As plans for the soon-to-be-formed Auckland Thoroughbred Racing start to come into sharper focus, the magnitude of the changes at Ellerslie are hitting home.
ATR will come into existence on August 1 after both Auckland Racing Club and Counties Racing Club members voted to amalgamate, forming the superclub to take northern racing into the future.
The new club will have considerable land assets, none more valuable than the famed Ellerslie hill, but with jumps racing not able to be held on the new StrathAyr track that will be developed at Ellerslie starting next March, the hill is not part of ATR's plans.
That means a land package of more than six hectares will be sold, almost certainly for residential housing, an area of land that rarely becomes available in a central suburb like Ellerslie.
Auckland Racing Club chief executive Paul Wilcox says the new ATR will work with consultants through the consent process but no deal had been done to purchase the land, which the Herald believes will be listed for sale soon.
The impending sale of the hill and the end of jumps racing at Ellerslie has angered some in the jumping community but it is really a no-brainer, with estimates that the land could be worth between $80 million and $100 million, while there are barely 10 races run over the hill per season.
Wilcox says ATR will consult with the jumps racing community about where the Great Northern Steeplechase and Great Northern Hurdles, Auckland's two most famous jumping races, will be held in the future.
"We are not going to tell them, we are going to talk to them about options and try and support the races wherever they go."
The two Northerns could well head to Te Aroha but ATR will also need to plan where the other iconic meetings go, for what is expected to be 18 months while the StrathAyr track is laid.
"We are hoping to start that work straight after Cup week next March and hope to be back racing in October 2023," confirms Wilcox.
Avondale, which is slated to stay open until at least 2025, could be a crucial asset for industry meetings during that phase, as will Pukekohe. The latter, as the other track directly under ATR's control, would be the favourite to hold the glamorous Karaka Million meeting in 2023, a huge highlight for racing in the Franklin area.
Whether Pukekohe also holds New Zealand's greatest race, the Derby, as well as the Auckland Cup, will also need to be decided, with Te Rapa the other obvious contender.
While Ellerslie will be without the hill from next year, Wilcox says the idiosyncrasies of the track will remain, including the climb out of the straight soon after the winning post.
"All the jockeys we have spoken to like the fact that the track has its own unique aspects, like that rise, and they will remain as part of the new StrathAyr track," says Wilcox.
So too may some of the drainage work installed three years ago — some critics questioned whether it was put in too early, now that the track is set to be torn up and replaced.
"That drainage work was started before the Messara report even came about and before this amalgamation was close to being a reality. We have held a lot of successful meetings on the track since, many of which wouldn't have been as good without it," says Wilcox.
"Some of that work may be able to remain in place for the StrathAyr so we absolutely stand by having that work done at the time."