Friday, June 20
The recent export of four New Zealand standardbreds to the small French Polynesian island of Tahiti were part of a six-horse order placed with the Australasian harness racing brokers, Stuart and Marg Valentine, of Standardbredsallinone, by Tahitian harness-racing enthusiast, Gilles Valdenaire.
The harness racing industry in Tahiti was tiny compared to New Zealand, Monsieur Valdenaire said.
“We have only one course, located in Pirae, on the island of Tahiti,” he said.
Racing on the island was stopped in 2001 because of the poor track condition, after a contractor building a new hospital in Tahiti, dumped waste sand on the track.
However, in 2008 Monsieur Valdenaire began working with the Racing Association of French Polynesia to renovate the track, and racing returned in 2012.
“It was very difficult though because it was with thoroughbred horses born in Tahiti and older standardbreds who hadn’t raced since 2001,” Monsieur Valdenaire said. Also, with no racing in Tahiti since 2001, interest in the sport had waned.
“Life in Tahiti had changed and the interest for the racing is now very far from where it was before,” Monsieur Valdenaire said. “We have to start again, from scratch. We had approximately 30 horses who were racing, with six New Zealand standardbreds between 15 to 27 years old,” he said.
“It was time to come to New Zealand to buy young horses, to really restart the racing.”
In 2011 four thoroughbreds were imported from New Zealand, then in 2012 three New Zealand trotting fillies. While this year Monsieur Valdenaire has imported one pacing filly, one trotting filly and one young trotting colt. Two other owners have imported one pacing mare, one young gelding and a thoroughbred stallion.
“We have now six pacers and six trotters between 4 to 15-years-old, and the remaining race horses are thoroughbreds,” he said.
“Last year we organised five races, one per month during July to November. I hope that this year we will do the same. Generally there is three or four races during the day. Two or four thoroughbred races and one harness race. We hope this year to have one pacing and one trotting race plus one thoroughbred race for horses born in Tahiti, one thoroughbred race for horses born in New Zealand, and one Pareo gallopers’ race which is a race without saddle, and the jockey dressed a traditional Pareo (sarong).
The first racing date is programmed for July 14.
Renovation work continues on the track and a new racing complex, but progress was slow because of the high cost involved, Monsieur Valdenaire said.