As always, the topics discussed were wide ranging at the recent National Council meeting, held in the HRNZ Boardroom.
First cab off the rank, not surprisingly, was the new whip rule. After discussion, those present agreed that it was good to see the ten strike aspect abandoned and the ‘look’ of races had improved greatly, however it was found that the major problem with the new regime was the strict policing of the rule, in particular the insistence of keeping the elbow at an angle of less than 45%. Such movements, while technically they were not within the wording of the rule, often did not look bad and, in the opinion of the meeting, Stewards should use discretion and should not hand out penalties under such circumstances.
Ken Barron and Jamie Gameson expressed dismay that, after what seemed to be a successful meeting of all parties, the proposals for a Canterbury Racing Bureau had been abandoned once again, apparently due to the recent success of some country race meetings. Seemingly, the old adage of prevention being preferable to placing an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, is not favoured by some of the region’s short-sighted club officials.
On the subject of following the Australian move to change the racing season to a January 1 beginning, in other words a calendar year, there seemed to be a number of positives to the idea, giving horses more time to mature before racing them, thereby assisting in animal welfare, and having feature races such as Derbies and the Jewels at the end of the year when the weather is better than Autumn and sometimes Winter. The meeting fully supported the move.
There was also support for having two Clerks of the Course at every meeting. This considered a safety issue, and was particularly important at larger tracks where it would be impossible for one of these officials to attend to an accident on the opposite side of the venue. There was also a call for the RIU to employ and train them.
Various aspects of the recent banning of Gazelle sulkies were discussed, and it was hoped that the matter could be resolved without resorting to legal proceedings.
A proposal from Mark Jones for more regular racing for less stakes, similar to Australia was discussed, along with a tiered conditioned system for North Island junior drivers. On the latter, Northern representatives advised that they were currently trialling an idea whereby juniors were matched with horses by ballot, thereby avoiding the situation where trainers would withdraw from junior races if they couldn’t obtain the services of the top drivers. Also discussed was the current situation surrounding the starters in Canterbury. Aligned to that, disappointment was voiced at the RIU stopping Junior drivers from being involved as starters assistants.
Unfortunately, the newly appointed CEO of HRNZ, Gary Woodham was unable to attend the meeting due to a prior commitment, however also newly appointed General Manager Racing, Catherine McDonald did join us. She outlined her background and promised to, along with Gary, get around as many industry participants as possible in the next few months. She was briefed on a number of the matters outlined above, and advised she would report back when she had investigated them.