Cup festival racegoers in for a week of top events ... plus fashion, food and dozens of entertainment options.
The stakes have risen for this year's Auckland Cup festival, and racegoers have been told to expect higher-calibre racing, entertainment and hospitality when the eight-day carnival begins on Friday.
New Zealand's premier racing festival promises three big days of thoroughbred racing hosted by Ellerslie Racecourse, two nights of harness racing at Alexandra Park and an evening of greyhound racing at Manukau.
Off-track, punters can enjoy four high-stakes fashion competitions and choose from dozens of hospitality and entertainment packages.
Ellerslie Racecourse will host 30 races over three days, with total stakes of more than $1.95 million,
Alexandra Park will host eight races over two evenings with stakes of more than $1.1 million, and the greyhounds in Manukau will compete for two main prizes with combined stakes of $100,000.
Those at the gallops at Ellerslie will have TV3 Derby Day on Saturday, the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Day on the Wednesday and Diamond Day the following Saturday.
Ellerslie chief executive Cameron George said: "Without a doubt we are showcasing the best New Zealand racing has to offer, both in competition and off the tracks."
Punters can also watch the harness racing at Alexandra Park as horses compete over two nights - the opening of the carnival this Friday and the Harness Cup and Derby night the following Friday.
An Alexandra Park spokeswoman said the events held a special place in the international racing calendar.
"The horses are the best harness racing standardbred horses you will see and the trainers, owners and athletes all look forward to this one event in Auckland each year where they can show off their prowess and win some great stakes."
The greyhounds in Manukau are also expected to draw the code's biggest crowd of the year at the MTA Auckland Cup on Thursday next week.
Auckland Greyhound Racing Club general manager Robert Death said those looking for a new fast-paced racing experience would enjoy the more laid-back environment in Manukau.
"There's nothing like watching a race live and people will find it a very relaxing environment. It's always one of the highest- attended nights of the year and it's not until people get out here that they see what greyhound racing is all about."
Off the tracks, eyes will be on the four fashion competitions with prizes worth more than $50,000 for the best dressed racegoers.
Ellerslie's Prix de Fashion on Saturday is New Zealand's fashions-in-the-field final with a winner-takes-all prize exceeding $30,000 and chance to defend the title at the Melbourne Cup. This year's event will be judged by Australia's best-dressed racegoer Chloe Moo, who is flying across the Tasman to offer her expertise.
Other fashion events include the Cup Couture on Wednesday next week, which judges fashionistas in pairs, and the Diamond Darling competition, where judges scour the crowds for the best dressed.
Alexandra Park's Scenic Hotel Group Fashion Competition on Friday next week includes prizes for best dressed man and lady, best hat and a new category for body art.
Alexandra Park had also upped the ante at its events this year - with Annah Stretton fashion shows and the Sons of Zion performing at the opening event, and a new body art section added to the Hot to Trot fashion competition next week.
Hospitality options range from free admission and parking at Alexandra Park and Manukau and $10 or $20 general admission at Ellerslie to $275 premium seating in the Chairman's Club on Auckland Cup Day.
Mr George said Ellerslie had new options for racegoers, including the Federal Food in the Field tents by The Grill's Sean Connolly and Bellota's Peter Gordon, and free entry to everyone with tickets for Bruce Springsteen's concert.
"We have so many options ... indoor and outdoor," he said, "so no matter what the weather throws at us everybody will have a very good time."
On the web
or www.agrc.co.nz for full racing, competition and hospitality information throughout the week.