NSW picnic racing participants were up in arms on Saturday morning, questioning Racing NSW’s surprise decision to move the Wagga picnic meeting that was scheduled for Friday October 8 to Albury on Saturday October 9.
In a Racing NSW announcement on Saturday morning, it was explained that because the Canberra meeting scheduled for Friday October 8 had been abandoned, the Albury TAB meeting scheduled for Saturday was moved to Friday, forcing the Wagga picnic meeting scheduled for Friday to be moved to Albury on Saturday.
“The Canberra race meeting scheduled for Friday 8th October has been abandoned,” a Racing NSW new release stated.
“As a result, the Albury meeting scheduled for Saturday 9th October has been brought forward to Friday 8th October.
“The Wagga picnics meeting scheduled for Friday 8th October will now be run on Saturday 9th October – but now moved to Albury.”
According to the NSW Picnic Racing Association, there was no industry consultation about the change of dates or the change of location from Wagga to Albury, with their executive committee members only aware of the situation on Saturday morning after fielding an inquiry from a trainer regarding the change.
Both Trainers and jockeys alike posed various concerns to the NSW Picnic Racing Association and NSW Country and Picnic Racing, believing that the Saturday Albury meeting would have a negative impact on the industry, particularly the $50,000 Picnic Champion Series final that is set to be run at Coonamble the following day, October 10.
Multiple trainers, who had originally planned to make the trip to race at the Wagga picnic meeting on Friday October 8, confirmed with NSW Country and Picnic Racing, that they will not race at Albury on October 9, citing the added distance as a deterrence, or the fact that their stable will have runners engaged in the Picnic Champion Series final at Coonamble the following day.
Three prominent jockeys have also stressed health and welfare concerns, with some still set to race, but they explained that they would be driving long hours to compete at both meetings – a challenge that picnic hoops are seldom faced with.
Another jockey has already confirmed they won’t attend the Albury meeting due to the distances involved, and because their focus was on the Picnic Champion Series final.
Highlighting the plight on some jockeys, leading picnic hoop Brent Evans will have to travel 9 hours (819kms) from Tamworth to Albury before another 7.5 hour trip (682kms) back to Coonamble before returning home to Tamworth.
Ricky Blewitt (Narromine), Michael Johnston (Wellington), Michael Gray (Gilgandra) Will Stanley (Bathurst), Paula Heath (Gunnedah), Leandro Ribeiro (Sydney) and Anaëlle Gangotena (Canberra) – all prominent picnic jockeys – face similar scenarios if they want to race at both Albury and in the Coonamble final.
While Racing NSW should be congratulated on attempting to give picnic participants what they want (replacement race meetings for meetings lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic), there seems to be little to no consultation with participants.
Highlighting this is the fact that the Wagga/Albury meeting has been an issue for some time, after initially being scheduled for the Sunday (October 10) at Wagga, the same day as the Picnic Champion Series final.
That October 10 race date remained on the Racing NSW calendar for another week before being changed, creating more confusion, before being changed to Friday (Wagga), which was well received by participants.
The decision to change the date again, and now the location, will only cause more frustration for participants just days before nominations are set to close for both the Albury meeting and the Picnic Champion Series final.
Only time will tell how the meeting is received by participants and how many NSW picnic hoops will be able to attend Albury before turning out at Coonamble the following day for the picnic final.