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by Chris Tobin

The Australian who prepared a report suggesting Timaru’s Phar Lap Raceway should close to thoroughbred racing should have a “bloody good think”.

This was the comment of veteran horseman Len Stewart – “I’ve been racing horses since the 1970s” – as he helped out in the stables in the chilly early morning air at the raceway on Monday, where about 25 horses were being trained.

Australian John Messara has recommended in a report that thoroughbred racing end at 20 tracks around the country, with no thoroughbred racing in Timaru from 2022-23.

Mr Messara said Timaru, which had seven meetings in 2017-18, had only a fair location and below-average infrastructure and would not be needed as a venue after a proposed synthetic track was built at Riccarton Park in Christchurch.

“Timaru should race at Riccarton Park for jumps and Riccarton Park or Ashburton for flat meetings,” he said

Mr Stewart and others at the Washdyke stables were unimpressed by Mr Messara’s report.

“This is all trust land. They can’t take trust land, sell it and shift the money somewhere else.

“Victoria and New South Wales are different to New Zealand. The ideas are good but each unit has a different outlook.”

Michael Daly, who trains a dozen gallopers at Phar Lap Raceway, said he was dumbfounded by the recommendation to end thoroughbred racing in Timaru.

Business as usual…The training routine continues at Phar Lap Raceway. Kelly Shearing, left, Stephanie Clark and Harry Rossice. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

With seven meetings a year and Timaru being a good winter track, he could not understand the logic, especially when Mr Messara was allowing Kumara, which hosted one meeting a year and had its last two meetings cancelled due to bad weather, to continue, as well as Waikouaiti.

“Kumara gets a great crowd but has very little facilities.

“Waikouaiti has one meeting a year and it was abandoned after one race last year.

“We’ve had a very good winter, and we’ve got one of the best winter tracks in New Zealand.

“If Timaru has to go for economic reasons, I’m very disappointed,” Mr Daly said.

He believed Kumara and other courses with only one or two meetings a year were getting favourable treatment by Mr Messara for “sentimental reasons” – “it costs a lot of money for trainers and owners to go to Kumara and Blenheim. Blenheim gets poor fields and Cromwell [which is not on the closure list] has one meeting a year and just one trainer with a small team.

“It’s like opening a golf course for one tournament a year and for the rest of the year you can’t go and play on it.”

Phar Lap Raceway’s blacksmith, Gary Shand, said the raceway was on a public reserve and could not be sold.

Legend of turf…The statue of Phar Lap at the raceway named after him. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

Stephanie Clark, trainer, owner, former top rider of jumpers and the first woman in Australasia to be an official race-day starter, said she was disappointed and surprised Timaru was added to the list of recommended closures.

“We’ve got good facilities and good all-year-round meetings with very few abandonments. “We’ve also got a lovely statue [of Phar Lap], which is part of Timaru history.”

If Mr Messara’s recommendations are adopted, Waimate and Kurow will also lose their racing licences for the 2019-20 seasons. Both run one meeting a year.

Mr Messara suggested Wingatui or Ashburton as the Waimate club’s race venue and Wingatui or Cromwell as Kurow’s.

Oamaru, which has four thoroughbred meetings a year, has been given a reprieve until 2024-25. Mr Messara suggested Wingatui or Waikouaiti should hold its meetings.