I don’t go all that much to the trots (no, not Harness Racing- wash thy mouth out) at Alexandra Park these days. On the times I do, it’s almost always with a good friend and we take his mum along. On our last visit I explained to her how to take a 50-cent boxed trifecta, and blow me down if she didn’t win $175.00 at her first-ever attempt. And then a $36.00 one two races later- talk about beginner’s luck. I followed her picks for the second one, at least!
We always sit in what used to be, and maybe still is, the Easton Light lounge, where a beer costs about $7.50 tops and you can take in hot chips from the food truck. And then sit with the perfect combo of beer and hot chips while you leaf through the tomato-sauce stained racebook and meticulously organise all the combinations that are almost inevitably going to lose you your 40 or 50 dollars.
But you don’t care (right then anyway), because you know you are having the best time surrounded by people who are just a bit down-to-earth, and maybe even a bit down on their luck (if some of this sounds a bit ‘Piano Man’, then that’s perfect). The age-range and ethnicity is diverse, also.
Harness racing as a sport, especially up here in Auckland, was very much in the doldrums as recently as even three years ago. Stakes were incredibly low and it just wasn’t worth most owners’ and trainers’ while bringing their horses all the way to this city, for the dubious chance of winning, in many cases, only several hundred dollars- and that was only if the horse could place in the first four. After paying all the stud and training fees, most involved would have been running at a loss. To make matters worse, a typical crowd at Alex Park in the middle of winter makes an attendance for a Blues match at Eden Park look positively enormous.
The last few years has seen some pretty canny marketing from the team at Alex Park however- attendances are gradually on the up and the stake money is a lot more worthwhile now. In fact, a further increase on last year’s raise was recently announced:
And then there is the lucrative ‘Harness Jewels’ meet. The latest edition of which was at Cambridge last week, Saturday. The decidedly average weather probably kept a few away, but so to would have another factor. That being the charging of a $120.00 entry fee to get into the Jewels Lounge enclosure. Sorry…what? It’s hardly Royal Ascot. Have the private school brigade assumed ownership of the track, or what? What absolute bloody elitist nonsense. And many drive a long way to get there also. And to be met with that rubbish call? You must be kidding.
I know a few trots regulars who like a bit more ‘comfort’ at the track than my hot chips and bog standard lager, but not at $120.00 a pop.
If anyone connected with Harness Racing NZ could shed some light on the reasons for this level of extortion, then please do. Are the hoity-toitys taking over? Do we hoi polloi still actually matter to you? We occasionally like the odd bit of comfort as well, you know. The only problem being that not a great of many us earn six figures, so cannot afford to enter places the Jewels Lounge at such a cost.
Is the actual and underlying intention here to purposely shut us out? It certainly feels like it. And do you care, HRNZ? Certainly if you consider yourself to still be an equitable industry, you definitely should. And is your sport now treading the path of elitism? I know the money doesn’t come out of thin air; I’m well aware of that, but let’s be a bit reasonable here- is it really a good idea to alienate your core support base?