Harness Racing minimum stakes in New Zealand were increased by Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) for the current 2016/17 season, with the aim of increasing returns for all harness racehorse owners, but this is about to be further enhanced, in a big way.

Last year, the leading North Island Harness Racing Club, the Auckland Trotting Club (ATC), based at Alexandra Park, also introduced an incentive scheme for owners, that commenced at the beginning of the current season. With its comprehensive programme to revitalise and reinvigorate harness racing in the north, the ATC has begun to reward owners of all horses racing at Alexandra Park that was made up of $250 paid for each starter, with the trainers of those horses also receiving an incentive payment of $150.

In January, a $4.77 million Industry Enhancement Fund was announced and this has mainly been used to support stakes, with HRNZ introducing a $1,500 maiden bonus until the end of the 2016/17 season.

Then in February this year, just prior to the Yearling Sales, the ATC announced that race stakes at Alexandra Park were set to increase dramatically after a huge response to their major property development undertaking at Alexandra Park, where they had sold all 246 apartments in the first two stages of the development. It was announced that the Club was increasing stakes for all its meetings by $40,000 per meeting, but this would not commence until August 2018. This was projected to mean that Non Winners could potentially be racing for a stake of some $16,000, which would be an unheard of level for that grade of horse anywhere in Australasia.

In April the NZ Racing Board announced that racing stakes overall were set for a $12million boost per season over the next two seasons, with the promise of much more to come, with the entire $24million and subsequent allocations specifically to be used for stakes. The harness racing slice of this pie is set to be $3.6million per season.

All the above are great initiatives and sure to go a long way to improving the returns for owners, trainers, drivers and industry participants alike, but the focus on enhancing stake levels is now set to go to new heights, with the ATC once again leading the way.

Earlier this week the ATC announced an ambitious plan to attempt to virtually double stakes inside the next four years. As documented above, the ATC had planned a major stake increase to start on the 1st August 2018, but this has been increased and brought forward 12 months, to start on the 1st August 2017.

The ATC will now put $1.3million into stakes during the next season, with the result that the minimum staked race at Alexandra Park next season will be no less than $12,000. This is already the level set for most grades of races, but the ATC often runs two conditioned races on their programmes in an effort to increase horse numbers, but these horses race for a lesser stake currently. These races too, will increase next season to $12,000 and a normal Friday night meeting will see the stakes range from $12,000 to $17,000. With the HRNZ $1,500 bonus to all maiden winners mentioned above, this will mean a maiden win at Alexandra Park next season will be worth a staggering minimum of $7,500.

The ATC are also putting $90,000 towards boosting some of the Group 2 and Group 3 races, particularly races like the National Trot and the Trotting Derby to further enhance stakes for the trotting gait.

While this initial part of the equation is extremely welcome news, the second phase will really put the icing on the cake. In the 2018/19 season the ATC proposes to increase stakes by a further $40,000 per meeting (an average of $4000 per race), to coincide with the completion of the first of the Club’s real estate developments. The plan is then to do the same in the subsequent season.

This would then take maiden stakes to an unheard of $16,000, but this could then cause problems for owners trying to sell horses to Australia, as they would then incur a Metropolitan penalty for racing there, so it may mean that Alexandra Park maidens will race for $14,999 and then most other grades of races will be set at $18,000 or possibly even $20,000.

ATC President, Bruce Carter says the $20,000 base stake for anything but maidens is realistic to achieve in two years’ time, when the ATC property developments and NZ Racing Board stakes boosts come to fruition.

If all plays out as is expected, it is the ATC’s goal to have every Friday night race at Alexandra Park in four years’ time, worth around $30,000; a figure that is currently hard to comprehend.

In implementing these new initiatives, the ATC has upset some trainers by deciding to do away with the $150 per starter fee paid to trainers under their previous incentive scheme, however owners will still receive up to 2% of the stake for starters who finish unplaced in their races. An over-whelming number of owners spoken to wanted money to go into stakes, so the ATC say they are pouring as much money as they can into stakes, to help attract owners, both new and existing, which will also benefit trainers and make the industry more sustainable.

We applaud the efforts of all involved to make our Harness Racing industry more sustainable and attractive for horse ownership.

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