Day At The Track

Marlborough Club rallies against threat

08:46 PM 31 Jan 2019 NZDT
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Waterlea Racecourse
Waterlea Racecourse is half owned by the Marlborough Racing Club, and half by the Marlborough Harness Racing Club.
Ricky Wilson / Stuff Photo

A horse racing club has been left reeling and bewildered after its national authority revealed plans to stop racing at the Blenheim racecourse.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) has described Waterlea Racecourse as "no longer required" from this year, and said the Marlborough Racing Club should race at Riccarton Park instead.

The NZTR Venue Plan, released this week, revealed plans to stop racing at nearly half the country's courses by 2030, following Racing Minister Winston Peters' Messara report last August, which recommended selling off tracks across the country to save the "deeply distressed industry".

Club president Eric Bowers said the news came as a shock, as the Messara report said the Waterlea Racecourse deserved a refurbishment.

"It is a bit disappointing. We were one of the ones that was supposed to be staying open," Bowers said.

"But it's all open to negotiation, and we will be making a submission against it. They're happy to visit us and have a look at things, so I'm sure we can put something together that might change their mind."

The plan said Marlborough had a lack of horses and relied on North Island horses at its meetings.

It did not mention the venue's condition or facilities, but said many venues suffered from a lack of investment in recent years, and struggled to comply with health and safety regulations.

"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," the report said.

"Competition and technology have combined to marginalise racing to the extent that it no longer holds the same position in the Kiwi psyche as it once did."

Bowers said Waterlea Racecourse was "a great grass track" with "pretty good" stables and was due to celebrate its centenary next January.

Members were currently fixing a leak in the grandstand roof but generally, repair jobs were "nothing major".

The club owned 50 per cent of the land and buildings, shared with the Marlborough Harness Racing Club.

The harness racing club was not affected by the report as it had its own national racing authority, but it was unclear what would happen to the venue if the other club sold its share.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett would not say if he believed the club should continue racing at the site, saying it was something for the club to decide.

If the racecourse closed altogether, Leggett said he expected most of the land to become residential.

"We've got plans to develop the residential area out toward the northwest, so it would be good to keep as many parks and green spaces as we can. But that is well down the track, and ultimately the land owners would have the final say."

The Ministry of Education had unsuccessfully approached the clubs about buying half the racecourse for the co-location of Marlborough Girls' and Boys' Colleges in 2016.

Ministry head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said the plan would not change the decision to build on McLauchlan St, announced in December.

NZTR's final decision about Waterlea Racecourse was likely to take "some months", and the ministry would not delay the co-location project to see what happened, she said.

"Planning has commenced on how to best deliver modern, and fit-for-purpose, facilities to support students in Marlborough."

Submissions about the NZTR plan close on March 19.

Waterlea Racecourse is half owned by the Marlborough Racing Club, and half by the Marlborough Harness Racing Club.


Marlborough Harness Racing Club vice president Mike Rangi, left, and Marlborough Racing Club president Eric Bowers at Waterlea Racecourse.


The clubs are currently fixing a leak in a grandstand roof.

By Jennifer Eder

Reprinted with permission of The Marlborough Express

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