Racing fans dressed to the nines at the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Day held at the Ellerslie Racing Club yesterday. Photo / Dean PurcellRacing fans dressed to the nines at the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup Day held at the Ellerslie Racing Club yesterday. Photo / Dean Purcell

Organisers of this year's Auckland Cup racing week are hoping more off-track entertainment events will create a "festival environment'' akin to Christchurch's Cup and Show week.

The Auckland Cup starts on February 28 at Alexandra Park, running for eight days through to March 8.

While action on the track will be the focus, efforts are being made to attract a younger crowd with hospitality packages and fashion events set to play a big role during the week.

Alexandra Park CEO Dominique Dowding said at a briefing this morning that it would host between 5000 and 8000 hospitality guest over the course of the week.

"We're really breathing new life into it,'' Ms Dowding said. "We're going to take it to another level.''

Alexandra Park will host two nights of racing - the opening night on Friday February 28 and the Cup and Derby night a week later on March 7. Stakes have been raised this year, with more than $1.2 million on offer over the two nights of racing at Alexandra alone.

Live music, fashion and after-parties will be the highlights of the off-track entertainment.
Kiwi designer Annah Stretton will host a fashion show on the first night of racing, while also running the "best dressed'' competing on Cup and Derby night.

Hospitality packages ranged from $30 to $135 dollars, but parking, entry and racebooks were free, Ms Dowding said.

"It's about trying to attract a new audience,'' she said. "What we're hoping to do is to become an entertainment event.''

Auckland Trotting Club president Kerry Hoggard had no doubt that the racing would be top-class, but he said it was important that the week was an "exciting entertainment package''.

He pointed to Christchurch's popular Cup and Show week as something to try and strive towards.

"We sit here a little green eyed that they can attract 15-to-20,000 people for that cup week and it's something that we need to aspire to,'' Mr Hoggard said.

The current incarnation of Auckland Cup week began in 2006.

This year's on-track action includes harness racing at Alexandra Park, thoroughbreds at Ellerslie and greyhounds at Manukau Stadium.

- NZ Herald