Waikouaiti RC prepared to fight to retain track

John Messara
John Messara
The Waikouaiti Racing Club is prepared to fight for its track and preserve one of the most important days for its community.

The club received a shock last week when its track on the outskirts of the town was named by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing as one of the tracks it was looking to close down.

NZTR released a venue plan into the future which would leave the country with just 27 tracks by 2030.

NZTR pointed to declining horse numbers, a drop in track attendance and less betting as reasons for the dropping of tracks. All up, NZTR was looking at getting rid of 23 tracks, leaving just nine in the South Island.

Waikouaiti thought it was safe after the Messara report last year, which had indicated it would stay open.

Australian racing administrator John Messara had been asked by Racing Minister Winston Peters to look at the state of horse racing in the country and he had reported back wanting tracks from all around the country closed down.

Waikouaiti RC president Andy Denham could not be reached for comment yesterday but the club is not lying down and intends to have a committee meeting next week to plan a response.

The club holds one meeting a year, on New Year's Day, which is a picnic meeting attracting large crowds.

Long-serving committee member and past president Vince McLachlan said it was a ''kick in the teeth''for the club.

The club owned the land where the track was situated and had more than $100,000 in the bank so it was not as though the club was financially struggling.

The meeting at the start of last month had attracted a crowd of 3500 and was bringing families and young people into racing.

Trainers Michael Pitman and John Parsons had been long-time users of the track over summer when they had horses racing in the south of the South Island.

But both Pitman and Parsons had been suffering from ill health and had not based themselves in Waikouaiti this summer. The track also had the advantage of being close to Waikouaiti Beach.

The 2018 meeting on New Year's Day was cancelled because of track conditions after one race, which was a blow to the club. McLachlan said the horse which slipped in the only race run, which led to the cancellation, was the only horse in trouble and never raced again.

He said the racetrack was a community asset and he doubted whether people would go to city tracks in the holidays for picnic meetings.

Many people had put much effort into the club and would be sad to see it go.

The NZTR plan also proposed closure for tracks at Timaru, Waimate, Kurow, Omakau, Wyndham, Winton and Riverton in the south.

Oamaru and Gore, earmarked under the Messara plan as being axed, are spared under the NZTR plan.

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