The response to last week’s article about apathy and tolerance regarding animal abuse within the harness racing industry was overwhelming, to say the least.
While I shouldn’t have been surprised given the topic is somewhat taboo in the racing media, I was surprised at those that took the time to reach out in acknowledgment.
I have no desire to become the martyr for industry integrity and would much prefer to write about the many hard-working and high-character people that make up our industry.
However, I felt a line in the sand needed to be drawn. It was heartfelt and I hope it was interpreted as such.
You see for while the context of last week’s article centered around the silence from our license holders in denouncing their peers, it has since come to light that our governing body is equally complicit when it comes to approaching this serious issue.
At the HRNZ Board meeting on the 7th of November 2022, the board of directors approved an application from Nigel McGrath to break and gait yearling horses, less than 3 years into an 8-year disqualification.
This was made possible by an amendment to Rule 1303(1) which was updated to the following:
(1) A person who is disqualified may not during the period of disqualification:
(c) Assist or be involved in any capacity in the breaking or gaiting of any
horse, without the written consent of the Board.
The underlined sentence was added to the rules and came into effect on the 20th of October 2021 without much conjecture.
We can get into the overall dynamic and some of the board members influencing both the rule change and actions since it came into effect in a follow up article, but for now it’s best we stick to the knitting.
HRNZ sent a delegation to the property of Nigel McGrath leading into the Cup Meeting.
They weren’t to know about the drama that was to unfold on its biggest day of the year at a licensed training establishment, however one would question:
a) why would the governing body go to the suspended license holder’s property? Can you imagine WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) going to the property of Lance Armstrong because HE wanted to ride in the Tour de France again?
b) Given the magnitude of Cup Week and the increased exposure it brings to the industry, was any consideration given to the fact that such a polarising issue might be better suited to a time when the industry is less vulnerable?
c) why were some of the HRNZ Board members unaware of the visit until after the fact?
On Monday before the Cup meeting, much to the surprise (and disgust) of some of the board, the application was approved.
Fortunately for those of you with a conscience, I can report that the board was not unanimous in its support for the approval.
Harness Racing New Zealand are still in the process of finalising the conditions which are to be approved by CEO, Gary Woodham, and not the HRNZ Board.
However, 11 days after making such a brazen decision, there has been no official statement from the Governing Body who instead have remained steadfast in their approach that no rules have been broken, and no official statement would be made regarding the decision.
Strong leaders stand behind the decisions they make on behalf of their stakeholders, not behind some piss weak rule change that allows a convicted drug cheat and animal abuser less than a third of the way through his suspension the ability to earn an income from the sport.
Given Coulam’s desire to put on a pair of soccer boots and kick an own goal for the industry, I gave him the opportunity to respond to a series of questions. He responded with the following.
Good evening Brad,
With regards to your questions, I comment as follows:
A number of your questions have no factual basis. The allegations and assertions are not accepted by HRNZ and I don’t propose to respond to them.
Under HRNZ’s rules a disqualified person may apply to the HRNZ Board to break and gait a horse. At their meeting on 7th November 2022 the HRNZ Board approved an application from Nigel McGrath to break and gait yearling horses with conditions attached. These conditions are in the process of being finalised.
For full disclosure, I have deleted only two of the questions sent to the Chairman due to the nature in which they were asked, however I don’t believe any of the others are too far out of order in what one could reasonably expect answers for?
- If the rules of the sport are to punish and deter, what message does HRNZ believe they are sending to the participants and fellow license holders allowing a repeat animal abuser to derive an income from the very animals he abused? Less than 3 years into an 8-year sentence.
- Does HRNZ and its board unanimously agree on the decision to allow Nigel McGrath the ability to break and pre train horses?
- Why were not all board members aware of the fact that HRNZ were pursuing this matter?
- Were industry funds used to seek legal advice as the specific ruling of the term ‘pre training’ in 2021?
- Was this rule change/assertion/amendment made while an owner and friend of Nigel McGrath was still on the board?
- Has a serious precedent been set by HRNZ with this ruling?
- Can the five or so others suspended for administering now apply for a license to pre-train? And if not, why not? Many of them are more than a third of the way into their own suspension!
- If our industry is dependent on the social license for which we operate, does the HRNZ board believe this outcome to let a serial offender back in to the industry to be in the best interests of the sport?
- Does HRNZ believe it to be necessary and ok to allow a repeat animal abuser to earn an income from the helpless animals he administered substances too?
- Do you emphatically believe you have made this decision in the best interests of the sport and its participants?
- Is it true an HRNZ Board member who voted on the decision, took horses from Nigel McGrath upon his suspension, and furthermore has given him business by way of horses to break, pretrain and graze? Is this not a conflict of interests?
- Why did HRNZ and some of its board members deem it appropriate to even hear a case from Nigel McGrath at his own property, and why was that deemed the best course of action?
- Has a former chair, associate, friend and client of Nigel Mcgrath had any involvement in helping to get this case heard?
- Why were the RIB not notified of an exemption allowing Nigel McGrath the ability to transport horses to licensed training/breeding premises?
- Given any act deemed to be bringing the industry into disrepute is a punishable offense, can you confidently say that our very own board is not guilty by the same metric? Would this be palatable with the likes of the RSPCA, Racing Minister or the broader public?
How can our board members, elected by the clubs of HRNZ, and working in the best interests of the participants genuinely believe they are doing the right thing by supporting these types of people? Allowing repeat offenders to resume working in the industry at any level before their suspension has ended? Whose interests are they really serving?
How can these types of individuals be allowed to own earn an income working with the very animals they abused and take opportunities from other honest hard-working participants?
Whether HRNZ is standing or hiding behind the approved application of McGrath is open for interpretation, however I want to leave you with the following.
The HRNZ Chair was a principal for 30 years of Catholic High Schools and has served a decorated education career.
If we turn this thing around and compare apples with apples in an industry he is familiar with, perhaps the point becomes more salient?
If a teacher was found to have had physically harmed or abused a child while under the care of the school, naturally that Teacher would, if the facts were to be proven, be punished, and likely have their license to teach terminated. Naturally this would make it extremely difficult to work in the education sector in the future, having broken the law and code of conduct one assumes when entering that profession.
If the now former teacher was struggling financially and had struggled to find work in other sectors given teaching was all they were trained to do, would the education sector take pity on them? Would they visit them and accept an application for a return to employment in the education sector? Albeit at a reduced capacity, but bearing in mind they had already been given a second chance?
I said it last week, our own participants are the greatest threat to our industry and that now includes our own elected officers.
Proceeding this article in the coming days will be the industry reaction, for which there has been plenty.
I can confidently say that 95% of the industry participants that I have spoken to think that the person involved is a likeable fella. I can also confidently say that 100% of them think that the approved application to break and gait horses is an absolute piss take.
by Brad Reid, for Harnesslink