Covid crisis: Cancelled country and picnic meetings cause concern

The annual Mendooran race meeting is just one of the many meetings that has been abandoned due to Covid-19. Photo: Sarsfield Racing Photography.

In recent weeks, the NSW country racing scene has been rocked by a plethora of once-a-year community and picnic clubs making the tough decision not to race during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Whether it be clubs struggling to cater for the current Racing NSW protocol and NSW Government public health orders, or the fact that racing during the Covid-19 pandemic places their community at risk; a lot of smaller clubs seem to be reluctant to go ahead with their meetings.

Community clubs in Hay, Mendooran, Balranald, Enngonia, Gulgong, Walgett and Adaminaby, and picnic clubs in Bong Bong, Mungery, Burrangong and Harden are just some of the more recent casualties.

Country Racing NSW CEO, Brian Charman said the final decision to race was generally left with clubs, and understood it was a difficult decision for those choosing not to run.

“These clubs are considering the protocol, and the health orders and determining their position and if they are able to conduct these meetings,” Charman said. 

“They aren’t easy decisions to make; they are making them with a heavy heart.”

Whilst Charman wanted to see clubs pushing on and racing, the administrator acknowledged there was a fine balance in making the right decision to host or abandon a meeting. 

“It hard because clubs have their stake holders, supporters and members to cater for, but at the same time, they have to consider their communities and towns and just how these meetings would look in the current climate,” Charman said. 

Although, Charman did reiterate that the odd decision was sometimes left out of a club’s hands. 

“We can’t compromise jockey segregation and clubs must be able to provide jockeys the four-square metre rule and only per stewards approval, can clubs race,” Charman said. 

While many meetings are falling to the wayside, Charman explained that some clubs were working closely with Racing NSW so they could push on and race this season.  

“Cooma and Bombala are perfect examples. They are looking at the current situation positively, they are holding off on making any decisions and both are considering their options to race,” Charman said. 

“I have also spoken to Bundara and they are heading to Inverell to see how that meeting is being run before deciding if they can hold their meeting.

“Jerilderie is another one, and they have asked if they can hold off on a decision until they know more.”

Clubs aren’t on their own though, with Racing NSW adamant they are doing their best to foster as much racing as possible for participants, in what has been a difficult period for the entire industry. 

“We are looking ahead at those dates, we wouldn’t be doing our job for industry participants if we weren’t,” Charman explained. 

“It has only been the last two or three weeks that these clubs have said they won’t be racing, and we will continue to work with clubs.”

Racing NSW does have a job ahead of them in the coming months though, with many gaps on the calendar no doubt putting pressure on trainers, owners and jockeys. 

Time will tell how the governing body reacts and if other community and picnic meetings follow suit and abandon their 2020/21 plans.