Great turnout for races as clubs fight to survive

Thousands turned out for the races in Hokitika this year. Photo: Greymouth Star
Thousands turned out for the races in Hokitika this year. Photo: Greymouth Star

As the dust settles on a highly successful New Year racing circuit, West Coast racing clubs are now faced with a fight for survival.

Hokitika concluded the four-day circuit on a high on Tuesday with a crowd of 3000 and increased betting turnover. On Saturday, the Kumara Racing Club returned in the sunshine after a three-year break, preceded by the Greymouth Jockey Club at Omoto and the Reefton Jockey Club, which kicked off the circuit last Wednesday.

However, if the proposed Messara report on the future of the New Zealand racing industry is sanctioned, the structure of West Coast racing will change dramatically from next year.

Messara recommended the closure of 20 courses, along with the sale of those racecourses to help pay for the upgrade of the remaining 28 courses to a better standard. Reefton, Greymouth and Hokitika were identified among the 20 earmarked for closure, potentially leaving only the Kumara racecourse for the various clubs to race on in future.

However, the 2019 West Coast New Year circuit can only be described as a billboard for advertising successful New Zealand country racing.

Weather played its part this year as all meetings were blessed with brilliant sunshine in contrast to last year, when the weather and track conditions forced the abandonment of both the Kumara Gold Nuggets and the Westland Racing Club meetings.

Despite the Messara uncertainty, all four West Coast clubs feel encouraged by the success of their respective meetings this summer.

Reefton Jockey Club president Brian Molloy said they were now facing uncertain times.

"The thing that struck me was the crowds, not just at our meeting but on the whole circuit -- Kumara, Hokitika and to a lesser extent Greymouth, which had the threat of bad weather. It proves country racing has a huge place in New Zealand," Mr Molloy said.

"It was a great race meeting for us, all the stakeholders were pretty happy and we were over the moon."

Although on-course turnover at Reefton was down at $83,494 compared to $99,824 last year, but there were only eight races this year and nine last year.

Greymouth Jockey Cub president Jill Bennington is positive about their race day at Omoto.

"Overall turnover was down, but we ran just the seven races," Bennington said.

"It was a really successful day and while we didn't have the crowd we had last year when it was sunny, it was a good turnout. The track was in terrific order and the racing was first-class."

On-course turnover was $62,594 compared with $100,101.

The Kumara Gold Nuggets meeting remains the jewel in the crown for West Coast racing and it has already been spared in the Messara report as the future flagship racetrack for the region.

The meeting on Saturday pulled in at least 5000 people, and although down on 2016, when the club last raced, it was hailed all round as a great day out.

On-course turnover was down but still a healthy $226,816, compared with $311,671 three years ago.

Westland Racing Club president Gray Eatwell said the crowd support at Hokitika on Tuesday was heartening.

"The attendance on course was the best I've seen since my involvement with the club. I'm very happy with how the day went, there was great support from the public.

"In regards to our future, we have had an assurance from NZ Thoroughbred Racing there will be no clubs closed -- and that includes us -- until there is a full discussion," Mr Eatwell said.

Punters at Hokitika invested $80,462 on course, well up on the 2017 meeting of $68,478.

 - Paul McBride

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