Horses and Humans have a long, long association. The harness racing industry in New Zealand today continues that fruitful association in a way that is a major source of recreation and entertainment.
There is much to celebrate in the racing world but one aspect is its contribution is its connectivity. Harness racing is a real and tangible industry. In a world that is increasingly virtual, harness racing has a quality all of its own.
There are many reasons for the enduring appeal of horse racing but one is that in racing something happens in the real world- not just on a screen. There are real people and real horses with all the unpredictability and excitement that goes with that. Moreover, racing appeals to people of all ages and has great visual qualities.
What cannot be said is that the racing industry requires a rich array of skills and expertise that derive from working with horses. Also, working safely with high performance horses calls on a set of skills that no computer can possibly emulate. And there are many people who are passionate about this work.
Creating a comprehensive model of the contribution that the industry makes to the economy is challenging. In addition to those who derive their living directly from the racing sector, there is also a wide range of associated activities in areas such as accommodation, food and, travel that generates substantial employment. This complexity means that that it is easy to discount or underestimate how significant the sector is.
Harness racing has great fundamentals. That does not mean that the industry does not face some serious challenges. What is does mean is that each of the separate elements, the components, of the racing package have to be carefully adjusted to prevailing conditions. These conditions including the cost structure are dynamic. Accordingly, one area that has to be monitored carefully is the level of stakes because the balance between risk and reward is often a fine line.
There is a multiplicity of costs associated with harness racing from training and transport to attending to a horse’s teeth! Specific costs will differ somewhat from owner to owner but it would not be unrealistic to estimate the annual cost per horse is much higher that many outsiders would imagine. That figure has to be related to the stakes in a maiden race and provide sufficient incentive or encouragement to owners and trainers? For the long term health of the industry stakes will have to be appropriate and realistic to reflect the underlying cost structure of the industry.
Notwithstanding the challenges, there is every reason for confidence in the long term future of the harness racing industry as an important source of recreation and entertainment in New Zealand.
By Winston Peters