A prominent thoroughbred trainer has vented his outrage at the closure of the Paeroa Racing Club, saying the sport’s governing body was holding a ‘‘gun to our head’’.
Members attending a special meeting this week voted to wind up the 137-year-old club, accepting that it was not financially viable to continue.
The club will host its final meeting next Wednesday and then return the racecourse to its owners, the Barbara Anderson Trust, at the end of the racing season on July 31.
Tony Cole, who trains on the track, placed the blame squarely with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, saying the club had been doomed to fail with the cards it had been dealt, despite the best efforts of club president Richard Fisher, secretary Jennifer Stewart and course manager Brett Green.
‘‘The decision to close was unanimous from the committee and the members, but we had a gun to our head,’’ Cole said yesterday.
‘‘The olive branch that was handed to Paeroa had that many barbs in it that we couldn’t take it.
‘‘There was a $30,000 float offered by NZTR to keep it going till January but if the club fell over, the $30,000 was going to be the first thing that was taken, so they were basically going to take the assets of the club and we wouldn’t have been able to pay Jenn and Brett their redundancy. A gun was put to our head and that was that.’’
Cole said that NZTR had only allocated Paeroa low-key ‘‘industry-day meetings’’ and while the club had done a commendable job with those meetings, there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
‘‘NZTR gave Paeroa the shit end of the stick when they gave them all the Monday meetings and one Wednesday meeting,’’ he said.
‘‘Jenn defied the odds of every secretary and made money out of all the meetings she held, including her trial meetings. She did a wonderful job to keep the place going, skimping and saving wherever she could.
‘‘But she was at the point at the meeting the other night where she had given up. She said it was going to happen next year anyhow so it might as well happen now. We had got no support from NZTR whatsoever.
‘‘For the little bit it would cost to keep that place going, it defies logic what they are doing. They have taken out one of the major trialling, racing and jumping venues in the north and I’m so f..... annoyed. I’m really pissed off.
‘‘Racing cannot afford to lose that venue. Where the hell are you going to put eight trials meetings and eight race meetings, let along your jumping fixtures when you take that place out. It’s an absolute joke.’’
NZTR acting chief executive Campbell Moncur said he was disappointed to learn that the Paeroa club was finishing up.
However, he denied it was NZTR’s doing.
He said Paeroa was one of several clubs in New Zealand which only had industry days and NZTR had offered financial incentives to keep the club going.
‘‘We’re disappointed obviously. We had been working closely with the club leading up to this decision,’’ Moncur said.
‘‘We’d put an offer on the table to help them work through the first six months of next season to keep them going.
‘‘They were going to benefit from an increase of meeting payment funding ... and they would have got the full-year benefit of that, which would have meant an extra $16,000 to the club.
‘‘We were doing as much as we could for the club to try and find a sustainable position for them and we’d worked closely with the club to try and achieve that.’’
Moncur said NZTR would now allocate dates which they had been held for Paeroa for next season to other clubs with the reinstatement of racing and trialling at Avondale an integral part of its planning.
Club secretary Jennifer Stewart said that while she had managed to reduce the annual loss from $150,000 per annum to $18,000 during her six-year tenure, the club’s life expectancy was always short.
The club has struggled financially for many years and was forced to sell the racecourse in 2003 to clear a $700,000 debt and ensure it continued to operate.
The Barbara Anderson Trust paid $900,000 for the racecourse, the deal understood to include a 15-year lease worth $68,000 annually and a sponsorship deal worth $15,000 a year to the club, making Paeroa the only privately-owned racetrack in New Zealand.
Trustee Barbara Richards yesterday said she planned on leaving the racecourse as it was in the hope that racing would return to Paeroa in the future.
‘‘That’s what it’s for. It’s a huge community asset - there’s lots of things that get held there and that was the aim for it,’’ Richards said.
‘‘We bought the land with no involvement in the club whatsoever apart from supporting them. We have not got involved in the club - that was not ever our idea.
‘‘I can’t really comprehend why New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing has let Paeroa go. They need to make a decision on which courses they want to keep active and let the little ones go rather than lose the good ones.’’
Club president Richard Fisher said the club had been operating on ‘‘bare bones’’ and there were no further financial savings it could have made to continue.
‘‘We didn’t have any option. I always said we wouldn’t bow out owing any money and we’ve been pretty close to the edge for the five years that I’ve been there,’’ he said.
‘‘If we tried to do another season, we’d be pushing it too far. I would love to see racing come back to Paeroa but it’s not going to happen the way things are at the moment.
‘‘It’s a shame but in all honesty, I don’t think NZTR wanted us to be there.’’
The club was established during the goldrush days and in the early post-World War II years it was rated as one of New Zealand’s most successful country clubs.
Over the years the Paeroa turf has been graced by some of New Zealand’s most famous gallopers, including Kindergarten, Rising Fast, Sunline and Seachange.
A feature of one of New Zealand’s most picturesque racetracks is its twin-hill steeplechase course.
- © Fairfax NZ News