Ambitious bid to bring Adelaide horse racing back to Victoria Park

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The Victoria Park members’ stand after it had to be moved.

HORSE racing would return to the city under a fresh push that has won the backing of Premier Jay Weatherill and key government ministers.

A group of influential businessmen is spearheading racing’s return to Victoria Park, an outcome supported by the South Australian Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Racing SA.

The move is sure to trigger a robust response from interest groups, which have resisted the return of racing to the city.

It would almost certainly involve the construction of a multi-purpose grandstand to replace the demountable one now used for the Clipsal 500 car race.

Government sources said racing would likely use the stand between October and December and be available for Clipsal and other events such as equestrian and polo.

Mr Weatherill has backed the move, which fits with his city vibrancy agenda, and has asked Racing Minister Leon Bignell to assess its feasibility.

But building a permanent structure in the eastern parklands will trigger a backlash from elements of the community and Adelaide City Council.

It would also require legislative changes, but it is unclear how a stand would be funded.

There have been several failed grandstand proposals from governments and the council over the past 25 years.
A working group has investigated the infrastructure and engineering needs to fit racing into Victoria Park for the first time since 2006, including track size and shape, and lights to enable Friday night racing.

The group includes Adelaide Oval project director David Johnson, of engineering consultancy Mott McDonald; Peter McVann, of property consultants Knight Frank; and architect Caillin Howard of Hames Sharley.

Committee for Adelaide general manager Matt Clemow, who formed the working group, said the success of Adelaide Oval had spurred the group into action.

“The outstanding success of Adelaide Oval has clearly shown the attraction that South Australia offers to the rest of the nation,’’ he said.

“The fundamental question is whether is it possible, seven years on, for (racing to return to Victoria Park).

“The group has looked at the needs of racing and the possibility of night racing and the changes made by council during infrastructure works.

“The SAJC has always maintained they did not want to leave Victoria Park so they are obviously enthusiastic.

“The working group will continue its plans and, through the Committee, will assist both government and council in any way required.”

Lord Mayor Martin Haese said no party had approached the council, adding that “it would seem the “horse has bolted” on the idea of a return to racing at Victoria Park.

Currently, the government has to construct a removable grandstand for the Clipsal 500 each year at a cost of more than $1.5 million, a process that takes up to six months.

Options for the new proposal include the government funding the entire project through to a private build that would involve racing and the Clipsal 500 leasing the site.

Mr Weatherill said racing’s mooted return to Victoria Park fitted with his city vibrancy agenda.

“As part of our strategy for a more vibrant city, we want to reactivate our parklands and I believe that bringing horse ­racing back to Victoria Park is one way we can achieve this,” he said.

“I have asked the Minister for Sport and Racing (Leon Bignell) to work with the SAJC to assess the feasibility of bringing horse racing back to the city.”

Independent minister Martin Hamilton-Smith, who as Liberal opposition leader supported the last push to build a permanent grandstand in ­Victoria Park in 2007, is also backing the move.

The Advertiser has learned that Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has had separate informal talks with Thoroughbred Racing SA about a potential move back to Victoria Park.

TRSA chief executive Jim Watters said: “We’d be delighted to sit down with government and the various authorities to see how this could be possible.”

SAJC chief executive officer Brenton Wilkinson last night said he would “love” to see horseracing return to the heart of Adelaide at Victoria Park.

Construction has already begun for the Clipsal 500 race next March and it is understood management supports construction of a new, permanent structure.