The Central Otago summer race circuit continued to be a “must-do” on calendars, drawing crowds of holidaymakers and attracting trainers from throughout the South Island.
Made up of three race meetings Roxburgh and Cromwell trots lights and vaccine passports to continue this season.
The Omakau trots returned with record crowds and scorching temperatures stark contrast to last year when heavy rain and surface flooding forced the event’s cancellation.
Harness racing driver Ricky May was back at the races for the first time since suffering a heart attack on the track two years ago and said despite that incident, Omakau still held good memories for him.
“I’ve won the Omakau Cup three times, I think. it’s definitely a lovely place to come to.
“I said I’d always come back, so I’m here. And you know, if I win a race that would be a bonus [he did not],” he said.
Central Otago Trotting Club president Graham Sinnamon
said he believed the club had prepared well in the current environment, implementing vaccine passports and other Covid-19 measures.
“We wanted to make sure we had it absolutely right so people would have the confidence to come here.”
The event was run by volunteers and benefited the wider community, he said.
“If we get it right it doesn’t just benefit us, the ripple effect goes right on.”
In Roxburgh, horse numbers and spectator numbers were on a par with previous years, with about 2000 punters attending.
Among them was Bernie Forde, who had attended the Roxburgh trots all but once since the event’s inception 71 years ago.
The Southlander reckoned racing had become part of his DNA.
“I was born in Wairio, about a mile from the racecourse. I have been around racing and horses my whole life.”
He moved to Winton about 15 years ago but the annual festive racing circuit remained a constant, he said.
“Fortunes are made and lost. There is just something about it that hooks you in.”
Roxburgh Trotting Club committee president David Parker said the annual race meeting was a tradition but not a money-spinner and this year’s event had been complicated by the Covid-19 traffic light system.
“There were concerns. Our focus is always very heavily on families and entertaining the crowds and right up to early December we were not sure if we could even do it.”
But the event was more for the community.
Often three or more generations of the same family attended, he said.
The Wyndham Harness Racing Club has hosted its annual race day at the Cromwell Racecourse since 2008.
Club past president Russell Cromwell Trotting Club used to hold races. However after losing its race day, it approached other clubs to hold a meeting in Cromwell.
The Wyndham Harness Racing Club took up the challenge.
But it was not smooth sailing in the beginning, former committee member and trainer Brendan Fahy recalled.
“The first two meetings were touch and go; the costs were quite high,” he said.
The committee and volunteers persisted, with the event now a popular addition to people’s holiday itinerary, he said.
Fourteen years on, the action off the track has become as much of a drawcard as the horses themselves.
From the in vogue stylings of the fashion on the field catwalk to the children’s sack race and best car boot picnic, there was plenty to keep punters occupied.