Harness racing addiction started at school
Christchurch engineer Neil Bennett became “addicted” to Harness Racing while still at primary school. Now he manages the Griffins and Seafield Syndicates, and has an interest in 18 horses, including the talented trotters Sol Invictus (7 wins, $61,741) and Father Christmas (three wins and two thirds from only seven starts). He’s having an exciting season, with 15 wins to date, and loves travelling around New Zealand to watch his horses race. His idea of a great day out? “Fly to Queenstown – hire a vehicle – watch horse race at Omakau and drive home.”
1)Why did you decide to become involved in harness racing Neil? My best friend in primary school was Ricky May’s cousin so I adopted myself as part of the May family and the “addiction” started then.
2)How long have you been involved? I will admit to early 1970’s – was there at Addington for the Interdominions – where Friendly Forbes made the Final for Leo May.
3)How many syndicates do you have an interest in, and what are the names of the syndicates? Too Many. I manage the Griffins and Seafield Trotting Syndicates that have horses racing at the moment. I supported Mark McNamara in his syndicate and also joined Met 8 to have a share of Brad’s Kenny who is out of a mare that my best horse to date Castleton’s Mission raced against.
4)How many horses do you have and who trains them? This will get me in trouble but 18 at last count and two mares in foal. The syndicate horses are spread around a variety of trainers – Michael House, Margo Nyhan, Phil Williamson, Andrew and Lyn Neal and others have had some but those horses have been moved on.
5)How have your horses been going this season? Brilliant would be the best description. First Sol Invictus made it to the Group 1 Rowe Cup at Auckland and is just on the fringe of the best company. Griffins is breeding from his mother who is in foal to Majestic Son. Monty Python returned to win races as a 4yo and recently Father Christmas has stepped up and is one of the most promising horses in Phil Williamson’s team. We may be in for a few exciting seasons ahead.
6)How many wins have you had altogether since you first started? Have not kept track – Castletons Mission won 15 and I have had 15 wins this season.
7)What do you like most about being involved in syndicate ownership? The people are the best – friendly and supportive and the best part managing the syndicates is sharing the fun. Communication is the key.
8)Is it difficult to get involved? Not at all – I answered an advertisement in the Weekly and went from there to later manage the syndicates.
9)How did you go about it? In managing the syndicates we are not approved syndicators so can’t advertise but with word of mouth have managed to fill the syndicates and with the success we have people waiting to get in and trainers wanting to train for us.
10)Do you have any family members involved in harness racing? No – I developed the addiction all by myself.
11)Does your family (wife/children) enjoy racing too? Not as much as me – will come along for dinner in the Members lounge at Addington but not take on some of the big road trips to watch them race. A trip like fly to Queenstown – hire a vehicle – watch horse race at Omakau and drive home – a great day out.
12)Is there anything about harness racing you would like to change? Stake levels at anywhere apart from Alexandra Park are such that racing is in serious decline with fewer foals being bred each year. Think we have too much racing as field numbers are dropping. We can’t have 3 meetings in Canterbury in 3 days like happens at times.
13)Are you breeding from any mares? If so what are their names and what stallion are they in foal to? Love Hate Revenge in foal to Majestic Son and half of Shutterup with Michael House in foal to Monarchy – after slipping the foal last year.
14)What part of New Zealand do you live in? Christchurch
15)What is your favourite race track? Methven on a nice day – have always loved racing there – spent many years in St Johns on first aid duty at races and trials.
16)Do you have a favourite race meeting that you particularly like to attend. If so why? Any meeting where we have a horse racing.
17)Do you have a favourite harness horse of all time?Going to give 2 here – pacer Inky Lord – his 1989 Cup win still defies belief – and trotter Scotch Tar – if I hadn’t been there I would have never believed a trotter could lead out the NZ Pacing FFA and give them a real fright – both amazing runs.
18)Have you ever been overseas? If so where, and did you see any harness racing while you were away? Europe/England, America, Canada and Australia – and yes in Canada on Vancouver Island and several times in Australia including the Interdominions in Perth.
19)What are your interests outside racing? There is barely time – gardening.
20)What do you do for a living? Engineer for Fulton Hogan. Lots of travel that has worked out to be at lots of race meetings – I have photos of 7 of the recent syndicate horses first wins – and I am in 6 of the photos – from Cambridge to Winton.
21)What is the best thing about harness racing? As above the people by far.
22)What is your favourite movie, book, singer, TV programme? Movie: Racing Stripes Book: Harness Racing Weekly Singer: Queen – Somebody to Love (half sister to Sol Invictus) TV – Trackside – and not happy that it not available in many hotels/motels now – Ascot Park Hotel one of the few.