Rac­ers ready for rum­ble

Gayn­dah gear­ing for ac­tion

Central and North Burnett Times - - NEWS - Bar­clay White Bar­clay.White@south bur­nett­times.com.au

JUST what is it that makes the Gayn­dah Races spe­cial?

Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent an­swer, but it’s clear the old races have a spe­cial im­por­tance not just to Gayn­dah but to the wider rac­ing com­mu­nity.

When pun­ters hear the fran­tic race-call­ing over the PA, it won’t be just an­other an­nouncer slot­ted in to Gayn­dah. It will be the same man who has called the race for the past 25 years.

Shawne McKenna has been com­ing to Gayn­dah since 1991 to call the races and de­spite mov­ing to coun­try Vic­to­ria, he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“Gayn­dah is my favourite meet­ing of the year I go to,” Mr McKenna said.

De­spite call­ing many big­ger races in his ca­reer, it was the his­tory and the slower pace of Gayn­dah that ap­pealed to him.

“It is the old charm, you can put your blan­ket on the ground and have a pic­nic,” he said.

“The book­mak­ers have the old fash­ioned ticket booths, you don’t see any com­put­ers.

“You don’t have horses trained by GaiWater­house or Bart Cum­mings, it’s your coun­try train­ers that have their horse liv­ing in their pad­dock,” he said.

De­spite get­ting to the races from his home in Pay­nesville in Vic­to­ria tak­ing eight hours in driv­ing plus a four-hour flight, he doesn’t have any in­ten­tion to stop call­ing the race.

“I’m 51 now, and I hope to be call­ing my 50th Gayn­dah

LOOK­ING BACK: Jockey Rhett Bellert has a long his­tory with the Gayn­dah Races ever since his first ride at 15. Cup in 25 years,” he said.

For re­tired jockey Rhett Bellert the races aren’t just a great day out, but a place to rem­i­nisce.

He made his race de­but at just 15 at the Gayn­dah Races in 1978, and pulled off an un­likely win on that first ride. “It was what ev­ery young jockey dreams of,” Mr Bellert said.

He es­ti­mated that from the $200 prize money, he might have taken home $35 on the day, but that first vic­tory was price­less.

Later he raced at big­ger meets all over south-east Queens­land but still made time to get back to race in the town he made his de­but.

He was forced to re­tire af­ter an on track in­jury three years ago but fate kept him in­volved in the Gayn­dah Races.

Next week­end he will be Clerk of the Scales and for the first time he will be the one weigh­ing up the jock­eys be­fore the ride.

“They said to me, ‘I’ve got a job for you’,” he said.

He might be able to em­pathise with the jock­eys be­fore they race, hav­ing stressed through weigh-ins count­less times be­fore.

“(At the time) I prob­a­bly skipped break­fast, and tea the night be­fore,” he said.

For the pres­i­dent of the Gayn­dah Race Club, Chris Sei­d­ner, the races are about bring­ing the town to­gether.

“I think it’s the at­mos­phere that makes it spe­cial,” Mr Sei­d­ner said.

“It’s a great op­por­tu­nity to catch up with neigh­bours and friends and fam­ily.”

With the town at peak ca­pac­ity due to the Or­ange Fes­ti­val, he ex­pects big crowds at the meet next week­end.

“Not ev­ery­one likes rac­ing, but it’s a fab­u­lous day out,” he said.

PHOTO: BAR­CLAY WHITE

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