Cromwell Racecourse Harness Racing Photo supplied

At a time when Cromwell has been confirmed for two new harness racing days, the Central Lakes Equestrian Club (CLEC) which manages the Racecourse Reserve is frustrated with council delays in their efforts to enhance the facilities.

“This is a growing region which is especially popular during the summer and the grass track meetings there (Cromwell) are always great events which attract big fields and a good turnover,” says Harness Racing New Zealand General Manager Racing Catherine McDonald.

Thoroughbred racing will also continue to feature at the racecourse, with Central Otago Racing Club holding its annual meeting on Friday, 25 November, 2022, while Otago Racing Club will host its now famous race meeting at Cromwell on Sunday, 27 November 2022.

The racecourse reserve has historic significance for the district with the traditional running of the Cromwell gallops race meeting for the past 156 years – the oldest course in the country to hold continuous meetings. CLEC, which has managed the reserve since 1999, was formed as a result of the then Cromwell Jockey Club being dissolved.  It is a voluntary organisation, established primarily to promote and foster equestrian activity within Cromwell, wider Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes District. The management document allows for a diverse range of recreational activities – not just horse racing.  It leases the reserve from the CODC for a peppercorn rent.

The Club hosts many activities on the 91.34 hectare reserve, and has made considerable improvements to the facilities, since its inaugural meeting on 22 October 1999.  All funds generated are returned for improvements, including replacement buildings.

It is keen to continue plans to update the facilities, expand its resources and make this wonderful resource a place for the whole community to enjoy.

While keeping its primary focus on equestrian activity, it also hosts first-class Pony Club facilities, schools’ cross country events, field days, Christian Camps and Faith Festivals, cavalcades and hoe-downs, vintage car rallies, horse grazing, sheep grazing, army and police exercises and meetings, music festivals and fetes – it has even been a base for Lord of the Rings horses.

In March 2019, the Club presented a submission to the Cromwell Community Board with a request for financial support for a major irrigation project.  The plan is to harness an existing bore.  Currently there is only enough irrigation for about 6 hectares. The Board adopted the CODC’s recommendation to defer any decision until a Business Plan was produced.  This sowed the seed for the Club to develop a comprehensive 45-page, Business Plan 2020-2030, dated July 2020, outlining the history, existing and planned uses, development and budgets.  

President of the COEC, Wayne Dixon, says that they are still waiting for a decision on Council support for the irrigation project.  The current irrigation system is only adequate for the racetrack area – it cannot supply water for horse grazing, and prevents many developments like shelter belts being established.  Without Council support, the Club cannot go ahead with fundraising for the project.

“We’ve been working with the Council and Community Board for the last three years trying to get support, and it is very difficult to get any traction.  None of the Cromwell representative on the District Council appear willing to advocate on our behalf and, apart from Bob Scott, our local Community Board is not providing any strong support to what we are trying to achieve here.  This is disappointing when the reserve is such a great asset for Cromwell and the wider district.  We just want to get on with it!”