Free-For-All shortened to appeal to speedsters
Speed is expected to become a key factor in harness racing's biggest week of the year at Addington.
The two-mile (3200-metre) slog of the New Zealand Trotting Cup – to be held on November 13 this year – remains, but it will be complemented by a sprint feature for the speed freaks on the Friday, with the Group I New Zealand Free-For-All changing from a 2000-metre to a 1609-metre event.
A race that often struggled to attract a full field because of the quick turnaround after Tuesday's New Zealand Cup, the Free-For-All is expected to be rejuvenated by the appeal of sprint racing in New Zealand, thanks to the success of the Harness Jewels.
A solid one mile can be less taxing than an intense 2000-metre event, making it more appealing to trainers looking to back up their horses from the Tuesday.
A $150,000 feature, the Free-For-All will be limited to 10 runners.
The first six home in the New Zealand Cup will earn an automatic invite, as will the winner of the Sires' Stakes Final for 3-year-olds on the same day, with the remaining three places left to the club's discretion.
Despite dropping $10,000 in stake from last year, the Free-For-All will carry an incentive of $5000 to both trainer and driver if Kiwi Ingenuity and Smolda's national record of 1min 52.1sec is broken.
Leading driver and trainer Anthony Butt said most horsemen would welcome the change, and applauded the Addington club for coming up with something new.
"It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea," Butt said.
"But that is good, we need something that is going to get people talking, and whether it works or it doesn't, I'm sure they will be all the better off for at least trying it.
"If you draw well, obviously it is going to be an advantage, but that is no different to anywhere else really."
With no Miracle Mile because of construction work at Menangle in Sydney this year, connections from across the Tasman maybe tempted to travel and contest both features.
"That's the big bonus this year, with no Miracle Mile, we will be looking for a feature sprint race to target and this will be perfect."
Addington racing manager Brian Rabbitt said the club was excited by the change.
"We have been thinking of this concept for some time now and it's been a while since we've staged a flying mile at Addington.
"Only the best pacers competing at the time will be eligible, and this, coupled with an attractive bonus, should ensure the sparks are flying."
Racing over the sprint trip at Addington hasn't been seen since 1996, with the final running of the Round Up Four Quarter Mile which was won by New Age Man.
The current track record for the distance is held by Blossom Lady and was set in 1991 with a time of 1min 56sec.
Master Musician paced 1min 54sec when winning the Monsanto Mile in 1995 but the time was never officially recognised because of a timing malfunction.
As well as the change for the Free-For-All, Addington has also said that instead of the traditional order of entry into the New Zealand Cup, a ranking system will be introduced to determine the final field.
It will be based on performances in the previous season and in the months leading up to the event.