The Vodafone Derby looks certain to be held this Sunday but in a shock move Hastings has become the back-up plan if Covid restrictions force it to be moved from Ellerslie.
After a frantic Monday of calls and track inspections Hastings is now the secondary option, with Auckland Racing Club officials to make their official announcement on Friday afternoon.
If there is confirmation from the Government at, or before, Friday's daily briefing that Auckland will return to Level 2 or lower by Sunday morning then the iconic Derby Day meeting will proceed at Ellerslie, just a day later than originally programmed.
At level two horse people and key staff, primarily from the Waikato region, would be allowed to travel to Ellerslie so the meeting could be held but without the public.
Owners with horses racing on the day would be able to attend but in restricted areas.
But if Auckland remains at Level 3 through Sunday the meeting will be transferred to Hastings on Sunday which came as a huge shock to many trainers yesterday.
Ellerslie will struggle to hold the meeting at Level 3 because of not being able to get enough jockeys and, crucially, starting gate attendants to the meeting.
The Herald understands NZTR is seeking Government clarification around work permits for both groups and they could travel together straight to Ellerslie where they would be in a work zone and then return straight home.
But unless travel exclusion work permits were granted for a total number of around 50 people, the meeting would be impossible to hold.
Even that would mean many trainers and their regular staff couldn't attend unless they also got permits and while some trainers have used caretaker attendants for horses at meeting they weren't allowed to travel to in the past, they might be more reluctant to do that for a major group one meeting.
But that is only an option if NZTR has any joy with the Government, although they should at least have a sympathetic ear as Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson is also the Minister For Racing and understands the economic impact the industry has.
All this, will of course, become a moot point if Auckland comes back to Level 2 by Sunday but for the sake of planning that decision will need to be made by Friday afternoon.
"We think that is realistic and the only fair thing to do," says ARC boss Paul Wilcox.
"Especially for trainers having to make alternate travel arrangements if we aren't given advice of a move down the alert levels."
Hastings may seem a radical second option but a phone hook up between the clubs and NZTR settled on it after the initial secondary option of Te Aroha was deemed not to be ready for a premier meeting by this weekend after a track inspection yesterday.
Te Rapa, which would have been where the meeting was transferred to, is undergoing some track maintenance and once Te Aroha was ruled out that left Matamata and Tauranga as options, since Pukekohe is north of the Auckland border.
With Matamata unable to run a race at close to 2400m and the furtherest Tauranga's start pointings could stretch to being 2170m, Hastings became the second option so the Derby could be kept at 2400m.
"One other option was discussed was moving the meeting back to next Wednesday if it couldn't go ahead on Sunday but that comes with other problems," says Wilcox.
"If we delayed it till Wednesday what happens is Auckland ends up still being at level 3 on Wednesday?
"And also there are horses who will either want to race on the second day of our meeting (March 13) or heading to the Oaks at Trentham on March 20 who wouldn't be suited by going back to Wednesday.
"So as it stands, unless things change dramatically, we will announce on Friday whether we race here or Hastings." Ellerslie will take nominations on Tuesday for the meeting as if it is going ahead there and should it be moved to Hastings there could be very minor changes.
** Alexandra Park's premier meeting on Friday night will go ahead but behind closed doors, with public and owners not allowed.
Several harness horsepeople from outside the area have work exemption permits to travel to the meeting and drive there but South Island drivers could be forced to miss the meeting because of harsher travel restrictions.
A 2017 rule change will mean futures bets on the NZ Derby stand even if it moves to Hastings.
But TAB bookies are looking at providing a "cash out" option should the Sunday's meeting not be held at Ellerslie.
The old TAB rules stated if a race was transferred or held 72 hours after its programmed start time futures market were cancelled and bets refunded.
But that changed in 2017 and now futures markets are only refunded if the race changes in distance by more than 10 per cent, regardless of venue or date.
So if the Derby is transferred to Hastings, which is the second option after Ellerslie, Derby bets will stand because it will still be 2400m.
If the Derby had been reduced to 2160m or less the futures Markey would be voided.
But TAB chief bookmaker Thad Taylor says in good faith if the meeting is moved to Hastings the TAB is likely to provide a special Cash Out feature for those horses in the field that were backed in the futures market.
"We will only do that after we know on Friday where the meeting is being held and only for horses still in the race," says Taylor.
"But it would mean punters who have backed horses who have made the field will have the option to decide whether they are comfortable with the change of venue or not."