Plenty of heart left in country racing
Bush race meetings invaluable to industry
HORSE RACING: Country racing plays an important role in national horse racing as a grass roots feeder system for the higher levels of the sport.
Queensland Racing Integrity Commission course steward Kim Daily oversaw the Mt Perry races at the weekend and spoke about the importance of country racing to the sport as a whole.
“While the horses out here don’t tend to be the same standard as the high class races the jockeys are,” Daily said.
“Jockeys the likes of Lyall Appo, who was a champion Brisbane apprentice in his day, or the jockey for Black Caviar, who got his start out at Dalby.
“There are good quality riders in the country, we get a lot of young riders who are starting off their careers by coming out to these country venues like Mt Perry, Nanango or Gayndah.”
Daily said the country tracks allowed the young jockeys a chance to gain some valuable skills in the grass roots system.
“Then they would progress onto the provincial tracks like Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast before making the next step into the towns like Eagle Farm in Brisbane,” Daily said.
Daily said it was a gradual build-up of experience and a process where apprentice jockeys were able to learn valuable tricks of the trade and become more familiar in their roles.
“One of the great values of country meetings is for the young jockeys coming in to be able to gain that valuable experience, you can't just start off at an Eagle Farm,” Daily said.
“Most jockeys hit their peak in their late 30s or at 40 mainly because of all the experience they have gained in their years riding.”
Daily’s role as course steward carries as much weight as at any other meeting in the country, no matter how small or remote the event, the rules are taken seriously.
“As of July 1we are no longer part of Queensland Racing but are now with the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission,” Daily said.
“So our role on race days is to ensure the safety of all jockeys and horses, making sure the races are run cleanly and everything is being done above board. We apply the exact same rules as they have at the bigger tracks like Flemington or Eagle Farm.
“We keep everything the same so that there are no discrepancies between race meets.”
Clerk of the course, Joe Mooney, also has a role to play in ensuring the safety of jockey and horse over the course of the race meeting.
“I oversee the horses when they go from the saddling paddock out to the gates and then get them back to the saddling yard after each race,” Mooney said.
“More or less our main priority here today is the safety of the jockeys and the horses.”
Mooney only returned to the area two years ago after moving away as a young man and is happy to be back and contributing to such an important event for Mt Perry.
“I’ve done this type of thing for a long time, I was associated with the Bush Racing Association and was president there for a while,” Mooney said.
“I love this course, the scenery at this course is amazing. The surrounding mountains are beautiful, it’s a bit dry today but some rain always fixes that.”
Those past roles have given Mooney a wider perspective of country racings place within the sport.
“I think people sometimes underestimate the support for country racing from the wider community, the bush people are looking for something and this is a day where they can dress up and go out and really have a great time,” Mooney said.
“We used to have three race meets a year here but now we are unfortunately limited to just the one, we are lucky we get to hold onto that one day.”
Mooney returned to Mt Perry after three decades away to take over the family farm.
“It has been great being able to get back involved with Mt Perry racing and to see that support is still strong,” Losing those extra race days was hard but we have made it work,” Mooney said.
Trainers also find advantages in country racing particularly for their horses who don’t do quite as well at the big tracks.
Horse trainer Neville O’Toole said he only raced his horses at country meets now, and this had given him perspective on the value of the meets.
“A lot of horses racing here today are ones that can't race or win in the bigger area, so that makes it a great place for them to get a chance to race,” O’Toole said.
“I haven’t raced in the city for a number of years because my horses just aren’t fast enough but if you didn’t have these country race meets, the apprentice jockeys here today learning the trade would have a tough time of it.
“This is what helps them develop their trade, like Hannah English who had another win today, she will be metropolitan in no time.”
O’Toole had one horse for the Mt Perry races and travelled from Wondai to take part in the day.
“I’ve been to the Mt Perry race meet probably four or five times and I try to use the same jockey as often as I can, he has been riding for us for along time,” O’Toole said.
“Country racing hasn’t been its strongest recently but having said that, the prizemoney is good, the crowds are always good and the clubs do a great job.
“The support has picked up when tracks had their race days reduced from three or four to just the one, the community recognises the importance of race days.”
O’Toole also gives praise to the younger generations who have embraced the country race meets and pay a big role in keeping them successful.
“Twenty years ago you only really got the old racing hands to days like this, which is great, but you need the younger generations to keep it going on into the future,” O’Toole said.
“The young ones come all dressed up and really get into the spirit of the day.”
Daily commends the massive effort put forward by country racing volunteers and what they are able to achieve with limited resources.
“Joy Jensen is great for the club, she musters together a whole group of volunteers for the club races once a year and they do a fantastic job,” Daily said.
“They are all experienced volunteers doing a great job which allows the race days to run as smoothly as they do.
“From an integrity point of view, which is what we oversee, this is a great day.”