Smart thinking provides a chance to race

By Michael Guerin

Some smart thinking and a trip around the corner has provided a stable of Pukekohe horses with a chance to race today that they wouldn’t have had from home.

Today’s Cambridge meeting will go ahead after the fields were totally re-drawn yesterday morning with all the Auckland region-based horses withdrawn, leaving a meeting made up of mainly Waikato and Central Districts horses.

But included among those starting today will be several horses actually trained in the Auckland region but whose trainers took the opportunity to move them, in one case just a few hundred metres.

Pukekohe trainer Derek Balle moved the horses he wanted to start at today’s meeting 800m around the corner to stay at the property of fellow trainer Paulette Screen, who property while so is officially in Waikato.

Trainers are allowed to, and often do for campaigns further from home, stable horses with other trainers, having to lodge an official horse movement notice which is listed on the Harness Racing New Zealand website directly under the fields.

That means Balle’s transferred horses can compete today because they are already domiciled in Waikato and can travel to and from the race with Balle’s stable worker Owen Gillies, who also lives just south of the border.

“I spoke to stipendiary steward Steve Mulcay and he said there was no issue with it,” explains Balle.

“We are talking a few hundred metres but I am officially in Pukekohe so I and anybody who works at my stable couldn’t go to the races and take the horses.

“But Paulette’s property, while it is just around the corner, is in Waikato and Owen lives in Waikato too.

“So we are doing what is best for the owners and giving the horse’s their best chances without any humans having to cross the border between Auckland region and Waikato.”

All overseas studies on racehorse movement have suggested Covid-19 can’t be transferred via the animals.

Balle isn’t the only trainer to take advantage of moving his horses to another property to enable them to race today, with South Auckland trainer Jay Abernethy heading south before the Level 3 curfew on Wednesday to take his horses to the property of

Waikato trainer Robbie Hughes, staying in the region himself so he can drive at today’s meeting.

He as the only Auckland-region based driver to take that opportunity, so the rest of the drivers at today’s meeting will be from south of Pukekohe, predominantly Waikato.

With tomorrow’s Ruakaka thoroughbred meeting cancelled, the next horse meeting in the northern area is scheduled to be Taupo on Wednesday and the latest NZTR information suggests horses from the Auckland region will be permitted to start at Taupo but Auckland region-based staff won’t be able to travel with them.

The latest NZTR regulations state an Auckland-based horse can trial or race outside the region if they are transported to and from the meeting by an independent horse freight company and loaded and unloaded in compliance with Covid-19 protocols.

Horses that travel to meeting outside the area would need to be looked after by a stable worker or trainer based in Waikato or further south and then return back to the Auckland region with any gear which travels with the horse to be disinfected.

With those protocols in place and horse racing and training allowed to continue at Level 3, only a move to Level 4 or a major outbreak inside the racing industry would seem likely to halt the $1.6 billion industry.

With Auckland set to remain at Level 3 for possibly the next 11 days the only horse racing meeting in the region in that time will be at Alexandra Park next Thursday and that should be able to go head but with no public or owners allowed.

All meetings conducted at Level 3 will be staged without any public or owners allowed but meetings in Level 2 regions allow owners to attend.

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