Northern thoroughbred racing is left with just one final hurdle to the formation of a mega club in Auckland after Counties Racing Club members tonight approved a merger with the Auckland Racing Club.
Now all the industry needs is Auckland Racing Club members to approve the merger as their special meeting at Ellerslie on Thursday for the super club, which could enormously improve northern racing's fortunes, to be formed.
Counties members voted by what club chairman Mark Chitty described as a "huge majority, close to 90 per cent" to approve the proposed merger.
"We had a very positive meeting and a lot of our members had done their research so there wasn't that many questions," says Chitty.
"Counties has always been an innovative club and we look forward to being part of the next innovation in New Zealand and especially northern racing."
If the majority of Ellerslie members also vote yes to the merger on Thursday it will clear the way for the formation of Auckland Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated, a new club which will control both Ellerslie and Pukekohe tracks and the assets of the two clubs as they stand now.
ATRI will also work with the Avondale Jockey Club to see the best use of what stands as the three club's assets to drive real, substantial and sustainable change in northern racing.
That is almost certain to include installing a new StrathAyr track at Ellerslie, the sale of the famous Ellerslie steeplechase hill and realising other assets to build an investment fund of between $200million and $250million.
All going well that could see the average race stake at Ellerslie edge toward $100,000 for Saturday races in coming years, finally putting at least one track in New Zealand back on some sort of stakes parity with Australia's major states.
That will be crucial in retaining not only elite trainers, jockeys and staff but also keeping more New Zealand-bred horses here and revitalising the breeding and sales industries.
"If the merger is confirmed on Thursday it will be a game-changer and the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our industry," said Chitty.
If the merger is approved at Thursday's meeting Auckland Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated will come into existence on the first day of the new racing season, August 1.