Reefton, Hokitika racetracks to go

Thousands turned out for the races in Hokitika,. Photo: Greymouth Star
Thousands turned out for the races in Hokitika,. Photo: Greymouth Star
The Greymouth Jockey Club has had a reprieve with the pending shake-up of New Zealand racing, however Hokitika and Reefton are not so lucky.

Their tracks will close before next year under the latest proposal.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing on Tuesday revealed its draft 'Future Venue Plan' which details the proposed closure of 10 of the smaller racetracks in 2019-20 - including the Westland Racing Club and Reefton Jockey Club - and consolidating racing in future on Omoto and Kumara.

Previously, the Messara report commissioned last year by the Government also proposed closing the Omoto track, leaving the individual clubs to race on upgraded facilities at Kumara.

In NZ Thoroughbred Racing's view four venues are not required for racing on the West Coast, but the latest report gives the green light for Greymouth and Kumara at least until 2030.

The latest blow was delivered to the affected clubs yesterday - just two weeks after Westland and Reefton had completed their best meetings in years. Clubs are given until March 19 to comment on the change plan.

Greymouth Jockey Club president Jill Bennington says the latest report is good news for her club but she feels for Reefton and Westland.

"I think it is promising news for us, while I am disappointed for Reefton and Westland, but it is still just a proposal. I think the Thoroughbred Racing report has been written with a better understanding of the venue side of thoroughbred racing in New Zealand.

"They are looking to de-licence meetings, not close them, but they have said they wanted to talk to every club before making a final decision," Ms Bennington said.

"As for Greymouth, the future certainly looks brighter and plans we had on the backburner can now come forward."
Westland Racing Club president Gray Eatwell said his club was not lying down.

"They have made a decision contrary to what they told us ,in my opinion. From statements made at the AGM I thought they would have had a discussion with us. Knowing how they operate we now have a battle ahead of us - they seem determined to go ahead," Mr Eatwell said.

"I think they are making a mistake unless they can show us it is for the benefit of racing. Closing venues is not the answer to fixing the problem. I feel somewhat they have let us down."

Reefton Jockey Club president Brian Molloy said they would also fight for survival.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised," Mr Molloy said.

"Our committee now has three options - go to Greymouth, we finish and wind up, or we fight for the district and the course.
"What annoys me is (Racing Minister) Winston Peters was preaching regional development in Reefton and now he is taking a race meeting away. Until the final decision is made we are hopeful rather than confident."

NZ Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) proposes a reduction to 27 venues around the country by 2030.

It said the Future Venue Plan was not as a result of any Government processes under way.

NZTR will be considering the outcomes of any advice of the Ministerial Advisory Committee and any decisions from the Government as consultation is progressed.

"While NZTR agrees with the Messara report that a reduction of venues is required, having already undertaken substantial work in this area over some years we have a view of how this could look," NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry said yesterday.

"Despite the best intentions of committed and passionate volunteers, many of New Zealand's racing venues are in urgent need of major development. Spending is required to bring infrastructure up to standard and to meet health and safety obligations.

"An upgrading of venues will also improve the punter experience by providing better and more consistent track surfaces."

The 10 venues that it proposed not allocating licences to in the 2019-20 racing season are: Dargaville, Thames and Wyndham, which are already racing at other venues; Wairoa, Stratford, Blenheim, Reefton, Hokitika, Waimate and Winton.

NZTR says it expects that those clubs which lose their traditional venues but will continue to race at an alternative track.

"A key commitment of the proposed NZTR Venue Plan is that all clubs in New Zealand will have an approved and appropriate venue at which to race. We see a future for every club," Mr Saundry said.

"Everything in the Venue Plan is up for debate and we want feedback to ensure the best possible result for the future of our industry."

- By Paul McBride

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