Is Messara our messiah?

Is the light finally appearing at the end of the tunnel?

Last week’s announcement that John Messara would be reviewing the New Zealand industry’s governance structures before providing recommendations for its future direction had many industry stalwarts celebrating.

Messara, based on his efforts with Racing NSW and Racing Australia, is seen as New Zealand racing’s potential messiah. He has certainly shown himself to be incredibly astute in the operation of Arrowfield Stud, having employed several talented Kiwis!

While he is familiar with our industry he also lacks the parochialism which seems to stymie any local attempts to drive the industry forward. What will be interesting is how Messara will consider the needs of three conflicting codes. That is something which proved a bridge too far for previous chairmen of the NZRB who, for every financial contribution to one code, were then faced with the other two, hands out and demanding the same amount!

According to the Racing Minister, Winston Peters, Messara’s review – which is expected to be presented to government by the middle of the year – will “also assist the government in determining if the current Racing Act 2003 and the proposed Racing Amendment Bill are fit for purpose.”

The 2003 Act gave us the poorly written Section 16, the cause of much gnashing of teeth at the absolute absurdity of it all. For the benefit of those who have never actually read Section 16 it states as follows:

Amounts of distributions to codes


The Board must, as soon as practicable following the end of a racing year, determine the amount to be distributed among the racing codes for that year from any surpluses referred to in sections 53(2) and 57(2), or any other source whether capital or income.


Unless a majority of the racing codes otherwise agrees in writing, the amount referred to in subsection (1) must be not less than the total of the surpluses referred to in sections 53(2) and 57(2) for that racing year less the total amount credited to reserves for that year from those surpluses.


Unless a majority of the racing codes otherwise agrees in writing, the amount referred to in subsection (1) must be distributed among the racing codes in the same proportions that the Board considers are the proportions to which the codes contributed to the New Zealand turnover of the Board for that racing year.


In subsection (3), New Zealand turnover of the Board means the total gross amount received by the Board from racing betting placed in New Zealand on races run in New Zealand.

While on the subject of the Racing Act, Section 16 and the like, I have often been astounded at the number of people who work within the industry yet have no idea of the responsibilities of the various bodies.

The NZ Thoroughbred Breeders’ has come to the party with a fabulously simple explanation in their latest Bulletin, so big ups to them for the following:

Anyone who is a little confused about who does what when it comes to the Minister, NZ Thoroughbred Racing or the NZ Racing Board should check it out.

While their explanation included Section 8 (c) “The objectives of the Board are – to maximise its profits for the long-term benefit of New Zealand racing” I probably would have hammered the point home a little more by including Section 9 (a) which reads as follows:

Functions of Board


The functions of the Board are—


to develop policies that are conducive to the overall economic development of the racing industry, and the economic well-being of people who, and organisations which, derive their livelihoods from racing:

If John Messara can deliver us a blueprint for policies which can do that then he may very well be remembered as New Zealand racing’s messiah.  


A flurry of omens and it looks like I’ve signed up for another horse!

I’m a sucker when it comes to omens.  I lay the blame firmly at the feet of my late paternal grandmother who was slightly fey – if not a witch exactly, then possibly something that rhymed with that.

Thanks to a handful of randomly occurring instances I now find myself with yet another (very small) share in yet another racehorse.  That takes the current tally to four.

I am not kidding myself that any of these ventures will bring with them great (or even moderate) wealth.  At the very most I expect there will be the odd win along the way, celebrated in fine style, but more than likely the journey to any victory will be peppered by disappointment.

Those who choose to dabble in racehorse ownership quickly become accustomed to disappointment.  The slightly off-track which hindered your chances; the momentary hold-up at the crucial second; coming up another athlete which is just that fraction better on the day; or even an inexplicably bad performance for absolutely no discernible reason (we are, after all dealing with an animal with a mind of its own).

You rapidly learn to become a good loser when you own even the tiniest hair of a horse’s tail.  If you don’t then you won’t be around for long because, unless you luck into an absolute superstar of Winx proportions, there are usually more lows than there are highs.

So why keep going?  It is a question I have been asked many times by those on the outside and one I struggle to answer.

Of course, we all aim to be the one who races that champion racehorse.  The horse which achieves giddy Group One heights and takes us along on the ride is the dream of every owner.

When the first horse I raced won at only her second start some 31 years ago the feeling of elation was indescribable.  I was shaking so much I could barely walk down the stairs to the birdcage but all I could think was, “I want to feel this again.”

She was always going to be very special to me as the daughter of a mare my grandmother (the slightly fey one) had bred and raced, but as my first runner and first winner she was now truly memorable.

From 15 starts she only managed two wins but the die was cast, no matter what else happened in my future there would always be a horse.

And there pretty much has been since then.  Even when I wasn’t working full-time, taking time off to have a family, I managed to organise enough freelance work to cover my ownership “fix”.

At one stage, having been part of a plan to do something to attempt to stem the drift of horses and owners from the Central Districts, I found myself establishing and running a massive syndicate which initially comprised around 12 horses with six different trainers. Managing the expectations of hundreds of others was the most daunting aspect of that task, yet I must’ve been a sucker for punishment as I later set up a similar syndicate in the North.

Most nerve wracking was the day our first runner lined up at Trentham and, guided by the very youthful emerging talent which was Michael Walker, romped home by two and three-quarter lengths.  The nerves evaporated as I watched that same look of elation I had experienced with my first winner reflected back at me.

We had two-year-old stakes winners, Cup winners and even a runner in the Group One Auckland Cup.   I got great enjoyment out of those runners and winners but, as the syndicate manager I felt a huge sense of responsibility, and the enjoyment was tempered by that.

Throughout the time leading up to forming these syndicates I had continued being a part of the beautifully named Ywuree Syndicate.  Our horses usually did just enough to keep us hopeful of the next win and then, in 2000 a horse we called Basil made a pretty promising debut.

I still remember watching him loop the field after settling last and storm home to be just pipped on the line.

Rodin – named to reflect his breeding (Masterpiece-Fine Decision) – had arrived, and I was excited thinking we might have a horse who could win us a race or two.

By the time Rodin aka Basil retired in 2007 he had lined up 57 times, won 12, amassed 18 minor placings and given us a hell of a ride.  He even provided us with the Group One glory so many seek and never achieve.

Since Basil there have been the usual run of ups and downs and now I find myself with shares in two horses which have made it to the races (one has even captured that often elusive maiden win); another which may make an appearance as a late two-year-old; and the most recent addition, my omen horse.

Most are at that stage of their career where dreams of future glory are still a possibility (one might yet be banished South!).  That is surely one of the greatest things about racing a horse – the hours of future dreaming where you still have the potential to win a Derby, an Oaks, a big Cup race.

That, and that indescribable winning feeling!