Unprecedented times for legendary horseman
By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk
Legendary trainer Charlie Hunter has seen plenty of major world events during his lifetime, but he said none quite compare to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus has swept across the globe and resulted in New Zealand entering lockdown for the better part of two months from late-March, closing down racing.
“I don’t think I have been through anything quite like this,” Hunter said. “As a young boy we went through the war (World War II), but I don’t remember a lot of it.
“We were in Lower Hutt then and Hutt Park was taken over by the US Marines. Dad would be jogging an odd horse there and the marines were running around.
“This is certainly a lot different, I think it is more dramatic. There are a lot of people losing their jobs.”
Hunter also noted it is probably the biggest challenge he has seen the racing industry face in his lifetime.
“I don’t know what it was like back in the days of the depression, but in my lifetime this has affected racing the most,” he said.
“I don’t know where we go to from here because you depend on gaming money and TAB turnover. All of that is going to be significantly down.
“In the North Island they really just want (to race at) Cambridge and Auckland because it’s less costly to race there than having meetings around the country, which is a real shame.”
Hunter said he has been relatively confined to his Cambridge house in the last few months, but he has enjoyed being able to get out and about in the last week.
“Our age group was pretty well confined,” Hunter said. “We were doing our supermarket shopping through the internet and Fiona, our younger daughter, went and picked them up.
“We didn’t go out anywhere really, we have been confined to our barracks.
“We are close to town, so I have been able to get out and go for a walk around town.
“Since it has gone to Level 2 I have been able to go out and get a coffee.”
During lockdown, Hunter was contemplating the future of his Group One-winning trotter Lemond and elected to send him south to be in the care of trotting maestro Paul Nairn.
“I just thought it was positive to send him down there,” Hunter said. “Up here he is off 50 or 60m behind and I think the training on the track system is not as good for him as what he will get at Paul’s.
“Paul has got a 1000m track with big sweeping turns. He does work on the side of the road, there are just different advantages.”
Lemond’s season had been cut short last year after he sustained a hairline fracture to his tibia, but Hunter said he has recovered well from the injury under former trainer Ross Paynter’s care.
“When we stopped with him he had the hairline fracture of the tibia,” Hunter said. “We gave him six months off and we’ll try him in a new environment.
“The x-rays six weeks ago were totally clear. He was locked up in a stall for seven or eight weeks and then in a little paddock. He came through it very well.”
Hunter is hoping Lemond can get to somewhere near his best down in Canterbury.
“When he is right he is so very good,” he said.
“There was one time up in Auckland when David Butcher drove him and he sat parked outside the leader from the get go and went a 1:55.5 mile-rate over 1700m and he took a second and a piece off the New Zealand record which had been held by Sovereignty.
“Those are the things he can do when he is right.”
Hunter said he will leave Lemond’s spring plans up to Nairn, although a Gr.1 Dominion Trot (3200m) tilt is an obvious target.
“We will just try to get him sound so he can race at his best and I’ll leave it to Paul. He will have a chance at two or three races prior to the Dominion.”
Close to home, Hunter is looking forward to the raceday return of his other trotter, Reign.
“I have got one with Ross (Paynter) called Reign,” Hunter said. “He won a race last year as a three-year-old.
“The night he won at Cambridge, he showed a lot of speed in the last section of the race, so I think he has got quite a future.”