Day At The Track

Harness racing loses its top presenter

05:00 PM 03 Jun 2020 NZST
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Greg O’Connor,Harness racing
Greg O’Connor … sad to be leaving Trackside after nearly 10 years.

Every day for the last 10 years that he’s been at Trackside, Greg O’Connor says he’s never felt like he was going to work.

New Zealand racing’s greatest presenter thought he was blessed to be doing what he loved, bringing the emotion-charged stories of racing to the viewers.

But sitting in a studio, 250 metres from Addington raceway last week, the stark reality of his future struck home. And it wasn’t one that he liked.

So today he became the latest victim of the TAB’s demolition of its broadcasting arm, opting to take redundancy.

“It’s just not working for me now,” says O’Connor, 47. “It hit home that night when Blair (Orange) drove his 2000th winner and I wasn’t there to capture the moment. I was sitting in a cold environment thinking this is what it’s going to be like from now.

“It’s never felt like work for me but it does now. I’ve loved getting out and about and telling the stories of the industry but all of the tools we’ve had are no longer available and none of the team are here any more.”

With the Racing Industry Transition Agency having all but stopped presenters working on course and dismantled their production crews, O’Connor says he’s virtually a “Lone Ranger” now.

“Whale’s gone, and he was the biggest driver of turnover, Mick Guerin’s gone and so is Maryanne Twentyman who had vast experience in broadcasting and gave me the confidence to be able to do it.”

Harness racing’s top three presenters, from left, Craig “The Whale” Thompson, Mick Guerin and now Greg O’Connor have all gone as a result of the TAB’s drastic cost-cutting.

Not for O’Connor the drudgery of reading out the dividends for the next race at some obscure venue in Australia.

“When you’ve had what I’ve had, it’s a big drop and change. Some can accept it and keep taking the money but I’m not one of them.

“I like helping people and am passionate about what I do -whether it’s interviewing a new driver and helping develop them or helping a racing club using the expertise I’ve picked up in the last 25 years.”

O’Connor is sad that he won’t be able to tell heartfelt stories like Terrill Charles’ win in the 2019 New Zealand Cup with Dee And Gee, which came two years after she was diagnosed with cancer.

He won’t miss the terrible day when he had to announce on air that jockey Ashlee Mundy had died.

But he will miss the good times he’s shared with some of his friends - like covering Todd Mitchell’s fourth New Zealand Trotting Cup win, or Tony Shaw’s Cup win with Yulestar, or their Interdominion triumph.

“Those are the moments that bring people to the races, rather than just those who want to back horses race to race.

“But when we’re not on track and when all your tools aren’t there, how do you tell those stories and how do you increase turnover?”

O’Connor says his own suggestions, and those of his colleagues fell on deaf ears during the consultation process, and nothing changed.

“I’m hopeful the hierarchy might recognise how important that coverage is at some stage. Once it’s gone you can’t relive it.

“Am I sad I won’t be part of that process any longer? Of course. I’ve tried to portray the image of harness racing as a great sport, and I genuinely believe it is.

“But while the decision to go wasn’t an easy one, it’s the right one for me and the family and the timing is right.

“My wife Karen has a team of 10 young horses and after my dad passed away a couple of years ago, she needs a hand. There’s a fair bit of shit to pick up every day.

“And honestly another big part of my decision is that I don’t want to miss my kids growing up.

“Every Friday night I was going to be stuck in the studio covering Addington and that’s when Flynn plays football. He’s nearly 15, is a pretty handy player and I want to watch his games.”

O’Connor was absent, covering the Interdominion Finals last year when his daughter Maia, 15, was dancing in her end of year production.

O’Connor says he’s lucky that he’s reasonably secure financially, and while he’ll definitely need a job, he doesn’t have to rush into one.

“That’s what COVID’s done for all of us, we’ve been able to take a step back and reassess things.

“I’d be keen to get back into administration and I know there’s a job coming up at Addington that hasn’t been listed yet and if that happened, I’d certainly be happy.”

O’Connor has years of experience in marketing and promotion, spending the best part of the 1990s at Addington, before a three year stint at Harness Racing New Zealand and time at Jade Stadium as its commercial and marketing manager.

“I would have been at Trackside 10 years in August and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve had a great run and there are no regrets.”

It’s the racing industry that will regret O’Connor’s loss. His unflappable nature, knowledge of both harness and gallops and it’s players was unmatched.


Reprinted with permission of Barry Lichter

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