Day At The Track

Cup Week finale a public relations disaster?

05:06 AM 16 Nov 2009 NZDT
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Addington Raceway on a sunny
Addington Raceway on a sunny - New Zealand Cup Day.
Duane Ranger photo

What did you think of last week's New Zealand Cup Carnival? Was it a success for the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club or do they have a few problems to iron out? Former Harnesslink editor and racing journalist Anthony Corban (now of Sport Waikato) believes the the premier week of harness racing in Christchurch suffered a severe public relations disaster at Addington Raceway last Friday (November 13).

At a time when the harness racing industry has suffered severely through the continued saga of South Auckland trainer Geoff Small-and his endless battle with officials of Harness Racing New Zealand-Cup Week was seen as a positive starting point promoting the up and coming four-legged champions of this sport.

Yet again the participants of harness racing have managed to shoot themselves in the fetlock and drag the industry to an all-time low.

Budding champion pacer Auckland Reactor was the victim of some questionable driving tactics from fellow horseman Philip Butcher during the running of the (Group One) $250,000 New Zealand Free-For-All.

Only six runners competed in the 1950m feature and as expected Mark Purdon, the trainer-driver of the 5-year-old son of Mach Three signalled his intentions from the start of the race, punching straight to the lead.

Auckland Reactor had raced three days earlier on the same racetrack and over the same distance when blasting around the showy left-handed track in a world record time of 2:17.8 (mile rate of 1:53.7) well inside the previous record held ironically by Awesome Armbro.

Auckland Reactor knows where the winning post is-before the NZ FFA he had won 25 of 29 starts-and a reputation as one of the finest equine athletes to grace a racetrack in New Zealand.

However Butcher and Awesome Armbro decided it was time to pressure a raging hot favourite and quickly sprinted around the field to sit outside Auckland Reactor and literally eye-ball this runner for as long as possible.

Awesome Armbro lasted outside the leader until the top of the home straight when he showed greater acceleration going backwards and finishing 76 lengths behind the winner, Monkey King.

However the damage had being done and Auckland Reactor faded to finish fifth, just over four lengths behind the winner, Monkey King.

No driver is entitled to "own" the pace making role but Auckland Reactor is a high-speed equine athlete with a proven front running record and a career covered in equine winning gold.

Awesome Armbro has been a useful Free-For-All pacer but was driven in completely different style on Friday-than he has for some time-and Butcher has a date with the Judicial Control Authority and a likely ban from race driving.

Of greater concern was the fact that Awesome Armbro's stable mate Changeover received a nice drag throughout the running of the FFA.

Changeover had a charmed run sitting behind Awesome Armbro throughout the race with Philip Butcher's brother David driving Changeover.

While both horsemen have an impeccable reputation in the harness racing industry-from an outsider's prospective-it did not look good for the image of harness racing seeing two brother's driving two horses from the same stable in this manner.

Particularly when Philip Butcher drove a friendless horse in pre-post betting in such an aggressive manner.

If Philip Butcher had intended to drive Awesome Armbro in this manner he should have notified the stewards before start time of his intention to go forward and pressure the pace making favourite.

The notification of the change in driving tactics may have prevented the stewards charging Butcher.

Stewards charged Butcher under rule 869 (3) (g) but this was adjourned. It is alleged that the Butcher, through the tactics he chose to adopt throughout the race drove Awesome Armbro in a manner capable of diminishing the horse's chances of winning.

Butcher had to leave the track straight after the NZ FFA as he had to board a plane and head back to Auckland to drive at Alexandra Park.

How do the owner's of Awesome Armbro feel after watching their 7-year-old used as a equine whipping boy to annoy Auckland Reactor?

It has been an expensive and disappointing Cup Carnival for Awesome Armbro as it has for many of the runners from the South Auckland-based stable of Geoff Small.

Small has been suspended from training in New Zealand for six months with two further likely suspensions pending-with positive swabs returned from stable runners in Melbourne and Sydney-a large pool of racehorses may be dispersed in coming months.

The defeat of Auckland Reactor was a costly one with his pending trip to Australia and North America for a racing-stud career.

Australian drivers will not be intimidated by the sight of Auckland Reactor leading and a Miracle Mile outing in Sydney in a couple of week's time may see Purdon rethink his driving tactics.

Particularly if racehorses like Smoken Up and Melpark Major are entered in the Miracle Mile.

Anthony CORBAN (former Harnesslink editor and harness racing journalist)

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