Auckland RC And Counties RC Merger Move Closer

Positive response to intended changes in New Zealand.

Racecourse : Ellerslie (New Zealand)
Racecourse : Ellerslie (New Zealand) Picture: Sandra Mu/Getty Images

The merger between the Auckland Racing Club and Counties Racing Club is a step closer to completion this week.

Members of both clubs had respective meetings where further details of the potential merger were outlined and discussed, and ARC chief executive Paul Wilcox said he received a positive response at both meetings.

"Both meetings were very positive," he said. "The majority (of members) were supportive of the changes and are looking forward to the merger happening."

It is anticipated the merger and use of the two clubs' collective assets will enable them to more than double their income over five years.

This will facilitate average stake levels per race to double from NZ$50,000 to NZ$100,000, while Ellerslie Racecourse would be set for a major overhaul, with the installation of a new StrathAyr surface which would be used on at least 40 race days per year.

A new-look Ellerslie, with international-standard facilities, is expected to provide a revitalised racing scene that attracts both new and existing racegoers, in addition to being the compelling racing venue for industry participants.

The new track surface and increased stakes levels remain the major priority for Wilcox and his team, with construction of the StrathAyr track likely to begin after the Auckland Cup Carnival in March next year.

"At this stage, the track is being penciled in for construction to start after Cup week next year. A similar time to what we did for our drainage upgrade," Wilcox said.

"Our first priority is the track and getting the increased stakes, and the medium-term we will be looking at infrastructure, such as stands."

In order to help fund the improved infrastructure and boost stakes levels, both clubs are planning to sell off parcels of land, including the famed Ellerslie Hill.

"We are looking at (selling) land, not only the hill, but land at both Ellerslie and Counties that can add to the realisation of those assets, to increase that fund to enable us to hit the targets we want to get the right money back into the owners and trainers' pockets," Wilcox said.

Wilcox said members of both clubs were largely accepting of the idea.

"That (selling the Ellerslie Hill) was received, in the majority, in a positive way," he said.

"There were people that had an emotional attachment to the hill but could understand the reasoning behind it and how critical a piece it is in the puzzle to enable all of this to happen."

With stakes currently largely funded by wagering, Wilcox said the merger would allow the clubs to move to a new model that is less reliant on a fluctuating source.

"We don't like being reliant on a funding model that can move up and down every year," he said.

"We want to be able to say, 'This is what we can contribute above and beyond the code funding', which then starts to make a real material difference."

Voting on the merger will likely take place at the end of next month.

"Two incorporated societies can't merge, so we are using the vehicle of the Auckland Racing Club to bring Counties in," Wilcox said.

"There will be a rule change at this end to allow for that to happen, and our (ARC) members need to vote on that, and the Counties members need to vote for the merger to proceed.

"The voting will take place once the amalgamation documents have been agreed to, so we are looking at late June/early July for the voting, with the amalgamation to take place in the new calendar racing season - 1 August, 2021."

With a potential merger coming into effect in the new season, Wilcox said he hopes clubs from other regions will be able to use their new model as a blueprint for future mergers.

"We would like to think it will make other clubs start talking and looking at opportunities that can benefit the industry, particularly in their regions," he said.

"Ultimately what we are doing is going to have a flow-on effect to the whole industry.

"If it encourages some of those clubs who have been potentially frightened of losing their identity, or what a merger may look like, then we are only too happy to help them explore ways in what we have done and show them a blueprint of how we have done things, which can give them confidence that it is the right thing to do for the long-term."

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