By Michael Guerin, HRNZ
David Branch knew this week was going to be exciting, just not like this.
The young Chief Executive of the Waikato-Bay Of Plenty Harness Club is looking forward to the return of harness racing, make that any form of horse racing, in the north at his Cambridge track on Sunday.
But he can’t help but think of what might have been.
Because in a cruel irony this was supposed to be the weekend the Cambridge track hosted the Jewels, their biggest moment of every second year and Branch admits it hurts to see the meeting canned, quite rightly, because of Covid-19.
“We realise he couldn’t have gone ahead for so many reasons but it is still hard knowing it would have been this weekend,” says Branch.
“Especially because there were so many things we were really happy about. We had more hospitality sales than two years ago and we learned so much ourselves back then which would have really helped this year.
“The place is looking really good and we were obviously all excited about hosting it.
“So that is a bitter pill to swallow but now we are just looking to racing coming back at all this weekend.”
A minor meeting on a Sunday afternoon is definitely not the Jewels but Branch realises the significance of bringing the industry back to life in the north.
“The most important thing is to get up and going and the numbers were looking good last night (Monday),” said Branch.
“We had 45 noms already without all the ones that will come in on Tuesday morning so we are pretty confident we can get eight races, but the more the merrier.”
Branch says while many local Waikato trainers had their main training tracks at Cambridge shut down he still expected a good representation on Sunday.
“We had good numbers from local trainers and even a few from the Central Districts.
“So it is looking really good.”
A meeting with HRNZ and other club chief executives on Tuesday will confirm whether Cambridge can have their popular Clubhouse Cafe And Bar open to industry participants on Sunday.
“We had the greyhounds here last week and it was able to be opened for them so I hope we can.
“With the Government loosening up the numbers a bit by Friday we are even going to ask if there is any way the meeting could be open to owners, with the possibility that number could be below 100 and they could use the Clubhouse and be segregated from the horsepeople.
“But that might be more difficult than it sounds so whether it can happen this week or not I don’t know.”
The club have taken back the licence to run the Clubhouse establishment and Branch says it has been spruced up for the return to racing.
“The whole place has been. We did plenty of work around the track in anticipation of holding the Jewels and at least now the place looks good.”
Once through Sunday and their winter programme, Branch says the extra dates Cambridge has picked up for next season should be a blessing for local trainers.
“It means most of our trainers here next season won’t need to travel if they don’t want to,” says Branch.
“I know plenty will still want to go at Alexandra Park but horses that used to be trained here but raced a lot in the CD will be able to stay here all year around if their trainers want, and that cuts down on costs for the owners.”