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A "SPECIAL" general meeting of Franklin Trotting Club members will today decide whether to merge with the Auckland Trotting Club, a move that president Don Smith believes might signal the start of a nationwide strategy to reverse a harness racing industry in decline. In a letter to Franklin’s 219 members, Smith says the club is under immense financial pressure following the winding up of the northern harness operation involving Auckland, Kumeu and Manukau. ‘‘Your committee has done and continues to do everything in its power to keep FTC operating but at this stage we cannot generate sufficient cash flow to reinvest in the plant and equipment or to maintain the property to the desired standard.’’ Smith told the  Star-Times while the club had been running for 65 years, it could no longer go on ‘‘treading water’’ with harness racing being in rapid decline in the northern region. ‘‘You can’t throw your chest out like you used to and say, oh we’ll be fine,’’ said Smith, who admitted his committee had mixed feelings over the way ahead. ‘‘We’re handling things reasonably well but we’ve got to look ahead to the next 20 years.’’ Smith said most members accepted something had to be done, which was why they gave the committee mandate to explore the merits of amalgamating with the ATC at last year’s annual general meeting. Now, after 14 months of doing their homework,  it was just a question of whether members were convinced today by a presentation which would be put by ATC president Kerry Hoggard and CEO Dominique Dowding. Under the ATC grand plan, Auckland would take over all the assets and liabilities of Franklin. The club owns land with a Government valuation of $4.54 million and owes $390,000. In return, Auckland has pledged to put up $4 million to upgrade and further develop Pukekohe into a top class training centre, to be called Franklin Park. ‘‘We have a magnificent training facility here, the equal of anywhere  in Australasia, but we can’t hide in the corner. ‘‘We’ve got to attract young trainers into the area. We need to be able to say here’s a lovely training facility, here are the high stakes at Auckland, come and be part of it. We have more chance of attracting them  if we do something.’’  Smith said the ATC had given an undertaking that Franklin’s assets would be used only for harness-related benefits now and in the future. Franklin members would automatically become members of the ATC and retain existing privileges. Smith said members would be sure to quiz the ATC on just when it will be investing in the Pukekohe property and where its $4 million would be coming from. ‘‘The members will decide but this is a crucial meeting for the future of harness racing in the north,’’ said Smith, who believes parochialism could no longer work. ‘‘I think there will be a lot of other clubs nationwide who will have to look at joining hand in hand to make a go of things. This is possibly just the start of it. ‘‘We have to get stakes up to a level that is acceptable for owners, so racing a horse is viable.’’ Auckland’s proposal to turn Pukekohe into a major training centre will hopefully have major benefit for the industry, says Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell. ‘‘We think the proposal is great,’’ Rennell said. ‘‘Anything that will help address the fall in horse numbers has got to be good.’’ Rennell said young trainers, in particular, faced unrealistic costs to set up, with land prices soaring, especially if they didn’t have family connections. ‘‘Over time I think we’ll see more demand for centralised training facilities. There’s no doubt there’ll be a need for it in Canterbury and Southland.’’ Meanwhile, the Kumeu Trotting Club, which repelled the ATC’s attempt to take over and sell its North Auckland track, is battling on, despite being told by Auckland that it can no longer race at Alexandra Park. President Scott Gibbons said Kumeu members were adamant they did not want to see harness racing excised from the area and, while it was still investigating venues, it was likely all three of its meetings would be held on the grass at Avondale. Auckland had effectively shot itself in the foot, and would lose two Friday nights of income from food and drink, he said. The Thames Harness Racing Club, which also rejected Auckland’s bid to take over its property assets, does not yet know what will happen to its three Alexandra Park dates next season. Club president Derek Player said the ATC was happy for Thames to keep its low-key Sunday date but its two Friday night fixtures might be in danger. Update At this afternoon's meeting of the members of the Franklin Trotting Club, approval for the proposed merger between the two Clubs.was passed. By Barry Lichter Reprinted with permission of The Sunday Star Times.

Scrapping Monday racing is a win-win across the board. The New Zealand Racing Board - the current administration of which is only early in its second year - has taken a major step in turning around the move to Monday racing put in place by the previous administration. It was meant to provide more "product" (a horrible word for race lovers) for Australians to bet on. It hasn't worked. It diluted our domestic product in thoroughbred racing, something exacerbated by falling horse numbers. The public likes betting into bigger fields. By scrapping 26 racedays - 159 races - the move lessens the overall cost of producing race meetings and should increase field sizes if horse numbers reasonably plateau. Racing Board chief executive Chris Bayliss has said from day one the focus has to be on increasing financial returns to owners. Both equine codes indicated to the Racing Board a desire to downsize for the new season. Harness racing has reduced its yearly schedule by only one race meeting, but by 107 races.This is a good first stepping stone. Racing on Mondays now will be restricted to statutory holidays and the odd provincial anniversary. Monday racing has been extremely tough on industry participants. Matamata trainer Graham Richardson, one of the industry's progressive thinkers said: "Look, they had a go and it didn't work, so let's try something else. "It's like any business, some ideas work and some don't. "Certainly, it's been difficult for trainers to roster staff and losing Mondays will ease that problem. It will be a significant cost saver for owners and trainers." The Racing Board says: "The 2014/15 calendar, comprising 1062 meetings and 10,913 races across the three racing codes, has been devised to better meet the industry's objectives of optimising domestic and international betting performance. "The majority of traditional race dates for the 2014/15 season remain unchanged from previous seasons." Seven of the 26 scrapped racedays will be those held by the now defunct Paeroa racing complex, which two months ago was deemed to be unsuitable for race meetings and trial meetings. The Avondale Jockey Club will lose one meeting, as will the Counties Racing Club. However the Auckland Trotting Club gains three meetings and the Auckland Greyhound Racing Club, one. The Manukau and Kumeu Trotting Clubs both shed a meeting. In Waikato, Harness Racing Waikato loses a meeting as does the Morrinsville Trotting Club. Over to the thoroughbred code and there will be one less meeting per season at Thames and Waipa. Whangarei and Whakatane also lose one meeting each. By Mike Dillon, (reprinted with permission by www.nzherald.co.nz)

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has had a lifetime love affair with harness racing and says he would like to own a pacer one day. “I’ve never owned one, but one day I might well buy a pacer. I have always enjoyed harness racing. “I’m going back to the 1970s now – my all-time favourite pacer was Lord Module, one of Cecil Devine’s champions, and my favourite trotter was Scotch Tar,” the Prime Minister said. There was always going to be a Cecil Devine trained standardbred in the Prime Minister’s “favourite list”. He used to work for the six-time New Zealand Cup winning trainer. “I actually have a bit of history in racing, going right back to the days when I worked for the legendary driver and trainer Cecil Devine in my youth in Christchurch. “It was an after-school job cleaning out the stables, and all the things that stable hands do. And I have to say I did it mainly for love, not money! “And while I sometimes did drive horses, I was pretty young – only 14 or 15 – so I wouldn’t want to overstate my responsibility. But, my lasting memory is that they’re big animals and they go quick.” 53-year-old Prime Minister Key said. From those early days, through to more recent years when Mr Key was a member of Kumeu Trotting Club. “I have had a real fondness for horses and racing, and in particular, harness racing. I actually used to go to the New Zealand Trotting Cup and the Inter-Doms whenever I could when I was at school and university. I loved it,” He said. The Prime Minister did have a share in a galloper named Atherius, as one of about 10 in a syndicate at one stage. “I believe he’s now enjoying his retirement on Norfolk Island. But for me personally, you can’t beat harness racing and it would definitely be a pacer if I was to get a horse. “Harness racing provides a great day out for families; it’s a lot of fun and because trotting is held at night, it’s often a very picturesque occasion,” The Prime Minister said. In terms of the racing industry itself, Mr Key believed it was going through a period of substantial change, and his goal was to make owning a racehorse profitable. “There will always be those who simply get involved for the sheer fun of it, but at the moment the stakes are too low and the costs are too high. “I know the New Zealand Racing Board is constantly working on ways to improve those metrics,” he said. A little bit about our Prime Minister: Born in Auckland before moving to Christchurch when he was a child, Key attended the University of Canterbury and graduated in 1981 with a bachelor of commerce. He began a career in the foreign exchange market in New Zealand before moving overseas to work for Merrill Lynch, in which he became head of global foreign exchange in 1995, a position he would hold for six years. In 1999 he was appointed a member of the Foreign Exchange Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York until leaving in 2001. Key entered the New Zealand Parliament representing the Auckland electorate of Helensville as one of the few new National members of parliament in the election of 2002 following National's significant defeat of that year. He has held the seat since then. In 2004, he was appointed Finance Spokesman for National and eventually succeeded Don Brash as the National Party leader in 2006. After two years as Leader of the Opposition, Key led his party to victory in both the November 2008 and the November 2011 general elections. As Prime Minister, Key leads the Fifth National Government of New Zealand which entered government at the beginning of the late-2000s recession in 2008. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Host Alexandra Park tenant sure to vote for unification but other harness racing clubs' feelings are unknown. The historic and potentially crucial first step to changing the way harness racing is run in the north will be put to a vote tonight.

Justice. Not Anvil Justice but the 'Real McCoy justice' that South Auckland amateur harness racing driver Ival (James Brownlee) Senior, has deserved for so long. Yes, the 62-year-old has finally broken through for his first amateur tote win.

It was only a matter of time - and wow what a way to notch up your first harness racing victory. Seventeen-year-old Jack Mackinnon landed his first race-day winner at Alexandra Park today (Tuesday June 11) in impressive fashion - displaying the patience of drivers three times his age.

You can see why Michelle Northcott is ranked among the best amateur harness racing drivers in the world. The Waikato horsewoman represented New Zealand in the Ladies World Cup For Amateur Drivers in September.

If there was ever one harness racing trainer that Tim Vince would especially love to win a race for it is Waiuku professional horsewoman Michelle Wallis and her husband Bernie Hackett.

Popular Kumeu harness racing trainer Ken Sefonte had his stable burnt to the ground at 2pm yesterday (Monday November 21). The fire, which is not suspicious, was started by an electrical fault. "Thankfully the barn was insured and all of my horses were safe in their paddocks. The only thing that I have lost is all my gear, but in saying that fellow horseman Dave Gibbons and Doug Gale have been absolutely brilliant.

Mach Three five-year-old Devil Dodger booked himself a boat trip to the South Island after claiming the Kumeu Trotting Club's feature harness racing event -the $6,000 Breckon Bloodstock Handicap for 4-8-win pacers at Alexandra Park tonight (Friday October 7).

The New Zealand TAB's harness racing bookmaker Steve Richardson has really dug deep this time. Richardson is offering Harnesslink readers the chance to win $500 worth of bets in this latest TAB-Harnesslink Fixed Odds promotion.

Terror To Love is back for the new harnbess racing season and looked good beating Mach Banner and others in the fast-class heat at Addington trials yesterday (Monday September 5). It is rumoured the Western Terror entire could plot a path towards the New Zealand Cup if things pan out for him in the early season. And in other Harness Racing NZ news:

After discussion this morning, the above harness racing date has been abandoned. Horse numbers in the North have been stretched in recent weeks and it is felt that this meeting would further stretch the horse population available at this time.

The 2010 Breeders Crown champion - Devil Dodger - is peaking at just the right time as the Ardmore 4-year-old sets out to defend his title won at Melton's Tabcorp Park on August 21. Tonight (Friday May 20) the talented gelding won his first race since last year's win in Victoria when nailing the Group Three $25,000 Kumeu Stakes at Alexandra Park.

A harness racing steering committee has been set up to work out the best way forward for the financially stricken Kumeu Trotting Club. A special meeting was held on Monday (April 18) to delve into the various options available to the club.

Young Queensland harness racing driver Lauren Jones will line up for the second week in a row at Alexandra Park this Friday night (April 15). Lauren finished third in the Kidz Kartz race last Friday night driving Kumeu pony Ruff Rufus. Lauren had visited Kumeu Kidz Kartz on the Wednesday before the race to get aquainted with Rufus.

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