New Zealand Racing open for business

Gisborne racing
Steps are being taken to ensure racing will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Trish Dunell

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, along with the other two codes of harness and greyhound racing, has taken steps to ensure racing will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic in conjunction with the TAB.

There are approximately 14,398 full-time equivalent jobs sustained by the New Zealand Racing Industry with a value-added contribution of over $1.6 billion and more than 58,100 individuals who participate in the industry as employees, participants or volunteers. “We are committed to keeping racing open for business, whilst strictly complying with government requirements to combat the threat of COVID-19,” New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry said. “We have put in place unprecedented processes to protect our industry personnel and protect livelihoods.”

All race meetings are now closed to the general public, with jockeys and trainers with runners engaged, plus limited stable staff and essential race day personnel allowed on course, but the total volume of people falls well within the government’s recommendation to keep public gatherings to less than 500 people.

Jockeys must not travel between the North and South Islands, with the pool of riders split by island in the event of an infection on either. Racing broadcaster, Trackside, has removed on-course presenters as another health measure but is conducting phone interviews with participants from the studio. “We have also asked that participants continue to stay safe by maintaining strict hygiene standards and practicing social distancing where possible,” Saundry said.

Under the emergency regulations New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing has asked trainers to notify the National Racing Bureau when they declare their riders, of the names of the staff members attending their horses. This is to allow for traceability should names be required by the Ministry of Health, while staff must present licence cards to security at the track.

Saundry said there was potentially an opportunity for racing to engage with a broader audience, given the number of sporting and entertainment options that have ceased activity. “There is an opportunity and clearly we are working closely with RITA (Racing Industry Transition Agency) to see if there are other platforms that can grow the number of eyeballs given we are the main sport and entertainment in town.

“People can sit and watch it on their television or watch it via the TAB streaming service and app. “The fact is it’s available on all the platforms and at any time, so they’ve got an opportunity to have a bet. “If people are sitting at home and doing the right thing in seeing this terrible virus through, there’s no better sport than thoroughbred racing. “I have asked RITA, what else can we do with Sky Sport. That’s a discussion that’s ongoing at the moment and potentially an uplift in mainstream coverage.”

Saundry also said the industry was in dialogue with government, which has a good understanding of its significance. “Again we’re working with RITA to have a combined voice to government. We now better understand the financial position for financial projections. Clearly any hardship payments, we’ll be making a representation to government for support. “We are in uncharted waters and uncertain times. There will be financial impacts, the extent of that we just don’t know yet.”

The TAB, which provided $162m of funding to sustain racing and sport in New Zealand in 2019, continues to provide a variety of racing and sport options, however it has seen a significant reduction in content available to customers following the cancellation and postponement of racing and sporting events and fixtures around the world.

Dean McKenzie, Racing Industry Transition Agency Executive Chair, said the TAB, and the wider racing and sport community, was facing similar unprecedented challenges being experienced by many businesses throughout New Zealand and was preparing for all eventualities. “As a business we are planning for every possible scenario and taking steps to mitigate the impact of a significant reduction in income from wagering. We are working closely with the three racing codes and actively talking with the Government about steps we can take to maintain distributions to racing and sport in the face of this crisis.

“The industry knows this is a time for planning and not panic. We continue to provide quality New Zealand and international racing to our customers and we are taking steps to introduce new sporting content to our customers. At the same time, across the industry, we’re taking steps to minimise our costs as much as possible.”