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It is back, but not as we knew it.
Harness racing will return to the sporting landscape today as Addington hosts a day meeting.
Racing was scheduled to come back tomorrow at Addington, but the sheer numbers of horses nominated — about 290 — led to today’s meeting, which will be followed by a night meeting at the same venue tomorrow.
Trots will also take place at Invercargill on Saturday, with thoroughbreds due to start on July 1.
In the two months off, plenty has been going on away from the track. Betting income has understandably plunged with nothing to bet on, leading to large job losses, while a draft calendar for next season has cut a swathe through clubs and tracks. Forbury Park is set to lose all its meetings next season under the draft calendar.
That has understandably met with some resistance, but it is now about the horses and who gets first past the winning post.
Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson is sending horses to Addington and also Invercargill.
The spreading of horses and his team — he has about 20 horses in work — was not something that is bothering Williamson, who is taking a positive approach to the re-start.
‘‘It is all a bit surreal really, with all that has been happening. You have got to support it and hope that it is the lifeline for the future ... and not some kneejerk reaction with no substance to it,’’ he said.
‘‘There are still plenty of horses around. That is what happens with the handicap system — you get a big lot of competitive horses in one field. So it is not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard to win.’’
Williamson has just the one starter in today — Day Dreamin, in her first start. He will line up another, Miss Crazed, tomorrow night, while a team of four will head to Invercargill.
During lockdown, Williamson and his team had just been jogging the horses, and had got some speed work into them as the races came nearer.
The large Canterbury stables are set to dominate, though the stakes are not high.
There are nine races on the card today, followed by 12 races tomorrow at Addington and 11 races at Invercargill on Saturday.