Grafton races set the standard

GRAFTON’S July racing carnival is one of the most prized jewels in the New South Wales country racing crown.

Almost $1 million in prizemoney, 30,000 punters through the gates, city-class horses from powerful stables in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, black-type races and carnival fun.

This is a map to success that all the local clubs keep close tabs on, something they all strive towards.

But the cogs turn slow in this self-fulfilling prophecy as Ballina, Lismore and Casino look to build a carnival following in the fashion of the Clarence River Jockey Club (CRJC).

To get the numbers through the gate you need the quality horseflesh, and to get that horseflesh you need the prizemoney. But to get the prizemoney you need to raise the standard of racing to a point where Racing NSW can justify an increase.

It is a tough cycle, but as Ballina Jockey Club (BJC) CEO Sarah Wills put it ‘you just have to keep chipping away’.

Ballina’s annual Cup, to be run on September 9, is a $50,000 race that attracts about 5000 race-goers.

It is a highlight on the Northern Rivers Racing scene, but with most eyes on the Melbourne Spring Carnival at that time of year it struggles to attract Grafton carnival-like quality.

A key to the success in Grafton is the timing.

In July the spring horses are yet to roll out and there are plenty of horses from up and down the east coast which have competed at the Brisbane Winter Carnival and can find a suitable race at Grafton on the way home.

Lismore Turf Club (LTC) secretary/manager Michael Timbrell is controlling his organisation through a period where interest is waning.

The Lismore Cup was once a week-long carnival. More recently it was run over two days, but is now a stand-alone meeting where the $50,000 feature race attracts crowds of about 6000.

Mr Timbrell said the LTC ran its big day similarly to the CRJC, but on a smaller scale.

“Racing is in the blood of the town in Grafton, that carnival is built on tradition,” he said. “The town feeds, and feeds-off, the carnival. We just don’t seem to drum up the same interest here.

“Lismore is a far more diverse town, whereas Grafton is a real racing town.”

Mr Timbrell said his operation always had its eye on other clubs, but that wouldn’t necessarily translate to trying to replicate.

The BJC has had success with its Iris Nielsen Memorial race day, which is run in January.

An event with an edge – it is a celebration of ladies in racing where the feature race attracts the best lady jockeys in Australasia – the Iris Nielsen Memorial has attracted enough interest to see prizemoney raised from $12,000 in 2008 to $50,000 this year.

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