Jockey club hosts legendary event
TODAY the Ballina Jockey Club resurrects the Alstonville-Wollongbar Cup.
The race has an intriguing history, although records are sparse and recollections hard to match up.
The Cup was last run in 2003 and 2004 at the Lismore Turf Club, but prior to that it was an 800-metre picnic race run on the Dillon family’s Alstonville cattle farm in the 1970s and early 1980s, then again in the 1990s.
First conceived by Apex, the Alstonville-Wollongbar Cup was a community event held to raise money for The House With No Steps at Alstonville – a charity organisation for kids with disabilities.
In those days, unregistered gallopers raced for a winner takes all prize; today the BJC presents the modern Alstonville-Wollongbar Cup boasting a $10,000 booty.
But that isn’t to say the Cup wasn’t a big deal in its first life – in fact, quite the opposite. Thousands would turn out for the meeting – some dressed to the nines, others in thongs – and although punters’ accounts are hazy, all point to the trademarks of a contemporary race meeting – bookies, barbeques, big hats and plenty of booze.
Months of preparation went into the annual event, recalls one-time Apex service director Phil Consalvo.
“We would have working bees for months leading in to it, it was a serious operation,” Mr Consalvo said.
“The biggest job was cutting down enough tea treesaplings to make a four-inch post and rail the length of the straight.
“Blokes would bring utes and trucks and trailers and chainsaws and we would all turn up and dig in – it was the spirit of the event that kept us all going.”
Punters would converge around the starting area at the bottom of the hill and the runners would gallop away from the crowd.
Rennae Reilly was 21 at the time.
“The funniest thing was that no one even knew who had won the race until the horses came back down the hill,” Mrs Reilly said.
“It was quite a sight. Thousands of locals all dressed up in the middle of a paddock having the time of their lives.”
The Alstonville-Wollongbar Cup sure was an event to bring the people together and with its resurrection many dim memories are sure to flicker.
Rising insurance premiums killed it off last time. Hopefully, in the 21st Century, the Ballina Jockey Club can return the race to its glory days.