Optimism for the future of Waterlea Racecourse

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The horseracing community in Marlborough is feeling more upbeat after showing the thoroughbred chief executive how important their venue is to the top of the south.

More than 40 people turned out to discuss thoroughbred racing at Waterlea Racecourse in Blenheim, with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) chief executive Bernard Saundry on Thursday.

Saundry was visiting clubs across the country to discuss a proposal that could end thoroughbred racing at Waterlea Racecourse, amid national consolidation of tracks following last year’s Messara Report, which urged the industry to “reform or die”.

Waterlea Racecourse in Blenheim is owned 50:50 by the Marlborough Racing Club and the Marlborough Harness Racing Club, which has its own national authority.
RICKY WILSON/STUFFWaterlea Racecourse in Blenheim is owned 50:50 by the Marlborough Racing Club and the Marlborough Harness Racing Club, which has its own national authority.

Marlborough Racing Club chairman John O’Brien said he believed Saundry was unaware how important the racecourse was, on the main route between the North and South islands.

“He’s got a big job to do, he’s Australian, he’s only been here a year, and this was the first time he’d been to Blenheim,” O’Brien said.

“We did actually explain the economics of Marlborough and showed him the development that’s happening here. He’s taking all that into account.”

More than 40 people turned out to hear NZTR's proposal and voice their thoughts.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFFMore than 40 people turned out to hear NZTR’s proposal and voice their thoughts.

Saundry said it was clear there was “a lot of history here” and “a strong passion” for racing in Marlborough, and the welfare of horses going onto and coming off the ferries at Picton was a hot topic at the meeting.

“Blenheim is an important transition area for horses between the North and South islands,” Saundry said.

And the club would like to be in there celebrating their 100th anniversary.”

However, O’Brien said he was under the impression Riccarton would not allow the club its traditional Sunday meet there, as it held the Riccarton Rotary Market on a Sunday.

“The whole exercise is to reduce costs to owners and increase turnover at meetings, their whole thing driving this is to have race meetings held at areas with high horse populations and secondly a high population base … and the transport costs for owners to transport horses to meetings are reduced,” O’Brien said.

“Some smaller clubs need work to upgrade their facilities and in many cases the tracks haven’t had any money spent on them. But that doesn’t include Marlborough. Our tracks are always in pretty good order.”

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry is visiting clubs nationwide to discuss a consolidation proposal.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFFNew Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry is visiting clubs nationwide to discuss a consolidation proposal.

Saundry said he would take the key messages to the NZTR board for consideration, along with the submissions due by March 19.

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