Racing in New Zealand is unlikely to resume until July 1 and, when it does, it will be in a limited and re-vamped format for at least four months with probable regionalisation of race meetings throughout the country.
It is understood that these were some of the things discussed in a conference call between New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing hierarchy and several industry stakeholders on Tuesday afternoon, given the country's present state of emergency evolving from the Covid-19 virus crisis.
Since then NZTR has put out a statement to racing participants and owners outlining a plan going forward.
The statement said the NZTR Board has met regularly over the past two weeks discussing the lockdown, the economic and social impacts, what cuts can be made, and how the industry can return to racing.
It said that, based on the assumption of a four-week lockdown under the alert level 4 restrictions, it is targeting a return to racing on July 1 at a reduced network of venues. It added that it will need to be flexible as each region comes out of lockdown and with the possibility that alert levels may fluctuate.
An indicative four-month racing calendar has been developed and the key components are:
· If training is able to resume in May, we anticipate trialling in late June with race dates from 1 July.
· Building from a single meeting per week in each region in July.
· A focus on racing near the horse population in early months and building to wider venue use by late spring.
· Incentives being explored to get horses to the races rather than multiple trials.
· The removal of nomination and acceptance fees during the initial period.
· A programme that needs to be flexible, with races over shorter distances initially.
· No reduction to the minimum stake but a flatter stake model across the board initially to ensure wider distribution of funds to owners.
· A return to jumps racing is likely for the North Island but unlikely for South Island due to likely travel restrictions.
· The scheduling of Group and Listed races and reviewing the pattern has been discussed and the recognition that travel restrictions will require a new way of thinking regarding these events.
· Data is important and a team from NZTR's National Racing Bureau will be contacting trainers over the coming weeks. Information on the number of horses potentially able to enter work will play a part in forming the programming of races when racing resumes.
In addition to the measures and activity referred to above NZTR has:
· Reduced payroll and contractor costs by 20 per cent since the shutdown of racing including the salaries of board members by 100 per cent and the chief executive by 25 per cent.
· Started the development of enhancing the protocols and actions required when a return to racing and training is possible under the Government Alert level system.
· Worked with RITA and the Government in providing data and information on how NZTR wants racing to resume with an appropriate funding model.
· Conducted phone and video conferences with stakeholders and club representatives to provide information and responding to queries in these uncertain times.
The NZTR said it's priority is to resume racing as soon as possible to maintain employment within the sport and to distribute much-needed funds to the participants and acknowledged that everyone was working hard to maintain equine welfare at the highest level.
NZTR also recognises people may be under considerable stress as they consider the future of their business and urge participants to make use of the government financial assistance packages. If anyone feels they are not coping, they can call or text 1737 free anytime to speak to a trained counsellor.
That racing is unlikely to return to New Zealand racetracks until July 1 will come as a shock to many involved in an industry which had already been struggling before the crisis. But it is seen as inevitable.
There is certainly no chance of a recommencement of racing while New Zealand is under alert level 4 and, even if it dropped to alert level 3, there would have to be a number of restrictions on how and where race meetings were conducted.
Hastings trainer John Bary was one of those involved in Tuesday's conference call and said the 1-1/2 hour meeting was very constructive with several positives to come out of it.
"Something had to be put in place so that everyone involved in the racing industry has some hope going forward," Bary said.
Bary has turned all of his horses out into paddocks on his property, where they are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.
"We are kind of lucky that we have got 40 odd paddocks at my place so there is plenty of room for them."
He added that, given the drought conditions being experienced in Hawke's Bay, he and his wife and son were giving the horses hard feed and hay each day.
Bary has identified 24 or 25 of his horses that could resume full training in May, some of which could be ready to race in July and August.
Several other Hastings trainers were contacted this week regarding what they had planned for their horses in the immediate future.
Guy Lowry, who trains in partnership with Grant Cullen, said the 12 horses the stable had at racing fitness have all been turned out for a spell.
The others will have a two-week break and then resume light work and education when the Hastings track re-opens for training.
The Lowry-Cullen set up in Hastings has a walking machine and a water-walker that can be used to exercise their horses.
Paul Nelson, who trains in partnership with Corrina McDougal, said they haven't turned any of their horses out for a spell but have, instead, just kept them doing light exercise on a walking machine.
Nelson said they couldn't just take their horses out of work and put them in paddocks, given the present drought conditions in Hawke's Bay.
"Once they have been fed, they need to be worked so they are doing between 1 to 1-1/2 hours on the walker each day," he said.
The Nelson/McDougal horses undergo the majority of their work on Nelson's Air Hill Stud property anyway but, as a stable that concentrates on jumpers, it is imperative that they maintain a reasonably high amount of fitness to be ready for when jumps racing resumes.
"We don't know what the future holds really," Nelson said.
"It could be that we have done 3-1/2 months of work for nothing with our jumpers."
Patrick Campbell said he has turned three of the horses he had in work, including Hunta Pence and Satu Lagi, out for at least 10 days and that could be extended.
He added that two others were already out spelling but that he has kept two young horses at his Wall Rd stabling block, and they are just undergoing light exercise on the training track there.
The partnership of Mick Brown and Sue Thompson have managed to keep their six horses in light work on their Bridge Pa property since the lockdown.
"We lunged them all for the first week and have just been keeping them ticking over for peace of mind more than anything," Brown said.
"We are keeping them fed and looked after and at least we've got paddocks that we can use. The horses aren't boxed or in small yards like other trainers have to."
Lee Somervell, who leases stables and paddocks at Carlton Lodge in Hastings, said he has turned all seven of his horses out for a spell on the property.
"There are some lovely big paddocks there where they can be kept safe and they are fed once a day," Somervell said.
Somervell said that he is grateful for the government's financial assistance package which has meant that he has been able to retain a valuable staff member for the next 12 weeks.
Somervell went out on a high note when New Zealand racing shut down from Wednesday of last week. Three days before he had saddled up Thousandkissesdeep to win a maiden race at the Tauherenikau track in the Wairarapa.
We are now all left wondering if, and when, racing will ever return to some of those smaller venues in New Zealand.
McDonald at the top of his game
James McDonald has long been regarded as one of the best in his field, but his dominance of the cutthroat Sydney racing scene in recent weeks has seen his status elevate again.
The 28-year-old punters pal has 81-1/2 wins to his credit nationally in Australia this season and leads the Sydney jockeys' premiership with 68-1/2 wins as he heads towards a fourth Sydney title, remarkable given the calibre of his opposition.
His mounts across the Tasman have amassed more than $14 million in prizemoney this season, while the kid from Cambridge also gave New Zealand racing fans a first hand reminder of his supreme talent, when he dominated Ellerslie's Christmas–New Year Carnival.
Seven winners and seven placegetters from 16 rides was not a bad effort from a couple of forays to his homeland, which included January's Karaka Million meeting, with his New Zealand mounts earning in excess of $800,000.
Soon to be the youngest person to be inducted to the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, when the event which was originally slated for May, eventually takes place, McDonald showed his wares when landing four winners on a bumper day at Rosehill last weekend.
It is the second time this month that McDonald has ridden a Saturday metropolitan quartet, while the win on Verry Elleegant was the jockey's 45th Group 1 success of his career.
The former Kiwi galloper has stamped herself as one of the stars of Australian racing and McDonald sees no reason why spring majors such as the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) could not be within her grasp.
"If she held her form from the way she is going now until the spring, she would be extremely competitive in Caulfield and Melbourne Cups," McDonald said.
"I think she is a mare that is only going to get better as she gets on. She is only 4, is New Zealand-bred and only maturing now."
While Verry Elleegant was the star of the day, McDonald also notched victories aboard Night's Watch, Cascadian and Quick Thinker.
McDonald said it was an odd feeling returning to the winner's circle in front of empty grandstands as Australian racing continues behind closed doors.
"You have to enjoy yourself a little bit, but it is a very eerie feeling and obviously with every sport that people play, we enjoy the crowd being there."
The racing industry right around Australia is going to extreme measures to enable it to continue under Covid-19 restrictions and McDonald said he and his fellow riders were doing their bit.
"Everyone in the community is in the same boat, but as a jockey, we are just travelling to Wednesday and Saturday race meetings and only doing trackwork on a Tuesday," McDonald said.
"For the rest of the week we are locked inside and none of us want to get sick so we're taking every precaution possible to keep racing going and we're very grateful it is going."