The stars have aligned as Matariki coincides with what could evolve into a special event on the New Zealand racing calendar.
Ōtaki-Māori Racing Club - the only Māori racing club in the world - will stage its first Matariki race meeting tomorrow.
What would ordinarily be a standard midweek meeting for the club now had the potential to become an iconic whanau-friendly event, and a chance for the club to celebrate its own unique heritage.
ŌMRC general manager Ben Jamison said the club had suggested to New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing it host a meeting on that date.
"It goes hand in hand with what we stand for," he said.
Because Matariki would be observed at different dates every winter, he hoped there would be flexibility in the scheduling of annual race dates to ensure its ongoing success.
"We are hoping it is the first of many with an opportunity to promote the sport, our club and to celebrate Matariki," he said.
That would involve kaumatua performing karaikia at stages of the day and the possibility of a performance from a kapa haka group and an on-course hangi, too.
The club was unique in that committee members whakapapa (genealogy) to iwi (tribes) within its rohe (region), being Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa and Te Ati Awa. In observing tikanga (protocol) it was effectively governed by representation of those three iwi.
It was formed in 1886, initially holding race meetings at the nearby beach before shifting to the present course in the early 1900s.
Jamison, who was shoulder-tapped to take up the post of general manager in 2017, said it was an honour and also a challenge in a changing social environment.
From a racing perspective, the past 20 years had seen a continuing decline in the number of people attending midweek race meetings, he said.
"It's an uphill battle, especially for the smaller clubs. You only get the brave ones, but it is an ever-increasing problem regardless of the time of year," he said.
Ōtaki-Maori Racing Club was like many clubs nationwide facing challenges of changing social trends and a governing body focused on centralisation.
Jamison said clubs were overseeing increasingly valuable land and assets, but returns from staging industry race meetings were falling.
"Quite a lot are asset rich and cash poor," he said.
There were only a handful of iconic rural race meetings on the racing calendar that had the magic to draw big crowds, like the Kumara Gold Nuggets, the early January meeting at Tauheranikau, and Boxing Day meetings at Westport and Awapuni.
There was pressure on small racing clubs to remain viable. Clubs were forced to evolve and explore other revenue streams, with the intent of fostering and enhancing the sport and ensuring the clubs' longevity.
Jamison said the answer was not to sell off land, but to partner with other organisations in facilitating non-racing pursuits, to maximise the use of those facilities outside of racing.
"It's very easy to sell off land and have it sucked up in operational costs. We want to invest in the future, and look at how we can use it to the best of its ability," he said.
He said the club was up to the challenge.
"The thing I enjoy most in this environment is ensuring the legacy of our tupuna (ancestors), all previous committee members, staff, and officials, is safeguarded, and that the efforts they made in the past are not wasted," he said.
"One particular kupu we focus on at the Ōtaki-Maori Racing Club is manaakitanga - which embodies kindness, generosity, and support. It essentially outlines the process of being kind to people, and they will be kind in return."
Meanwhile, the club was opening the Members Stand to the public tomorrow. Entry to the course would be by gold coin donation. Gates open at 11am.