The administrative body for the thoroughbred code, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, are preparing for a return to racing once the alert level 4 restrictions of Covid-19 are repealed.
The major code in a $1.6 billion industry that sustains 14,398 fulltime equivalent jobs across the nation and in excess of 58,100 individuals who participate in the New Zealand racing industry as employees, participants or volunteers, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) have recognised the need to make changes to ensure the industry remains viable.
"The New Zealand racing industry, like many businesses, faces critical challenges as a consequence of Covid-19," New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry says.
"The NZTR board has met regularly over the past two weeks discussing the lockdown, the economic and social impacts, what cuts we can make, and how do we return to racing.
"There has been significant work undertaken by an industry working group around what format a return to racing might take."
He says following a board meeting on March 31, and based on the assumption of a four-week lockdown, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing are targeting a return to racing on July 1 at a reduced network of venues.
"We will need to be flexible as each region comes out of lockdown and with the possibility that alert levels might fluctuate."
Bernard praised industry participants, who continue to maintain equine welfare to the highest level during a challenging time.
The industry leader also recognised that many racing people may be under considerable stress as they consider the future of their business and urged them to make use of the government financial assistance packages where required.
"NZTR's priority is to recommence racing as soon as possible to maintain employment within our sport and to distribute much needed funds for our participants," he says.
An indicative four-month calendar has been developed and the key components are as follows:
· If training is able to resume in May, trialling in late June is anticipated with race dates from July 1
· Building from a single meeting per week in each region in July
· A focus on racing near the horse population in early months and building to wider venue use by late spring
· Incentives being explored to get horses to the races rather than multiple trials
· The removal of nomination and acceptance fees during the initial period
· A programme that needs to be flexible, with races over shorter distances initially
· No reduction to the minimum stake but a flatter stake model across the board initially to ensure wider distribution of funds to owners
· A return to jumps racing is likely for the North Island but unlikely for the South Island due to likely travel restrictions
· The scheduling of Group and Listed races and reviewing the pattern has been discussed and the recognition that travel restrictions will require a new way of thinking
· Data is important and a team from NZTR's National Racing Bureau will be making contact with trainers over the coming weeks. Information on the number of horses potentially able to enter work will play a part in forming the programming of races when we resume.
· The full impact on stake allocations will be known once we have the full picture from RITA and the Government.
In addition to the measures and activity referred to above NZTR:
· Has reduced payroll and contractor costs by 20 per cent since the shutdown of racing including the salaries of board members by 100 per cent and the chief executive by 25 per cent.
· Started the development of enhancing the protocols and actions required when a return to racing and training is possible under the Government alert level system.
· Worked with RITA and the Government in providing data and information on how NZTR wants racing to resume with an appropriate funding model
· Conducted phone and video conferences with stakeholders and club representatives to provide information and responding to queries in these uncertain times.