Day At The Track

Clutch meeting for Cambridge

09:35 AM 15 May 2018 NZST
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Cambridge Raceway,harness racing
Cambridge Raceway
File photo

Of all the conversations the youngest boss in New Zealand racing has had about the first Jewels meeting he will oversee in two weeks, one theme stands out.

"I am getting a lot of people tell me this time it feels like the first Jewels all over again, something new," says Cambridge chief executive David Branch.

At 28, Branch is extremely young to be running any racing club, let alone one hosting harness racing's second biggest meeting on June 2.

The $1,275,000 day comes with even more pressure after the recent decision to transfer the South Island Jewels meeting next season from Ashburton to Addington.

Put simply, if Cambridge have a great, or even good, result they should keep the hosting rights for 2020. If they don't, the pressure to move to Alexandra Park as the northern base will intensify.

Unusually calm for one so young in a racing administrative role, Branch is confident without a hint of brashness.

"The only worry I have is the weather, and we can't control that obviously," he said. "But even if the weather isn't the best, we have capacity for between 2500-3000 people under cover."

That number would be a crowd pass mark for a track as intimate as Cambridge. But Branch wants 4000. Maybe 5000.

"The buzz around here, around Cambridge, has been fantastic," he said. "We've had support from the Waipa District Council, we're getting a lot of buy-in from the community and we think we'll get great support from the gallops industry.

"For the first time since we started holding the Jewels every second year, there will be no Ellerslie meeting on the same day, no northern gallops.

"So we really want to get the gallops people to enjoy a day at the races and we've aimed some facilities directly at them."

A pop-up sports bar with a capacity for 400 and hosted by gallops expert Brendan Popplewell will cater for the thoroughbred-keen punters, ensuring ample television coverage of the gallops meetings both domestically and in Australia in between the Jewels action.

"And we'll have some of the local celebrities there and of course Peter Moody."

Moody is almost as famous for his media work these days as he was when he trained champion mare Black Caviar and he is a key part of Cambridge's attempt to lure the thoroughbred community to their mega meeting.

"Peter is great on social media and television and we have an in-depth interview with him at the pre-Jewels function here on the night before. We already have 150 bookings for that, which could double.

"He will also be speaking in that sports bar on the raceday itself and we are sure plenty of people will enjoy hearing his views on all things racing."

Branch says his new management team "basically tore up the plan" from the last Jewels at Cambridge two years ago.

"It will feel a totally different experience right from the time people walk on track. We have a food truck village and sponsors like Corona on board.

"So the place will feel different and then of course the racing on Jewels day is always awesome. So the buzz is there, and so many people have told me it feels like the first time the Jewels came to Cambridge."

The racing was strengthened over the weekend with the seventh Australian invite and Aussie star trotter Wobelee winning the New South Wales Derby, confirming his trip to Cambridge.

"To have seven Aussies coming to the meeting is incredible but we can't take the credit for that, that has all been Darrin Williams from HRNZ.

"But it all adds to the exposure and it will be exciting to see how horses like Jilliby Kung Fu and Wobelee go against our horses."

Branch said tickets for the premier marquees were selling fast and he expected them to be gone before the start of Jewels week.

Harness Jewels

Where: Cambridge Raceway.
When: June 2.
What: Nine group one races, $1,275,000 in stakes.
Who: New Zealand's elite harness horses against seven Australian invites.


Michael Guerin

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