$1m stakes confirmed for The Race By Grins

By Michael Guerin

New Zealand’s harness slot race will increase to $1million next April courtesy of more innovative thinking from the Cambridge host club.

Slot racing, made so popular in thoroughbred racing by mega events like The Everest in Sydney, arrived in New Zealand this year with the $900,000 The Race by Grins for pacers, won by Self Assured. He beat Aussie raider Majestic Cruiser, one of four Australians in The Race, for a hugely successful inaugural running even on the less-than ideal date of the Thursday before Easter.

Waikato-Bay Of Plenty chief executive David Branch always planned to grow the 2200m mobile event to $1million for its second running and has confirmed that will happen.

“The Race by Grins will be $1million next April,” said Branch.

“It stays on the same date of April 14 but that will be a Friday next year and not Easter weekend so gives us even more opportunity to make it an even bigger event.

“We are tremendously excited not only for the industry to have a $1million harness race but for all the slot holders, who made this race happen.”

The slot holders bought their slots for three years with Branch pitching it would be $1million for the second running but with all three racing codes facing a funding shortfall, the club being able to guarantee the seven-figure stake is both pleasing and somewhat surprising.

“We are having to be really innovative in how we approach it and one of the new components to The Race by Grins will be a sweepstake which will see a member of the public win $50,000,” explains Branch.

“While we are still firming up the figures it could be something like 2000 tickets at $100 each in the sweepstake with 10 people drawn to have a horse race for them each.

“The person who draws the winning horse would get $50,000 with $50,000 more distributed among the other slot holders.”

Another change will be an emergency being drawn in the field so if there is a scratching that slot holder will get another horse to race in their slot.

“Last year (slot holder) Dunstan’s horse got scratched five days before the race which was disappointing for everyone involved, so we want to avoid another situation like that,” Branch said.

The 2023 edition of The Race by Grins will have a pool of horses available from which slot holders can select a replacement for any horse withdrawn prior to acceptance time plus the one emergency in the field.

The increase to $1million means The Race by Grins joins the two-year-old and three-year-old Karaka Million races and the New Zealand Derby as only our fourth race at that value and it will be the centrepiece of The Grins Night Of Champions, which Branch says is a nod to the Waipa district's slogan, Home Of Champions.

The second running of The Race by Grins could be even stronger than the first with the local contingent to be led by defending champion Self Assured, his stablemate Akuta and dual New Zealand Cup winner Copy That, all of who are being set for The Race.

Victoria Cup winner Rock N Roll Doo is also targetting The Race by Grins rather than a similar race in Perth the same night and that quartet alone would be a huge drawcard along with this season’s runner-up Majestic Cruiser, whose trainer Jason Grimson has already campaigned him in New Zealand twice this year.

While The Race will move to $1million, Branch has had to put plans for a potential $500,000 trot slot race on hold for a year.

“We realise there are challenges coming with the shortfall in TAB funding to the industry and our first commitment had to be to getting The Race by Grins to $1million,” he said.

“We are still very, very keen on a slot race for trotters and will try for that again in 2024 but we are planning to move out Cambridge Flying Stakes Trot to that night and it will be a Group 2 worth $50,000.

“Being the start of the major trotting races in the north for autumn we would hope to get the likes of Muscle Mountain and Sundees Son for that and we could have the best of both gaits as well as a strong support programme we are still mapping out

“So even without the slot race for trotters we are looking an an enormously stronger night that what we had this year and something pretty special.”

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