Racing season opens
Red dust once again flew under hooves against a blue sky as the Nor West Jockey Club’s marked 150 years of racing.
About 400 people turned out for the club’s first meet of the year on Sunday, and were rewarded with some exciting races.
Pinjarra-based trainer Tom Pike had a good first few runs on the track, with his horses Marble King and My Name’s Bruce winning the first two races of the day.
Toru Waimarie was the strongest horse on field for the third race, before the ODH Mechanical Handicap winners’ list was dominated by Pilbara horses — won by Exmouth trainer Peter Dellar’s Roman Fighter and followed by Just Hoping, King Cool and Runnerdal, all from Hedland.
Bernadini Genie came front of the pack in the fifth race, and the final race of the day was won by Tom Pike’s Zipline.
Open Day signals the start of four meetings for the club, the second-oldest in WA,
The club’s modern era has been one of significant change. Until the 1950s, all horses raced came from the surrounding regions, with Sherlock, Pyramid and Karratha stations some of the mainstays of the club and pushing each other with a healthy sense of competition around the races each year.
So avid were some locals about their horse-racing scene, they bred a special type of horse in the early 20th century, dubbed the Nor West Bred thoroughbred, several of which became Perth Cup winners.
NWJC races were opened up to horses from outside the Pilbara in 1950 and it eventually spelt the end for the regional breed in the late 1970s. The Roebourne club has since gone on to see a fair amount of horse-racing success over the years and attracted some top jockeys, horses, trainers and race callers from around WA.
The club was in danger of closing when the influential Stove family moved on in the 1970s, but scraped together enough support to continue.
Hard times came for the club in the late 1980s when a cyclone caused massive damage to infrastructure, leaving the building in a condemned state and the cost of repairs well into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The committee had to to undergo a large-scale and expensive rebuild.
It followed that with a large-scale installation of modern facilities and technology including a colour photo-finish camera, modern TAB machines and a carpeted members’ lounge to have some of the best facilities of any WA country racing club at the time.
NWJC life member Darryl Rooney, who was club president at the time, said installing the new infrastructure and getting the club back up and running in a difficult time had been no easy feat. “When the cyclone took the buildings out, the club didn’t have enough money to build the facilities, so 10 of us borrowed the money and were guarantors,” he said. “It would have folded if we hadn’t done it.”
Another controversy was the prospect of moving the track to Karratha, a proposal to promote patronage and sponsorship and reduce drink-driving, which was discussed until about 2004.
The project was eventually abandoned, leaving the racecourse firmly in place in its location on the outskirts of Roebourne.
Attendance numbers — and spending — skyrocketed during the mining boom. NWJC committee member Terry Milligan remembers numbers of about 7000 at Roebourne Cups during that period, and big money changing hands as cashed-up resource company workers brought their high salaries to spend.
Crowd numbers and funds have stabilised since, but the community spirit of the Roebourne club remains strong.
NWJC president Kevin Kininmonth said the committee took pride in providing a day of fun and escapism for residents, supporting local business and charities and holding the biggest single-day event in the Pilbara with the Roebourne Cup.
“People come from Karratha and surrounds to forget about Karratha for the day,” he said of its modern legacy.
“They get out of there for five or six hours. They come out here to have a great day and hopefully enjoy what goes on and have a few beers and a bet.”
He said the anniversary was a “massive achievement”.
“Hopefully we’ll have another 150 years to come,” he said.
Horses gallop down the red-dirt track during an Open Day race.
Jockeys Simone Altieri, Chelsi Forder and Alan Kennedy await their next race.
Heidi and Grant Barbera, Billy Marshall, Susy Griffiths, Robin Congreve and Woody Jackson.