Omakau’s racecourse is under threat of closure.

The race track is on a list of seven tracks in the lower South Island Australian administrator John Messara has recommended closing to thoroughbred horse racing.

Central Otago Racing Club president Tony Lepper said that recommendation was taken one step further for Omakau, the report suggesting the track be closed completely and sold.

Other tracks at risk of losing thoroughbred racing, but not necessarily facing complete closure, are those in Timaru, Kurow, Oamaru, Waimate, Winton and Gore.

“We would like to keep our race day and we would definitely like to keep our assets.” – Central Otago Racing Club president Tony Lepper 

Mr Messara, whose report was commissioned by Racing Minister Winston Peters, said research indicated there were too many tracks for the scale of the industry.

“I believe that the number of thoroughbred racetracks can be reduced from 48 to 28 tracks,” he said.

His report recommended upgrading the remaining tracks and facilities using funds generated from the sale of surplus property resulting from track closures.

Representatives from South Island clubs at threat of closure or being scaled down were among those attending a meeting in Oamaru last week, where the issue was discussed further.

Mr Lepper, who attended, said although the industry was “in a bad way”, he did not believe closure was the solution.

“They are lunatics and they [had] better have another look at this.

“We would like to keep our race day and we would definitely like to keep our assets. We don’t think anybody can come take that off us.”

The Central Otago Racing Club and Central Otago Trotting Club are 50:50 owners of the Omakau Racecourse.

Mr Lepper said he would campaign to keep it that way.

He believed there was a chance it would be saved as New Zealand’s MMP system would allow for opposition to the sale to have some sway.

Although he did not believe closure was the answer, there was definitely room for improvement across the industry, which was in a “bad way”, he said.

“We needed somebody to look at it.”

However, he believed aspects around betting should be addressed first, “then look at the hardware, which is the racecourse, later on”.

“My views have been discussed at a thoroughbred meeting a couple of weeks ago. I know [the industry] has discussed it and I think they’ve got some sympathy with the idea of not selling our racecourse.”

The annual Central Otago Racing Club gallops will be held at the Omakau Racecourse on January 3.

“That will be our last one if the Messara report is followed and, of course, we don’t want that to happen.”

Feedback on the report was being welcomed until October 19.

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