Michael R Williams.
2021 was a big year for racing in the west and 2022 is shaping up to be an even bigger one, with three new jockeys in the Central West and a triple increase in member numbers.
Jockey Club President Andrew Watts said 2021 was a positive year, with almost record crowds at race meets.
“Our cup was really good, almost 1200 people attended, a great number of sponsors, great local engagement, which pushed the jockey club forward,” he said.
“We drove the new Central West premiership, which was a new initiative by our club to get all the clubs together for a cash incentive at the end of the year.
“Jockeys are generally one problem but were’ up from last year – so you’re drawing from other regions, and you need something to bring them here.”
Mr Watts said racing has become deeply embedded in the culture of the Central West.
“It’s taken over from your B and S balls and some of those other iconic events that used to be a part of the social fabric – now it’s a race meeting,” he said.
“You’re once a year meetings like your Alpha, your Ilfracombe, your Isisford – it is a once a year event where people come to town to meet.
“So, the social fabric is very very important; a lot of people who come to a race meeting don’t even see a horse run around because it’s a social event.”
Mr Watts said it was important that the race club identify the importance of the social side of race meetings, including improvements to fashions on the field and side entertainment.
Other things the Jockey Club will be looking to do this year, include an exclusion fence.
“Some people might think that’s strange having an exclusion fence on a racetrack, but the jockeys and the trainers out there on the field are working their horses just on daylight,” Mr Watts said.
“What’s awake during the day? The kangaroos – so we need that exclusionary fence for safety reasons, so we go that through the Community Benefits Fund.
“We also received a large amount of funding to put a new outside rail on, a new set of barriers which were about $140,000, and we also received funding for new steward’s towers.”
Mr Watts said the Jockey Club was just beginning their master plan.
“We’ve engaged a company from Townsville who will help us get funding, and will ultimately lead to a two-story venue at the club where we can have weddings and parties,” he said.
“Ex-President Rob Luck has been active in the early part of that, and of course, he’s been instrumental in it now.
“It’s exciting because we have a strong committee of 15-20 people who all bring something different to the table – Max Tanks is working behind the scenes with different race ideas, we’ve got tradespeople on there.”
Mr Watts said it was the strength of that committee that will put them in step for 2022.
“Our first meeting is the fun one, that’s the beach-themed races,” he said.
“I find casual race days better because I have to dress up for nine out of 10 meetings that I go to.
“It’s always a good way to start the year – there will be sponsored themes all the way through, and of course, culminating with our cup day in September.”
2021 Memberships are on offer for the Longreach Jockey Club, and this year, locals can look forward to a tipping competition and a shake-up with the bar for new and exciting drinks.
“It’s that time of the year when people start to get excited; we look forward to welcoming back all our trainers, trappers and jockeys.”