Rules a threat to races

Te Awamutu Courier - - News - BY HUNTER CALDER

Most of the year Piron­gia Golf Course is just that — a golf course.

But each year, for the last 150 years, on Box­ing Day it is trans­formed into a horse rac­ing track.

Alexan­dra Race Club mar­ket­ing man­ager Ross Ormsby says the races started in 1866 when the club was founded.

“I think it was 1855 when a lo­cal ho­tel started a fun day,” he says.

“It wasn’t horse races, it was a pig run, climb the slip­pery pole, that sort of thing.

“Then the next year the Finch fam­ily, which is still in­volved to­day, started what would then be­come reg­u­lar horse races.”

But now the an­nual event is in jeop­ardy.

Club sec­re­tary Char­lie Coles says an in­creas­ing amount of red tape has made it too hard for the small club to nav­i­gate.

“The road traf­fic plan costs a for­tune, se­cu­rity an­other for­tune,” he says.

“The al­co­hol scene has changed com­pletely now, as it’s a bring-your-own, so that’s un­der new reg­u­la­tions and more strict.

“The whole thing is far more costly. And the event it­self, num­bers at­tend­ing have gone down which makes it hard to pay for things as our only real in­come is at the gate.”

Health and safety was taken more se­ri­ously than in 1866, es­pe­cially with the risks in­volved in a horse gal­lop — an­other area the com­mit­tee said was time con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive.

“The is­sues we have are we are a small com­mit­tee try­ing to run what has be­come a big event from a reg­u­la­tion point of view,” Char­lie says.

“Meet­ing all reg­u­la­tions and what most peo­ple find bu­reau­cratic non­sense most of the time . . . is it worth it?”

It’s known as the Alexan­dra Race Club be­cause the town was for­merly called Alexan­dra, and lo­cals would be sad to see it go as the Box­ing Day races are a high­light of their fes­tive sea­son.

Keith Ormsby, 80, has been in­volved all his life.

“My par­ents were in­volved, and so I used to come to work­ing bees in early days,” Keith says.

“I used to put teatree sticks around with string in be­tween and that was a race track.

“All the lo­cals brought a horse along — not race­horses, more a farm hack, but that’s what they used to bring along.”

Con­tin­u­ing the tra­di­tion, Keith’s chil­dren brought their chil­dren along too.

“Yes, there is fam­ily his­tory,” says his son, Ross Ormsby.

“Two or three fam­i­lies have been through 150 years. Our Ormsby fam­ily have been along prob­a­bly right from the start with my great­great-grand­fa­ther and on the no­tice­board you can see my great­grand­fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and fa­ther are all life mem­bers.”

As the com­mit­tee mem­bers are get­ting older, the club hopes the younger gen­er­a­tion keeps the races go­ing.

But at least this year, the race is all go with prepa­ra­tions well un­der way.

“Box­ing Day in New Zealand is that day where you’re ei­ther go­ing some­where or hang­ing around with all the left­overs from Christ­mas,” Ross says.

“So take the left­overs and have a great day.”

Check out the video at www.lo­cal­fo­cus.nz

Photo / Hunter Calder

Keith Ormsby, 80, would be sad to see the Piron­gia Box­ing Day races go.

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