Rave reviews and full fields have been music to the ears of Bryce Mildon, the track manager at Pukekohe Park.
The track has been plagued by major drainage issues over the last 15 years and was unable to host its flagship Counties Cup meeting from 2004 to 2007 and again in 2014 and 2015.
In less than four years’ time, the transformation has been remarkable. Pukekohe has been widely praised this season for the condition and fairness of its track, and field sizes at recent meetings speak for themselves.
There were 127 starters across 10 races on May 3, and another 10-race programme on Thursday featured no fewer than 135 runners.
“The feedback has been really good,” said Mildon, who has been track manager at Pukekohe since September.
“The track’s still a bit of a work in progress after the problems it had a few years ago, but it’s definitely on the way up now and we’re pretty happy with it.
“To be hearing such good things about the track, and for so many people to be willing to race their horses on it, that’s really good and encouraging.”
Mildon has also started providing video updates on track conditions online, which is a common feature in Australia but less so on this side of the Tasman.
“I think it’s a positive thing – anything that helps get information out there to the public,” he said.
Mildon comes from a racing family. His brother Rhys is foreman for Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh, and the pair’s grandfather Jim Mouat owned and trained the mighty winter galloper Danzapride – the winner of 15 races.
“I always went to the races as a kid, and I’d spend school holidays and weekends at the track with my grandfather,” he recalled.
“When I left school, I started studying horticulture and also took a job as a gardener. My horticulture studies included some units on turf management, and that kind of started my interest in that side of things.
“Then I got a job at Matamata, where I worked for 10 years and became an assistant to Graeme Styles. I learned a lot there, Graeme was a great teacher.
“Then I had six years in Australia, which was a great experience as well. It was really valuable to get a taste of how things work over there.”
That Australian stint included a track management position at Pakenham in Victoria, which featured an all-weather surface – a particularly relevant experience as New Zealand begins to take steps in that direction.
“We had a Polytrack at Pakenham, which was a bit different to anything I’d dealt with before and an interesting experience,” Mildon said.
“They’re certainly an asset to the industry. They’re not there to replace the turf tracks, but they complement them really well. It’ll be interesting to see them introduced in New Zealand, and hopefully they’ll be received well.” – NZ Racing Desk