Barrier & Track Info

Riccarton Park Racecourse is the largest track in New Zealand with a circumference of 2,400m. The home straight is basically 400 metres in length, but it does play longer than that with a very gradual bend from the 600m mark.

The top turn from the 1000m to the 600m has a significant camber of 4% which gradually flattens towards the home straight where there is a small amount of camber at 1%.

The course lies on a NW to SW plane with the highest point being the top of the 1200m chute. There is a gradual decline from there until the 800m where there is a more significant downhill section until the 400m where the course then levels off with the home straight relatively flat.

Riccarton Park is a true test of horse and rider where both fitness and experience are key to positive results. The course is very open and exposed to wind from all directions. The two most common are from the East-Nor-East direction.  This wind is cool and tends to get stronger and colder as the afternoon progresses. The other wind that plays a big part is the Nor-West.  This is normally warm and helps produce some phenomenal times out of the 1200m chute with the wind blowing from behind runners.

Horses can win from anywhere at Riccarton Park, but the prevailing track and wind conditions do play a role in the results. Winners can make their move 4 to 6 horse widths away from the rail no matter where the moveable rail is positioned!  This is explained as they have normally had economical runs compared to the leaders that have worked hard and can be left ‘sitting ducks’ in the testing run home.

Champion rider David Walsh believes that the Easterly wind can have a significant negative affect on leaders that are exposed to it particularly from the 800m point on the course proper and down the 1200m chute. Those runners with cover are shielded from this wind and can seem to have far more to give in the final 200m.  One thing is for sure is that there are no FLUKE victories at Riccarton Park and the form stands up all over the country!


800m: This starting position is situated at the start of the 1200m chute where there are only a few short strides before racing across the junction. It is only used a handful of times during the year with most races being for two-year-olds. Unlike other 800m starts, barrier 1 does appear to be a disadvantage as opposed to a major advantage at other courses. With only a small amount of data it is difficult to explain this. The junction is not railed so this could be partly the reason and the wind factor can appear to disadvantage horses starting from the inside barrier.


1000m: Positioned half-way up the 1200m chute this is a fair start and races are run very swiftly, particularly when the footing is good, and the wind is behind them. It is hard for back runners to make up ground when the last 600’s being run in such fast sectionals. There is a good cross-section of winners from all barriers with the inside half having a slight advantage. When the track is wet outside barriers have an advantage.


1200m: This is a great starting position with over a 400m straight run before the junction. Barriers are of little importance with wide draws often an advantage even when the track is good. The key is for the rider to get his mount into a good rhythm and to avoid interference as well as being patient and saving some energy for the final 200m dash. Horses can travel wide and without cover provided they are travelling in their comfort-zone.


1400m: From this starting point a good barrier and the ability to race handy are an advantage. There is normally a rush to the first turn even though there is nearly 400m before the bend begins. Horses drawn wide find it difficult to gain a good position in the running with some electing to drop back to get cover and others going forward hoping to get one off the fence or even the taking the lead. Either option rarely works out too well with dropping back still often resulting in being caught wide and or copping interference. By pressing forward runners normally use too much energy & often still get caught wide. Intriguingly the extreme outside barrier has an almost equal success rate to inside barriers.


1600m: This is an excellent starting point with plenty of time for runners to get their position. The Group1 Classics Al Basti Equiworld Dubai NZ 2000 and Barneswood Farm NZ 1000 Guineas” start from here as well as the Group 2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile. There is no need for riders to panic when leaving the gates and getting into a relaxed rhythm and being patient the key to success.


1800m: Another barrier where starting positions are of little importance with nearly 800m to the bend to get into a comfortable position. There is plenty of time to roll forward or to slot in.


2000m: This barrier has a short run to the crossing and the turn leading into the back straight. Therefore, inside barriers are an advantage particularly if the horse can jump well and race handy to the pace. The same applies whether the ground is good or wet. If a runner is caught wide, it can be out there for a long time and riders may be forced to ride a horse out of its usual pattern to get a good position. This normally does not turn out too well when the pressure goes on in the later stages.


2500m: This barrier is a highlight starting point with the patrons able to get close to the action right in front of the Grand National Stand. This start is not used very often so the amount of data is small. Inside barriers are an advantage if a horse can race handy, but in recent years results have been mixed. The main thing is for runners to get some cover, save ground and relax in the running.


3200m: The Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup starting point is positioned at the same place that the 800m starts. Inside barriers can be an advantage on good going but with the start being used only once a year, recent history says that you can win from any barrier.  In the last 10 years there have been five from a single figure draw and five from a double digit one. It is interesting to note that barrier 1 has had only one victory in this period, with one 2nd and no 3rd placing.


Riccarton Park Racecourse is a wonderful facility and is the hub of South Island racing. Horses from all over the country travel to Christchurch to be part of the scene.  This is particularly so in the spring when many northern trainers will send teams south to not only prepare for ‘Cup Week’ but to race in the many important targets prior to that.  The Autumn with nine Group and Listed races is also a time when horse travel from around New Zealand as they do at the Grand National Festival of Racing which opens the racing season every August.


Written: David Walsh 23/10/2020