Horse racing: Ellerslie bids farewell to racing for 18 months

Auckland Thoroughbred Racing CEO Paul Wilcox. Photo: Trish Dunell

The horses will be absent from Ellerslie Racecourse for at least the next 18 months.

A StrathAyr track will be installed at the Auckland headquarters as part of several measures agreed after the merger of Auckland Racing Club and Counties Racing Club into Auckland Thoroughbred Racing last year.

While the club has given the industry the estimated timeframe, Auckland Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Paul Wilcox has said it may take longer if necessary.

“Our plan at this stage is 18 months, but one thing I’ve talked about is that we won’t be racing again unless the track is ready to race,” Wilcox said.

“We will go through a period of working out with the senior riders and trainers and making sure the track is ready for racing, doing jumps and moving on to testing.

“We’ll have smaller cards to start with before we build a 10-run card.”

The curtain was lowered on racing with the Auckland Cup meeting on Sunday, while testing on Monday marked the last day of operation for the current track.

Construction of the StrathAyr track is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks.

“Towards the end of March, beginning of April, the track will start to be excavated,” Wilcox said.

“Our first priority is the track, but we are installing a new underground entrance at the 600m mark. That will be the entrance and exit for anyone coming into Ellerslie. We want to remove the crossing.”

“We already have the underpass at 150m down the stretch where people enter the track. All of our parking will be inside the track.”

“There’s a lot going on, but our priority is to get things right. Then we’ll start looking at raising the stakes, which is incredibly important for our industry.”

The club is currently working with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing to decide where the main club meetings will be held over the next two years.

“We are still working out where the individual races will move,” he said.

“The counties will take some of our biggest days, as well as Te Rapa and Te Aroha, when that comes back.

“We will also look further and what is best for the distances of those races and make sure it is close to the proximity of trainers and owners.”

“But Boxing Day will be at Pukekohe and New Year’s Day will be at Te Rapa.”

Wilcox said the club will take a phased approach to getting back to racing.

“From the beginning we won’t have a full schedule of meetings like we normally would,” he said.

“You still have to give the track time to settle, and that’s making sure the grass is properly rooted to get the structure and strength of that grass.”

“We’ve seen examples of tracks coming back too soon, so my priority is to make sure it’s done correctly.”

The sale of Ellerslie Hill has been a controversial topic, but Wilcox said the industry will see the benefits of the sale, particularly with increased participation.

“Ellerslie Hill is a part of our history that is no longer here,” Wilcox said.

“I love our story, I support our story, I respect our story, but my thought process is you don’t live your story, you live your future.

“(The sale) is a decision we made and I knew it wouldn’t make me popular. Unfortunately, you have to make changes to have sustained long-term success in this game and what we’ve done is going to work.” what.

“Now it’s on my shoulders, the board and the team to make sure it’s done right.

“While people are upset about it, when they’re winning those races when we’re back here at a really good track for decent money, hopefully that will help heal some of those wounds.”

It’s been a tough few years for the club as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions and Wilcox said it’s good to finally start investing in the club and the future of the industry.

“It’s been a hell of a couple of years here and we’ve been more restricted than most New Zealand clubs in the fact that we’ve only had one New Year’s Day and Karaka Million and the rest have been pretty restricted,” he said.

“It has been hard, but after the trials (on Monday) it is a matter of working with civilian boys and girls (engineers) and from there we will start.”

– New Zealand Racing Desk