It would be interesting to know how many New Zealand harness meetings attract a crowd of more than 7000 people on-course these days. Obviously, Cup Day and maybe the Motukarara Christmas meeting, but those are the only ones that come to mind with one exception. Of course, the aforementioned two are in close proximity to major cities, which the other exception most certainly is not.
I recall the first time I went to Omakau, it was in Winter and there were no races on, but I thought I would check out the track. However, there were no signs to indicate where it was, and after travelling up the road that I am now familiar with, for a couple of kilometres, I decided that it couldn’t be that far out of the ‘town’, I turned back and gave up the search.
Yet every year, on 2 January, when things are aligned, over 7000 people turn up for what has to be one of the most successful race meetings on the calendar. Of course, in 2020 and 2021, that alignment was out of kilter with the Ricky May incident, and the subsequent wash out. Ironically, this year it was so hot, officials were checking the temperatures to make sure it was under the maximum allowed for racing to continue. The irony of having to abandon the raceday because of the fine weather would have been too cruel, and given hard working President Graham Sinnamon and his Committee the treble that they were so desperate to avoid.
Who knows why the meeting is so popular, yes it’s a big tourist area, but when you survey the crowd it is obvious that the ‘locals’, if you can call them that, come from many kilometres away to enjoy a fun filled day. To some, it seems insane to keep a race track going for one day a year, but somehow it works, and any thoughts HRNZ might have had of closing it down should have been washed away when CEO Gary Woodham witnessed it first-hand, even lending a hand to erect a tent on the day!