'You'll rip the heart out of the community': Wairoa fights to save its racecourse

The small East Coast settlement of Wairoa had its annual horse racing meeting today, and it might be the last.

An industry report has recommended the Te Kupenga racecourse be shut down.

But locals say closing the track would rip the heart out of the community.

In the evening before race day, a plate of fresh crayfish was carried out to the white marquee where 60 people were having dinner at Wairoa Racing Club.

"You don't get that at any other race courses," a local told Newshub.

It's tradition for the club volunteers to put on a BBQ for the trainers and the locals.

We asked 91-year-old Tom Winiata how long he's been coming to the Wairoa races.

"Oh, at least 80 years," he replies.

Te Kupenga racecourse is one of the 28 slated for closure in an independent review of the racing industry.

"If they close this they might as well close the bloody lot," Mr Winiata says. "You see jokers from all over the North Island come here."

As well as trainers and owners, the day attracts 2500 punters - more than half Wairoa's population.

It's proposed that the racecourse be closed and the land sold, with the revenue generated by the sale going towards the renovation of other race tracks and facilities around the country.

But club president Paul Toothill says the course pays for itself.

"We've got cattle and that's how we make our profit; we farm it and we farm stock out on other farms, other farmers support the club."

Mr Toothill invited New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) chief executive Bernard Saundry along to the race meeting to show him what stands to be lost.

"[Mr Saundry] rang me on a Tuesday and said we're proposing to shut Wairoa and we'll move you to Gisborne," Mr Toothill recounted.

"And I said you'll rip the heart out of the community by doing that, Bernard."

But Mr Saundry says the racing industry needs to change to secure its future.

"The club model is under pressure. We've got to evolve as a business - we've got an obligation to 15,000 owners and 50,000 people involved in some way with racing."

Two prominent trainers say closing provincial tracks will ruin New Zealand racing.

"It's a community thing. Why take it away? We need the people of Wairoa to bet on NZ racing and stay interested," trainer Graeme Rogerson says.

"A place like Wairoa, with a great president, he'll fight and we'll back him up," trainer Bob Autridge says.

Mr Saundry says New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing is "not in the business of ruining New Zealand racing."

"We do understand the importance to the community."

The Te Kupenga racecourse learns its fate next month.