First test looms for pony club course

Taieri District Pony Club president Anne Beattie leaps off the novelty albatross jump, part of...
Taieri District Pony Club president Anne Beattie leaps off the novelty albatross jump, part of the club's new cross-country course, at Wingatui yesterday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
The Taieri District Pony Club's "controversial", locally themed, cross-country course at Wingatui racecourse will get its first test this weekend.

The club is holding a two-day event with more than 170 riders from Otago, Southland and Canterbury.

President Anne Beattie said the turnout was "big", as usual numbers were between 100 and 120 riders.

"I think it's because of the new course - it's controversial and people just want to see what is happening," she said.

Funding of $488,458, which the club received from the Trusts Charitable Foundation to build the cross-country course, has been a contentious issue.

The money was used to pay for drainage of part of the racecourse, and jumps, which were both completed during the past year.

It was alleged the grant was used as a front for racing interests, as it allowed the racecourse to become a venue for jumping races after an absence of four years.

The pony club and the Otago Racing Club denied the claims, and a subsequent Department of Internal Affairs investigation cleared the club of any wrongdoing.

The investigation found the pony club was the principal beneficiary of the work and that, while the racing club was a secondary beneficiary, the cross-country course was not on the actual race track and it used different obstacles to a steeplechase, the department's magazine, Gambits, said.

The cross-country course, designed by international course designer Robbie MacLean, of Taupo, and partially funded by the Lion Foundation, was "great" for Dunedin and it was only possible once the area was drained.

"It's really good for Dunedin. It's centrally located for Canterbury and Southland riders, and it's accessible," Mrs Beattie said.

A dressage and show-jumping day will take place at the Taieri A and P Showgrounds on Saturday, from 9am, with the cross-country section at Wingatui starting at 9am on Sunday.

At 5pm on Saturday, a "celebrity walk through" of the new course, which includes albatross and Taieri Train-styled jumps and a Saddle Hill bank, will take place, led by Olympian Matthew Grayling.

At 7pm that night, a social function and auction of items including a signed All Blacks jersey, and another signed by New Zealand riders such as Mark Todd and Clarke Johnstone, will be held at Wingatui.

ellie.constantine@odt.co.nz

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