Drought takes toll on country racing as races cancelled

The effects of the drought have forced this Saturday's races at Collarenebri to be cancelled. Photo of last year's races by Janian McMillan.
The effects of the drought have forced this Saturday's races at Collarenebri to be cancelled. Photo of last year's races by Janian McMillan.

It's supposed to be the festive spring racing season but there were only glum looks at Collarenebri this week when the town's races were abandoned due to the biting drought.

Meantime, Armidale Jockey Club has been forced to transfer its Showcase meeting later this month to Moree, with all its three other races left this year now in limbo, although its big St Albert's College meeting will go ahead this Saturday.

The race meeting at Collarenebri was abandoned after a track inspection on Wednesday by a Racing NSW official just days before the town's big social event. Tragically its not because of a lack of irrigation water on the black soil track. Large cracks appeared from the continuing drought and could not be remediated in time for the meeting, which normally attracts over 300 people and is a financial boost for local businesses.

Collarenebri Race Club secretary, treasurer Sharon Girling said it was a hard decision to accept after an official looked at the track on Wednesday afternoon. She said with recent jockey deaths in the racing industry, the safety of jockeys and horses was paramount, and there was a view the track would not be safe for racing on Saturday.

They had been watering the track, but the water just evaporated and drained away almost immediately after it was put on.

"We were given options to fix the track. We used a roller, but none of these options worked. We are a 100 per cent volunteer committee and work all year for this so this is a huge loss to us and the community. We had a fishing comp here recently that attracted 200 people, but the races bring a lot of people, we even had more buses than ever coming and bands booked for two venues. We also lost the mud trials this year so this was our big social event we've lost."

The club will not hold a phantom meeting because of the early cancellation and will have to wait another year to race.

"We have been racing over 100 years and this is the first time we've lost a meeting to the drought as far as I know. Four years ago we were actually washed out."

Meantime at Armidale Jockey Club, which stages 12 race meetings a year, the races for the rest of the year are in jeopardy if there is no rain.

Jockey Club manager Jim Dedes said after this Saturday's large St Albert's meeting, it was unlikely the club would race again this year - with four more meetings set down.

The Armidale track does not have its own dam or bore and relies on town water and under water restrictions cannot irrigate the track.

"After Saturday's meeting with 60 to 70 horses racing on it, it would be impossible to get the track back into repair unless it rains. It will just be a dust bowl."

The Showcase meeting set down for Armidale on Sunday September 22 will now be held in Moree. Armidale had another three races for the year, two in October and one in December.

"We haven't been able to water since last April," Mr Dedes said. The track is on a firm two rating for this Saturday.