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Fun in the sun . . . A winter race meeting at Washdyke's Phar Lap Raceway. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

by Chris Tobin

Gallops return to Phar Lap Raceway on Sunday.

South Canterbury Racing Club president Noel Walker said he was thrilled a meeting would again be held at the track given all the turmoil the racing industry was going through, together with the fallout from Covid-19.

“It’s ideal for us – we’re back on the track and this one is an extra one for us.”

Seven races would be run, each offering prize money of $15,000.

Phar Lap Raceway has been battling to stay open after the 2018 Messara report, commissioned by the Government, placed it on a list for possible closure, saying it would not be needed after a synthetic track was built at Riccarton Park in Christchurch.

A battle has gone on since then to keep Timaru on the racing calendar.

Things were complicated further when Covid-19 shut down racing, costing Phar Lap Raceway five gallops and four harness meetings.

Originally, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing planned only four South Island meetings for July, of which three were for Riccarton Park, with Timaru excluded.

Earlier this year the South Canterbury club feared it would not have meetings in the 2020-21 season but has since been allocated eight other meetings (September 4, October 9, December 28, May 2, May 20, June 13, June 24 and July 6).

Harness Racing New Zealand has also had a change of heart. It proposed no harness racing at Timaru in the 2020-21 racing season but has since given the Timaru Harness Racing Club three meetings.

The Geraldine and Waimate harness clubs have no meetings in the 2020-21 season.

Both the thoroughbred and harness racing calendars are decided by the dates committee of the Racing Industry Transition Agency (Rita).

Changes to the draft racing calendar came after Rita received 100 submissions from clubs and stakeholders.

“The significant effort, attention and passion that went into the submissions enabled Rita to develop a final calendar which we believe meets the immediate needs of racing next year and provides scope for the industry to address the critical need for venue intensification,” dates committee chairman Edward Rennell said.

The agency has just reported a net profit of $75.5million for the half year, which was $800,000 below budget. Distributions to the racing codes (thoroughbred, harness and greyhounds) amounted to $82.3million.

Last month Parliament passed the Racing Industry Bill, which Rita executive chairman Dean McKenzie said transferred racing administration functions to the individual racing codes and established TAB New Zealand with a mandate as a commercial betting operator.

The passing of the Bill also enables the dissolution of Rita, which was established by Minister of Racing Winston Peters last year to transition the industry into a financially sustainable future. However, the current board has been confirmed as the interim board of TAB NZ pending future appointments by the incoming government after this year’s general election.