Most of the year Pirongia Golf Course is just that - a golf course.

But each year, for the last 150 years, on Boxing Day it is transformed into a horse racing track.

"It started in 1866 when the club was founded," Ross Ormsby said. "I think it was 1855 when a local hotel started a fun day. It wasn't horse races, it was a pig run, climb the slippery pole, that sort of thing. Then the next year the Finch family, which is still involved today, started what would then become regular horse races."

But it's now in jeopardy. Organisers say increasing amounts of red tape have made it too hard for this small club to navigate.


"The road traffic plan costs a fortune, security... another fortune," secretary Charlie Coles said. "The alcohol scene has changed completely now, as it's a bring-your-own, so that's under new regulations and more strict.

"The whole thing is far more costly. And the event itself, numbers attending have gone down which makes it hard to pay for things as our only real income is at the gate."

Health and safety was taken more seriously than 1866, especially with the risks involved in a horse gallop - another area the committee said was time consuming and expensive.

"The issues we have is we are a small committee trying to run what has become a big event from a regulation point of view," Coles said. "Meeting all regulations and what most people find bureaucratic nonsense most of the time... is it worth it?"

It's known as the Alexandra Race Club because the town was formerly called Alexandra, and locals would be sad to see it go as the Boxing Day races were a highlight of their festive season.

"I've been involved all my life," Keith Ormsby, 80, said. "My parents were involved, and so I used to come to working bees in early days.

"I used to put tea-tree sticks around with string in between and that was a race track.

"All the locals brought a horse along - not racehorses, more a farm hack, but that's what they used to bring along."

Continuing the tradition, Keith's children brought their children along too.

"Yes, there is family history," said his son, Ross Ormsby. "Two or three families have been through 150 years.

"Our Ormsby family have been along probably right from the start wih my great-great-grandfather and on the noticeboard you can see my great-grandfather, grandfather and father are all life members."

As the committee members were getting older, the club hoped the younger generation would keep the races going. But at least this year, the race is all go with preparations well underway.

"Boxing Day in New Zealand is that day where you're either going somewhere or hanging around with all the leftovers from Christmas," Orsmby junior said. "So take the leftovers and have a great day."

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