New plastic rails have arrived at the Cromwell Race Course, reducing the chance of injuries for horses racing around the 150-year-old track.

The $96,000 investment in race course infrastructure comes as part of a nationwide racing industry move to use rails that fall part easily if a horse collides with a fence.

Central Lakes Equestrian Club volunteer Gordon Stewart said such accidents were not known to have happened at the Cromwell course, but it was important to introduce changes designed to protect the welfare of the animals.

“All over the country, aluminium fences are out and must be replaced with plastic ones. They are required for galloping fields . . . The idea is if a horse runs into it, it
disintegrates,” he said.

Better protection . . . Central Lakes Equestrian Club volunteer Gordon Stewart with the new plastic rails installed at the Cromwell Race Course this year to protect horses from injury should they collide with the rails. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK

Mr Stewart said the bulk of the funding came from racing sources, revealing a lot of faith in the Cromwell races, which occur five times a year.

The first recorded race course at Cromwell was in 1862, according to a history written by Andre Klein.

Roundhill Track was granted to the local racing club in 1869 by the Otago Provincial Council.

The biggest event is the weekend of Central Otago Gallops, followed by the Otago Gallops, usually held in the last week end of November.

This weekend usually attracts more than 12,000 people to Cromwell from all over the district.

The Omakau Racing Club is the host for the Central Otago Gallops while Wingatui hosts the Otago event.

The Wyndham and Gore Racing Clubs hosts three trotting events in Cromwell, on February 24 and 26, and on January 6.

Mr Stewart explained the Central Lakes Equestrian Club looks after the racecourse and facilities on behalf of the Cromwell Community Board but does not organise race meetings because “we do not have the firepower to handle it”.

“Race meetings are not our forte. We need to have people here that do it all the time. [The Otago Racing Club based at ] Wingatui took over the operation in 1999 and have run meetings since.”

Cromwell was ideally located for a race course as it was halfway between Wanaka and Queenstown, and attracted people from those towns to the races, he said.

Funding sources for the rails included the NZ Racing Development Fund, Racing Safety Fund, Otago Racing and the Central Lakes Equestrian Club.