As the Avondale Jockey Club’s 2018/19 racing season comes to a close – the last race meeting of the season was on Wednesday 10 July – it is a good time to look at how the racing surface has performed.
In September 2018, we conducted drainage work on the track to overcome excessive wetness in areas of the 1600m chute and 1400m start point. Racing on Wednesday 10 July was the best test of our new surface. With a Heavy 10 rating on the day, the quality of the mile chute and the 1400m areas were consistent with the conditions in the back straight. We couldn’t have asked for a better result, the investment in the track has paid off beautifully.
The improvements to the Avondale track come at a time when the Messara Review has many pondering the future of thoroughbred racing in New Zealand. The draft recommendation that the industry’s governing body, NZTR, has tabled is the closure of a large number of racetracks to reallocate financial resources.
In Avondale Jockey Club’s case, this proposal involves reducing the number of races allocated to Avondale Jockey Club over the coming years, with no race licences allocated to the club in the 2024/25 season. The future of the club hinges on the allocation of race licences. Without them, the future of the club is in question.
But what would selling one of the best tracks in the country achieve? The politically correct response appears to be – to provide a reallocation of financial resources. It may mean the sale of a brilliant grass track to help fund proposed new infrastructure including three all-weather, synthetic racetracks in regional areas. But for whose gain? Avondale Jockey Club’s submission to NZTR on its Draft Venue Plan presented overseas evidence to show that in New Zealand the optimum number of synthetic tracks would be TWO, not three; one in the North Island and one in the South Island.
While closing a metropolitan racetrack that represents a hundred years of development and fine-tuning – and performs excellently – to build new and synthetic tracks might satisfy some industry participants, it certainly isn’t the silver bullet some in horse racing suggest it is.
Others who have been involved in racing for a long time say maintaining a viable and sustainable industry is more complex than that.
“The more grass tracks you take away, the more pressure you put on the other ones,” said one trainer.
The view of those we talked to is Avondale provides a very fair and competitive race surface. While the Trainers Association is against the Avondale Jockey Club venue, there are trainers who are adamant that reducing races at Avondale and closing the track won’t solve the viability issue. “We need Avondale. Taking races from Avondale would actually cause more problems to trainers and industry participants.”
NZTR Chief Executive Bernard Saundry talks about millions of dollars that are lost to the industry as a result of abandoned races and how synthetic tracks would go a long way to providing certainty for trainers and owners. Race abandonments are something rarely known to happen at Avondale. History demonstrates this well. The last was a partial abandonment in April 2015.
Opponents to Avondale’s retention talk about how hard it is to get there. But trainers are constantly sending their horses around the country, much further than the distance to Avondale and to tracks that are not as high quality. A Waikato trainer said, “In my view, the excuse that Avondale is hard to get to just doesn’t fly and these people are not thinking deeply enough about the repercussions to the industry of losing Avondale”.
One theme that comes up when you talk to senior trainers is this: Avondale is a big open track that provides fair racing and gives horses, regardless of the distance, every chance of winning – something that is hard to find these days!
*photo by raceimages.co.nz