It's time we really thought about racing for what it is.

Not a sport but something to gamble on.

Punters don't care where the races are. That's why we don't need as many racecourses as we have.

The Messara report on (mostly thoroughbred) racing, published 10 days ago recommends the number of courses is reduced from 48 to 28.


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John Messara doesn't go far enough. He should have recommended a number somewhere between 15 and 20, spread evenly across the country.

That means those racecourses which are used will have more resources available to be properly maintained, and therefore should be used more efficiently.

Racing Tauranga at Gate Pa has 12 race days a year. Yes, there is training and stabling, but most of the time, most of the day, that vast expanse at the southern end of Cameron Road just sits there.

Messara recommends that Arawa Park in Rotorua be closed. It's used for 10 meetings a year.

Somehow Te Teko racecourse, home of the Whakatane Racing Club, is spared in the report. It has three meetings a year.

So in the Bay of Plenty region there are 25 days of races a year, two days a month. Yet that action is spread over three courses.

Surely it makes sense to centralise at one.


I'm too new to the area to say which one that should be. But wouldn't it make sense to be close to where the main economic and population centre is?

Messara's recommendation, by the way, is that the Rotorua race days go to the new synthetic track at Cambridge in five years' time.

Racing is not a mass spectator event.

A briefing to Winston Peters as the incoming Minister of Racing by the Department of Internal Affairs last November said there are about 1000 race meetings a year in New Zealand. That's gallops, harness racing and greyhounds.

But, according to that briefing, those thousand meetings attracted less than a million on course spectators, in total. Less than 1000 a day. Take away the big cup days and it doesn't take much to imagine how dire some race days in the smaller centres are.

Racing is conducted for the benefit of those who bet. They are racing's most important people because they pay for it.

Those who bet aren't fussy about where the action is. They just want a TV screen and a computer or a betting counter.

The romantic old notions of communities dressing up in their finery to have a day at the races are all very well. But there has to be horses and those horses have to be paid for.

Unless prizemoney increases, owning a racehorse, which is usually a losing proposition most of the time anyway, becomes an even more unattractive investment.

The other way to increase prizemoney, apart from getting more betting money through the tote, is to centralise racing venues so that clubs don't have to spend money on track and facility maintenance.

If the proposed new synthetic track at Cambridge works as it should, there won't be much need for many of the tracks in the Waikato - Bay of Plenty region by 2023.

In Messara's words, racing is in a state of serious malaise. If it's to have a chance of survival, then parochialism must be put to one side.

The early indications from Rotorua, and from Gore and Greymouth and Oamaru and every other region with a racetrack earmarked for closure, is that local interests are being put before the good of the game.

Some heads will have to be knocked together.