Turn it up! Time for honesty in harness racing

Here is what is going to be in this week's column.

It will be open and honest conversation about the harness racing that will be held in the South Island over the latter part of the week.

I will probably offend a few owners and a few clubs.

And it will probably be cried down in some corners as being negative.

Harness racing will be the focus because, though what I am about to discuss affects both codes, I believe harness racing is in a much worse state because of it.

Before I start, if I could say one thing about what I am about to discuss it would be that it is a constructive conversation that I think needs to happen.

Let's look at the fields for the southern meetings at Addington last night and Gore on Sunday.

I will focus on Gore, where the fields are packed with older, out of form, has-been type horses.

The kind of types that deserve to be on the track and who will make some owners jump for joy when they win, but do very little to inspire the interest of harness racing fans and punters.

Here is the problem with that.

Harness racing now has a climate that actively encourages the racing of these types.

We know this; it has been written about extensively.

The problem is that harness racing turnover is declining.

Last week's announcement that RITA guaranteed the same level of funding for the racing codes was a godsend.

Because, if it was based purely on turnover, this season's funding would have dropped.

Why has turnover declined?

I believe the current state of harness racing fields across New Zealand is to blame.

The combination of the handicapping system and the pay-all-starters mentality has had a bad effect on the interest in our races.

Fields are simply not as attractive to bet on as they have previously been.

Low-class, slow horses simply do little to foster the interest of the punter.

It may not even be a case of how fast or slow some of the current crop of horses are. It is more a case of how the current collection of has-beens have stagnated harness racing fields.

A glance at the fields is simply not as interesting as it used to be.

The refreshing of the horse population has slowed. Trainers tell me that is because looking after older horses has slowed the progression of younger horses.

There are other factors affecting today's stagnant fields, like declining foal crops - I would certainly admit it is not just handicapping which is the problem.

But, with fewer horses being born, surely harness racing needs to foster the development of every new horse.

The question is: when will the industry stand up and demand change?

Individuals are constantly telling me they desperately seek change. But the bodies that represent them seem to be ineffective in making it happen.

It feels like the national trainers and drivers association and the national handicapping committee are failing the industry.

Nearly every person I have spoken to about the current state of handicapping and programming detests the current system - and I talk regularly with a large cross-section of the South Island's horse people.

The chorus of boos is too loud to suggest that the majority are happy and support the system in its current form.

Some call for an overhaul - not me. I understand the need to pay starters and for a ratings-based system.

What I support is minor change that creates better opportunities for progressive, young and new horses.

I wonder if I will ever see it?


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