Turn it up! Here comes the Cup

All the pomp and glory at Flemington. Photo: ODT files
All the pomp and glory at Flemington. Photo: ODT files
We are only days away from the Melbourne Cup.

And instead of talking about the great race, the Gore, Winton Timaru and Oamaru racetracks are the topic of this week's column.

Firstly, the future of these courses deserves debate.

The suggestion of closing them to thoroughbred will dramatically change each region and the South Island racing landscape.

There is also the massive, but murky, effect their closures will have on harness racing to consider.

These conversations are happening across the country and again, rightfully so. The problem is that so much debate is raging it is dominating racing's political agenda.

I have made it clear I do not agree with every aspect of the Messara report. I believe it should have made more specific recommendations for each racing code.

That is one of two or three concerns out of hundreds of recommendations. John Messara produced a brilliant document that promised to revive the racing industry and secure its future, and that should be dominating the political conversation.

The question that should be asked is: what next?

The submissions are in, let's get this thing moving. If the industry carries on as it is now, nothing will change.

Debating the details could cost the industry the chance for positive change.

There is no doubt each racetrack deserves its fair hearing and in my opinion, some of the four tracks I have mentioned could be saved. However, I firmly believe in the intention of Messara's plan. The country simply cannot sustain so many racetracks.

So, yes, save one, maybe two, from the list of 20 that are to be cut.

The problem now is there is a painful chorus of sentiment that together sounds like nearly all 20 need to be reinstated.

That is completely counterproductive. And it is only getting worse, as the National party is seemingly using the racetracks as a vehicle for political grandstanding.

I wonder if the MPs and brains trusts behind their sentimentality drives have considered whether the closure of tracks will help support future incomes of industry participants.

I wonder if they realise it is not the 1950s.

Racing is a television-based sport; crowd numbers dwindle year on year. The crowds of racing's heyday are gone and they are not coming back.

People outside racing may say it is sad to close their local track and they would go to the races if it stayed. But when it comes to crunch time, on the local cup day, will they actually show up?

Expensive facilities are being maintained for a handful of days of use each year. We have cellphone apps to bet with and fast cars to get us to tracks further away.

I am not saying close each of the Gore, Winton, Timaru and Oamaru tracks. There is definitely a case to save one. There might be a case to save two of them.

But racing needs to decide, and decide quickly, and get the Messara report through Parliament as quickly as possible.

Happy trails

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