Day At The Track

Huge changes ahead for harness racing

07:03 AM 18 Feb 2017 NZDT
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Spanish Armada
Spanish Armada (7) ridden by Natalie Rasmussen finishes ahead of Delightful Memphis (11) ridden by Blair Orange.
Greg Bowker Photo

If Ken Spicer doesn't have a good week selling horses he has nobody to blame but himself.

Because not only is Spicer one of the leading vendors at the harness racing yearling sales which begin at Karaka on Monday before heading to Canterbury on Tuesday, he is also now in charge of the industry.

Spicer, who will take a high quality draft to the Canterbury sale, is also the chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand so has more to lose than most from any dip in sales prices.

But he says while the entire New Zealand racing industry has faced its challenges lately, he sees huge changes ahead that should boost this week's three days of action.

"There are things of things in the industry which have to improve and the board of HRNZ want them improved quickly," says Spicer.

"So while he know we have challengers, the appetite for change is very real and I can see some big things happening in the next 6-12 months.

"People want change now and we are committed to that but its important not to forget there are plenty of good things going on right now."

Stakes increases have already been flagged in the north, with the ATC announcing an extra $40,000 in stakes per meeting at Alexandra Park from the middle of next year.

But Spicer says increases for the entire country --- as were announced in the thoroughbred industry this week --- are are on their way.

"We have a couple of key things coming up, none more so than the Race Fields legislation, which when it is passed could help us to the tune of an extra $5million a year.

"So I'd like to see a minimum stakes rise of $2000 per race before long and I think that is very realistic."

Spicer says maximising turnover through increased field sizes is why so much effort has gone into the new ratings system and changes to programming, which seems to be reducing the number of hot favourites in the north.

"Away from the Race Fields legislation we are confident of more funding from the Racing Board in coming years too through a range of things they are working on so there are some really positive things happening.

"And the board knows people are tired of waiting so making these improvements quickly is crucial to us."

The Australasian Classic Sale start at Karaka on Monday where the enormous continued success of New Zealand-bred horses like Lazarus should ensure plenty of Australian interest.

The smaller, more boutique catalogue at Karaka includes many of the industry's most current families, with huge drafts from Woodlands Stud and Breckon Farms.

Among the top lots is certain to be a Bettors Delight brother to Spanish Armada, winner of the Sales Series Pace at Addington on Friday and has been the dominant New Zealand filly this season.

The Christchurch sales is bigger, hence the two days, with a brother to champion three-year-old Ultimate Machete one of the main draw cards late on Tuesday.

"There are some lovely horses catalogued at both sales and I can see it being a strong week but the people who buy this week will be racing in a far stronger industry next year," says Spicer.

NZ Herald

Read more by Michael Guerin 

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