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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

Terror To Love won the ultimate accolade at Saturday's Horse of the Year awards but the champion's owner, Terry McDonald, was critical that the voting system denied boom four-year-old Christen Me any recognition after a stellar season. And in a gracious gesture seldom seen in the cut and thrust of racing, McDonald said he would happily give the four and five-year-old category prize to the connections of Christen Me. McDonald, honoured by 400 guests at Christchurch's CBS Arena, said Harness Racing New Zealand had to go back to the old system of four-year-olds and five-year-olds having their own categories, just like it scrapped plans to amalgamate the two age groups in the Harness Jewels this year after an outcry. "It's crazy not having a separate award for the four-year-olds - they shouldn't have to go up against me with a dual New Zealand Cup winner. "For what Christen Me did for harness racing this year it's bloody madness not to give him any recognition. He did everything and gets nothing. It's just not fair and I feel bad about it." McDonald said he did not tackle races like the Noel Taylor Mile and Messenger because of his stance that five-year-olds shouldn't encroach on traditional four-year-old features when they had a smorgasbord of other races to contest. McDonald said while Terror To Love beat Christen Me the only time they clashed, in the Summer Cup at Addington in February, the only time the younger horse had not won in nine starts since, was when he had to be pulled out of a race in March, when his wheel came off the rim of his sulky. The votes were clearcut in the combined four and five-year-old pacers' section, Terror To Love taking 17 to Christen Me's five, and Auckland Cup winner Themightyquinn's one. Terror To Love also saw off superstar three-year-old Adore Me for the Pacer of the Year title, with 17 votes to the filly's 11 and Christen Me's four. The voting was almost identical in the Harness Horse of the Year category, Terror To Love scoring 16 votes to Adore Me's 12 and Christen Me's four. by Barry Lichter (Sunday Star Times) *Elusive Chick's co-owner Grey Ayers was also unhappy about the change in the system. "Any other year we would have been given Four-Year-Old Mare of the Year but because of the changes we had to compete against Bettor Cover Lover. "Why fix something that's not broken? An award like that would have been great to go to the breeding paddock with. Now they will probably resort back to the old system, meaning we are the only ones who have missed out. But, the question is who made the ridiculous changes in the first place?  

Trainers stung by bicarb allegations want changes in the RIU testing. New Zealand Sunday Star Times Racing editor Barry Lichter investigates TRAINERS UNDER investigation after their charges returned high bicarbonate levels are adamant the Racing Integrity Unit must change the way it uses its new hand-held blood testing unit. Harness racing officials were stunned when the scourge of the 1990s looked like it had returned with positives declared at three successive Sunday meetings in Canterbury. @ At Blenheim on June 23,  hobby trainer Neville Gorrie’s maiden Mattjestic Rebeck tested high after running third @ At Rangiora on June 30, Valhalla was over the threshold when running last for highly respected amateur driver Gavin Cook and @ At Timaru on July 7, Wally’s Girl was over after winning for trainers Jamie Keast and Henriette Westrum. Cook, stunned by the result and 100 per cent sure he did nothing to cause it, wants to know why the RIU is not operating the new i-STAT device as it was first touted, when former RIU boss Cameron George promoted it in May last year as the way to drug-free racing. The advantage of the unit is that it can quickly analyse a drop of blood, so officials know before a race, not days afterwards, if any horses have high readings. Trainers can then be given the option of scratching, protecting punters. But none of the trainers were given that option and stewards were secretive about the levels. Cook, the 2008 world amateur driving champion, said had he known Valhalla had returned a level of 39 when first tested, he would certainly have pulled him out of the Rangiora race. Cook said he actually saw the number 39 on the side of stipe Kylie Williams’ clipboard after the first test and asked if that was his horse’s level. Williams replied no,  and quickly hid it from view, explaining how they did not reveal levels because the confirmatory lab test was usually down a point or two on that  detected on the hand device, because of a number of variables, including temperature fluctuations. ‘‘My level was eventually declared at 37.3, but I was never provided with that information so they [the RIU] were complicit in their failure to protect the public. ‘‘I could have minimised the damage to my reputation by removing the horse from the race. I would still have been charged but it would have been viewed in a different light because the damage was minimised.’’ Cook said he’d been told stewards would not scratch a horse themselves based on the hand-held reading, because it might leave them liable to action if the lab tests later came back with a bicarb level under the 35 threshold. He likens it to a motorist returning a positive breath test, but being told by police to go on their way, with nothing done until the lab results of a blood test came back. ‘‘We should be told ‘here are the results, if you want to race, you understand the implications’. I knew I’d done nothing so if the level had been 35, knowing the lab test would be lower, I might have felt comfortable in still running.’’ Cook was also critical of the RIU not taking further tests, say 90 minutes after Valhalla raced, which was common procedure in the US, to determine if the level was still high. This too, was signalled by George in 2012 as one of the advantages of the hand-held unit. Cook said he now has a lot of apologies to offer to fellow trainers, who have pleaded  innocence after high bicarb tests. ‘‘I’ve always sat on the sideline and thought there’s no way you can get that high a level without tubing a horse. But I now know that’s not true. ‘‘I’ve never stomach tubed a horse in my life, I don’t know how to. It actually scares me – I’d probably stick it in the wrong hole and kill the horse.’’ Cook said while he would have to deal with the stigma of a high bicarb, he had done nothing different with Valhalla than with all his other horses, whose bicarb levels  tested between 31.5 and 33. ‘‘I’m competing at a level where that sort of thing [milkshaking] is not warranted. I’m in the shitter grade with below average horses.’’ Valhalla had been in Cook’s stable for only two weeks since he drove him to win at Oamaru when trained by Geoff and Jude Knight. ‘‘I’ve since found out that the Knights had the same trouble with this horse soon after they got him. He returned a high level, not high enough to be charged, but they were extremely nervous about it. He never tested high again. ‘‘I can only put it down to the stress of a change of environment, the horse does get himself wound up. He was very stressed when I got him to the track that day too.’’ Cook, who floated the horse to Rangiora, later learned the eight-year-old was used to travelling side on in a big horse truck. But worse, he loaded him on the left, which he hated. ‘‘He was scrambling and nearly falling the whole way . I slowed right down but he arrived all sweaty and shaking. ‘‘He felt like a completely different horse in the race, galloped out the back of the gate and didn’t show any gate speed or zip. ‘‘At Oamaru I went to the line with horse in hand and didn’t have to ask him for an effort.’’ Cook said when he had blood tests taken the day after Rangiora his vet reported he’d never seen a horse with a higher haemoglobin level. ‘‘That means he was tied up, and he was dehydrated as well.’’ He thought he had Valhalla back on an even keel again when he took him in to Addington for further tests last Friday night and he tested between 31 and 33. ‘‘The horse was calm and the results were all fine. That gave me a lot of confidence until they told me the levels were 36 in the lab. ‘I’m confused and I think it’s starting to confuse them too.’’ Cook agreed the i-STAT unit was great as a screening device, saving the industry money by reducing the number of lab tests needed. But Star-Times investigations have revealed that each iSTAT test is actually more expensive than the same test in the laboratory. Only one of the machines is in use in the country, and its findings have no validity under the rules.   SCOURGE OF RACING The illegal practice of ‘‘milkshaking’’ racehorses surfaced in the early 1990s.   Unscrupulous trainers would stomach tube their horses on raceday with bicarbonate of soda. It had the effect of delaying the onset of lactic acid in the muscles so horses could run faster for longer. Northern trainer Neil Brady spent 10 years and $250,000 trying to prove the testing system was flawed. In 2001, instead of testing an entire field and scratching horses five points over the mean, a threshold was set. Deliberate cases now are rare but rogue results continue to cause grief. READINGS UP AND DOWN LIKE A YOYO AMBERLEY TRAINER Jamie Keast  doesn’t have a lot of faith in the bicarbonate testing regime after his experience at Timaru earlier this month. It came as no surprise when stipe Kylie Williams took blood from his trotter Wally’s Girl on July 7 – his mare had been tested at both her two previous starts, three nights earlier at Addington, and also at Nelson in June. When Williams came back for a second test 25 minutes after the first, he became a little concerned, but proceeded out on to the track and won the race. ‘‘As I came back Kylie approached me and said ‘you’re fine, the level has dropped’. But she wouldn’t tell me what it was. ‘‘I went home and thought all was good but then a few days later they told me the horse was high.’’ The first test taken on the iSTAT hand-held device read 35, and retested at 35.7 in the laboratory. Inexplicably, the second test on the iSTAT was 34 but the lab reported it as 37. ‘‘We can’t work out how there can be such a discrepancy,’’ said Keast, who has sought the advice of experts. ‘‘They tell me the iSTAT should me more precise, if anything, because it is taken instantly with fewer variables, whereas the lab test is done days later after travel and temperature changes.’’ Yet in both the samples taken from Gavin Cook’s horse Valhalla, and Neville Gorrie’s Mattjestic Rebeck, the level at the lab was lower. Keast said it was with some trepidation that he took Wally’s Girl to Addington to race last Friday night. He had made sure she was well hydrated, as advised by his experts, but had had no time to guard against another factor which he believed caused the high level. ‘‘I don’t want to say too much about it yet – we’re pretty sure we know but being able to prove it is another thing.’’ Keast said he had set the mare for the Golden Girls Final and, knowing he would lose his heat win at Timaru, he had to line up at Addington. Wally’s Girl tested at 33 and 30, but Keast said he had no idea what that would translate to in the lab. ‘‘When they turned up last week and tested her resting in the paddock, she was 32, yet the lab recording was 35.1. Keast said Wally’s Girl, while excitable, was nowhere near as bad as Gorrie’s horse Mattjestic Rebeck. ‘‘I’ve known Neville for years and there’s no way he’s done anything. ‘‘If they’d gone to Neville and said you were 35 on the first day and we’re going to test you again, he could have scratched and taken his horse home to check it out.’’ That’s exactly what Gorrie says he would have done. He’s even too frightened to race the horse again, until he gets to the bottom of it. ‘‘I haven’t worked the horse for a couple of weeks and I didn’t eat for a week worrying about this,’’ Gorrie said. ‘‘Everyone around here knows I’m not a drugs cheat. I can swear to God I’ve done nothing.’’ Gorrie, who has pottered round with horses for nearly 30 years, but officially trained for only the last five,  says he took extra precautions on the second day at Marlborough. ‘‘My horse gets really wound up and sweats excessively and after he got really worked up on the first day I put him into a wee pen, and geared him up at the last minute to keep him calm as long as possible.’’ It made no difference. Mattjestic Rebeck tested 37 on the iSTAT and was confirmed at 36.3 in the lab. Keast said advice from experts he had consulted was that the vials of blood should be put on ice when  transported to the laboratory. Star-Times investigations suggest that is not done.  While samples are kept in fridges on racedays, and stored in fridges at the homes of  stewards before being couriered  to labs, they travel in normal packaging.    HIGH BICARBS A WORRY BUT NO NEED TO PANIC, SAY INDUSTRY REGULATORS INITIAL INVESTIGATIONS by the Racing Integrity Unit have found no common denominator among the three horses who have tested positive to bicarbonate in recent weeks. And, while Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell says it is concerning, there are no alarm bells going off just yet at harness headquarters in Christchurch. RIU general manager Mike Godber said while five recent caffeine positives in greyhounds have been traced to the Australian product Canine EPO, no feed additive had been implicated in the harness code so far. ‘‘Sometimes there is no pattern to these things. In the first six months of the RIU in 2011 there were 16 positives. In the next 12 months there were only eight. ‘‘It would be nice not to have more than one or two a year but there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary here.’’ The last person charged under the bicarbonate rule was Peter Scaife, who was fined $2000 after Innes Lad tested positive at 37.2 when 10th at Manawatu in February, 2012. During the case one scientific paper referred to said with a bicarb level of 37, the chance of an innocent trainer being convicted was less than two million to one. An appeal by the RIU that the penalty was inadequate, and Scaife should be disqualified for four months, was dismissed. Godber said the three recent positives were the first since the hand-held unit was introduced little more than 12 months ago. Between 2500 and 3000 bicarb tests were done in a year in the harness code and up to 1000 a year in thoroughbreds, on top of 9000 urine tests in all three codes. While it was originally proposed that trainers would be given the option to scratch their horses after a high iSTAT test, Godber said that was when it was believed the hand-held units would be calibrated the same as those in the laboratory. Experience since, both here and in Australia,  had shown levels could be significantly different, and New Zealand had followed the Australians in deciding not to charge trainers on the first screening test. ‘‘But giving trainers the option of scratching is something we will now consider as part of these investigations.’’ Meanwhile, Rennell reported that, after a review of the bicarbonate statistics, which showed an average level of 30.7 mmol/l over the last 12 years, the board decided last week not to tamper with the present threshold level of 35. It had been proposed that New Zealand raise the level to 36 to come into line with the international standard, but the board believed the present level sent the right signals to the industry. Godber said to his knowledge no trainer had been charged anyway under a level of 36.2, because of an inbuilt margin of error. Under HRNZ guidelines on graduated penalties for TCO2 offences, levels between 36.2 and 37.2 can be expected to incur a fine of $500; between 37.3 and 38.5 it rises to $2000 and/or a suspension of three months; and for levels above 38.5 a fine of $5000 and/or disqualification of up to six months. JULY 22: GORRIE FRIGHTENED TO RACE HIS HORSE AGAIN Rangiora hobby trainer Neville Gorrie is too frightened to race his horse again until he can solve the riddle of how it came to return a high bicarbonate test - and he says a harsh penalty could be enough to see him give the game away. Gorrie is one of three trainers whose horses have tested high in three successive weeks in Canterbury, his pacer Mattjestic Rebeck returning a level of 36.3mmol/litre before running third at Blenheim on June 23. The Sunday Star-Times revealed the Racing Integrity Unit is also investigating high bicarb tests from horses trained by fellow Canterbury trainers Gavin Cook and Jamie Keast at the two following Sunday meetings at Rangiora and Timaru. But while Harness Racing New Zealand is concerned at the spate of high bicarbs, after the practice of milkshaking almost brought harness racing to its knees in the 1990s, it says it is too soon to conclude the problem has resurfaced. Cook, one of the country’s most respected amateur drivers, and a former world champion, said he now understood the plight of previous trainers who had sworn their innocence and he categorically denied giving Valhalla anything when he ran last at Rangiora.  Keast has serious concerns over the validity of the testing, given the second test from his mare Wally’s Girl at Timaru fell to 34 on the RIU’s hand held device but when it was retested at the laboratory had somehow jumped to 37. Gorrie says he is determined to get to the bottom of why his seven start maiden tested high on both days at the Marlborough meeting, narrowly escaping breaking the threshold twice.  ‘‘I haven’t worked the horse for a couple of weeks and I didn’t eat for a week worrying about this,’’ Gorrie said. ‘‘Everyone around here knows I’m not a drugs cheat. I can swear to God I’ve done nothing.’’ Gorrie, who has pottered round with horses he breeds for nearly 30 years, but officially trained for only the last five, bagging two winners, says he took extra precautions on the second day of the Marlborough meeting after his horse’s level was raised when second on the opening day. ‘‘My horse gets really wound up and sweats excessively - he’s completely different from any of the hundreds of horses I’ve worked with in lots of leading stables. ‘‘The sweat used to drip off him. He has got better but after he got really worked up on the first day I put him into a wee pen on the second day and geared him up at the last minute to keep him calm as long as possible. ‘‘The first test they took at 10.30am on the second day came back 35 and they took another one just before the race which was 37 on the hand held machine.’’ But Gorrie said, like Cook with his own horse nervous horse Valhalla, he was never told the levels on the day or given the option of scratching Mattjestic Rebeck. When the hand held i-STAT device was introduced a little more than 12 months ago, the then RIU boss Cameron George declared its great benefit was trainers could be given the choice of pulling their horses out, thus protecting punters. Gorrie said after the high level was reported the next week, he removed all the salts from his feed and gave the horse only hard feed for the next five days. ‘‘I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the salts though. Even though I mix my own I had them tested by my vet a couple of years ago and they were fine.’’ When Mattjestic Rebeck was taken across the road to the Rangiora course and tested again, after nearly a week on plain feed. his levels were consistently high at 35 and 36. Because the horse was sweating badly again, Gorrie was told to take him home where he still tested at 35. Gorrie then asked the RIU to take the horse away and conduct more tests, and a week later the levels fluctuated between 32 and 35, he said. Gorrie said he knew RIU officials had interviewed his Marlborough driver Jamie Keast, whose own horse Wally’s Girl tested high when winning two weeks later at Timaru. ‘‘But Jamie had nothing to do with my horse up there, I know he never touched him.’’ Gorrie said he’d since heard of another frustrated trainer who had shot two horses who were returning high levels. Another trainer had advised him to try giving his horse two preliminaries to calm him down on raceday. ‘‘But you couldn’t do that with this horse. A woman I know has a natural herbal product I’m going to try but I can’t race him if his levels might still be high.’’ Gorrie said in researching previous bicarb cases he’d discovered one judge described how the system would inevitably catch a few innocent trainers whose horses’ bicarb levels fell outside the bell curve normal distribution of the horse population. Gorrie says that isn’t  fair and if the fine comes to several thousand dollars as was now being suggested, ‘‘that will tip me over the edge.’’ RIU general manager Mike Godber said the three recent bicarb positives were the first since the hand held unit was introduced a little more than 12 months ago. While it was originally proposed that trainers would be given the option to scratch their horses after a high iSTAT test, Godber said that was when it was believed the hand held units would be calibrated the same as those in the laboratory. Experience since both here and in Australia  had shown levels could be significantly different and New Zealand had followed the Australians in deciding not to charge trainers on the first screening test. ‘‘But giving trainers the option of scratching is something we will now consider as part of these investigations.’’ by Barry Lichter (SUNDAY STAR TIMES)

Racing stewards praised the heroic efforts of top reinsman Todd Mitchell after he chased and caught a horse whose unconscious driver was being dragged after a sickening crash.

A crucial meeting on Wednesday by harness leaders will consider changes to the handicapping system, which trainers say is crippling the industry. Racing Editor for the Sunday Star Times Barry Lichter identifies the problems.

Cambridge harness racing trainer Nicky Chilcott has been convicted on five charges but discharged without penalty, the judge rejecting entirely any suggestion that she is a drugs cheat as depicted in the media.

After covering some of the biggest drugs stories in harness racing in a career of more than 30 years, Fairfax Media Racing Editor BARRY LICHTER found himself in the middle of one he'd always dreaded.

In the end it was the whistling that Auckland harness racing trainer Bunty Hughes didn't like.

The question of how one of the most commonly used therapeutic substances for racehorses for the last 30 years suddenly tested positive for arsenic lies at the heart of a judicial review which has opened in the High Court at Auckland.

Sir Lincoln might have won his workout at Alexandra Park on Saturday (December 1) , but his harness racing co-owner John Street isn't convinced the star pacer is back to his Auckland Cup-winning best.

One harness racing fan at Alexandra Park this Friday night (December 7) will get to experience the buzz of owning champion trotter I Can Doosit - and clean up on the punt - in a promotion called "You Can Doosit".

It's a measure of how steeled John Curtin is to let Auckland Reactor do his own talking now, that he hasn't until today revealed the trials and tribulations which beset the champ's last campaign.

Frank Cooney is tougher than old boots - and even though harness racing's "Mr Nice Guy" almost lost his life with two brain bleeds in a horrific accident at Alexandra Park on July 13, the 62-year-old certainly isn't giving the sport away.

New Zealand's Racing Integrity Unit seems hell bent on a path to destroy harness racing, says leading vets bamboozled at why an amnesty period has not been introduced for arsenic, like other substances before it.

Canterbury harness racing trainers threatened to boycott this weekend's race meetings amid fears they would fall foul of the new Hong Kong testing regime.

The New Zealand Racing Integrity Unit's bid to catch drug cheats by sending samples to Hong Kong has instead unleashed a giant which threatens to damage the entire harness racing, galloping and greyhound industry.

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