A senior New Zealand horse trainer is about to be turfed from his Awapuni stables without explanation.
Gary Vile, who had a distinguished training career spanning almost 40 years, was last Friday given notice that he had 10 days to vacate a racecourse barn he had occupied since it was purpose-built for him in 2008. He was first given non-renewal notice of lease in February.
The 64-year-old says he has tried to engage in mediation with landlord RACE. The sport's governing body New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing said it had engaged with RACE in an unsuccessful attempt to seek mediation for a resolution.
RACE is the trading name for Racing at Awapuni and Trentham Combined Enterprise Incorporated, an umbrella corporate entity for the Awapuni Partnership of Racing Clubs.
RACE told the Horowhenua Chronicle the situation was simply a non-renewal of lease, and would not comment further.
Vile said the situation was developing into a welfare issue for the 24 horses as he had yet to make alternative stabling arrangements.
He said he was gobsmacked when first given non-renewal notice of lease in February. He said he had initially avoided publicity on the issue in anticipation of a resolution.
"I've kept it quiet for the betterment of racing. It's the game I love. But there's no point now in holding back," Vile said.
RACE originally built a $320,000 barn to house 30 horses in 2008 specifically with Vile's tenure in mind. He said he was at the forefront of its design.
Vile said he had never signed a lease agreement with RACE.
"I thought they'd carry me out of here one day in a pine box," he said.
"I thought I was part of the furniture... this has come as a real shock. It's been a horrible experience that I wouldn't wish on anyone."
Vile said the ordeal was taking its toll on his health. He was at a loss at how to explain the situation to his clients and owners.
"It's very stressful. I live for my horses. I worry about my horses. Will I lose business over this? I probably will," he said.
"You try and support racing and get people involved... this is the crazy thing. Every time I race a horse I am supporting New Zealand racing. I'm paying ACC and employing staff."
As a tenant he had paid about $2600 a month in rent to RACE since 2008, monthly track fees that were currently set at $139 per horse, and rented a horse walker at more than $400 a month.
Vile said it has not been fully explained to him why RACE was choosing not to renew his lease. He said whatever issue RACE had could be resolved through mediation.
"I honestly thought... this would all be sorted out through mediation," he said.
He said there was no question of misconduct or criminal wrongdoing.
RACE chief executive Tim Saville said it did not have to give justification for not renewing a lease.
"We have not terminated the lease. It has expired and hasn't been renewed," he said.
"We are entitled to do what we have done."
The issue has prompted Ōhau horseman Peter McKenzie to come out in support of Vile.
"What do they expect him to do? What do they think will happen here?" he said.
"From a welfare point of view, how could you seriously explain a decision to expel one of their best clients and refuse point-blank to talk with him?"
He said in his opinion it was "absolute nonsense".
McKenzie had encouraged the NZ Trainers Association to flex some muscle on the issue.
The association sent an email to RACE through its executive Wendy Cooper that said it was "of the strongest view" that the issue should go to arbitration.
The email, seen by the Horowhenua Chronicle, said Vile had the full support of the association. Although a lease was never signed, there had been 14 years of receipt of lease, which would indicate an intent for a long-held lease agreement.
It also noted Vile was not found to be in breach of any rules of racing.
McKenzie said terms of the lease were being applied to terminate the lease, yet a lease agreement was never finished or signed.
"It has terms that state it is an annual lease, as well, it has two further dates of termination and a monthly term," he said.
"The original intention of the parties, RACE and Gary Vile, was clearly to provide a racing barn for the long-term occupation of Gary Vile.
"Where do they expect Gary Vile to go with his horses?"
He said the industry could ill-afford to lose trainers like Vile. He said the sport's governing body New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR), which has relied on Government support, must intervene and be seen to support a long-time participant.
NZTR had a moral obligation to support Vile's wellbeing and the wellbeing of his animals, he said.
"Gary Vile does not deserve this," he said.
In an email to McKenzie, NZTR chief executive Bruce Sharrock said RACE was entitled at any time to exclude anyone from what was private property.
"NZTR has engaged with RACE in an attempt to seek mediation for a resolution... they have declined, which is their right," Sharrock said.
"It is in my view that NZTR is not the body to mediate disputes, beyond what it has to date, between industry participants, as these are clearly private commercial matters between parties.
"Correspondence between us on this subject is otherwise closed."
Vile said he supported Awapuni by racing horses there whenever possible, and 191 of his 562 career winners had come on his home course, including four Manawatū Cups. The only major local race to elude him was the Sires Produce Stakes.
He first began training horses in Taranaki in his early 20s, moving to Awapuni 25 years ago. He said he couldn't imagine doing anything else.
Meanwhile, with the 10-day notice due to expire on Monday, he said he had no Plan B yet.