You would have thought after last year’s 4 & 5YO kerfuffle, Harness Racing New Zealand would have spoken to the horsemen before making any rapid changes to our beloved Harness Jewels series.
But it seems the people who run this industry can simply not learn from their mistakes.
And, while I am sure they fully intended on making the Harness Jewels “bigger and better”, it seems they once again missed out on the finer detail.
“My vote is no to the decision (to invite the top Australian horse to the Harness Jewels Final next June), especially seeing as there doesn’t seem to have been much consultation with the people most affected,” said Harness Jewels King, Blair Orange.
“I don’t see why they should get straight into the Jewels when our guys are battling away all season trying to earn enough to be there. Okay so we go to the Breeders’ Crown and get their money but you have to qualify to get into the rich finals. They don’t invite you. It is the same with the Miracle Mile now; you have to go over there and race to get an invite. So I am a bit baffled what brought this about. I am certainly not in favour of it and a lot of owners and horsemen won’t be either. It seems to have been just sprung on everybody,” he added.
Mark Jones and Brent Mangos were also not in favour of the changes when interviewed earlier in the week by The Press’s Matt Markham.
Jones, like myself, could see that the changes could make for some great clashes, which would increase turnover and add huge Australasian interest to the series. But, he thought it was wrong that the Australian horses were allowed in without racing here prior to the series.
Mangos, however, was more outspoken.
"I guarantee the Australians wouldn't let us into their big races like this, and I doubt there'll be that much difference in turnover anyway," he said.
"They should be focused on helping New Zealand owners, not giving our stake money away across the Tasman."
Anthony Butt was yet another who disagreed with the changes.
“This is worse than the 4 & 5yos. Who sits in the corner and makes this stuff up?”
A lot of small time owners and breeders also feel like they have drawn the short straw.
“The Jewels was the only thing we could dream about without ‘paying up’ and now it has been made that much harder.”
One Breeder went as far to say “I will no longer be breeding from any of my mares.”
Thirteen horse fields at Cambridge over a mile were also a major talking point, with many arguing that the horse that draws five on the second line may as well not bother turning up.
Personally, I can see what the board were trying to achieve and I think with some tweaks it can work. But, at the moment, they have got it a bit wrong.
Edward eager to set things straight
-Edward Rennell has fought back against the horseman by making some very good points and producing a strong argument.
“I think some of New Zealand’s horsemen have short memories,” said the CEO of Harness Racing New Zealand.
“To say the Australians wouldn’t do the same for us is completely wrong.
“Does Brent Mangos not remember Bettor Cover Lover getting automatic entry into the Ladyship Mile through winning the Queen Of Hearts?”
“It was the same with Jason Rulz. He automatically got a start in the Chariots Of Fire through winning the Pelorus Classic,” Rennell quickly pointed out.
“As I have already said the changes are expected to grow interest and increase the revenue base.
Rennell said the amount Australians are betting annually on New Zealand harness racing is less than both of the other codes.
“Domestically we have double the turnover of the Greyhounds, so it is quite concerning.”
“This is just one of the steps we plan on taking to rectify this over the next few months.”
“Why is everyone so scared of a bit of competition?”
“No one is complaining about Themightyquinn or Caribbean Blaster coming over for the New Zealand Cup are they?
Rennell said they might look at making the announcement for the four-year-old category in April to try and lure over the gun Australian for the Messenger and Taylor Mile.
“It is not going to be a free pass at all. Each and every Australian that makes the fields will have had to really earn their spot. It’s not like they are going to be coming in fresh, they will have raced as much, if not more, than our horses.”
Rennell said that anyone who says having Australian interest in the Jewels won’t increase turnover is blatantly wrong.
And T.A.B Bookmaker Steve Richardson was quick to back him up.
“From the Harness Book perspective it will certainly help to create more wagering interest on the Jewels if a few of the leading aged Australian trained make the trip over.”
“Our top aged performers do tend to stifle win betting. Short priced favourites do have a great record in past Jewel events. Those odds on favourites have never been well received by the smaller win wagering customers and obviously neither by the 'book' as we struggle to sell any decent sized bets to offset and try to reduce the liability on the favourite.”
“If a top Australian runner comes over it should help to on average increase the odds on NZ favourite by 20%,” he added.
Richardson said that there had definitely been increased betting in the 3yo Ruby and 2yo Emerald last season because of the presence of Blitzthemcalder and Allblack Stride.
“From the trading point of view with those two in the markets you can feel the hype that they generate from the wagering patterns of our customers. Both of those runners were sent out the favourites which enabled us to offer better odds on the NZ runners. Neither won so the punters who backed the respective winners of those events benefited from Australia's presence at the Jewels,” Richardson concluded.
by Mitchell Robertson