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Open Letter to Michael Guerin

NZ Harness Trainers & Drivers Assn
Published by Pete Cook in News · 23 February 2019

First of all, I agree that there is room for improvement in the standard and consistency of starting procedures in this Country. In May last year the Trainers & Drivers National Council was advised by the RIU that a meeting of all starters (even though there have been two previous that achieved little) would be held at some stage to discuss how things could be improved. To date that hasn’t happened.
Having said that, many of the comments and opinions that you insist on espousing on The Box Seat, are both unhelpful and, in some cases, simply wrong.
For instance, comparing the starting methods of thoroughbreds, greyhounds, and standard-breds and asking why they can’t be as good is, to use one of your favourite words, ludicrous. Not sure if you’ve noticed but the other two codes use metal structures that have gates both in front and behind the respective animals. If you can come up with a similar design that can be used for harness horses and their sulkies, you would solve the problem overnight. Good luck with that.
For a long time you have questioned the need for barrier strands in standing starts. I have a couple of suggestions that might help bring home why such things are necessary. Firstly, pop down out of you cosy press box one wet cold night at Alexandra Park, and stand beside the starter when he is faced with a full field of maiden trotters. Secondly, arrange with one of you trainer mates to take a horse out on their track, warm it up, ask it to circle for a couple of minutes, then get it to stand still. Then imagine how more hyped that horse would be on a race night.
Your comments that the drivers know where the start points are, and if they cheat fine them, tends to graphically show your ignorance of race starting. Even if the drivers could line up exactly in the right spot, I doubt if even the All Stars could train horses to identify the markers and stand level with them! The strands are the only thing that they see, and they are trained to line up behind them.
A number of years ago I attended a race meeting in Italy where they had a system of laser beams which, if the horses broke that light, a false start was declared. One of the races I witnessed had not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six false starts. That’s what would happen if there were no barrier strands here, unless you’re comfortable with some horses gaining a length advantage over others in every race. The two examples discussed on this week’s programme would not have been affected in the least by having no barrier strands, one was a fault of the starter, letting the handicap horses run in, and the other by an unruly horse.
Your opinion on the late scratching of horses interfered with by others at the start has merit, but in practice, would be impossible to police. Saying the horse hasn’t reached a pace is just silly – would you like to watch the video and discern how much of a pace a horse has taken. Interference after the start has been declared is just that, interference, whether it be after 5 metres, 10 metres, or 200 metres. If a galloper jumps sideways after the gates open and dislodges the jockey of the horse next to it, is a late scratching declared? If a greyhound is knocked over by another on the first bend are they late scratched?
Finally, we would all like Clubs to be paying $20k stakes, however most haven’t the advantage of the over-inflated Auckland property market to prop them up, they have to rely on turnover. Ironically, you endlessly discussing your beloved Australian racing, does absolutely nothing to enhance that. I don’t watch the galloping preview and review shows, but I would be surprised if they concentrate on anything but the New Zealand racing.
Pete Cook

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