Major Shake Up for Racing In The South

Major Shake Up for Racing In The South

15th May 2020

Bruce Stewart

As was expected, racing throughout the country  received a major shakeup today with the release of the draft dates calendar for next season which starts in August.

Locally in terms of harness racing, neither Gore, Wyndham or Roxburgh will hold race meetings during the coming season. Dunedin’s Forbury Park has also been left off the calendar with no meetings scheduled.

The Gore, Wyndham and Roxburgh clubs still have dates. But Gore and Wyndham will race at the two Southland venues to have survived the shakeup – Ascot Park and Winton. Roxburgh TC is set to race at Cromwell.

Although the Tuapeka Club is part of Southern Harness, it’s stated it will now race at Oamaru. However  it’s likely the Tuapeka members will  attempt to convince RITA they would prefer to race in Southland.

When I spoke to Harness Racing New Zealand CEO Peter Jensen today, he said Covid19 has had a huge impact on New Zealand and racing and that it has forced the industry’s hand.

“We all know that our income comes from wagering and there’s been very few opportunities lately. That’s meant a very difficult time and the Minister of Racing referred to that when he announced the support package,” he said.

The pandemic has exposed the industry’s precarious position and it’s brought with it the need for change.

“Covid19 has revealed starkly the issues the industry has structurally, and he’s (Racing Minister Winston Peters) made it pretty clear that they have to be addressed.”

The Messara Report has also made it clear there’s a need for venues  to be rationalised.

“The thoroughbred code have been ahead of us in that regard. We’ve been looking at it but Covid19 has bought those plans forward.”

The calendar has allocated Southern Harness with a total of fifty dates compared to forty four in the current season and Jensen says for the sake of the draft these needed to be put against a club (Invercargill HRC).

“We’ve made it clear to Jason Broad today that those dates aren’t allocated to one club.”

Nineteen of the forty nine Southern racing dates fall on a Thursday, nine of which are in the first three months of the season (August, September and October).

Between the beginning of April and the end of June all of the southern dates are on Saturdays.

Of the fifty dates twenty five fall on weekdays, nineteen on Saturdays and six on Sundays.

The Winton HRC loses two dates, Gore one, and Wyndham one. But they may be allocated dates that are currently under the Invercargill Harness Racing Club name – they have twenty five dates in the calendar,  ten more than this season.

Jensen says he understands the impact on the industry and on the local communities that the loss of racing at Wyndham and Gore will have.

“People that are affected are passionate about harness racing and have made a huge contribution to the industry, and we completely understand that so you wouldn’t expect anything else.”

He said it was very hard to reduce the number of tracks in Southland.

“Hugely difficult. Those tracks had a great tradition and it was very difficult to pick two tracks out of four. But we needed to consolidate as we’ve done in other regions. It’ll be very interesting to see what the submission process says from those two clubs.”

Forbury Park has also missed out in featuring in the new seasons calendar.

“I’m sure the club will have an opinion on that. I think it’s been clear for a long time that those meetings (at Forbury) have been              supported by horses from Southland and Canterbury. The fact  there’s so much travel involved means it’s imposing a lot of costs into an industry that can’t afford it.”

The new season also extends the Southern season and Jensen sees this as a positive.

“We think there’s the capacity to do that and the submission process will tell us whether we have got that right or not. There will be more meetings in Canterbury and that’s to match the horse population.”

At this point there’s no word on stake levels. These are likely to be struck once the racing dates have been confirmed.

Racing has been retained in some of the regions especially around Christmas at venues like Central Otago, Nelson and the West Coast.

“They’re very important to us. They expose us to a lot of people that we just don’t see at any other time of the year. For many it’s the first opportunity to be exposed to Harness Racing. They could be our future supporters or participants.”

Sadly there’s no place for the end of season Harness Jewels.

“That’s not venue related. There’s just so much uncertainty about what funding will look like. Until we’ve got more certainty on what that will look like it’s proposed that the Jewels won’t be run next season.”

Jensen stated the dates released today are only in draft form, and that submissions can be made for change.

“I want to emphasise that it’s a genuine consultation that’s led by the RITA dates committee and there’s a full month for people to take a breath, put some facts together and get their submissions through to RITA.”