Riverton races still drawing big crowds

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Crowds at the Riverton Races last weekend. Photo: Laura Smith

RAIN did not keep the crowds away from the Riverton Easter Carnival with large crowds attending both races at the Riverton Racecourse.

Riverton Racing Club president Barry Leith said the attendance at Saturday’s and Monday’s races showed there was a case for the track to remain open.

On Saturday alone he estimated between 4000 and 5000 people attended the races, despite the inclement weather.

Wayne Cockburn, of Palmerston North, said he was enjoying the races and his time down south.

“I actually find the South Island people here friendlier than the North Island people.”

The event included a range of entertainment, including children’s activities, magic shows and the fashion in the field competition.

Competitor Virginia Pile, of Invercargill, who was a finalist, said she expected the crowd to be large, despite the proposed future closure of the racecourse.

“I haven’t been in years… That’s actually why I decided to come.”

The featured race, the Carriers Arms Hotel Riverton Cup, had a total prize of $60,000, with the winner pocketing $37,500.

Held just before 4pm, hometown mare Lil Miss Swiss, ridden by Tanya Jonker, came with a storming finish to cause a big upset. Trained by Aimee and Kelvin Tyler, the five-year old mare beat the favourite, Orepuki Lad.

Steven Moffett, of Christchurch, who brought three horses to the Riverton Easter Carnival races, said, “It’ll be a pity to see a track like this close… [there’s a] good crowd here too.”

Balclutha-based horse owner and trainer Rodd McKenzie said he was waiting to see the fine print of the proposed track closure.

“We’ve got to change from how it is now, it’s not sustainable now… let’s just wait and see basically.

“Any change is a challenge, but with change comes opportunity.”

Mr Moffett said he had been coming to the Riverton Racecourse for years, “Southland racing is completely different, it’s got it’s own character.”

A New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing discussion paper proposed to close the track in 2024. The paper earmarked 21 tracks nationwide to be axed as part of rationalising the number of thoroughbred racecourses. Riverton was one of those.

Mr Leith said on-course betting on Saturday and Monday had beaten the takings for Saturday races in Auckland and Monday races in Rotorua.

“That gives an indication of this course’s popularity. We are punching well above our weight.”

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