Verdict on racecourses’ future looms

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Two Central Otago racecourses will learn their fate for race meetings by the end of the week.
The move comes after Australian racing administrator John Messara delivered a damning report into the state of New Zealand-based racing last year, saying the industry had to undergo massive change in order to survive.

Following his recommendations, New Zealand racing is set to close between 15 and 20 racetracks, which would mean affected clubs would not be issued with licences to hold any meetings.
Among those waiting to hear their fate are the Central Otago Racing Club, which hosts gallops at Omakau, and the Roxburgh Trotting Club.

However, the Central Otago Trotting Club will remain at Omakau.
A recommendation has been made that both of the local clubs in question have their race meetings transferred to Cromwell.

Central Otago Racing Club past-president Tony Lepper, who made a submission on the day they opened, said despite the club’s efforts to fight the decision, his ‘‘gut feeling’’ was that they would have to move to Cromwell.
‘‘We’ll find out what happens next week, I guess.’’

He said if the decision meant a move to Cromwell, the club could lose half its committee and sponsorship from loyal Maniototo supporters. The financial strain caused by Covid-19 meant gaining more sponsorship would be a difficult task.
Lepper said the club had recommended that due to Covid-19, the decision should not be made for another couple of years.

He said the aim of the review was to centralise racing, an industry that was ‘‘in trouble’’.
However, he was not sure who was at fault for its failings.
Roxburgh Trotting Club president David Parker echoed similar concerns, describing the situation as a ‘‘kick in the guts’’.
The club also made a ‘‘lengthy’’ submission.

Parker said he was not in favour of a move to Cromwell due to over-crowding and concerns that sponsors would not support it.
‘‘We’ve stated that quite heavily.’’
Parker said none of his committee would support the move to Cromwell.
Ultimately, the recommendations were ‘‘killing’’ country meetings and the wider community would be affected.
‘‘It’s the biggest fundraiser for the school . . .The whole community will miss out.’’

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) states that proposed changes in the 2020-21 calendar acknowledge the need to provide a more efficient footprint of venues, which deliver cost savings to owners with meetings held closer to the horse populations.
Its aim was to also make significant cost savings to the Racing Industry Transition Agency in the servicing of meetings at those venues.

NZTR chief executive officer Bernard Saundry said the organisation had done ‘‘significant’’ work over the past 18 months on a venue plan, which aimed to future proof the racing industry.
‘‘We understand that there will be some who find it difficult to accept that racing may no longer continue at their local venue,’’ he said.

‘‘We also understand that an argument could be made for the survival of each individual venue, but where would that get us? At this time it is important everyone takes an industry-wide view and not consider venues in isolation.’’

Central Lakes Equestrian Club president Wayne Dixon said he would welcome the Roxburgh Trotting Club and Central Otago Racing Club to its Cromwell venue; he appreciated their situation was tough.
‘‘It’s a shame if it goes, really. It was an iconic part of Kiwi life — a picnic hamper in the back of the car at country meetings in small towns.’’