NZTR boss stresses need for synthetic track in SI

Bernard Saundry. Photo: Getty Images
Bernard Saundry. Photo: Getty Images
The racing fraternity in the South Island cannot sit on its hands and wait to see how synthetic tracks perform in the North Island, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry said last night.

Saundry was at a NZTR regional roadshow meeting at Wingatui last night and discussed various aspects of the industry. About 30 people turned up.

The proposed synthetic track at Riccarton Park in Christchurch was much discussed. Questions were asked about its cost, when it would be built and what would be its impact on racing dates for clubs in Otago and Southland.

Saundry said the costs had not yet been finalised but it was likely to be in the region of $13.5million to $14million. He said he could not comment on what the annual maintenance costs could be and he was not prepared to even make a guess.

He admitted some tracks had been ripped up but the technology was getting better. Synthetic tracks had been successful right round the world and were the way of the future.

Construction of such a track was going well in Cambridge and three Australian engineers were coming out of quarantine next Monday to advance the work.

It was hoped to have trials on the track next February-March and then a full season of winter racing.

Funding for another synthetic track at Awapuni was also going well.

There was a suggestion at the meeting that a pause should be made in building the track at Riccarton to see how the tracks went in the North Island.

Saundry said he did not favour waiting.

"Once you build a synthetic training track you will be able to free up grass tracks and you will get better grass-track racing in the North Island.

"Can we afford to do that in the South Island?"

Saundry said punters right round the world wanted consistency of tracks and Australian punters regarded New Zealand as land of heavy tracks.

New Zealand supplied 6% of races broadcast in Australia yet only attracted 2% of the betting turnover.

He strongly disagreed with the suggestion New Zealanders as a whole did not bet.

"New Zealanders have never been given the opportunity to shine. There is not the right technology."

The wrong decisions were made 10 to 15 years ago, he said.

He described the TAB betting system as clunky.

Saundry could not make a commitment on where in the calendar the synthetic track’s racing dates would come from but no club could have guaranteed racing dates in the future.

Questions were asked how trainers could afford to take horses to Riccarton every week to race in a $10,000 race with minimum returns.

NZTR general manager racing and infrastructure Tim Aldridge said the new season had started brightly in the South. So far in the six weeks of racing, there had been 899 starters in South Island meetings. That compared with 635 in the same period last year. Betting turnover had also increased.

Rules on who can attend race meetings were due to be looked at next week but locking out the general public did not have great impact on wagering, as 98% of betting was done off-course. This was especially so in winter, Saundry said.

He believed 100% this region had a future. But clubs needed to work together.


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