The horses are back in town and the Ōtaki-Māori Racing Club is champing at the bit to get the party started.
Races are on again at Labour Weekend Sunday, October 21, with a full card and all the excitement that’s been a hallmark of Ōtaki racing for more than 130 years. Race day will be a family day that includes entertainment for adults and children.
Club manager Ben Jamison can’t wait.
“It’s been a long few months since we’ve had races here, and we’re keen to show off what a great club this is,” he says. “It will be a grand reopening for us. We’ll have new caterers from a local café and plenty of entertainment.
“We’re back, better than ever.”
The club has been beset by bad luck with the weather and a dodgy track that’s choked the ability to hold meetings since February 4. Ben says the problems go back 15-20 years.
“For a long time the drainage system on the back straight has not been working properly, but it didn’t really show up until we got the sustained period of heavy rain. The only way we could fix it was to have no racing for several months while we worked on the track.
“It was a blow to the club, but we’ve done the work now and we’re back to being one of the best all-weather tracks in the country. It’s in perfect condition for racing.”
Extensive drainage work was done in autumn, from the 800m to 1500m mark, and the annual track renovation has also been completed. The club and NZ Thoroughbred Racing decided to err on the side of caution and keep the track closed until October.
This has allowed the track to consolidate and have a grass surface that provides confidence to participants and punters.
“We would have liked to be back earlier, but we didn’t want to risk undoing the benefits of the work done,” Ben says. “We wanted to make sure the track could play a significant role in central districts racing.”
Meanwhile, a review of the racing industry released recently by Racing Minister Winston Peters saves Ōtaki from the reviewer’s axe. It proposes closing 20 poorly performing tracks of the 48 around the country. The proposal will invest the proceeds from the track sales into the remaining 28 clubs, Ōtaki included.
The minister said the racing industry was in dire straits and he had “no interest in being the Minister of Racing presiding over a dead horse”. (See cartoon over page.)
Ben is adopting a wait-and-see attitude to the review.
“It will benefit the industry as a whole,” he says. “There’s too much cost and not enough profit to carry on as it is. For Ōtaki, we’re not holding our breath. We’re dealing with the cards as they are now.”
He’s concentrating on rebuilding the Ōtaki club with a dual approach of diversifying and getting back to its core values as the world’s only Māori racing club.
“We’ve got plans to upgrade our facilities and get better use out of them, promote our monthly Kāpiti Farmers Market and use some of our land for housing. Plus we’re making efforts to reconnect with our whānau, iwi and community. I’ve got every faith in the club.”