Families have been attending the Wairarapa Racing Club New Year meeting at Tauherenikau Racecourse for generations. PHOTO/FILE

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

Iconic Tauherenikau racecourse is safe from closure after a massive shakeup of New Zealand’s racing industry.

There will be far fewer racecourses around the country if the Government accepts recommendations from an Australian expert.

But stake money will be greatly increased to rejuvenate the industry, which has been in poor health for years.

Wairarapa Racing Club secretary Matthew Sherry said news that Tauherenikau racecourse would be safe under the proposal was a relief, as the venue was a community hub.

The report’s recommendation was to close 20 of the 48 existing clubs.

“That’s more than 40 per cent that will be closing and phased out over a number of years . . .  That’s a lot of clubs,” Sherry said.

“But certainly, we’re delighted that Tauherenikau is in the remaining group of 28.”

He said families had been frequenting the ever-popular January and February race days for many years.

Racing Minister Winston Peters commissioned John Messara, a top thoroughbred horse breeder and stud owner in Australia, to review the New Zealand racing industry.

The minister described Messara’s review as a “blunt appraisal”, which included recommendations to outsource the TAB’s commercial activities to an international operator and to build three synthetic tracks, including one in Awapuni, Palmerston North.

Sherry said Messara’s report described the South Wairarapa venue as “an iconic smaller racecourse”, which recognised its 150-year heritage.

However, the review was not so kind to Woodville-Pahiatua Racecourse, which would close under the proposal.

Its president Andrew Bolton said the news was disappointing and frustrating.

“Probably, our proximity to Awapuni is what has been our downfall,” he said.

“Because they’re putting in an all-weather track there, they have to justify it by giving them the maximum amount of races.”

Bolton said it was “one of the better tracks in the lower North Island”. He anticipated the track would be one of the last to close as it might be hosting Awapuni’s races during its upgrade.

Sherry agreed the closure of Woodville-Pahiatua Racecourse would be a blow to the racing community.

“We feel for those guys and every club in the 20 of the proposed closures.

“Woodville’s been around for a very long time, I’ve had my own horse run there and it’s only just up the road, so it’s not a great situation at all.”

Sherry said one positive to come out of the review was the increase in stake money.

“A minimum stake is now $10,000 and the report is looking to double stake money so that will excite a lot of owners and trainers, and get some stimulus going – that’s a major and I’m sure welcome news for the whole industry.”

Sherry said it would lead to renewed interest in the sport.

“In my personal opinion, [the Government] has said, ‘Let’s not leave this to slowly whittle down – let’s take this head-on and put a structure in that has a chance of the industry sustaining itself for many years to come’.”

A Cabinet paper will now be prepared with a set of recommendations for decision.