Phar Lap reprieve, bad news for Waimate

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

by Chris Tobin

“We’ve escaped the first cut-off,” is South Canterbury Racing Club chairman Noel Walker’s reaction to a report last week announcing a proposal for 10 venues not to be given race licences in the 2019/20 racing season.

One of these venues is the Waimate Racing Club.

Mr Walker said the Phar Lap Raceway was still slated for closure in 2022 under the Messara Report but the track was highly viable.

“There’s no financial reason why we can’t continue; we’re paying all our bills and our Christmas racing was a huge success.

“At the moment I’m in Auckland where they have only six horses in their fields; we had 12 to 14 horses in our races.”

He was hopeful the racecourse would escape the chop.

“We’re philosophical; we hope to survive.”

A petition calling for the Phar Lap Raceway’s retention has received more than 5600 signatures and will soon be presented to Parliament by Rangitata MP, Andrew Falloon.

Last week’s report was separate to the Messara Report into the future of the New Zealand racing industry which came out late last year.

The latest report was prepared by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) and titled the Future Venue Plan.

Besides Waimate, it recommends Blenheim, Wairoa, Stratford, Reefton, Hokitika, Winton, Dargaville, Thames and Wyndham not be allocated licences in the 2019/20 racing season that starts on August 1 this year

It proposes that the South Canterbury club not be granted a racing licence from and including the 2024/25 season assuming a proposed synthetic track at Riccarton Park was available for racing by then.

It said winter meetings in Timaru could be transferred to Riccarton Park’s synthetic track once it was operational.

Phar Lap trustees secretary Richard White said a racing industry representative would be coming to Timaru to talk about the closure recommendations.

“I want to know on what basis they have selected us for closure.”

Under the Future Venue Plan, Oamaru would be retained.

“They should be taking note of the trainers and jockeys; our course is immeasurably superior to Oamaru. I would be interested in knowing what the criteria is for keeping Oamaru open.”

Meanwhile, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said it appeared the NZTR plan was forcing the hand of some of the regional clubs and she feared it was a step to seize assets.

“The Waimate racetrack has been running for 150 years. I feel gutted for the Waimate Racing Club and for the entire community who have celebrated and supported events at the venue over this time.”

NZTR is now seeking consultation from the racing industry over their plan to cull the number of existing thoroughbred tracks in the country from 48 to 27 by 2030.