Horse racing clubs under threat as land may be sold off to save 'dying industry'

'Unjust and unfair’ — that's how some local clubs see proposed changes to the racing industry.

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Racing Minister Winston Peters says decisions have to be made to turn around a the sunset racing industry. Source: 1 NEWS

Some community clubs' land could end up being sold off, but Racing Minister Winston Peters says decisions have to be made to turn around a dying industry.

A 2018 Government-commissioned review by John Messara recommended major change, including cutting the number of thoroughbred racing tracks from 48 to 28. Profits would then be used to upgrade remaining facilities around the country.

Now, a controversial law could give power to the Racing Minister to transfer club land if racing codes and local memberships can’t come to an agreement.

MPs are currently hearing public submissions on the bill and why many of those strongly oppose it.

Waterlea Racecourse is about to mark 100 years of racing in Blenheim. Horse owner and Reefton Trotting Club President Tony Thomas describes the grounds as “a wonderful place to train” with “great facilities, the stabling, the grass track, the all-weather track”.

But should the venue end up being closed in the future, he says he’d have to give up training horses, with the nearest track being in Christchurch.

Waterlea is a freehold property shared equally between Marlborough's gallop and harness clubs.  It costs $180,000 to keep it running each year and members raise money by renting out space to motorhome and caravan groups and a darts club.

It wasn’t identified as a surplus venue in the Messara review, but they have no certainty about the future. 

Thoroughbred Racing New Zealand has decided Waterlea should remain as a venue for now after initially signalling its closure, while Harness Racing New Zealand told 1 NEWS it has no current plans to discontinue racing there.

Waterlea Properties Chairman David Sim believes the proposed changes in the bill are “immoral”.

“It’s hypocritical, it's unjust, it's unfair, and it's just not right”.

Mr Peters says what is important and clear from the over 900 submissions, is to “work our way through a fair process”.

“We can't go on with the same number we've got now in an industry that's in dire straits, it looks like a sunset industry, and we can turn it around. We can't turn it around just following the status quo policies”.

He says hard decisions must be made to fix a $1.6 billion industry in decline.

“In 2020, we can't go on with a structure so expensive that it's eating off its future profits at the cost of the breeders, at the cost of the owners and the cost of the workers in the industry”.

Mr Sim warns the future of any sport “is only as good as the strength of its grassroots”.

“I think you'll find a tremendous disengagement of a large percentage of the population and it could be very much a death nail.

But whether the bill will pass through Parliament might not be known until after September's election.