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He did it with Peak in 2013 and now Canterbury harness racing trainer Tim Butt is hoping another Swedish trotter named Daryl Boko can get him back into the big time. The five-year-old flew into New Zealand last weekend and will join Butt's Premier Stables in another week and, hopefully, be ready to contest the feature trotting races at cup time in November. He will be a welcome recruit for Butt who has just ended one of his quietest seasons since he started training, producing only 85 starters for just six wins.  Butt has been on the lookout for a replacement for Peak since he galloped out of the 2103 Dominion Handicap in only his third start here and was later found to have injured a hind suspensory ligament. It was a cruel blow for Butt and the syndicate which imported Peak and two other trotters from Scandinavia as Peak won his only two other starts, the Trotters' Flying Mile at Ashburton and NZ Free-for-all at Addington. "He was an awesome horse to drive and could have been anything," said Butt who attempted to bring Peak back but eventually retired him to stud, where at Alabar he is now attracting a lot of attention. Unable to buy one of the better trotters here, Butt also tried importing one from the United States in the well performed Imperial Count but that project foundered when the horse bled in his first race here, last September's Ordeal Cup. "We didn't know what we needed when we bought the last lot from Scandinavia but Peak proved up to the best and we didn't want to go below his standard this time. "Even though Kvintet Avenger also won a Group I race in Australia (the Trotters Cup at Menangle) you have to pay good money for the really good ones. "I didn't want an old horse, who'd done it already, I wanted a young, up-and-coming one, and they're not easy to get." Butt entrusted his search to Swedish trainer Sofia Arronson who worked for him here in 2006 and she eventually hit the jackpot securing Daryl Boko from Veijo Heiskanen for a sum well into six figures. Most of Butt's loyal owners who had shares in Peak have come in on Daryl Boko, with a few newcomers as well, Butt said. "I didn't initially want a gelding - with a stallion you always have a stud career to fall back on - but Peak was pretty colty and geldings actually settle in better to new surroundings. "Daryl Boko is five by northern hemisphere time but he's had only 28 starts and is untapped." Butt said he had clocked Daryl Boko in several of his races and he had run the equivalent of  2:25 for 2000 metres and 3:57 for 3200 metres, times which would win him any race in New Zealand. With nine wins, four seconds and three thirds and NZ$130,000 in stakes, Daryl Boko had shown he was a top flight contender, winning a heat of the Finnish Trotting Derby (2640m) last September and running third in the $NZ165,000 final. Peak had won the Denmark Derby, a slightly inferior quality race.  By Majestic Son, the leading age group trotting stallion in New Zealand, Daryl Boko was actually bred in the United States out of the Donerail mare Insider Trade. Butt said while Daryl Boko had been stuck in quarantine for four weeks in England and would have a fortnight couped up here before being released, he raced as recently as July 2 so his job of readying him for racing would be easier. "But to be racing by cup time we can't afford anything to go wrong." Butt said he was in a rebuilding phase after many horses had reached their mark and were sold. His team was down to only 14. "It's tough going. We've had to start again and the owners aren't there like they used to be - they don't want to compete against the big stables like Mark Purdon, Robert Dunn and Cran Dalgety. "But we have some nice young ones coming along." Butt served notice that he was on the front foot again, with two wins from his first two starters of the season in Franco Harrington and Prestine, placing him second on the premiership after two weeks. But he knows it will take a while again before he enjoys the highs of 2006 and 2007 when Flashing Red won the New Zealand Trotting Cup twice and, more recently, 2011 when he was seventh on the trainers' ladder with 47 wins racing high achievers like Vulcan, Stunin Cullen, Choise Achiever and Raglan. Barry Lichter Reproduced with permission of Stuff NZ - Check site here

It was almost fitting that trainer Cran Dalgety and driver Dexter Dunn were 19,000km away when Christen Me was honoured as the Harness Horse of the Year at the annual harness racing awards ceremony in Christchurch on Saturday night. Because for the last few weeks the stresses of long-distance travel have been challenging Dalgety as he's mapped out an ambitious early-season plan for the champion pacer. Dalgety joined pin-up driver Dunn in Ireland on Thursday where they are taking part in the Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend celebrations at Portmarnock Raceway in Dublin. It will be a welcome sojourn for Dalgety before the pending storm of racing which he admits will test even the country's most travelled campaigner in his seven-year-old season. Monday's trials at Addington will mark the beginning of the road for Christen Me which, if all goes to plan, will see the horse tilt at the New Zealand Cup on November 10 before flying 5000km to Perth for the gruelling  Interdominion series which starts just 17 days later. It's a challenging double but one which bookmakers have already signalled they believe he can achieve by posting him $3 favourite for the $750,000 Cup and $5.50 co-favourite for the $1.3 million Interdom Final on December 13. "I feel it's doable and I'm up for the challenge," said Dalgety who admitted it wasn't until he investigated all the travel options that the bold double was elevated from pipe-dream to reality. With West Australian officials keen to promote a tri-code carnival, flights from Melbourne had been laid on to transport horses inter-state, he said. "The only scary thing is they can't give us a 100 per cent guarantee on the exact dates but we still think we can do it. Getting a horse from the South Island to Perth is a big mission but he's had quite a bit of experience travelling now and I feel he has improved a little bit." Dalgety admitted it was a bit like "going into the unknown" tackling two feature carnivals so close together and so far apart but he is a dab hand at campaigning horses at a true Interdominion, and says he is excited by the return to the traditional format of three heats in a week and the final a week later. He last did it with top pacer Desperate Comment, who went into the 1996 Perth final as top points-scorer before running sixth to Young Mister Charles. And he repeated the dose the following year in Adelaide when Desperate Comment won two heats before running fifth to Our Sir Vancelot in the final. Everything Dalgety does in the next three months will be designed to have Christen Me primed for the dual assault – he's even planning on restricting him to only three lead-up races before the cup, compared with last year's four runs.  The first will be at Addington on September 5, when he will run in the $25,000 Holmes Vase (2600m), a race Christen Me could easily win given how pleased Dalgety is with how the horse looks. "I'm really excited and bushy-tailed where I am with him at the moment. He's been in work for more than three months and had seven weeks of fast work. "In his general  well-being, he's a touch ahead of last year and, physically, he's the bulkiest he's been. He's a touch overweight but that's what I've planned, I want 10 per cent extra to play with." Dalgety said sometimes people were brainwashed by the idea that once pacers reached the age of seven they were on the way down. "But he didn't have a hard time as a two and three-year-old and I think that's standing by him now. "And, while he's just had a great season, he had only 14 starts. If he'd been trained in Australia he would have had double that." Christen Me, raced by veteran Charlie Roberts and Vicky Purdon, won six of his nine starts in New Zealand, including the Group I NZ Free-for-all, Auckland Cup and Easter Cup. And he won three of his five starts in Australia, simply sublime in taking the Group I Miracle Mile and Victoria Cup.  His earnings of $1,187,443 clearly topped those of his close relation Adore Me ($796,563), who captured six votes in the Horse of the Year race. But the now retired Adore Me won the race Dalgety really wants, the NZ Cup. "Charlie was lucky enough to win the Cup with Adore Me last year and, if  I can win it for him this year with Christen Me, I'd feel like I'd really kicked a goal in my career. And my enthusiasm about him is as high as ever." It came as no surprise that Adore Me's sire Bettor's Delight won the stallion of the year award for the fifth time in a row, and her dam Scuse Me was named the broodmare of the year, also having produced the champion three-year-old Have Faith In Me. Roberts, naturally, got the gong for breeder of the year. Barry Lichter Reproduced with permission of Stuff NZ - Check site here

The connections of Cullie's Delight are waiting anxiously to see how she recovers after the mare stood on a 6.5cm builder's nail which drove into her foot during a race at a harness racing meeting at Alexandra Park. Worried trainers are seeking assurances from the Auckland Trotting Club that its construction of a new building for the Blues Super Rugby team and future apartment complex won't put the safety of their horses at risk again.  Cullie's Delight was sent out favourite for the third race last Friday night, carrying at least $33,000 of punters' money in a myriad of betting pools. However, the mare started pacing roughly 1400 metres from home and driver Todd Mitchell suspected she had broken down. "I felt her falter between the 1500m and 1400m but she seemed to come right 400 metres later," Mitchell said. "But she started limping on pulling up and I thought she must have cracked a bone. Sometimes they can keep running on adrenalin." When Mitchell returned to the stables, however, the reason for her distress became obvious with blood coming out of the bottom of one foot. "When I picked her foot up, I couldn't believe it, a builder's nail was buried about an inch deep and bent over. And when I pulled it out, blood started pouring everywhere." Mitchell said the course vet told him the five-win mare was very lucky that the nail had not penetrated the foot as deeply as she first feared. A protective pad the mare was wearing might have saved her from catastrophic injury. "It could have gone into the pedal bone and then it would have been curtains," Mitchell said. Mitchell reported the incident to the stipendiary stewards because he said the nail was far too big to be anything else but a builder's nail - it definitely did not come from any part of a horse's gear or sulky. "I know there's a lot of construction going on at the track but, really, the welfare of the horses has to be paramount. "You wouldn't know if a builder has thrown a nail over the fence or if it's become caught up in the harrows. "It's bad enough that it happened to a horse like Cullie's Delight, who is close to retirement, but imagine if that had happened to a horse like (champion filly) The Orange Agent who ran at the workouts the following day." Mitchell said Cullie's Delight had been treated for tetanus and with antibiotics in the hope that the wound would not become infected. "The nail hole has closed over but there is a bit of a pulse into her leg and she's still a bit tender on it," said Mitchell who has been  bathing her foot in epsom salts. On Wednesday, five days after the injury, an infection blew out the back of her heel. "I just hope she's all right - infections can be dangerous things." Mitchell said the ATC had pledged to pay for the veterinary treatment Cullie's Delight needed on racenight, and the vet checks she's had since. But it in no way compensated Mitchell or owner Darren Bell for the likely loss of earnings on the night and over the next few weeks while she recovers. "I was pretty gutted. We wanted to win another race before she went to stud and she was in a race that really suited her." With five wins, 30 seconds and thirds and nearly $60,000 in earnings, the daughter of Bettor's Delight had considerable value as a broodmare already. The stewards' report confirmed Cullie's Delight "paced roughly rounding the bend passing the 1400 metres." It's commentary on the reason gave no more detail than "a post-race veterinary examination revealed a puncture wound to its hoof after standing on a nail."  Racing Integrity Unit racing investigator Bryan Oliver confirmed he'd taken a picture of the nail, which he estimated to be "two and a half inches long", but he refused to release it to Fairfax Media. "I don't think it's of interest to anybody," he said. Oliver might try telling that to punters who, according to the TAB, wagered at least $33,000 on the horse. As well as carrying $16,200 in win and place bets, the TAB estimates another $16,500 in exotic bets ran through Cullie's Delight, as she was favourite for a double, treble and quaddie leg, and a key horse for trifectas and quinellas. ATC racing manager Kevin Smith said the incident was a random event which while regrettable and had no obvious explanation. "We've inspected the track and obviously we'll be taking as many steps as we can to prevent it happening again. "The track guys are acutely aware now of what happened and will be doing more pre-race checks." Smith said it would be pure conjecture to say how the nail came to be on the racing surface. "With all the construction going on it might have got into the tyre of a truck, come out of a driver's pocket or out of the backside of a seagull in the air. It's pure speculation." Smith said while everything would be done to ensure it did not happen again, no 100 per cent assurance could ever be given and the club had received no other reports of building materials contaminating the track. Mitchell, however, told Fairfax Media the racenight vet said she'd  found a piece of iron on the track when walking to her ute.  Trainers have also expressed concern that their horses could be at risk walking along the path from the relocated float park to the stables, directly adjacent to the construction site of the Blues' building.  Barry Lichter

Top reinsman David Butcher is in hospital with multiple internal injuries after being kicked in the chest by a horse at his Cambridge stable. Butcher, 50, is in the high dependency unit at Waikato Hospital with a lacerated spleen, perforated bowel and at least one broken rib after Tuesday's accident. Butcher's wife Wanda said her husband had been trying to catch a horse in his Cambridge yard, where he trains with his father John, when it kicked him and "sent him flying". The biggest racehorse on the property, it caught him squarely in mid-chest. "They're still waiting on some test results but his pancreas has been knocked around, too, and they think he might have a couple more damaged ribs as well. "He's been in the HDU since Tuesday but they're hoping to move him out of there today." With feeding tubes and drains attached, it was difficult for him to communicate with family and he was easily tired, she said. "The bowel is the biggest problem because it's slow healing and the doctors say he's looking at one or two months' recovery time." One of the country's best drivers, Butcher would find it hard being confined again – "he loves to be fit and active. But we'll get through it again". Last year Butcher was sidelined for nearly eight months after pulling his pectoral muscle off the bone in a training accident when a horse he was leading pulled back suddenly. But he made a successful comeback and since last November has driven 63 winners, placing him seventh on the drivers' premiership. Before his injuries Butcher was in the prime of his career. Winner of nearly every feature race in the country, including the New Zealand Cup, the Inter Dominion Final, the Auckland Cup and the Breeders Crown, he regularly finished near the top of the premiership, notching 131 wins in 2010 and 142 wins in 2011, second only to champion Dexter Dunn. In 2013 he represented New Zealand at the world drivers' championship in France, where he won a race at Caen. In a career of 33 years, he has driven 2080 winners who have won $21.5 million in stakes. The Butcher stable will line up three horses at Cambridge tonight in Star's Delight (race 3), Chrissie Jet (race 4) and True Legend (race 8). Barry Lichter

Punters who chase the big quaddie pools in Australia will be the worst affected by a two-month hiatus in commingling that started on Wednesday. For the last eight years New Zealand punters have enjoyed being able to bet into large Australian pools, with the chance of striking much bigger dividends. But for the next two months at least, while officials negotiate a new agreement, there will be no commingling of quaddies, first4s and quinellas on Australian races, meaning only New Zealand money will be in the pools, making them vastly smaller. On Tuesday, punters were betting into a quaddie pool of more than $125,000 at Geelong. But on Wednesday the pot Kiwis were offered at Warwick Farm was a pitiful $5203 compared to the one Australians chased of more than $70,000. And, while the TAB believes its turnover will hold up pretty well. with win and place pools still combined, punters are saying the opposite. In an announcement that has seen punters vent on social media threatening to give up betting or open an Australian account, the TAB revealed there would be no more commingling of the popular exotic bet types until it reached a new agreement with Tabcorp in Australia. The TAB's agreement, in force since May 30, 2007, expired on Tuesday and with no new deal in place yet, a "transitional" arrangement until August 31 allows commingling into Australian pools only on win and place betting. Wagering consultant Martin Saunders said the TAB had been caught up in the tension between Tabcorp and Sky Channel over broadcasting rights. After Racing Victoria signed a five-year free-to-air deal with Seven West Media, New Zealand's television partner Sky in Australia had blacked out all Victorian racing. Outside 92 TAB outlets in Victoria, New Zealand was the only country watching Victorian racing live, Saunders said. "Our suite of agreements are all linked and the rights to broadcast Victorian racing go through a lot of those agreements," Saunders said. Chief executives and negotiation teams from the New Zealand Racing Board and Tabcorp have been in discussions for the past 18 months and, while Saunders said in an ideal world a new agreement would have been brokered by now, he said the TAB was determined to get the best possible deal for New Zealand racing. It was hoped an agreement could be reached by the end of August. Saunders believed the "short-term compromise" would result in little damage to the industry's crucial turnover. "As much as 70 per cent of our betting in Australia is win and place (plus trifectas, which aren't commingled because we have a higher take-out rate). "The majority of our turnover will be maintained. And there's no change to the New Zealand situation – Australians can still bet into our pools." But if figures from Wednesday's racing are anything to go by, the TAB could be in for a nasty shock. Multiples punters must have been turned off in droves when just $343 was invested here in the first four on the opening race at Ipswich. The trifecta in the same race, picking only the first three home, paid $737. At Ballarat, despite a $14 shot winning the first race, the first four dividend was again less than the trifecta, declared at just $376, the entire pool, while it paid $4747 in Australia.   Later in the day the situation had hardly improved. At the main meeting, Warwick Farm, just $1240 was wagered here on the first four in race four (compared with more than $9300 on Tabcorp), punters obviously wise to the terrible pools and not willing to risk their money on a difficult bet type with no hope of a reasonable return.    Saunders said while the TAB was aware of the appeal of betting into big pools, surprisingly commingling with Hong Kong and its gigantic pools hadn't seen a large jump in betting. And Saunders said some people might argue it was easier to win a quaddie with a $10,000 pool than one with lots more players betting into a $150,000 pool. But that view was quickly dismissed by a few serious quaddie punters. Just like Lotto players were attracted by multi-million dollar pots, racing fans sought big quaddie pools. "I won't be betting into anything in Australia that's not commingled, simple as that," said one punter not prepared to be at the mercy of small, volatile pools. Saunders would not be drawn on the financial benefit to New Zealand of commingling but in the TAB's annual report at the time the deal was signed, it predicted "significant benefit to the industry". "The Board has guaranteed an additional $12 million funding in the first season. Greater earnings are expected to accrue in the following seasons," according to the report. "The projected earnings will flow through to the industry in the form of increased race stakes." Saunders said the push on terminating Pick6 pools this month would help punters who liked chasing big pots – but the initiative was unrelated to the commingling issue. Barry Lichter

The cobalt saga started in harness racing at The Meadowlands and has now spread around the racing world like a virus. We've all read about cobalt. Racing's new EPO. The stuff that supposedly makes horses run like Lear Jets.  But until this week it's all been about yet another Australian trainer being caught with a high reading. That changed on Tuesday, however, when the Racing Integrity Unit dropped the bombshell that the leading Matamata stable of Lance O'Sullivan and Andrew Scott had returned a cobalt positive with its horse Quintastics, after she won a race in March. And then on Friday, after further testing in Perth, the RIU confirmed a trawl through frozen samples from the stable had uncovered two more positives, from NZ Derby place-getter Sound Proposition and Suffire, who won at Tauranga in February. Suddenly, people in the industry are asking questions about what it means, are they at risk and exactly how high the cobalt levels are. While RIU general manager Mike Godber would not reveal the exact amount of cobalt found in the three horses, he said it "significantly" breached the internationally recognised limit of 200 adopted earlier this season. There is no suggestion the levels are anywhere near as high as the 6000 recorded in one of 21 positives returned by horses trained by Newcastle trainer Darren Smith who was disqualified for 15 years. Fairfax investigations have revealed it would take an intravenous injection of cobalt chloride to elevate levels into the thousands, a sure sign of cheating. But levels in the hundreds, believed to be the case with the O'Sullivan/Scott trio, almost certainly indicates the administration of a supplement, a practice commonplace in New Zealand. Fortified horse feeds contain only minute amounts of cobalt, nowhere near enough to elevate levels above the threshold. Industry regulators both here and in Australia adopted the trigger point of 200 micrograms of cobalt per litre of urine after extensive testing of some 2500 samples from horses in New Zealand, Queensland, Victoria, West Australia and South Australia. The New Zealand sample of 400 horses, some from race-day swabs and some from random horses at stud chosen because they had never had any medication, put the mean level of cobalt very low at 6.4. This was markedly lower than the Australian samples which found cobalt levels of between 10 and 20 – explained by the fact many racing areas in New Zealand are volcanic and the soil is deficient in cobalt. In another collaborative effort, 11 overseas countries contributed 10,300 post-race urine samples and the highest recorded cobalt reading was 78 mcg/l. The average was 5.29 mcg/l. These results included many horses on normal cobalt supplementation programmes. Given those results,  it's not surprising many in the industry here have criticised our 200 level as too generous. They say unscrupulous trainers have too much leeway to dose their horses and remain undetected. But Fairfax understands  it is highly likely that a new, lower limit of 100, already in place in Hong Kong, will be struck at the next meeting of international regulators in Paris in October. As yet the UK and European racing jurisdictions have not set a cobalt threshold. In the Australian cases pending against Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Mark Kavanagh, Cox Plate-winning trainer Danny O'Brien, and Lee and Shannon Hope, all levels detected are in the hundreds. Racing Victoria revealed the cobalt levels detected as: Danny O'Brien's Bondeiger (370mcg/l), Caravan Rolls On (380), De Little Engine (580) and Bullpit (320); Mark Kavanagh's Magicool (640); Lee and Shannon Hope's Windy Citi Bear (300), Best Suggestion (550) and Choose (440). Studies done by the Hong Kong Jockey Club have demonstrated how such levels can easily be reached through supplementation. In its study, horses which were injected with Hemo-15, an iron, amino acid and B vitamin supplement readily available here, reached a maximum cobalt level in the urine of 530 mcg/l within two hours of administration. The cobalt level decreased rapidly and was below 200 in six to 12 hours. That begs the question how the levels detected recently could be so high given it is illegal to treat horses in any way on race-day and there is no legitimate reason for administering the supplement so close to a race.    Concern that vitamin B12 medication, popular with trainers here, might result in a cobalt positive was flagged by the New Zealand Equine branch of the Veterinary Association when it gazetted a warning in February. Vitamin B12 contains five per cent cobalt and, if given repeatedly, can result in a cobalt level in the hundreds. All vets were advised that they should not use any medication that contained vitamin B12 either orally or by injection for one clear day before a horse raced. Barry Lichter Reprinted with permission  

This years Harness Jewels is done and dusted for another year and the harness racing has been covered in great detail by all and sundry. So Harnesslink thought we would review all the other aspects of the day as we saw them. * Big kudos to Stacey Markham and her team from Harness Racing New Zealand for putting on a near flawless display of promotion and marketing for this years Harness Jewels. It showed that it is possible to get everybody on the same page with a bit of give and take and the team should take a bow for a job well done. *On big days like this it is not uncommon for the media room to have plenty of grizzles and moans about things but yesterday was quite the opposite. Nothing but compliments for the Ashburton hosting club and for once the journalists were looked after in style. Believe me it is a really stressful day for journalists and to be looked after so well made the day a lot easier for all concerned. Lets hope that is the standard at all Harness Jewels meetings from now on. * The only quibble the media had all day was down to being denied entry with our passes to the stabling area. Those lovely officious security people really do need to take some people management skills courses before they are registered to work in the community. I suppose they had a job to do but it is the manner in which they do that job that needs attention. * One thing that was spot on on the day was the track which was in fantastic condition. A lot of the leading drivers we spoke to during the day were fulsome in their praise for what a great racing surface the track manager had delivered. * The absence of several leading racing journalists such as Barry Lichter was disappointing in the extreme but something the industry is going to have to get more and more used to. The Fairfax restructuring that is underway meant half the journalists there yesterday are having to reapply for their jobs at present. Specialized racing journalists are an endangered species and the coverage we receive in the mainstream media is about to be cut severely. It looks like only Harness Racing New Zealand and Harnesslink will be left standing when the dust settles. * As someone who covers all the major race meetings it can get a bit repetitive at times when you are interviewing the same people again and again. So it was really refreshing yesterday to watch the connections of Sunny Ruby after her brilliant win in the three year old Ruby. Fred Fletcher was bouncing around like a twenty one year old and the whole extended family were in the same frame of mind. It was a timely reminder of why people race horses. Amanda Tomlinson reinforced that feeling later in the day with a display of emotion not often seen these days. * Hats off to Greg O'Connor for his outstanding and impartial coverage in the leadup to and on the day of the Harness Jewels. Greg manages to put forward his opinions without feeling the need to denigrate or ridicule some of the runners and its that professional impartiality that connects with so many in the industry. *Finally we would like to thank all the tech guys that got us back up and running after we went down after race one. Murphy's law to go down on the big day but with their help we got back on track late in the afternoon. Harnesslink Media

Harness racing most frequent high-flyer Trevor Casey set off for Sydney on Saturday brimming with confidence that Waikiki Beach can cap a memorable weekend by winning the A$322,000 APG Final at Menangle.   The champagne glasses had barely been put down after Friday night’s terrific wins at Alexandra Park by Stent in the $150,000 Rowe Cup and Sky Major in the $100,000 Messenger than Casey was getting a boarding call for his 11th flight to Australia this season to watch his burgeoning team of horses race.   And if Casey is right, and Waikiki Beach uses his great gate speed from the ace and leads all the way in the rich two-year-old final on Sunday afternoon it would put the seal on what is surely the most prolific winning season enjoyed by any Kiwi owner.   Casey, 54, struggles to recall every winner he’s cheered home but his best guess is that 17 horses, which he either owns outright or has shares in, have won 59 races since last August - 24 of them at home and 35 in Australia.   Some of them, like Stent, have been in his now familiar black and white colours sporting the Lone Star logo of the Riccarton restaurant he owns, the profits from which have seen his equine empire treble in the last nine years.   Others, like the Barry Purdon-trained Sky Major, he races with a big group, but are providing him with thrills of the like he’s never previously experienced.   But with 30 horses on the go at the moment, at varying stages of their preparations, he says he needs to be winning like he is to pay for all the training bills.   Then there’s the cost of looking after his seven well bred trotting broodmares and their seven weanlings which are now conveniently all together  on his Prebbleton property and on another 8ha over the road which he bought from Nevele R Stud to house them all.   ‘‘Someone comes in to help feed and handle them but I’d see them daily,’’ says Casey who is sure all the handling helps them make a good early start as racehorses.   ‘‘I’ve always had quite a few horses - but I’ve now been able to upgrade the quality rather than the quantity. And if they’re not good enough to race at two or three, where the big money is, I usually try to sell or lease them.’’   Casey is also culling three broodmares, Una Bromac, Shesachristian and Pita Pocket, who will go under the hammer at next month’s PGG Wrightson mixed sale in Christchurch- ‘‘you soon learn how quickly your numbers multiply.’’   Casey says he’s lucky Stent - the horse he named after having triple stenting of his aortic vessels five years ago - has won him $637,216 this season and $1,108,788 in all  ‘‘paying for all the others.’’ The Rowe Cup win, which Casey says trumps all Stent’s previous achievements, fulfilled his own lifelong ambition and that of trainer Colin de Filippi.   ‘‘Winning the Great Southern Star was impressive but this is the best win I’ve ever had. He’s a super, super trotter, just something else.’’   In his victory speech Casey took great pleasure in pointing out to the knockers who claimed Stent couldn’t stay that he had just won the country’s premier staying race in 4:03.5, only 0.6s outside Stylish Monarch’s New Zealand record.   Stent’s season earnings of $637,216 have now passed those of the retired champ I Can Doosit ($621,764) and leave him second only to trotting’s all time ‘‘Freak’’ Lyell Creek who banked $658,325 in 2000-2001, when unbeaten in 14 starts, before campaignng in the northern hemisphere.   Casey beams when he is reminded Stent is now a shoe-in to be named trotter of the year on both sides of the Tasman.   ‘‘It’s still only a hobby, but it’s become a large hobby,’’ says Casey who has recently sold his other horsepower hobby, a  Harley Davidson motorcycle, because he no longer has time to ride it.   ‘‘ I really enjoy my racing and it occupies all my time now. I’m sponsoring quite a few races, and the Australasian junior drivers’ champs coming up, and I love to watch my horses go round.’’   Casey’s Facebook followers always know when he’s on the move, his postings from Melbourne and Sydney alerting his friends to his latest conquests.   Horses have always pressed Casey’s buttons, right from his days as a teenager when he started helping out at Tommy Knowles’ Kumeu stables in the early 1970s.   Where his passion for racing came from he’s not sure given none of his three brothers or two sisters liked horses - ‘‘but there were always horses around us in Kumeu.’’   Casey even took out a training licence for a few years in his early 20s,  training a winner, the dual gaited Speculate, to win a $1500 trot at Kumeu in 1985.   But when Casey became friends with local trainer Jim Cole he no longer needed a licence and from then on he left the training up to the professionals.   These days champion trainer Mark Purdon is his main man, but Casey also has a few with de Filippi, Tony Herlihy, Bruce Negus and one with Amber Hoffman.   It was on a trip to Melbourne in 2014 that Casey, his mate Neil Pilcher, Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen bought Waikiki Beach.   Having just sold a baby by Somebeachsomewhere named Assassinator to Perth, they were looking to replace him with another by the same sire.   A colt out of Cyclone Betty fitted the bill and they got him for $50,000.   It didn’t take Purdon long to discover he had a beautiful gait but when he wasn’t quite ready for the Young Guns series in Auckland earlier this year, and ‘‘started to get a bit colty’’ Purdon gelded him and turned him out.   Waikiki Beach came back to a winning debut in February and is now four from four and a raging favourite to win today after a super impressive semi-final win in 1:56.1.   ‘‘He has gate speed and I thought if he drew one to five there was a very good chance of his leading. But now, from one, he should lead easily,’’ Casey said.   Casey is hoping Waikiki Beach can win the rich final, just like Mr Nickel did for his partner Neil Pilcher three years ago, and go on to take the  Breeders’ Challenge and Breeders’ Crown.   They would be thrills that would rate right up with Pocaro’s Jewels win, Escapee’s two derbies, Mah Sish’s Hunter Cup or Arya’s Breeders Crown.   But if it all goes bad, like the night Pocaro had the 2009 Northern Trotting Derby all sewn up but galloped 50 metres out, Casey will just shrug and move on.   If he’s learned anything over the years it’s that you have to be a good loser. ‘‘You have a lot more losses than wins. I’m never over-confident. So long as they race well, and pull up good, you have to be happy.’’    Trevor Casey has lost count of the number of wins he’s enjoyed this season but we’ve done the maths for him. 17 horses, that he either owns outright or has shares in, have won 59 races   NEW ZEALAND    24   Stent      8 Lazarus  4 Hot Pants 3 Waikiki Beach 2 Messini   1 Sluggem   1 Ygritte       1 Bonechip    1 Madam Simone 1 Eilish Aimee 1 Sky Major   1     AUSTRALIA    35   Hand Of The King 6 Arya     6 Stent     5 Sky Major 4 Daenerys Targaryen 4 Sun Of Anarchy 4 Messini 2 Waikiki Beach 2 Saratoga 1 Crusader Acey 1   Courtesy of Barry Lichter

Anyone knows harness racing trainer driver Mick Prendergast wouldn't doubt the old timer when he says he's training himself up to see if can ride in a novelty saddle trot in the new year. It's not as if Prendergast, 81, has never done it before - he started riding trotters when they raced around pegs in a paddock in Naseby in 1950. He might be a bit hard of hearing these days but New Zealand's oldest successful harness horseman showed he was still up for a challenge when he trained and drove Holdon Toyaspurs to his first win in nearly nine years at Forbury Park in Dunedin on Wednesday night. Prendergast's colours of black with red braces and green sleeves have been seen all over the South Island for six decades since his mum made his first set of silks in 1956 when he was first licensed to compete in Central Otago and south of the Clutha river. But it's fair to say they haven't been seen in the winner's circle too often. Prendergast potters round with no more than a couple of horses at a time and is known for persevering longer than most with his trotters. He gave 89-start maiden Manchester Tom five years before sacking him and Maple Twist 58 winless starts in four years before the novelty of her smart black coat and stylish trot wore thin. "I've had more seconds than wins," says Prendergast who claims just 18 wins since 1977 alongside his 30 seconds and 56 thirds. But when Prendergast eclipsed the feat of his long time drinking buddie John "Budgie" Burgess, who drove a winner at the age of 80 in 2008, he lived up to his promise that he'd keep doing it until "he was put into a box he couldn't get out of"'. Prendergast has managed to avoid the box so far but admits he's got into a few scrapes in recent years, even after he made the decision "not to drive anyone else's mongrels any more" because it was too little reward for too much risk. In a 2011 race crash, when Manchester Tom was badly checked, his dentures were forced into the roof of his mouth and he broke his nose. A couple of years ago a Continentalman trotter he was training broke Prendergast's leg and put him out for five months. When he gave her a second chance she broke his ribs before "being exported to Greece in small pieces". Twelve months ago he was struck by a mystery muscular complaint which prevented him from getting into the cart and forced him to train his horses behind a truck for a while. "I got all seized up and couldn't walk, couldn't even comb my hair until I saw an old doc in Ranfurly and threw all my medication away. Within half an hour I was up and away." It was about that time that Prendergast, who has lived alone for the last 20 years, agreed to text his daughter Stacey in Otautau every morning after working the horses to confirm he was OK. "If she didn't hear from me by lunch time she was to ring the local transport company and they'd dispatch someone to come and check on me. But I'm not so worried now that I've got two quiet horses." It's not as if there are many people who could come to Prendergast's aid either. He's back in the 150-year-old homestead he was brought up in at Hyde, between Ranfurly and Middlemarch, literally a two-horse "blink-and-you'll- miss-it" town. With only a dozen residents at the pub and transport company - there's no diary or garage - you just take the first right into Prendergast Rd, yes it's named after the family, and head down towards the Clutha River, avoiding the Cemetery Rd turnoff, to find Ranger Stables. Prendergast named the place after his best horse, Road Ranger, who won three races between 1992 and 1997, including one at Addington when he paid a whopping $69.60. "No, I didn't back him. I've never been a bettor. When I trained my first winner, Blue Signal in a saddle trot at Cromwell, he paid seventy one pounds, nineteen and sixpence and I didn't back him either." Prendergast had his first bet for 20 years on one of his horses when Holdon Toyaspurs ran third at Forbury in his previous start, his first for the stable. "He'd been working so good I put $5 for a place on him and he ran third and paid $10.40. But I didn't back him when he won, I thought the 2700 metres might find him out. Phil Williamson said he didn't back him either because he reckoned I couldn't drive two good races in a row." But Prendergast has an enviable record in the cart and, probably for that reason, says he doesn't get any lip from the young bucks on the track. He'd been chuffed to be congratulated by champion reinsman Dexter Dunn on Wednesday night. "I've been suspended only twice in more than 50 years and both times I think I was hard done by. I'm a very careful driver. I can get them away better than most and, when I start to get into trouble with the stewards, I'll give it away straight away." Prendergast says the standard of driving is far better than in the 50s and 60s when "you'd get guys half pissed out there who didn't care what they did". In those dim dark days, with very little stewards' control, it wasn't uncommon for horses to be pulled up to avoid harsh rehandicapping. But there's none of that dodgy stuff now, Prendergast says, - especially at the Lake Hawea picnic meeting at which he has been competing and handicapping since 1956. He's targeted the popular December 28 holiday attraction for Holdon Toyaspurs this year - "but I'll have to put him 20 metres further back now than I'd banked on".' Then there's also that saddle trot at Omakau on January 2. "I'm not sure if it's going to get off the ground but the club president asked me if I'd have a horse for the race. "I'm not sure if my body would handle it but if I'm happy with myself and the horse, who's a bit rough to ride, I'll give it a go." Prendergast rode for the first time in five years earlier this week, before Holdon Toyaspurs won, taking him for the 12km trek he usually takes in the cart along the popular "rail trail" a 150km cycle track along the old railway route from Middlemarch to Clyde. "It's not boring for the horses, like going round and round on a track and it's not boring for me." Prendergast is actually something of a tourist attraction himself, often stopped by cyclists who want to pose for pictures with this horse. But, so far, he hasn't been game enough to venture any further than 6km in either direction, the prospect of going into a tunnel one way and over a bridge the other way, a little daunting on his own. "But I'm off to Cromwell for a fortnight on Monday and will see how he goes," said Prendergast, who still drives his own float to the races, second nature he says for someone who worked for 13 years as a truck driver. As Prendergast says, he has the same motto as his late mate Budgie, "have horse, will travel".' In 2002, his three-race winner Sockett's Rocket earned the title of the season's iron horse - with 41 starts. Perhaps, they should have given the iron award to Prendergast himself. He'll be driving down Prendergast Rd, not Cemetery Rd, for a while yet. Courtesy Of Barry Lichter - Sunday Star Times - Check site here  

Nearly everyone was left breathless at Alexandra Park on Friday night when New Zealand records fell like ninepins and even lower class horses ran unheard-of times. But there was one horse, who just missed out on a record his owner longs for, who definitely didn't run out of puff. Stent put the memory of his poor Dominion Handicap run well behind him when he crushed his opposition in the Lyell Creek Stakes, becoming an unbackable favourite for Wednesday's $45,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge. And it was all down to the treatment the horse has been getting since Show Day after which he was diagnosed with symptoms of asthma. Trainer-driver Colin de Filippi knew something wasn't quite right with Stent when he was gone at the quarter, a run completely out of character for a horse who always tries his heart out. And when his vet did a lung wash it revealed the problem. "The vets said given what they found they were surprised he could run as well as he was," de Filippi said. "We're not sure what caused it but it could be pollen at this time of the year, or dust." In the ensuing weeks Stent has been treated with a number of powders and has been on a course of inhalers, just like humans with asthma. Each morning before he works Stent has a few puffs of Ventolin and afterwards another inhaler, before going on a nebuliser for 20 minutes. The regime has to be stopped a number of days before he races but its effectiveness was evident on Friday night when Stent burst out of the gate, easily held an early challenge for the lead by Prime Power, then just as easily repelled his passing lane run in the stretch. Owner Trevor Casey was delighted with the return to form but sorry Stent missed Royal Aspirations' national 2200 metres record of 2:43 by just four tenths of a second. "I'd love him to get a record because he so deserves it. He's broken records before but only been placed." But Stent, who clocked a mile rate of 1:59.5 and zipped his last 400 in 27.6, looks well placed in the next few months to gain the recognition Casey says is well overdue. After Cambridge he has the $80,000 National Trot back at Alex Park on New Year's Even then a smorgasbord of races Casey has mapped out in Australia where last year he won the A$100,000 Grand Prix. First stop is the A$30,275 Maori Mile at Bendigo, a race his speedy mare Escapee won two years ago. Then he has unfinished business with former Kiwi Keystone Del in both the Glenferrie Challenge and Great Southern Star. "He was three back on the fence in the Glenferrie and got out too late to catch Keystone Del and in the final of the Great Southern Star he drew one, led, but was attacked all the way by Blitzthemcalder and Keystone Del beat him again." It's not a schedule rival trainer Todd Mitchell has much appetite for with Prime Power unless he can beat Stent on December 31. "If we can't beat Stent here there's no point going over there to run second to him. We'll miss Cambridge and I'll freshen him up with a couple of trips to the beach and make up our minds about Australia after his next run. "If we do go it might be just for the one race at Menangle. The Great Southern Star (heat and final the same day) could be a year too soon for him." Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will wait until after Queen Of Hearts winner Adore Me runs in the $60,000 Waikato Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 9 before confirming her Australian targets. Purdon was super impressed by the way Adore Me dug deep in the home straight to get the better of Helena Jet and Lancewood Lizzie. "It was a very, very tough effort as we went a pretty solid 300 metres to get round them to the death." Fellow Canterbury trainer Benny Hill knows exactly where and when he wants to land in Australia with Dalton Bromac, who ran a supersonic 2:36.1, smashing Bogan Fella's New Zealand 2200m mark by two seconds. His whole campaign has been aimed at the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on March 1, the reason he is running in Wednesday's $50,000 Futurity at Cambridge, where a win would gain him automatic entry. Dalton Bromac was by far the most impressive of all the record-breakers on Friday - as good as Gold Ace, Delightful Lana and Itz Bettor To Win were - his run prompting pinch-hitting driver Dexter Dunn to rate him the most impressive horse he had driven since Christen Me was coming through the grades. Courtesy of Barry Lichter - Sunday Star Times - Check site here  

It was a gem of a moment. Away from the crowd, out of sight of most on course. But it was the most memorable scene of a day where just about every superlative had been used.  Natalie Rasmussen gave Mark Purdon a big hug and whispered in his ear: "Well done darling, I'm so proud of you, so happy for you.'' And then, hand in hand, the couple stood there reflecting on what they'd just achieved. For it wasn't just the New Zealand Trotting Cup they'd won. The partners had just completed what would have to rate as the most dominant display ever seen on a racecourse anywhere in the world. Adore Me's win was their sixth of the day - they'd won all but one of the races they'd contested, and run second in the other. Backup, Rare Opportunity and Messini were entrees to the prestigeous Sires Stakes Final when Have Faith In Me led home a stable trifecta, then Vice Consul, Adore Me and one race later Prince Fearless made it seven wins. And four of those winners were in New Zealand record time.  The blue colours with the silver stars seemed to be everywhere, and in every finish. It was a feat which wasn't going unnoticed by the man in the hat, helping gear up their next runner. It was brother Barry Purdon, lending a hand in what was a massive operation for the stable with 20 runners on the day. He'd been through this in the early 90s, when he had a large stable, he said, and knew how much hard work it was. "Mark's a champion trainer and his success is due in part because he's so hands-on," he said. "But you're still only as good as the people behind you and he has that with his staff and owners. And he's instilled that much confidence in them that they keep coming back. "I'd like to have 10 great horses in my team too but you have to go through the numbers to do that and I doubt I could get the right people to help these days. "We used to have horses racing at Addington, Sydney and Melbourne at any one time and if you haven't got the right people helping you just can't send them away. "It's a very stressful lifestyle. You have to plan every day and that's what this stable is good at, they know exactly where they're heading.'' It's in the planning that Rasmussen has really helped the All Stars team since she and Purdon joined together two years ago. But she could praise only her own team last night when the gear bags were being packed up. "I'm so proud of the horses. And we have an amazing team of owners and staff. We'd have the best group of track drivers we've ever had. "But achieveing this sort of thing takes a lot of work. It's all day. every day on Sundays, but it all comes down to days like today and they give you a kick along and keep you going a bit longer.'' Purdon admits, however, that only this last week he and Natalie had been questioning their lifestyle. "Natalie has done a big team all her life in Brisbane, like me, and she knows how demanding it is,'' Purdon said. "We were asking ourselves the other day just how much longer we wanted to be doing this. "I'm up at 4am every day doing the work lists, feed up is at 5.30am and we start work at 6.30am. "We've got 12 staff but it's still a big job with 55 horses in the stable.'' The crowd of more than 20,000 who cheered their runners home race after race will be hoping it doesn't end any time soon. Courtesy Of Barry Lichter

TAB odds-makers lure in punters with the promo slogan: "You know the odds, now beat them". But less than three months before New Zealand's biggest betting day - the November 4 running of the Melbourne Cup - they have cracked down on a Kiwi punter who has excelled at doing just that. TAB executive general manager Glenn Patrick recently wrote to Christchurch man Graham Beirne that the betting agency was losing "a significant amount of money" on his fixed odds betting, so it had to adjust the amount of money he could win. In a move which the 67-year-old hit out at, he can now not win any more than $2000 on a win or place bet, and cannot win any more than $2000 even on a combination multi. He must also place all his bets by 9.30am on respective race days. "It's more like, ‘You know the odds, now beat them. But if you do, we'll cut you'," a fuming Beirne said. "On the one hand they're complaining about leakage - don't bet overseas, they say, but you can only back losers in New Zealand - ‘You can play in our sand pit but only if you lose'." Beirne owned Kate's First when it won the 1997 Auckland Cup. He has been a passionate supporter of harness racing for more than 50 years. But the TAB's stance had him questioning his future support for the industry in New Zealand. "I put $1 million into the industry every year through 25 racehorses, plus broodmares and sponsorship, but I'm at the point of thinking of selling the lot and going and playing bridge," he said. He added in a written response to Patrick and the TAB: "The owners that continue to race horses are supplying the product for your customers to generate turnover. Have you also considered that while my past betting has cost you money on fixed odds, every time I line up a horse in a race it is making you money on the tote? "No doubt you also have other large winning customers but how many of these people contribute product for your customers to be on to the degree that I do? I would suggest none." Beirne had offered a compromise over betting limits, but the TAB had rejected it, he said. Patrick told the Sunday Star-Times it was standard practice around the world for corporate bookmakers to restrict winning punters. He believed the way the TAB was treating Beirne was fair and reasonable. He would not confirm how many other punters had similar restrictions. "One of our objectives under the Racing Act is to maintain a profitable wagering system and we need to take that obligation seriously," he said. "There will be clients who have better information than us, or who are better than us, that we will need to put limits on." Courtesy of Barry Lichter - Sunday Star Times

The New Zealand Racing Board has become a despot, says leading Thoroughbred trainer John Wheeler, spending money willy nilly that the industry cannot afford. Wheeler is incensed about revelations the board has had to revise the over ambitious forecasts of its recently departed chief executive Chris Bayliss, leaving the codes facing more lean years. "They spend money hand over foot and we get the left-overs," Wheeler said of NZRB. "I've been saying for 10 years that the funding model is wrong. How much longer do we have to tolerate it? "We shouldn't be getting the crumbs. The codes should be getting what they need to make racing flourish and the board should be cutting its cloth to suit." While Bayliss was talking a 50% rise in returns to owners within five years, Wheeler said he gave up believing anything the board said years ago after a succession of ineffectual highly-paid CEOs had come and gone. "The board has been dysfunctional for a decade and it's time the Racing Minister did something. "Costs have doubled in the last decade, they've hired more and more staff, it's out of control." Wheeler said the industry was now paying for the grand spending spree that its just departed CEO Chris Bayliss went on, millions spent on moving to flash new offices in Parnell, a $10 million state-of-the-art Trackside studio and a failed Triple Trio campaign. Wheeler said he understood the cost of the failed Typhoon betting system was also a lot higher than the $11.1 million the board wrote off in 2012. "Thoroughbred Racing needs only another $3 million or $4 million to make a go of it." Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

If the racing industry wants to remain competitive, it must change and become more relevant to a younger customer base. That's the clear message from New Zealand Racing Board chair Glenda Hughes who says with those changes inevitably come costs. Hughes said while the year end financials hadn't yet been finalised, the board was being upfront with stakeholders that it would not meet its net profit target and that distribution forecasts would be "steady." A high New Zealand-Australia currency exchange rate, which has also impacted on SkyCity's results, was partly to blame but higher costs and longer timeframes associated with key projects, such as the mobile app and broadcasting upgrade had also contributed. "Coming in, I knew the business suffered from historic underinvestment and it was clear to me changes were needed to keep the business competitive," Hughes said. "Together with the soon-to-be-released new mobile app and an upgrade in core IT services, these investments better position the business to remain relevant to a younger customer base and adapt to a rapid shift to digital channels. "These projects are not yet delivering the full benefits planned and this has flowed through our forecasts." But Hughes said good results had started already from these projects such as live race streaming and the transition to SKY which had paved the way for the recently revamped TAB Trackside 1 and Trackside 2 television channels. Hughes said despite the necessary industry investment for the future, the board would be very focussed on bringing down other costs. "I see this as a major issue and it's the point that is raised with me more than any other. "I'll be pushing hard to see focus brought to reducing costs even though it may take some time for them to unwind." Hughes said this year's Statement of Intent was an honest reflection of where NZRB stood at the moment and the board was taking a more realistic approach. "It is not where I'd like us to be but our aim is to get the distribution back up to the codes. "Last year we delivered a record distribution and next year we'll be reviewing the forecasts to ensure we are delivering the best possible distribution." Hughes said it was nothing unusual to review and update its three year forecasts. "We do this every year to ensure we accurately reflect the state of the business and our operating environment. A draft has gone to the racing industry for consultation and we will take their feedback into account. "We will be refining the strategy accordingly. We'll be in a better position to provide an update at our agm later this year." Hughes said while higher than expected costs had impacted on distribution forecasts for the new season that did not mean the strategic goals unveiled in 2013 may not eventually be achievable. Meanwhile, Hughes welcomed news that both the Government and Labour had committed to tackling the issue of betting leakage, which was now a major threat to the industry. It is estimated New Zealanders bet $300 million a year with overseas agencies that isn't subject to levies or taxes, costing the Government $30m in revenue and the codes $35m in profit distribution. Racing Minister Nathan Guy said betting was now a priority, and his team would work closely with the industry to find practical solutions to the problem after the election. Racing spokesperson Ross Robertson said Labour would pass legislation to stop offshore betting websites from avoiding tax here. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

Alarm bells have started ringing for racing industry stakeholders after revelations that projected returns from the New Zealand Racing Board are likely to be well down on those forecasted for the next few years. In an address to the annual meeting of clubs in Christchurch, chairman Gary Allen said Harness Racing New Zealand had just received "an amended statement of corporate intent" from the NZRB which signalled there would be limited growth in funding for the next three years. And he revealed that HRNZ would have to use $1 million of its $2.5m reserve fund this season to just maintain its present stake levels, which are already so low that trainers are struggling to keep their owners. Allen said the board was aware of the financial pressures facing the industry and the need to at least maintain returns, but he warned that without extra funding, it would not be sustainable in future seasons. The announcement came as a shock after the NZRB had signalled in its 2013 annual report that its strategic five-year goal was to increase its surplus from $142m to between $160m and $180m. Chief executive Chris Bayliss, who recently left the board suddenly in mysterious circumstances, had said the board aimed to grow stakes by 50 per cent in five years, generate 30 per cent more turnover from new markets and products and reduce the cost-to-income ratio to below 30 per cent. But all that now seems pie-in-the-sky and Allen said the NZRB statement "was not good enough". "Some increases must be provided in years two and three to at least enable the industry to match CPI and inflationary pressures," Allen said. Apart from continuing to explore additional revenues it was incumbent on the NZRB, as well as the codes and clubs, to find efficiencies to reduce costs, he said. Returns to stakeholders had to be increased - "we cannot continue to rely on the goodwill and passion of our industry participants." Allen said because the funding level this season was only consistent with last season, HRNZ was not in a position to increase the minimum stake level of $5000. "We have asked clubs to increase stakes where they can, and many have, but it's not easy to direct clubs to take action when they can't afford it. "Maintaining confidence at the lower levels is crucial to maintaining interest in the industry long-term as the costs for owners are the same whether they have a champion or a battling maiden." Allen said despite the challenging environment, the industry had recorded some very positive results in the last season. Feedback he'd received from the last annual conference was that he had been overly positive - "one delegate even went so far as to state I must have been on the ‘wacky backy'. "But the optimism I conveyed last year was not misplaced. "We have run more races [up 50 to 2795], used the horse population better [total starts up 1092 to 29,635], grown our total turnover base [up $4.863m] and market share [up from 29.3 per cent to 29.7 per cent] and increased stakes [by 4.57 per cent to $29.8m]. "I believe we can look forward to the future with cautious optimism, however, the challenges facing the industry are considerable. "They will not be overcome without some pain and decisions in the future that will not please everyone. "Over the years the industry has become averse to change, however, we must be prepared to better embrace change if we are to go forward. We will need to set aside self interest and make some hard decisions for the long term sustainability of the industry." Allen said a new structure of premier racing for the new season would see the number of meetings reduced from 17 to 15 but the minimum stakes raised to $20,000. "These meetings will stand out significantly from other meetings and attract greater attention of the racing public." Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

"Hey, you can't do that girl." David Butcher's taunt from across the Cambridge stable yard was made only in jest but there was a note of caution there, too, for fellow driver Nicky Chilcott. Butcher made a surprise comeback at the Cambridge workouts yesterday following seven months on the sideline after pulling his pectoral muscle off the bone in a training accident. And just seconds after he drove a winner, pint-sized Geoff Small -trained filly Pinup Pony, he was half teasing, half offering advice to Cambridge's latest injury victim as she helped to ungear her runner-up Leroy Brogden. Chilcott, arm in a sling, faces an even longer period on the sideline after reconstructive surgery to her right shoulder, a recent injury having aggravated a long-term issue. And after an operation in which two of her three ligaments were reattached, she is now going through the same frustrations that Butcher had to overcome. "The surgeon said it would be 12 to 15 months before I can drive again, with a minimum of 12 months," said Chilcott who became the first woman to drive 500 winners in New Zealand in 2012. "It's never a good time to be out but I've got some young horses in the barn I do like, and it's going to be difficult sitting on the sideline watching them. "I just hope they turn out as good as I think, and that will lessen the blow." Butcher said Chilcott had to be patient. "It took me ages to realise that, because it's in your nature to want to do everything, but you've got to wait." Butcher hadn't planned on driving at the workouts - he got back in the cart at home only last week - but after being happy with the way he handled his galloping pacemaker yesterday, he made a few hurried calls and got on three horses, winning with his second. "I've still got it," Butcher said. "I just wanted to beat the boy (junior driver son Ben). But I was pretty happy. "My strength isn't where it needs to be - my muscles were tired after driving Davey Kaa's trotter (Georgies Smile) because he tugged a bit in the warm-up but I just need to get back into the rhythm." Butcher has been on a fairly intensive rehab programme, alternating running, swimming and doing weights. "I'm OK when my hands are forward but I need to work on my back muscles. I'll see how I go in the next couple of weeks. But I need to drive at workouts because I'm not working too many of my own at the moment." Butcher is hoping to make a comeback to race-night driving next month. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

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