More than fifty breeders gave up their Sunday morning to participate in the second Breeders’ Forum at Alexandra Park, organised by the New Zealand and North Island Standardbred Breeders’ Associations.
It was pleasing to see commercial and hobby breeders under the one roof having their say.
John Mooney and Kiely Buttell from NZSBA gave an overview of who our breeders are and an update on the breeders survey which was sent to all breeders who no longer have involvement in harness racing.
New Zealand breeders predominantly breed one or two mares per year and are aged over 50. Over 50% retain ownership in their progeny, so they are not only shouldering breeding costs but education and training costs on top. It is from this sector we are losing breeders; costs have simply outweighed returns.
Edward Rennell, CEO Harness Racing New Zealand, gave a thorough overview of the industry, how the industry is funded, how that funding is distributed and what the priorities are for the future.
The good news is that average stakes are increasing. This is not being reflected as yet in enhanced breeding numbers, as decisions made last year and this year will take at least three years to show results on the track.
Trotting has also seen growth in its three key indicators: mares bred, individual horses to race and number of trotting races. The average trotting stake is now $10,380, compared with $10,639 for pacers.
Dominique Dowding, CEO Alexandra Park, gave a frank and honest evaluation of the industry in the North. Dominique made no apology for their unrelenting focus on making harness racing viable in the North.
In order to be sustainable the Club has focussed on weaning itself from its reliance on gaming funds, and concentrating on increasing external revenue. The recent Blues contract and development of Greenlane West retail/apartments are examples of this in action.
This increase in revenue has seen stakes rise by 20%. There is frustration when trainers still elect to race at other venues for lesser stakes, rather than race at the Park where there is a perception of not being competitive.
An alarming statistic provided was that the majority of harness trainers earn less than $40,000 p.a. Whilst a number of trainers adopt excellent business and communication practises there is still a significant number that need to address these areas.
Franklin Park is being developed to ensure the future generations of trainers have an affordable venue in which to train, leading to rejuvenation of the ownership and breeding bases.
After the presentations, those participating where asked to break out into groups to discuss the topics raised. It was heartening to see breeders – both commercial and hobbyists – working together to discuss the issues and seeking solutions with respect for all opinions, whether from left field or not.
These key themes came from the discussions:
Create a mares’ credit or breeders’ bonus scheme that will filter down to the one-to-two breeders;
Pay an appearance fee to all horses (the easiest way to give a financial incentive to all participants) which will filter to breeders who make up over 50% of owners;
Develop an industry-wide loyalty scheme;
Create a new, innovative and attractive product that appeals to the younger audience – short, sharp and interactive;
Utilise technology to grab attention and interact with new audience;
Make it easier for people to enter the industry. Research shows the majority of participants start their racing journey by visiting the track. This first port of call must be an exceptional experience, and a clear pathway to the next steps of punting, ownership and breeding must be developed and implemented by clubs;
Marketing to focus on the drama, contest and passion of harness racing. Return on investment is not the main reason participants enter the industry;
Look at two tiers of racing – metropolitan and ‘grass roots’ – to ensure all classes of horses are catered for;
Focus on ways of ensuring horses get to race regularly over a season – no excitement factor in the paddock plus supports industry – conditioned programming vital
Ensure all trainers present a professional image – as much as clubs, they are the shop window for the industry.
NZSBA has gathered all views given by participants and will incorporate these ideas into their strategic planning day at the end of May.
A similar forum will be announced shortly for Canterbury.