The immediate future of open-class pacing races in the North Island looks dire after the latest wave of exports hop on a plane for Australia today.
And that could threaten the Auckland Trotting Club's chances of getting any form of genuine open-class feature racing off the ground for the remainder of the season and even into next term, with one obvious March exception.
Last season's Auckland Cup runner-up Hughie Green leaves his Auckland base permanently today for his Melbourne base where he will join Queensland trainer John Cremin.
"He might race in Victoria, where John is campaigning another horse, but most of his future lies in Queensland," says owner John Green.
Also leaving is one of the few other genuine open-class pacers in the north in No Doctor Needed, who is heading for Menangle, where he can regularly race for at least A$20,000 against moderate opposition.
The pair are two of only a handful of northern pacers who have been competitive in the best races in the past two years.
In the past 12 months, the already skinny northern ranks have also lost Sky Major, Besotted, Te Kawau, Lancewood Lizzie and Ideal Success, while Ohoka Punter is still owned in New Zealand but hasn't raced here for a year.
Ohoka Punter is a prime example of why good open class pacers are leaving New Zealand. They are not good enough to win our best races or even the support races around them because both attract the absolute superstars - Lazarus, Have Faith In Me, Christen Me, Dream About Me and co.
But racing in Australia last year Ohoka Punter earned huge money, not only by winning but because the lack of depth in Australia's best races makes earning good place money a lot easier.
While northern horses finished second and third in Dream About Me's recent Auckland Cup, both Hug The Wind and Arden's Choice (4-year-old mare) are still inter-mediate grade horses, albeit superbly prepared by trainer Barry Purdon.
Hug The Wind is on his way to the best grade and could even sneak into the $500,000 Hunter Cup with a late payment next month.
But the reality is Purdon might need to keep looking to Australia or the South Island next spring as the northern open ranks look bare.
The saving grace is the lack of big-name firepower encourages the trainers of handy intermediate horses to maybe dip their toes in the big time but it is hardly an ideal situation for the ATC or trainers wanting to prepare for the rigours of a New Zealand Cup.
"It is tough and not getting any easier," admits ATC racing manager Kevin Smith. "We don't have a whole lot of open-class races programmed for the remainder of the season but the club's board is very supportive of the best horses so they will run races with four or five starters. And we will definitely try to have racing opportunities for the best horses here next spring to get them ready for the NZ Cup, even if that means standing-start races where the handicaps aren't too prohibitive." While Hughie Green's enigmatic New Zealand career has come to an end, owner Green and trainer Brian Hughes has a serious replacement in forgotten mare The Orange Agent.
She hasn't raced since thrashing Ohoka Punter in the Flying Mile at Cambridge 53 weeks ago but is only weeks away from trialling.
The 1:51 pacer will be set for the City Of Auckland Free-For-All at Alexandra Park in March, the one major free-for-all left this season which looks certain to get off the ground and may even attract one or two of the All Stars' big guns returning from Australia.
"After that she will head to the group one mares' race at Addington and then we will look at an Australian campaign possibly aimed at the Queen Of The Pacific in Melbourne," says Green. "But having her back will be exciting."