Age no handicap for Hyde horseman

Hyde horseman Mick Prendergast with his winning horse Maple Twist at the Hawea picnic races yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Hyde horseman Mick Prendergast with his winning horse Maple Twist at the Hawea picnic races yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
After 40 years in the job, Hyde horseman Mick Prendergast (79) has no intention of retiring from the handicappers' role at the annual Hawea picnic races.

''What would I do if I retired?'' he said yesterday.

While ''old enough to know better'', Mr Prendergast will not hand over the reins to someone else just yet.

''Unless they put me in a box somewhere and I can't get out.

''It's only one day and I'm coming here anyway, so it's no hassle to do [the handicapping] ... I've been coming here so long I suppose it's just become a habit.''

Mr Prendergast has been the Hawea Picnic Racing Club's handicapper for about 40 years, but his involvement with the race meeting - held at the Hawea Flat domain - began even earlier, as he first raced his horses there in 1956. Years ago, he held the handicapper's role at up to 14 picnic race day events throughout Central Otago, he said.

''But they all gradually disappeared ... Most of the clubs went broke, that was about what it amounted to ... They couldn't afford to carry on because people weren't going to the meetings.''

Before each Hawea race day, Mr Prendergast researches recent results of the competing horses before separating the field according to their success rates.

''It tells you on the computer [recent results], but I haven't got a computer so I have to get someone else to look it up for me.''

Mr Prendergast said he was far from being the oldest harness horseman in the country.

''I'm only about fifth in the pecking order.''

Footnote: There was a perfect ending to Mr Prendergast's day at Hawea yesterday when he won the last event, the Tarras Trot, driving Maple Twist, having twice finished second earlier in the day with another of his horses, Manchester Tom.

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz