Racers ready for rumble
Gayndah gearing for action
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.