Reality sinking in as trotting club readies for final meeting

The 110-year-old Forbury Park raceway is to be mothballed then sold as Harness Racing New Zealand...
The 110-year-old Forbury Park raceway is to be mothballed then sold as Harness Racing New Zealand views the Dunedin course as unsustainable. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Craig Paddon has not really had time to ponder how he and others will feel when the gates close at Forbury Park for the final time.

But he acknowledges there will likely be plenty of emotions when the final horse crosses the finishing line on Thursday night.

That will be the end for the 110-year-old venue, to be mothballed then sold as Harness Racing New Zealand views the Dunedin course as unsustainable.

"It’s been just so hectic at the moment because we’ve been racing every week for the past three or four weeks," Forbury Park Trotting Club chairman Paddon said yesterday.

Craig Paddon. Photo: ODT files
Craig Paddon. Photo: ODT files
"It’s been our peak racing season, so it’s been pretty busy from that perspective.

"The venue is surplus as of August 1, so there’s been all that work that we’ve been doing around mothballing the place. It’s been pretty full-on."

Still, the end was nigh, and the club’s thoughts were turning to the final night, Paddon said.

"I think the realisation is sinking in. This is it - this is the final week - and it’s starting to dawn on people.

"There’s quite a bit of sadness around the place. We’ve got people who have had a long association with the club.

"I compare it in some respects to the last game at Carisbrook. It’s another iconic stadium that is closing down."

Forbury Park, to be kind, does not attract massive crowds any more, understandable as it has so often been given meetings through the coldest months.

But there should be plenty of punters through the gates on Thursday.

"There is word of busloads of people coming from different directions," Paddon said.

Thursday’s last meeting will include a feature trot and pace, both with a $12,000 purse.

"We’ve got a couple of cups organised along with some special blankets to present to the winning connections of those two races."

It will be a night to celebrate some of the great contributors to a course that remains best known for its 1960s heyday, including the hosting of the 1965 Interdominion Championship.

Star drivers Ricky May and Clark Barron will be the special guests at a celebration with sponsors and members after the final race, and several different commentators will be given a chance to get behind the microphone.

Jason Teaz, Kevin Payne and Craig Rail will call races, while the TAB is trying to arrange it so Tom Wood can call a race from his Hong Kong base.

"That will be interesting if we can pull that one off," Paddon said.

While the Forbury Park course’s days are numbered, the club - which held its first meeting at Tahuna Park in 1892 - hopes to live on, either at a new site or, more likely, seeking a tenancy arrangement with the Otago Racing Club at Wingatui.

The club was now in negotiations with governing body Harness Racing New Zealand over how the venue would be sold and where proceeds would be directed, Paddon said.

"We’ve kicked off that process and we’re at a point now where we are starting to finalise the approach the club will be taking.

"We are determined to look to the future and see what we can do by way of keeping the harness sport in Dunedin.

"It’s the closing of a chapter but the opening of another one."

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