No Holden Back. Phil Up to the Challenge.

No Holden Back. Phil Up to the Challenge.

Bruce Stewart

26th July 2020

Interim Harness Racing New Zealand CEO Phil Holden wears a number of hats and he happened to be in Southland last week when the Government announced it plans to invest more than $1.86 million over two years to deliver a pilot training programme for the shearing industry.

Holden is CEO of New Zealand Shearing as well as interim CEO of Harness Racing New Zealand as it goes through its most challenging period in decades.

“It is a challenging time right now but we’ll get through that,” Holden said.

While visiting the province he also took the time to talk to the Southern Harness Board.

In my interview with him he said “I think the Southern Harness model potentially could be an operating footprint across the country. There is certainly some sense in your model. It’s good to see, as I’m from Southland, that you’re leading the thinking there.”

Both the Wyndham and Gore Harness Racing Clubs are facing challenges at the moment with Wyndham losing the right to race on its home track and Gore restricted to just one meeting on the Gore galloping track in December. Both clubs are unhappy with the decision.

“I had a good conversation with the Presidents of both clubs and I thought that went really well. As I said to them and the board of Southern Harness, there needs to be a southern solution and that means we have to get in the sandpit together, hold hands and work through it. I’m very confident we’ll be able to do that.”

Initially a number of clubs throughout the country were not allocated dates by the industry’s controlling body RITA and they had to submit plans for reinstatement.

Holden says the Manawatu Trotting Club’s submission was one that stood out as being  unified with a community based approach.

“Rather than throw their toys out of the cot and say ‘gosh what have you done to us’ they took a positive approach to their situation. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes but they’re acutely aware it’s up to them. Taking responsibility the way they have is great, but equally the way the clubs have collaborated has led to the good result. If you throw a Southern Harness model on top to that – that’s the future.”

Holden says the Southern area, its new calendar and venues will be reviewed at the end of the year as will a number of other areas.

“RITA have made it clear that the review is across all codes and needs to be completed by the end of the year.”

Holden sees some major challenges ahead for the industry with the key one being getting the way the product looks and runs, right.

“I think the biggest challenge we’ve got as an industry is getting our product delivery right. We’re in a period of transition and if we want to maintain our relevance and the premier position we aspire to we have to make sure our product is fit for purpose. It needs to generate the waging returns and we need to be racing at the appropriate venues. That means we have to face up to some difficult challenges in that space.”

He said industry unity is the only way this will happen.

“We need the industry to come together and have a shared sense of purpose, a clear vision of what the future looks like, which we don’t have right now. But I’m keen to lead, develop and put it in place.”

Holden says the HRNZ can provide guidance but the industry as a group has to formulate its own strategy.

“The role of Harness Racing New Zealand is to provide the framework to harness clubs. Because we don’t have clarity around that vision and what that looks like it makes it very difficult. It’s a matter of urgency that we start thinking about what that looks like.”