Omakau demotion ‘a kick in the guts’

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A proposal to stop thoroughbred racing in Omakau has been met with “confusion”.

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

The list also includes tracks at Timaru, Kurow, Oamaru, Waimate, Winton and Gore.

Mr Messara, whose report was commissioned tby 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.

However, some members of Omakau’s racing fraternity found the recommendations were not logical because some of the tracks listed were dual code courses.

That meant the tracks were used for both thoroughbred racing, also known as gallops, and harness racing, known as trots.

Harness race meets would not be affected by Mr Messara’s recommendations.

Gallop South cluster manager Jo Gordon said the move was not logical.

“I can’t understand why they are pulling thoroughbred racing out of dual code courses. They are looked after for harness [racing], so why wouldn’t you race your thoroughbred [events] there as well?”

president Tony Lepper said the proposed closure of the Omakau thoroughbred track was “a kick in the guts for rural Central Otago”.

Mr Lepper planned to talk to his committee about how they could retain thoroughbred racing at Omakau.

If Mr Messara’s recommendations go ahead, Cromwell will be the main centre for thoroughbred events in Central Otago.

Christchurch based horse trainer Michael Pitman was not against the idea.

He said while everyone would not share that opinion, the move was one he believed was feasible.

Mr Pitman, who has been attending races in Central Otago for many years, said Cromwell attracted bigger crowds and had more amenities to cope with the visitor numbers.

However, some of the tracks added to the list came as a surprise to him, he said.

“I can’t believe that Timaru, Oamaru and Gore are on the closed down list. I find that unbelievable.”

He said each was a “strong” dual code course.

Although Omakau was also a dual code course, the course at Cromwell was close by and had the facilities to cope with bigger visitor numbers, Mr Pitman said.

Mr Messara recommended Wingatui, Ashburton, Ascot Park (Invercargill), Waikouaiti and Riverton also host race meetings in the lower South Island.

Mr Pitman had heard “big rumours” about possible track closures before the report’s release, but was not expecting it to this extent.

“I’m surprised we are down to nine tracks. Do I agree with it? I would be honest and say probably not,” he said.

“You are talking a massive area north of Otago effectively only being two tracks.”

Additional reporting – ODT