Coonamble Jockey Club members celebrate a massive win by pulling off their Country Championships Qualifier event on Sunday 15 March ahead of the Coronavirus shutdown the next day.
Coonamble Jockey Club’s bold move to be the first small town club within the Western Districts Racing Association area – and in NSW – to host a Country Championship Racing Qualifier paid off in spades with the event exceeding expectations.
Around 2000 people poured through the gates on Sunday 15 March to enjoy the convivial carnival atmosphere with large numbers of out-of-town travellers among them in what must be one of the last large gatherings of people in NSW ahead of the Coronavirus restrictions which started the following day.
Along with the loyal returnees from the east coast, there were busloads of racing enthusiasts from around the Western Districts, a strong contingent of Sydney-based representatives of Racing NSW, the Australian Turf Club and TAB Corp, along with corporate and community sponsors.
Former Coonamble resident and now CEO of Nutrien (formerly Landmark), Rob Clayton probably took the prize for the longest distance travelled, having caught an almost-empty commercial flight from Perth.
The fastest trip most likely went to jockey Hugh Bowman and his fellow travellers on the 35 minute flight by private jet from Sydney booked by Peter Vlandys, CEO of Racing NSW, who unfortunately was ill and unable to attend.
Mr Vlandys missed some great entertainment, with full fields of first rate racing and relaxed crowds enjoying the magnificent autumn weather along with the outstanding VIP Luncheon hosted by his organisation which saw 100 state and country racing representatives join sponsors, media and local politicians upstairs in the newly-airconditioned and revamped Brian Fletcher Stand.
The Luncheon featured heart-felt speeches from CJC President Ken Waterford, sponsor and former Come-by-Chance resident Butch Colless, and Panthers CEO and former Coonamble resident Brian Fletcher, who all spoke about their connections to the region and the importance of giving back.
In their speeches Racing NSW Board Member Anne Cook and Sky Racing’s Greg Radley congratulated Mr Waterford and his committee for their tireless work and success in hosting the Country Championship Qualifier.
Scott Kennedy, General Manager – Industry & Analysis with Racing NSW, was back in Coonamble for the event and praised both the committee and the community for their hospitality over the weekend.
“Everyone was so welcoming of the visitors that were in town, the feedback has been tremendous,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I have only some of the picture of what lengths you went to over many months to deliver the Calcutta/dinner the night before and Country Championships meeting, both of which were truly outstanding.”
“The feedback I received regarding the race meeting was glowing and obviously I could see it for myself,” he said.
“The faith put in your Club by Racing NSW has been richly rewarded.”
“One sometimes has high hopes but on this occasion they’ve well and truly been delivered on,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I’ve worked out that I have attended 38 of the 47 Country Championships meetings held thus far,” he said.
“Comparisons can be difficult but reflecting on yesterday, it was right up there with the best few – Let’s say it is in a photo finish – a magnificent feat by your Club,” said Mr Kennedy.
It was a red letter day for Dubbo-based trainer Kody Nestor at Coonamble on Sunday as Sneak Preview and Fast Talking booked their spots in the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships final to be held at Royal Randwick in Sydney on Day 1 of The Championships, Saturday 4 April 2020.
The Fashions on the Field attracted record nominations perhaps in response to the record prize pool on offer.
“I’m not one of the judges,” Master of Ceremonies David Taylor repeated throughout the proceedings.
“They’ve got a tough job and I wouldn’t want to have to choose.”
Between races the judges narrowed the field choosing local artist Jillian Kelly for the Best Hat category, with her hand-painted swirling creation constructed by Broome-based Hats by Felicity.
Best Dressed Lady went to Quambone’s Katrina Shelton in a lush green ankle length dress while Best Dressed Gent went to John Hutton, who also took the title at the Coonabarabran Cup.
Miss Coonamble Country Championships (35 years and under) was awarded to Ashleigh Mills and Best Dressed Man (under 35) was snapped up by Tyler Cleary.
The Best Dressed Couple were Sharon Edmonds of Newcastle and John Seville of Tamworth.
Up and coming fashionista Brooke Hertel and a sleepy Billy Buckley took out the Best Dressed Junior Girl and Boy sections.
Among the many highlights on Sunday was the announcement of Western District Racing’s annual awards for 2019.
The Greg Ryan award for Leading Apprentice Jockey went to Wendy Peel; The NSW Picnic Association’s Leading Approved Rider was awarded to Maddison Wright and Jake Pracey-Holmes won the title of Leading Jockey.
Leading Trainer went to Nyngan’s Rodney Robb and Horse of the Year to ‘Thermosa’ trained by Mr Robb.
The awards were presented by Mr Andrew Schier and Mrs Bek McKay from Western District Racing Association.
The presentations culminated in a win to the Coonamble Jockey Club as Western District Racing Association’s Race Club of the Year for their 2019 racing activities as nominated by members from across the vast western racing zone, a cherry on top of a highly successful Country Championship Qualifier event.