By Michael Guerin
One of the key people behind saving Manawatu harness racing says it is now up to the region to prove harness racing belongs there.
The Manawatu Harness Racing Club has won back 10 dates for next season after initially being passed over in the first draft calendar.
Some of those meetings will be mini-meetings run in conjunction with the local greyhound club at Palmerston North while harness racing in the Central Districts will also have two four-race programmes run on galloping days at Otaki and Tauherenikau.
MHRC president Dan Lynch says the club is thrilled to get some dates back but they realise this is only a starting point.
“It is up to us now to prove we can make harness racing work here,” says Lynch.
“We were given a fair hearing by HRNZ and the RITA dates committee. That is what we wanted and they listened.
“And that has been the story of the entire process. We wanted a chance to make our case and we go it.
“So the ball is in our court now.”
Lynch says the support of the local greyhound club, through Paul Freeman and also GRNZ’s Michael Dore was a big help as well.
“We have always had a good relationship with the greyhound club and both they and GRNZ are supportive of us.
“They told us they would work in anyway they can to help us on the dual code days, including trying to move meetings or even start theirs earlier to accomodate the harness.”
MHRC own their racetrack and Lynch says that gives them revenue options for the future.
“We have some land here we may not need and the local council has expressed interest in that as the city starts to spread out.
“So we have options there for developing another revenue stream.”
Interest in harness racing is still strong in the area, with many of the strong local thoroughbred community supporting the code.
“A lot of the gallops people have a share or interest in harness horses.
“I think at our last couple of meetings around 50 per cent of the horses who started are trained in the Central Districts so we think it is important to keep those people, and the horses, in the industry.
“But it is up to us now to make that work. That is why the mini meetings we have programmed for February and March, which will be on the back of greyhound meetings, really interest us.
“They mean we can share the expenses of running the meeting between the two clubs but giving the local horses chances to race locally.”
Lynch would also like to see a form of training internship run at the Manawatu track for a trainer from outside the area who wanted to base a race team their for the summer.
“We are willing to support a trainer or trainers who wanted to base horses here over the busier period of our season, find some horses for them to train and charge them no track or stabling fees.
“So if somebody out there is interested in that they should get in contact with us.”
So after their one-year reprieve, what chance does harness racing have of surviving long-term in the Central Districts?
“That is up to us and we have been given a chance so we are going to do our best with that,” says Lynch.
The club’s first meeting for the new season will be in November.