Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Avondale track back in use soon after long break

Avondale Racecourse. Photo / Dean Purcell
Avondale Racecourse. Photo / Dean Purcell

The home straight at Avondale Racecourse will come alive to the sound of thundering hooves and cheering punters next month when racing returns after 20 months.

Financial trouble forced Avondale Jockey Club to stop racing on the 1800m track in July 2010.

However, at the time, club president Ron Murphy said he hoped that racing could resume there after a year without operating losses.

The club will begin racing on Anzac Day, April 25.

The NZ Racing Board's allocation of six fixtures for the season to July 31 includes two dates for trials early this month.

"They are a great family day out and that's what we want to bring back to the area," said club secretary/manager John Craig.

"We are keen to get racing again and it's fortunate that we are being helped by other organisations with the same goal in mind."

One of the dozen West Auckland-based trainers, Davina Waddell, said 60 to 70 horses used the course's training tracks daily.

"There are so many people happy that the racing is going ahead.

"The track has been upgraded and it's very positive for the industry."

Since the suspension, Auckland Council has renewed its lease of 15 sportsgrounds in the course's infield.

The council is giving $18,000 to help the club prepare a "master plan" for the huge area's future use.

A senior council planning officer has been assigned to oversee the progress - in light of high community concern that the grassed area is not carved off for commercial and housing developments.

"The club's master plan will key into what the council is doing with its own master plan for the area so both organisations come together to create something special for Avondale," said Whau Local Board chairman Derek Battersby.

The board supported the club's desire to develop racing and community facilities, Mr Battersby said. "Racing will bring Avondale alive again."

Financial trouble has hobbled the club since before it celebrated its centenary in 1990.

From 22 racedays, the club's share dropped to 13 and on-course betting revenue plunged.

An unsuccessful and expensive venture into night racing and the 1987 stock market crash combined to saddle it with a debt of $8.5 million.

That was down to $2.75 million at an interest rate of 9.5 per cent by July 2010.

By comparison, on-course turnover at the last meeting on the track was $181,000.

The Racing Board started to curb the club's allocation of fixtures on weekends and public holidays to mostly Wednesdays and Fridays, when people had to work.

Seeking more income, the club leased out the infield as a council sports ground and recreational use between the morning's horse training sessions.

It draws $753,000 a year from Sunday market stalls.

WESTERN COURSE

* Founded 1889.
* Last race held July 2010.
* 2012 season: six fixtures
* 15 sports fields inside the track.

- NZ Herald

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