A Message from the Trainers & Drivers Assn.
Over the past 100 or so years, the World has gone through World wars, depressions, stock market crashes, natural disasters, (remember the Christchurch earthquakes – the fallout from that is far from over), and various serious health crises, that we have all read about and seen documentaries on. Make no mistake; the current pandemic is on an economic level, not only as bad as those events, but potentially even more damaging. The problem with this one is that the evidence points to it being not man made, so, apart from allegations that Chinese authorities refused to react properly and quickly, it is simple nature and biology that has brought the World to its’ knees, proving just how vulnerable we are.
While the current loss of thousands of lives is horrendous, it is the damage to economies that is going to be with us for a lot longer. Focusing on New Zealand, the vast majority of the population approve of the prompt and decisive action taken by our Government, aided by our isolated geographic position, and the positive results, from a health point of view, are plain to see. Trouble is that numerous aspects of our economy have been, and will continue to be, devastated by what has happened, and one of those is horse racing. We all know that, even before this calamity, we weren’t traveling too well, partly because of some questionable decisions made over the last twenty or so years, partly because interest in racing has been overtaken by other forms of gambling, mainly the mind-numbing pokies and overseas online betting agencies, and partly because of, unlike other Countries such as Australia, a lack of any support from various Governments, who were happy to reap the tax benefits without offering anything in return. As a result, we are, let’s face it, an
Industry in crisis. However, unlike some other industries such as tourism, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, with racing set to resume next month, as opposed to other sporting codes, for instance what is widely regarded as our national sport, Rugby Union. And there are other issues facing the TAB and RITA. A large percentage of their income is derived from wagering on overseas sporting events such as the NBA and European football, all of which are facing an unknown short term future, and are completely out of the control of anyone here. Then of course, there is the myriad of Government departments who they are bound to consult with, before they can make moves to change or improve matters. Oddly enough, when one of those departments receive 20,000 emails in the first two days of a change in ‘levels’, asking similar questions as RITA, harness racing becomes a slightly less important priority!
The above is a very simple and abbreviated summary of what everyone in our Industry is facing at present. Participants in our small sector of the business world are, and always have been when the going gets tough, very quick to rant and demand answers, without necessarily offering solutions. Of course, this is not unique to racing. I am sure we are all aware there will changes required in our industry, from RITA level downwards, and many of have been asking for change for some time. HRNZ do consult with the Association and we have an opportunity to put our case for change.
There has been some frustration expressed around a lack of communication from RITA and HRNZ over the past few weeks. While we understand people are looking for answers, we all need to understand how much our world has changed because of this pandemic. RITA is reliant on being given information and guidance from the Government – that is the law. The Racing Act also states that HRNZ is bound by decisions made by RITA. Demanding predictions of what the future will look like from these bodies, when their ONLY source of income has pretty much stopped, and could be limited for months to come, is just plain unreasonable.
Let us not forget that the industry’s sole source of income is wagering, and that neither HRNZ nor RITA has money trees surrounding their car parks.
Anyone who is naïve enough to think that racing is going to go back to where it was six months ago, is in for a big disappointment. We think that track closures, and lots of them, are inevitable. There are decisions that are going to upset people, but the days of keeping a track going because ‘my mate Fred’ has been racing there for a hundred years, are gone. There are three main criteria to be taken into account, the success of the meetings held at that track, the horse population close by, and the costs involved in setting up TAB and Trackside facilities. For time immemorial, harness racing has relied on volunteers to run meetings and sadly, the closures may well affect that base. However the time has come, if it hadn’t years ago, to give priority to the people who rely on harness racing for their livelihood, trainers who have invested heavily in land and facilities, many of whom are burdened under substantial mortgages, and some of whom, their only skill involves being around horses.
Given the above, the Trainers & Drivers Association is asking RITA and HRNZ to make the changes that are required for the future of our Industry. Inevitably, given the uncertain future of not only New Zealand, but the rest of the World, there will, with the advantage of hindsight, be some decisions that will be judged as being unwise down the track, but that is the same for any walk of life in these unique circumstances. However, like it or not, those decisions have to be made immediately, and for that reason, the Association asks that Industry participants put aside their personal circumstances and viewpoints for now, and pull together for the sake of survival. As the saying goes, ‘there is a good reason why a windscreen is larger than a rear vision mirror.’
National Council, NZ Harness Racing Trainers & Drivers Assn. Inc.