The formation of an Auckland racing super club is now a reality after Auckland Racing Club members voted yes to a merger with Counties in a move which will rejuvenate the thoroughbred racing industry.
Members of the ARC club voted heavily for the merger at their special general meeting at Ellerslie last night, two days after Counties Racing Club members had done the same.
Only two of the 120-130 members present at Ellerslie voted against the amalgamation.
The two clubs will now merge to form Auckland Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated (ATRI) which will commence on August 1, the start of the new racing season.
After that, all meetings held by at Ellerslie and Pukekohe Park will be run by the new club, which now needs to be registered and then the historic move is all but complete.
"It is an incredibly exciting time that a lot of people in both clubs have worked hard to make a reality," ARC chief executive Paul Wilcox said last night. "We are proud of the way our members have approached the process and then made the decision to be open to a brave new future for racing in this region. And we are thrilled at the yes vote."
The formation of the new club will enable the assets of both to be pooled and used for the benefit of northern and New Zealand racing.
The new ARTI will have the time and the expertise to do what is right rather than what is needed as land parcels can be developed, leased or sold, most notably the famous Ellerslie steeplechase hill, so ATRI can establish an investment fund to maximise returns.
But while that will mean jumps racing ends at Ellerslie, club bosses committed at last night's meeting to helping jumps racing, including their iconic races such as the Great Northern, to continue at another venue.
Racing will continue long-term at Ellerslie and Pukekohe Park but Ellerslie will take a break, after the Cup meeting next March, to install a StrathAyr track to provide a better winter racing surface.
During that time meetings will be moved to other venues including Pukekohe and Avondale, which is likely to stay in operation until 2025 and then close with the Avondale Jockey Club to remain autonomous but race predominantly at Ellerslie.
The eventual pooling of the three clubs assets could see sustainable income push stakes toward an average of $100,000 per Saturday race at Ellerslie in a few years, a dream figure for most in the struggling industry.
That should help keep horse people and horses in New Zealand as finally the industry will have at least one track to compete with the rich Sydney and Melbourne tracks.
It will also have somewhere for New Zealand-based trainers, owners and jockeys to aspire to, with Ellerslie set to attract the best horses from around the North Island as they chase stakes double or triple what other tracks will be able to offer.
While there is still work to be done, starting with the committees of the two clubs now voting on who will be on the board to initially steer ARTI through its transition into life, the light at the end of racing's dark tunnel just became much brighter.