Officials under fire on the "Harness Racing Jewels"

09:04 PM 15 Sep 2013 NZST
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Harness Jewels
Harness Jewels

Officials under fire for deciding to invite top Australians into the Harness Jewels say that by raising the profile of harness racing across the Tasman the industry will benefit from stimulated betting turnover.

But trainers, almost to a man, fear all that will happen is a large slice of the $1.2 million in prizemoney will be lost to struggling owners here and the code will see very little in return.

Leading Canterbury trainer David Butt was so incensed by news last week that one top Australian will be given a free ticket into each of the nine age group categories, he called Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell to find out exactly how much the industry stood to gain.

And just as he suspected there was no financial robustness behind the pie-in-the-sky promises.

In a climate where owners are selling their horses because they can’t win enough money to pay their bills,  Butt figured there had to be tens of thousands of reasons for scuttling their one big payday.

But, incredibly, Butt discovered it would take a massive increase in betting to even see just a few thousand dollars find its way into the code’s coffers.

It’s a complicated formula, but in essence for every dollar the Australians bet on the NZ tote, the code gets 2.5%.
So even if the Australians bet an extra $100,000 on the Jewels meeting, following their horses, it will lead to only another $2500 being earned by harness racing.

The chances of that happening appear slim given the Australians bet $733,382 on the 2012 Jewels and just  1.4% or $10,282 more this year with their two big guns Blitzthemcalder and Allblack Stride running.

The figures shoot down the wild, unsubstantiated claims made in some quarters that Australian turnover on this year’s Jewels ‘‘went through the roof ‘‘because of Allblack Stride and Blitzthemcalder.

The Australians didn’t even bet proportionately more in the two races that featured their own horses - the $74,934 they wagered on Allblack Stride’s race ranked it only sixth of the nine races. (New Zealanders bet $118,617 on our tote, fourth highest of the day).

And the Aussies bet $86,315  on Blitzthemcalder’s race, the fourth highest of the day, compared with the Kiwis tote spend of $118,201, the fifth highest. 

Butt said while the Harness Jewels was the highlight of  the New Zealand season, it hardly rated with the Aussies who had a plethora of feature races to bet on each week.

Our races screened only on the Sky2 channel and ran the risk of  not being shown at all if they clashed with other Australian races.

Rennell said it was wrong to get ‘‘too hung up’’ on Australian turnover increasing, which was only one of the predicted gains of getting Australian horses here.

‘‘The biggest impact on turnover might be domestically if we can raise the profile of the meeting outside the core harness punters.

‘‘If we can turn over another $100,000 here, it would be worth another $16,250 to the club under the payout formula.’’

The chances of that happening also appear remote given off course betting on the Jewels at Ashburton this year was $1,185,344, down $111,593 or 8.6% on 2012 at Cambridge. Fixed odds betting also fell from $534,740 in 2012 to $518,588 this year.

Claims that Kiwis bet more with the bookies because of the two Australians  also lack foundation.

Blitzthemcalder’s seeming domination over Royal Aspirations, Prime Power and co in the Three-Year-Old Trot had the opposite effect - the $41,873 wagered on fixed odds the lowest amount bet of all nine races.

By comparison, last year  Kiwis bet a lot more on the harness book, $63,355, on the Three-Year-Old trot won by Cyclone U Bolt - with no Australians in the field.

Rennell said he believed ‘‘playing on the Kiwi-Aussie rivalry’’ would be crucial in the future marketing of the Jewels.
‘‘Do we want the event to stay the same and not grow? 

‘The key motivation in inviting the Australians is to increase the profile and status of the event.

‘‘And if we can do that it will be more attractive to sponsors and the mainstream media. We’ll be able to achieve promotion without paying for advertising.

‘‘The cost of buying space in Australian newspapers is unattainable but we need to find smart ways of exposing our form to punters over there.’’

Harness racing lagged well behind the other two codes in the crucial market of Australian betting, Rennell said.

Australians bet $297 million on New Zealand gallops (2954 races) each year compared with $178 million on the greyhounds (4876 races) and just $118 million on the trots (2637 races).

The turnover contributed $21 million to the total of $137 million that the New Zealand Racing Board distributed to the industry, he said.

Rennell said no travelling subsidy would be paid to Australians who took up the invitations.

‘‘We looked at that but decided no. The travel costs of South Island horses going up to Cambridge next year will be significant, we can’t treat the Aussies any differently.’’

HRNZ would be looking to stagger the naming of Australian invitees, Rennell said, hopefully timing each to allow horses to cross the Tasman earlier and contest other lead-up races.

Four-year-olds would be named in time to allow them to contest races like the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Auckland, fillies in time to run in races like the Oaks.

Butt, however, says you can kiss goodbye to seeing Australians running here before the Jewels when they no longer have to earn stakemoney here to qualify.

Barry Lichter

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