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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

Experienced media, public relations and corporate communications strategist Glenda Hughes has been appointed Chairperson of the New Zealand Racing Board. Hughes, appointed by Minister for Racing Nathan Guy following consultation with the country's three racing codes, will begin her tenure as Chairperson on August 1. The appointment restores the full complement of seven members to the Board as the business enters the critical phase of implementing its new corporate strategy. Independent Board member Alistair Ryan, who stepped into the NZ Racing Board's primary governance role as Deputy Chairperson following the departure of Dr Alan Jackson in March, said the appointment of Hughes was positive for the business and New Zealand racing. "Glenda is a talented and experienced professional whose skills, knowledge and expertise will complement those of existing Board members. "We're looking forward to working alongside Glenda and executive management as we move into what's an important phase for the New Zealand racing industry." For the past 25 years Hughes has run her own highly-regarded communications and media strategy company, providing strategic communications counsel to many of the country's most high-profile business and political leaders and sportspeople. She is a member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors and the Parole Board. "I'm happy to accept the appointment because I believe in New Zealand racing and recognise the important contribution the industry makes to the country," said Hughes. "There's no doubt that there are challenges we need to address but, to that end, Alistair and the Board have done an exceptional job alongside Chief Executive Chris Bayliss and his management team in putting together a detailed strategy aimed at making sure we're able to realise racing's potential. "We are all looking forward to launching into what is an exciting time for racing in this country." by John Mitchell  

Changes to harness handicapping expected to provide a tougher challenge to punters. TAB bosses are hoping changes to the harness racing handicapping system will go some way to stem the demise of the code's Pick6 pools. Harness racing used to be the dream vehicle for Pick6, with its unchallenged Thursday and Friday night spots and regular $100,000 guaranteed pools. But those guarantees have shrunk to a standard $25,000 most Thursdays and just $40,000 on Friday nights. They have been affected to a small degree by the largely novelty Place6 but TAB spokesman Michael Dore says the lack of jackpots in harness racing is the real problem. And pressure on the code won't ease with the news the TAB will hold a special $500,000 turbo Pick6 on the Taumarunui Cup-Ryder Stakes meetings on Saturday week, July 27. That will get close to the $750,000 guaranteed Pick6s which have occurred four times in thoroughbred racing in the past 18 months, a figure harness racing punters can only dream of. Dore says the prevalence of short-priced favourites in harness racing is an issue. "To get decent Pick6 pools you need jackpots and we don't get enough of those in harness racing," said Dore. "How it works is when we have a new pool starting, we guarantee it at what we know will probably be a loss to us. "But we then under-guarantee it the next week if it jackpots, to secure some money for our reserve fund. "But when it keeps getting struck our reserve fund gets lower and lower." The ideal scenario is two or three weeks of Pick6 not being struck and reaching $250,000-$300,000 guaranteed, which creates interest in the entire meeting and often momentum for the following week. "That is why we hope the handicapping changes in harness racing help a little bit," says Dore, who used to work in harness racing before joining the TAB. "If the changes to the concessions for young horses mean less of those $1.10 favourite 3-year-olds that will be a good thing. "And we have found that Pick6 is a very good indicator of overall betting health in a code and I don't think the redhot favourites help." That is why winter thoroughbred racing, while it can be a minefield for punters, actually lends itself to huge Pick6 jackpots. The TAB regularly boosts Pick6 pools in all three codes in winter to try and drive interest at a time when racing struggles but Dore says they simply can't artificially boost pools to their old levels permanently. "Sure, we would love to guarantee Pick6 every Friday night to $75,000 but pretty soon we wouldn't have any money left in the reserve fund." Dore says that while the Place6 has its fans he does not see it is a major contributor to the dwindling Pick6 pools. "I don't think anybody expects to get rich off Place6 like they can get a huge collect off Pick6 and it probably doesn't get that exciting until the last couple of legs. "But it is a really good novelty product." Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald  

The New Zealand Handicapping System may undergo a revamp, after it was unanimously decided at a Canterbury horsemen’s meeting back in May that changes need to be made.

Up-and-coming talent will join the country's premier race-callers as part of changes to Trackside's commentary line-up for the 2013/14 racing season.

It will be a busy election for the Board of Harness Racing New Zealand this year. Two nominations have been received for the one North Island vacancy. Six nominations have been received for the two South Island vacancies. The deadline for voting by clubs is noon, Thursday, June 20.

A drive to improve consistency in the provision of New Zealand racing product and to maximise betting opportunities has led to calendar changes for the 2013/14 season.

The New Zealand Racing Board has achieved a solid first-half profit of $76.4 million (prior year $72.6 million) and is on target to record a full-year result of $142.5 million, as signalled in the revised Statement of Intent, for 2012/13.

Rob Howitt has been appointed the New Zealand racing industry's top scientist, replacing the long-serving Geoff Beresford as Official Racing Analyst and General Manager of New Zealand Racing Laboratory Services (NZRLS).

Minister for Racing Nathan Guy is calling for nominations for independent Chair of the New Zealand Racing Board.

New Zealand's Racing Minister Nathan Guy has announced that Alistair Ryan has been appointed as Deputy Chairperson of the New Zealand Racing Board.

Welcome to my first column for 2013. My Ministerial portfolios have had a rejig and I'm very proud to be the new Minister for Primary Industries, as well as the Minister for harness racing, galloping, and greyhound racing.

In welcome news for the harness racing industry, the Board of HRNZ yesterday approved an additional distribution of $1.436m to clubs. This represents an increase of almost 5% of the annual funding extended to clubs.

The Harness Racing New Zealand Board reviewed yesterday (Thursday February 14) the current structure of the Harness Jewels. The key issue considered was the change previously agreed to for 2013 of extending the four year old (4YO) division to include five year olds (5YO).

It is a delight to be providing what is New Zealand First's first regular column for Harnesslink, particularly as it relates to something of which I am so fond - horses. There is no secret that horses have played a significant role in the history of the Peters clan.

Applications are now open for the next round of the Racing Safety Development Fund, the Minister of Racing Nathan Guy has announced today (Friday February 1). "The Fund supports important harness racing and racing projects around the country that improve racecourse health and safety standards," says Mr Guy.

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