Gunnedah bounces back from flooding in lead-up to Big Dance qualifier

Gunnedah Jockey Club will be hoping a big crowd turns out for Saturday’s pop-up meeting. Photo: Gunnedah Jockey Club.

Gunnedah Jockey Club will continue to put a very tough period behind them on Saturday when hosting a bumper non-TAB program. 

Following the abandonment of the annual Narrabri Cup meeting, which was originally scheduled for the same day, Gunnedah Jockey Club Manager Lyn Tongue and her team were called upon to host a pop-up meeting. 

“It’s really good to have the meeting re-scheduled to cater for participants,” Tongue said. 

“There are so many horses and owners out there that want to race, and we are lucky we can put our hand up for the industry. 

“We have to look after the industry participants and be conscious of catering for the industry.”

The fact that Gunnedah have been back racing is utterly remarkable, with the club hosting meetings in December, January, and as recently as March 4 following a period where countless floods inundated the racecourse late last year. 

“It was heartbreaking,” Tongue said. 

“With the debris, silt, and everything that was deposited onto the track, it took a lot to get it off, and at times, we were half-praying for a shower to wash it off.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, and a work in process, and while we are still feeling the effects from the flooding, it’s getting back to a really good condition.

“The track looks fantastic, and we are just waiting to put the Verti drain over it, and we will fertilise it again soon and it will be in tip-top shape by May.”

A small but hardworking committee is now focused on delivering a big race day on Saturday before a full TAB meeting on May 2, and their Big Dance race day on May 28. 

“I’ve been madly trying to advertise it to get people out there, and unfortunately, the scheduling is terrible, with our first race at 12pm, meaning it will be all over by 2.30pm, but hopefully people can hang around and watch the big races in Sydney. 

“It is Golden Slipper day, and we are hoping racing enthusiasts come out and enjoy a day at the races and stay around to watch all the big races.  

“We will have a tote operating, and there will be bookmakers on course, the bar, and canteen, plus the grounds are looking fabulous, so it should be a really good day.”

2023 will mark the first time Gunnedah have been included in the rich Big Dance series, with the Gunnedah Cup now a qualifier for the $2 million Big Dance and $500,000 Little Dance finals at Royal Randwick on November 7, and Tongue said the town and local businesses were getting right behind their big day. 

“We have been around to all the business houses, and we are gathering their support for fashions on the field, and we have seen huge support,” Tongue said. 

“Also, we have businesses wanting to have marquees on the day, and they just want to be part of it, and the town is getting right behind it and hopefully their support will continue as the time draws near.”

For the moment, Saturday’s meeting is the focus, and the $18,000 1250m Benchmark 66 Handicap headlines a six-race-card with 57 acceptors.  

For more on the race day click here and for fields click here.

Trials and tribulations

The always-interesting 2050m journey will be tested in the opening event on Saturday, with a capacity field taking on the Benchmark 58 Handicap. 

The Robert Knight-trained Rock Pearl has been building nicely in recent starts over 2000m at Warwick and 1900m at Armidale, and from the good gate and with Georgina McDonnell, he looks one of the better bets on the program. 

The best bet appears to be the top-weight Tuscan Gaze in the 1400m Class One Handicap.

The Nikki Pollock-trained five-year-old will be better for his first run for the stable, and based on his prior form in Queensland, he should be winning this race second-up.

Tips  

Race1: 6 – Rock Pearl

Race 2: 1 – Dumpus

Race 3: 3 – Anzani 

Race 4: 1 – Amazingly 

Race 5: 1 – Tuscan Gaze

Race 6: 5 – Order Of Merit