All the signs were that the weekend of the 2019 Coonamble Gold Cup Race would be a big one – and it did not disappoint.
Racegoers began arriving in Coonamble on Friday 11 October and were greeted by a heavy dust storm but this didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm with many not making their weary way home until long after the dust had settled on a big weekend.
Coonamble rolled out the welcome mat and both visitors and locals alike made the most of a busy weekend that included the Anglican Church’s annual Strawberry Fair and the long-awaited grand opening of the Outback Arts’ Creative Arts Centre in Castlereagh Street on Saturday morning.
Visitors came from as far afield as Alice Springs and Corryong in Victoria along with a group from Evan’s Head and two from the Central Coast – the French Connection and Don’s Party.
Almost 200 people sat down to dinner at the Gold Cup Calcutta on a chilly Saturday evening, held for the first time at the Terminus Hotel.
The rowdy crowd may have been difficult to quieten for the formal part of the proceedings but they put their hands in their pockets for the Charity Auction and Calcutta in aid of the Coonamble Cancer Survival Fund.
The eleven lots on offer in the Auction, which ranged from Winx memorabilia to trailer loads of hay brought around $30,000 for the Survival Fund and there was more to come from donations, race day gate entry and a raffle.
High profile racing industry representatives were on hand to gee up the crowd, including the legendary Kenny Calendar and Lindsay Murphy, who managed Sydney racetracks for 42 years. They were joined by Scott Kennedy (RacingNSW) and Graham Colless.
“They were blown away by the hospitality of Coonamble,” MickHeaney said.
“Everyone made our visitors feel welcome.”
With dust storm and cold weather out of the way, Sunday was a perfect spring day for the Races and more than 1000 people, many of them dressed to impress, arrived at Coonamble Racecourse for the Gold Cup Race Meeting.
Crowds flocked in the gates and gathered in marquees, around tables and in the shady betting and bar area which kept the trackside buzzing until well after the last race had run.
Marquees for a total of 200 people were booked by the Baradine Jockey Club, Coonamble Shire Council, Swannys Foods, the Cancer Survival Fund and the Murray family for Anita Murray’s milestone birthday, TPs Catering, Don’s Party and the Coonamble Rams.
“There were plenty of people in pink in honour of our chosen charity,” said Vice President Mick Heaney. “There was a great vibe in the crowd and a real cup day atmosphere.”
A last minute watering mishap late on Saturday afternoon, which saw an irrigation pipe burst under high pressure, was addressed by Jockey Club members with hands-on support from visiting dignitaries from Racing NSW.
The wet area was dried overnight using a generator and fans, and the running rail shifted to widen the turn going into the straight ensure jockeys had extra space if it was needed.
These measures meant that the year’s biggest race, which also turned out to be the only TAB meeting in NSW on the day, could go ahead as planned.
“Fortunately it’s the last time we’re going to have to use the antiquated watering system,” said Jockey Club President Ken Waterford. “A new watering system that will cost more than $200,000 will start to go in next week.”
A big injection of prize money by Racing NSW made for record returns at the winning post and even attracted a runner from Gai Waterhouse’s stable in Sydney.
Local thoroughbred industry connections Foxy Hodgson, Peter (Nugget) Whitehead and Nathan Finn provided overnight accommodation for numerous visiting horses. The turnover for the meeting has been reported at $1.3million.
The big winner over the weekend was the Coonamble Cancer Survival Fund, a proudly local charity which raises and distributes funds to support local cancer sufferers.
Before the final race, Coonamble Jockey Club President Ken Waterford announced that more than $44,000 had been raised by those attending the weekend’s activities.
Cancer Survival Fund President Janis Nicol said her committee were overwhelmed by the generosity of the community. She also acknowledged the vision and persistence of Rae Murray and Maureen Nairne, who formed the Coonamble Cancer Survival Fund.
“Rae and Maureen would never have expected it could get this big,” Mrs Nicol said.
“We were very pleased with the response to the day and the fundraiser,” Mr Waterford said. “We loved the community involvement.”
“We’re here to work with the community and we’re very pleased that people are now thinking of the races as a great place to have a party,” he said. “We’re proud to bring people to the town for the welcome they get.”
“It was a great build-up for our Country Championships in March 2020,” Mr Waterford said.