The Race now a sell-out

By Michael Guerin

Harness racing’s first slot race is now confirmed for three years with all 10 slots in the $900,000 event sold.

The Race, based on the hugely successful Everest thoroughbred race in Sydney, will has its inaugural running at Cambridge on April 14, with the host club hoping to raise the stake to $1.1million by 2024 making it the richest horse race in New Zealand and richest harness race in the Southern Hemisphere.

While the slot holders will not be named until Wednesday, Waikato-Bay Of Plenty Harness Racing Club chief executive David Branch confirmed all 10 slots have been sold for three years.

“We are delighted and want to thank all the people and companies that have come on board,” says Branch.

“We will be announcing them on Wednesday and then the negotiations begin to see who gets what horses and that will be a huge part of the build-up.

“But we have achieved what we set out to do, which is creating a new race and now we are going to make it a special event for harness racing, racing in general and also the region.”

The Race meeting is set to be fast and furious, six races on the Thursday before Easter, culminating in The Race at 9pm, leaving three hours for a celebration (Covid restrictions permitting) before Good Friday.

“We are going to have a really strong focus on general admission, as long as we are able to with Covid settings, and really open the event up to the community.

“If that can’t happen because of Covid that would be disappointing but this is also only our first year and we will holding it the next two and we hope every year after.”

With the concept so new and the club having little time to organise a major sponsor the race’s $900,000 stake will be almost all from slot holders, who are putting in $75,000 per year each.

Even the last horse earns $37,500 back though to minimise costs and the club expects to raise the stake to $1million next year and $1.1million in 2024, by when a similar harness race is expected to be run in Australia.

A big-money slot race has also been touted for New Zealand thoroughbred racing but with its most likely home, Ellerslie, set to close next month for what would be 18 months of track renovations it is very unlikely to happen before 2025.

One of the key factors in the success and sustainability of The Race will be Trans Tasman exposure and turnover and that will be aided by two major Australian businesses buying slots, bringing with them huge following of punters.

They, or even some of the New Zealand-based slot holders, will try and lure leading Australian-trained pacers like King Of Swing, Lochinvar Art, Expensive Ego across the Tasman for The Race and with the $400,000 Auckland Cup in May any visiting pacer could race for $1.5million in six weeks.

But don’t be surprised if the most likely Australian-based pacer to come for The Race is actually Hunter Cup runner-up Spirit Of St Louis, rated a $17 chance in the TAB market.

Travelling across the Tasman for the race is complicated by Covid travel restrictions but that may not stop Australian trainers sending horses to New Zealand stables or a New Zealand citizen working for a major stable in Australia travelling home, doing the self-isolation, and then acting as caretaker trainer for an Australian pacer or even two.

The timing works with no major Australian open class pacing in the autumn and star Sydney horseman Luke McCarthy says The Race is definitely on the radar for horses like King Of Swing, especially as it would put a Kiwi exclamation mark on his career before he heads to stud, possibly gaining him valuable bookings.

Oddly, considering the depth of talent The Race will attract, the TAB has three-year-old Akuta as the $3.50 favourite against the open class millionaires.

He is as good as guaranteed a spot in the race should his connections want it and as a three-year-old he would automatically draw barrier 1 but his price seems amazing short.

Confirmation that The Race is now part of harness racing’s calendar couldn’t have come at a better time with the annual yearling sales set to start at Karaka on Sunday before heading to Christchurch.

There is a very real possibility by the time those yearlings turn three our elite pacers could race for $6million in four months between February and May in just a handful of races.

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