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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 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

Dr Susan has become that filly with the habit of being in the right place at the right time. Today that right place is NOT in New Zealand. The Cran Dalgety-Nathan Purdon trained filly is a red hot favourite to give Kiwi harness fans something to smile about in the A$100,000 Gold Bracelet Final at Bathurst tonight (9.50pm NZ time). Which is pretty much how 2020 has gone for her: right place, right time. She left New Zealand soon after her Sires’ Stakes third to Amazing Dream on December 31, an ambitious call considering she wasn’t one of the leading fillies in the country and an extended Australian campaign is anything but cheap. But it has proved to be a masterstroke by the Canterbury trainers as Dr Susan has kept improving and kept getting the right draws. After an easy win at Menangle to kick off her Australian campaign she followed a Victoria Oaks heat second with a win in the classic. That was largely due to drawing better than arch rival Stylish Memphis and leading throughout, although not without a score-up gallop that caused a false start. She then returned to Menangle to win her NSW Oaks heat before a brave but luckless run in the Final, won by Stylish Memphis. And while the latter headed home to New Zealand and ultimately the spelling paddock along with almost every other horse in this country Dr Susan stayed in Australia where harness racing continues for now. Just to continue her theme of being in the the right place at the right time, she has barrier one in her three-year-old fillies final tonight and driver Anthony is supremely confident of another major win. “She has been quite remarkable since she got here,” says Butt. “She has just got better and better and she hasn’t even looked like getting tired. She is loving it and to be honest she really should win again. “She has good gate speed and I think she will lead all the way.” While New Zealand harness racing fans don’t have a whole heap to get enthused about at home it is still gratifying to see our horses winning serious races in Australia, even if is does leave us more than a touch envious. And Butt could combine with another of those when Perfect Stride contests the A$100,000 Gold Chalice Final for three-year-old boys (10.53pm NZ time). He has been consistent in both the Vic and NSW Derby series over the last two months and also gets the ace draw tonight. “He has good gate speed so will go close to leading but there is a bit of speed outside him from Crunch Time so if he crossed up things might get a little more interesting. “But I still think he is the best horse here.” Butts realises how lucky Australian harness racing is to be continuing with all his friends back home sidelined and he says the protocol measures there are being strictly adhered to. “We realise we have a roll to play and I can see us breaking into regions and a place like Menangle will be ideal for one-track racing two or three times a week so we can keep racing going without the risks of travelling. “So we are hoping we can race on through.”   Michael Guerin

Some horse racing trainers are moving quickly to accommodate the horse welfare lifeline the industry has been granted. And that could have the bonus of having racing ready to resume in New Zealand not long after the country returns to Covid-19 alert level 3. Horse and dog racing has been stopped since Monday and can obviously not continue at Level 4 so like most other industries is in limbo. But the three race codes have worked with the Ministry of Primary Industries to ensure stables, farms and training tracks can stay working, with strict protocols, to ensure animal welfare. That will mean trainers and stud farms with more than five staff members or those that can not achieve social distancing need to register with the MPI so they can continue to work. They will able to do so under strict protocols, including no non-working visitors, but it will mean horses and dogs can be fed, exercised, undergo veterinary work and their stables and kennels kept clean. Some high-profile trainers have already decided they would rather shut their businesses down for a variety of reasons from health concerns, staffing levels, economics or their own personal opinions on how Covid-19 restrictions should be handled. They have sent horses on non-working holidays (known in racing as giving a horse a spell) and that has resulted in many of the farms where horses take these breaks being inundated. Other trainers have reduced staff numbers but will keep up to 20-25 horses in work so they can be looked after but also kept at least at a moderate level of fitness so when racing returns, which would likely be at Level 3, there are at least some horses to race. Obviously nobody can know when that will be and those horses in work are costing their owners money without the promise of any returns for weeks or even months. That is the risk some owners are willing to take, others are not. But while animal welfare is vitally important, the long-term economic life of racing is also. Racing industry bosses, with help from trainers who choose to be involved, must have horses in each region fit enough to race the day after the country returns to a Level 3 alert, if that is allowed by Government. Every day that racing is allowed to return but there is no racing in this country because that horse or dog supply chain has been cut will be a further economic body blow. That means readiness from code bosses, clubs and the TAB to ensure racing can start when restrictions are lifted. Starting a month or six weeks later after that would be disastrous. That could become even more important as because New Zealand looks to be ahead of the curve of many other countries in its response to Covid-19 and it is hoped, or should that be prayed for, we weather the horrors of the approaching storm more quickly. If that is the case and racing can return then it could be one of the first jurisdictions in the world with racing on and it could be beamed worldwide to bring in valuable income to an industry which, like so many others, faces being on its knees. Everybody has more important things to think about now and those in the racing industry know that.  But the industry not being prepared to start up again the very first day it is allowed to is wasting that potential opportunity. One facility which was closed on Tuesday was the Franklin Park training centre at Pukekohe, home to around 200 harness horses at its peak and it is hoped it may soon be open for training with strict protocols.   Michael Guerin

Racing industry participants should know tomorrow whether they can continue to care for their animals. Racing bosses are hopeful strict new protocols around the use of stables and training facilities could see them approved by the Ministry for Primary Industries and horses and dogs can be looked after at their usual high level by those who work inside the industry. Racing was halted around the country on Monday in preparation for the Level 4 alert that comes into effect at 11.59pm tonight, as which point racing can not take place. That means there will be no racing until the Level 4 alert is reduced to Level 3, a level at which horse and dog racing would seem to be allowed again but in front of no crowds and with restrictions including travel. While nobody knows when Level 3 will be reached again those inside the racing industry don't just face the enormous financial worries many New Zealanders do but the more pressing problem of keeping that horses and greyhounds safe and healthy. The animals need to be fed and exercised, their stables or quarters cleaned daily, all of which is crucially important for not only the horse's welfare but their viability as racing animals in the future. If they can not be trained and their owners decide to retire or give up on them some horses and dogs may find new homes but many will not, especially in the economic meltdown that looms in the months and years ahead. The two equine codes, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and Harness Racing New Zealand have agreed to adhere to the same strict protocols, which would ensure only essential working personnel were allowed at training tracks and that all safety measures implemented by the MIP would be followed. NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry said the two codes applications, with the list of protocols they already have in place and new ones to be implemented, were lodged on Tuesday night at 5.55pm. "Both equine codes have had dialogue with the Ministry today and we are hopeful we will have a decision from them tomorrow (Wednesday)," said Saundry, who says his team has worked closely with HRNZ. "I have been in contact with HRNZ's chief executive Peter Jenson several times today and we both realise we have to work together and have the same measures in place." The codes are confident training tracks and stables can remain safe places of work under these protocols and that people in racing can look after their horses without in any way risking the further spread of Covid-19. "Sure there are economic issues around this further down the track and employment ones now but first and foremost this is about looking after the horses, keeping them healthy," says Saundry. "If we can't do this, it becomes a huge horse welfare issue." Already training tracks like the Franklin Park harness facility at Pukekohe have been closed but the Herald understands that will be a short-term measure and should the MPI rule positively on them being crucial to animal welfare, protocols will be put in place there that could see it open before by the weekend. News that the care and training of horses and dogs may be able to continue, albeit with restrictions, will not only ease the pressure on trainers struggling to find places to send horses who couldn't be worked, but also allow them to continue to employ staff. ************************************* At a time when so many things we take for granted are changing, sometimes by the hour, here are some Covid-19 related racing points you may have missed. ** The $1.275 million Harness Jewels meeting which was to have been held at Cambridge on May 30 has been cancelled. The meeting would have required substantial inter-island travel, which even if racing is back up and running by May, is unlikely to be possible. It will also enable industry participants who were aiming horses at the meeting to spell them now if that is deemed necessary. ** Trackside television will continue on air (Sky 62 and 63) for the time-being with its main focus being Australian racing. But there will be no domestic production from New Zealand with Trackside's Auckland headquarters shut down so racing coverage will be simulcast from overseas channels. ** Racing continues in Australia and there is still confidence in an ever-changing landscape that the major meeting at Rosehill will be held this Saturday and even possibly The Championships the following two Saturdays at Randwick. ** Harness racing in New South Wales was suspended as a precaution yesterday after one of their stewards was found to have been in contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19. That steward has been tested and if he returns a negative test to the virus HRNSW hopes to resume racing immediately, possibly by this weekend. ** The Dubai Cup, one of the world's richest race meetings, which was to have been staged without a crowd this Saturday has been called off.   Michael Guerin

Racing industry bosses are appealing to keep training tracks and stables open as a national horse welfare issue looms. Horse racing, like the rest of the country, is set to come to a crashing halt on Thursday when the Covid-19 alert level 4 comes into effect, although racing itself stopped yesterday, with no meetings of any of the three codes going ahead today or tomorrow. The TAB will continue to operate, offering betting on overseas sports events and, more importantly from a turnover point of view, Australian racing. That and Hong Kong racing will now be the focus for any Kiwis who enjoy their racing, as Australian racing has survived its Government's latest restrictions, with racing there to continue for now but with no crowds and no crossing of borders. The loss of horse and greyhound racing for at least a month will be felt hard by those inside the New Zealand industry, few of who have meaningful cash reserves and the shutdown raises an enormous array of future problems, many of them financial. But the most immediate issue racing bosses will seek clarity on today is the welfare of the horses and dogs. New Zealand has thousands of racehorses and horses in training to become racehorses and they need to be looked after daily. Unlike domestic pets, they can't come live in people's homes. They have strict diets, exercise regimes and need controlled and safe living environments. They also need their stables cleaned, medical needs seen to and even their shoes replaced, all of which are essential to preserve their health. If stable and farm workers can't go to work, the health and even lives of horses could be endangered. "That is the first and most important focus for us now," said New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry. "The horses have needs and we need skilled people to look after them. At that most basic level, they have to be fed and their stables cleaned, they are all health issues. "But so, too, is their exercise. It is potentially dangerous to have a fit and healthy horse, and then stop working it and leave it in a stable." So the three codes will appeal to the Ministry for Primary Industries today to declare training tracks, stables and farms used to train horses essential work places. That may confuse some non-racing people who will question why a racing stable should stay open on a basic level while their business has to close. The simplest explanation is this: would you tell the staff at Auckland Zoo they can't go to work and leave the animals to fend for themselves? Right. Then it's really pretty simple. Already there is the problem of the huge financial hardship the racing industry is going to be put under at all levels. The loss of TAB turnover will severely impact racing codes and clubs for years and that will quickly effect the stakes racing clubs can offer. Less stakes means less money to pay bills and plenty of the ordinary New Zealanders who own racehorses as a hobby or passion are also set to lose their jobs or undergo severe financial pressure. So some will struggle to pay their horse trainers, who in turn may struggle to pay staff, who are tax-paying members of the economy like most other people. So this isn't a racing problem, this is an economic problem, no different to the hospitality industry or any other in New Zealand. Racing bosses will try and advise industry participants as soon as possible on what measures the MPI deem appropriate for training tracks, stables and farms while they will also work with horse people and dog trainers on what assistance is available from the Government for their loss of earnings. But the problems are only beginning. What happens if 100, or 1000, horse and dog owners realise they can't afford to pay their horse bills next month? That raises the very painful question of what happens to those horses and dogs. Trainers do their best to re-home retired horses and dogs but there are only so many homes to be found. Unless racing can return soon, there are going to be horses and dogs who have nowhere to go. Racing bosses are confident the industry can return to racing with the very strict protocols which were already in place if and when the Covid-19 alert reverts to level 3. The goal now is for them to be ready to act on that as soon as it happens, whether next month of further away. Because thousands more New Zealanders will lose their job unless racing starts up again inside a few months. And to do that, the horses and dogs, the stars of the show, need to be fit, healthy and in training. If that isn't allowed to happen, they will ultimately be the first victims in racing's sad chapter in their national tragedy. RACING'S DARKEST DAY •  All New Zealand horse and dog racing finished for at least a month yesterday. •   Industry bosses are now fighting to keep training centres open for animals and staff. •   If that is not allowed it will create an enormous animal welfare issue. •   The economic impact on the racing industry will be brutal but could be lessened by horses and dogs staying in training to allow a quicker resumption when the Covid-19 alert level returns to 3.   by Michael Guerin

Ray Green is confident the next big thing of New Zealand pacing will be staying put here. But he wouldn’t mind sneaking Copy That across to Australia this winter to show the Aussie how good he is. The South Auckland pacer bounced back from his luckless defeat in the Northern Derby two weeks ago with a bullying win in the Flying Stakes at Addington on Friday night, refusing to be parked out by arch rival One Change at the bell and once he got to the lead he never looked like being beaten. He cruised the last 800m in 56.3 in the hands of new driver Blair Orange to beat One Change again, as he has every time they have met since Cup week, with early leader Minstrel a strong third and Heroes Square losing few fans in fourth. Bad To The Bone, who got pushed back in the inner, was an eyecatching fifth. The win saw Copy That promoted to $2.50 favouritism for the NZ Derby back at Addington in two weeks but Green is already thinking further ahead and further afield. “He was great tonight, he really is a very good horse with a big motor,” says the popular trainer. “I know he was beaten up north but I think he did a good job to run second after losing momentum.”Green says safely through the Derby, Green will return north for the Jewels at Cambridge on May 30, by which time everybody is hoping the world feels a little more normal. Then Green wants to take Copy That to Australia, travel restrictions allowing of course, for a two-race Queenland campaign that he hopes will include the new A$250,000 Rising Sun. The new three and four-year-old race will be held at Albion Park on July 18 with two three-year-olds to be invited and get preferential draws. Should one of them win they would get a $100,000 bonus and Green likes the sound of that. “So ideally that is what we would like to do providing these restrictions are eventually lifted.” Copy That is owned in Victoria by Merv and Meg Butterworth and while many of their horses eventually end up being trained there, Green hopes Copy That can stay here next season and beyond. “It think for good horses, horses as good as him, there is just as good a money here and they can head to Australia to race when needed. “Merv and Meg have been great and have never made any noise about him racing over there full time so I’d love to see him stay here.” While Copy That surprised nobody with his win Friday night’s two main trotting winners One Apollo (Four and Five-Year-Old Championship) and Vacation Hill (Trotting Oaks) did sting punters. One Apollo has always looked an open class horse but few would have seen him beating the Inter Dominion champion in Winterfell, especially coming from behind him to do it. Winterfell, who started off a 30m handicap, surged to the front down the back straight but wasn’t trotting perfectly squarely on the home bend and One Apollo wore him down the hands of Gerard O’Reilly. It was the seventh career win for the son of One Over Da Moon and his fourth this season for trainer Brent White, although not his richest as they won the Sales Series Trot at Addington during his two-year-old career. Vacation Hill gave driver Samantha Ottley her biggest trotting win in the Oaks as she came from behind hot favourite Tailored Elegance to beat her fair and square. “I don’t think I have won a lot of big trotting races before,” said Ottley. “So to even get a drive in any Oaks or Derby, for trotters of pacers, is a big deal. “Kevin (Townley, trainer) has always had really big opinion of her and she had just kept getting better and better.”The night’s other feature, the Superstars, was over the second hot favourite Another Masterpiece strode to the front at the bell as he held off the big late charge of Triple Eight.   Michael Guerin

New Zealand racing’s television landscape has changed just as dramatically as the rest of the industry.  TAB bosses have made immediate changes to how racing will be covered with no presenters on track at any meetings in the weeks, and possibly, months ahead.  The move is for health reasons of the presenters, camera crew and the people they come in contact with and to reduce the chance of coronavirus spreading. TAB employees will still broadcast the racing action from the tracks using their usual OB vans but the comments and previews of the races will be done by presenters based in studios around the country.  The commentaries will still be live from the track.  That will mean no live pre or post-race interviews and reactions from the track will be possible until coronavirus protocols are changed.  The TAB has also cancelled with immediate effect its magazine, review and preview shows The First Call, Dogzone, The Box Seat and Weigh In to cut costs.  But the turnover-driving Punters Lounge will still screen on Saturday morning with shorter versions of that show possible on domestic race days to try and stimulate turnover.   By Michael Guerin

Champion horseman Mark Purdon and a host of other harness racing stars have been sidelined by Covid-19 protocols which will stop them from driving tonight. But none of them are suspected of having the coronavirus or even having been in contact with anybody who has, with Harness Racing New Zealand erring on the side of caution. Purdon, leading drivers John Dunn and Zac Butcher and several other big names in the harness racing industry only returned from Sydney between 10 and 12 days ago after they competed at the Miracle Mile meeting. The Government announced on Wednesday people who had returned from overseas in the last 14 days should self isolate for 14 days from when they returned and while that was not made a strict regulation, HRNZ said it would not put other industry participants are risk. So all harness racing participants, including trainers and even amateur drivers, have been banned from attending any race meetings until they have been back in the country for 14 days without any sign of coronavirus symptons. “I was a bit surprised but we have to do the right thing so I will be not going to the races and staying away from the stables until Monday,” says Purdon. “But I am lucky I have great staff and Natalie (partner) to take care of things.” Purdon rolls out some of the stable’s bigger guns for the Addington premier meeting which will be run in front of industry participants only tonight, with the same happening at Alexandra Park. While the world seems to be going crazy and we all have more important things to think about, racing is one of the few live sports still on and for punters who feel like a distraction the Purdon/Rasmussen team is the obvious one to follow tonight. But that does come with a couple of warnings. Rasmussen does the driving on both this season’s group one winners One Change (R7, No.1) and Winterfell (R4, No.12) and says they are the ones to beat in two of tonight’s best races. “I was thrilled with One Change in the Derby up north and that showed he can be driven tough so I think I have to use the draw tonight,” says Rasmussen. “While there is a bit of speed on the front line I think it is important to stay in front of Copy That so that is what I will be trying to do.” The pair look clearly our top two three-year-olds boys, having had the colours lowered in differing circumstances by filly Amazing Dream in the Derby two weeks ago. One Change was very tough that night and while Copy That got held up he didn’t flash to the line like the horse who has dominated the December three-year-old races. There is very little between the pair but with the ace draw One Change is the bet tonight, with the unbeaten Heroes Square adding a new factor to the field and Bad To The Bone looks a great place option as he could be following the favourite throughout. Winterfell’s opening $1.70 price in the four and five-year-old trot seems fair for an Inter Dominion champion who also beat Oscar Bonavena and co in the National Trot. He faces a 30m handicap but not a big field so the real question with him isn’t whether he should win but whether he will put in genuinely enough to win. Rasmussen thinks the answer is yes. “He has been good at the trials and quite safe, even though he ca be funny left-handed,” she offers. But the word of warning horses from Rasmussen are the stable’s two-year-olds and Another Masterpiece in the Superstars. “In the two-year-old race First Class can win but I don’t think he can lead and win because that would put Krug on his back and he would outsprint him. “But I will be going forward on Delightful Dude so our pair might even end up lead and trail. But Krug might just be a little too forward for ours anyway.” Another Masterpiece goes into the Superstars with recent wins at both Addington and Menangle but Rasmussen is worried by the draw and says she could be three wide for half the race. “He can win but it won’t be easy. I think Triple Eight is just as good a chance as him.”With the latter paying $5.50 on opening he looks one of the better each way bets of the night.   By Michael Guerin

New Zealand racing is set to continue behind closed doors but with the most extreme measures in its history to combat the spread of coronavirus. And that will include jockeys being forbidden to ride at meetings in the island they don’t live in but with an unheard of 2kgs raising of all weights in all thoroughbred races to enable them to be healthier and less at risk of illness. The heads of all three racing codes — thoroughbred, harness and greyhounds — are are hopeful the expected moves announced today will enable racing to continue so the industry can survive financially and not face stable or business closures which could force participants out of racing permanently. At this stage no race meetings have been cancelled because of coronavirus restrictions and none are planned unless there is an increase in the threat or change in Government regulations. But from Wednesday no members of the public will be allowed to attend race or trials meetings and there will even be severe restrictions on racing industry participants doing so, with only those working at that meeting allowed to attend. That will mean trainers, jockeys or drivers, handlers and stablehands who usually attend meetings will not be able to unless they have specific duties that raceday. That will definitely stay in place until April 13 and probably significantly longer. “We will require trainers to tell us who will be coming to the races with their horses and then nobody else will be allowed,” said Harness Racing New Zealand boss Peter Jensen. There will still be restricted numbers of raceday administration staff but increased security to ensure the new protocols are not breached. Some of the restrictions will be harder to implement at the harness racing code’s two major tracks, Addington in Christchurch and Alexandra Park in Auckland, as both have restaurants on their tracks which cater for non-racing crowds seven days a week. Alexandra Park bosses are still working through the specifics of how that will work with the Grand Park Restaurant, which is among the busiest restaurants in Auckland but could remain open as long as no racing industry participants were allowed in so it was treated as separate from the actual racetrack. Decisions on what measures are put in place for it and other eateries at racetracks around the country during race meetings are expected tomorrow. But the restaurants will be able to operate as normal, like any other eatery, outside when race meetings are being conducted at those tracks. For racing bosses the main focus though is on maintaining horse and dog racing in this country. With all racing in New Zealand telecast live on Trackside and able to be shown online at the TAB website, industry bosses will be hoping punters will still engage with it and bet. There is even potential for increased engagement as many other live sports are cancelled but even if that happens the overall impact on racing’s bottom line is going to be brutal. The three codes, who have at times been at odds in the last year over the industry’s direction and market share distribution, having shown commendable unity with how they have approached the coronavirus restrictions and protecting their participants and racegoers. Thoroughbred racing has implemented two new rules, both of which make sense, but one will be popular with jockeys and the other not so much. Some jockeys are peeved by a new regulation meaning jockeys can not move between the two main island: so only South Island-based jockeys can ride at meetings there and North Island jockey can ride at meetings north of Cook Strait. They can still travel between island for personal reasons but that can not accept rides at meetings held there. But a move to raise all weights in all races by 2kgs from Friday is been roundly applauded. Jockeys maintain their weights at often unhealthy levels so they can be available to ride as many horses as possible, some undergoing dramatic 1-2kgs weight loss in the day before a race meeting, called wasting. That can lead to extreme dehydration and the regular depletion is unhealthy, obviously making jockeys more vulnerable to illness and making any infections, viral or otherwise, more dangerous. So put simply, the raising of the weights scale by 2kgs for every horse in every race will allow jockeys to remain healthier.   Michael Guerin

New Zealand racing bosses are bracing for huge losses even though no domestic race meetings have been cancelled yet because of coronavirus restrictions. And even if race meetings are able to go ahead with essential staff only, one of the greatest losses to the racing industry could be its share of TAB revenue from betting on sports, including the huge overseas sports betting market. Racing codes — thoroughbred, harness and greyhounds — are planning to continue with programmed race meetings but are aware the rules around restrictions can change almost hourly. But they are confident race meetings can be run without crowds, with the essential staff needed to run a normal race meeting probably below 200. There would still need to be trainers, handlers, jockeys or drivers, administration, safety personnel (starting gates, medical staff) as well as broadcast media and a small number of food and beverage staff to feed participants at race meetings. But while racing bosses were investigating plans to allow ticketed functions to continue on racetracks, because the patrons would be more traceable and could be cordoned off in one area, those hopes are quickly evaporating under the new restrictions on crowds over 500. Effectively racing could allow up to, say, 300 members of the public to attend and not exceed the 500-person threshold, but to what point? And of the non-essential people allowed in, it would make more sense that they were the owners of the horses rather than letting 300 people attend a function and yet exclude the people paying the bills. But by the far the most likely and safest course will be essential staff only — everyone else watching on television. The greyhound code will be the least affected of the three as they have less human interaction from participants, with no jockeys or drivers, and because crowds very rarely top 500. But thoroughbred and harness racing is likely to restrict attendance to essential staff only very shortly and their governing bodies are preparing for that. One of the reasons racing may be able to, and needs to, continue more than other sports is that its key revenue driver is not crowds or hospitality but betting turnover. Even a race meeting with no on-course patrons can drive millions of dollars in turnover which will keep the industry, which employs over 40,000 people, financially viable. But that could also change very rapidly if any racing industry participant who had been to meetings tested positive for the virus. "At the moment, we don't have plans to cancel any meetings but obviously things can change very quickly," said New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing boss Bernard Saundry. "But we are preparing for holding meetings with fewer than 500 people on track and we are confident we can do that. "We had protocols in place last weekend for some meetings and they will now be stricter obviously. "And we will be guided by what the Government decides and tells us to do." Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Peter Jensen is adopting the same attitude and says if crowds are banned then the health of participants comes first but safeguarding racing's income was important because so many people's livelihoods relied on it. Any long-term loss of racing meetings could be catastrophic as owners will not want horses in work and would either spell, try to sell or even retire them. And that means no income for trainers, many of who already struggle financially. It would also severely impact staff, vets, transport companies and feed merchants to mention just a few of the industries built around racing. But if race meetings can continue without crowds then there will still be stake money to be won, trainers, jockeys and drivers fees paid and the turnover generated by stay-at-home punters, many of who will be robbed of other live sports to watch, could help ease racing's impending disaster. But what will be totally out of the control of anybody in New Zealand racing or even in the country is the huge loss the TAB looks certain to suffer in lost sporting revenue. Sports like NBA basketball and English Premier League football attract a huge amount of betting inside New Zealand and some of that TAB profit is returned to sports but also to racing. The TAB has met with racing bosses and will do so again on Thursday to present to them date from financial models addressing what a range of cancellations, ranging from just sports to all racing closing down, would mean. "We obviously don't know what is going to happen in the days ahead or even the hours ahead," says TAB chief executive Dean McKenzie. "But we will present a variety of models to the heads of the codes on Thursday about what could happen to turnover and returns to the industry under various scenarios. "But because the world is changing so quickly at the moment we can't know what those actual numbers are going to be, we can only do out best to predict and prepare." The loss of betting income on overseas and domestic sports events will also impact many major New Zealand sports as they get payouts from the TAB based on turnover. McKenzie, who has experience as the chief executive of a racing club and a major sporting venue in Jade Stadium (Lancaster Park), says racing industry participants now have an obligation to the industry as well as society. "We need to make sure we abide by guidelines, maintain social distancing where possible and abide by all the Government protocols to stop the spread of the virus. "And the better the industry participants do that then potentially that increases the chances of the industry keeping racing. "A lot of responsibility in the meantime falls on those inside the industry because many of the other factors are ones we can't control."   Michael Guerin

Robert Dunn is starting to dare to dream.  He is not getting carried away just yet, having finished second in the national harness racing trainer’s premiership enough times to know how hard it is to win.  Especially when you are competing against the greatest stable Australasian harness racing has known and one of the best in the world.  But with a 10-win lead over the All Stars in the premiership and four-and-a-half months to go, Dunn’s dream of a first ever premiership win is coming more sharply into focus. Last weekend he trained 11 winners, propelling him to what could be a decisive break but he is still cautious.  “I have been in the position in the past when I thought I had a shot and the Mark and Natalie trained 10 winners in a week and that was that,” laughs Dunn.  “So I know how hard they are to beat. “But maybe the one thing in our favour is usually we have been chasing whereas now we have the lead. “And we have plenty of horses and quite a few that can race through the winter. So this might be our best chance.  “Johnny (son and trainer of their Canterbury stable) and I have spoken about it but not too much so far.” What will aid Team Dunn this season is the All Stars don’t have huge numbers racing in the grades and many of their better horses will be aimed at the same races. The regularly have three or four juveniles in the group ones at the end of a season but only one can win so their best age group pacers could spend plenty of time racing against each other. Whereas the Dunn have open class horses through to maidens who will race everywhere from Southland to Alexandra Park, that spread meaning they can more easily get out of each others away.  The TAB doesn’t open a market on the harness racing trainer’s premiership but if they did, all factors considered, Dunn should be a $1.05 chance to add the title to the milestone of 1500 domestic wins he achieved at Kaikoura earlier this season.  There won’t be any big numbers to be added at Alexandra Park tonight as the ATC host just five races, one of their smallest meetings ever although field struggles the week after major carnivals are not rare in either code.  Dunn has two trotters in the first race and says while Resonate is the stronger a front line draw over the mobile mile means You Really Got Me is at least as good a chance.  “He has been pretty good off the gate (mobile start) and that could prove decisive.”  The Ross Paynter-trained pair of Molly Bones and Anditover, who both look headed for better things, look the dangers.  Dunn has far greater numbers at Addington where unbeaten three-year-old Heroes Square is rated the stable’s best chance in a strong three-year-old field. “He is a good horse and very much a horse we are aiming at the Derby,” says Dunn. “The only reason it has taken him this long to get him racing is because of some issues but we would like to think he is up to the good three-year-olds.”   Michael Guerin

Ricky May is determined his career in the sulky is "not going to end like that". The "that" May doesn't want to be the final act of his storied harness racing driving career was almost also the final act of his life. Racing viewers Australasia-wide were stunned when May collapsed lifeless in the sulky when leading the Central Otago Cup driving A G's White Socks on January 2. When he fell to the track, the racing world held its breath.   May's heart stopped without warning, his official diagnosis later being hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. He lay motionless on the Omakau track, receiving CPR from junior driver Ellie Barron and was soon after treated by medics. But when the 61-year-old woke up in Dunedin Hospital two days later doctors told him he had probably been dead for 10 minutes that day. A few days later he had surgery to have a cardioverter defibrillator implanted, a device that delivers a shock through a wire which runs into a chamber of the heart and May will have it in his chest for the rest of his life in case his heart stops again. But two months on from that operation May hasn't needed the defibrillator yet and is hoping he never will. "The doctors told me if it was going to happen again it would most likely be in the first two months," May told the Herald. "So I am now going to get on with my life. "I feel good, almost back to normal. I have a few aches and pains from the fall and the operation but my energy levels are good." May is back working on his Methven farm but last week he started back at his other job. He jumped in the sulky and drove fast work. "It was good to do it again, but I was a little tentative just at the start," says the man who has won seven New Zealand Cups. "The doctors say I can go back to driving but they are a bit worried about the shaking and vibrations that can go through the body on a rougher surface. "So ideally they have said to start out slow and if possible maybe wait six months before I go back to race driving." So that is what May is planning to do. He admits he might be lured back earlier but at this stage he plans to be back driving in races next season, which starts August 1. "I want to be careful for a while and to be honest I wouldn't have too many good drives coming up in the next few months. "And I don't mind missing the winter racing," he laughs. But May will 100 per cent, as much as any of us can predict our futures, be back. "I have to go back to it because I can't let what happened be the way it ends. That wouldn't sit comfortably with me." The next great goal is obvious for a man who has driven 2949 winners in his domestic career. Joining Tony Herlihy and Maurice McKendry as the only 3000-win horsepeople (drivers or jockeys) in New Zealand is an honour May deserves. "I can go back to driving any time I want now, once I get a medical certificate which shouldn't be a problem. But I will wait and do it right. But I will be back. I am looking forward to getting back out there."   Michael Guerin

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