After 50 odd years of being involved in harness racing in one form or another, you would think I’d experienced pretty much everything that could happen in the game.
Last Saturday at Rangiora, I discovered that wasn’t the case, when a horse I part own and help to train crashed to the track through no fault of his own. Not an experience I recommend, and hopefully will never suffer again. Having spent three months building up the horse’s brittle confidence, to the extent where he almost won a race the week before, goodness knows what effect that has had on him, that’s apart from the cuts and bruises that have forced us to back off him for, hopefully and thankfully, a couple of weeks. Very unfortunate, I hear you say, but why am I writing about it on here?
Well, the reason for that is that I, like the majority of harness followers and participants in this Country, and particularly in Canterbury, have had more than enough of the incompetence and arrogance of starter Peter Lamb. I can’t prove anything, but I am in no doubt that the accident my horse was involved in, was a direct result of his totally unnecessary holding of the field for inordinate amount of time at the tape (approximately one minute), only to turn them away and have them do it all again. These horses are generally inexperienced maidens who are trained to line up at the barrier, full of adrenalin, and begin the race, not have to stand still, then try and relax and try again. My horse paced away (as he has done every start prior) then was so wound up that he galloped, and when he finally settled, the horse in front of him galloped when the shorteners were released, giving my guy no where to go. I’m assured by Colin DeFilippi, the trainer of the other horse, who was having it's first race start, that it has never galloped before either. Can you imagine the effect that having to wait for ever, then line up twice has on the mental state of a horse new to the races!! As a consequence of the above, the race was abandoned, (also partly due to having only one Clerk of the Course, but that’s another story) costing the club and the Industry, thousands of dollars.
An isolated incident, you could say and very unfair criticism. If this was an isolated incident, you would be correct but, as we all know, Mr. Lamb has
been the subject of often warranted criticism and even abuse for many years now, culminating in Addington, following the NZ Cup debacle, having the courage to replace him. Even just last Saturday, what happened to me personally wasn’t an isolated incident. Two other of the five standing start races on the day were turned away after lining up, and anyone who saw the start of race 7. involving lady drivers witnessed what can only be described as another debacle. I can advise that the comments in the stable post-race, many of which are unable to be printed here, were not favourable, to put it mildly. In fact, it was almost a carbon copy of a race back on 9 August last (also involving a horse I own) where, due to his incompetence, Mr. Lamb was the subject of a judicial hearing by his then employers, the Racing Integrity Unit. Following that, I was advised that he had admitted (reluctantly as always) that he had erred and it wouldn’t happen again. I have been to numerous meetings under various guises where Mr. Lamb has, after blaming everyone else he could think of, agreed to smarten up his act, then gone out and done exactly what he had been doing before, demonstrating his well-known ‘my way or the highway’ attitude.
So what is to be done? I spoke to the Chairman of Stewards for the day at Rangiora who agreed that Mr. Lamb’s performance was sub-standard to say the least, but, to my knowledge, no action has been taken against him. I have approached HRNZ who say their hands are tied as the starter is employed by the Clubs, but they are looking at the issue. Before I go any further, allow me to suggest that such a situation is insane, this is not a Club Secretary or course caretaker we are talking about here, this is a person who can have a huge influence on owners, trainers, drivers, punters……and the welfare of horses.
It was suggested by HRNZ that I lodge a complaint with the Club, which I immediately did, and that will be considered in due course. It was interesting to be told that the Club had received a number of complaints in the past about Mr. Lamb’s ‘starting and his overall demeanour’.
So basically the whole Industry knows, and has done for years, that he shouldn’t be in what admittedly, is a difficult and responsible job, yet he still is. Here’s a task to while away a few minutes. Just compare the starts at Addington under Ricky Donnelly to the ones that Peter Lamb conducts. Generally speaking, the difference is glaring.