The Auckland Trotting Club is taking a dramatic approach to becoming the country's premier harness racing club by turning every race night into a premier meeting.
The ATC will boost stakes for all meetings next year to be at what is now the premier level, an increase of $40,000 per meeting.
For now, New Zealand premier meetings have minimum $20,000 stakes and from next March that will be the average stake at Alexandra Park for all meetings.
ATC president Bruce Carter has announced starting March 2019 the club's normal Friday night meetings will consist of two $25,000 races, two $15,000 races for maidens or those for the weak 40-50 rating band and the rest of the races will be worth $20,000.
That means the non-group races at Alexandra Park from next March will average $20,000.
"The stakes are based on nine-race programmes at our meetings and they will be guaranteed, we won't be relying on external funding from things like the race fields legislation which we can't control," says Carter.
"We realise stakes have to go up because costs continue to go up and we want to show this commitment now.
"We need more horses racing at Alexandra Park. At the moment that number is about 9.3 per race on average and we aim to get that to 11 per race and then more after that.
"That is crucial to helping boost turnover but also make the industry more sustainable for trainers."
The two $25,000 race guaranteed each night will usually be for the tightest class pacing and trotting races, meaning some meetings in winter races mere two or three-win front races will carry the $25,000 stake.
"We realise how hard it is to keep those intermediate grade horses in the country because owners get tempted to send them offshore or sell them.
"But this should mean those horses who are in that grade or just below the best open class horses can race here every meeting for usually $25,000 at never below $20,000, which makes them very viable."
The new stake levels will catapult Alexandra Park further ahead of the pack Australasian-wide but their greatest problem is still field sizes.
"It is remarkable, we can't attract rating 40-50 horses for plenty of meetings now racing for $14,000 whereas trainers will race at Cambridge, instead, for a lot less than that.
"And the thing about it is, they are still racing the same horses, rating 40-50s, who are hardly the stars of the game," says Carter.
"So I think some trainers and owners could look at their attitudes to racing here and hopefully this will help with that."
The ATC will not raise stakes for their actual premier meetings but the most comforting part of Carter's announcement is that it isn't reliant on the New Zealand Racing Board reaching its financial targets, which are being hampered by the delays to the race fields legislation being passed.
The money will come from the completion of the of the two major real estate developments at Alexandra Park, with their commercial and residential spaces.
The first tower has already been significantly delayed but almost all the owners of the apartments pre-purchased are sticking with the development as they have increased in price since they were originally purchased.
"The delay is unfortunate but were circumstances beyond our control but we are confident we will have the first building open in the New Year," says Carter.
"And with that money coming online I want to thank the board and management who have worked incredibly hard to make this all happen."
The latest series of increases in stakes means Alexandra Park have almost doubled stakes in five years.
On the up
- Alexandra Park have announced their highest stakes level increases.
- From next year all meetings at Alexandra Park will have an average stake of $20,000.
- The first real estate development at Alexandra Park should, after delays, be open in the New Year.