Few horse racing meets match the Dargaville Racing Club’s notoriously fun picnic event that thousands flock to each year.
This year will be no exception – but it may be the club’s last hurrah before the course is closed following a Government commissioned report which recommends 20 of the 48 courses in the country are closed.
The prospect Dargaville’s race day may fall foul of John Messara’s report recommendations to the Government has angered its current president.
This year the club has spent more than $30,000 on repairs, drainage and maintenance on the track. Hours of volunteer labour, equipment, transport materials and sponsorship has been given by the community for the cause. Fences and a spruce up of the stables, also by volunteers, means the course is ship shape for its upcoming meeting in November.
“It’s a real kick in the guts,” says club president Tim Antonio.
“We worked hard to have our race course.
“We are freehold, pay the rates, insurances and maintain the course and track ourselves, so it costs the New Zealand Racing Board nothing to keep our course open.”
The Dargaville community loves its racing; they have been holding race meetings, whether official or not, for more than 140 years.
Clyclopedia of NZ shows a Dr Frederick Norton was “a judge at the local racing club” in Mangawhare in 1877.
In the early 1900s two day meetings were held at Mangawhare and Dargaville (both had courses and grandstands) and one day meetings were also held at Mititai, Te Kopuru, Kaihu and Maropiu every year.
It is understood the surviving Dargaville Racing Club went into recess for some time before and after the war years, but in 1947, gifted land saw the course developed at Awakino Point where it remains today.
Antonio says the club isn’t having its licence revoked and “it’s likely we could hold our race day at Ruakaka”.
“But this makes no sense since the Racing Board would still pay the stake money, it’s completely illogical.”
“They (Government) are living in a pipe dream if think Dargaville people will travel to Ruakaka. It’s not the same. It’s not ours and doesn’t have the history and atmosphere.”
Describing the industry as in a “deeply distressed state”, Messara recommended the closure of 20 courses, with their land being sold and the proceeds going towards bringing the remaining 28 courses to an acceptable standard.
The closures would begin from the 2019-2020 season, which starts next August, and take place over five years.
The other 19 recommended for closure are Avondale, Thames, Rotorua, Wairoa, Stratford, Hawera, Waipukurau, Woodville, Reefton, Greymouth, Hokitika, Motukarara, Timaru, Kurow, Oamaru, Waimate, Omakau, Winton, and Gore.
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