Racing: West Coast draws battle-lines over endangered racetracks

Well used to fighting for his district, Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn is on the warpath again.

The South Island's West Coast is vowing to fight a proposal to close down three of its five racetracks, with Greymouth, Reefton and Hokitika among 20 courses identified in a wide-ranging report into NZ horse and greyhound racing.

"I think the fact they are trying to close down three of the five racecourses on the coast, which is 600 kilometres long, is a hard blow to a province that's trying to grow at the moment," says Mr Kokshoorn.

"Omoto racecourse here has been going since the 1860s. These racecourses are the social fibre that holds our community together."

But Racing Minister Winston Peters is defiant that efficiencies must be made or the industry will self-destruct.  

"From the deep south to the far north, every area will keep a racecourse," he has assured the industry.

"You can have parochialism and poverty, or you have real reform or wealth."

The wide-ranging findings of Australian expert John Messara's review were released in Hamilton on Thursday. 

"The emphasis was on the thoroughbred code, but I can assure you, it will have a positive impact on all three codes," said Mr Messara.

So far, though, harness-racing and the greyhounds have barely rated a mention.

One of the winners from the announcement was Riccarton Park in Christchurch.

Along with Cambridge and Awapuni, it will get a synthetic track, so it can operate in all weather conditions.

"Here, it works very well," says Riccarton racing manager Jim Langham. "We have a 2400m grass track, 30 metres wide.

"We are able to put the synthetic track immediately inside that."

The budget is about $10 million, with completion expected in 2021.

But by then, many other racecourses around the country could well be history. 


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