HRNZ : The Future Starts Now!

Harness racing is about to get its biggest ever increase in stakes.

The 2024/25 season will see total stakes increase by $10 million annually, for the next three years.

The stakes announcement was part of today's season launch called "The Future Starts Now" at Addington Raceway.

Hosted by Harness Racing New Zealand, in conjunction with Entain, it was attended by more than 100 industry participants, including HRNZ Chief Executive Brad Steele who only started in his new job this week.

"Ten million dollars is a record figure for the sport," says Steele, "and it shows we are heading into the future with a clear growth strategy and a lot of optimism."

"We are one year into a five-year deal with Entain. We have jointly found a way forward that benefits everyone in our sport - including owners, trainers, drivers, breeders and punters."

“We are delivering a race programme and stakes that will revitalise fan engagement with harness racing."

Funding for the stakes increase will come from HRNZ, Entain, the NZ Sires' Stakes Board and TAB NZ.

There will be a 20 per cent increase in races in the 2024/25 season, with 75% of the new funding allocated to everyday racing.

Among those benefitting from the stakes increases will be Trotting, the Sires Stakes' programme and Fillies and Mares, of both gaits. Grassroots initiatives, including support for local Cups, the Seddon Shields Trotting series, the Rewards races, the Country Cup series, and other regional initiatives, will be retained.

NZ CUP WEEK :

The stake for the IRT New Zealand Cup will be $1 million. It hasn't been at that level since 2009.

"We really have to push aspirational races, especially ones like the IRT New Zealand Cup," says Steele, "clearly $1m has a great ring to it and people will see that for what it is - the biggest race on this side of the Tasman."

Show Day will also get a major makeover with a twilight start (3pm) with the country's biggest trotting race, the Renwick Farms Dominion going up $100,000 to $400,000. As well as the $200,000 Free For All for the pacers there will be two slot races, each worth $500,000 for three-year-old trotters and pacers. Total stakes for the day will be $2.2m.

“We are not neglecting the traditional features or our bread and butter racing," says Steele, "but we also have to celebrate the emergence of slot races and the opportunities they create to promote the game. We acknowledge that Cambridge led the way three years ago. Now these races are a feature across the Tasman also. Slot races allow us to showcase the very best of a group of horses for great stakes.”

The Addington slot races will be launched in the first week of August but they will be over 1980m and limited to 10 runners each. The slot fees will be $30,000 this year.

Also, during NZ Cup Week there will a new programme at Ashburton on the Thursday where maiden and lower-graded horses will have a 12-race $17,500 race programme.

Later on in late November - December there'll be two meetings at Addington expanding on the old Grand Prix concept - the New Zealand Pacing and Trotting Oaks ($225,000 & $140,000) and the four 2YO Aces races will be held on November 29, with the NZ Pacing and Trotting Derby ($300,000 and $200,000) and a new $200,000 race for the 4YOs on December 6.

AUCKLAND and CAMBRIDGE :

A big push into Auckland is a critical part of a new strategy, called The Look North.

"Auckland is a key population and economic centre but it is under-represented in harness racing and wagering," says Entain boss Dean Shannon, "we have to revitalise harness racing in the North Island."

And that's where Friday Nights Lights comes in.

The new concept is all about "owning" Friday nights with dual harness meetings, almost exclusively at Alexandra Park and Addington. In prime time there will be a harness race on Trackside every 15 minutes, with on-course teams at both venues.

"It's a concept that should work really well," says Shannon, "we are investing in it from a broadcasting point of view and we want people to engage with it and get out to a wider audience."

There will be a heats/finals format at Alexandra Park with regular $35,000 Finals.

Auckland will also hold the $1m Golden Gait Series, consisting of 10 $100,000 races on December 20, before the Auckland Cup and National Trot move to New Year's Eve.

Cambridge will hold 32 meetings on a Tuesday and continue to host the very popular Night of Champions in April, including the $1m Race by Grins and the $600,000 TAB Trot, and a new Summer Nights Festival throughout January.

"Punters love consistency," says Shannon, "and we know they will respond well to racing at Auckland and Addington every Friday and then Cambridge on a Tuesday."

Those meetings will be supplemented by regular Thursday-Sunday meetings in Southland and other parts of the country.

FILLIES AND MARES/ TROTTING/ SIRES' STAKES :

The Fillies and Mares' pathway, known as The Silk Road, will see 150 new races funded right across the country, and some Group race additions including a first Group 1 Mares' Trot.

It's a $900,000 package. The details and dates, races and stakes will be released next week.

The target is for Fillies and Mares' races to be 16 per cent of our total races. Fillies and mares' races for both gaits will be programmed, and run.

Trotting breeders have reason to celebrate. Trotting stakes will increase by $1m of funding, including the NZ Trotting Derby going from $110,000 to $200,000 and the NZ Trotting Oaks from $110,000 to $140,000.

The Sires' Stakes Board has increased its funding by $600,000, funded jointly by the Sires' Stakes Board and HRNZ.

The NZ Sires' Stakes 2YO and 3YO Colts and Geldings and Fillies' Finals will climb from $160,000 to $200,000 while the Nevele R 3YO Fillies Final on NZ Cup day will go from $140,000 to $200,000. The 2YO and 3YO Trotters Finals will go from $70,000 to $120,000 and be given Group 1 status.

SUMMARY :

- More than $10m increase in stakes for 2024/25
- 20% increase in races
- NZ Cup goes to $1m
- Show Day to be a twilight meeting with new slot races.
- Friday Night Lights every week (mainly at Alexandra Park and Addington)
- Weekly lower grade races at Cambridge on a Tuesday
- $1m boost for Trotting including the Dominion going to $400,000 and NZ Trotting Derby to $200,000
- Auckland Cup to go back to New Year's Eve
- Fillies and Mares get 150 more races and $900,000 increase in stakes
- Sires Stakes' programme gets $600,000 boost including Nevele R Fillies to $200,000

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