Making racing odds-on favourite

Wellington Cup Carnival kicks off

TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
Wellington Cup
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

RACING DAY OUT: The Wellington Cup Carnival kicks off with the first of three days today and culminates with Cup Day next Saturday.

Wellington Cup
YOUNG AND KEEN: Six O'Clock News co-owner James McDonnell with the Wellington Cup in 2012.

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If the racing industry has its way, its self-proclaimed renaissance will be taking hold just in time for the Wellington Cup Carnival, starting this weekend.

The annual Trentham racing festival comes with all the bells and whistles this year - three racedays, a wine village, a pop-up Martin Bosley restaurant, the Jagermeister bus is bringing bands, Shortland Street actors will be judging the fashion shows, and there'll be a bouncy castle for the kids.

Race Inc chief executive Alisdair Robertson, who oversees the Wellington, Manawatu and Otaki-Maori racing clubs, says the industry has deliberately rebranded itself and he wants Wellington Cup Day to be recognised as the country's premier racing event.

"It's exciting, and something that Wellington wants and needs. We want to restore Wellington Racing Club to where it should be, at the top of the tree both socially and racing-wise."

He has been in the job just four months, but spent three years as boss at the Melbourne Racing Club and describes himself as a "racing tragic" since his days as a stablehand in Manawatu.

He is determined to build the Wellington Cup to Melbourne Cup heights and double Wellington's club membership, as well as letting people know that their venues are not just racetracks.

"It's selling them on the experience - it's multi-faceted. I'm a horse lover and punter as well, but racing is much broader."

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Gregory Purcell says the whole industry is working to try to reclaim racing's place in Kiwi culture.

"We've been working a lot on rebuilding the thoroughbred brand. It used to be rugby, racing and beer, and now it's rugby and wine in New Zealand. We've really tried to re-engage and are working with the racing board and the race clubs to rebuild the racing experience on course."

That means a move away from the perception that a day at the races is a "cold pie and a warm beer", and clubs have been stepping up their game to make sure they meet customer expectations.

"It's something for everybody, and you can do it on any budget," he says.

The clubs' efforts have resulted in significantly boosted crowds at race events from Invercargill to Tauranga over the summer, he says, and they are hoping it is the beginning of a long-awaited revival.

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- The Dominion Post

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