The Race by Grins has many smiling as they plan next steps
By Michael Guerin
After a dazzling inaugural running of New Zealand’s first ever slot race the host club is eyeing adding another next season, this time for trotters.
And the Waikato-Bay Of Plenty Harness Racing Club have the overwhelming support of trainers as they contemplate what could quickly become one of the most highly anticipated harness racing meetings of the year.
Thursday’s first running of The Race by Grins for $900,000 was a huge success judged by any metric, with a good crowd, massive media coverage on both sides of the Tasman and a field that lived up to the stake, with four Australian horses coming for The Race.
At least two of those, runner-up Majestic Cruiser and Mach Dan, will stay for the group 1s at Alexandra Park starting this Friday so there is already guaranteed flow-on effect and the meeting left harness racing participants buzzing.
“It was so good to see young people there enjoying harness racing and lining the fence,” said champion horseman Mark Purdon.
Turnover on the eight races, many of them lower grade, topped $1million domestically with Australian investment certain to further boost that way above a normal Thursday night meeting.
But the actual support programme was thrown together after The Race itself was confirmed, with nobody really knowing how successful the meeting could be.
Next year The Race will retain the same date, April 14, but move to a Friday night and club chief executive David Branch will have far more time to programme a support card to give the meeting more of a Karaka Million feel of short but select.
“We want to make The Race worth $1million next year and I think we owe that to our slot holders so that will be the first target,” says Branch.
“But we are also already thinking about a second slot race for the trotters.
“There are a lot of really passionate trotting owners and we think that is the natural next step.”
A trotting slot race of even $300,000 or $350,000 total stake with a slot cost of as little as $20,000 would instantly propel The Race meeting to being one of the biggest deals in Australasian harness racing and Branch has admitted his club could also look at moving races like the Waikato Guineas to bolster the undercard.
With guaranteed returns for slot holders as well as slots having tax advantages as marketing expenses for racing businesses, slots in a trotting race would not be hard to sell.
Any new trotting race worth $300,000 or more might require the group 1 NZ Trotting Champs at Addington to be moved a week earlier to provide a two-week turnaround between the two but after radical changes to the harness racing calendar in the last six months almost nothing outside NZ Cup week in Christchurch is set in stone.
With the Australian open class trotting calendar slowing down at this time of the year and several very high-profile Australian trotting owners with massive investment in the gait, it would be very surprising if a trotting slot race didn’t instantly draw support from across the Tasman.
Their best trotters would also be able to come to Cambridge and stay through until the Rowe Cup in late May.
Add to that a vintage local trotting crop which could see any new slot race headlined by Sundees Son, Bolt For Brilliance and Muscle Mountain with support from Midnight Dash, Five Wise Men, Cracker Hill and Australia’s best trotter in Majestuoso and the concept could even rival The Race for sheer class.
“I think a trotting slot race is the obvious next step for the night and I am sure it would get great support,” said Purdon, who has little to gain from the addition as he has no open class trotting star and none in the pipeline.
Any major movements and changes to the group race schedule have to be approved by Harness Racing New Zealand but with the industry now having a new meeting that has captured the imagination of the public everything possible should be done to cash in on it.