Revamped harness calendar designed to fuel stakeholder and punter growth

Harness Racing New Zealand has today unveiled a significantly revamped calendar for the 2024/25 season which it says is designed to deliver more racing opportunities for industry stakeholders and punters alike.

“The changes come following an 11-month window which has seen the most radical shift in the racing and wagering landscape that New Zealand has ever seen. The introduction of Entain as operators of the TAB has brought with it increased funding and innovation, and has given Harness Racing New Zealand the opportunity to redefine itself in partnership with them,” says Chairman Phil Holden.

“In particular, it has allowed us to take a fresh look at our racing calendar, to identify opportunities for growth, and to weave initiatives through it to get horses racing and to keep them racing. This new calendar is the first step in a joint plan to revitalise harness racing, much as we have seen with thoroughbred racing,”

Within the new calendar, Auckland Trotting Club gets 45 race meetings in 24/25, up 14 from this season, and 422 races, up from 294. Waikato Bay of Plenty goes from 28 to 41 meetings, with 338 races, up from 250.

The other movers are Manawatu Harness Racing Club, with an extra 7 meetings taking them to 19 for the season and 142 races; NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club will have 65 meetings and 611 races; Timaru gets 5 meetings and 49 races; Winton will have 13 meetings and 125 races, and Invercargill goes up to 15 meetings and 136 races. For all other clubs there is no change from 23/24.

“This calendar represents a 20 percent increase in race meetings year on year, focusing on northern racing with commitments from Addington and Southland, that will provide significant benefits for the sport nationally,” he says.

The calendar will be anchored by the introduction of “Friday Night Lights,” where Harness Racing will look to own the Friday night racing slot on a consistent basis.

“We are big believers in the Friday Night Lights brand. With our recent move to Free to Air, and with the investment we are making in our Trackside Broadcast we believe there is an opportunity to create a high quality, highly marketable harness racing product that appears in living rooms consistently each Friday night,” says Entain’s New Zealand Managing Director, Cameron Rodger.

“Our recent broadcast at Cambridge Raceway’s Night of Champions should give punters and participants a view of what we have in store.”

HRNZ Chair Phil Holden says HRNZ and Entain have been working in close partnership around additional initiatives that will support the Calendar and also provide meaningful incentives and targets for trainers, owners and breeders as part of a wider joint strategic plan which is due for release in May this year.

“Make no mistake, this calendar and the upcoming strategic initiatives represent a fundamental re-set designed to breathe fresh life and confidence into harness racing after years of zero growth and decline.

“The Board has listened to what the grass roots have been saying. Our horse population is heavily skewed to the lower to middle grade horses, and so the new calendar, together with implementation of the Utilisation Group’s work, will open up many more opportunities for everyone involved, especially in the upper North Island.

Mr Holden says the Board also wants to see more uniform application of national racing and programming policies to ensure like-for-like racing.

“The time is right for these changes. We’ve got a fantastic partner in Entain, and they will be able to leverage these additional meetings to generate more wagering income, and more revenue for the code,” he says.

“That’s especially true of the northern region, which has been our Achillies heal for too long. A third of the population – and a third of all potential punters – live in Auckland. We’re not in a position to give every club more races, but if we’re to call ourselves a national sport, we must take this once only chance to grow.

“That said, the Board is very much aware and appreciative of the contribution and support for harness racing across the whole country. While we develop strategies nationally, harness racing is delivered locally. We are currently working on the HRNZ operating budget, in the context of code-funding negotiations, and a Board-led review and prioritisation of our activities. We will update the industry as we progress this work.

“Overall, the calendar changes will mean horses can race more frequently, owners will have more chances to increase their returns and punters will have more choice.

“However, we understand these moves in isolation will not allow Harness Racing to reach its true growth potential. We look forward to releasing our strategic plan in mid-May which underpins and supports the revamped calendar,” he concluded.

Phil Holden
Chair, HRNZ

To see the dates calendar click here

To see the TAB's media release click here 


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