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National Council



Grass Tracks

An interesting point was raised in a meeting the other day concerning grass tracks, which at this time of year (and for eh next few months) are flavour of the month with those competing in our code.

As we all have heard on a regular basis, those involved in our sister code who sit on top of, instead of behind the horse, aka. Jockeys, are known to regularly ‘walk the track’ prior to a race meeting, to ascertain if there is a part of the grass surface that might offer better going and/or traction for their mounts. The question was asked, do drivers do the same? The answer was….a blank look.

It’s not something I’ve ever witnessed and it was suggested that due to standard-breds doing longer preliminaries, drivers do get the opportunity to suss this out. Whether they do or not on a regular basis, I have no idea. However, I can recall one race I competed in where the driver of the winner had obviously been observant enough to find that better going on a damp track, and headed for it as soon as he reached the home straight. I was smart enough to jump on his back when I realised what he was up to, but sadly my steed had an aversion to grass tracks anyway, and wasn’t fast enough to stay with him!

When you think about it, there is really little difference to a harness horse gaining an advantage by running on a firmer part of the track from a galloper, it must help with both traction and speed. In recent weeks Canterbury has been plagued with off, or downright boggy tracks, and in some cases there seem to have been both ‘lanes’ and longer grass lengths which could well have affected results.

Just another thing for drivers to think about!

Pete Cook


When I received the invitation to attend my first Canterbury Cadet prize giving function, I must admit that I expected it to be a rather tedious night involving the dolling out of somewhat meaningless accolades for attendance.

Happily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the current climate of declining horse numbers, flat turnovers and legal proceedings, it was quite surprising and gratifying to see that there was a larger than I imagined number (31) of cadets on the 2018 Roll Call. Equally impressive was the quality that went with the quantity. Getting up and speaking in front of a crowd is not easy, yet almost all of the prize-winners handled the task with relative skill and confidence, some even overcome with emotion at being selected.

As we all know, working with horses is not an easy career to stay with, and if only half of those on display the other night can stick with it, we are in excellent shape for the future. While there is much talk about declining horse numbers, without young people skilled enough to get them to the races, we are in deep trouble. Don’t forget that, given the right incentives, horses breeders can quickly increase their numbers produced and turn that problem around, theoretically within one season. To maintain and hopefully increase the number of young people coming through the system is not only harder but involves a much longer time frame.

Another pleasing and somewhat surprising aspect of the evening was to hear that a large percentage of the cadets weren’t born with the ‘silver rein’ in their hands. In other words they are dedicated and passionate enough to make their way in a difficult career due to hard work and a genuine passion for what they are doing.

Obviously there are a lot of people who are making this situation happen, and those behind the Cadet Scheme and, prior to that, Kids Karts, are to be complimented on the results they are producing. It should be remembered they are dealing with a wide range of personalities and skill levels, both practical and intellectual, and it is not easy to mould these youngsters into the sort of people that harness racing can be proud of.

Pete Cook

Small Fry

Tucked away in a remote corner of the World, we New Zealanders know we aren’t major players as far as finances go, but an article I was reading the other day, brought that concept home in a very big way.

Last season, our beloved TAB returned a profit of $148m which, on the face of it wasn’t a bad result, given the current wave of anti-gambling (sorry anti- responsible gambling) sentiments being espoused by certain elements. The online piece concerned an English lady who, in 2000, identified the potential of on-line gambling and was responsible, along with her brother and family members, for co-founding an on-line gambling firm called Bet365.

Things went pretty well, in fact so well, that in 2012 she was awarded a CBE for ‘services to the community and business’. Good on her, you might say, but here comes the bit that caught my eye. Her annual salary has just increased by $48m including dividends. That brings it up to a staggering……wait for it…..$265m, or a mere $220 if you exclude dividends, and yes, the ‘m’ does stand for million. Apparently it makes her the highest paid boss in the United Kingdom by some margin.

So that means her annual income, and that’s only her payout, is getting on for twice the profit made by the whole of the New Zealand TAB last year.

Like many, I have serious concerns about the Messara suggestion that our lil’ ol’ TAB should be sold to an overseas operator, and seeing that sort of report suggests two things to me. One, would an outfit as successful as Bet365 be interested in buying our establishment and, if they did buy it, how easily would it be swallowed up by such an enormous enterprise and lose any form of its’ local identity and preferential treatment?

On a brighter note, congratulations to young Sheree Tomlinson on her great win over her Aussie rivals on their home patch, a great achievement by one of a great bunch of Junior Drivers we currently have, and the future of our Industry.

Pete Cook

Cup Week – The Wash-Up

For decades now, it seems it has been virtually compulsory for at least Cup Day itself to enjoy tolerable weather, with little or no rain. However this year, things got a little ridiculous. The Tuesday and Friday of the week prior to the big go, saw almost torrential rain and very cold temperatures, (causing the abandonment of the Rangiora meeting), the likes of which would have reduced our big day of the year to a disaster. If that wasn’t enough, the Tuesday of the following week it poured with rain and a high of about 8 Celsius was recorded! Yet for the entire length of Cup Week it was warm and dry. Unbelievable, but great.

Interesting that a crowd of 23,000 odd turned up, despite the current cloud hanging over the Industry, obviously not too concerned about race fixing or anything else, but having a great day. I understand a mainstream television crew was despatched to Addington, apparently to record a mood of doom and gloom, but were bitterly disappointed to find thousands of people having a ball!

Speaking of the media, we managed to make the front page of the local paper with the amazing photo taken by AJ from Race Images of poor Terry Chmiel scoring 9.5 for degree of difficulty from the Russian Judge. I guess any publicity is good publicity, and it will be something for Terry to show his grandkids in the future, as he reflects on how much worse it could have been. Oddly, about an hour after the event, I was approached for comment on the smash by a reporter from the paper who I didn’t know from a ‘bar of soap’. I politely declined. What the hell was I supposed to say??

I’m not going to bore you with discussion on the standing start debate……it’s been done to death at every meeting the Association has had with the RIU, along with two starters meetings, and very little has changed.

As far as the whip use is concerned, the position of the Association is clear, the Rules are working well for the vast majority of drivers, and if you exceed the permitted number of strikes, you cop the penalties. There is a strong feeling that repeat offenders, and we know who they are, should face harsher penalties. What the Cup winning driver was given amounted to a relative slap on the wrist with a bus ticket, a small fraction of her earnings for the week and a 3 day suspension covering meetings she was unlikely to drive at – it would have been interesting to see the reaction had she been suspended for the Show Day meeting. Yes, I know it would have been penalising the connections of the horses, but maybe that’s what is needed for the message to get through, and prevent a virtual nose thumbing at the Rules.

Anyway, the racing was stunning, despite the doomsayers, the turnover held up well, and all in all, the meeting was a raging success. Of course now there is the slight come down to earth period, but fear not, there are 23 grass track races, along with an Invited Drivers series to re-ignite the interest this weekend.

Pete Cook








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