It’s not just about the racing

January 7, 2019

“tis the season for country races and they’ve been well attended.

The Omakau gallops attracted more than 1,000 people but this and other country race days are under threat.

It might have been the last one, “if Winston has his way”.

But the Central Otago Racing Club would keep fighting hard to keep its annual Omakau gallops race meet, club president Tony Lepper said at the races yesterday.

The Central Otago club was one of those earmarked for closure in last year’s report from Australian administrator John Messara, who recommended seven tracks from Timaru south should stop holding thoroughbred race meetings.

But Mr Lepper said the Omakau gallops organisers were confident the meet would continue.

“It could be our last meeting, if Winston [Racing Minister Winston Peters] has his way, but I don’t think it will be … We’re planning on racing next year. The minister may have different ideas, but we’re planning on carrying on.”

Mr Lepper said the Central Otago club had made a submission on the Messara report and a working group charged with analysing all the submissions was expected to report back to Mr Peters in February or March, about the same time as the 2020 racing calendar was set.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing would then decide which clubs would close, based on advice from Mr Peters and the working group, Mr Lepper said.

But Mr Lepper said country racing was vital to Central Otago and the broader racing community.

“It would be stupid to get rid of this meeting.

“This is where people are in the summer, they come up to Central . . . But more importantly, a lot of locals are involved in owning horses, and for a lot of people coming to the races in Central is their one and only experience at the races . . .

“This is where people get their love of racing, and that’s why country racing is important.

“As long as the trainers are prepared to come up here with their horses and we’re prepared to do our voluntary work to prepare the track, then this [race meet] should always continue into the future.” . . 

We were among the crowd of about 5,000 at the Kurow races a week ago and people there had the same strong feelings about the importance of the fixture for the racing and the community.

As  Kurow Jockey Club president Simon Williamson said.

. . .”It’s the biggest day in the Waitaki Valley,” he said. ”It’s a community day. And a lot of the people here aren’t racegoers, they’re holidaymakers camping around the lake having their annual day out, really.

”It’s huge – it’s for the community, it’s a get-together … everyone comes out and talks to their neighbours and their friends. It’s a great family get-together; there’s never any trouble; everyone brings their barbecues and their chilly bins.” . . 

Country race days aren’t just about the racing. They are social events which bring the community together and attract outsiders too.

Whatever the Messara report says, country people won’t let their race days go without a fight and the Minister who purports to be the region’s champion should take that seriously.

Throwing money around in the name of provincial growth will look even stupider he’s going to let his government kill off events that are such an important part of the social and economic fabric of rural communities.

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