People all around the world love the tradition and excitement of horse racing. However, the current “new normal” situation is forcing a lot of people to avoid crowds and big social gatherings. Casinos have felt the pinch as well, with tourists opting for the safer option of playing online slots. New Zealand has announced potential closures in more than a dozen of their biggest race tracks, which is shaking the world of horse racing. See how the sport’s community of fans is coping.
The Story Behind the Changes
All around the world, sports communities are having to adopt new practices to comply with social distancing requirements and the increased precautions in today’s world. We’ve already seen a lot of big tournaments cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Some sports organizations are already talking about the longer-term future of their sports, with possibilities like playing to empty stadiums without live crowds being discussed for upcoming seasons.
Horse racing is no different, and New Zealand’s Racing Board has had to consider these concerns as they plan for their upcoming 2020-2021 season, slated to begin on August 1st. That’s part of what led them to consider axing as many as fourteen racing venues around the country. If their proposed racing calendar is accepted, many tracks could lose their racing dates and betting licenses.
The Threat to Avondale
The biggest loss that could come from these closures is the Avondale Jockey Club’s West Auckland Track. It’s on the list of venues that could be stripped of all races for the upcoming season, which would be a huge blow to the sport and the association. This isn’t all due to recent developments with the pandemic, though—it was already in danger of closure because of other factors, like a housing shortage in Auckland and the rundown state of its facilities.
There has already been a movement to try to save the racetrack, which is also home to a market and other activities in addition to horse racing. But that resistance apparently wasn’t enough to counter the fact that New Zealand has too many racing venues. Many of these tracks are rundown and old, and would require big renovations. Previous proposals suggested that only two tracks in Auckland be left open, Ellerslie and Pukekohe, in order to focus resources on fewer tracks.
Even though these proposals were around long before our current crisis, the pandemic has greatly accelerated the changes. With fewer races being run, and the face of the sport already changing, the tracks that were already in danger of closure will likely be the first to go.
What Would Happen To The Tracks?
If the proposal is accepted, it would have a huge impact on the horse racing industry in New Zealand. It’s been suggested that the tracks no longer used for racing would be sold off, and that the money made from them would be used to bolster the country’s racing industry as a whole. Avondale alone would bring in almost $200 million, because it’s on good development land. This money could help the industry as a whole, but many racing fans, and the Avondale Jockey Club, are furious about the proposed changes.
For many, the tracks aren’t just somewhere to go, but they’re a way of life. They’ve been going to the races at their favorite tracks for years, and have great memories of watching their favorite horses win, and gathering with friends and family to enjoy the excitement of a day at the races.
However, consolidating New Zealand’s racetracks, especially around a large growing city like Auckland, could give the industry an opportunity to improve. Being able to focus their resources on fewer tracks could allow some much-needed improvements, making the tracks a better destination for tourists and horse-racing enthusiasts from all over the world.
Looking to the Future
We’re undeniably living in a time of great uncertainty, where every industry will have to adapt if they want to survive. For some, it could be a time of growth, with big advancements in technology and biomedical research. But for lots of small businesses and entertainment, times have been tough. The changes taking place in New Zealand are likely among the first of many that will affect horse racing, casinos, and other sports all around the world.
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