Day At The Track

New president keen to deliver the vision

08:45 PM 13 Mar 2016 NZDT
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Bruce Carter
Bruce Carter says he will likely put his hand up for re-election as president at this year’s AGM

Long-time harness racing enthusiast, breeder and owner Bruce Carter has been president of the Auckland Trotting Club since October. His appointment followed the untimely death of then president and industry giant Kerry Hoggard who Mr Carter served under as vice-president.

In his first extensive statement since taking on the role, Mr Carter says he and his board remain “absolutely committed to delivering on Kerry’s vision” – a vision that is squarely focused on building a sustainable financial future for the club and taking a more active leadership role in New Zealand harness racing industry.

At its February board meeting the Auckland Trotting Club agreed to a comprehensive programme over the next three years to revitalise and reinvigorate harness racing in the north with a focus on growing funding, ownership, horse numbers, betting and audiences.

“Our vision is all about future-proofing the club and harness racing generally. We have a talented board with considerable harness racing and commercial experience. Doing what is in the best interests of the club is what drives us and every decision we take. Kerry got the vision off the ground, but rest assured we’re absolutely committed to delivering it,” says Mr Carter.

A key part of that vision is the construction of a significant mixed-use urban village on part of the club’s former carpark on Green Lane West. Construction has now begun, with the first of the 750 residents set to move in from mid-2017.

Over $140m worth of freehold apartments have already been sold in high-end master-planned development. The village will also include 19 commercial tenants on the ground level.

“Overwhelmingly our members are extremely supportive of what we’re trying to achieve. As we are an incorporated society, we have to act very conservatively in our risk management. We simply cannot fail as we see ourselves as custodians and we take that role very seriously as have our predecessors over the past 126 years.”

Mr Carter says the construction of the urban village as well as the just-opened new training centre for the Super 15 Blues rugby team will add to the club’s operational income stream.

“It’s these kinds of moves that will help our club to increase the stakes and vigorously improve our maintenance programme to improve our facilities. That’s why it’s good for racing!”

He says another part of the club’s long-term strategic business plan is to attract new audiences.

“We’re in a very competitive sport and entertainment environment, yet most of our current members are over 50. So we’ve always got to come up with new ideas and events to attract a new audience, and we’re lucky our management team and staff are talented on that front.”

Part of that new direction was display over the past week with The Winger Group Oaks & Derby Festival which included a glitzy Fashion At The Oaks event showcasing some of NZ’s leading fashion designers. While on Derby Night much of the entertainment was aimed at pulling in more of Auckland’s young and trendies.

Bruce Carter says the club is fortunate to have Dominique Dowding – chief executive since 2012 and charged with the day-to-day delivery of the board’s vision. Late last year her team won a Westpac business award for ‘Strategy & Planning’ – unusual for a membership-based sporting organisation.

“Dominique has huge energy and has a great team around her. We’re very lucky to have her driving what are incredibly ambitious projects and we’re winning on many fronts. She gets things done and makes things happen and that’s exactly what we needed.”

He says the trots alone are not enough to attract people along to Alexandra Park.

“We know that new people are not going to come along just to see the horses. You have to put on great events and hospitality packages and that’s what we’re determined to do. It’s about creating an atmosphere that people want to be part of.

“Let’s not forget unlike the 1950s, we’re now competing with hundreds of things happening in Auckland on any given night. So we’ve got to deliver a great experience and that’s what Dominique’s team remains absolutely committed to.”

He says competition in the function and conference market continues to grow and Alexandra Park remains committed to ongoing improvements to its facilities – with big and small functions a big part of the club’s business.

“Dominique’s brought on great chefs, improved the menus and put a big emphasis on delivering a great food experience which is paying off with a lot of return custom.”

The Kumeu resident who spent many years in the building industry says the club needs to become more self-sufficient as outside revenue sources are not growing.

“The funding our industry gets from the New Zealand Racing Board remains static which is not enough to sustain harness racing in the present form, let alone have any growth. What’s more revenue from gaming has also dried up for many of the smaller clubs, and then of course sports betting has added another form of competition.”

Mr Carter says he supports the harness racing industry’s new nationwide ‘super club’ model which will come in to being from 1 August this year – this will force some amalgamations as well as see a few smaller clubs mostly in the South Island shutting their doors.

“Overall the super club model makes sense. It will help keep clubs’ overheads down, it will ensure a fairer way of funds being distributed, and it’s inevitable if harness racing is to be sustained going forward.”

For Alexandra Park, the new super club model won’t change much in real terms. In 2014 they merged with the Franklin Trotting Club in Pukekohe which he says now works in well with Alexandra Park.

“For the last few years we haven’t been able to train at Alexandra Park largely due to health and safety concerns, so merging with Franklin provides a dedicated training and trialling facility which we’ve recently helped to upgrade.

“Again we’re all about taking a leadership role in the industry. Gone are the days when young people could just go and buy 10 acres to train their horses. The merger with Franklin provides affordable facilities for trainers, breeders and drivers who we desperately need to hold on to and grow. We’re also keen to lift ownership through syndications.”

Mr Carter says he will likely put his hand up for re-election as president at this year’s AGM as he’s determined to oversee the completion of the urban village development.

“Alexandra Park’s vision is a collective one. We all own that vision. It’s all about future-proofing harness racing and ensuring this unique setting of Alexandra Park remains for our great grandchildren to enjoy. I’m very proud of all that’s going on and what we’re determined to achieve,” he says.

Bruce Carter: (09) 412-9738 or (0274) 933-523 or Dominique Dowding on (021) 377-303.

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