The Future Starts Now - Auckland and Cambridge

Friday's 2024/25 season announcement, called "The Future Starts Now", highlighted many new initiatives and funding arrangements.

In ensuing days and weeks more detail will be provided as to what the initiatives mean for the sport, at all levels.

Today we are looking at the implications for Auckland and Cambridge.

The "Look North" Strategy

The new "Look North" strategy is a three-year strategy aimed at revitalising racing in the North Island.

"We know there will be some hiccups and it will have its challenges at times," says HRNZ's Chief Executive Officer, Brad Steele, "we are not looking at a quick fix here."

"This is all making meaningful change that will have long term benefits. We have consulted individually with over 60 licence-holders in the north and the feedback we have been getting is that we are on the right track and this will work."

The rationale behind the "Look North" initiative is to re-invigorate racing in the country's biggest city. Alexandra Park gets a weekly Friday night slot and plenty of exposure through Trackside's new Friday Night Lights initiative, which will be complemented by Cambridge having 32 midweek meetings on a Tuesday.

"They are not in competition, each will operate in their own distinct way and both have a critical role to play," says Steele, "we want to establish two pools of horses, one at Auckland and one at Cambridge, though there will still be some crossover between the two."

For instance, horses regularly racing at Cambridge will be eligible to race in $12,500 finals at Alexandra Park, and those races will be penalty free. Those fields will be selected on earnings in the last five starts at Cambridge.

Alexandra Park will also run a heats/finals format, with regular $35,000 pacing and trotting finals for horses R40-59 that race there regularly.

"It's all about opportunities," says Steele, "greater opportunities for horses to race regularly at both Cambridge and Alexandra Park, opportunities for owners to see their horses in action, and greater opportunities for punters."

Entain boss Dean Shannon agrees : "Punters love consistency and we know they will respond well to racing at Auckland and Addington every Friday and then Cambridge on a Tuesday."

Programmes for the first three meetings at Cambridge and the first four at Auckland are on the HRNZ website now, with the programmes through to the end of September available on Monday, July 22.

The Cambridge club and the northern programming committee came up with the Cambridge stakes structure of $8,000 at Tuesday meetings. The other option considered was a blend of $6,000 races, with $10,500 and $11,500 stakes.

At Cambridge the winner of an $8000 race will earn five ratings points per win, with further reductions for concession junior drivers.

Those winning horses driven by a junior driver with 0-25 career wins will get a two ratings points reduction and juniors with 25 plus wins will get a one ratings point reduction for their horse.

For the first six weeks Cambridge will have six races programmed every Tuesday, with the ability to run eight depending on nominations. The first meeting will be Tuesday, August 6.

Cambridge will 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.

Auckland's weekly meeting is a key component of the new Friday Night Lights where there are both northern and southern races run at 15 minute intervals.

The first was Cambridge-Addington last Friday though routinely it will be Alexandra Park and Addington, starting this Friday.

"We want harness racing to own Friday night," says Steele, "Trackside has really upped its game in terms of presentation and hype and we are confident the punters will respond. It's a very engaging product."

One common question is : "where are the horses going to come from for two northern meetings each week?"

"We are not going to solve this overnight," says Steele, "but with regular racing at both venues and owners and trainers getting used to the rhythm of racing up north we are confident it can work."

"We want to maximise the existing horse population in the north which we have not been doing and to get other trainers, especially ones in the South Island, to take advantage of the greater opportunities at both venues."

"The feedback we have been getting on this so far has been very positive. We have heard of northern trainers seeking horses from the south."

Steele however does have a word of caution.

"We are playing the long game on this rather than needing results right now. HRNZ has made a three year commitment and of course we will monitoring what happens at both venues and will adapt programmes, conditions and incentives as needed."

"But there is a very exciting time for our sport, and we need to embrace the change."

SUMMARY - THE LOOK NORTH

- Goal to revitalise racing in Auckland and get greater buy-in from all licence-holders, participants and punters

- Consistency week in week out with Friday night meetings at Alexandra Park and Tuesday meetings at Cambridge

- Auckland key part of new Friday Night Lights concept

- $8000 stakes for Cambridge's Tuesday meetings

- 5 ratings points per Cambridge win with concessions for junior drivers

- Programmes for Auckland and Cambridge now on HRNZ website

- Commitment to monitor performances, assess feedback, and adjust programmes as required.

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