Christchurch-based harness racing identity Noel Kennard is well known for doing more than his fair share to help the industry.
Noel was on the NZ Sires' Stakes Board for over a quarter of a century before he resigned early in 2015; his involvement with Standardbred Breeders Associations up and down the country stretches back even further and he's currently the Canterbury SBA's Chairman; plus 2015/16 marks the fifth season that his highly-successful syndication company goHarness has been in operation - where he's taken our sport to the masses and every horse selected, bought and raced by his multiple-ownership groups so far has been a winner.
Noel's newest venture is the Grass Roots Bonus Series, and his reason for coming up with the concept is simple… the amount of mares getting bred from each season is nose-diving, so it's high time someone did something about it to try and 'stop the bleeding'.
"The Grass Roots Bonus Series is all about providing some sort of additional return for those that don't own top-end mares or have the resources to breed to our most commercial stallions," Noel says.
"For want of a better word, these are the 'battlers' in our industry - and I'm one myself, too. Sadly, it's these breeders at the lower end of the market which are dropping away in droves."
Noel did some extensive research into the races which have been run and won in New Zealand over the last decade, and says it's not surprising to see a clear pattern emerging.
"The vast majority of our races here are won by the progeny of Bettor's Delight, Art Major, Mach Three, Christian Cullen and the like - not to mention the major age-group Classics such as the Derbies and Oaks, Sires' Stakes Finals and Harness Jewels. But not everyone can afford to pay five-figure service fees. And if you're one of those, you can't compete."
The first part of getting the Grass Roots Bonus Series off the ground was canvassing every Stud and/or stallion owner to see if they'd like to be a part of it, with Noel setting the threshold at sires who stand for a service fee of $4000 + GST or less.
A total of 13 pacing stallions and three trotting sires signed up for Series #1, and Noel is hopeful of this number increasing in years to come as each new Series gets underway.
Breeders and owners who patronise the Grass Roots-nominated sires don't have to pay-up their resulting progeny and participate in the Grass Roots Bonus Series of course, it's entirely optional - but if it means their horses are going to get a real chance of winning realistic bonuses, it makes a lot of sense to do so.
And the beauty about the Grass Roots Series is that the various Bonuses can be won on any official totatlisator or non-totalisator race around the country - regardless of whether it's a maiden at Manawatu, or a Group Race at Addington.
Like most of the ventures that Noel has introduced during his 40+ years of involvement in harness racing, this one's bound to be a winner too!