Ownership Profile - Graeme Harris
When Graeme Harris was waiting tables at Alexandra Park as a 16-year-old, never in his wildest dreams would he have believed he would one day be the owner of a Cup winner.
Graeme is the owner of Airpark Flyer who in November won the Riverton Cup, and has to date won five of his 18 career starts.
But it’s a long way from where he started out in the industry waiting tables.
“When I worked at Alexandra Park it was part time, and I would watch the races while I was working and would go down to the stables on my break to look at the horses,” he explained. “I used to look at all of the owners and think ‘I wish one day I could have a horse of my own.”
“I had always dreamt of being an owner and being part of the industry. The excitement, the rush. The highs and the lows. Just to see a horse out there and one the day the dream of winning a race and getting a photo on the wall with my winning horse.”
Graeme was a huge racing fan, but wasn’t always financially able as a young man to attend some of the bigger race meetings.
“I always loved going to the Boxing Day races but I couldn’t afford to get a ticket. So I would find a ticket that someone had left behind at the track, dress up in my white shirt from work waiting tables, and borrowed my dad’s suit jacket and binoculars and attached my ticket so I looked like a regular race goer,” said Graeme. “One year I found an Auckland Racing Club tie and wore that so people thought I was a member. So I never got questioned and could go anywhere. I would spend the whole day at the races and those are some of the best memories of my life!”
But Graeme wouldn’t venture into ownership until later in life when he started sponsoring junior driver, Heather Jerard through his business, Airpark Canterbury. Heather also shares in the ownership of Airpark Flyer.
“Sponsoring Heather not only helped her, but it helped me broaden my knowledge of the industry and how things worked,” said Graeme. “From learning about the gear and how to look at conformation, but also how to see things from a driver’s perspective and also gain basic knowledge of caring and looking after a horse.”
Greame purchased Airpark Flyer from his next door neighbour, Peter McClelland, and Peter is one of the people who really helped him understand the sport at another level.
“Peter started training the horse for me and did a great job explaining the ins and outs of training to me. He was very accommodating when I moved Airpark Flyer to Heather to gain increased fitness and work on some issues that he was having,” said Grame. “Heather then liased with Trent Yesberg and Trent has now taken over the training to bring him to where he is today. Trent is a young up and coming trainer who has some brilliant and innovative ideas that have really worked with Airpark Flyer.”
Graeme was also appreciative of advice received from Stephen Boyd.
“I’ve had many conversations with Stephen and respect his immense knowledge of breeding, breaking in horses and general training. Stephen is a trainer that has the best interest of the horse and owner at the forefront of his mind and also recently given me help and input into breeding a mare I have leased to Always B Miki.”
Graeme’s first win came with a horse named Ohoka Jimmy that fittingly was driven by Heather Jerard for trainer Jamie Gameson.
The win was Heather’s first as a driver.
“Heather drove the horse faultlessly and I still remember the commentator saying it was the first win for Ohoka Jimmy and the first win for Heather. I will never forget that and the rush of getting my photo taken with the horse.”
Graeme still has horses with Jamie Gameson and says he is a great trainer to be associated with.
He was also grateful to Greg Payne who had sold him the Ohoka Jimmy.
“Greg said to me when I bought the horse that if he doesn’t win a race he would give me my money back. Greg knew what he was talking about and I really respected him for his honesty.”
The ownership journey has not always been a smooth one however. Airpark Flyer required a wind operation early on in his career and required many months for him to recover. But his owner kept the faith.
“I never lost hope that he would be the star that I always dreamed of,” said Graeme.
But for Graeme the best thing about being an owner now days is being able to reflect on how far he has come.
“I think back to when I was waiting tables at Alexandra Park sometimes and I just have to pinch myself. I always believed this would happen, but on the other hand also can’t believe it actually did!”
“To walk around the stables before a race and be around the horses and the energy of the drivers and trainers is better than any feeling in the world.”
“I would highly recommend for anyone to have a share in a horse no matter how big or small the share is, as the excitement and the pride you feel being a part of the whole team is simply amazing.”
“Don’t worry about the money that you may win. Think about hanging the photo on the wall when your horse wins. Because to me the most important thing of all is firstly the horse and their welfare, and secondly the feeling you get when you win.”
“As long as my horse wants to race, they look good, they feel good and are treated well, I’m happy.”
Graeme also urges others to support junior drivers in the game too.
“Keep the junior drivers in mind, the ones that are trying so hard to make a name for themselves in the industry as without them there would be no one coming through the ranks to drive the horses we all love so dearly.”
For more information on how you can get involved in ownership, please contact Jess Smith at Harness Racing New Zealand – [email protected]