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The inevitable reduction in NSW stake money has the faintest of silver linings for the New Zealand harness industry. Because while nobody wants to see prize money reduced anywhere, the 20 per cent crops announced in NSW this week should at least temper any rush to send quality New Zealand horses there. After maintaining stake levels as long as they could HRNSW announced their 20 per cent reduction across the board last week as part of their Covid-19 cost cutting, including cutting their $300,000 input into the Miracle Mile and its marketing. The industry there was then left wondering what Club Menangle, who conduct racing at the premier track with by far the highest stakes, would do and they answered that question on Monday. CM cut stakes by 20 per cent and reduced the stake for the Miracle Mile from A$1million to A$600,000 for next season. They will still retain a A$30,000 race at every Saturday night meeting because that triggers a higher Race Fields percentage from corporate bookmakers for the whole card, which means CM make more money having that $30,000 race than reducing it by say $10,000 to add $2000 to five other races. The NSW percentages match stake reductions in other key NZ export states like Victoria and West Australia, the latter reducing stakes for all codes by 20 per cent on April 6. The decreases are neither surprising or much fun for anybody and will effect livelihoods as well as potentially the export market and even the yearling sales if there has been no rebound by next February. So there is no real upside apart from the fact it may help New Zealand retain some of our horses whose connections could have been eying a move across the Tasman had stakes in NSW not dropped. That was never going to be a case of 100 of New Zealand’s better horses being thrown in the next plane and heading to NSW to races after our stakes levels were announced last week. But because of its proximity and easy flight access, a strong New Zealand connection to so many trainers and a regular racing, if Menangle had stayed at its traditionally high levels of stakes it would have been very tempting to send good quality New Zealand horses there. With their stakes cuts similar in percentage value to most of New Zealand, apart from Alexandra Park where the drop will be larger because stakes used to be so much higher above the minimum, that temptation is tempered. Menangle boss Bruce Christison was as disappointed as anybody in announcing the cuts to stakes and said while the Miracle Mile deserves to be A$1million his club couldn’t maintain that and then cut lower grade stakes more. “It is a tough time for us like so many other people and our investment returns, which were going so well before all this hit, were going to see us raise stakes again next season,” says Christison. “But we lost a lot of money when the market went down and of course betting turnover and therefore revenue has dropped enormously. “So we waited as long as we could, maybe too long, to make these cuts but we hope we can get back to these levels again in the near future. “But we also wanted to make sure, as much as we want a $1million Miracle Mile, that we weren’t doing that while reducing lower grade stake more.” So while NSW and Club Menangle having now joined all other states in Australia with reduced prize money, Australia will at least not look as tempting an option for our horses and while the export market will undoubtedly continue, with the percentage changes largely the same, we are unlikely to see a sharp boost in exports or transfers.   Michael Guerin

The boss of New Zealand racing — Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Racing Winston Peters — has finally spoken out and it would appear he is losing his patience with the industry's relentless in-fighting. Peters has kept his public comments about the racing industry brief during lockdown but suggested this week there could be Government support for the struggling industry in coming weeks, possibly announced as part of the May 14 Budget. Peters has put his weight behind the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA, the board running the TAB) even though they have been under attack from many sectors. Those attacks eased, for a while at least, on Thursday when the codes were able to announce satisfactory stakes levels for the remainder of the season. The stakes are not great but about the best that could be hoped for in the middle of a worldwide crisis. The nonsensical talk of $5000 stakes, the TAB being insolvent and trainers striking may disappear for a while. The racing industry has many problems and one of the worst is constantly publicly shooting itself in the foot. Peters is the single most important person standing between racing recovering and then improving, or basically being stuffed. Correspondence obtained by the Weekend Herald shows he is firmly backing RITA's actions and thinks the industry has been living beyond its means. A respected industry employee wrote to Peters three times over recent months and received a reply on Thursday signed by the Minister which leaves little room for argument about where his loyalty lies. "RITA inherited a structure which frankly has been living beyond its means for a number of years," wrote Peters. "It faces the unenviable task of addressing that issue while negotiating all the implications of the Covid-19 crisis. "Unfortunately some voices in the industry blame RITA for the problems they have inherited. "This is unproductive. And we don't intend to stand by silent to such criticism when that criticism lays properly somewhere else.   "The Government will provide the industry with all the necessary tools to determine its future. However, collaboration and leadership from all levels of the industry are needed ..." The letter also backs the directors of RITA and suggests the Racing Bill could be back in front of Parliament before long. Weekend Herald sources are suggesting it could be passed into law before the election which would, depending on the amendments suggested by the select committee, give racing more power to get things done. So Peters is clearly not in the mood for the tail to be wagging the dog and its appears those who are, at best questioning or at worst undermining RITA, are also going up against the minister. Two of the key issues for RITA, apart from the obvious lack of money and a worldwide pandemic, has been poor communication and outrage from industry participants over their staff levels and therefore expenditure. Both are justified. A recent letter from the Trainers' Association to RITA was handled poorly and often communication to the industry has been so complicated and full of corporate jargon. The people it is aimed at informing have no idea what it means. RITA have also been purposely vague so as not to annoy other political forces while the racing industry applies for a support package. If that is granted, it isn't to prop up RITA, but support the codes. It would be a prudent idea for the racing industry to present a united front as they are asking for Government help. And as for RITA's top-heavy expenses, it is now certain there will be a significant reduction in costs, including many redundancies inside the business. RITA bosses are refusing to comment but it is definitely going to happen, with heads of departments already reporting on how they can achieve those savings, including staff cuts. As for the hot-button issue of out-sourcing? That is still on the horizon but with so much global uncertainty the major potential partners won't be negotiating hard deals any time soon. Implementation of any out-sourcing deal, if it happens, would be at least two years away and only if the Government of the day has an appetite for it. But what Peters seems to have more of an appetite for is racing presenting a united front, especially as it joins the long queue of struggling industries seeking help.   Michael Guerin Courtesy of the NZ Herald

Horse racing’s first day back at the office not only went off without a hitch yesterday but came with an unexpected bonus. Because while horses flooded back to training tracks around the country and strict Covid-19 protocols became the norm, the borders between New Zealand and Australia took a huge step closer to re-opening for horses. The transport of horses between New Zealand and Australia is a crucial part of the horse racing industry, whether the horses are travelling for racing opportunities, being sold or transferring stables, broodmares travelling to be served (mated) and yearlings purchased in either country heading to their new homes. Flights of horses stopped when New Zealand went to Covid-19 alert level four and that meant some horses missed their shots at $1 million races while other horses with more moderate targets were left trapped here without racing while Australian racing continued. But one of New Zealand’s two main companies who flies horses to Australia and beyond, New Zealand Bloodstock Airfreight, conducted a successful test flight from Auckland to Sydney yesterday, paving the way for a return to horses moving between the two countries. NZB Airfreight, who shares the New Zealand horse flying market with IRT, conducted the test flight with strict protocols including the professional grooms who travel with the horses not getting off the flight when it arrived in Sydney. The test flight was conducted with all grooms in full personal protective equipment including overalls, masks and gloves, with loading and unloading completed by a separate bubble of handlers to avoid any potential spread of the virus. Horses can not carry or spread Covid-19. All horses were from the same New Zealand property, using only one horse float for transport to the airport and one vet for the inspections and pre-flight checks, allowing complete control over horse and human movements and detailed contact tracing recorded.  NZB Airfreight says their strong relationship with Tasman Cargo Airlines staff and pilots has made it possible for the planning process to get underway for future flights. While NZB Airfreight are working on opening all ports for equine freight, services in the near future will only be possible via Auckland to Sydney and return until government alert levels are eased to a Level 2 or lower.  That successful test means New Zealand horses who raced at the rich recent Sydney carnival can return home soon while horses from both the thoroughbred and harness codes could effectively be sent to Australia to race, entering through Sydney, once they return to race fitness. The process of getting horses back to fitness started around New Zealand yesterday, with all training tracks open to horses but closed to the public as they are now declared work places. Most of the country’s larger stables of both codes had horses return yesterday and will have larger numbers in work by next week, with the harness racing training track at Pukekohe also busy yesterday for the first time in five weeks.   Michael Guerin

Northern harness racing’s field sizes could benefit from the glut of talent the All Stars will bring back into work on Tuesday. Because champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are considering basing a team of 12 horses in Auckland from August in what will be a welcome addition to field sizes there. Like most horse trainers around the country the All Stars will return to work on Tuesday as we revert to Covid-19 alert level 3 and expect to have around 60 horses in their property by next week. “The lockdown has felt like it has gone pretty quickly and there have been some parts of it, actually having a break, that Nat and I have enjoyed,” says Purdon. “But it will be good to get back to work.” The stable will be starting from scratch for the new campaign so will not have any horses racing for the remainder of the season when harness racing returns on May 29. “We are looking at having a lot of horses ready to trial in August and plenty of them kicking off in September, which is a bit earlier than usual.” And because they will have so many horses in the same grades Purdon and Rasmussen are keen to send a team of around 12 horses north to be based in Pukekohe. “Rather than have them all race each other here we are definitely thinking about sending a dozen up north to split them up,” says Purdon. “We would probably send them a month or so before they race so they would be there by August and then can race up there in September and October.” That would allow some to return home for the NZ Cup carnival, or earlier if needed, and a northern base also gives the stable chance to target heats of races like the Sires’ Stakes in both islands. “We are going to have a lot of horses turning three who have ability and haven’t won races yet because we missed the back end of this season. “So we are keen to split them and make the most of their opportunities.” That will be music to the ears of northern harness racing bosses and not only add horse numbers but punter interest to meetings at Alexandra Park and Cambridge, particularly when those tracks race on different nights from Addington. Some of the stable’s big guns return this week, horses like Oscar Bonavena and Enhance Your Calm, Self Assured and the injury-plagued Turn It Up. Spankem is in water walker rehab in the north and is expected back in July but Inter Dominion hero Ultimate Sniper is going to remain in the paddock until October. “We thought we might get him back sooner but the latest advice its to leave him out for longer so he definitely won’t be seen back at the track until next year. “And Chase Auckland has had an operation after his injury in Sydney so he will be a fair while away too.” So what does a returning to training at the All Stars look like? “We have all our protocols in place and are ready to go on that front,” explains Mark. “But for the next month the older horses will only be jogging. The only horses with the hopples on will be the young ones we are educating.”   Michael Guerin

One of the legends of the harness racing industry Charles Roberts has passed away. At 96 years old and having battled the demon that is dementia for nearly three years Roberts’s passing in his South Auckland nursing home on Monday morning wasn’t a surprise to his family. But it is still very much the end of an era in harness racing as Roberts was a giant of the industry who leaves behind a legacy that will be matched by few. Roberts was a veterinarian his entire working life and was responsible for post-race drugging testing of horses being adopted in New Zealand which changed the integrity of the industry forever. His veterinary practice aside though he was a successful breeder and owner of racehorses in both the thoroughbred and harness racing codes for decades before co-founding standardbred breeding behemoth Woodlands Stud in 1992. After moderate success at times with partner Andrew Grierson the pair changed their business model from from leasing stallions to purchasing their Southern Hemisphere breeding rights. The stud has never looked back and has grown to be one of the best in the world and home to champion stallion Bettors Delight, arguably the greatest harness racing stallion to ever stand in Australasia. Not only has Bettors Delight changed the harness racing breed in New Zealand and Australia through the deeds of champions like Lazarus but in 2014 Bettors Delight’s daughter Adore Me, owned by Roberts won the New Zealand Cup. She later went on to become little miss 1:47.7 in the Ladyship Mile at Menangle, a race Roberts took much pleasure from because he knew in 108 seconds the mare he bred and raced had change the way we thought about times in this part of the world. Adore Me was one of an army of outstanding horses Roberts bred and owned in the last decade of his life and he loved travelling to see them race, even if it was just to hold court at Alexandra Park. In later years that was often with the help of his family and eventually his walking frame. But while his body weakened Charles’s attitude (he always liked being called Charles rather than Charlie) never changed. He was loud to the point of being rambunctious, had the strong opinions of a man with seven decades experience in the industry and a fierce love of the horse, not only his but all horses. His success as a breeder and owner, Woodlands Stud’s enormous generosity as sponsors along with Charles’s contributions to our veterinary industry will ensure Roberts’s legacy in racing continues for decades. He is survived by his daughter Mary (and her husband Paul Kenny), son Mark, seven grandchildren and three great-grand children.   By Michael Guerin

The return of harness racing in the north takes a huge leap forward when the region’s main three training tracks re-open on Tuesday. The north has had enough horses being looked after on private properties during the Covid-19 lockdown to potentially meet demands for the first meetings scheduled at Cambridge and Alexandra Park in May and early June. But nearly 300 horses are trained at Franklin Park, Cambridge and Scott Reserve in Morrinsville and all three tracks are good to go from Tuesday. Training of horses, and even racing, will be allowed under Covid-19 level three but with strict protocols associated with training tracks being workplaces. Those protocols include social distancing, keeping records of who works with and on the horses and the usual hygiene protocols that apply to the entire country. While racing at level three may be a moot point as the country is expected to be at level two well before the first harness meeting on May 29, harness bosses say the northern tracks are ready to meet the training protocols from Tuesday. “We have systems in place and our team at Franklin Park (Pukekohe) are very satisfied,” says the Auckland Trotting Club’s Jamie McKinnon. “The most important thing is all the trainers and staff stick to the protocols and we can get training back going again. “But yes, we expect to have trainers at the gate ready to go at 6am on Tuesday morning.” While the Pukekohe-trained horses may not be able to race until potentially mid-June adding them to the pool of horses privately trained in the Auckland region should ensure winter meetings are sustainable, although the first three or four meetings could be lighter on numbers. Cambridge boss David Branch says only the jog track at the back end of their complex will be open next week as the trainers spoken to suggested there was obviously no need for fast work yet. “So we will have horses jogging and getting fitter here and then we will open up the main track a week after,” said Branch. “We are really comfortable with the measures we have in place and the horsepeople have been great to deal with. “So we will have horses back here and Scotts Reserve will be open and there can be up to 45 horses in work there are its peak. “So we are excited about getting the horses back to work.” Branch realises Cambridge, who have been given the first northern harness meeting and a busy schedule over the comeback period, may have to make the best of smaller horse numbers for the first meeting. “We realise there might only be 5-6 races at the first meeting, even though we obviously want more, because we won’t have that many horses from down here ready,” says Branch. “But there will be some, just not the horses trained on the track for the first meeting. But like everybody we want to get racing again. Cambridge hope to be able to card mobile sprint races to make them easier on the horses and avoid handicap racing so horses aren’t asked to chase too hard in their comeback races. Like everybody in the industry Branch is unsure yet what stakes Cambridge will be able to race for. Cambridge has been given a higher proportion of the northern winter meetings because the track also runs greyhound racing, meaning it can hold dual code meetings whereas Alexandra Park can not. There is no suggestion the Cambridge/Alexandra Park ratio programmed for the winter will continue long-term as the dates for the last two months of the season have been especially put together to minimise costs as much as racing can through the comeback period. Also concerns Alexandra Park will lose a lot of its Friday night racing appear baseless, with that not being in the grand plan for harness racing’s future, especially once crowds are allowed back and the Friday night hospitality which is such a big part of Alexandra Park’s business returns as factor. By Michael Guerin

Not many harness racing participants know as much about the effects of Covid-19 as John Curtin. Because while we have all had our daily lives affected by the virus, New Zealand’s best known horse agent has actually had it. And Curtin, who was the sixth New Zealander to test positive to Covid-19, says while it didn’t take a huge physical toll on him it inflicted a large loss on him in another way. Curtin was diagnosed with the virus back in early March when it was still something most of us thought was an overseas problem that may not really impact our country. He has returned from one of his regular trips to the United States and is adamant he contracted the virus when out with racing friends on his last night in New York. A week later one of the friends he had been talking to at Yonkers that night died because of complications associated with it. That shook Curtin deeply even though his own personal experience with Covid-19 was mild. “For myself, it wasn’t that bad, like having a bad flu for a day,” says Curtin. “But to know somebody I had been talking with and known for a long time, a friend, pass away from it back in the States was very hard.” Curtin had been back in New Zealand unaware he had been exposed to Covid-19 for a week before he was tested, with the result shocking both him and his doctor. “When you think I was the sixth person to get it it was still a very big deal back then because not many people here had had it,” says the 68-year-old. “So after the diagnosis they contacted everybody I had been in contact with. I hadn’t been to the races so it wasn’t industry people. The only large group I had been in contact with was at Church here in South Auckland and many of them got tested but were fine. “Obviously as far as I can tell nobody else got infected because of me and I was over it really quickly. Not even Sally (wife) got it.” Now Curtin is through his brief battle with the dreaded virus he is still working and says the demand for New Zealand horses is still there from North American buyers even though their racing has also stopped because of Covid-19. “The demand is strong, I still have orders for horses,” says Curtin. “We have six horses who are bought and paid for here who are ready to fly out and it sounds like the next flight up there might be June 1,” says Curtin. “But so many horses from this part of the world have done a good job up there there are still plenty of people buying them and once their racing starts up and the flights are back on that market will be strong again.”   Michael Guerin

Industry experts are confident horse flights to Australia should be able to return in the next month. But New Zealand Bloodstock airfreight manager Greg Northcott says it could take longer for anything like normal equine flight services to return. NZB Airfreight and IRT are New Zealand’s two major flyers of horses but both have been unable to offer those services since mid March when it was announced New Zealand was going into Covid-19 alert level four. One of the last horses to be flown out of the country was Etah James, who was flown to Sydney by NZB airfreight and at her first start there won the Sydney Cup. Since then horses have been unable to fly even though the export of livestock is deemed an essential service. “The problem isn’t the horses flying it is our professional grooms who have to go with them,” explains Northcott. “We use three carriers to fly horses to Australia and depending on the flight the grooms might be in normal seating, like in the upstairs compartment in a 747-400 or the could be sitting right up the front quite close to the pilots in a 767. “So the companies we fly with are reluctant to expose their pilots to the grooms, or anybody else, at a time like this and we have to respect that.“So even if we can arrange for grooms to fly with the horses and not have to actually leave the plane in Australia, or to take it a step further we were willing to fly them there and get them to self-isolate for 14 days before they come back, we still need approval from the companies we fly with. “But we are working on ways to do that as safely as possible for everybody and I think we are getting closer. “So we will keep working with the authorities and the carriers and, in my opinion, I think we can be back flying horses in May.” But Northcott says that may not be the full schedule of flights NZB airfreight is used to supplying. “I think we might get flights to one city going before the other and that could even be a charter flight rather than our regular scheduled flights. “But I think we should have access to Australia inside a month.” That will be a relief to a variety of industry participants who need horses not only flown to Australia but vice versa. There are yearlings sold at sales in recent months in both countries who need to join new stables in the other, broodmares heading both ways as well as racehorses who have been sold and are ready for export. And of course some precious cargo including horses who competed at The Championships in Sydney, with group one winners like Sherwood Forest and The Bostonian to come home when the first flight is available. Most of the harness horses who competed over the Australian summer returned before the lockdown, with the major exception of Victoria Oaks winner Dr Susan. “So if people have horses they need to get to Australia I’d suggest they get in touch with us and we can keep them up to date on the options as they unfold.”   Michael Guerin

Two of the north’s biggest stables have added their support to an earliest possible re-start to racing in the region.  And both are hoping they can return to full-time training of racing stock if and when New Zealand returns to level three restrictions, which many are expecting to be next week. While nobody can be sure when racing will return many of the larger northern stables are confident they could have horses to ready to race in the first week of June or soon after. And that continues a groundswell of interest in northern harness racing about getting back down to business once we are allowed to and can do so safely inside Government and Ministry for Primary Industries protocols. “I am keen to support winter racing,” said top trainer Tony Herlihy. “I am just waiting, like everybody else, to hear when the likely race dates are and if we get the all clear under level 3 to return to training then we will definitely have horses we want to race over the winter.” Herlihy says it is important for trainers to support the racing re-start. “We have to start somewhere and I have even got a few horses who would be ready to qualify around that time. “Sometimes in that situation I might qualify them and tip them out but I want to support racing because we need to get things going again. So if we qualified a horse or two we would look at racing them to help out with fields. “The industry can’t go anywhere while we aren’t racing so the sooner we get back the better.” Herlihy had worked on educating some of his babies in recent weeks with just two live-in staff to ensure none of his other employees need come to the property. While Herlihy says he could have “five or six” horses ready to race in June, trainer Michelle Wallis says she and husband Bernie Hackett could have twice that many. “So soon as they are ready to race we will be ready to go,” said Wallis. “We are not sure what dates they are talking and I think everybody realises that can change but if it is around June we will definitely have horses ready to race. “We know a lot will depend on when we can get back to full time training but we could have 10-12 horses read to go by then. “Ideally we would like to see racing come back first at Alexandra Park because I think with Cambridge being closed for training for a while there won’t be as many Waikato horses ready to race, so Auckland would seem the logical place to kick off.” Both stables are joining others in the north wanting a resumption as soon as possible under whatever new Government restrictions are in place in the weeks and months ahead.   By Michael Guerin

Brad Williamson still can’t believe his luck. Not that the talented young Oamaru horseman for a minute wants to make light of the situation we all find ourselves in. He knows Covid-19 has been a worldwide tragedy and affected so many people in our country so much worse than him. But that is something we all know and all share. And then we all think about how the pandemic has affected us. That is human nature. And when Williamson thinks of that and what could have been for his stable star Cracker Hill he shakes his head. “I still can’t believe it,” he says. “I know there are far more important things going on in the world and I also know that what the Government did and what the bosses of racing then had to do were important. “But purely on a horse racing level it couldn’t have come at a worst time for me.” Because Williamson, a young man just starting to make his way up the racing ladder, had potentially the best three-year-old trotter in the country in Cracker Hill. He has his eye on races like the Sales Series, Sires Stakes, two Derbys and the Jewels. Cracker Hill was his breakout horse and this was to be his breakout season. Instead, like for so many of us, this is the autumn of Williamson’s discontent. “I was pretty excited about those races and so were the owners,” says Williamson. “It is not so much about the money, although that never hurts, but they really wanted to have a good chance in a group one, especially a Derby and so did I. “Those sort of wins can help a young trainer get started and we had a really good programme mapped out for him. “So the timing couldn’t have been worse, although again, I realise there are far bigger things going on in the world.” Cracker Hill only narrowly lost the Jewels last season and beat the older horses twice in December before a comprehensive win in the Hambletonian at Ashburton. Northerner Bolt For Brilliance looked the only three-year-old trotter racing with his raw ability so it was impossible to imagine Cracker Hill and Williamson weren’t going to win a major race somewhere. But he might still get another win out of the season even though he won’t race again as he could be three-year-old Trotter of the Year. Ironically that could come down to a clash with his father Phil’s star Ultimate Stride even though the latter hasn’t raced at all this campaign. “He won the Redwood and the Breeders Crown for Dad last August and I know that falls inside the three-year-old season for horse of the year voting “But I’d like to see our horse get it.” Ultimate Stride had a small setback which means he would have missed the Derby at Addington and possibly even the Northern Derby so Cracker Hill was set to make hay while the sun shined. “I am hearing, and I hope it is right, that races like the Sales Series and Sires’ Stakes could even be held in September or October next season and I really hope they are top give is something to aim at. “And if they are going to be the sooner all us trainers know the better we will be. “He (Cracker Hill) is in the paddock but I’d love to bring him back and aim at those. “Funnily enough Dad’s horse (Ultimate Stride) would also be back for them and he was one horse I was happy not to be racing in the Derby this time around. “But he would have needed to be good to beat us regardless because my horse really improved from two to three.” Williamson is educating some of his younger stock and says once training restrictions are lifted he will work up his winter-grade horses to try and be ready in late May or June. “We will definitely have horses for then and our horses down in the grades are more Invercargill grade horses so I’d hope we can race there is there is any sort of regional racing.”   Michael Guerin

If Covid-19 has reminded us all of one thing it is to plan for what is going to happen rather than react to what is happening. Which is why trainer Steve Telfer has a small winter team ticking over at his South Auckland property Stonewall Stud. While many in the racing industry are understandably confused by when racing will return and what it will look like Telfer knows one thing: he can’t win races he isn’t in. So after giving many of his horses a two week break he has some, who he believes it is beneficial for their welfare to be worked, ticking over. “We have some horses here who were race fit and need to be jogged at least to stop doing themselves any harm spelling,” Telfer told HRNZ. “We aren’t working them fast, just jogging them so there are no safety issues for anybody and it is the best thing for the horses. “And we have everybody living on the property here so we are all in the same bubble.” With at least 15 horses at the stables for their welfare they can far more easily return to normal work if and when the country returns to alert level 3, hopefully in two weeks. Telfer says if, as racing bosses suggest, we could be up and racing by late May or early June then Telfer says Stonewall Stud want to support that. “As soon as racing can get back safely and within the protocols in place we want to be there. “And I hope other trainers do as well. We think it is really important to get racing again, not only for us but for the whole industry. “We don’t know what the racing will look like, I presume Alexandra Park would be the logical place to start and if we have smaller fields and, if they have to, smaller stakes to start then we will support that. “But as long as we do it safely we are 100 per cent behind getting back to racing. The industry can’t make any money without it.” Telfer admits he has the numbers, both in horses and people living on the property so therefore in their bubble, but also urges his fellow trainers to think ahead. “What we are all going through is really hard but we are trying to think about where we are going to be in a month or six weeks. “And the sooner we as trainers have horses ready to trial and race the better.”If New Zealand returns to level 3 in two weeks and racing if five weeks later, any base fitness accrued now within the restrictions rule could be crucial not only for getting racing back on its feet but also giving horses who may have struggled their best chance any time soon or remaining financially viable. Tefler’s stable stars like Triple Eight are in the paddock but it is the lower grade horses who are being ticked over so they can fill fields when racing returns that are jogging as they were race fit and are better off doing light exercise. “For a horse like Triple Eight once the Easter Cup was scrapped then his season was done so really we are just changing the dates of when he would have been spelled. “Instead of starting his spell in say May, he is doing it now and he will be back earlier because of that. “Everybody with an open class horse is in the same boat and I think it could actually make for some good early season open class racing providing we can get those races off the ground. “At the moment all the open class horses will be spelling and many of them will come back in at the same time so hopefully we will see some good racing for them.”   Michael Guerin

Moving one of New Zealand’s biggest horse sales totally online could mean a fast forward to the future of the standardbred sales industry. Because while the major yearling sales every year look certain to remain a physical experience what is about to unfold in May could be an interesting test case for the future of secondary sales. New Zealand Bloodstock’s Standardbred division has been forced to move its All Aged Sale next month to the Gavelhouse.com platform because of the Covid-19 restrictions. The sale is usually held at the sales grounds and many of the larger prices have been for weanlings, with buying them later enabling good pinhooking opportunities at the yearling sales nine months later. But with a physical sale not possible this year the entire catalogue of 148, including 125 weanlings will be sold via Gavelhouse. Gavelhouse started as a steady burner for New Zealand Bloodstock but has now built up a registered buyer base of over 1000, with that number set to rise quickly. While online platforms are sometimes considered an easy option for those wanting to sell excess stock, including going horses and broodmares, that has changed dramatically in the last few months. Firstly group one thoroughbred mare Consensus was sold for huge money online and then last month 1000 Guineas winner Hasahalo followed, showing the online platform can work for elite level stock. Now it is harness racing’s turn. Gavelhouse has already been hosting regular standardbred sales but they have yet to skyrocket, with the going horse market to Australia and North America already a successful avenue for selling horses of all price ranges. So moving the All Aged Sale to Gavelhouse is going to greatly raise awareness of online selling in the harness racing industry. The catalogue is online now, then moves to the Gavelhouse platform with more pics and information on the horses on May 1 and bidding starts on May 20, with a week until the sale closes on May 27 at 5pm. The horses never have to leave home and either do the buyers, who have the whole week to decide on their final bid price. And the bottom line is, it cheaper for vendors, with no transportation costs for a start. But to get the best out of harness racing sales on Gavelhouse they will need vendors to step up their presentation levels. At present online harness racing lots vary from well-presented lots with professional photography to pics of horses taken with cellphone up against the side of a shed. New Zealand Bloodstock boss Andrew Seabrook says his team led by James Jennings are going to work with vendors to provide the best advice on how to present the horses in an online world. “For this particular sale a lot of the horses are being sold by Woodlands and Alabar so they will have a good handle on presentation already,” says Seabrook. “James and the team will be sending out some hints on what to look for and it is a real chance for the whole standard to go up. “Gavelhouse is getting bigger every day and the two top thoroughbred mares we were able to sell for Australasian record prices recently show what is possible. “And while we would love to be holding the sale as normal we are thrilled to still be able to offer it using Gavelhouse.” Seabrook is hoping that if and when Level 4 restrictions are lifted that could allow at least some potential buyers to get out to see some of the horses on offer, particularly the weanlings. But if they can’t the onus goes on vendors to take high quality photos and/or video, the use of which has been enormously beneficial to yearling sales vendors who have embraced it in the last three years. And don’t be surprised if a successful sale on Gavelhouse and the resulting more registered standardbred buyers doesn’t see the platform open up even more. That could see flexibility soon whereas rather than having one sale her code per month there hare smaller, more specialised sales, maybe even just one high profile lot, which goes up for a week and can test a truly international market. While there will always be those who want to see the horses in the flesh, when it comes to actual going racehorses or recently retired broodmares most of what potential buyers want to know is readily available and vet reports can always be uploaded. The moving of the May sale to Gavelhouse comes as the far richer Inglis Easter Sale in Sydney is conduced this week entirely online, with not a horse leaving its home base. While it saw varied results, Seabrook says any sale could experience that at the moment. “We have great faith in the Gavelhouse platform and what it has already achieved and it is obvious is it only going to get better and play a larger role in both industries. “But as for this May sale, it is coming up at a very unusual time in the world economy so it will be very interesting. “But could mean so real bargains for buyers.”   Michael Guerin

This is not how winning your first trainer’s premiership is supposed to feel. But it still doesn’t detract from the countless hours of hard work Robert Dunn and son John have put in to almost certainly taking out the title for this strangest of all seasons. The almost certainly part comes from the fact the Dunn stable sits 10 wins clear of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen (79-69) on the premiership table with effectively only two more months of racing to go IF we get back to the track early June. Already the Purdon-Rasmussen stable has declared they are done for the season so that leaves Michael House on 60 wins as the only real danger but he would need to train 20 winners in two months without the Dunns training another one. So take it as done (excuse the pun), Robert Dunn is the premiership winner for 2019-2020. Like all of us Dunn has other things on his mind at the moment but when asked about the premiership he quickly races through the mental steps. “I think we have to go close depending on when racing comes back,” says Dunn. “But you never can be sure with Mark and Nat” Then he pauses, remembers they are done for the season and realises he has won his first title. “I suppose when you think about it like that, we have won it. “Not the way you would want to win it but it is still special to win.” The reality is Dunn would almost certainly have won the premiership even if the world had never heard of Covid-19. He and John had more winter firepower than the All Stars and the latter stable wouldn’t have chased anyway. And nobody can begrudge them their victory, Robert having been an elite level horseman for 40 years and John probably the biggest mover in New Zealand harness racing in the last decade. The win is built on hard work, which starts at the yearling sales and runs through two inter-island stables that race at tracks from Invercargill to Alexandra Park. That is made possible by having the two stables, the main base with John overseeing it in Canterbury and the Auckland base at Franklin which has 14 horses and has become not only an Alexandra Park force but a huge help for making up fields at the Auckland track. All the horses at both barns are spelling at the moment and Dunn isn’t sure when the horses at Pukekohe will be allowed back on the Franklin Park track. But many of the southern horses are spelling on the property so once the country returns to Level 3 and race training is allowed again then the Canterbury stable could have 10-14 horses in work. “We want to support racing when it comes back,” says Dunn. “Our horses have been out for a week but if they (HRNZ) are looking at racing again by late May or early June then we will have horses for then. “We have always been big on supporting racing, we send horses all over the place and we want to support this when it comes back.” Then some time around August, when hopefully racing will be back full time, albeit with many changes, Dunn can raise a glass to what he has achieved. “I have always wanted to win the premiership and a few times in recent years I thought I had a chance but then Mark and Nat would win 10 races in a week or something like that and I would be behind again. “So to maybe finally get it will be special, even if it is not the way I would have liked.”   By Michael Guerin

Making a top-10 list is easy. Until you try and make a top-10 list and show it to other people. Especially when many of the people who are going to see your list know just as much, or more, about the subject than you do. Today HRNZ starts to revisit some of our great races with 10 of their best winners. Now we aren’t going to lie to you, these aren’t lists we compiled this week like the rest of the online content world struggling to fill space. These are lists Greg O’Connor and I came up with over the last couple of years on Trackside for the NZ Cup, Sires’ Stakes and for the Dominion, which we look at today. Going back and looking at some of the great winners of a race is a cool way to build anticipation of what is to come, who is going to add their name to the list so we compiled them to be run close to those iconic races. Initially, when Greg came up with the idea, it sounded easy enough: Name the top 10 Dominion wins of the last 40 years. But that is the key sentence. The top 10 wins, not winners. If the list was just winners then most of us would probably agree Lyell Creek has to top the list because he was almost certainly the best trotter to win the great Addington race in that time frame, and maybe ever. But here is something that will surprise you. When Lyell Creek won the Dominion in 1999 it was in a staggeringly slow 4:14.4, which would have put him almost 200m behind Monbet when he won in 2016. Of course times can be termed irrelevant but in an industry where they are so prominent they at least have to be taken into account right? And if they don’t really what, what else does? The class of horses a winner beat?  The nature of the victory? Did they overcome a handicap, which these days isn’t a factor but was for nine winners in a 13-year period starting in the 1990s. And your list might well be influenced by your heart as much as your head. Did you back a horse? Did somebody you know or like own, train or drive it? Or even something as simple as was that horse from your region. After all, a Southlander might think more fondly of David Moss than the mighty Auckland mare Merinai. Greg and I tried to exclude emotion and go on quality of opposition, the actual performance of the horse itself and with a small dose of times and maybe where the horse actually now sits in our memories. So take a look at one list, by no means definitive, of top of the great Dominion winners of recent decades. Top 10 Dominion Wins - 1 to 5   Top 10 Dominion Wins - 6 to 10   by Michael Guerin

Thoroughbred racing is set to lag behind its sister codes when New Zealand racing finally gets the green light to return. The billion-dollar racing industry has been in lockdown like the rest of the country since last week and faces a rocky resumption even when restrictions are eased. Racing bosses in all three codes — thoroughbred, harness and greyhounds — are confident they can race safely, with strict protocols, if and when the country returns to Covid-19 alert level 3. That would obviously be without crowds but the problem for thoroughbred racing isn't the lack of people, it is the almost certain lack of fit horses. Confusion has reigned in the code since last week when the Ministry of Primary Industries initially ruled that training tracks could stay open for compliant trainers but then changed their mind. But in between those two decisions New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing put out its own conditions for training which were poorly written and saw many trainers and some track bosses think they had to shut down even though the MPI hadn't changed its stance. Some leading trainers had already decided to cease training but others wanted to continue. Once major training tracks like Cambridge closed all but a tiny percentage of the leading stables were automatically closed down. The latest NZTR recommendations suggest people can train at their own properties with people who live there (family or staff who reside on the property) but galloping or fast work is prohibited, although there is no clarification on how that will or can be policed. The spluttering shutdown means even if New Zealand returns to level 3 in late April and racing was technically allowed to go ahead the next day, there will be next to no horses ready to race. Racing's lost month after comeback Senior trainers yesterday estimated it will take at least a month for horses who are being walked, cantered or exercised on treadmills to get up to anything like race fitness. So the new trackwork and training restrictions leave the thoroughbred industry hamstrung to the point that racing may not resume until June even if the country returns to Level 3 by May. That is a month of lost income for not only most people in the racing industry, horse owners through stake money, the TAB through turnover and the Government through the taxes paid by racing, at a time the Government could probably do with very cent. When racing does return there are also grave fears among the thoroughbred industry as to how much money the TAB will be able to contribute to stakes as they have faced the double blow of racing being halted along side almost all sport, the latter a massive provider of revenue for the TAB. When thoroughbred racing resumes it could be with mini meetings of six races of small fields, all over shorter distances than usual because of the horse's lack of recent racing. It will almost certainly be restricted to zones, as most racing in Australia now is, to reduce travel and therefore risk of Covid-19 spread inside the industry. NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry admits mistakes were made last week and with only a skeleton staff working on extreme pressure some are forgivable. But the trainers spoken to by the Herald yesterday are still largely confused by what lies ahead and are hoping for more direction as New Zealand gets closer to the first lockdown removal deadline, albeit aware that may be extended. Other codes better off Greyhound racing will be the easiest of the three codes to get back on track while harness racing looks set to be well ahead of thoroughbreds because the majority of harness horses are trained on private tracks. The rules sent out by HRNZ yesterday say trainers can work horses at their home properties as long as they don't use staff who live outside the property and working should be kept to half speed. While that will reduce race-ready fitness many harness trainers jog their horses for up to 40 minutes below half speed most days of the week anyway and because they are allowed to do that they could have them ready to race a week or two after a return to Level 3. And harness racing has the added advantage of racing on all-weather tracks so they can race at any level through winter, whereas once the wet weather sets in many galloping trainers will be reluctant to race their better horses. That could see a track like Auckland's Alexandra Park holding meetings as early as mid-May should the country revert to Level 3 when we all hope it does, even if those meetings are only six or seven races containing small fields. Michael Guerin Courtesy of the NZ Herald

Trainer Cran Dalgety’s Bathurst Gold Crown celebration party isn’t going exactly as planned, but it is going to be a long one. Two weeks in fact. That is how long Dalgety will be trapped in the Novotel Hotel at Auckland Airport after being forced into quarantine when returning from overseeing Dr Susan’s Group 1 $100,000 win at Bathurst on Saturday night. Dalgety, who trains the filly in partnership with Nathan Purdon, flew back from the successful Sydney campaign expecting to continue through to Christchurch and then into isolation at home in Canterbury. But the jovial horseman got a shock when he was informed of the new Covid-19 protocols at Auckland airport that meant if he didn’t have somewhere to self-isolate within a five-hour drive he had to go into forced quarantine at the Novotel, which is 50 metres from the Auckland Airport International Terminal. “I think I missed the cut off by a day of two,” laments Dalgety. “So basically I am in lock down in the Novotel, which could be worse, at least I got a nice hotel. “But the rooms are quite small and has no opening windows and I am only allowed outside for 20 minutes a day. I was hoping to be able to use the gym but we aren’t so I am going to try to get the running shoes on and make the most of the 20 minutes. “My daughter has sent me an exercise app so I can work out in the room, but there isn’t much room to do that either.” Dalgety gets food brought to the room three times a day but it is left at the door and he isn’t allowed to collect it until the staff member who drops it off is gone. For a country boy, and one who loves his fitness so much he has completed the famed Coast to Coast, this is a less than ideal situation. “It is not great but I understand the situation and I just have to make the most of it. “I have my phone and my laptop, so I can work a bit, but I have watched Dr Susan’s win on Saturday night plenty of times already.” Dr Susan has travel problems of her own as well as Dalgety was keen to get her to Perth for the West Australian Oaks but those plans have been shelved. “We could fly her but no groom cause it also would have meant whoever flew with her had to self isolate 14 days both there and on the way back, which is not practical. “So she has gone for a spell at Benstud, which is hardly ideal because she is fit and ready to race on. “Technically we could have kept racing her in NSW but she would have been rated a free-for-all grade horse and that is not fair on her. “The real shame is she is racing so well and could have gone there and then the Queensland Oaks but that carnival has been canned. So will have a break and we will have to look at next season.” Dalgety laughs when he thinks of how Dr Susan nearly threw away both her Group 1 wins this season, in the Victoria Oaks and on Saturday. Both time she galloped in the score up and caused false starts before recovering to lead throughout at the second attempt. “She does that when she is really well, she clenches her tail between her legs and gallops,” says Dalgety. “And you wouldn’t believe it it is hereditary. Her grand dam Sparks A Flyin (who won a NSW Oaks) did it and so did her dam Safedra. “I sent her (Safedra) to Luke McCarthy to be trained a few years ago and she was hot favourite for a $50,00 race in Queensland and she did the same thing and blew the start. “It is funny because Dr Susan is a lovely quiet filly most of the time but she gets too well for her own good some race nights.” Dalgety might be feeling the same for much of the next two weeks. So if you are a mate of the man in the colourful shirts don’t be scared to reach out over the next 13 days. Dalgety will have plenty of time on his hands.   HRV Trots Media - Michael Guerin

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