Day At The Track

Harness racing faces a conundrum!

02:40 PM 04 Mar 2015 NZDT
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Harness racing in New Zealand is in a real bind in our opinion and unless our leaders do something very quickly then we could very easily become a "sunset industry" in this country.

The breeding figures for the just completed breeding season are now available and the annual decline in mares bred continues unabated with the decline looking to be in the region of 7.5%.

This decline has been evident for well over a decade now and if it is not stopped our industry as it is presently structured will cease to exist.

We are not saying the harness racing industry as we know it, will disappear but its shape and form will look nothing like what we have at present.

That is the cold hard reality we face when the number of foals bred cannot possibly meet the needs of a racing programme set up for foal crops of nearly double what we are going to now produce.

A lot of short sighted people have claimed repeatedly that we are only getting rid of the poorer performed mares each year and that the decline is nothing to worry about.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

With the continuing decline we are seeing it is only a matter of time before the ability of some clubs to conduct meetings will be severely compromised.

Regional areas of New Zealand that rely on horses from other provinces will be the first to feel the pinch in our view.

We already have a situation in the thoroughbred code where they are absent from some provincial areas in New Zealand where they use to be strong and we think that harness racing will go that way as well if the breeding numbers continue to decline.

Many point to the yearling sales as a guide to how healthy the industry is but it only represents 20% of our industry and while good for morale it can't change the basic premise that harness racing is an industry in rapid decline.

The strength of harness racing in New Zealand has always been the fantastic spread of our industry throughout the country.

In other words the grassroots of our industry has always been our strength.

If that base was to be severely weakened, then the whole structure becomes vulnerable. 

There are numerous methods used overseas to help the breeder stay in the industry and we have covered these in depth in previous articles.

Harness Racing New Zealand and the New Zealand Racing Board have been strangely silent on solutions for this complex problem.

There has been plenty of hand wringing and platitudes but no plan of action to help breeders stay in the industry.

Time is of the essence in this matter and the longer we dither before doing something, the more chance that the intervention will be too little too late.

JC

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