New Zealanders need to be realistic about the closure of racing track venues said Winston Peters.
The Minister of Racing told The Country's Jamie Mackay that although Australasians are "very proud" of the horse racing industry, "we've got to stop putting our head in the sand and start facing reality."
"A lot of race courses ... theyr'e hanging on but they can't survive."
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) is proposing to close 21 venues by 2030 - leaving them with just 27.
However, they say it has nothing to do with the Messara Review last year which suggested the reduction.
Thoroughbred Racing chief executive, Bernard Saundry told Mike Hosking the move has been in the pipeline for some time.
"We started this work three years ago around what should the future footprint of racing tracks look like in the future, so any outcomes or advice form the Ministerial Advisory Committee will be factored in."
Saundry said he was aware there could be pushback to the proposal but they have to think about the future.
"We've got a lot of passionate people across the industry, who have worked hard over the years, but we have to all acknowledge that the market has changed."
"We've got ageing infrastructure and we need to improve it not only for our horses but also our customers."
He said digital technology has changed the racing landscape.
"Today there are multiple ways you can watch racing. You can watch it in pubs and clubs, you can watch it on TV at home, digital devices are a growing use for racing customers and, of course, you can still watch on the course."
Saundry said they will be engaging with locals clubs and are seeking feedback about what they think of the proposal.
However, President of the Westland Race Club, Gray Eatwell told Kate Hawkesby this is a "foolhardy" proposal.
He said there should have been more discussion before the proposal was made public.
"We feel the proposal is rather draconian, in that we should have had this discussion before...because we want to help remedy the financial issues they are fearing and we feel we can."
"When they talk about, we've had submissions go in [well] they seem to have been put in a drawer somewhere and they've carried on with their own plan, which I think it absolutely foolhardy."
"We can be part of the solution, we are not the problem and that's what we wanted to put to them, but putting this report in the way is going to make this more difficult than it needs to be."
The NZTR plan would leave just nine tracks in the South Island. Eight tracks south of Timaru would close.
The Messara report proposed seven tracks in the South be closed to thoroughbred racing: Timaru, Kurow, Oamaru, Waimate, Omakau, Winton and Gore.
Wingatui, Ashburton, Ascot Park [Invercargill], Cromwell, Waikouaiti and Riverton would remain open.
Under the NZTR proposal, Gore would remain open but Riverton and Waikouaiti would close, along with the other six venues.
Unsustainable costs for owners, participants and the wider racing industry had prompted NZTR to investigate a better network of racecourses, a media release said yesterday.
The plan suggests 27 tracks remain in use by 2030, which is one fewer than the Messara report proposed.
"While NZTR agrees with the Messara report that a reduction of venues is required, having already undertaken substantial work in this area over some years we have a view of how this could look," Saundry said.
"Despite the best intentions of committed and passionate volunteers, many of New Zealand's racing venues are in urgent need of major development.
"Spending is required to bring infrastructure up to standard and to meet health and safety obligations. An upgrading of venues will also improve the punter experience by providing better and more consistent track surfaces."
Some damning statistics are provided in the venue plan. The foal crop had dropped by 22 per cent in the past 10 years and the number of starters had dropped by more than 18 per cent in 10 years.
Domestic betting turnover had dropped by 14 per cent in the past 10 years and on-course attendance was down by 22 per cent in the past six years.
The first step in the plan was an initial proposal for 10 clubs not be allocated licences next season.
They include clubs at Dargaville, Thames and Wyndham which are racing at other venues this season. The other affected venues are Wairoa, Stratford, Blenheim, Reefton, Hokitika, Waimate and Winton.
NZTR anticipates that those clubs which lose their traditional venues would continue to race at an alternative track.
There would be a new structure around premier centres, regional centres, supporting venues and community venues.
A key aspect of the proposed NZTR venue plan is that all clubs in New Zealand would have an approved and appropriate venue at which to race.
"We see a future for every club," Saundry said.
NZTR will conduct meetings with stakeholders over the coming weeks.
The deadline for feedback is March 19.
with Newstalk ZB and Steve Hepburn, Otago Daily Times