Merriwa prizemoney a ‘good incentive’ to head bush

Racing fans get to watch all the action from the inside of the racecourse at Merriwa. Photo: Bradley Photos.

Merriwa Race Club is a hidden gem in the western extremity of the Upper Hunter Shire.

In a day and age where businesses and events of all types utilise the multitude of social media platforms, Merriwa doesn’t need to as they prepare for what will be a big day of country racing on April 22. 

Apart from their website and some good local advertising, the club generally calls on racegoers from all over the region for what is a ‘real country race day’. 

“We don’t need all that extra stuff, and we keep it simple,” said Merriwa Race Club CEO Sue Bayliss ahead of the Wideland Group Merriwa Cup race day. 

“We’ve got a good, hard-working committee and some good young fellas coming through, and they aren’t all necessarily racing people, but they have their fortes, and over several years, the club has been able to complete projects, and we have a good little club.”

Merriwa is undoubtedly one of the more unique tracks on the NSW country circuit, with patrons watching races from inside the racecourse.  

“We attract all sorts of horses, and it’s a unique track that is a little bit like old Wallabadah racecourse,” Bayliss said. 

“We are one of the few tracks that can lay claim to having the horses race entirely around us, as the buildings are in the centre of the track.

“It’s a good course, and you’ve got to be pretty fit because the home straight is a decent bit of work uphill to the winning post, and we provide good distances that suit a lot of different horses, and I think we are pretty fortunate to have the good program we do.”

Many racegoers venturing to Merriwa for the first time need clarification, thinking the NSW bush club races the Victorian way of going. 

“It’s the apparition; people that have never been to Merriwa, they will ask why we race the Victoria way of going because when you are watching the races, the horses are coming up from your left, and it makes it look like they are going anti-clockwise, but I assure you, we race the right way.”

The racing at Merriwa is consistently strong, with the club boosting their prizemoney pools, meaning they often attract gallopers from all over the Hunter, North West, and Central Districts. 

“It’s a carrot we can dangle in front of the trainers, but we’re only able to finance it through the help of Racing NSW, good management, and generous sponsorship,” Bayliss said. 

“We’re able to provide well above the minimum prizemoney, and that’s all due to the many things we engage in and with our group of outstanding sponsors that come on board each year.

“I’ve got three or four fellas on the committee that are racing people, and they do a bit of breeding and own their own horses, and they are always keen to kick up the prizemoney, as they know it’s good for the participants, and it helps attract decent horses. 

“We bump up the entire program too, and not just the cup, and it turns out to be a good incentive for country trainers, and some of the provincial trainers even come up, and they look to take advantage of the half-decent prizemoney.”

While racing is the focus at Merriwa, those who do find their way to the meeting experience a more traditional race day, with fashions on the field and a Merriwa Cup calcutta the main off-track attractions.

“We don’t have live music and entertainment, and we don’t need it because it is a comfortable country meeting about the racing and families,” Bayliss said. 

“Our betting ring and bar are easily accessible, and our fashions on the field will be on after the second race.

“It’s a little bit more relaxed, as we have an open invitation for fashions and an under 18s section, so many people like to dress up. 

“We also have local and metropolitan bookmakers that cover the city meetings, and we do a cup calcutta on the day; the cup is race four, and after race three, we have a significant break, and that’s where we conduct the calcutta, and it usually builds up a decent pool.”On the day, entry is $20, with kids 16 and under getting in for free, and there will be a courtesy bus to and from town.