South Western Times
Builds hopes of SW racing
The sound of thundering hooves fell silent over the Bunbury Turf Club last night, as the iconic venue held its last meeting prior to a major track redevelopment — which will usher in a new era for Bunbury racing.
Civil works will begin on the $17 million upgrade next month, with stakeholders tentatively hopeful of returning to the home of South West racing by next year’s Melbourne Cup.
But during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the fate of this enterprising project hung in the balance, as Racing and Wagering Western Australia was forced to effectively push pause on plans.
For all South West participants and industry stakeholders, including Bunbury Turf Club chief executive/racing manager Alex Doble, this period required a lot of patience and communication, as it was anything but easy.
“When the pandemic first hit our shores, there was a bit of doom and gloom around,” he said. “And rightly so, RWWA pushed pause on the project, not knowing what COVID-19 would cost the industry.
“But the industry and participants did a great job to still keep racing during the pandemic, so there was no real interruption to racing. And what it did was actually put more eyeballs on the sport itself and probably created new customers through the period where there was reduced competition with other sports.”
Doble’s sentiments were echoed by RWWA’s general manager of racing Charlotte Mills, who is excited about the impact the project will have not only on local participants long-term, but also Bunbury’s economy.
“We are thrilled to be able to proceed with the redevelopment
of the Bunbury Turf Club, which will assist in building a bright future for the WA racing industry as well as provide important economic benefits to the local community,” Mills said.
“A recent economic study of the project revealed that by 2029 the project will produce $36.2 million in direct expenditure for the local region each year as well as sustain 253 full-time-equivalent roles.”
Naturally in the short-term, the unavailability of the Bunbury
track will provide its fair share of challenges for South West participants.
RWWA is determined to ensure the smoothest possible path for them, with a range of options available — including the option of training at the Collie racecourse, travel subsidies for transporting horses ($10 per horse, per day) and also waiving fees for Bunbury trainers who elect to use Lark Hill for trials and trackwork.
“We are really mindful that the participants are really going to do it tough over the next 12 months,” Doble said.
“Obviously they will have to train off-site and we really appreciate them being so open and willing to do this.
“It is very much a case of shortterm pain for long-term gain. And the vast majority, if not all, have taken this hit — and we are really fortunate they have bought into the vision and they are prepared to cop some interruptions and some extra costs to their business.
“But at the end of it, they see what they are going to get for it.”
Aside from surface upgrades to the track and drainage, the venue’s stalls and overall infrastructure will get facelifts, which will ensure Bunbury has a yearround facility.
“They will get state-of-the-art training facilities, which they can use six days-a-week,” Doble said. “At the moment, we are sort of at the mercy of the weather and the water table.”
RWWA is optimistic of the South West enhancing its claim as regional WA’s hub of racing.
“It is expected Bunbury will transition to racing approximately nine months of the year, with a three-month closure still required to undertake annual track renovations,” Mills said.