It's coming home - to Riverton
By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk
Nearly a quarter of a century after last racing there, the Riverton Trotting Club will return home on Sunday.
Forty kilometres from Invercargill, the "Riviera of the South", as its affectionately known, will host 10 races including the two features, the $20,000 Riverton Rural Transport Riverton Cup and the Neville Cleaver Fishing Handicap Trot, both worth $20,000.
"We have been very keen to get back to Riverton and grass track racing," says Riverton Trotting Club Past President Bruce Stewart, "and we have had great support from the Riverton Racing Club who will help out on the day, as well as a lot of local people and sponsors."
Stewart has been a key figure in pushing for Riverton's co-called "back to the grass" meeting. It will mark the first time in 24 years since standardbreds last raced on the course, and even then there were just two races as it was part of a dual code meeting with the thoroughbreds.
Paying over $60, Double Damn, trained by Brian O’Connor and driven by Alan Broomhall, won the first race, with the Maurice Kerr-trained and driven Glenburn Prince taking out the second.
Now that the Riverton Trotting Club has the day all to itself, there's been a lot of hard work to get the track race day ready.
"We had some issues with the crossing - there was a dip in it - but that has been rectified and the track has been inspected and we've had the sign off from John Denton (HRNZ's Track and Venue Inspector)," says Stewart.
The track is the same surface as used by the gallopers, though "the pylons will be out three and a half metres."
There will be six 1940 metre mobiles that will start halfway down the Riverton straight, while the standing starts will begin at the 2000 and 2800 metre marks.
The meeting has attracted top southern trainers/drivers including the Williamsons (Phil, Nathan, Matthew and Brad), Kirstin Green and Craig Ferguson as well as the country's leading driver Blair Orange.
It's one of two harness racing meetings in the South Island on Sunday, with Methven's 11 race programme getting underway at 12.10pm.
The first recorded harness races at Riverton were in 1961. In that year the Riverton Handicap, with a stake of $300, was a non-totalisator event won by Direct Victory, trained and driven by Gil Shirley. Shirley, a Southland racing stalwart, died in 2016, aged 84.
In the recent past the Riverton Trotting Club has held two meetings a year at Ascot Park (Invercargill) and Winton. Its next meeting, after this weekend, will be back at Winton in May.
And now that it's come home Stewart is keen to ensure it's not a one-off.
"They are keen on their racing down here and if we could get a good turnout that would be great but of course it will be very weather dependent."
"But we would like it to be a permanent move."
Racing starts at 12.20pm, and admission is free.
To see Sunday's fields at Riverton please click here