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Avondale racecourse set to reopen

JULIAN RAETHEL
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2013
John Craig
JULIEN RAETHEL/Fairfax NZ
FRESH START: Avondale Jockey Club secretary John Craig is excited for the future.

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And they're off.

The riders, horses and punters at the Avondale Jockey Club are ready to go for their February Race Day after being out of action for more than two years.

The Avondale Racecourse reopens on Monday after the club, which has a history that spans over 120 years, was forced to close in 2010 due to a lack of crowd numbers and debt to the tune of $2.7 million.

Club secretary John Craig is excited about the fresh start: "Everyone's really happy to be back," he said.

"Avondale has always had a good reputation and it's going to be exciting times for us to re-establish ourselves as a major racing venue."

Avondale Markets and sports clubs used the grounds during the closure and filled some financial holes.

However, the club is still in debt after only paying the interest rate from its loan.

Craig is confident the club now has the right plan in place to tackle the debt with the assistance of stakeholders, Auckland Council and the Whau Local Board.

"We've sat down with businesses and the council to understand their vision for the future of the Avondale area so we can devise a plan to align with that," he said.

Whau Local Board chairman Derek Battersby said the club would be a key economic earner for the area.

"It's not just about the punters, but also about getting families to come along too.

"If we can get weekend racing back to what it was at Avondale, it can play a vital role in the community."

The club intended to return to business last April but track renovations timed with an unusually wet winter in 2011 made it impossible.

Craig said it had been a tough ride for all racing clubs in New Zealand.

"We always intended on coming back and we needed to review our structure.

"All clubs were struggling to some degree at the time. Horse racing as a whole was losing money," he said.

Veteran jockey Mark du Plessis is looking forward to hitting the turf at Avondale again.

"It was one of the first tracks I raced on after I moved over from Zimbabwe back in 1998.

"I recently had a test gallop there in August, the track was a bit heavy but it is beginning to look good and it's one that should be used more often.

"I haven't won an Avondale Cup yet and will be looking to do that," Du Plessis said.

The Avondale Cup was shifted to Ellerslie Racecourse for the last few meets which Craig said was necessary.

"Because we've been closed unfortunately people have had to travel further to either Ellerslie or Pukekohe Park.

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"But both Auckland and Counties clubs have been very supportive and it's helped reaffirm that family atmosphere between all three of us in Auckland."

- Western Leader

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