Ellerslie boss Paul Wilcox couldn't have dreamed a few months ago he would be able to make the announcement he will today.
But remarkably, New Zealand's glamour racetrack will be able to maintain its record stakes for this season.
The Auckland Racing Club will tip nearly $1 million of its own money into stakes, which when added to the industry funding and sponsorships means almost all races at Ellerslie this season will match last year.
After the huge financial impact of lockdown, the effects on TAB turnover of Covid-19 worldwide and the fact Ellerslie had to shut its enormously popular function centre down for months, maintaining stakes for the new season feels like a giant win.
"We couldn't have believed this would be possible a few months ago," said ARC chief executive Wilcox.
"Obviously we went into lockdown as unsure of the future as everybody else and all our staff had to take pay cuts and we had to adapt.
"So to come out the other side and still be able to put almost $1 million into stakes and pay above the industry minimum for so many races is a massive result.
"That is made possible by revenue streams like the function centre and rents we receive, but at the end of the day, we are a racing club, so we want to return as much of that as we can to racing and the participants."
Both the $1m Vodafone Derby and $500,000 Barfoot And Thompson Auckland Cup maintain their huge stakes, as do almost all the other group races with stakes confirmed so far. All non-stakes races run on the club's four biggest days — Boxing Day, New Year's Day and the two days of Cup week — will be run for $50,000, while all rating and open races on feature days over summer will be run for at least $5000 above the minimum stake required by NZTR.
Ellerslie will now wait to hear New Zealand Bloodstock's decision on August 31 about the timing of the national yearling sale to confirm whether they hold the two $1m Karaka Million races on the same night in January or whether they are split and the 2-year-old race held in conjunction with a later yearling sale, should that move to April.
"If that happens we will adapt to that and have three separate days with $1 million races."
While the money on the track is being retained, so too will Ellerslie's emphasis on hospitality, with no plans to scale back the twilight series of meetings that have become such a huge part of the Auckland social scene.
"We will be working hard to keep the energy levels high around our major race days, too, because that is a big part of what we do," said Wilcox.