Proposed racetrack closures slammed as land grab

The report recommends whittling down the number of racetracks in NZ from 48 to 28 and only Kumara would survive on the West Coast. Photo: Greymouth Star
The report recommends whittling down the number of racetracks in NZ from 48 to 28 and only Kumara would survive on the West Coast. Photo: Greymouth Star

The proposed closure of the Reefton, Greymouth and Hokitika racetracks and confiscation of the assets was yesterday slammed as a land grab.

All three clubs left out in the cold by the 'Review of the New Zealand Racing Industry' by Australian consultant John Messara, have vowed to fight for their survival.

The report recommends whittling down the number of racetracks in New Zealand from 48 to 28, at the expense of the West Coast. Under the proposal, which is now with the Government, only Kumara would survive and the affected clubs would have to race there after the conclusion of the 2019 West Coast New Year racing circuit.

Presidents of the three affected clubs met yesterday to discuss the fallout and content of the review and say they will fight the recommendations.

Westland Racing Club president Gray Eatwell says Racing Minister Winston Peters and the NZ Racing Industry Board have got a fight on their hands.

"It's not just our three clubs but all those affected and targeted by the report," Mr Eatwell said.

"There is a lot of opposition to the content of that review and we believe not enough thought has gone into it. They have basically done it without talking to us. It's sudden how it came across, certainly pushing the legislation to seize our assets."

The report recommends the clubs be stripped of any claims they have over the ownership of their racecourses and assets so the tracks can be sold by racing authorities.

Proceeds from the sales would help maintain the 28 remaining tracks that the Messara report has identified as suitable racing venues to hold race meetings.

"There is no way assets should be taken off us," Mr Eatwell said.

"The race day is beyond our control but it is wrong and unacceptable to come along and take a property which has been built up by the community. The NZTR can't sell off the Hokitika course as a subdivision because I can tell you they will get a hell of a fight."

Reefton Jockey Club president Brian Molloy said it was "the Treaty of Waitangi all over again".

"It's a land grab ... the people of Reefton own the land, as does Greymouth and Hokitika - not the NZ Racing Industry," Mr Molloy said.

"In our constitution the Reefton Jockey Club facilities and land would go back to the people of Reefton.

"I've got nothing against the Kumara Racing Club, but is it wise use spending millions of dollars at Kumara?"

Greymouth Jockey Club president Jill Bennington is still in disbelief that the Omoto racecourse has been earmarked for closure.

"We are like everyone else - we are not sure what is going to happen but are adamant any asset, which is our racecourse at Omoto, belongs to the Greymouth Jockey Club and if it is going to be disposed of then it goes to the Greymouth community."

The meeting yesterday agreed to organise an urgent meeting with as many of the South Island racing club presidents as possible.

Mr Eatwell said he had spoken to Omakau Racing Club president Tony Lepper "and he was emphatic that they will be fighting to save their assets from this Sherriff of Nottingham action".

"The feeling is mutual that the elite of the racing industry, mainly in the north, intend to raid the small clubs' assets to bail themselves out of the hole they created by their own extravagance and poor decisions.

"In contrast, the small community clubs of the West Coast and Otago run an event to bring country racing to our communities as sport and family fun, while the big clubs play the corporate game (very poorly) as an industry," Mr Eatwell said.

"The feeling of the West Coast and Central Otago clubs is that they have not caused the problem in the first place, but once they have used up all our assets they will simply end up in the same position again."

 - by Paul McBride

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