‘No support’ for jump racing

Tai Ho in full flight during the Great Western Steeplechase at the 2019 Riverton Races. The steeplechase will not be on the race card this year. Photo: Wild Range Photography

THE Riverton races next Thursday will sadly be less of a spectacle than usual with both the Great Western Steeplechase and the Great Western Hurdles not taking their place on the eight-race card.

In recent years there had been a decline in the number of horses put into jumps training in the South Island, as well as a shortage of jump jockeys, trainers and owners.

These shortages were impeded by the lack of jump races scheduled by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) and the poor prizemoney allocated to jump races.

Fewer opportunities for jumpers involved more travel to NZTR’s preferred venues which meant more costs for owners, leaving only the most passionate still owning and training jumpers in the South Island.

Some South Island steeplechase horses will be ready to race in winter with the Grand National Carnival at Riccarton, Christchurch, and Great Northern in Auckland in spring being the main events for the jumpers to aim for.

Not helping Riverton while jump racing was in decline, was having the 2018 event cancelled due to track conditions and the 2020 event canned because of Covid-19.

The first official running of the Great Western Steeplechase was in 1907. The illustrious history of the race on what is still regarded as one of the best steeplechase courses in the country, is recorded in Don Wright and Michael Sheridan’s book Jumping to Glory, which was published for the 100th anniversary of the race in 2006.

President Mike McCurdy said there was no support for jump racing from above.

“There is a lot working against it and NZTR are only interested in maximising betting turnover (from gambling) and we are in their hands.”

Jump races generally attracted less punting and therefore less profit for NZTR.

The Riverton Club punched above its weight with a motivated committee and sponsors; the club had a successful race day on January 1 by boosting prize money using $30,000 of its own money.

The two-day Easter Carnival was always successful; Easter Saturday regularly had more punting on course than the Auckland races on the same day.

McCurdy said horse numbers were looking good for the eight races scheduled for next Thursday.

Improvements had been made to most of the course in recent years, including a new plastic running rail and an irrigation system for the racetrack, upgrading the jockeys’ rooms and the stabling facilities for the horses and trainers.