The announcement of funding for two all-weather tracks in New Zealand has been welcomed by the racing industry. Minster for Racing, Winston Peters, announced on Tuesday that the Government has approved $20 million from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) to construct two new synthetic race tracks – at Riccarton Park in Christchurch, and Awapuni in Palmerston North.
Alasdair Robertson, chief executive of RACE Group, who operates both Trentham and Awapuni racecourses, said the announcement couldn’t have come at a better time for racing. “It is something that we have been working on for four or five years,” Robertson said. “We have been very committed to it as part of our masterplan for not only Awapuni but for the Central Districts, and New Zealand racing.
“We have worked really closely with NZTR (New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing) in building that plan. “The fact that Winston has come out and given certainty to it at this time, when we are all in desperate need of assistance, is amazing. “We really couldn’t praise him enough for doing that. His timing has been very important.”
Robertson also acknowledged Peters’ announcement has breathed an air of optimism back into the racing community. “It is going to give hope and optimism to a huge number of people who have been pretty despondent with the TAB situation and COVID-19,” he said. “It is also going to give us the blueprint to grow fantastically into the future. It is very exciting.”
Awapuni began construction a few years ago in preparation for an all-weather track and Robertson is looking forward to finally realising that initial ambition. “Three years ago we built in an inside bend, so we now have a long-course and short-course turf track,” he said. “We did that on the basis that we were getting ready for a synthetic track in the future. “Without doing surveyed measurements, we are looking at a 1700m synthetic all-weather track, it is very exciting.”
Robertson highlighted that the all-weather track would have multiple benefits to Awapuni and its trainers. “It will be a world-class training surface for all types of work and you can also cope with a huge population of horses, which you couldn’t on other surfaces,” he said. “It also gives you another surface for racing. So you are not going to lose race meetings and we are going to have flexibility in our programming.
“It will give Awapuni the opportunity to go from 18 race meetings a year to in excess of 30. “We would be hopeful that with this announcement we can move quickly into detailed design and then construction. “Given the COVID-19 situation, we would be hoping to move as fast as we possibly can.”
Local trainer Gary Vile also welcomed Tuesday’s funding announcement and echoed Robertson’s optimism. “The Minister has always been adamant that we were going to have them (all-weather tracks) and we have to get in behind the Minister in his decision and the club and make it work.”
Vile said he hasn’t had any experience training or racing on synthetic tracks in the past, but he is looking forward to integrating the new surface into his training routine. “I have spoken to a lot of people who have used them and they are getting better and better. The tracks they are putting in now are just state of the art,” he said. “It will be an assistance to all of us in our training and racing. We will have to learn to race on them, but it will certainly be great for the club being able to have more meetings here. “I am really looking forward to it.”
Vile said he would sleep better tonight, admitting he was a bit apprehensive about the future this morning. “The Minister has announced a great package today and some might say it’s a saviour,” he said. “And with all the changes that RITA are going to be making over the next few months, they are hard decisions, but they have got to be made to make us viable. “It certainly has added an air of optimism to the industry, I am happy now. I was a little bit apprehensive this morning not knowing what was going on.”