Day At The Track

Trainers hope for secure future amid uncertainty

04:51 AM 22 Jun 2017 NZST
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Michael Formosa
Ellalong trainer-driver Michael Formosa is one of only a few full-time harness racing professionals in the Hunter.

Prominent Hunter trainers Michael Formosa and Clayton Harmey are disappointed with the lack of transparency about the potential loss of Newcastle International Paceway but believe a move to an industry-owned training centre and harness racing track would be a winner.

The Herald reported on Friday that Wests Group had guaranteed to contribute at least $10 million towards a potential $20 million rugby league centre of excellence to be built next to McDonald Jones Stadium at the Broadmeadow paceway site.

The multi-million dollar paceway, which opened in 1989, is built on crown land Newcastle Harness Racing Club has a lease on until 2027. However, the centre of excellence bid, and plans to transform Broadmeadow’s sporting precinct, could lead to the state government funding a new home for Hunter harness racing to free up the existing site.

East Maitland thoroughbred training track Fairhall Park is believed to be among locations pacing authorities are exploring. Hunter harness racing also has land at Black Hill, given to the sport in the 1970s, but the parcel cannot be built on because it is part of a zoned green corridor.

While any changes appear years away, Formosa and Harmey were frustrated with the lack of information coming from pacing authorities. 

“The disappointing thing is that we’re reading all these different things in the paper and no one’s even told us,” Formosa said. 

However, both were encouraged by the potential for an industry-owned training and track centre.

“At the end of the day, harness racing needs to buy its own place, build its own facilities and bring people in,” Harmey said. “There’s nowhere around here where you can encourage people to get into the game, because you can’t get stables anywhere. They need to have a training centre and encourage people to stable horses on track. If they built something the same as Menangle, it’ll be full straight away.”

Formosa was confident Harness Racing NSW “will take control of the situation and do what has to be done”.

“But you can’t be spending money on property you don’t own,” he said. “I think we are probably better off in the long run if something is owned by Harness Racing NSW and run by them too. To be honest, I don’t know why they’ve spent so much money on something [at Newcastle] they’ve had leased for so little time. I thought they would have at least a 50-year lease when it started.”

Newcastle will hold a nine-race program on Friday from 5.02pm highlighted by two heats of the NSW Rising Stars series featuring Maitland reinsman Brad Elder and Daniel Morgan.

Formosa trialed stable star Ultimate Art at Newcastle on Wednesday night ahead of his run from gate one in the group 1 Len Smith Mile at Menangle Park on Sunday.

Harmey, meanwhile, believed Cessnock provided sites worthy of consideration in the search for a potential new Hunter headquarters.

Harmey, who lives at Nulkaba and stables his horses at Cessnock Showground, was encouraged by early proposals from his local council, who have expressed their interest in providing land for a potential harness racing centre.

He said the former Kurri Kurri hydro-aluminium site would be an ideal location.

“There’s power and water there and it’s central for everyone who trains around here and it’s right on the freeway,” he said.

By Craig Kerry

Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

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