COONAMBLE Jockey Club members are celebrating this week following news last week that they will be playing host to the prestigious Country Championships Western Districts qualifier in March 2020 – a major coup for the team of small-town racing enthusiasts.
On Friday 23 August Racing NSW announced the 2020 dates and venues for their $1.6million Country Championships. Coonamble, Coffs Harbour and Nowra were named as venues among the seven regional qualifying heats replacing Dubbo, Grafton and Goulburn who had staged the qualifiers since the inception of the Country Championships in 2015.
The decision to award the Western Districts qualifier to Dubbo Jockey Club over the past three years has been a contentious one, as Dubbo actually sits within the Central District of NSW Racing and not the Western District.
“We’ll give it our best shot to make it a really great event,” said Coonamble Jockey Club President Ken Waterford. “If we do it well, not just the Coonamble Jockey Club other clubs like ours might have a chance to keep hosting it in the years to come.” Mr Waterford and a portion of his 28-member committee gathered on Monday afternoon to discuss the announcement.
The consensus was that it was ‘people power’ that convinced Racing NSW to give Coonamble a shot at the Championship qualifier.”Originally Scott Kennedy came up to our Showcase Meeting last year to see what we could do,” Mr Waterford said. “He was very impressed and came back to our last race meeting to see the other improvements we’d made.”
“I think what stood out is that we’ve got a great committee and plenty of other people willing to come and help,” said Mr Waterford. “It’s the community interaction.”
“Everyone pulls together and wants it to happen – I think that’s our biggest advantage,” he said. “The Shire have really helped us and we work with groups like Junior and Senior League, Pony Club, Quota Club, High School and others.”
Each of the qualifying races will be worth $150,000 in prizemoney – the biggest prize purse ever seen at a race meeting in Coonamble. “The meeting on 15 March will be an eight race program carrying a total of $370,000 prize money,” said Vice President Mick Heaney. Only horses under the care of a licensed country trainer based in the Western District will be eligible to contest the qualifying race.
Horses trained by a trainer holding of a metropolitan or provincial licence are not eligible to compete. As well as the seven regional qualifiers, an eighth ‘Wild Card’ race worth $50,000 will be held to provide one more opportunity for horses that have already contested an earlier heat to qualify for the final. In 2020 this race will be run at Muswellbrook Racecourse on Sunday 22 March, thirteen days prior to the Final at Royal Randwick on 4 April 2020 showcasing the cream of the state’s country horses as they compete for a cool half a million dollars in prizemoney.
With the 2019 Coonamble Gold Cup still to be run on 13 October and an awards night in Sydney to attend, Jockey Club members have plenty to keep them occupied but are already looking ahead to the March 2020 meeting. “We’ll have the big screen and hope to have the train come from Dubbo to bring more visitors to support this wonderful day of country racing,” Mr Waterford said.
Other physical improvements at the Coonamble course can also be expected. “We’ll start to install our new state-of-the-art watering system the day after the 2019 Gold Cup and it should be finished at the end of November,” Mr Waterford said. “This will help keep our track in top shape while saving both money and water.”
It will take more than a three year drought and a long hot summer to dull the excitement of Coonamble’s ‘people-powered’ Country Championships coup.