Forbury Park facing big changes

To use a racing phrase, the Forbury Park Trotting Club is in an awkward - but not hopeless - spot.

Now the question remains - will the club hit the line with purpose or drop out to last?

The future of the club was discussed at a presentation given by club and industry officials at Forbury Park yesterday, detailing the work needed on the buildings, the stabling area and other infrastructure.

What is inescapable is the need to complete $600,000 of work to meet health and safety and regulatory requirements, which includes piping, improvements to the members' stand to meet increased fire regulations and refurbishing of the Plunket St stable block.

But the club's management is planning to turn the challenge into a chance to improve the facilities at the track.

Club management put forward several proposals, including a $1.225 million plan which includes the $600,000 improvements and another $625,000 towards painting, another pumping station, a winning post, car park repairs, upgrade of the forecourt in front of the members' stand and other improvements.

Forbury Park Trotting Club president Peter Gillespie told the 70 people gathered in the members' lounge the club had battles on four fronts - ageing infrastructure, increase in compliance costs as as result of changes following the Pike River mining disaster and the Canterbury earthquakes, a decline in gaming funds and a largely uninterested membership of 209 members.

The club's longer-term ''dream vision'' - totalling $6.13 million of improvements, upgrades and additions in an ''ideal world'' - was presented by the club's board of management chair John Henderson.

Funding for the project, starting with the $600,000 worth of necessities, would come from club funds and income, land sales, grants, sponsorship and a racing safety and development fund.

The presentation included contributions from New Zealand Racing Board head of industry liaison Martin Burns, who outlined the problems facing the industry across the country, including declining turnover and field sizes.

''The industry has avoided making the hard decisions,'' Burns said.

Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell outlined statistics which showed 10% of the horses trained in the South Island are trained in Otago and North-Central Otago.

Of the 2066 horses that started at Forbury Park last season, only 739 were from Otago, with another third coming from Canterbury and the remainder from Canterbury, Southland and Mid-South Canterbury.

Gillespie told the Otago Daily Times after the meeting the club needed to work in more with other racing clubs in the lower South Island to ensure its survival.

''The club has to make some big changes,'' he said.

''Rather than us in five or six years having a crisis meeting, we're planning now to how we're going to change things and make necessary changes.

''We have to work together south of the Waitaki. We've certainly got to engage with Southland more - only 47% of trainers down there race here and they're not racing anywhere else over winter.''

Henderson told the Otago Daily Times some of the work had to be done in order for the club to continue after the next five to 10 years.

''It's something that's got to happen, and for it to happen, we've got to have the right governance structure in place to make sure that we spend time on what is important and not peripheral issues.''

The governance will be reviewed in the next two months to establish a stronger board of management.

Gillespie will again put forward a proposal he made last year which would see a governing body comprised of the club president, the vice-president, and two club-appointed members elected at the annual meeting, along with four directors appointed by a committee made up of three people - one nominated by the New Zealand Racing Board, a nomination from Harness Racing New Zealand and the Forbury Park Trotting Club president.

His efforts to get a new governance structure adopted last August fell just short of the 75% approval from club members.

''It's an iconic venue and deserves good governance,'' Gillespie said.

''What some of the club members have missed entirely [is] it's not about managing a club any more, it's about managing a racing venue. That's a big difference.''

In an ideal world
$6.13 million wish list

• Health and safety requirements: $600,000
• Other improvements in next three years: $625,000


• New stables building: $2.25 million
• Track manager's office and ablutions: $80,000
• Track access and assembly area: $135,000
• Track upgrades: $90,000
• Champions Lawn: $45,000
• Car park reshaping and sealing: $100,000
• Additional barn capacity: $450,000
• Upgrade float park: $375,000
• Sponsors' boxes in members' stand: $350,000
• Lift access to members' stand (if required): $1,030,000.


Paying their own way

Russel: I have no problem if the "largely uninterested membership of 209" can be persuaded to part with the required money - if people pay for their own fun more power to them. On the other hand I do have a real problem if the ratepayers would be saddled with supporting another rather obviously dying sport - this push does sound a bit like a softening up attempt,

Let's face it, most of the people watching racing are sitting in TABs, not the stands, I don't see why there needs to be more than one track in the whole country. It's also time to stop pretending that the purses for racing are a valid charitable purpose suitable as a pokie charity or any kind of charitable deduction, they simply should be a business expense that shows up on TAB's bottom line.

Time to work together

My point Sports_fan is that there are only 203 members of Forbury and they are, according to the article, uninterested.  The same thing is happening to many golf clubs around the country.  Declining memberships, increasing costs, and income derived from potentially shonky and risky sources such as pokie funds.  I know perfectly well that one track is gravel and one is grass, but there's no reason at all why a short gravel track can't be installed on the inner of the Wingatui track.  The main reason is apparently the long established unwillingness for harness and racing to work co-operatively.  Much like rugby union and rugby league as far as I can see.  Just have a look over the city from the hills above St Clair and it is amazing just how much land is taken up by Forbury Park sitting there mostly unused - pretty much like the white elephant at the other end of the town.

Forbury Park

Russ n Bev: You are aware that Wingatui is a grass track and Forbury is an all weather surface right? They are not the same, so simply "moving" the harness out to the "unused" Wingatui as you suggest would not work. What about the hundreds of horses that are trained out there, the two training tracks on the inner of the course & the pony club on the very inside?

Forbury is special in the fact it is a dedicated harness venue. You are right on the outside rail, the winning post is right in front of you and it is the 1006m circumference track, rather than the 2200m of Wingatui. [Abridged]


A better solution for Forbury Park

"A largely uninterested membership of 209" is the phrase that struck me when reading this story. Harness racing has for years and years relied upon large dollops of income from pokie funds which in many instances were used to provide the winning stakes or other prize money. Using money derived from gambling on pokies to support gambling on horses is ethically wrong. Isn't it about time that these 209 uninterested members who only seem to have 739 entries in races from Otago per year, started facing up to facts? Why not amalgamate with Wingatui which is also hugely unused for much of the year, and release this land in South Dunedin? Turn it over to allotments with associated composting. Sell the produce on site or at the Dunedin markets. One thing is for sure that spending millions on "improving" the facilities at Forbury Park is just pouring good money after bad.

Forbury Park

Several years ago, Cambridge Raceway was a bit like Forbury Park is now, but they went ahead with a major renovation of its facilities and have made it a place to enjoy, both for the racing (horses and greyhounds) and the social side.  The potential here in Dunedin for a track of renewed significance is enormous, but it must have support from the industry and the locals, combined with a vision to see, and make, it happen. Dual racing nights is one thing that could be looked into, especially over our long summer evenings, but this would need the TAB's input as well as local sponsorship and cooperation.