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