Alexandra Park bosses are confident a raft of changes put in place for the new season will boost field sizes at the country's premier track.

This should mean fewer of the red hot favourites, who can put punters off betting there.

Last Friday's meeting was the first at Alexandra Park under the trial of the new ratings system but, more importantly, also included the increased incentives for owners and trainers of every starter.

Every horse who starts at any Alexandra Park meeting (non-totes excluded) is now guaranteed a minimum return of $400, often more.


Horses finishing further back than fourth will now get $200 to the owner from the ATC as well as $50 as part of the new Harness Racing New Zealand stakes structure.

But, perhaps, most importantly the trainer of every starter is guaranteed at least $150, which is not listed as part of the stake.

That means a trainer could take four horses to Alexandra Park and all run unplaced yet get $600 paid directly to their pocket.

That is seen as key to retaining training numbers in the north, which is increasingly difficult because of expenses, the most obvious being the cost of land.

The incentives seemed to help last Friday, with good support for some lower-grade races, although the intermediate-grade trot and paces struggled for numbers simply because the north lacks horses of that level.

Racing boss Kevin Smith believes the incentives, plus the new ratings system, which should help horses race rivals of similar ability more often, will help numbers.

"There were already horses here last Friday who would usually not be," said Smith. "The ratings system definitely helps with that but the incentives meaning all the horses get at least $400 is a huge help."

Smith says it could prove especially beneficial to owner-trainers or public trainers who want to buy horses themselves.

"If you have a trotter you could race here three times a month and be guaranteed $1200, which is a big whack out of the costs."

ATC research backs up NZ Racing Board stats that increased field sizes enormously aid turnover.

"Looking back over the last couple of months, when we have had more starters in a field, even in the weak conditioned races, the turnover goes up," said Smith.

"If we could boost every race at Alexandra Park by an average of two starters that would be huge."

The ratings system, which is on trial for three months, tweaks what Alexandra Park have been trying to do with handicapping conditions and open nominations in recent years.

"I think it is starting to work. Last Friday we didn't have one odds-on favourite when the bookies opened their markets on Thursday," said Smith.

"The week before at Cambridge the shortest favourite when the book opened was $2.40.

"I think that encourages people to have a bet."

The shorter-priced favourites may still be impossible to avoid when the elite age group horses return, but under the ratings system their days of ridiculously easy pickings in maiden and one-win races may be numbered.

How the club, or any club, deals with the punting dominance of horses from super stables, like the All Stars, when they come to town over summer is another matter.

There is no Alexandra Park racing this week as the track continues to go week about with Cambridge, a rotation which will ease off over summer.

"We have lost a few meetings this season because we wanted to avoid the clashes with Cambridge, which used to hurt both clubs.

"But we are hoping with the ratings system and the incentives the days of horses being solely Cambridge or Alexandra Park horses might be over."