The game of musical sulky seats behind Friday night's Oaks favourite Bettor Twist appears to have ended with Zac Butcher the winner.
The young gun driver was stunned to get the call to drive the $1.70 chance in the $125,000 Northern Oaks for pacing fillies at Alexandra Park after expected driver Mark Purdon was ruled out.
Purdon had picked up the drive only 24 hours earlier when Bettor Twist's regular reinsman Tim Williams decided not to travel from Canterbury to Auckland even after being granted a Government travel exemption. It turned out that was a smart move because even if he had got to Auckland, as Purdon did, he wouldn't have been allowed to drive.
The Covid-19 travel exemption rules for racing state a South Island trainer or driver, if they can get a Government travel exemption, can only attend the race if they also get the permission of Harness Racing New Zealand.
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HRNZ is understood to have deterred some horsepeople from making the trip and then refused to grant Purdon that permission even though he is already in Auckland.
"We wouldn't have and won't be granting permission for anybody to travel between islands at level 3 and then work at the races because we don't want to put the industry in jeopardy," said HRNZ new chief executive Gary Woodham.
"We have worked hard to keep racing going at level 3 and we won't bend on that. Unfortunately, we had to inform Mark of that after he had travelled."
So Purdon was granted permission to travel but is now not allowed to attend the meeting even though he is in Auckland and didn't intend to travel home to Canterbury until after the alert levels have changed, when anybody can travel between the two islands.
The big winner out of the mix-up is Butcher who now drives Bettor Twist, who is surprisingly long in the Oaks market at $1.70 on opening considering she will probably close around $1.30.
Josh Dickie picks up the drive on It's All About Faith, the $2.80 favourite for the $200,000 Woodlands Derby on Friday night, another who Purdon would have driven.
Copy That and Bolt For Brilliance are other feature race favourites for the premier meeting in red odds.