Two of New Zealand's biggest horse races are set to be taken away from Christchurch's famed Cup week as the industry undergoes radical changes in response to Covid-19.
The Herald understands both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, two of the glamour races of New Zealand thoroughbred racing, could move north to potentially be held at Ellerslie or Te Rapa, possibly shared between those two tracks.
That is the suggestion of a working committee put together to look at how racing will look once it returns, which for the thoroughbred code is expected to be in July.
When racing returns it will initially be at a smaller number of tracks and with less travelling for horses and participants, with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing already confirming jockeys will not be allowed to ride in both islands without a quarantine period.
If those rules are still in place come November it would severely impact the quality of northern thoroughbreds who race at Cup week, arguably the biggest week of the year in Canterbury sport.
But with the racing calendar set to reshaped, particularly some of the elite races scheduled to be held in the remainder of this year, the Guineas races were always in danger of moving north.
The two classics are usually dominated by North Island-trained horses, with 21 of the 27 horses who started in them this season trained in the north, over half of those in Waikato or further north.
So a Guineas trip could cost as much as $5000 per horse for a week depending or whether the horse is flown both ways and whether their trainers and jockeys also have to travel to the meeting.
That could mean $100,000 in costs to industry participants to have the dominant North Island horse race in two races which could instead be held without two hours of where many of them are trained.
But the push to bring the Guineas races north isn't just financial. There is uncertainty over what travel restrictions will be in place for both horses and humans come Cup week in November while the working party has also looked at a way to streamline the feature-race calendar, making it more cost and travel efficient.
For the changes to become reality they will need to be approved by the board of NZTR and then the question will be whether they are transferred just for this year or whether the moves become permanent.
Neither NZTR nor the Canterbury Jockey Club, who stage the Guineas as part of Cup week, would comment yesterday.
If Riccarton lose the Guineas races it will probably have minimal effect on the crowd for their biggest day of Cup week, New Zealand Cup day on the last Saturday of the carnival.
It has grown enormously in the last decade and was getting close to challenging New Zealand Trotting Cup day at Addington on the Tuesday as the biggest day of the mega week.
But the Saturday meeting at Riccarton's popularity is more based on the social occasion and the history of the galloping NZ Cup than any great spectator allure in the 2000 Guineas.
There is no suggestion any of the Group 1 harness or greyhound races held at Addington during Cup week will be transferred, with the vast majority of horses who race in the major harness races actually trained in the south.