World Cup Wagering has a twist that makes an awful lot of sense for the harness racing punters in New Zealand, providing them the option to wager on any country representative they wish to win a heat or, before the start of the competition's first race, to wager on the winner of the entire event.
Gavin Cook, Trevor Ward, the track operators and the horsemen have succeeded in filling ten races and the NZ TAB, the betting corp as it is called here, is taking wagers at its store fronts on the final winner of the overall event before the first four races get underway at Auckland's premier racetrack Alexandra Park, which also offers the wager.
So, while the handicappers got off and running in earnest well in advance of the start of the event, the handicappers can really only judge by the horses drawn by a driver and not on any known ability, or lack thereof, except for the talented Steve Phillips. The published odds on our Mitchell "Kelly" Walker taking home the gold are 41-1. Only Russia is in worse shape according to the experts at odds of 51-1.
The Spaniard, Damian Oliver Oliver is the 3.20 - 1 favorite having drawn some good horses from the stable of Steven Reid. The oddsmakers have both the Czech, Jiri Svoboda and Belgium's Piet Van Pollaert as the second choices each at odds of 5.20-1, again solely based upon the horses. The punters wager on NZ amateur racing and, in many instances sometimes with more vigor, than on the pros in this country.
Interestingly, in this country one can " push out" someone on your outside during the race so long as you are ever so slightly ahead of him by pushing shaft to shaft and "making" your way off the pegs or pylons. It will be exciting to see how this works where it is permitted in the last 1000 meters. Most of the amateur races are at 2200 meters (approximately 1 1/16th miles) and at Alexandra they go clockwise around this basically sea shell surfaced track.
At Alexandra Park last evening, a Maori tribal dance was performed as in ancient times with some threatening native dancing demonstrating a different but significant culture in this vast and beautiful land. The Maori came from Polynesia across thousands of miles of Ocean in dugout canoes hundreds of years ago along a route that jets now traverse in 6 hours.
At the conclusion of the ceremony each of us was symbolically inducted into the tribe. After that, a large contingent of Kiwis descended upon the group to tell each of the drivers about their horses during a sumptuous dinner and gift presentation to all the drivers. Later, three handicappers took the stage and gave their predictions to the joy of a few and the disappointment of most others. An old friend, Joe Beder, made his way over from Melbourne, Australia to show support for the competition, one which he helped organize in Australia years ago.
Getting back to that wagering concept, bets will close at the start of the first race and if you wish after the first four are over tonight, you can bet again on the eventual overall winner in advance of the next six races. The NZ TAB will reopen the wagering once again, and thereby create yet another pool for the punters to bet into. Whether they will do it again before the last day of racing on Sunday remains to be seen, but one can figure they will.
The US regulators should consider acting favorably on any track's application to do a similar bet, let's say on which horse will win the most points at the end of a series such as The Rooney for example, or the on the ultimate winner of a drivers' championship. Creating these additional pools gives gamblers more of a menu of wagering options. If our man can get the job done at 41-1, odds locked in at the start, most of the personal cost of this trip will have been more than covered for sure.
The cry from a few brave souls will be " Go Kelly Go" tempered right now only by the old adage that is 90% horse and 10% driver. The cry of "Go Kelly Go" will go on nonetheless.
By Joe FARALDO