The Future Starts Now

Rob Courtney

One man’s opinion…..


When something is not working properly, one always has 2 choices, at a certain time, when deciding what the future might look like.

Choice 1 – Do nothing (& hope that things will change for the good by themselves)

Choice 2 – Do something (a ‘plan’ acknowledging that things have to change for a good/better result)

No ‘plan’, no change !

As a ‘baby boomer’ who had witnessed Harness Racing in all its glory through the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s, the cultural landscape, which once was so easily defined, has definitely changed and the sport that I remain passionate about had fallen into somewhat of a dark and less than secure hole, with no easy fix.

Well, something that I couldn’t fix at least by myself.

NZ might have been a ‘Rugby, Racing & Beer’ country in 1970 but in 2024 that notion has almost disappeared, in my opinion.

Just ask anyone high up in the Rugby fraternity how difficult things have been over the last 5 years in trying to maintain/increase their market share in the national sporting framework.

And after a series of initiatives that lasted ‘not long’ and the departure of a number of ‘experienced’ people  (& horses) who once flourished under the racing & breeding banners, which saw a dramatic reduction in the numbers of racehorses & broodmares alike, along has come Entain with the financial offer of support to keep harness racing afloat in NZ, with a condition that this support would be guaranteed for 5 years only.

Credit where credit is due and those at board level who govern harness racing in this country, have embraced this offer and in conjunction with Entain/TAB & HRNZ, they have prepared a financial package that is designed to lift the sport out of that ‘hole’ & to propel it positively forward.

And so yours truly got the invite to attend the launch of ‘The Future Starts Now’ last Friday at Addington raceway.

The cocktails were really quite good + fresh oysters!

After doing a number of roles within the industry over a 40-year period, this writer, some time ago, decided to put his hat in the ‘breeder bin’ of the sport and naturally I remain concerned about the number of mares being bred as seasons pass by.

In 1987, nearly 9000 mares were in circulation. In 2024, the number could easily be around 1200 – 1500, considering recent trends.

And then only 75% of them will have a live foal ?


I have always started my rational thinking with “no horses, no industry” , bemoaning the absent recognition and importance of the breeder in the politics of decision making, but at the Friday launch, even though the word ‘breeder’ was only mentioned once & in a very general sense at that, my conscience (in the physical form of my wife) challenged me to change my thinking and to start at the ‘other end of the tunnel’, the end that has excited owners racing their horses on our popular racedays in our best & richest races.

So where are these excited people, these investors/buyers/owners who will want to be involved?

Horses haven’t been selling… yearling & weanling sales, on Gavelhouse ….because those who can afford to buy our horses have not seen the means/pathways to get a return on their investment  for some time! (and that is not just restricted to a financial return).

** Those that ‘can afford’ are not a younger age group by the way, with mortgage, work & family commitments.

The flow on effect of this owner/investor/buyer absence, is that the breeder doesn’t get ‘their return’, to reinvest, and then they begin to question their involvement, and then they make the decision to reduce their breeding numbers.

So on Friday, this ‘launch’ offered a $10M package/boost per annum to address that confidence in harness racing. Even Harness Racing NZ have contributed to this figure by delving into their financial reserves, ‘putting their money where their mouth is’ so to speak.

  • 75% of that $10M will go to everyday ‘bread & butter’ racing.
  • $900,000 towards another 150 races for fillies & mares at the lower end
  • $1M extra to give the trotters greater racing opportunities
  • Hefty rises in our biggest races in both gaits
  • Race series heats and finals in the 3 main racing provinces
  • A $750 ‘credit for any filly/mare that wins any race that can be then credited to service fees when a broodmare later in life. (up to 8 wins)

These ‘positives’ are in place to give ‘investors/buyers/owners’ confidence (+ motivation & enthusiasm) in going forward. I get that.

To give them that pathway that might realise a return which has their involvement ‘cemented’ in our sport as opposed to withdrawing and walking away with both their interest and their money.

So, working backwards, they will need a horse (s) to be part of this ‘sporting landscape’ and they will need to invest at some level, either by getting into the ownership of a going horse or an untried youngster.

That hopefully is going to provide a windfall for the producer of the horse, the breeder perhaps, who in turn will put the mare back in foal and repeat the cycle all over again.

This ‘launch’ delivered a plan to positively encourage people to get involved. Everyone wants to be associated with the winner of the IRT NZ Trotting Cup. Its going to be worth $1M!!

As a supporter of harness racing, I need to get behind this positive plan, with the goal of having harness racing flourishing in NZ, so that in 5 years time (4 now, 1 has already passed), when Entain potentially exits with its funding, the sport can stand tall on his newly garnished market position.

There is a new man at the helm, who like all ‘new men’ initially will ‘talk the talk’ but in the end he and his ‘helpers’ have to ‘walk the walk’.

With no better plan in place, the consequences of this new plan not working, bear not thinking about at this time.

Friday Night Lights has already been positively commented upon by those watching from their lounges at home (with the exception of going to a greyhound race in the middle of the one-minute silence for Katie Cox, how insensitive Trackside!) … small step up an imposing climb but to get out of any hole, one has to do some climbing me thinks.

And let’s climb together, as a team. (there is no ‘I’ in team)