Meetings canned as Covid strikes country racing

Come By Chance
Come By Chance Picnic Race Club won’t be holding their meeting this year. Photo: Racing Photography.

It is shaping to be a tough period for NSW country and picnic racing participants, with many committees choosing to postpone or abandon meetings due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

In recent weeks, Cobar, Gulargambone, Bingara, Come By Chance, Collarenebri, Louth and Carinda are just a few of the clubs that have made the hard decision to cancel their respective picnic and community meetings.

These abandoned meetings follow on from a slew of other ‘once-a-year’ clubs choosing not to race over the past 18 months, and the situation could only get worse for participants, with Covid-19 lockdowns now impacting many regional centres. 

Racing NSW Country Chairman Bob Pavitt felt for country clubs who decided not to race, but he backed their decision, highlighting why it was hard for once-a-year clubs and their volunteer committees to host meetings.

“It’s tough and there are two sides to it, “Mr Pavitt said.  

“For the small clubs, they haven’t got the infrastructure there to support them and with the extra involvement and work that Covid causes, in terms of controls and that sort of thing, it is very difficult for these clubs.

“Then there is the financial side; they can’t race with people there, and if you can’t have customers, the picnics suffer badly because they make their money out of the customer – that is obviously a big influence on the decisions that these clubs are making.”

Some clubs have been criticised for making decisions ‘too early’, although Mr Pavitt commended clubs for working with their communities and councils and putting the region’s interests ahead of their own.

“We give the clubs the option to race, and a lot of them work with their local communities and councils,” Mr Pavitt said. 

“There are concerns in these communities, and the recent outbreak in Northern NSW shows how easily something can happen, so you can certainly understand the concerns in some of these areas. 

“These clubs know their community better than anyone else, and they make decisions in the best interest of their community.” 

All is not lost though, with Racing NSW putting on some replacement meetings for participants.

“The clubs are helped by our CEO Brian Charman, and he gives them the option of whether they want to race or not, and we know the protocols for racing right now is hard, particularly for those once-a-year clubs,” Mr Pavitt said. 

“We are putting on extra meetings in other regions and areas to try and make up for the slack, which certainly helps the horse owner and industry participants.”

The Racing NSW Country Chairman also assured clubs and their committees that choosing not to race would not negatively impact future race dates. 

“The fact that they have elected not to run the meeting; it doesn’t mean it’s not on next year,” Mr Pavitt said.

“There is no change to the ongoing programming of racing, those clubs will be able to hold their meetings next year.

“There have been rumours that clubs will lose meetings and that is simply not the case.”

With so many meetings lost to Covid and the recent wet weather, the pressure will be on Racing NSW to find more meetings for participants. 

Coonamble recently held a ‘pop-up’ picnic meeting, and on August 28, Warren will host a community meeting and Gunnedah a picnic meeting and it is expected that more ‘pop-up’ meetings will be announced in the coming weeks.