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HRNZ Conference Report

NZ Harness Trainers & Drivers Assn
Published by Pete Cook in News · 3 October 2019
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On behalf of the Trainers & Drivers Assn., Interim Chair Gordon Lee and I attended the recent HRNZ Annual Conference. The following is a brief account of what occurred, and various aspects that were of interest to license-holders.

FIRST DAY; The official business began with Ken Spicer and Peter Jensen giving opening speeches, with Peter quoting his favourite phrase from American President Woodrow Wilson, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” The meeting was left in no doubt that change was essential, he and the incoming HRNZ Board would be implementing it, and not everyone would be happy.

RITA Chair Dean McKenzie gave an outline of progress being made, although as their latest recommendations were currently in front of the Minister, he couldn’t go into detail. (I had a quick chat to him later, asking him if the Minister was interested in harness racing. He said that at their last meeting they had spent 50% of the time taking about our code, although a lot of it was surrounding the Interdoms.)
Next up was a panel discussion involving Luke Kemeys (Boys Get Paid), Andrew Fitzgerald (Off ‘n Racing) and Kate Gourdie (Corporate communications Manager RITA – and former TV1 news reader). They stressed the need to appeal to the young generation using social media and other tools, many of which were a lot cheaper than the traditional methods, and reached more people.
They were followed by Andrew Kelly from HR Australia, who gave some statistics around horse numbers around the World, the positive results coming out of their new Australian rating handicapping system, and animal welfare. I had a chat to him afterwards about their whip rules and he said that the dire predictions when the rein in each hand rule was brought in had proved incorrect, and quoted one of the strongest critics, Dan Milecki as having admitted he had been wrong.
Last up for the day was another panel discussion with guys from RITA (TAB) involving wagering, Trackside, and customer experience – mostly aimed at Clubs, although stressing the importance of starting races on time. There were also comments on drivers refusing to go on Trackside to be interviewed which apparently has a big effect on turnover. While they understood and sympathised with the reasons, they said that what they were doing hurt the Industry, and not the RIU. Gary Woodham reported that the AML (Anti Money Laundering) legislation that they were bound to have in place by 1 August had cost $8m to complete – they had budgeted $1m!
At the races that night, Gordon and I were lobbying to stop the remit requiring trainers to advise HRNZ of surgical procedures, and put the onus on vets. However, after we had a meeting with Andrew Grierson, we realised that wasn’t going to work, when he reminded us that vets are not covered by the Rules of harness racing, so it could not be enforced. He did concede that it would be fine for a trainer to ask a vet to do it. He added that there was a move to combine the rules that vets work under with our ones, but that would be in the future.
SECOND DAY; Next morning saw the Draft Business Plan and Budget presentations, followed by Liz Bishop (HRNZ GM Corporate Services – and good value) outlining the introduction of micro-chipping, which would be phased in over the next couple of years, followed by discussions on animal welfare, and rehoming of horses. Throughout the Conference animal welfare was stressed strongly by various people – I know we think the activists are just a pack of stirrers, but they are stirrers with a very strong voice, and a lot of public support. They undoubtedly stopped Taylor Swift from performing at this years’ Melbourne Cup. There was also talk of fighting back, and debunking some of their scare tactics by putting out more positive material about how our horses are treated. I queried Liz on whether, as she intimated in her presentation, all trainers would need to purchase microchip scanners and, speaking to her a bit later, she conceded that, having given it some thought, there would be little need for trainers with one or two horses to have to buy one to know which horse was which! It won’t be compulsory – as I pointed out the stipes will check them and if the trainer makes a mistake, then that’s their responsibility.
Next up was Lyn Stevens (Chair of the JCA). He outlined his background and what the functions of the JCA were, stressing that they were independent from the RIU, although at the same time advising that they met with them regularly. I had a meeting with him over a cuppa afterwards questioning that, and he said that they only spoke to them on operational matters. I gave him an outline of the public (licence-holders) perception that the two organisations were in cahoots, and also the effects that the current situation was having on industry participants, which he claimed to be very aware of.
The last part of the morning was taken up with Andrew Morris giving a presentation on the current handicapping system. (Details attached). I wanted to speak about field selection criteria being put in programmes, and why they are almost always done from highest to lowest ratings, but they ran out of time, so I spoke to Andrew later and he has promised to come up with a plan to clean that up. He was followed by a presentation by Breeders Chair, John Mooney, stressing that we have to breed more horses, then we were split up into workshops to discuss a Future Funding Model for Clubs, which didn’t really involve us.
The AGM itself went pretty much as expected, Gordon and the Gore club spoke against the trainers notifying surgical procedures, but we were outvoted. The remit about prohibited substances and practices was going fine until the Kapiti Coast club introduced an amendment including ‘blood spinning’. The meeting became buried in procedural protocols until everyone was totally confused. As I pointed out to the meeting, why are Club representatives, most of whom haven’t got a clue what this is about, voting on this matter. I got plenty of support and agreement, even from Ken Spicer at the races the next day. He agreed it’s a decision that should be made by a trainer’s representative, a vet and an HRNZ board member. Anyway, the amendment was passed after half an hour of confused debating, which means that blood spinning using a nebuliser must be done by a vet, and eight days out from a race. Mind you, things became even more farcical when, in answer to a question, Andrew Grierson (HRNZ Vet Advisor) reported that there was no way of detecting the procedure!
The conference was never going to be a positive one from a financial point of view, but as stated above, there are changes on the way. As to whether they are too little too late, only time will tell. Those are just some of the conversations and meetings I were involved in, I know Gordon spoke to many other people when I wasn’t around. Now we no longer have representation on the HRNZ Board, I think it’s imperative that the Trainers & Drivers Assn. has regular contact with the people at HRNZ and other Industry bodies, and it’s even more important than ever that we are a strong body.
Undoubtedly the two major talking points for the Association out of the Conference were the RIU and animal welfare.
Pete Cook

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