The Group 1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) meeting will take place at Ellerslie on Sunday after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced Auckland would drop to COVID-19 Alert Level 2 at 6am on Sunday.
“We realise that this has been a very testing time for our trainers, jockeys and owners leading into one of the biggest meetings of the season as we were faced yet another COVID curve ball,” New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry said.
“From the moment the Prime Minister announced the change in alert levels last Saturday night, our focus has been to ensure this meeting went ahead. Various options were considered and we are pleased the change to alert levels has allowed us to hold the Derby at Ellerslie.”
The announcement that Auckland would return to Alert Level 2 on Sunday was a huge relief to ARC chief executive Paul Wilcox.
“It has been a stressful week as we considered a number of scenarios and we also thank our owners, trainers and jockeys for bearing with us as we went through those options. To be able to race at Ellerslie, albeit under Alert Level 2, is the industry’s preferred option,” he said.
“We are looking forward to a Vodafone Derby day which will be a little different to those which have gone before, but which will no doubt be memorable.”
With the meeting taking place under Alert Level 2 protocols, owners will need to RSVP to an email from the Auckland Racing Club, if they wish to attend.
Hastings was earmarked as the back-up venue if Auckland were to remain in Alert Level 3 and Saundry was appreciative of the Hawke’s Bay club.
“The club did not hesitate when they were asked to provide the industry with a Plan B option for the Vodafone Derby meeting,” Saundry said.
With no new community cases, Auckland will likely drop to Level 1 at the beginning of next weekend, allowing Ellerslie to host a full crowd as normal for Group 1 Barfoot and Thompson Auckland Cup Day on March 13.