Two of the key drivers in New Zealand's return to racing post-lockdown could get their rewards at Te Rapa in Hamilton today.
The Waikato track will host 12 races with enormous fields and with a track bordering on a dead6 — rare for this time of the year and remarkable considering the conditions for the three thoroughbred meetings held since the code returned two weeks ago.
Waikato Racing Club chief executive Andrew Castles says the track was a slow7 yesterday but close to that dead6 rating and should provide a suitable surface for the majority of horses, some of who aren't true winter gallopers but have been left no other option after racing halted for three months.
Having 170 horses will ensure plenty of owners and connections are on track while Te Rapa has already sold out a 200-person function, so Castles can expect a big day for his first race meeting since taking over Te Rapa.
"With the weather looking likely to be okay and so many Waikato racing people having not been to the races for a long time we are expecting a good crowd," he says.
Castles has worn plenty of other hats during lockdown, being an important member of the racing sub-committee that helped steer the industry back to racing, the sort of hands-on work that means many hours on the phone and not a lot of thanks.
He gets the reward of a cracking race meeting today whereas one of the other key industry drivers during lockdown has been trainer Tony Pike, who could get more tangible rewards.
As president of the Trainers' Association, Pike has been a vital link to the likes of RITA during the craziness of Covid-19 and has not been scared to stand his ground on the important issues, all while trying to run his own huge stable.
While today won't be easy shopping for punters, Pike looks to have at least three good chances, headed by Cyber Attack in race 10. He was an impressive recent trial winner here and loves Te Rapa, having once beaten superstar mare Verry Elleegant here as a two-year-old.
"He is forward enough to win and has a good draw so he is probably my best of the day," says Pike. "But I also rate Hot Spring Project [race six] and Universal Stars [race five] as hard to beat and the team are ready to go."
Te Rapa starts earlier than usual at 10.30am with Awapuni also racing today, with their first race at 11.13am.