Hawkes Bay Racing Column 29 May 2020
‘Freddy’ proves a hit at Cranford Hospice
(By John Jenkins)
Covid-19 has affected so many New Zealand businesses and charities and one that has felt the full brunt of the crisis is Cranford Hospice in Hastings.
The palliative care centre receives some funding from the Hawke’s Bay DHB but mainly relies on donations and the occasional lottery grant and has been hit hard by the events of the last three months.
“We basically rely on donations,” spokesperson Stacey O’Donnell said this week.
“We have an annual appeal plus a street appeal but we missed out on the street appeal this year because it was supposed to be in the middle of March, which was right in the middle of lockdown.”
“Like most organisations, we are now desperately in need of funds.”
Hastings racehorse trainer Lee Somervell learnt of Cranford Hospice’s plight and, whilst not having a lot to contribute financially, he said he would like to help in whatever way he could.
Somervell prepares a horse with a racing name of One Prize One Goal. He is by Ekraar out of a mare called Sheeza Kinda Magic and gets his name from the lyrics of famous songs produced by the band Queen, with his stable name being Freddy (as in Freddy Mercury).
He is owned by Somervell’s partner Shirin Wood and her Australian-based son Calvin and was bred by them in partnership with Shirin’s late husband Kevin.
Although he is a racing thoroughbred, and is due to compete when New Zealand gallops racing resumes in July, Freddy is so placid and docile that Somervell thought he would be the ideal animal to take to Cranford Hospice and get up close and personal with some of the inpatients.
Somervell used to direct an equine tourist display at Cambridge Lodge and also spent time training and educating horses for the Lord Of The Rings series. He first took Freddy into the house that he and Shirin have in Westshore a couple of times to get him used to confined spaces and also had a quiet trial run on the gardens at Cranford Hospice on Thursday of last week.
The following day he taped up Freddy’s front feet so that he wouldn’t slip on the concrete and took him down to Cranford to meet the inpatients and staff.
The welcoming party would have been too overwhelming for most racehorses but Freddy took it in his stride, marching into the garden area without a care in the world.
Inpatient Lee-anne Hulson, a distant relation of the legendary Australian racehorse trainer Bart Cummings and a horse lover from her childhood, knew Freddy was coming and was waiting in the garden area when he turned up.
“It is unbelievable,” she said.
“I was born in Adelaide and have had horses for a lot of my life, mainly dressage and western horses. I love them, there is just something about them that is so great and this one is so perfect.”
Fellow inpatient Kon Bron was brought to tears as Freddy leant down and nudged his head close for a pat.
Bron was a former apprentice jockey who was attached to the stables of legendary New Zealand trainers Theo Howe and Mick Preston.
“I only had half a dozen race-rides but I’ve always loved horses and this is absolutely marvellous,” as he admired Freddy up close.
Another patient then turned up for a close up photograph and very soon a large number of staff members also appeared to get close to a horse that stands more than 16 hands high and weighs 568kg.
Cranford Hospice put out a Facebook message the following day saying:
“To the delight of those staying at our inpatient unit, Freddy the racehorse visited our garden on Friday with his trainer, Lee Somervell.
“Described as a “big softie”, Freddy loves being indoors, and has such a calm temperament, as you can see by his relaxed attitude around all those showing him attention.”
Stacey O’Donnell said the comments she has received from everyone that was there on the day and the families involved has been amazing.
“We have some pretty harrowing days here sometimes and, to have something like this, was like a ray of sunshine for everyone. It was a huge thing for the patients and the staff.”
O’Donnell said Cranford Hospice has 150 patients and families on their books but only has eight beds for palliative care at its Hastings facility.
“During the Covid-19 level 2 that number of beds available has been reduced to four,” she said.
There are plans for a new hospice to be built on a piece of land on the Chesterhope Station site, half-way between Hastings and Napier, which has been provided by the Joan Fernie Trust.
A 2012 study into the current Cranford Hospice location found that, in the future, the space would not be suitable for modern hospice requirements.
Lee Somervell said he and partner Shirin Wood wanted to give something back to the hospice after both having experienced, first-hand, the care and patience hospice staff give in palliative care.
“I lost my wife Nell to cancer in 2016 and she was in a hospice in Cambridge and Shirin’s late husband Kevin was in the Cranford Hospice before he also died of cancer in 2016,” Somervell said.
“I see this as a chance to repay them for all the great work that they do.”
Somervell said he got the idea from watching a video clip of a 14-year-old warmblood stallion in the United States who visits hospitals and residential homes twice a month helping to comfort and bring a smile to the faces of the sick.
Peyo is the horse’s name and, although like Freddy, he lives the life of a normal horse out in the paddock and wide open spaces, he has an incredible aptitude for humans, especially those who are sick.
The video said Peyo boosts the morale and brings smiles to the faces to those that need it most.
Somervell said Freddy reminds him so much of Peyo, both in his physical appearance and attitude.
“He (Freddy) is such a kind horse and has always had a great empathy with people.
“When his racing days are over I’d like to think we could take him around to different places just to meet people and so they can get up close and interact with a horse.
“He loves the attention and I’m sure I could take him just about anywhere and he would be okay. I’m certainly prepared to take him to other places.”
Cranford Hospice inpatient Lee-anne Hulson was there to meet Freddy the racehorse when he and trainer Lee Somervell arrived in the garden area of the palliative centre and even got to hand-feed him.
Former apprentice jockey Kon Bron was brought to tears when Freddy put his head down for an affectionate pat.
Lee-anne Hulson made a special effort to get out of her wheelchair to get as close as she could to the big horse.
Freddy and trainer Lee Somervell are surrounded by staff and patients as they pose for a group photograph in the gardens at Cranford Hospice.
Hastings Jumpouts 28 May 2020
(By John Jenkins)
Impressive performances by Spydapus, Peso, Dez and a Savabeel-Baby Shakes two-year-old filly were among the highlights at a busy session of jumpouts held at the Hastings track this morning.
There were 11 heats, run over distances ranging from 780m to 1400m, and held seven metres out from the running rail on the course proper, which provided good footing.
Spydapus clocked the quickest time of the six 780m heats when she proved too speedy for her rivals. The Burgundy three-year-old filly bounced straight to the front and was always clear, racing right away over the final stages to win by seven lengths.
Spydapus, who is trained by John Bary, has had one start for a third over 1000m at Tauherenikau in March and that followed an impressive trial win over 850m at Foxton. She is likely to resume racing in an 800m race at Wanganui in the first week of July.
The Group 1 performer Peso won the only heat run at 1200m, powering clear in the final stages to score by two lengths from Dez.
Peso was one of 13 horses the Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal stable lined up at the jumpouts, with most of the others being jumpers. Nelson said most of them will head to the Waverley Point To Point meeting on June 11 in readiness for a return to racing in July.
Dez looks to have done plenty of work with trainer Simon Wilson saying he will also be ready to resume racing in July.
“We’ve just got to find a suitable race for him now and that could be a problem,” Wilson said.
A Savabeel-Baby Shakes two-year-old filly in the Lowry/Cullen stable looked good when taking out the first of the 780m heats by three-quarters of a length. Her winning time of 48.3s was not that fast but she looked like she could have gone a lot quicker.
Heat 1, 780m: Savabeel-Baby Shakes 2yr-old filly (Sammy) 1, Rock ‘N’ Pop 2yr-old filly 2, Ocean Park 2yr-old colt 3. Five starters. Margins: ¾ length, 1-1/4 lengths. Time: 48.3s. Winner trained by Guy Lowry & Grant Cullen, Hastings.
Heat 2, 780m: Jakkalberry 3yr-old gelding (T Allan) 1, Mongolian Khan 2yr-old colt 2, Sun Ruler 3yr-old filly 3. Six starters. Margins: Head, 2 lengths. Time: 48.1s. Winner trained by Tim Symes, Hastings.
Heat 3, 780m: Ask Pa (R Oliver) 1, Per Incanto-Queen Aly 3yr-old gelding 2, Pas de Geant 3. Six starters. Margins: Long neck, 2-1/4 lengths. Time: 47.7s. Winner trained by John Bary, Hastings.
Heat 4, 780m: Spydapus (R Oliver) 1, Per Incanto 3yr-old filly 2, Fabulous Fleet 3. Six starters. Margins: 7 lengths, head. Time: 46.7s. Winner trained by John Bary Hastings.
Heat 5, 780m: Thousandkissesdeep (L Hemi) 1, Estefania 2, Red Sunday 3. Four starters. Margins: Long neck, 2-1/2 lengths. Time: 48.2s. Winner trained by Lee Somervell, Hastings.
Heat 6, 780m: Ruie’s Crumpet (T Allan) 1, One Prize One Goal 2, Shez Ekstra 3. Four starters. Margins: 1 length, ¾ length. Time: 47.4s. Winner trained by Guy Lowry & Grant Cullen, Hastings.
Heat 7, 1000m: My Tommy (T Allan) 1, Louboutin 2, Smokin’ Oak 3. Three starters. Margins: Long head, ¾ length. Time: 1:02.3. Winner trained by Tim Symes, Hastings.
Heat 8, 1000m: The Bandito (Z Thomson) 1, Manhattan Girl 2, Wait A Sec 3. Four starters. Margins: ¾ length, 1 length. Time: 1:03.4. Winner trained by John Bary, Hastings.
Heat 9, 1200m: Peso (J Bassett) 1, Dez 2, Flag 3. Six starters. Margins: ½ length, 3 lengths. Time: 1:27.9. Winner trained by Paul Nelson & Corrina McDougal, Hastings.
Heat 10, 1400m: The Cossack (R Oliver) 1, Dundee Street 2, No Tip 3. Six starters. Margins: ½ length, 3 lengths. Time: 1:27.9. Winner trained by Paul Nelson & Corrina McDougal, Hastings.
Heat 11, 1400m: Donardo (R Oliver) 1, Perry Mason 2, Revolution 3. Six starters. Margins: 2-1/2 lengths, 2 lengths. Time: 1:28.9. Winner trained by Lucy de Lautour, Waipukurau.
Hawkes Bay Racing Column 22 May 2020
Huge numbers for Hastings jumpouts
(By John Jenkins)
Gallops racing in New Zealand is not expected to resume until the first week of July but the Hastings racetrack is set to stage what will look like a mini-race meeting there next Wednesday.
Jumpouts have been scheduled for the Hastings track on May 27 and local trainers cannot wait for the opportunity to step their horses out in some sort of competition after weeks of lockdown and hibernation caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
More than 40 horses are expected to line up in what will be the first of two sets of jumpouts scheduled for the Hastings racetrack in the coming weeks. The second is planned for Tuesday, June 9.
At any normal jumpout day at Hastings there would be six or seven heats, at varying distances, attracting four or five horses in each heat. But, judging by the number of trainers spoken to this week, there will be significantly more numbers than that next Wednesday.
Unfortunately, under the present Alert 3 restrictions, only registered licensed personal will be able to attend the jumpouts, meaning owners will not be able to go on course to watch their horses perform and the general public will also be barred.
The Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen partnership, who are presently the leading Hawke’s Bay trainers on 12 wins so far this season, could have as many as 15 horses line up at next Wednesday’s jumpouts, some of them raced horses but also several unraced youngsters.
The raced horses include the Group 1 winner Wait A Sec and two-race winner Shez Ekstra as well as Ruie’s Crumpet and Shady Lady. Others expected to line up from the stable are Blakkalberry, Vin Rouge, a Savabeel-Baby Shakes two-year-old filly, a Per Incanto-Queen Aly three-year-old gelding, a Swiss Ace two-year-old gelding, an Atlante two-year-old gelding, a Roc de Cambes three-year-old gelding, a Ferlax three-year-old filly, a Prince Conti three-year-old filly, a Darci Brahma-Diplomacy two-year-old filly, an Iffraaj-Madam Marju three-year-old filly and a Per Incanto three-year-old filly.
Grant Cullen, who prepares a team of the stable’s horses from a farm property near Dannevirke, said he has eight horses that could potentially line up at the jumpouts but his horse float can only fit four so he will need another truck for the others.
“If we can arrange another truck we could have another four up there, those being Vroom, Swish Az, Mercy Hill and Red Sunday,” Cullen said.
Cullen and his partner Nikki Lourie have been able to keep working their horses on their private property during the lockdown, which would seem to be a huge advantage over those trainers relying on getting their horses fit by working them on racetracks that were closed during the country’s lockdown.
The talented mare Shez Ekstra should also be ready to perform well at the jumpouts as she has spent several weeks stabled at Mary Darby’s property in Porangahau, where she has undergone plenty of beach work.
John Bary, who sits one behind the Lowry/Cullen stable in number of wins this season, said this week he plans to line up at least eight horses at next Wednesday’s jumpouts.
They include the four-race winner The Bandito as well as Louboutin, Manhattan Girl, Spydapus, Smokin’ Oak, Lady Godiva, Ask Pa and Eleventh Hour.
Bary has his own 1300m track at his stabling complex and has been able to get sufficient work into them to have them ready for a jumpout followed by a subsequent trial before they go to the races.
“The horses I’ve got ready to go are just about there and their gallops have been good,” Bary said.
“They are certainly forward enough to have a jumpout.”
Bary added that he has another 12 two-year-olds now back in work that should be ready to line up in the next lot of Hastings jumpouts on June 9.
Lee Somervell, who has six horses in work, said they could all have a jumpout next Wednesday providing there were enough heats at distances to suit.
The four-race winner One Prize One Goal could be them stepping out, along with Thousandkissesdeep, Pas de Giant, Fabulous Fleet, a Rock ‘N’ Pop two-year-old filly and a Sun Ruler three-year-old filly.
The Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal stable has a number of jumpers that they are keen to get a jumpout into and so they could have as many as 10 horses at next Wednesday’s jumpouts.
They include the top jumpers No Change, Perry Mason and Second Innings as well as Revolution, Rocky, Wagner, The Cossack, Teapot and Matovani.
Hastings owner-trainer Tim Symes has three horses in work at the moment in My Tommy, Call Me Jack and a Jakkalberry three-year-old gelding and could line up all three at next Wednesday’s jumpouts.
Symes said My Tommy was close to racing fitness when the country went into lockdown so it has not taken long to get his fitness level up again.
Another owner-trainer, Richard McKenzie, has his capable mare Estefania back and looking in great order in preparation for another winter campaign and she is ready for a jumpout next week while two other Hastings trainers, Patrick Campbell and Fred Pratt, are also likely to have at least two horses ready for next week’s jumpouts.
Wait A Sec winning the Group 1 Livamol Classic at Hastings in October 2017. He is one of several horses the Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen will step out at next Wednesday’s Hastings jumpouts.
Bosson to stay with Te Akau
Te Akau Racing has confirmed that the stable’s leading jockey, Opie Bosson, will remain as their number one retained rider for the upcoming 2020/21 racing season.
Te Akau Principal David Ellis made the announcement on the Te Akau Racing website.
“Opie and Te Akau go back a very long way – he started working with us when he was 14,” Ellis said.
“He is a truly gifted rider, with beautiful balance and the best instinct you will see.
“His record again this season in the “Te Akau tangerine” has been phenomenal, riding nine of our 11 Group 1 winners including Te Akau Shark, Melody Belle, Avantage, Probabeel and Cool Aza Beel with these elite wins coming in both New Zealand and Australia.
“Our trainer Jamie Richards leads the NZ Trainers’ Premiership (99 wins) and the combination of Jamie with Opie has proven formidable. They work so well together and the results they achieve speak for themselves.”
Te Akau trainer Jamie Richards added:
“Opie is such an asset to the team – obviously on race day as he is in a class of his own. His feedback from track work and trials is invaluable, he just has such a unique feel of where each horse is at.”
Bosson also reiterated his commitment to the stable in the statement.
“I definitely strongly considered re-locating to Australia for the new season,” he said.
“However I have been to Te Akau Stud and the Matamata stable and after seeing the quality of yearlings David (Ellis) has bought, and also seeing how the older horses had spelled – I wanted to be part of the future success I know is coming.
“The talent the stable has just blew me away.
“I also really enjoy working with Jamie – he’s a freak of a trainer who understands a horse better than anyone I know.”
Hastings Trackwork 19 May 2020
(By John Jenkins)
Shady Lady, Estefania and One Prize One Goal were three race winners in action at this morning’s first serious Hastings trackwork session since the Covid-19 lockdown.
The trio all look in great order and will be ready to compete in the first of two lots of Hastings jumpouts planned for the next three weeks.
The first set of jumpouts will be held on the Hastings track on Wednesday of next week and the second is planned for Tuesday, June 9.
The first official central districts race meeting is planned for Awapuni on Saturday, July 4.
Shady Lady, a member of the Lowry/Cullen stable, has been back in light work for three weeks. She was stepped up to three-quarter pace when working on the plough this morning and was let stride out a bit quicker over the last 600 in 40.2.
The lightly raced six-year-old has not started since winning a maiden race over 1600m at Waipukurau in September 2018.
One Prize One Goal was restricted to three-quarter pace, running his last 600 in 43.7 while Estefania worked early in the session and was also kept to just three-quarter pace over 800m.
Estefania is the winner of two races, on slow and heavy tracks, and owner-trainer Richard McKenzie is looking forward to the onset rain affected tracks in the winter.
A Per Incanto-Queen Aly three-year-old gelding and a Savabeel-Baby Shakes two-year-old filly recorded one of the fastest times of the session when running 800m in 53.6, the last 600 in 38.6. They are both in the Lowry/Cullen stable.
A Ferlax three-year-old filly and one by Prince Conti, also both in the Lowry/Cullen stable, ended their work with a 600m sprint in 38.6 while a Darci Brahma-Diplomacy two-year-old filly and one by Iffraaj out of Madama Marju worked together over 800m in 55.5, the last 600 in 40.3.
A Per Incanto three-year-old filly in the Lowry/Cullen stable clocked 55 for 800m, running the first 200 in a quick 13.7 before slowing over the last 600 in 41.3.
A Swiss Ace two-year-old gelding and one by Atlante ran an easy 800m in 57.3, the last 600 in 42.4 while a Roc de Cambes three-year-old gelding ended his work with 600m in 42.3.
Hawkes Bay Racing Column 15 May 2020
Support package seen as lifeline for NZ racing
(By John Jenkins)
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing welcomed Tuesday’s announcement by Racing Minister Winston Peters of a $72.5 million emergency support package for the racing industry.
The support package consists of $50 million relief grant for the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA); up to $20 million in funding to construct two new all-weather racetracks; and $2.5 million for the Department of Internal Affairs to fast track work on the online gambling revenue, and address loss of revenue impacts on community and sport groups.
“The Minister described this as the first step in the restoration of racing, and emphasised that this a long-term process,” NZTR Chairman, Dr Alan Jackson said.
“It is no secret that COVID-19 and the absence of local racing has impacted severely on TAB revenue, and without the Minister’s intervention the industry’s future would have been limited.”
Jackson said it was pleasing to hear the Minister reaffirm the economic contribution of the racing industry.
“We are a $1.6 billion industry which has 15,000 full-time employees spread throughout the community and those other businesses which support and supply our industry is often underestimated,” Jackson said.
“The industry needs to be aware that the support package is a leg-up, not a handout and there are expectations from government that the industry will make the necessary changes required to live within its means.”
“NZTR, along with the other codes will also be continuing to work with RITA to ensure that future reforms are in line with those expected by the Minister and others in government,” he said.
Included in the support package is up to $20 million from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) for synthetic tracks at Awapuni and Riccarton.
“As the Minister outlined in his announcement the next step is for NZTR and RITA to consult with RACE in Manawatu and the Canterbury Jockey Club on the terms around those projects,” Jackson said.
The president of the New Zealand Trainers’ Association, Tony Pike, believes the $72.5million emergency support package has breathed life back into an industry that was facing ruin.
“It is obviously huge for the industry,” Pike said.
“Without government support the TAB, or RITA were heading west.
“By the sounds of it, they had not been paying suppliers for a while, with $26million to clear their current liabilities. This provides us with enough money to carry on until domestic racing gets back on track in addition to sports and gaming.
“There is a big restructure going on at RITA and obviously they are going to streamline their business significantly. If we can get domestic racing back up and going, sports betting and gaming back on track, then hopefully there is going to be more coming out the other end that can be distributed to the three racing codes.”
Racing broadcaster Trackside was one of the areas earmarked for cost-savings with broadcasting staff reportedly told they will have on-course presenters at only around 20 meetings a season, which will mean most Saturday race meetings will be hosted from studios.
It is envisaged that at least two of the 10-strong presenting team will be made redundant, along with one northern commentator, and Trackside Radio will cease to exist on the AM frequency, instead being a digital simulcast available online.
Tony Pike is acutely aware of the importance Trackside is as racing’s shop front.
“From a personal point of view, yes it needs streamlining but we still need a promotion of domestic racing and some sort of coverage to drive betting turnover.
“Hopefully they don’t cut that too much to the bone because that is your shop front delivering to people out there, both from an ownership and punting point of view.”
With a synthetic track already well under way in Cambridge, a further two all-weather surfaces are planned for Awapuni and Riccarton Park and are expected to play a role in both centralising racing and reducing costs, in addition to providing reliable training and racing surfaces throughout the winter.
“There is a world-wide acceptance for them now as a consistent betting product and obviously they will help us significantly through our wettest four or five months of the year,” Pike said.
For those outside of racing questioning the government relief package for the industry, Pike was quick to point out what a substantial contributor it is to the New Zealand economy, as well as employing 15,000 full-time.
“For people at the coalface, it is not considered a gambling industry,” he said. “It employs a huge amount of people and an enormous amount of care is taken looking after the horses and we are renowned on the world stage.
“It is a stimulator for the local economy. Areas like Cambridge and Matamata, their local economies rely heavily on the thoroughbred industry.
“It is a massive export earner with horses being sold overseas and income coming from overseas investors who support racehorse breeding and training in New Zealand.”
NZTR chairman Dr Alan Jackson wants to stress that the Government support package for the racing industry is a leg-up and not a handout.
New Zealand Trainers Association president Tony Pike does not want to see drastic cuts to the Trackside coverage of racing.
Widespread changes at TAB
The Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) has announced it will be making widespread changes to the TAB in response to the impact of Covid-19.
The proposal includes a reduction of approximately 30 per cent of roles across all areas of the organisation and is in addition to other cost saving measures at reducing total expenditure.
Already a number of contractors have been laid off but remaining salaried staff have been informed there are more than 160 roles (and a further 70 contractors) to be cut across the board, with voluntary redundancies offered.
RITA executive chairman, Dean McKenzie, said the scale of change presented to staff was required to ensure the business was sustainable for the future and best placed to meet the needs of New Zealand racing and sport.
“The TAB has taken a major hit from Covid-19 with revenue last month 47 per cent below forecast and customer numbers down more than 35 per cent,” McKenzie said.
“Despite far reaching efforts to reduce costs across the TAB, including salary reductions, staff taking leave and reducing all non-essential expenses, it simply was not enough to offset the blow Covid-19 has had, and will have, on our industry.
“The implication of the pandemic extends beyond the immediate impact to the TAB, with racing and sport looking very unpredictable over the next year.
“The reality is the TAB will need to be a leaner, more efficient business with fewer roles, and focussed on driving our core wagering and gaming business.
“Our focus now is to discuss this proposal with our people and to listen to their feedback before a final decision is made in late May.”
RITA was appointed by Racing Minister Winston Peters on July 1 last year to enable the urgent changes required to drive the racing industry toward a financially sustainable future.
Covid-19 has provided the impetus for swift change, however, the wagering operator and broadcaster was already under pressure to create efficiencies prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
RITA will use $26million of its $50million grant from the government relief package to pay off its outstanding debt and remain trading. But that still leaves them with $24million and McKenzie is not et sure how it will be spent.
“I can’t give the industry an answer on that yet because this is all new to us, too,” McKenzie was quoted as saying following Tuesday’s Government announcement.
“We are thrilled about the Government support but we haven’t had a chance to talk to the minister to get further guidance and then among ourselves as to exactly how that money will be used.”
Peters said the $24million will be so RITA and the three racing codes can maintain baseline functionality and resume racing again.
Owners, trainers, jockey and drivers are going to want to see money injected into stake money.
Hawkes Bay Racing Column 8 May 2020
Horses trained privately may have advantage
(By John Jenkins)
Thoroughbred trainers who are able to work their horses at their own properties may have the jump on those relying on working them at training tracks when New Zealand racing begins again in July.
While most New Zealand trainers were only able to start working their teams on racecourse training tracks from Tuesday of last week, after a four week lockdown, other trainers have been able to work them right through and say they are close to race fitness already. That might give them a slight advantage.
Grant Cullen, who trains in partnership with Guy Lowry, lives with his partner Nikki Lourie on a farm property just north of Dannevirke where they work a number of horses registered to the stable.
He said this week that, although the Alert 4 lockdown did restrict their travel, it did not have a detrimental effect on their training programme.
“I suppose we’ve been lucky in that we have been able to keep working the horses here were we live,” Cullen said.
“Not that we have been working them hard or anything. We’ve just been ticking them over with plenty of pacework, dressage and hill work.”
Cullen said he and Nikki have eight horses onsite that have all been in work, to some extent, for the past six weeks and are now ready to have a jumpout or trial.
The eight are the Group 1 winner Wait A Sec, Ruie’s Crumpet, Vroom, Swish Az, Mercy Hill, Red Sunday, Vin Rouge and Blakkalberry.
Wait A Sec, whose 13 wins include the 2017 Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings, has been unplaced in four starts this season but Cullen says the Postponed nine-year-old is looking good and the onset of winter tracks could suit him.
“He has won on slow and heavy tracks and it might slow the others down which could help him,” Cullen said.
Cullen said the race winners Ruie’s Crumpet, Vroom and Swish Az should also cope with rain affected tracks while Mercy Hill is a relative newcomer to their stable but has won four races, three on dead footing.
Swish Az is a Swiss Ace mare who has won two of her 10 starts, the most recent over 1600m on a dead track at Hastings at the end of February, while Vroom cleared maiden ranks over 1600m on a dead track at Gisborne in February.
“The others are young horses who haven’t been tried on wet tacks yet so we will just see how they go,” Cullen added.
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing have brought in a ruling that raced horses can only trial once before they resume racing and Cullen said several of their horses will be ready to step out at the first Central Districts trials, scheduled for Foxton on June 4.
There is now no restriction on the number of jumpouts a horse can have before returning to the racetrack and it is hoped that there will be jumpouts held at the Hastings track towards the end of this month.
Gallops racing in New Zealand is set to resume on Friday, July 3, when the Canterbury Jockey Club will stage a meeting at Riccarton Park.
There are 13 gallop meetings scheduled between July 3 and the end of the racing season on July 31 but they will only be run on six racetracks, Riccarton, Te Rapa, Awapuni, Wanganui, Pukekohe and Invercargill.
NZTR has announced a flat stakes level of $15,000 for all races at the 13 meetings during July and that stake money will be paid out on the first 14 horses in each race. There will also be no nomination and acceptance fees charged for horses that start in the races.
Cullen said the $15,000 stake per race, across the board, is a good starting point.
“It is a positive sign that they have put that figure up and hopefully things don’t drop too much in the future.”
John Bary is another Hawke’s Bay trainer who has been able to work his horses at his own property, in Mutiny Road, where he has an 800m training track.
He said this week he has 22 horses in work, nine of which should be ready to race in July.
Those nine are Louboutin, The Bandito, Cool Hand Duke, Manhattan Girl, Lady Godiva, Spydapus, Smokin’ Oak, Eleventh Hour and an Ocean Park three-year-old half-sister to former stable star Miss Selby.
“The others are all just two-year-olds in for early education and will then be turned out again,” Bary said.
He said that most of the horses in his stable were turned out during the Alert 4 lockdown, but a few have had their work stepped up in the past couple of weeks and will be ready for a jumpout at the end of this month.
Bary said Louboutin won two races on heavy tracks at Wanganui last winter and he hopes to have the Jimmy Choux mare ready to fire again at the Wanganui meeting on July 10.
“Smokin’ Oak has also won at Wanganui on the wet so hopefully he can go back there and Manhattan Girl also goes well on wet tracks,” Bary said.
“We’ve got a couple of jumping races in mind for Cool Hand Duke while Lady Godiva has been in pre-training and has come back into the stable in excellent order.”
Spydapus is a three-year-old filly by Burgundy who was impressive when winning an 850m Foxton trial in March and then finished third on debut over 1000m at Tauherenikau.
Asked what he thought of the $15,000 across the board stakemoney level for all races in July, Bary said that, under the circumstances, it was probably fair and will be good for trainers with maidens as they would previously have raced for a $10,000 maximum.
On stakemoney levels in the future Bary said: “There is likely to be less races which will help and hopefully RITA will get some Government assistance. And if they do, hopefully they don’t squander it on infrastructure and wages and give it back in stakemoney which is what they are supposed to do.”
Paul Nelson, who trains in partnership with Corrina McDougal, prepares his horses mainly on the Air Hill Stud property that he and wife Carol own.
He said this week they have 14 horses in work and that most of them have been ticking over during the lockdown period.
“We couldn’t turn them out because, with the drought, there was nothing to turn them out on,” Nelson said.
“They all basically had three weeks off but then have been back on the walker.”
The Nelson/McDougal stable concentrates on jumpers and Nelson said most of their team have had four and a half months work getting ready for the jumping season, which has now been delayed until July and will now go through to November.
The horses the stable has in work include No Change, Perry Mason, Second Innings, Revolution, Rocky, Wagner, The Cossack and Peso.
Nelson said most of this group should be ready to race in July but added that the $15,000 across the board stakemoney levels for that month is not a great reward for trainers that will have had jumpers in work for up to six months.
The proposed jumps racing programme for the remainder of the year will run from July 10 through to November 1 with the country’s major jumping races now scheduled for September and October. Nelson has concerns tracks may become too firm again by then.
The McGregor Grant Steeplechase and K S Browne Hurdles are set down for Ellerslie on September 12 with the Pakuranga Hunt Cup and an open hurdle at Ellerslie on October 4.
The Great Northern Steeplechase and Great Northern Hurdles, two of the most prestigious jumping races in the country, will now both be run on October 17.
Nelson said he was still not totally convinced New Zealand gallops racing will start up again in July and that there are several things that need to be ironed out before then.
He can also see that, with a limited amount of race meetings in the Central Districts under the new proposed racing calendar, there will be a lack of opportunities for young horses and maidens.
NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry says that, by having an across the board $15,000 stake for all races in July as well as paying stakemoney back to 14th and waiving nomination and acceptance fees will spread the prizemoney across more ownership groups.
“This is a start which is really important for us as we resume racing in this critical period.”
Saundry added that there has been cost cutting in all the different racing industry organisations.
“Every part of the RITA business and those of the JCA, RIU and the three codes have all taken a 20 per cent reduction in the cost of running their business and that is going to be ongoing,” Saundry said.
“That will help us to continue to invest in the industry.”
Swish Az pictured here before recording an easy win over 1600m at Hastings on February 26. She is one of eight horses trainer Grant Cullen and his partner Nikki Lourie have been working on a farm property close to Dannevirke.
Grant Cullen trains in partnership with Guy Lowry.
John Bary has 22 horses in work, several of which should be ready to race again in July.
Paul Nelson has already put in four and a half months work preparing his stable’s jumpers and they will now have to wait another two months before they get to race over fences.
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