by Chris Tobin
Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon hopes a petition he presented to Parliament last week sends a clear message to Minister of Racing Winston Peters.
That message is: hands off Phar Lap Raceway; it must remain open.
The petition was signed by 5600 people and is a response to proposals to end thoroughbred racing at the South Canterbury Racing Club’s Phar Lap Raceway at Washdyke.
“Together with the South Canterbury Racing Club, I put together a petition calling for Mr Peters to look past the recommendation to axe Phar Lap Raceway,” Mr Falloon said.
“We’ve been overwhelmed at the level of support from the community, far exceeding even the most ambitious target we set.
“It sends a clear message to Winston Peters to confirm that Phar Lap won’t see a loss of races to Christchurch and other courses.
“Dozens of local community groups rely on the races and the facilities at Phar Lap.
“It would be a hammer blow for them and our local equine industry.”
Club officials have said the course is highly viable.
“There’s no financial reason why we can’t continue; we’re paying our bills,” club chairman Noel Walker told The Courier
Two reports have recommended Phar Lap Raceway’s closure for thoroughbred racing.
Mr Peters commissioned Australian John Messara to review the New Zealand racing industry.
The Messara report came out last year and recommended Phar Lap Raceway not be given a racing licence for 2022-23. The club could race at Riccarton Park for jumps and Riccarton or Ashburton for flat racing, it said.
Another report, commissioned by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing – the NZTR venue plan, released at the beginning of the year – recommended Phar Lap Raceway be given a few more years.
It proposed the SCRC not be granted licences to race from and including the 2024-25 season, assuming a planned synthetic track at Riccarton Park was available for racing by then.
Winter meetings held at Timaru would be transferred to the Riccarton Park synthetic track once it was operational.
“Unreliable racing surfaces and poor on-course facilities for both racegoers and participants are just some of the issues facing the industry,” NZTR chairman Alan Jackson said in the report.
“Many clubs are also struggling to comply with health and safety regulations and meet earthquake compliance standards.”
He said the racing industry had to adapt.
“We can sit and do nothing – but in 10 years’ time, when racing has withered on the vine, we will all be culpable for its demise.”
NZTR said New Zealand had too many racetracks and most venues were not up to an acceptable standard.
The Save Phar Lap petition was formally tabled in Parliament last Wednesday and referred to a select committee.
The committee will review the petition and is likely to give the Government the opportunity to respond before reporting back to Parliament with a recommendation in several months.