatters on the planning room floor, with hardly a single victory from the entire team.

With all the top grade knowledge, facilities and care involved in that stable, it brings home to us all that the creatures that we are all devoted to, and that make up the fabric of the sport/industry we love, are just that – creatures. Just like us mere mortal humans, they are susceptible to ills and setbacks, no matter how much effort is made to try and avoid them.

It’s always been said that luck is essential on the track, but lack of it can make a huge difference even before we get as far as the races. If one or more of the All Stars horses hadn’t caught the bug, you wouldn’t need to be brave to say there could easily have been some very different results in major races since January 1.

Pete Cook

Addington Meeting

Representatives from the Greater Canterbury Branch of the Association, along with other industry participants, met recently with the new Addington CEO, Peter Jensen for an exchange of views and information gathering.

Peter emphasised that he was there to listen to opinions of those present and that, while he would take them all into account, he could understandably give no guarantee that he would share those opinions and act on them.

A wide range of topics was covered, including race starters, programming and involvement in such by horsemen, and stake levels. Those present agreed that the Addington facility was underused, and in particular, the ‘close down’ for a month over Christmas and January was considered ridiculous by all. The idea of racing on Thursday nights for lower stakes was supported. There was a call for programming to cater for every horse every two weeks similar to the Southland model, and there was mixed feelings around the pros and cons of racing over 1950m and 2600m on a regular basis. There was also a call for some races catering for one win horses only within the rating system, so that these were not forced to race against horses that had multiple wins during their career. Also suggested, was horses only dropping back to a certain rating, which was apparently being investigated, and the need to cater for mares to prevent them from going overseas.

Other matters covered included the dire need for a Racing Bureau in Canterbury, the lack of post-race coverage of harness racing by Trackside compared to the thoroughbred code, and whether the promised big stakes being offered in Auckland would be attractive to local trainers.

Regarding the Addington complex, there was praise for the track surface, but criticism of the current driver’s room, citing a lack of size and facilities.

Various aspects of the Met Multiplier were discussed, along with preferences for either a 1950m or 2000m start, the latter being preferred by most.

The forthright and frank meeting gave Peter a good indication of the feelings of local horsemen on various issues, some of which will be built into future decisions surrounding Addington raceway.

Pete Cook


Every now and then, an idea or proposal emerges from the shadowy halls of the Racing Industry administration that makes you sit up and take notice, then think, what a great idea. The following is a great example of one of those:

Later this year the equine industry will be presented with a new evolution in horse care technology.

Thanks to the generosity of the equine industry, and also the efforts of the New Zealand Horse Ambulance Trust (NZHAT), five custom built horse ambulances are on target to be rolled out by December.

The New Zealand Horse Ambulance Trust was established after meetings between vets, equine codes and the Racing Integrity Unit established that welfare outcomes for horses would be improved with the provision of appropriate custom built horse ambulances.

The Trust itself was formed by members of the New Zealand Equine Vet Association, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, Harness Racing New Zealand and the Racing Integrity Unit.

NZHAT Trust Chair Martin Burns is also General Manager of Racing and Equine Welfare for NZTR and is extremely grateful for the support the Trust has received.

“When established in mid-2016 the initial goal was to have the first five equine ambulances delivered by July 2018. Thanks to the generosity of donors, sponsors and grant providers, we have raised sufficient funds though manufacturing lead-times mean we now expect to meet this goal by December 2018. But we are happy that this is not a big miss in terms of our intended timing.”

Burns noted that the evidence has been present in recent news and media around the importance of the equine ambulance.

“The first aid provided by an equine ambulance to Gingernuts when injured last year at Flemington, and his subsequent progress to recovery, indicates the improvement to welfare outcomes that may be provided by having this technology available.”

“It’s most important to ensure the best chances of recovery for horses, whether racing injuries or when necessary to transport for surgeries or treatments,” said Burns. “Beyond that, it’s also important to help demonstrate the deserved levels of care our horses should be provided.”

The inclusion of the equine codes along with the RIU and Vets association has been crucial in ensuring all bases are covered.

“None of us really has the knowledge or resources to make this a success alone. The combination among trustees of Vets and racing authorities has been essential in building the necessary momentum and in considering the planning and logistics. The Trust is also open to the future direct involvement of other equine sports,” explained Burns.

Fellow NZHAT Trustee Dr Peter Gillespie who with Dr Bill Bishop represents the New Zealand Equine Vet Association says the fact that the ambulances are made in Dunedin is also a huge benefit.

“It’s wonderful that we can have these ambulances made locally, not only for the local economy but also the fact that they are costing close to half the price to be made here, rather than having them built offshore,” Gillespie said. “We can be involved in the process each step of the way and speak to the engineer about what will work best. It also means that they will be designed specifically for New Zealand conditions.”

“The engineer building the ambulances was involved in making the new starting gates at Wingatui and has been instrumental in designing a full suspension system for the ambulances, which means they can be dropped right to the ground and then raised again. This is really important as it means when a horse is injured on the track it will put far less stress on the animal than having to walk up or down a ramp,” explained Gillespie.

Gillespie also said the New Zealand Vets Association have investigated and sourced the very latest technology in supporting injured horses, and have sourced full limb supports that will work in conjunction with a support stall in the ambulance. This will take pressure off the injured area and support the horse as it is transported for further care or surgery.

“That’s the main purpose of the equine ambulance. To make the process as less stressful as possible for the animal, and ensure that it is supported and safe during the process of transportation off the track,” said Gillespie. “With the first five ambulances due to be delivered this year, the Trust will now aim to attract funding for a further three which will enable more comprehensive deployment to equestrian sports events up and down the country.”

The New Zealand Horse Ambulance Trust thanks the following sponsors for their generous support: Racing Ministers Safety Development Fund, Bendigo Valley Sports Trust, Salient Trust, Charlie Roberts, NZRB Animal Welfare Fund, Rodmor Trust, Kevin & Jo Hickman/Valachi Downs, NZ Bloodstock and Cambridge Equine Hospital.

See, told you.

Pete Cook

Clerks of the Course – A Positive Spin

Over the years, there has been a fair bit of criticism (including from this source) of the performance of some Clerks of the Course, and much of it has been justified. So I figured, to be fair and balance the ledger a touch, I would relate a recent experience at the Geraldine TC meeting last week.

First of all, credit must go to the Geraldine Club for providing two of these officials instead of the normal one for many meetings. I know it’s an extra expense, but that extra person and horse can be very valuable on occasions.

To say it was a rather forgettable day personally would be an understatement, with one horse failing to score up and the other retired due to injury! However, in the next boxes to us were two gentlemen who were there to perform the duties of Clerks of the Course, and during the preparations and aftermath, we got to know them a little. The two guys, Messrs. Phiskie and Wiggins, were professional, courteous, and friendly, and provided much needed assistance to their ‘neighbours’ when it was required, both on and off the track.

It is to be hoped that my experience with these gentlemen is a sign that Clerks are becoming more professional and efficient nationwide, so that they instill confidence in the participants they are there to help and protect.

Pete Cook

Double Standard?

An interesting and most unusual scenario unfolded at the recent Cambridge meeting when, during the course of a Junior Drivers event, the ‘lap to run’ signal was given one lap too soon.

The Stewards on the night looked into the possibility of declaring the race null and void, but common sense prevailed and the result was declared as they passed the post. Discretion was apparently given to the drivers who may have made moves at the wrong time due to their inexperience, however “Drivers were reminded that ultimately it is their obligation to be aware of the distance of any race that they participate in.”

This raises two points to me, what would have happened if the same set of circumstances had occurred in a race involving senior professionals? Would they have treated in a similar fashion? It would take Hercule Poirot to successfully investigate whether each driver had either heard the signal and/or reacted to it, and it would be very easy to fabricate answers to any relevant questions. Even if such investigations were successfully carried out, what would they be charged with? Incompetency would be pretty difficult to prove, given the circumstances.

If however, charges were brought against drivers concerned and they were fined or suspended, surely some action should be taken against the official who caused the confusion. Apparently he was severely reprimanded, which while obviously not a pleasant experience, carries no financial penalty whatsoever.

Double standard…you decide.

Pete Cook

Handicapping Changes

As those of you who take any interest in the murky world of handicapping will know, it is often pointed out that it is a living beast, which should always be subject to alteration and (hopefully) improvement, when necessary.

At the Association’s last National Council meeting, delegates came up with three proposals that they considered were necessary to streamline the recently established points system. These suggestions were placed before the HRNZ Handicapping Committee and have subsequently been approved, albeit with slight alterations.

The changes, which come into force on 1 February, are as follows:

- Horses placing second, third, fourth or fifth in an Official Race will have no change made to their Rating.

- - Horses placing sixth to last will lose at least one point.

- - Only race winners and horses placing sixth to last may be subject to Handicapper's Discretion.

Pete Cook

Racing Board Chat

I’ve been to more meetings, seminars or addresses in my time that I care to think about and one of the common theme’s is questions that are asked and unable to be answered on the spot tend to be forgotten in the mists of time.

It was therefore refreshing to see a public follow-up from the recent meetings organised and hosted by Racing Board CEO John Allen, addressing those issues that he didn’t cover on the day. For those who weren’t there or who haven’t caught up with the announcement, the following are the details that have been released. Q. Has NZRB costed the financial benefit that the 'racefields' legislation will provide?

A. Yes, we estimate the new legislation will bring an additional $4.9 million in annualised net profit in 2017/18, rising to $8.9 million in 2018/19, and to $11.9 million for 2019/20.

Q. Has NZRB met with the new Racing Minister as yet?

A. Yes, the Minister recently met with the NZRB Board in Auckland. There was a positive and wide-ranging discussion and the NZRB reiterated their support to help implement the Minister's policy agenda as soon as possible. NZRB believes those policies will significantly enhance both the competitiveness and sustainability of the New Zealand racing industry.

Q. Will NZRB consider returning TAB Trackside to Freeview?

A. We know this has not been a popular change, and while the decision was made for sound commercial reasons back in 2013, with the world and technology changing rapidly, as are people’s viewing habits, we are actively looking into what possibilities new technology now provides and how that could shape how we offer Trackside content in the future.

While there may be further consideration of returning to Freeview, it is not simply a binary choice between Sky and Freeview anymore due to the proliferation of digital delivery services (Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV etc). NZRB has initiated a piece of work to determine its future content distribution strategy which will look at the benefits of making its content more widely accessible, to give customers more choice about how they interact with the content, and to allow the industry to have greater control over its own content on its own platforms (e.g. TAB and code websites and social media platforms). TAB Trackside 1 and 2 can be viewed via the TAB App or with a positive account balance.

Q. Are we able to commingle Saturday night Harness racing?

A. NZRB maximises the opportunity to commingle whenever possible, however we are reliant on Tabcorp’s schedules and what NZ product they show to their Australian customers as to when we commingle - if they are not showing the product then we don’t commingle, and unfortunately Saturday night Harness is one of our products that usually falls into this category.

Q. Why does NZRB still produce Best Bets when the Informant Form Guide is available?

A. We have a loyal customer base of around 1,500 purchasing Best Bets each week, so the requirement to produce this publication is largely customer driven. We have recently changed to a new third party supplier for print and distribution which we anticipate will generate greater savings and efficiencies, and we are continuing to develop and improve the book to meet our customers’ betting information needs.

Pete Cook







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