Thoroughbred racing's lost month could be partially reclaimed with the sport likely to return two weeks earlier than expected.
And that could see New Zealand's first thoroughbred meeting in nearly three months held in the north on June 20.
Although New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) officials are reluctant to commit to the meeting until they see just how many horses trial at Te Rapa on June 9, the code's return looks to be on a fast track.
"We are reasonably confident we can come back to racing earlier," said NZTR boss Bernard Saundry.
"There are a few things that need to fall into place before we can confirm that and that confirmation won't be until at least the middle of next week.
"But the indications we are getting from trainers around horse numbers are good."
Greyhound racing was the first live sport to return in New Zealand three weeks ago after the Covid-19 lockdown eased, while harness racing returned on Thursday and is back to something like business as usual, albeit without the public allowed on track yet.
Thoroughbred racing is the most popular code and has by far the largest TAB turnover but its return has been hampered by most thoroughbred horses being trained on large public tracks such as Cambridge and Matamata.
Those tracks were closed at Covid-19 level 4 so the horses had to stop being exercised, leaving most with zero fitness base when they returned to work at level 3.
But many trainers are suggesting they will have fit horses in two weeks — let alone three weeks — today when the new comeback date is likely.
A crucial sign will be how many horses are nominated for the trials at Te Rapa on June 9 because although it is not imperative horses trial before they race, many trainers will be keen to gauge their horse's fitness.
The TAB, which now operates as the Racing Industry Transition Agency, has confirmed to NZTR if it can pull two meetings together earlier than the original July 3 return programmed for Riccarton, it will have funding for the races.
Although details of an earlier return remain sketchy, the Weekend Herald understands it wouldn't be a full return with three or four meetings per week, but more likely a meeting in the north on June 20 and then potentially one in the South Island, almost certainly at Riccarton, on June 27.
The scheduled programme of three meetings per weekend would start in July, with one thoroughbred meeting every Friday and two on Saturdays before racing starts to return to something more like a normal calendar, as much as that will be possible as the industry undergoes so much change, in the new season starting August 1.
Racing won't return to Ellerslie in the next few months, with chief executive Paul Wilcox confirming yesterday the premier Auckland track will not be able to host meetings in June or even July.
"We would love to be part of the comeback of racing but we have had work done on our track that will mean we can't race there even if things do change with the calendar in June," says Wilcox.
The earlier return of thoroughbred racing would put money in the pockets of trainers, jockeys and owners but also increase TAB turnover as the national betting agency works to dig itself out of a hole, helped significantly by the $72.5 million relief package from the Government.