Racing: Opinions polarised as racetrack calls it a day

By Mike Dillon

High Season takes the final fence at Paeroa. The course has a steeplechase hill along the same lines as the Ellerslie hill. Photo / Alan Gibson
High Season takes the final fence at Paeroa. The course has a steeplechase hill along the same lines as the Ellerslie hill. Photo / Alan Gibson

Writing has been on the wall for some time at Paeroa Racing Club which staged its first meeting in 1892.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing CEO Greg Purcell refuses to accept that NZTR played any part in the closure of Paeroa as a racing club and racing venue.

An insolvent Paeroa Racing Club will conduct its last race meeting after 120 years on Wednesday.

As expected the announcement has polarised opinion on what should have happened.

Purcell took over his position last year and after a three-month study did a nationwide tour announcing strategies, which included background support for struggling clubs, but a clear directive that clubs could continue racing only if the local communities through sponsorship and voluntary labour could create the financial landscape.

The clear message was the NZTR bin was empty and clubs could not expect to be propped up with industry funds.

Paeroa was effectively doomed at that point, if not long before.

Nine years ago a cash-strapped Paeroa sold the course to the Barbara Anderson Family Trust for $900,000 to pay a $700,000 bill.

Last year Paeroa approached NZTR with the news the club was virtually insolvent. NZTR offered a $35,000 line of credit, which was required to be paid back immediately if the club ceased racing.

On Wednesday, 38 members of the club voted unanimously to shut down the club.

Jennifer Stewart, who specialises in assisting businesses with financial problems, took over Paeroa six years ago. She told the Herald yesterday that while being able to cut the annual loss from $150,000 at one point to $16,000, she knew some time back the game was up.

"We had a run at building a trust fund to buy the track off the Anderson Family Trust. We probably could have got to $1.2 million, but the trust wanted $2 million. The rateable value is $1.9 million."

Greg Purcell said NZTR was very disappointed Paeroa found itself unable to continue. "We were very keen for the club to continue, but everyone knew the rules. It's a very difficult trading environment for clubs out there. We did what we could to support the club and the simple fact is that Paeroa has lost money nine out of the last 10 years.

"The local community needed to support the club to a greater level."

The Paeroa Racing Club, originally the Ohinemuri Racing Club, staged its first official meeting on the now doomed track in 1892.

Asked if she felt the end result was always going to be closure, Jennifer Stewart said: "No. I go away thinking I've had my first failure."

- NZ Herald

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