In a season where sizeable challenges have faced the club, and continue into the current season, the Committee is pleased to report a cash surplus of $223,200 for the year to 31 July 2020. While our scheduled race day of Friday 20 March went ahead, within days the country went into Covid-19 level 4 lockdown and the rental/events side of the club’s business did not produce a return again until July, following the move to alert level 1. The government’s wage subsidy scheme and our cash reserves saw the club through the first five months of the pandemic. The August 2020 lockdown in Auckland was another blow, however our key tenants and users have stuck with the club and are back in action.
These shutdowns saw AJC’s site mothballed, but a more harmful blow to the club – and to members’ enthusiasm for their club – was probably the industry-initiated media activity in May 2020 during alert level 4, whereby the NZ Herald told the populace Avondale’s venue almost certainly would never race again. That announcement was made when there was no finalisation of the racing calendar: so an objectionable act measured against a viewpoint of industry leadership or sound governance.
In relation to the Racing Industry Act 2020 asset provisions (‘the Act’), members seem to have suspected the die was cast for that law, after the Messara report provided its justification and the then-Minister for Racing had to ‘deliver’ for his faithful. The typical reaction to the new law from targeted clubs was spelt out by Dargaville Racing Club’s, Tim Antonio, when he said “no club, and no person, in any industry, in any town or city should live in fear of the seizure of their assets by the State”.
There have been on-going talks among the three thoroughbred clubs in Auckland for over 18 months about Auckland’s future racing (“3 Chairs” meetings). In July 2020 the 3 Chairs meetings looked at developing an amalgamation of the Auckland clubs, following the AJC Committee considering the possible future ramifications under the Act.
Naturally a merger was sensitive in terms of the heritage of both of the secondary clubs in an amalgamation scenario and members are well aware of strong views within the industry, expressed in the media and elsewhere, about the merits of closing Avondale. Internally AJC has not accepted there should be a sudden stop to racing at this venue, and we have had regard to the model used in Sydney in 2011 when the Australian Jockey and Sydney Turf clubs merged and Canterbury Park was transitioned out under a 10 year moratorium. An 8-10 year transition at Avondale was seen by the Committee as the reasonable and appropriate swan song.
The 3 Chairs meetings could not make work a transition structure whereby AJC would merge with limited racing at its venue supporting the merged club over a short period and eventually cease. However, in discussions since then the chairmen of ARC, CRC and AJC have been looking at ideas from the Avondale Committee about the sharing of assets and resources within the Auckland clubs.
The Elm Street subdivision (3,245 m2 of surplus land) is under contract to an unconditional buyer. Settlement of the transaction is 14 working days following a separate title for the land being issued, the only current obstacle to which is ongoing delay being caused by Auckland Council.
Members will recall the Wingate project, which involved the subdivision of land at the old 800m chute and creation of a 4,570 m2 development lot. A consent to the subdivision was granted in October 2018, creating a lot partially zoned for residential purposes and partially zoned for racing purposes. The project passed the final planning hurdle in July 2020 when a unified ‘Residential – Terrace Housing and Apartment Building’ zone was assigned, and the site has been removed from the Avondale Racecourse Precinct.
This is my last President’s message before I retire and I thank members for their support over six years as chairman. It has been a pleasure to be involved. In 2014 I took on the role based on the fact most members felt AJC’s racetrack’s quality and location made it ‘of importance’ and worth saving. Since that time support for the venue from NZTR has evaporated.
In my view we are now at a turning point, brought about by the fact the Act is in play and a policy intent on the part of Government and RITA/TABNZ towards rationalisation of racing. A number of members may feel the club’s business and its community activities will become unsustainable: members’ reaction may be to give up. That does not have to happen. I believe a key ingredient for success – whether short term or long – will be to keep together the membership base and for the Committee to develop and nurture what it is that members get out of their club.
Sustainability can be achieved. I believe the Committee should keep working on a road map for a new role for the club in the future of Auckland’s racing. I hope that Avondale’s members are willing to give a mandate to the Committee that has as its primary driver supporting the expansion of a new Auckland club comprising ARC and CRC, if that eventuates.
A plan that sees the club carry on with the aim of enriching all of the racing at Ellerslie and retain its own identity would bring about an important, new focus to the sport in the city. It is the view of the existing Committee that, with the trust of the racing industry and the public, AJC could continue its long history as a racing club and at the same time help the premier club make the thoroughbred horse racing in Auckland world class.