Jumps racing over Ellerslie's famous steeplechase hill has come to an unceremonious end, with next week's Great Northern meeting to be held at Te Aroha.
The storied history of steeplechase and hurdle racing, which saw the Great Northern Steeples acclaimed as one of the most unique jumps races in the world, will not end with a final fairytale after the send-off set for next Sunday was canned because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The meeting on October 3 was to have been the last time jumping was held at Ellerslie, with the steeplechase hill to be sold for development.
A new StrathAyr track will be laid but its installers have advised against holding hurdle races on it.
So even while senior staff and directors of the newly-formed Auckland Thoroughbred Racing are saddened to see the end of jumps racing at Ellerslie, they need to build a financial war chest to ensure the enormous future stakes increases promised can be delivered.
With the hill worth at least $100 million, probably more, the reality is northern racing can have a handful of steeplechase races a year or financial security, not both.
That economic reality still doesn't undermine the emotions of jumps racing at Ellerslie ending and ATR wanted to give the two historic races an appropriate send-off on Sunday week but have been robbed of that chance.
While Auckland can hold race meetings at level 3 with strict protocols and horses are allowed to travel to the region from level 2 regions, horse people can't accompany them.
That means even if ATR could get all the horses needed for the Great Northern meeting to Ellerslie, they wouldn't have the jockeys, especially jumps jockeys, to hold the meeting.
So the meeting will move to Te Aroha, where the lead-up meeting including the Pakuranga Hunt Cup was last Sunday, with a reduction to 6300m for the Great Northern.
"Of course we are disappointed not to be holding it and giving jumps racing and the hill the send-off we wanted to," says ATR chief executive Paul Wilcox.
"We are also disappointed that we have to sell the hill at all. We wish racing in this country was in a position that we didn't have to look at that, but it isn't, and we have made a commitment to the racing industry and participants to improve that situation.
"And that tender process for the hill has gone very well and is moving through the stages, which should reap really tangible benefits for the industry," said Wilcox.
"But at least by moving the Northern meeting to Te Aroha we can be certain it will go ahead and give all the trainers some certainty early, so they can plan for that," he added.
The new ATR mega-club not only discussed their options, including moving the meeting back a week, with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing but also some of the trainers of horses likely to be involved in the two great races.
"We looked into moving everything back a week but we don't think that would have been the best thing for the horses, with tracks drying out, at the end of the jumping season," explained NZTR's Tim Aldridge.
"And even if we had decided to do that there is no certainty the alert levels in both regions would mean we could hold the meeting with the two Northerns the next week anyway."
NZTR will help boost stakes for the supporting jumps races on the Great Northern card to $30,000 for the 0-1 win steeplechase and $25,000 for the maiden hurdle and chief executive Bernard Saundry says there should be no doubts that the code remains committed to jumps racing in New Zealand.
Ultimately the right decisions have been made for this year's Great Northern meeting, the horses and connections involved, and more importantly the future of racing in the northern region.
But there will still be a tinge of sadness, maybe much more than that, among many racing fans that they will never again see the magnificent sight of New Zealand's bravest horses taking on racing's most formidable landmark at Ellerslie.