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Hanging in there...Noel Walker signals his V for victory delight as one battle appears to have been won in Phar Lap Raceway's war to survive. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

The thoroughbred horse-racing fraternity at Phar Lap Raceway breathed a sigh of relief on Friday.

South Canterbury Racing Club president Noel Walker learned on Friday the club had been allocated eight gallops meetings on the draft racing calendar for the 2020-21 season.

It would be enough to keep the well-known racetrack operational for another year.

“It was looking grim but Phar Lap rides again,” Mr Walker said.

Before Friday’s meeting, five gallops meetings, three Timaru Harness Racing Club meetings and one Waimate Racing Club meeting scheduled at the raceway up to July had already been cancelled because of Covid-19.

Also, Minister of Racing Winston Peters had announced plans to build a new synthetic track at Riccarton Park in Christchurch which, when completed, would potentially take thoroughbred racing away from Timaru.

Mr Walker was so concerned that until Friday’s announcement he intended to take a special case to Minister of Racing Winston Peters to save Phar Lap Raceway.

“We can make it work with four meetings but it’s much more helpful with eight.”

Mr Walker doubted a synthetic track at Riccarton, the home of thoroughbred racing in Christchurch, would be successful.

“It’s if and when they get it. They’ve still got to find a lot of money.

“We’ve had comments from the North Island and around the South Island that we have the best winter track (at Washdyke) but it makes no iota of difference.”

Mr Walker wanted more money going to the grassroots of the industry with a substantial increase in stakes.

“The problem is the industry is top heavy. There are too many at the top clipping the ticket. The grassroots have minimum stakes.”

While Phar Lap Raceway continued to hang on, threats of closure now hang over nine thoroughbred venues – Avondale, Te Teko, Waipa (Te Awamutu), Gisborne, Wairoa, Waipukurau, Blenheim (Waterlea), Motukarara, Waikouaiti and Omakau.

The 2020-21 racing season starts on August 1.

Under the draft plan, there will be no harness racing at Phar Lap Raceway next season.