HRNZ announces proposed 20-21 racing calendar for consultation

Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) is proposing significant changes to the number of venues at which it will be holding meetings for the 2020-21 season.

HRNZ is proposing to race at 16 venues in the 2020-21 season, down from 31 in the current year, with the number of meetings dropping from 259 (originally programmed for this season) to 246.

Forbury Park, Manawatu Raceway and Timaru have not been allocated meetings for next season and it is proposed Southland consolidates to two tracks from four.

HRNZ Chief Executive, Peter Jensen, said that this may not be totally unexpected in light of the pressure that the industry is under, but that he understands it will be a huge blow to the harness racing communities in those areas.

“HRNZ was left with little choice. To repeat the recent comments of the Minister of Racing, Covid19 has highlighted some serious underlying structural issues within the industry and more tough decisions will be required in the future,” he said.

The changes are designed to better align meetings with regional horse populations and to improve wagering income by racing more often at the higher performing venues.

It also reduces costs to owners with more horses racing locally and allows Racing Industry Transition Agency to reduce costs by servicing fewer venues.

“The importance of the very successful South Island Christmas racing circuits, and also key training and trials hubs, were taken into consideration when these difficult decisions were made.

“COVID19 has been the catalyst to accelerate the pace of change, but the reality is that the proposed changes are required to help harness racing become more sustainable, through increasing turnover, improving club’s stakes to funding ratio, and decreasing costs for RITA (Racing Industry Transition Agency), clubs, licensees and owners,” he said.

The New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club at Addington will host 77 meetings in the new season, compared with 36 for 2019-20. The greater Canterbury area has 47% of total pool of standardbred horses in training and will now host 45% of meetings, up from 36% in the current season.

The continuing decline in horse numbers is also a major reason for the decrease in race meetings planned for the new season.

“In the 2005-6 season when 245 meetings were run, there were more than 3500 individual starters and 2820 foals bred. In 2018-19 these numbers had fallen to 2811 and 1670 respectively and this has been reflected in field sizes in some parts of the country.

“The venue plan is the first phase of a change programme focused on addressing these issues. HRNZ and the wider industry needs to change and reposition itself to make it attractive and relevant to a wider audience. RITA is also undergoing significant change, and when this change is confirmed and the impact at both code and club level is understood, other possible changes, including at HRNZ, will be decided.”

The early part of the season assumes that racing will continue on a public-excluded basis. These dates/venues are subject to change if government guidelines allow a different approach.

“With funding levels for next season yet to be confirmed, the Harness Jewels are not in the draft calendar at this stage.

There will be an opportunity for those affected to make submissions to the RITA Dates Committee regarding the proposed changes. The calendar is a draft and submissions may result in changes, as it has in the past. The consultation period will run through to June 15, 2020.

You can view the draft here.

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