Two North Island-based harness racing identities have spoken out in support of prominent owner and sponsor John Street who this week told Harnesslink he would be withdrawing all of his sponsorship following next month's Franklin Cup.
Auckland-based Robert Famularo, who has been Owner-of-the-Year in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, said he understood Street's frustration, especially when it came to the Franklin Cup.
"John is one of the nicest men in racing and he's always got a smile on his face, so for him to come out and say something like this, then he must be annoyed. I respect him for the way he cheers his horses on, no matter if it's Sir Lincoln or a low-graded pacer.
"The industry badly needs people like John, but I can't blame him for speaking out. For him to do that it must be serious," Famularo told Harnesslink.
Famularo believed the Franklin Trotting Club had its ‘head in the sand' when it came to the programming of its feature race every November.
"Who in their right mind would want to line their horse up from a handicap in a two mile standing start event a couple of weeks after racing in two of the most gruelling races (the New Zealand Cup and the New Zealand Free-For-All) in three days?
"Some clubs in New Zealand really have to look at their racing schedules and Franklin is one of them - especially when their main sponsor is now pulling the plug," Famularo said.
He realised that Harness Racing New Zealand was committed to some standing start events in the South Island, but in the North Island races had become more uniform and there were more mobile events.
He also believed that the Harness Jewels format had to be changed.
"Both Ashburton and Cambridge should be staging 1700m mobile events and that way even quicker mile times would result. There should also be a preferential draw system with the top qualifiers deciding what barrier they want to start from.
"They do this in the United States, it's fun and it works well. I think harness racing administrators have to show more business acumen and give the owner and punter more of a fair go.
"The industry needs to adapt with the times and be prepared to change. I approached the Franklin Trotting Club last year regarding their Cup and what I said fell on deaf ears.
"I maintain the Franklin Cup is the most ludicrous race on the entire racing calendar. It's timing is poor and it definitely needs to be a mobile start. I totally agree with what John said in your article," Famularo said.
Meanwhile Pukekohe trainer Steven Reid was also against standing starts.
"The old colonial breed of 20 to 30 years ago could handle longer distances and standing starts, but today the majority of our racehorses are American bred and are bred for speed.
"Long distant racing here stuffs them up and takes a hell of a lot out of them, whereas they seem to back up a lot easier from mobile miles.
"I am speaking from experience because when I raced Fake Denario six times at the Meadowlands he backed up perfectly and went 1:50 or less every night," Reid said.
He said standing starts in New Zealand were not consistent and the way the horses were let go depended on who started the races.
"In the South island the horses are allowed to walk up and in other areas it's different. And it always seems the good horses always have to pay the price for the bad actors. Standing starts are a thing of the past and it's time they went," Reid said.
By ‘bad actors' Reid was referring to unruly horses who continually spoilt it for the more expensive and highly fancied pacers and trotters.
"The starters put all their attention on the bad actors and the good horses are left standing on the same spot for long periods of time. And then when the bad actors are right to go the good horses are left standing there because they have been waiting for too long.
"I have friends that bet big and they hate that. And sadly we are losing their dollar to other forms of racing.
"I realise the pool size of fields makes it very hard here not having standing starts, and there might be a neeed for them where there's more horses down south, but unless we get rid of them we are just snubbing the owners and punters - and to me they are the two most important people in harness racing," Reid said.
Meanwhile, North Canterbury trainer and the South Island's Harnesslink reporter Steve Dolan believed there was a place for standing starts in New Zealand, but he believed people had the right to choose between starting in them or looking elsewhere..
"There has been and always will be room for stands on the racing calendar, but my horse (Franco Jamar) is now racing in Australia simply because I want to avoid standing starts.
"That's why he's not in the Cup. Why should I risk racing in a stand when there's good money to be made most weeks in mobile starts in Australia," Dolan said.
"It's an owner's prerogative," he added.
FOOTNOTE: The Franklin Trotting Club did not respond to our requests for comments on the this story.
By Duane RANGER (editor)
The 2010 Franklin Trotting Cup: