Bigger, better Auckland Cup carnival looms

By Ben Irwin

Racing festival continues to grow, with higher stakes, fashion and parties sharing the limelight.

Fashion is a big part of the Auckland Cup Carnival. Photo / Richard Robinson
Fashion is a big part of the Auckland Cup Carnival. Photo / Richard Robinson

The stakes will be higher, the dresses brighter and the parties bigger when Auckland Cup kicks off at the end of the month.

This year, organisers are hoping more off-track entertainment events will create a "festival environment", akin to Christchurch's New Zealand Cup and Show Week.

The eight-day Auckland Cup Carnival begins on February 28 with harness racing at Alexandra Park Raceway.

It will also include gallops at Ellerslie and greyhound racing at Manukau.

While action on the track will be the focus, efforts are being made to attract a younger crowd with hospitality packages and fashion events set to play a big role.

Alexandra Park head Dominique Dowding said they would host between 5000 and 8000 guests over the week. "We're really breathing new life into it. We're going to take it to another level."

Alexandra Park will host two nights of harness racing - the opening night on Friday, February 28, and the Auckland Cup and the Northern Derby night a week later on March 7. Stakes have been raised, with more than $1.2 million on offer over the two nights of racing at the raceway.

Live music, fashion and after-parties will be the highlights of the off-track entertainment.

Kiwi designer Annah Stretton will host a fashion show on the first night, and also run the "Hot to Trot" best-dressed competition on Cup and Derby night.

Hospitality packages range from $30 to $135, but parking, entry and racebooks will be free, Ms Dowding said.

"It's about trying to attract a new audience," she said.

"What we're hoping to do is to become an entertainment event."

Auckland Trotting Club president Kerry Hoggard had no doubt that the racing would be top-class, but he said it was important that the week was an "exciting entertainment package".

Auckland Cup Carnival

* Friday, February 28 Official opening of Auckland Cup week. Alexandra Park. First race 5.25pm.

* Saturday, March 1 Gallops Derby Day at Ellerslie Racecourse. First race 12.45pm.

* Wednesday, March 5 Gallops Auckland Cup Day at Ellerslie Racecourse. First race 1.10pm.

* Thursday, March 6 Greyhounds Auckland Cup at Manukau Stadium. First race 5pm.

* Friday, March 7 Harness Cup and Derby night. Alexandra Park. First race 5.25pm.

* Saturday, March 8 Diamond Day at Ellerslie Racecourse. First race noon.

- NZ Herald

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