Change coming to Harness Racing New Zealand

By Dave Di Sommna, Harness News Desk

When Brad Steele steps into the Harness Racing New Zealand offices on Monday it will be the start of something new.

Not just in terms of personnel at the top, but in the way the organisation goes about its business.

The newly-minted HRNZ Chief Executive makes no bones about being a big advocate for doing things differently, as long as it's the best thing for the sport.

"You have to respect the past but we need to accelerate the future and I'll be challenging the status quo," he says.

Steele, a 61-year-old with extensive experience in business and racing in Queensland, was appointed earlier this month by the HRNZ Board. He'll take over from Acting Chief Executive Mauro Barsi. He in turn took over from Gary Woodham.

Steele comes to HRNZ after being the Brisbane-based General Manager Sales and Distribution at RACQ Bank. He's been involved in harness racing since the 1990s. He has served on the Queensland Racing Board, the Queensland Harness Racing Advisory Panel, the Queensland Standardbred Breeders Association, the Queensland Owners Association, is a past President of the Redcliffe Harness Racing Club and is the incumbent Chair of the Albion Park Harness Racing Club.

With all that experience, he believes he knows what works and what doesn't.

"I do have a priority list but it's under broad headings - firstly I want to stabilise the business, then we need to rebuild the momentum for harness racing in New Zealand and then thirdly how to accelerate the growth, and more specifically wagering. We need to up our market share there and around ownership. I will have a relentless focus in those to areas but not at the expense of others."

"If you grow your ownership, everything else grows with it."

"You can chip away and get a few owners here and there but I'm really looking at bringing new owners at scale."

As an owner himself, one of Steele's proudest moments was seeing Cobbity Classic finish second in the 2006 New Zealand Cup won by Flashing Red.

Racing's always been in the Steele blood. Steel's father Billy was a bush bookmaker in rural Queensland with the family living in Winton, the town where both Qantas and Waltzing Matilda originated.

Along the way Steele has had his own battles to overcome. In November 2018 he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He had a 17-hour operation, spent five weeks in hospital, and was on chemotherapy and radiation treatment for over six months.

Now he is determined to leave his mark - and that's why a certain job at HRNZ HQ in Christchurch took his eye.

"I know there are some challenges but I see challenges as opportunities - they are the same thing."

"Initially I'll be working in the business rather than on the business," Steele says.

He will however be involved in roadshows that are planned for Invercargill, Christchurch and Auckland in coming weeks to talk about key changes for the 2024/25 calendar, and he wants to be as hands-on as possible.

"I love attending race meetings - it's where you meet people and get the deeper insights."

So what does success in his new job look like?

"Success looks like increased ownership, increased wagering and that we all get a sense that we are making progress, from surviving to thriving."

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