Tuesday May 12, 2015
Peter Cook is one of harness racing’s biggest fans. He’s an avid racegoer who would like to see two-year-old racing banned, and says the best meal he has ever had on a racecourse was in Italy. He’s been the secretary of the New Zealand Harness Racing Trainers’ and Drivers’ Association for 28 years, and is working towards becoming an Amateur driver.
1) You have been secretary of the New Zealand Harness Racing Trainers’ and Drivers’ Association for how many years now?
“About 28 years.”
2) How did you become involved with the Association?
“Many years ago, I answered a newspaper advertisement for a secretarial position with an organisation called the NZ Harness Horse Association which was meant to combine the Owners, Breeders and Trainers under one banner. I got the job but in hindsight, the concept was a pipe dream and it folded due to lack of money and politics after just nine months. A bit later I was approached by Mike Grainger, who was then Secretary of the Canterbury Trainers & Drivers and was going to work at the Weekly. Mike asked me if I wanted to take over his position. I jumped at the opportunity, and as the Association grew in stature, I became national secretary.”
3) What does the job involve?
“Arranging meetings, taking minutes, writing articles for the website, and dealing with problems and/or requests from members.”
4) What is it you most enjoy about the job?
“Being involved with and helping people who share my passion for harness racing, and being close to some of the decision making for the Industry.”
5) What other work have you done over the years?
“A few various occupations, some better than others, but most recently selling screen-printing, until I was made redundant two years ago. As it worked out, that gave me the time to work with horses.”
6) You are friends with, but not related to, Gavin Cook who recently won his third NZ Amateur Driving Championship title and was the 2008 World Champion Amateur Driver. How did you meet him?
“ My partner Sue Blake introduced me to Gavin.”
7) Sue is also an Amateur driver. How did you meet Sue?
“Sue and I met in a cafe, and quickly realised that we shared a passion for harness racing. Six months later we were living together.
8) You have recently started the preliminary work to become an Amateur driver also. Can you tell us what that involves?
“When a trainer judges you have reached a level of competency, he will sign you off for an oral test which, when passed, gains you a Novice Amateur licence. Following 10 satisfactory drives in Amateur workouts, you time trial in front of a Stipendiary Steward and progress to a Full Amateur licence. From then you have to perform in 30 workouts over a period of two years to qualify for the Advanced licence, which allows you into tote races. I’ve surprised a number of professionals when I explain how tough the criteria is.”
9) What made you decide to make the move from spectator to participator?
“Following Sue out to Gavin Cook’s stable and finding out that my body (principally my back) could stand driving a horse, something I doubted I would ever do again.”
10) What do you enjoy most about driving?
“Having watched harness racing for over 40 years and taken a particular interest in driving tactics, it’s an opportunity to find out if I can use that knowledge in practice….and it’s a real buzz!”
11) Have you had any other experience working with horses?
“Worked for Reg Curtin for about a month forty odd years ago until I decided that I was too soft for the hard work and long hours! I went out to Derek Jones’ stable a few days a week when I was unemployed, in between picking asparagus!”
12) Do you own any racehorses?
“Selester, Special Delight, and a share in Ton Tine.”
13) You are an avid racegoer. What do you enjoy most about a day/night at the races?
“Watching the horses and drivers compete. Here in New Zealand we are uniquely lucky in that we have so many varying scenarios – pacers, trotters, all-weather and grass tracks, mobile and standing starts, and distances for 1200m to 3200m. Heaven forbid we get dumbed down to all speed racing on all-weather tracks.”
14) What is your favourite track?
15) Do you have any “I will never forget the day/night that ……….. won” moments you would like to share?
“How long have you got?! There have been so many wonderful horses it would be hard to even make a list. From a personal point of view, my first winner, after about 20 years of trying. Viewfield Max, who won at Trentham, of all places. Three of us went up for a long weekend and he was in the last race. We had been drinking a bit already and when he won that was the end of that. We missed our flight home and later on when we finally flew, the Ansett hostesses found out why we were celebrating and gave us another drink!”
16) Is there anything about harness racing that bugs you, and if so, what would you like to see done about it?
“I think there is far too much emphasis on two-year-old racing. I know it will never happen, and I’ll upset a lot of people saying it, but I would like to see no two-year-old racing at all, and the $2 million plus stakes paid to that age group shared among 3 and 4-year-olds, and open-class horses. Two-year-old racing is mainly for the benefit of breeders and Yearling Sales’ purchasers, and the majority of it is generally won by a small number of owners. Also from an industry point of view, your average punter is happier backing a horse that he or she knows, and that has been around for a while.”
17) What is the best meal you have ever had at a racecourse?
“Seafood buffet at Montecatini Raceway in Italy.”
18) Name your all-time favourite pacer and all-time favourite trotter, and why?
“If it’s my favourite and not necessarily the best, it would have to be Manaroa. The most ungainly looking creature you have ever seen on a racecourse, yet he had a huge motor. No doubt he was a certainty beaten in the 1970 New Zealand Cup. Trotter is much harder. I remember a big beautiful guy called Frontier trained by Tom Cavill, but probably Scotch Tar was the one you had to admire the most.”
19) What do you think harness racing needs to do to attract more owners to our industry?
“For the Industry to be taken over by a benevolent dictator, who would put big money up and make decisions that are good for the entire game without favour or factions involved.”
20) Is there anything about you people might be surprised to learn?
“I lived in Cape Town, South Africa for 9 months when I was 10-years-old.”