Michael Guerin's take on new Racing Calendar

By Michael Guerin

The key points 

  • $500,000 Everest-type slot race at Cambridge, April 14
  • $400,000 Auckland Cup moves to May 27
  • Harness Million night at Alexandra Park, February 12
  • Addington mega meeting with 10 major races, December 2, 2022
  • Harness Jewels day dispersed

Harness racing in this country will change forever next year with a radical new racing calendar that will turn the code on its head.

Included in the new feature race programme released by Harness Racing New Zealand yesterday is a new $500,000 slot race based on Sydney thoroughbred racing’s Everest concept, with 10 slots to be sold for an initial offering of $50,000 each but with the hope the race may grow to a $1million stake in just a few years.

A slot race is long overdue in harness racing and the Herald understands key industry players have already expressed interest in almost all the $50,000 entry tickets for the race which will have its inaugural running at Cambridge on April 14.

The Waikato track is being touted as the annual home of the race, which has yet to be named, but will be over a sprint distance for pacers of all ages.

If the concept is executed well it should be able to lure top class Australian entrants, with their open class summer season finished by then.

They could then stay on for the NZ Messenger at Alexandra Park two weeks later and the $400,000 Auckland Cup, which has been moved to late May.

The Auckland Cup now joins the Rowe Cup for the trotters on a mega night at Alexandra Park to cap a huge Autumn of racing in the north.

The other new “mega meeting” to be created by the new calendar will be at Addington in early December next year that will see the NZ Derby and Oaks for both pacers and trotters held the same night as the NZ Trotting Free-For-All and four Jewels-type races.

While those four Jewels-type races will carry names like the two-year-old Ruby, Emerald and Diamond, the popular Jewels Day will no longer exist.

But the early December meeting could end up New Zealand’s strongest harness meeting of the year, particularly for age group horses.

The radical moves to the harness racing calendar come after the code adopted January 1 as the official birthday for NZ standardbred, bringing them into line with Australia and North America, which also means juveniles are older and more mature by the time they start racing.

The new calendar will see more grouping of elite races together in bigger carnivals, with the North Island to be strongest from the new Harness Million meeting on February 12 through to June while Canterbury will host all the feature racing from early October to mid-December.

The iconic Cup week in Christchurch will remain intact with some minor changes, as will its traditional lead-up meetings at Ashburton and Kaikoura.

Other highlights include a huge country cups championship that will culminate in a $100,000 final at Addington to give intermediate and lower grade horses their own holy grail, replacing the Easter Cup.

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