Judge Dick Hunt makes final call

by Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk

After adjudicating on around 36,000 races for over half a century, race course judge Dick Hunt's made his last call.

The Otaki gallops on Saturday was his last meeting before retirement.

"I've been involved in all three codes and I don't think anyone's done as long as me in this country ... Keith Hatch who was before me did 33."

Now living on the Kapiti Coast, Hunt’s been involved in judging since 1972, when he began working as an assistant judge. He then started what has turned out to a 45 year career as a race day judge in August 1978, at Foxton.

"I've judged at every race track in the lower North Island."

Originally he was a "form compiler" from 1965 to 1988, then when the Turf Digest folded he became "a racing scribe" writing for the Friday Flash till 2006.

From a harness perspective he officiated at venues including Hutt Park, Manawatu, Wanganui, Kapiti and Wairarapa.

"I judged some real champions, Blossom Lady at Manawatu and at Hutt Park there were some terrific horses going around."

Glamour mare Blossom Lady, the 1992 New Zealand Cup winner, had six of her 43 victories at Manawatu, between 1988 and 93.

"I love harness racing," says Hunt, "and for about six years in the late 1970s - early 80s we took tours of people from all over the North Island to New Zealand Cup week in Christchurch."

One particular New Zealand Cup springs to mind.

"When Lord Module and 'Ces' Devine went from last (1979) the crowd and the noise was phenomenal."

And he's planning to be at Addington this November thanks to a "shout" by his son Scott, who's inherited his father's love of racing. He's a trader bookmaker at the TAB.

Another cherished memory Hunt holds is Castletown's third Wellington Cup victory at Trentham in 1994.

"There were 20,000 in the crowd, Rachel Hunter and Rod Stewart were there, as was Jonah Lomu - and he was at the height of his powers then - the atmosphere was something else."

In his time Hunt has seen big changes, most obviously in technology.

While the photo finish is now broadcast on Trackside immediately after the race that wasn't always the case - far from it.

"I had many dead heats but with new technology very few. Back in the day we had to get the developed print processed on the next floor. Photo finish prints were posted outside the secretary’s office for public perusal at some racetracks."

But as Hunt says, "all things must come to an end."

And at 78 that time has come. He's decided against renewing his judging licence for the upcoming season.

"It's the great people that you meet that has kept me going but the travelling did get to me. I've done 50,000 ks some years and getting to a place like Gisborne, that's seven hours each way, with five to six hours working."

"I'm going to miss it but it's the right time and it's been an honour and a privilege."

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