Hawke's Bay Racing showed a profit of $358,538 on its operations for the 2020-21 racing season, a result club chief executive Darin Balcombe said was very pleasing given the uncertainty that surrounded the start of the season due to the Covid pandemic.
Balcombe told members at the club's annual meeting on Tuesday evening that the profit was, in the main, due to a sold-out Livamol Classic raceday on the third day of the Bostock New Zealand spring carnival in October last year, a NZRB return to racing grant of $121,659 and the sale of a small parcel of land at the eastern end of the racecourse for $125,000.
The season got off to a shaky start with the first day of the spring carnival on September 19, featuring the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy, having to be run under level 2 Covid restrictions. Fortunately, the second and third days returned to normal with a good attendance on Windsor Park Plate day on October 3 and a sold-out crowd for Livamol Stakes day on October 17.
Balcombe said the other big positive to come out of the last year's finances was that, after many years of the club striving to reduce debt levels, the remaining $550,000 bank loan was able to be repaid in October last year.
"This is the culmination of a huge effort and planning over the past few years by several people, most of whom had a big input before I arrived," Balcombe said.
"It gives us the chance to look to the future with a wider range of possibilities.
"As a club we will continue to drive our annual cash surpluses to allow us to keep control of our own destiny and allow options with upcoming decisions around the facilities."
The main buildings at the Hastings racecourse have been identified by the Hastings District Council as being possibly earthquake-prone. Hawke's Bay Racing has not provided an earthquake assessment, so the council is proceeding as if it had determined that the buildings are earthquake-prone.
Hawke's Bay Racing is now required to complete seismic work by November 2035 or prove the buildings to be no longer earthquake-prone.
Balcombe said the club is currently investigating its options, which include a greenfields option or rebuilding the stands on the existing site. He said members will be fully consulted before any decisions are made.
"As we head into the new season with an enhanced membership offering, a hunger to grow events, and a desire to further develop our position as a major event venue and grow our racedays, it is an exciting but uncertain time in New Zealand racing and the country," Balcombe added.
"With these challenges there will be opportunities and we look forward to seeing you all back on course once vaccination levels reach the required target."
Revenue from the club's 12 race meetings during the season amounted to more than $5.6 million, which was well up on the $4.2m in the previous season, but that year's race meetings had been reduced to only nine days due to Covid.
Race meeting costs and expenses for the last racing season amounted to $4.5million, an increase of more than $1million on the previous year while other operating costs also increased by $266,000.
Balcombe said he is confident Hawke's Bay Racing will again show a profit in the current racing season but nothing like last season's result, given that this year's Bostock New Zealand spring carnival was severely affected by Covid restrictions.
Bosson was starving for the win
To say top jockey Opie Bosson was hungry for a win aboard Bright Blue Sky in the two-year-old race at Te Rapa last Saturday would be a huge understatement.
Bosson, 41, had made a huge commitment to get down to ride the exciting filly at her book weight of 54.5kg, shedding nearly 9kg in the space of three weeks to do it.
Bosson has a high opinion of Bright Blue Sky and didn't want to miss out on riding her when she made her debut in Saturday's Listed $70,000 FastTrack Insurance Stakes (1100m).
"I've always had a liking for her and so I said I would make the effort to lose the weight and I actually did it quite comfortably," Bosson said.
Bright Blue Sky was up against only five rivals but they included a race winner in Mascarinto and promising colt Sacred Satono, who had one previous start for a second.
Trainer Jamie Richards said before the race that he wouldn't normally line a two-year-old first up in a stakes race but he also thinks Bright Blue Sky has the X-factor.
"She was an expensive filly but she's got the pedigree and physique and, importantly, she's got plenty of natural ability as well," he said after the filly's dominant 2-1/4 length victory in a slick time of 1:03.86.
Bosson said the daughter of Fastnet Rock still has a fair bit to learn but could have a huge future on the racetrack.
"She was a little bit on and off the bit during the race but once everything clicks into place she is going to be a pretty good filly.
"She'll take a lot out of that run and will be a lot sharper next time. She's a pleasure to ride," he added.
Richards said the fact that the race was run at a good tempo helped Bright Blue Sky settle and get her breathing right and he was impressed with how she accelerated clear of second placegetter Sacred Satono in the final stages.
"I loved the way she pinned her ears back and wanted to attack the line," he said.
Bright Blue Sky is Australian-bred, being by Fastnet Rock out of the Lonhro mare Blue Blue Sky and was a A$600,000 ($628,800) yearling purchase by Te Akau principal David Ellis from the Magic Millions Gold Coast sale.
Ellis and his wife Karen have syndicated the filly among a large group of owners, one of whom is Waipukurau's Michael Ormsby.
The fact that she was bought from the Magic Millions sale qualifies Bright Blue Sky for the $A2 million Magic Millions Classic (1200m) at the Gold Coast on January 15, with Richards saying there is a good chance she could contest that race.
"Obviously she will have to keep improving as there are a lot of nice horses over there getting ready for that race but we'll make a plan and see what happens.
"The plan would be to go to Sydney and give her a race there and then head up to the Gold Coast," he added.
Bright Blue Sky was one of two winners for Bosson at Te Rapa last Saturday as he also combined with Richards to take out a $55,000 Rating 65 race with Image Of You.
However, the top hoop will now be sidelined for a couple of weeks after incurring a seven-riding-day suspension on a careless riding charge at Riccarton on November 13 and another five days for excessive use of the whip in a race at Rotorua on Tuesday of last week.
Derby plans for Shamus
Promising three-year-old Shamus returned to racing with a bang at Awapuni last Saturday as he made it two wins from just two starts when successful over 1300m in his first run for the season.
The Allan Sharrock-trained three-year-old looked to be a galloper of real quality when successful at his only start last season, over 1200m at Awapuni back in May, but has taken a while to get to racing trim again.
Sharrock and owners Noel and Ron Stanley have been prepared to wait for the son of Shamexpress to signal he was ready to make his return - and that patience was rewarded last weekend when the gelding drove home hard up against the inside rail to win by a long neck.
"He is a very smart horse who we have had to wait for," Sharrock said.
"We had originally thought he might be a New Zealand 2000 Guineas contender, but his coat just wouldn't come right so we backed off and gave him the time he needed.
"I thought he was pretty right on Saturday and, although he had to work hard, he had them covered in the final stages," Sharrock said.
The astute trainer will now look to get some black type next to the horse's name in the coming months as he considers setting him on a path towards the Group 1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) at Ellerslie in March.
"He'll have his next start in the Wellington Guineas [1400m] in January and then we'll have a think about whether he is a Derby type or not.
"His breeding doesn't suggest he is a Derby horse, but we won the race with Wahid for the Stanley boys and he didn't have the pedigree either, he was just the best three-year-old that season.
"Mind you, he is now qualified for a sale to Hong Kong and the phones have been going red hot, so we will just have to see where that leads as well."
By Windsor Park Stud stallion Shamexpress, Shamus is out of the Per Incanto mare Chesapeake and was purchased by Sharrock for $85,000 out of the Woburn Farm draft at last year's NZB Ready To Run two-year-old sale.
Ellerslie meetings transferred
With Auckland border restrictions set to continue until December 15, racing in the region has responded accordingly.
The meeting set to take place at Ellerslie on December 4 has been transferred to Matamata, while the twilight meeting on December 9 has been cancelled.
As a result, the Tauranga meeting on December 10 will now be run for feature stake money.