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The Nelson Harness Racing Club has been named in a Gambling Commission decision as loaning money to set up a trust to run pokie machines, which the club later benefited from. The Gambling Commission said last week it would shut down Blenheim gaming machines trust Bluegrass Holdings because it obtained its licence to operate pokie machines by deception. Bluegrass provided false and misleading information to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) about its funding, those involved in the society and the role of Blenheim man Mike O'Brien in particular, the commission said in its decision. "Bluegrass's deliberate and repeated efforts to deceive the Secretary [of Internal Affairs] were intolerable," Internal Affairs acting director of gambling compliance, Raj Krishnan, said. The trust said it was considering appealing the decision. O'Brien is well known in the harness racing community and is the son of Patrick O'Brien, former chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand and former chairman of Bluegrass. It primarily provided grant money to the racing sector - in its March 31, 2014 year return of its total donations of $5m, more than $4.1 million went back into the horse racing industry, to clubs through New Zealand. Bluegrass Holdings was incorporated in June 2009 and traded as Bluegrass Trust, operating 140 gaming machines in eight venues across New Zealand, including Hardy's Bar & TAB in Nelson. The trust's licence will be cancelled from August 18. Hardy's owner Carmen Cartwright refused to comment on what she planned to do when the trust lost its licence. The commission decision comes after a two-year process between Bluegrass Holdings and Internal Affairs. Nelson Harness Racing Club was listed in the ruling as lending O'Brien $100,000 in September 2009. The Kaikoura Trotting Club and Marlborough Racing Club also made loans of $100,000 each to Bluegrass. In the following days O'Brien advanced $300,000 to his father, Patrick O'Brien, who in turn advanced it to Bluegrass, the ruling found. On December 22, 2009 Bluegrass was granted a six-month class 4 operating licence to run pokie machines. In June 2010 Bluegrass repaid the loan to the Nelson Harness Racing Club. Over the five years the trust has operated, the Nelson club received a total of $620,000 in grants from Bluegrass. Department of Internal Affairs senior communications advisor Trevor Henry said while it was legal for grants from trusts to go toward racing clubs, there was an issue with the racing clubs that provided funds that then set up the trust. "Had the department known of this source of funding we would have been concerned. The Gambling Act 2003 anticipated a separation between societies that operate gaming machines, venues that host those machines, and community groups that receive grants." Nelson Harness Racing Club former president Terry Nelson said he was part of the committee that loaned Mike O'Brien the $100,000 and did not think the loan request was suspicious. He still believed O'Brien was a trustworthy person. "At the time Mike said he was trying to borrow money and the bank wanted - I would be guessing - quite exorbitant interest rates. He was happy to borrow off the club and pay us a good interest rate. The club was able to make some good money for whatever was needed at the time, and it was duly repaid." He said he was told it was a personal loan. O'Brien had helped out the Nelson Harness Racing Club over the years, and had been its raceday secretary. Nelson was president for four years, and said he left his post because it took up too much of his time. He was still a member of the club. He said the grants money the club received would often go toward its raceday stakes. He said he was never suspicious about the connection between lending the funds to O'Brien and then later getting grants from the trust O'Brien's father set up. He said all grants were used for approved purposes and the club would apply to about six different trusts around the country for grants. "Sometimes you are lucky with Bluegrass, sometime with the others." However, in the Bluegrass Trust grants records, the club was always "lucky" - records show it had never been turned down for a grant. Stacey Knott Reprinted with permission of the Nelson Mail  

It's a very busy Monday/Tuesday in harness racing. Here's all the various news, views and updates that you may find useful.

Training genius Mark Purdon is declaring Sushi Sushi his best New Zealand Cup chance as he prepares to provide a third of the field for the great race. Purdon produced the trifecta in yesterday's $50,000 Kaikoura Cup, with Sushi Sushi beating Major Mark and Fly Like An Eagle in the second fastest 2400m standing start ever paced in New Zealand.

Fly Like An Eagle's New Zealand Cup campaign hangs in the balance at Kaikoura today. He could easily win the $50,000 Kaikoura Cup and not only seal his start in the New Zealand Cup on November 13 but even move into second favouritism. But it wouldn't surprise anybody if he galloped away for the third standing start in a row, cost punters a fortune and harness racing trainer Mark Purdon pulled the pin on his Cup bid.

Ninety eight years after conducting its inaugural harness racing meeting the Kaikoura Trotting Club will break new ground tomorrow (Monday October 29). When John Coffey moved that the Kaikoura Trotting Club be formed in February 1914 no-one had heard of passing lanes. Tomorrow the club's brand new passing lane will be used for the very first time.

Auckland Reactor's chances of finally contesting a New Zealand Cup are improving even though he will miss his expected lead-up race at Kaikoura on Monday (October 29). The $1.8 million harness racing earner had been earmarked to contest the Kaikoura Cup but will dodge the race to compete at Addington four days later.

The Kaikoura Cup field and oddis out now (see below). No Auckland Reactor! Interestingly the 11 runners are all ranked between 7 and 25 for the Cup. 5 inside the top 15, 6 out. This could be the harness racing event that has the most direct impact on who gets a run and who doesn't on the second Tuesday in November.

As reported on Twitter and now officially with the Harness Racing New Zealand computer John Dunn will the reins on Alta Christiano in the final Sires Stakes Heat this week.

A patient approach by Papakura harness racing trainer Tony Herlihy has given the connections of yesterday's (Monday) $50,000 PGG Wrightson Aged Yearling Sales Pace their biggest pay cheque to date.

Pint-sized pocket rocket Smiling Shard proved he would be a force to be reckoned with in next week's New Zealand Cup after impressively winning the Kaikoura Cup for the second year in a row today (Monday).

Cran Dalgety has resisted the temptation to start his superstar four year old harness racing star Smiling Shard in this year's New Zealand Cup. Yesterday's (Monday November 1) stunning performance the little pocket rocket to win the Kaikoura Cup, wasn't enough to persuade trainer Dalgety and the connections to have a shot at $750,000 Group One event, the decision in the end made with the horse's welfare in mind.

Harness Racing New Zealand has released its stipendiary stewards report for the meetings held from last Thursday (October 28) to yesterday (November 1). It reads:

The connections of harness racing star Smiling Shard will be faced with a difficult decision to make following the brilliant pacer's spectacular win in today's (Monday) Kaikoura Cup.

The little horse with the big heart - Smiling Shard - sat three wide without cover for the last lap and put in a Herculean performance to get up and win the Group Two $50,000 Kaikoura Cup at the town's picturesque South Bay Racecourse today (Monday November 1).

Ian Small will take over the training duties of his older brother Geoff's strong Patumahoe stable following a Harness Racing Victoria six month ban, which starts today (November 1) and finises on April 30 next year.

Harness racing princess Nearea Franco will return to sunny Southbay Racecourse in Kaikoura on Monday in an attempt to win back to back Kaikoura Cup's. The winner of ten races and close to $400,000 in stake earnings had her preparations for this year's New Zealand Cup interrupted by a foot ailment curtailing her expected return to racing.

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