The State of Horse Racing in New Zealand
Horse racing is a vastly popular sport in New Zealand and has been referred to as the ‘sport of kings’ for hundreds of years. Every weekend, droves of people can be seen amassing at race tracks to receive quality entertainment and place bets on different horses. With the advent of the internet and online gambling, this has become even easier as people no longer have to frequent race tracks to place a bet and can simply do it online. As a result, casinos have become heavily invested in the horse racing industry.
For many, however, the sport is more than just entertainment—it is their source of livelihood. It was found that the industry contributed more than $1.6 billion to the economy in the 2016-17 year and sustained 14,398 full-time jobs! Unfortunately, with the arrival of the insidious coronavirus, the state of horse racing in New Zealand has deteriorated.
History of horse racing in New Zealand
As mentioned previously, horse racing has a massive fan following in New Zealand and it is easily one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. The origins of this sport in New Zealand are closely tied to its colonial history. New Zealand was once a colony populated by British settlers, and horses were practically considered a staple in colonies.
Horse races quickly became a part of celebrations and anniversaries in New Zealand and came to be seen as high-society sporting and social events. The first horse races are believed to have taken place around 1840 in Auckland. Although horse meetings were initially conducted according to rules similar to the English Jockey Club, a national jockey club was set up in 1876 to ensure the standardization of rules and weight scales. This jockey club was the precursor of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Club.
Ever since then, horse racing has become an intrinsic part of New Zealand’s culture and history. In fact, the first totalisator machine in the world, created by inventor George Julius, was installed at the Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland! In 1951, New Zealand also set up the Totalisator Agency Board, the world’s first off-course national betting agency.
The gambling industry and horse racing
The gambling industry has long been invested in horse racing, with casinos offering players the chance to bet on upcoming races and exclusive horse racing sites for this very purpose. If you are interested in horse races and making money, check out this guide to improve your betting skills.
SkyCity is one casino hotel in Auckland, New Zealand, that has taken a keen interest in horse racing. The open gaming society holds SkyCity as one of the most popular casinos in New Zealand. It is owned and operated by the SkyCity Entertainment Group, which is practically a household name to all Kiwis.
SkyCity isn’t your ordinary casino—it recently sponsored the infamous SkyCity Christmas Carnival, organized by the Auckland Racing Society and held at the Ellerslie Racecourse. This fun-filled carnival featured the SkyCity Boxing Day Races and the SkyCity New Year’s Day Races, two events beloved by the Auckland racing community.
How it works
New Zealand is home to around 52 racecourses, both in the countryside and some in populous cities. Horse racing in the country generally takes the style of flat racing, although some jump racing does take place in the months of March to November. Flat racing, on the other hand, takes place year-round and can consist of distances up to 3200 meters long!
The four general types of horse racing in New Zealand are group, maiden, list, and handicap races, with each type having its own set of rules and methods of deciding winners:
- Group racing: This is reserved for the best of the best racehorses. Horses are divided into three categories: group 1, group 2, and group 3, with group 1 horses being the finest.
- Listed racing: These are for horses that are just below the standard of horses in group racing.
- Maiden racing: These races are for horses that have never won a race before.
- Handicap racing: This format is specifically designed to give every horse an equal chance of winning. The weight allocated to each horse is decided according to its past performance.
The impact of COVID-19 on horse racing
Once a burgeoning industry, horse racing in New Zealand is now struggling to get by under the strict new reality imposed by the arrival of the coronavirus. Race meetings were forcibly suspended throughout the countries, which lead to a drastic drop in betting incomes and widespread loss of employment in the industry.
Recently, the New Zealand government assigned a $45 million bailout to the racing industry, indicative of the sport’s importance to the economy and its worsening financial status. As the Minister of Racing Winston Peters said, “The racing industry has been hit by the perfect storm of COVID-19 while in a weak financial state and in the midst of a reform program.”
Gradually, however, as New Zealand returned to normalcy, the country resumed regular operations, including race meetings. Greyhound racing, which has a considerably smaller following than harness or thoroughbred racing, was able to resume in early May as it could easily follow social distancing protocols. Harness racing, arguably the most popular format in New Zealand, made its return on the 28th of May. Thoroughbred racing, although the last to resume on June 20th, was restarted two weeks ahead of schedule. The speedy return of the horse racing industry is a clear testament to New Zealand’s decisive victory against the coronavirus.
Although the horse racing industry suffered a major blow due to the coronavirus, it is apparent that it has resumed in full force and will soon return to its former glory. With its massive fan following, deep-rooted history, and profitable returns, horse racing in New Zealand is one industry that can never be stamped out.