Racing clubs trot out reasons to keep tracks open with National MPs
Amid preparations for what could be its last race meeting at home, Winton Jockey Club officials have met with National MPs to discuss the threat of their track closing.
The club holds its annual race day tomorrow, but a report, released in August by Racing Minister Winston Peters, recommends the Winton galloping track close at the end of this season and the club’s race meeting moved to Ascot Park in Invercargill.
President Howard Clarke said the club was building a strong case in an attempt to quash moves to close the track. Twenty New Zealand galloping tracks, including Gore, are earmarked for closure in the report by New South Wales racing administrator John Messara.
It recommends all thoroughbred race meetings at Gore be shifted to Invercargill’s Ascot Park in the 2024-25 season. Closing tracks and centralising race days would help the ailing racing industry regain profitability, Messara said.
National MPs Hamish Walker (Clutha-Southland) and Ian McKelvie (Rangitı¯kei, National’s spokesman for racing) met with representatives of the Winton Jockey Club, Gore, Tapanui and Wyndham racing clubs and industry stakeholders at Winton and Gore this week. The Tapanui and Wyndham clubs race at Gore.
The clubs with tracks facing closure have until next Friday to make submissions to the Department of Internal Affairs on why they should stay open.
A factor favouring both the Gore and Winton tracks was that their race meetings provided employment and generated income for their communities, McKelvie and Walker said.
McKelvie said the report had a mixture of good and bad parts.
‘‘It’s going to need a lot more talk in the industry . . .
‘‘The concern down here, and in lots of other parts of New Zealand, is the rationalisation of racecourses and the manner in which he [Minister of Racing Winston Peters] proposes to undertake it, which is certainly not satisfactory.’’
The report recommends the freehold land housing the tracks earmarked for closure be sold with the proceeds put towards maintaining and upgrading the courses retained.
The Gore Racing Club owns the Gore racecourse and says it will not race at other tracks. President Justine Abernethy said if the club can’t race at Gore it would disband and the property sold. Money from the sale would be given to the eastern Southland community,
If sold, it would be a major blow to one of the club’s tenants, the Gore Harness Racing Club, which holds six race days a season.
Winton racecourse cannot be sold because it is on a reserve.
Clarke and Abernethy were pleased Walker and McKelvie took time out to listen to their concerns.
‘‘It’s not just a racetrack ... it’s a community facility with many other users,’’ Clarke said of the Winton racecourse.
Abernethy said the Gore race course had a good business plan with a large part of income derived from its farming operation and tenants. The Mataura Licensing Trust is a longstanding financial supporter of the club.
‘‘We’re self-sufficient.’’ Meanwhile, the $25,000 Winton Cup is the feature event on the eightrace card at Winton tomorrow.
Clarke said he would speak at the cup presentation about Messara’s recommendation to close the Winton track.
‘‘The club’s staying positive and we’re carrying on as normal.’’