When the Trainers & Drivers National Council met recently, a number of the topics covered were duplicates of those recorded at the Greater Canterbury meeting which was reviewed here last week, so may not be covered here.
Following discussion on a number of relevant points, the meeting was joined by Harness Chief Stipendiary Steward, Nick Ydgren. Matters discussed included the need for back up lighting on all tracks, the need for horses to trial before racing in either of the two starting procedures, which the RIU was strongly in favour of, and the employment and training of Clerks of the Course and Starters by HRNZ, which they also favoured. In response to claims that Stewards on course were being directed live by those watching on TV, Nick refuted this, however he did advise that each meeting was reviewed at a later date by a Steward from the other Island, in an effort to attain consistency. Brett Grey suggested that this should have been publicised to avoid suspicions.
Ken Barron called for a reduction in the minimum penalties, particularly for whip rule violations on Premier days, where serious interference often carried lesser penalties than these offences. Nick agreed to discuss this matter with HRNZ and the JCA.
Discussion took place on various mobile start scenarios and comparisons between Islands. It was felt that the mobile could be further away from the horses, particularly at Addington, and that the outside horses should be urged to walk early, so that others could catch up easily. N.Ydgren agreed to look into this, and also a suggestion that a Steward should be posted at the start on occasions.
In response to a question, Nick expressed frustration at the delays in the formation of the new integrity structure. Various possible aspects were discussed, with Derek Balle expressing an opinion that the old pre-JCA system was acceptable to him. Ken Barron was supported when he felt that the calling of witnesses in hearings simply clouded the issue and put pressure on other drivers, when the amount of video coverage available should provide sufficient evidence.
Nick reported that the tendency of sudden easing of the pace, particularly when the parked spot was reached had become more common recently, and would be policed more stringently. This was supported by the meeting. He also said that, while the recent actions of Sam Ottley catching a runaway horse mid-race were to be commended from a safety point of view, it was not the duty of drivers to call for races to be stopped. Obviously, the employment of two Clerks of the Course, which all supported, would assist in preventing this situation.
The meeting was then joined by HRNZ CEO Gary Woodham, who advised that a proposal was to be presented to the Board regarding the employment and training of Clerks and starters.
He advised that there was currently a review being undertaken of the handicapping points matrix, and a proposal was that Junior Drivers be offered a sliding scale of points allowance, similar to an apprentice jockey’s weight allowance.
Discussion took place on how to eliminate the stigma attached to finishing fifth and not losing a point, as the stake difference was minimal. There was also criticism of Clubs not paying the full advertised stakes and retaining the ‘appearance’ money. Ideas included making the ‘also rans’ payout 1.75% instead of 2% and giving more to 4th and 5th. Ken Barron suggested a breakdown of stakes as follows: 1st -60%, 2nd – 18%, 3rd – 10%, 4th -7%, 5th -5%, with additional money being paid from a pool of previously unused stake money managed by HRNZ, ensuring a substantial gap between 5th & 6th
Various issues surrounding North Island racing were discussed, including field sizes and start times at Auckland, the latter apparently being governed by catering for sponsors. A suggestion was made to instigate a three month trial to see if doubling drop back points for unplaced horses would assist with field sizes. Efforts were being made to re-instate grass track racing in the North in the new year.
A proposal to introduce more heats and final series was not supported by the meeting, as they had been tried before in Canterbury and Southland with little success, due to horses unplaced in heats being reluctant to line up in the final.
The structure of HRNZ was outlined, with the CEO planning on being responsible for operational matters, and the Board focussed on governance.
A Code of Conduct was to be introduced along with a social media contract to prevent unjustified and often anonymous criticism of Industry participants. This would be supported by a Review Panel made up of respected Industry personnel such as senior horsemen which, it was considered, would carry more weight, and gain more respect, than HRNZ or RIU officials. The HRNZ policy going forward was to focus more on education rather than punishment.
Rather than a change of season, which would involve a change in the Racing Act, the horse’s ‘birthday’ was to be changed from 1 August to 1 January, starting this year. This would bring New Zealand into line with all other jurisdictions in the World. It would also involve a change in the race structure for the last five months of 2021 with more age group races, and a complete review of dates and races for the new year. The move would have benefits for breeders with foaling in January or February having no effect on the horses age going forward.
Criteria for Cadets were being upgraded with attendance at 80% of meetings and exams being compulsory before any licences were granted. More emphasis was to be given to practical training and also life and business skills.
Restrictions and bans on TAB customers were criticised, with Gary advising these had increased dramatically in the past year due to more emphasis on the bottom line. He advised that he would addressing this issue with the new TAB structure.
There was concern at the lack of harness coverage on Trackside with plans to outsource any new programs to ensure turnovers were encouraged.
Plenty of meaty subjects to take on board, hopefully to be followed by actions.