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Former Rangiora Harness Racing Club president Greg Wright says last year’s Sapere Canterbury regional review, which recommended Rangiora Racecourse be disposed of after the 2023-24 season, was like a "Damocles sword hanging over our heads".
However, he is now confident the club has a future at the course after Harness Racing New Zealand decided to put the Sapere report aside and conduct its own review of all racecourses holding harness racing meetings in New Zealand.
While this review would involve the club making further submissions to HRNZ to make its case for the track to remain open, Wright is confident HRNZ will not decide to act on the Sapere review’s recommendation.
"Canterbury is the centre of harness racing in New Zealand and Rangiora is central to that.
"Harness Racing New Zealand see no value in closing locally important tracks such as Rangiora.
"Also the club has reasonably maintained its membership and is looking to improve the diversity, age/gender on its committee to appeal to younger patronage."
A HRNZ spokesperson said while the Sapere review’s conclusions will be taken into account, the aim of the new review is "to build a positive sense of direction" for the harness racing industry.
"We will absolutely be taking into account some of the thinking in the Sapere processes - such as the value and importance of regional assessments, criteria for decision making, the unchallenged aspects of statistical analysis and a range of submissions from clubs etc, but we are conscious of the fact that these reports are now somewhat dated.
"The last three years have seen major changes to the TAB structure with Entain and, couple that with our desire to make a more standardised national approach, and that means that we will be making fresh conclusions."
Asked what this meant for the Rangiora Racecourse, the spokesperson was unable to give a definitive answer.
"We obviously cannot comment on conclusions that we have not reached, or work that we have not concluded," the spokesperson said.
However, he said: "The venue process is not designed or intended to bring venues to a close."
"Rangiora, as with all our clubs, can expect continued feedback and consultation as we go through this process, and we will work with them to ensure that they are as successful and as sustainable as we can."
The review is one of a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the success and sustainability of the harness racing code and will be managed by the HRNZ internal team with experts consulted at various stages of the process as needed.
"We hope that this will allow us to best capture the opportunities for the industry, give certainty to our venues and keep our sites, our participants and our patterns of racing successful and sustainable."
It is hoped the review will be completed by the middle of next year.
-By Shelley Topp