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Racing bosses confident Ellerslie will be cleared

Michael Guerin,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Apr 2024, 7:35am
I Am Maximus on his way to victory in the Grand National. Photo / AP
I Am Maximus on his way to victory in the Grand National. Photo / AP

Racing bosses confident Ellerslie will be cleared

Michael Guerin,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Apr 2024, 7:35am

Auckland racing bosses are “very confident” Saturday’s Easter Handicap meeting will be held at Ellerslie. 

Ellerslie’s new StrathAyr track has suffered bedding-in issues and last Wednesday’s industry-level meeting was abandoned after three races, the second touch-and-go meeting since the new surface’s launch in January. 

The other, far more dramatic issues came on Karaka Millions night, when rain on the day made the new surface shifty and jockeys and stewards met before deciding they were comfortable completing the meeting, even with some horses slipping. 

Last week’s meeting was abandoned after a horse ridden by Opie Bosson slipped after the crossing going out of the straight, so the track must pass return-to-racing protocols before Saturday’s meeting gets the green light. 

The first and most important step in those will be eight trials being staged from 10.30am on Monday, with the rail returning to the true position, where is it planned to be on Saturday. 

Officials from Auckland Thoroughbred Racing (ATR), the Racing Integrity Board and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing will then canvass Monday’s trials jockeys and inspect the track to ensure it is safe for Saturday and the other meetings, before Ellerslie goes into its winter hiatus after a meeting on May 25. 

ATR chief executive Paul Wilcox says while Wednesday’s abandonment was a blow, ATR has done its best to keep the industry informed about the issues at thoroughbred racing’s glamour track. 

“We have tried to be really transparent because we are fully aware how important it is to the entire industry,” Wilcox said. 

“We had the StrathAyr guys here straight away on Thursday and we have taken advice on how to better prepare the track, which our team is still learning about. 

“One of first things we have done is what they call sand dusting the track, which means putting 90 tonnes of sand on it. And the track has been hollow-cored to break it up on top.” 

Wilcox says one of the issues is that the grass has grown so quickly and well at Ellerslie, it is creating a matting on top of the track which “can create an ice skating rink effect”. 

“But we are confident the hollow coring and the sand dusting will help with that, and while we will go through the return-to-racing protocols, the experts we are dealing with are sure we will be good to hold the Manco Easter meeting here on Saturday.” 

The meeting not only hosts the Easter Handicap but the $120,000 Trelawney Stud Championship over 2100m for 3-year-olds and a $100,000 juvenile race, all black type, as those opportunities start to dry up for the season. 

The Ellerslie meeting and the Travis Stakes fixture at Te Rapa the following Saturday almost feel like the last of the summer - or in this case autumn - wine, as just a week later, Te Rapa will host the first jumping races of the northern season on May 4. 

Are you not entertained? 

British bookmakers copped a gladiatorial hiding in Sunday’s Grand National Steeplechase. 

The heavily-backed I Am Maximus, named after Russell Crowe’s character in the movie Gladiator, bolted away with the great race after the field was unusually bunched and competitive with 600m to run. 

Ridden by Paul Townend and trained by the legendary Willie Mullins, I Am Maximus won one of the safest Grand Nationals in decades after several changes were made to the Aintree course. 

While four horses unseated their riders and another seven were pulled up when no longer in contention, no horses fell and 21 of the 32 starters completed the race. 

This story was originally published on the Herald, here 

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