Bernard's Briefing - 22 May
Last Friday’s release of the Draft Calendar for next season has generated discussion throughout the media and online, especially around the 10 venues where it is proposed there be no racing during 2020-21.
Acknowledging that the draft is currently out for consultation, and that the consultation period runs until 15 June, we believe that NZTR should take this opportunity to present a view as to what that future might look like.
As outlined on Friday, New Zealand’s thoroughbred foal crop has declined 28% since 2005, leaving us with a smaller pool of horses available to race now and in the future. The size of our foal crop has a direct influence on starter numbers and, even prior to COVID-19 the reduction in races was not keeping pace with the reduction in available horses to race.
When NZTR went out during 2019 to discuss the future of various venues we talked of regional plans and regional solutions where clubs would meet and determine the future look of racing in their area. Our plan at that time was to introduce change gradually, dependent upon other aspects such as the introduction of All-Weather tracks. The announcement from Rt Hon Winston Peters, regarding PGF funding for two further tracks at Awapuni and Riccarton, means the three venues initially proposed in the Messara Report will soon be a reality.
Across the regions, the largest decline in starts from training centres has occurred in the Central region which has dropped 29% since 2009. The average field size in the CD has fallen during the same time to the extent that it is lower than the national average field size of 10.49.
Accordingly, the Central Region will have 16% fewer licences that were run in FY19. The venues without licences – Wairoa, Gisborne and Waipukurau – are being encouraged to talk with Hawke’s Bay Racing Inc. In the case of the Poverty Bay Turf Club, these talks have moved quickly, and the club already has a proposal with HBRI which would see them hosting a race day at Hastings.
Among the principles outlined in the NZTR Venue Plan consultation document of 2019 was the need to deliver racing in the most efficient, effective and commercial way, which would see us intensifying racing at selected venues. Tactics to deliver this also included reducing the servicing costs of meetings and reducing the costs to participants.
The costs of servicing meetings on the East Coast, along with the burden on participants to transport themselves and horses there are not insignificant. A strong Hastings will serve the region well and build on the base of horses currently trained there. The Waipukurau club, just 40 minutes’ drive from Hastings, relocating would also help strengthen Hastings.
Moving to the South, the Draft Calendar includes 14% fewer licences than in FY19, with Blenheim, Motukarara, Waikouaiti and Omakau the tracks listed for closure. Blenheim, which was due to celebrate its centenary at its present venue in April, is unfortunately located in a region with no horse population and where it is expensive to transport them. While attempts were made to find a carnival to work around the Blenheim meeting this proved unviable. Motukarara, another with no local horse population, is in close proximity to Riccarton. Both clubs have been encouraged to enter into discussions with the CJC to race either at Riccarton or Ashburton.
In the case of Waikouaiti, removing the meeting from a busy period of racing in the area and giving the club the possibility to move to a meeting at Wingatui later in the summer would strengthen the remaining meetings in the South Island over Christmas/New Year.
Encouraging Oamakau to race at Cromwell, in conjunction with the Otago RC meeting two days later would create a mini carnival in early summer, giving the region an opportunity to develop a special event.
Many of the clubs concerned have, at some stage of their existence had discussions with other clubs in their region when considering their future and NZTR is encouraging these talks to continue as they work to find a solution.
In the Northern region the number of starts produced from training centres in the Auckland area has fallen by 36% since 2009. Fewer than 25% of all horses trained in the North came from the Auckland sub-region. This indicates that we do not need the number of meetings or venues that we currently have in the wider Auckland sub-region to cater for the local population of horses.
The Northern region would have 13% fewer licences than were run in FY19, but even with the changes proposed the Auckland sub-region will still hold 35% of the meetings in the north.
If we are serious about creating one world-class venue in the metropolitan area it requires the three clubs in the Auckland sub-region to come together and develop a plan for the future and create a supercity racing club and experience.
NZTR’s view of how this might look include Avondale hosting key race days at Ellerslie where, with the investment of the clubs assets, they would be able to hold potentially the richest races in the country. Avondale could yield returns for their local community as well as providing them with the ability to fund their future racing at Ellerslie.
The other two impacted clubs in the North, the Whakatane RC and Waipa RC are encouraged to enter into communication with other venues. Whakatane with the other Bay of Plenty clubs, Tauranga and Rotorua, while Waipa could potentially hold its Cup meeting at Te Rapa.
The 20/21 proposed calendar includes 33 Thoroughbred venues across both islands to ensure New Zealanders can still access and enjoy racing. The clubs at the 10 venues concerned all have long and rich histories and, it is our intention to see new chapters added to these histories as we adapt and create a new future.