This year, I was, for the second time, invited to attend the Canterbury Cadets Prize Giving night held at the Casino. Once again it was a pleasure to see how many young people were mad keen to make a career in harness racing, with 31 cadets on the 2019 Roll Call, the same as the previous year. Equally impressive was the quality that went with the quantity, with the nerves surrounding public speaking more than compensated by the obvious enthusiasm and emotion displayed by those selected for one of the 13 sponsored awards.
The evening was lit up by the attendance of Dick Tayler, obviously best known as the 10,000 metre Gold Medallist at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games, who left a sick bed in Dunedin to drive up because he ‘wanted to attend’. He entertained by giving an account of the gruelling preparation for the famous event under Arthur Lydiard, comparing it in some aspects to the preparation of a racehorse, and finished with a hilarious account of his somewhat botched meeting with the Queen after his win. What may not be as well-known is that Dick is a successful harness horse owner, and the current president of the Waikouaiti Trotting Club, where he now lives.
As we all know, working with horses is not an easy or particularly lucrative career to stick with, so if only half of those on display the other night can make it, we are in excellent shape for the future. While there is much talk about declining horse numbers, without young people skilled enough to get them to the races and pilot them, we are in deep trouble. Don’t forget that, given the right incentives, horses breeders can quickly increase the numbers produced and turn that problem around, theoretically within one season. To maintain and hopefully increase the number of young people coming through the system is not only harder but involves a much longer time frame.
While some of the names on the roll had obvious family connections, there were still a surprising number who had just ‘got hooked’ on our sport enough to give up other, quite possibly more lucrative, career paths.
It’s very easy to sling off at our administrators, but there is no doubt that there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to encourage and help these people, not to mention the volunteers behind the ever more popular Kids Kartz. They perform an essential role in the future of harness racing, and are justifiably proud of the end product that they mould.