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Prominent North Island trainers have backed claims by their South Island counterparts that the country's handicapping system is destroying the careers of young racehorses.
Pukekohe trainers Ray Green and Barry Purdon, and Tauwhare trainer Todd Mitchell, each said the current structure of the national ratings-based handicapping was having a highly detrimental effect on emerging harness horses.
They echoed the concerns of several South Island trainers who delivered a damning assessment of the system to the Otago Daily Times recently.
Green, the private trainer for Lincoln Farms, has a stable filled with young stock. However, the number of 3yr-olds in work at his Pukekohe stable is down on where it has been in recent seasons.
That is because he and his principal owner, John Street, have decided to send a number of horses to Australia, because the New Zealand handicapping system is restricting their careers.
''We have sent six horses to Australia. They're racing there for us now, simply because they are handicapped out of it here,'' Green said.
''Over there they can just win, win, win and we are getting some nice results.
''But here they are well and truly in the deep end and it is just relentless.''
Lincoln Farms horses will soon be forced to race under a ratings system when Australia switches its handicapping scheme this year.
Green said he did not expect his exports to face the same problems they encountered here because of the differences in design between the Australian and New Zealand ratings systems.
''You only get points based on a sliding scale on prize money won in Australia. It seems a much more simple system.''
The New Zealand ratings system was harsh by comparison, Green said.
''I feel that the New Zealand system is a bit severe and that horses are handicapped out of it after two wins.
''The system itself is OK; it just needs to be modified a little bit.''
Mitchell said the current state of handicapping in New Zealand meant it made sense for North Island owners, like Lincoln Farms, to send their horses to Australia.
''It is a no brainer to send your horse to Australia to race.''
Mitchell said there was a direct link between handicapping and the declining horse population in the upper North Island.
The four-time New Zealand Cup winner said he wondered whether the damage might be irreparable.
''The whole handicapping system has been a sham for years and now that they have tried to fix it, I think it has been much too late.
''The damage has already been done, because people have sold most of their horses.''
Mitchell said the North Island harness horse population had declined so badly he questioned whether a ratings system could function properly there.
Harness Racing New Zealand announced it would trial minor changes to its rating system last week in an effort to reinvigorate late season 2yr-old racing.
Purdon said that move was not enough to boost 2yr-old racing.
''They seem to have it in their head that if you give a couple of penalty free races away you get something for nothing.
''But, if you pay $60,000 plus for a yearling and put all of your costs and payments on top I can't see how anybody has got anything for free.''
Purdon said the previous class-based system offered a better path for younger horses to progress their careers.
''If someone can convince me that the rating system is better than the old system I would have a look, but I can't see how it possibly can be.
''I think the gripe most people have got is you have a horse that wins one race and it has to line up against horses that have won three or four or five races.''