The opening meeting of the Tauranga Christmas at the Races summer programme begins at 1pm tomorrow at the Tauranga Racecourse.
After the success of last year's summer programme, there are even more hospitality packages available to suit all tastes, plus some high-quality racing to look forward to.
Racing Tauranga committee member and well-known trainer Jim Pender says the two meetings this month and on December 14 will be a great way to enjoy the summer weather in the picturesque, high-quality surroundings at the Greerton-based racecourse.
"We get a lot of businesses around Tauranga bringing their staff out to the races for the day, instead of taking them out to dinner," Pender said.
"It has taken off and seems to be getting really, really popular and people enjoy the day out, seeing the horses and the whole nine yards.
"Every meeting we have bouncy castles, pony rides and different activities for the kids, plus we have sites available for people to rent space to put up gazebos in front of the public bar.
"You can make it a family day, or a whole lot of friends, with barbecue tables, and you are right in front of where the horses come down to the birdcage. It is a really good set-up."
Pender has been training racehorses at the Tauranga track for 27 years and is owner of Panui Lodge.
"Racing has been good to me and I have met a hell of a lot of good people over the years. Owners have become really good friends. I love the horses but I'm not that keen on some of the jockeys at times. It is one of the few professions where you have to rely on someone else for your income. You train them up and through circumstances in the jockey's control or not, if you don't run in the first five the trainer gets nothing. Jockeys still get paid if they ride badly or not."
Pender says he still gets a little bit nervous when horses he has trained have come through the rigorous trials system and are set to make their raceday debuts.
Tomorrow, he has two horses set for their first starts in Sea Major and Johnny Bravo.
"Sea Major has an interesting syndicate of owners, including a well known ex-Tauranga fisherman Colin Major. That's where they got the name Sea Major from.
"Johnny Bravo is a 4-year-old half brother to a mare I trained called Casabella Lane. My son Kelly named him after that cartoon character Mr Muscle Man who thinks he is pretty cool and the horse is the same. He is a good-looking horse and walks around like he knows it, too."
No matter how long a trainer like Pender has been in the game, he knows there are no guarantees when it comes to what horses will become champions and others who don't measure up.
"Trials are totally different to races. You are there for the money at the races and from the time they jump they are going for it. Whereas with trials there is a lot more education with horses, as they are not running the same times. You can get a horse that can win a trial and then come out and run about seventh in a race through various reasons. The horse gets put under pressure more and horses react differently under hard pressure.
"Some horses can cope better than others. A lot of people have the perception that a horse is a horse but they all have their own temperaments, natures and personalities.
"Some are aggressive on the ground but are insecure in a race, while some of the smaller fillies are quite aggressive. They are like little Grant Battys, while some big horses are all soft and gentle."
Tauranga Christmas at the Races
- Friday, November 2; Saturday, November 17; Friday, December 14.
Interislander Summer Festival
- Wednesday, January 2; Friday, January 11.