Tauranga's richest and most glamorous sporting event, the $285,000 Bayleys International Raceday next Saturday, has been shifted to Matamata after a fungal disease brought on by humid weather killed grass on the racetrack.
It was one of two meetings shifted to out-of-town racecourses by Race Tauranga. The first meeting today, which normally attracted 1500 racegoers, was being raced at Rotorua's Arawa Park.
The discovery of patches of dying grass on the racetrack last Sunday led to New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing prohibiting racing on the track until the areas had been re-grassed.
''The decision was taken out of our hands,'' Race Tauranga chairman Rob Weatherley said.
The international race day on March 24, famous for the running of the Japan New Zealand International Trophy, would transfer to Matamata.
''We are immensely disappointed,'' Weatherley said. ''It is the one meeting of the year that we build up to, and for this to happen is extremely disappointing.''
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing decided the safety of the horses and jockeys was paramount and it was not prepared to put either at risk, he said.
''It preferred to be seen to be proactive and make the call earlier rather than be reactive and go into damage control.''
Weatherley said the fungal spores appeared to have drifted over from the Tauranga Golf Club where the fairways had been sprayed for the disease. The golf club greenkeeper identified the fungal disease as the culprit pretty much straight away.
''But not having seen it before, we were at a disadvantage. We were unaware it even existed.''
The biggest impact on Race Tauranga would be shifting the Japan New Zealand International meeting to Matamata. The total prize money would remain at $285,000.
''It is our flagship meeting where we have a lot of sponsors and functions.''
Crowds reached 5000 at the meeting, which featured a full day of top thoroughbred racing with off-course activities including the prestigious Fashion in the Field.
He said Matamata could not provide the same amenities that racegoers were accustomed to in Tauranga. Although Racing Tauranga would still run the meeting, it was scaling back a lot of things, and there would be no Fashion in the Field.
''But that is racing and this year has been very difficult around the country, with a lot of abandoned or cancelled meetings.''
Racing Tauranga expected to break even or make a small profit on its Matamata meeting, but overall income would certainly suffer, he said.
Weatherley was reasonably confident track undersowing and spraying meant Tauranga Racecourse would host the April 26 meeting.
Feature races at Bayleys International Raceday
- Group 2 Windsor Park Stud Japan New Zealand International Trophy
- Drymix Cement Bay of Plenty Cup
- Triton Pacific Owens Plate