Peter Burns Obituary

By Jamie Searle

The death of Peter Burns has saddened the harness racing industry New Zealand-wide. 

Many say his knowledge of the sport, attention to detail and being a straight-shooter made him a respected administrator. He died at Calvary Hospital in Invercargill last Tuesday. 

Burns, who was secretary for most of Southland's harness racing clubs, held administrative roles from 1970 to 2005. He began reducing his workload in 2002.

His vast knowledge of the sport was sought by Harness Racing New Zealand with him being on its board from 1991 to 2005. In 1997, he became treasurer.

Receiving an Outstanding Contribution honour at the HRNZ annual awards in 2006 was a proud moment for him, as was being named Personality of the Year at the 1988 Southland Harness Awards. 

Burns and HRNZ's racing and marketing manager Darrin Williams were the organisation's representatives at the World Trotting Conference in Sydney in 2000.

"Peter was a gentleman with considerable knowledge and experience," Williams says.

Some of the many changes Burns saw over the decades were the introduction all-weather grit tracks, running rails being replaced by safety pylons and different types of betting as technology advanced.

Southern Harness Racing general manager Jason Broad says his knowledge of the industry  grew rapidly during the 12 years he worked for Burns.

"He taught me everything I know about the game."

When Burns retired in 2005 clubs transferred their secretarial work to Russell Freeman who was already the Wyndham club's secretary. On Freeman's retirement in 2016 Jason Broad was appointed his successor in the role of Southern Harness Racing general manager. 

One of Broad's memories of Burns is the long days they put in when the Invercargill Harness Racing Club held its two-day Cup meeting on Wednesdays (twilight) and Saturdays in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were at work getting calls from the TAB at 7.30am on the Wednesday and after the last race - held about 8pm - headed back to their office in Spey St to finalise fields for Saturday's race day.

"We were still there at midnight," Broad says.

Life became a lot easier for both men with the arrival of computers in the mid to late 1990s. 

Advice and help from Burns was much appreciated by Freeman.

"I certainly learned a lot from Peter ... I always respected his ability and he was a straight-shooter." 

Other tributes to Burns include:

NZ Harness Trainers & Drivers Association chairman Gordon Lee: "Peter was an influential figure in Southland harness racing and pioneered the strong position Southland harness finds itself in today."

Senior steward Steve Mulcay: "I had a lot of respect for Peter. He was an astute administrator and had the industry's interests at heart ... a real gentleman."

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