The 2014 edition of the Harness Jewels at Cambridge on Saturday had all the ingredients for a great days harness racing. Fields full of our future stars made all the more interesting by awkward draws for a lot of the favoured runners.
Harness Racing New Zealand and the host club Cambridge had tirelessly promoted the event and the media had played their part with extensive coverage in the lead up to Saturday.
To top it all off the weather came to the party with a brilliantly fine warm day for the end of May.
So where were all the people? Everything else about the day had been scripted inch perfect but the crowd numbers must have seriously disappointed the organizers.
There should have been a real buzz around the course but if anything it was slightly subdued.
I seriously doubt that there was anything else that Harness Racing New Zealand or the club could have done to improve the product on show on Saturday.
No stone was left unturned and it showed.
But still the public never came in the numbers that their efforts deserved. So where to from here with the Harness Jewels?
When you think back to the first edition at Ashburton and that cup day like atmosphere that prevailed that day to what we experienced on Saturday and you realise that changes are necessary.
Kudos must go to the management at Harness Racing New Zealand for the whole Harness Jewels concept and its development to date. It has been a fantastic success for the industry but appears to have levelled out in its development.
Everyone within harness racing has a view of what should be done to take it to the next level so for what its worth here is our two cents worth.
(1) The gate charge of $10 has got to go. There is no bigger turn off for the general public than an entry fee to an event such as the Harness Jewels. A average working couple with a couple of children having to pay $40 to just get in the gate is a big turn off for the general public. We are trying to promote the industry to the wider community and hopefully entice some new participants to our industry and we won't do that if we can't get them in the gate.
(2) At present the Harness Jewels are rotated between Ashburton and Cambridge. Ashburton to recognize the major part Canterbury plays in the industry in New Zealand and Cambridge does the same for the Waikato and Auckland regions.
But there are three major regions in harness racing in New Zealand and the third one Southland is missing out badly at the moment.
Before you scoff at the idea of holding a Harness Jewels meeting in Southland lets look at the positives of such a proposal.
Harness Racing in Southland is booming at the present. They have some of the best tracks for mile racing in Australasia and a public that love their harness racing.
If we were to take the Harness Jewels to Southland, the whole area would get behind the day. Some from the North may question the travel but no one raised it on Saturday as Clark Barron and Kirk Larsen went around at Cambridge.
(3) We do need the Australians involved. At present we do not offer any travel subsidy to the invitees but maybe we should for the first pick in each division. We need Australians betting on our races. It needs to become a habit for them. Having some of their own horses to bet on would be a good start.
The Harness Racing Jewels have been a winner for our industry but with a little bit of tweaking they could really develop into something really special.