Let’s Make The Changes Work For Us

Let’s Make The Changes Work For Us

Bruce Stewart

Sunday 29th August 2021

On the back of the work HRNZ General Manager of Racing Catherine McDonald and her group is doing around dates and key race structure, I believe there’s a great opportunity for Southern Harness and indeed other areas to look at what they do with their dates and racing programmes.

Once the dust settles in early October at which time the racing calendar will have been approved,  clubs may choose to assess whether the race programme on the dates they’ve been allocated will work for them.

It will be a chance to have open and honest conversations, knowing that some things that have been done in the past won’t necessarily stack up moving forward.

Perhaps a day or half day could be set aside to invite all industry participants in each region to meet and share ideas. Representatives from the clubs as well as owners, breeder, drivers and punters could be split into groups with a note taker reporting ideas back to the larger group. The ideas would be documented and forwarded onto all clubs as well as the Race Programmes Committee, for consideration. It’s the old story – no idea is a bad idea!

As a starter, here are some of my thoughts that relate to the Southern region, but that I think could also stimulate conversations in other geographical areas.

  • Already there’s been talk about possibly changing the way both the Southlands Oaks and the Southern Supremacy are run, with some suggesting that the heat format used initially, be reintroduced. This idea would allow the Series long time sponsors Nevele R/Macca Lodge and Alabar more exposure at a time when holding onto key sponsorships is vitally important.

Winning connections and sponsors of the 2021 Southland Oaks

  • With Oamaru coming into the Southern Harness group, there’s a chance to add some additional features to their five meetings. At present, the Hannon is their only real feature. Because of Oamaru’s location maybe the Diamond Creek Farm Two-Year-Old Prelude could be run there. This race is run by Southern Bred Southern Reared groups whose territory includes breeders in North Otago. Because it’s only three hours from Christchurch this could be more appealing to Canterbury trainers who have two-year-olds warming up for the Group Two Diamond Creek Farm Classic in Southland on Diamonds Day.


  • With horses birthdays now changed is there an opportunity to introduce a race for three- and four-year-olds? Remember the old John King Three- and Four-Year-Old race? Would trainers entertain racing their three-year-old against older horses?
  • A focus on syndicates on a particular raceday, one race on the programme for syndicate owned horses, and hospitality for the syndicate members. This would bring good numbers and great rivalry and banter, would create a great atmosphere. It might require some creative programming.

  • Is it commercially viable to have large pull up advertising hoarding around the back of the Ascot Park harness track? Like Menangle for example. These signs would not only provide a great backdrop for racing but strong advertising opportunities for sponsors. They’d be dropped down on galloping days.

  • Does Southern Harness want to preserve its past and introduce a Hall of Fame? I say yes. Horses/People could be inducted each year retrospectively at the Harness Awards. We have a stronger heritage than most so why not acknowledge and celebrate our past. Honours board and memorabilia could be put on display at in a dining area at either Ascot Park or Winton.
  • With the racing season changing the annual Southland Harness Awards will have to be run at a different time of year. Is there an opportunity to do some revamping here with perhaps a few more categories added to the list?

  • “Winton v Ashburton – The Fastest Track” – Have a day of mile races with each meeting going head-to-head with mile racing. (Both tracks running a race meeting on the same day). We could get the TAB to generate some strong betting options like fastest mile, fastest mare etc.

  • Is it time for regions to invest in dual cart sulkies, a small pool of horses with all the associated gear including helmets, vests, race day colours? All parts of the dual carts and associated gear would be made available for branding and would look great on-course. Although there would be limited exposure on Trackside the video and photo would be a standout on social media. This concept is a great way to entertain sponsors and the public with a thrill that money can’t buy.
  • Outside of the proposed ‘Southern Open Class Window” (December and January) how do we get the Southland open class pacers to remain and race in the province, and how could we avoid racing them off long handicaps?

U May Cullect

  • I was excited about the proposed scheduled Sunday meeting at Ascot Park on Sunday (29th August) which was down to start at 10:48am, with the last race dovetailing into Addington. This has the potential to work well on a midweek date with trotting races run early in the programme streaming into Europe, and the day’s best races run in the lunch hour when workers can bet.
  • Marketing our race meeting directly into the metropolitan marketplace has become key in lifting your turnovers. Data provided by the TAB will tell us which regions attract the highest turnover. Unfortunately advertising race meetings in a local newspaper creates limited totalisator returns these days. Perhaps money is better invested in a geographical targeted digital campaign which reaches into markets and onto websites and apps that punters are visiting or using.
  • Each region has a group of young trainers looking to grow their client base. Perhaps each region could appoint an up and coming young trainer and help them form a new group of owners in a syndicate to race a readymade racehorse. The marketing and support for this concept (not new) would be done on social media platforms with the help of HRNZ and would get local club support with race day hosting and hospitality. New faces are always welcome and needed.

HRNZ are implementing change on a nationwide basis. It means there’s a great opportunity for us to take a proactive approach, make change work well in our region, and maybe do things a little bit differently. We all want to grow Harness Racing.