31 Aug 2018

Plan to cut 20 race tracks a 'gamechanger' for industry

10:28 am on 31 August 2018

The racing industry is facing two choices, significant change or death, says Racing Minister Winston Peters.

no caption

Photo: 123rf.com

Mr Peters has released an independent report by Australian racing expert, John Messara, that concludes the industry is in a state of "serious malaise''.

The report recommends include almost halving the number of tracks and outsourcing the TAB's commercial activities to an international operator.

Mr Peters said the racing industry was at a tipping point from which it won't recover unless it took on on board all the reforms put forward by John Messara.

Officials will produce a Cabinet paper from the report's 17 recommendations, which Mr Peters said was a chance to change the fortunes of the industry and push the reset button.

Mr Messara has proposed reducing the number of tracks from 48 to 28 and Mr Peters said that will have to be a reality if the industry wants to turn around its dwindling profits.

"Every region will retain a race track. There just won't be the proliferation right now which in stark contrast to a big industry like New South Wales, has far more race tracks. It just doesn't make any logical sense,'' Mr Peters said.

Taranaki will lose two out of three of its race tracks if the recommendations go ahead.

Taranaki Thoroughbred Racing board member and judge Ron Stanley said racing was getting incredibly more competitive and that required top facilities and cutting back the number of tracks.

"I think it's a brave decision, we should have been doing it a few years ago.

"We've always had too many tracks. I did that with my local club in Opunake, we moved that to New Plymouth some fifteen years ago because we knew that centralisation was the way to go and you've got to take racing to the people and the people are in the cities,'' he said.

Three of the four race tracks on the West Coast are among those recommended for closure, which Westland Race Club president Gray Eatwell said would be be like shutting down heartland rugby and expecting the sport to remain the same.

Reefton, Greymouth and Hokitika would close and the only one operating would be Kumara which Mr Eatwell said was not the best suited for the job. "It hasn't got any accommodation facilities for horses or people and if that is what is done in the end it will be very difficult to make it work."

He said racing on the West Coast was run on a circuit system and trainers from all over the country brought their horses there in summer specifically to run them on a softer track.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry backed the proposals which he described as a "gamechanger for the industry''.

"One of our biggest issues is we can't spread the amount of money we have across 48 venues and improve the sport.

"So we need to consolidate our spending and make sure we've got a number of venues that have good race track surfaces and good customer facilities so that New Zealanders can enjoy the great things about New Zealand thoroughbred racing,'' he said.

RNZ revealed last week that the government had effectively signed off on three all-weather surface tracks for the industry as part of a deal between Labour and NZ First.

The Provincial Growth Fund will stump up the cash - expected to be about $15 million - for the tracks that Mr Messara has recommended building in Awapuni, Riccarton and Cambridge.

Mr Peters said taxpayers will accept that cost because racing "isn't just about people turning up at the track in their Sunday best" - it's about an industry that employs tens of thousands of people.

New Zealand Racing Board chief executive John Allen said he understood the all-weather tracks would be jointly funded with the racing community.

He said the minister had made it clear the clubs and racing community would need to "step up and co-fund it."

Outsourcing the TAB's commercial activities to an international operator was worth considering, he said, because the industry needed more money to grow and be sustainable, and TAB profitability was essential to that.

"But clearly a lot of work needs to be done as to how you structure such a deal, who your partner is, what the term of the deal is, what happens at the end of a licensing agreement. All those things need to be worked through."

  • Racing report recommends halving number of tracks in NZ
  • Racing industry to get govt funding for multiple all-weather tracks
  • 'We haven't got the money to sustain 52 race venues'
  • 'Too many race courses' for NZ industry to maintain