Despite travel restrictions for Northern Branch members, the bi-annual National Council meeting of the Trainers & Drivers Assn. managed to go ahead, with the assistance of the HRNZ zoom facility. Many thanks to Leanne Holdem for facilitating this.
Matters arising from the last meeting included the situation surrounding the Gazelle sulkies, which had been delayed due to Covid, the Alexandra Park lights, with an emergency generator in place until solar lighting is installed, and the employment of starters and Clerks of the Course by HRNZ, which was still in a long pipeline.
Three relevant remits to be voted on at the upcoming HRNZ Annual conference were discussed. The one to have smaller clubs represented on the HRNZ Board was strongly opposed. The Trainers & Drivers Assn. and Breeders both relinquished their seats on the Board to establish one that took an overall view of the Industry, and not selected groups. To allow smaller Clubs a seat at the table would be a retrograde step, and the so-called Kindred Bodies would have every right to request their re-instatement as, collectively, they have far more investment in harness racing than a group of small clubs.
The meeting felt that a possible delay of up to thirty days for Board ratification of a suspension of a license by the CEO was far too long, however, when he attended the meeting later, RIB steward Nick Ydgren gave an assurance that such a delay would not occur, and normally such matters are dealt with in a matter of days, if not hours.
While there was support for the Serious Breach charge being levelled in cases of bad horse care, there was concern that there didn’t appear to be an appeal process. Discussion took place regarding the retiring of horses, with Jamie Gameson stressing that it was important for trainers to ensure that horses were signed out of their care, so that they would not be held responsible for any future ill treatment or neglect.
As always, handicapping came up for discussion. Points covered included full support for a recommendation that the R45 bottom limit for horses that had won more than one race be abolished, and the lowest rating of R40 being changed, with Ken Barron suggesting a points span of R30 to R100, citing that the current ratings of Cup horses, e.g. Self Assured at R120 are irrelevant. In conjunction with that, MR40 would be the lowest that a maiden to go, to avoid last start winners lining up against the ‘battlers’, of which there was an increasing number, but were essential for future turnovers. Other matters discussed included the establishment of a re-rating panel to convene perhaps three times a year to make any suitable adjustments to ratings, the abolition of discretion given to horses over R60, after suggestions that some complaints were resulting in favourable treatment, and as always, programming issues. The meeting also felt that there were far too many Winter dates that would better serve the Industry by being transferred to the Summer, for example the Methven September date, and Southland meetings in August and September.
The meeting was joined by Nick Ydgren (RIB) who outlined the progress of the new organisation combining the RIU and JCA, advising that there was still a lot to be sorted out. At this point there were no savings from the combination, however, he expected they would occur in the future. Current staff shortages and restrictions were making for higher than normal travel costs.
Matters discussed with him included the whip rule, which Stewards felt the acceptance of which had exceeded their expectations, peer reviewing of races by other stewards which is improving consistency, and support from the meeting for enforcing the rule governing sudden easing of the pace.
A request from Ken Barron to post a steward at the start of some standing start events to eliminate those who were trying to gain an unfair advantage was declined, the reason given was that the starter’s authority would be diminished. Nick did give an assurance that, should a starter report a possible infringement, video evidence would be viewed and charges laid if necessary, with repeat offenders being charged without warnings. The meeting agreed that having all horses in line, facing the right way and not rushing forward, was more important than whether they were moving or standing. Delays were a concern for all concerned and costly for the Industry.
A recent joint move between the RIB and the Association to eliminate trials running late in Canterbury appeared to have been successful, however the last heat at Rangiora yesterday ran 33 minutes late, most unprofessional and not good enough!
Catherine McDonald joined the meeting on a phone link, advising that the calendar for next season was almost complete and ready for presentation at the Annual Conference. Contrary to what had been advised previously, she announced that rising two year-olds could trial from 1 October to ready themselves for the new season. This caught everyone by surprise, who felt this was far too early. A request was made for that date to be changed to 1 December with qualifying from 1 January. The meeting agreed that all horses should have to qualify before lining up at the races.
Catherine advised that a handicapping review was to take place where matters covered above would be discussed. When it was found that, surprisingly and disappointingly, there was no horseperson involved in the panel, she agreed that the Association could nominate one. Mark Jones has agreed to take that role.
A generally satisfactory meeting, given the logistical difficulties involved.