19 Oct 2021

Addington Cup faces major loss as crowds cut from race week

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 19 October 2021

Christchurch's Addington Raceway, with its glittering racetrack and stands fit for a crowd of 20,000 to fill, will be without punters this
Cup Week.

Alert level 2 restrictions on crowd sizes have forced the hand of the event's organizers three weeks out and this country's biggest race day will be behind closed doors for the first time in Addington's 117-year history.

Addington Raceway manager Darrin Williams said it was gut-wrenching.

"It's very significant for Canterbury, being the home of harness racing in New Zealand and probably, Addington Raceway recognized Australasian-wide as the number one venue," Williams said.

"This is New Zealand's biggest race day. So, it's very frustrating. Cup week in itself, with both the thoroughbreds and the greyhounds and the A&P show, and the work that the council do, it's massive for the Canterbury region. It's our party time."

The highlight of Christchurch's social calendar - famed for its fashion, fun and day-drinking, was not alert level 2 friendly.

And whilst the horse racing had not been scrapped, it will look very different this year, with seated groups across the facility.

"The social activity of coming to New Zealand cup day with family and friends doesn't lend itself to social distancing," Williams said.

"People want to party and we want them to party, so it just become very, very difficult. 

"It means that we will have a small group of people on course: industry participants, owners, some of our own club members and our business partners, but pretty much about 1,200 people instead of about 20,000."

Christchurch's economic development agency estimated Cup and Show Week brought nearly $4.4 m into the city under normal conditions, as well as more than 22,275 visitor nights.

Addington Raceway stands

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

And it is not the races without the front row of fashion attending - but this year, that has been shifted online too.

Christchurch fashion enthusiast Michael Stanton, who was also a judge at this year's Wellington Cup Day, said it was a massive blow for the city.

"We're pretty disappointed but I would say that the government can shut down the races, but they certainly can't shut down the vibe and the anticipation of such a fabulous week for Christchurch," he said.

With the races to be screened in pubs and bars across the city, Stanton said it was still a good opportunity to dress up and have a good time with friends in the sun.

"It's about the vibe, it's about bringing people together. That's the most important thing, just the community feel."

On the streets of sunny Ōtautahi today, people seemed to agree that big-scale events shouldn ot get the green light right now.

"I mean, it's disappointing for people that would usually go," Emma Potter-Hay said. 

"Personally, I think that public health is more important, and there will be other events in future. That's just the reality of the current climate that we're in."

"In terms of the organisers, they've got to spend more money on the doors to censor people or to check people that get in so they're not going to be happy about that," James Aked said. 

"It's a difficult one for large scale businesses, but I think for smaller scale events, we can make it work, especially in the South Island."

Williams said Addington Raceway would take an estimated hit of 20 percent on its finances as the event was scaled back.

But he said the region's bar and pubs would likely pull in spectators to watch the races on the television instead.