A troublesome bend at NZs Awapuni Racecourse has been sorted out in time for the inaugural Palmerston North Gold Cup Festival.
The new inner top bend has fixed a problem that closed the track in December, allowing top-flight horse racing to return to the venue for the event that starts on March 30.
Awapuni lost three events, including the Boxing Day Races, when the Racing Integrity Unit closed the course due to safety concerns over footing issues on the top bend out of the back straight.
Palmerston North's Race Group chief executive Alasdair Robertson said the longstanding problem had been managed for about 20 years.
In preparation for repairing the turn, an inner bend had been built a year to 18 months ago in order to forestall any closure of the racecourse when the top bend was decommissioned.
"It takes at least 12 months for a track to come back – for the grass to grow so horses can run on it, so thank goodness we did that back then," Robertson said.
Not due to be commissioned until next spring, the new piece was "fast-tracked" into service when December's "hiccup" occurred.
It has successfully hosted trials, while its first raceday test was the Marton Jockey Club twilight meeting on March 3.
"It scores 10 out of 10. The grass is magnificent, the soil profile is great. The inside bend has a 4 per cent camber, which gives the horses an angle to run on. The jockeys have been glowing in their praise."
He said the track repair work would have a silver lining for the course.
"In 12 months, Awapuni will be the only track in the country to have a short course and a long course, the same as tracks in Asia."
He said the layout of the Singapore Turf Club and Melbourne's Ladbrokes Park (Sandown) were examples of what Awapuni would be like.
"Two top bends effectively gives us two courses. Out of it all has come an innovative point of difference and a first for New Zealand."
The inner corner shortens the course by 50m, but won't affect the length of most races. The exception will be 1600m events, which will have to run at 1550m instead.
The festival is a joint venture between Palmerston North City Council and Race Group, involving the Manawatu Racing Club, the Manawatu Harness Racing Club and the Manawatu Greyhound Racing Club. There will be live music, Fashion in the Field, a military display and student-in-sulkies novelty races.