Grass-roots trot club upsizes
Whangarei Racing Club says its track expansion will benefit the region's economy and keep the club viable in the long term.
The club, based at Ruakaka, plans to do the redevelopment this year.
It involves building another grass race track inside the existing one at an estimated cost of $900,000.
A $200,000 grant and potential $100,000 loan from the Whangarei District Council for the project drew flak from some ratepayers, who questioned the council's support of the multimillion-dollar industry.
But club president Dean Logan says the Whangarei Racing Club is a non-profit incorporated society which benefits the local community.
A number of charities use race days to raise money, such as surf life saving clubs, schools, Lions clubs and St John.
A number of community groups like One Tree Point Pony Club, Bream Bay College, Northland Regional Council and emergency service groups also use the facilities at no charge.
The development will mean the venue can host more races and more trials, with a potential economic impact to the region of $2.1 million a year.
This includes more spectators, trainers, horse owners and staff coming into the area for the events.
But Mr Logan says the expansion will also have a long-term impact on the number of trainers and horses that can be based at Ruakaka, plus associated businesses like farriers and transport companies.
About 100 horses train at Ruakaka permanently but that number could double with the extra capacity provided by the track expansion.
There is also an opportunity for more elite horses to be trained at Ruakaka during the winter months, when the venue's unique sand base does not get bogged down like other grass bases.
Already some horses racing in the likes of the Melbourne Cup and Auckland Cup are based in Ruakaka during winter, says Karen Houlihan, who is in charge of the club's finance and strategic projects.
The project is all about the long-term viability of the club and ensuring the track doesn't close, she says.
"We decided if we wanted to stay a strategic racing venue and a strategic training venue we have to expand.
"We really want to keep racing in Northland," she says.
But Ms Houlihan says the club is "grass roots" and is far removed from the million-dollar horse sales seen on television.
"If you have a horse like that it's like winning Lotto - that's the chances of it," she says.
Half of the funding for the redevelopment will come from the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Board.
The club has also applied for an $80,000 grant from the Government's Racing Safety Development Fund.