Day At The Track

Situation in the North untenable - Hoggard

08:40 PM 24 Jun 2013 NZST
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Rationalisation of local industry seen as vital for long-term future of harness racing.

The Auckland Trotting Club could soon be no more, in a move set to secure the industry's long-term future in the north.

Northern harness racing bosses are moving to rationalise the administration of the industry with a vastly different view on how they will approach business.

And it is set to change harness racing, and probably New Zealand racing, forever.

The radical changes could have huge advantages for industry participants ranging from stake increases to the setting up of New Zealand harness racing's first professional training centre at Pukekohe.

The Auckland Trotting Club has called a special general meeting on July 9 to vote on changing its name to Alexandra Park Inc.

While that signals a historic change, what comes next will be far more important and, some officials are saying, crucial to the survival of the industry.

Alexandra Park Inc then seeks to amalgamate the harness racing operations of the tenant clubs that race at Alexandra Park - Manukau, Franklin, Thames and Kumeu.

That means acquiring their assets but more importantly also their debts.

That move will need to be voted on by the members of each club separately, with members having the desperate financial need for change explained to them over the next week.

By bringing all northern harness racing under one body the industry can drive toward increasing stakes and, most importantly, setting up a major training base at Pukekohe, seen as crucial to aiding young trainers to enter the industry.

High-level discussions among some of the most experienced administrators in northern harness racing have pinpointed debt reduction, falling horse and breeding numbers and the huge expenses of starting in the industry for horse people as major problems.

Rather than idly standing by, ATC bosses want to make the changes necessary to secure the industry's future.

They see three major issues.

The first are the debts versus assets of the tenant's clubs, which while already scary will deteriorate if gaming machine money disappears eventually.

Moving their licences and activities under one umbrella is expected to achieve some costs savings but also allow for the debts to disappear.

It would also allow for the sale of a loss-making training track, like Kumeu, which has small training numbers, with that money put toward developing Pukekohe in line with the Cranbourne facility in Victoria.

That would help with one of the key areas of concern for northern bosses, who realise without land, most young trainers can not entertain entering the industry full time.

The plan would be to set up facilities at Pukekohe to cater for training operations of all sizes, including on-site veterinary care, shoeing, accommodation and industry education.

"We want this to be a place where the industry can grow and we can help trainers stay in, or join, the industry," says ATC president Kerry Hoggard.

That would also help with another major problem identified by ATC bosses, that being horse numbers.

"Our average runners per race continue to drop and that affects turnover so we simply need to get more horses," says Hoggard.

"We need more trainers and more horses and to do that you have to provide better stakes.

"And we have to move on this now because these factors also contribute to vital issues like breeding numbers."

Hoggard, a super-successful businessman, says the numbers of horses racing, horses being bred from, debts clubs have and future income, especially without gaming machine money, simply don't add up.

"That is why we need to act now," said Hoggard. "We respect what the tenant clubs have achieved and want to maintain relationships with their sponsors, their members and respect their great races.

"But the current situation in the industry in the north is simply untenable and that is with gaming machine money. When you do the numbers without that money coming in, which could well be the case, then we will be in massive trouble in just a few years.

"It is up to us, and the members of all these clubs, to do what is best for harness racing because people's careers and livelihoods are at stake."

by Michael GUERIN (Courtesy of the NZ Herald)

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