Pandemic could cripple picnic racing industry

There won’t be any bustling crowds watching NSW picnic meetings while the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps across Australia and the world. Photo: Bong Bong Picnic Race Club Facebook page.

Pandemonium surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has the possibility of hurting various NSW Picnic Racing Association clubs in the short and long term future.

After Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a ban on non-essential gatherings of 500 or more people, Racing NSW have since decided to mitigate all risk to patrons.
As a result, all race meetings in NSW will only have trainers, jockeys and the bare essential staff for running a meeting until further notice.

This decision to keep the racing community Coronavirus free will unfortunately impact community and picnic meetings, who typically rely on crowds for their financial existence.

At this stage, Ardlethan Picnic Races (March 21), Tullibigeal Picnic Race Club Inc (March 28), Cootamundra Picnic Races (April 4), Back O Bourke Picnic Race Club (April 12) and Grenfell Picnic Races (April 18) have already fallen victim to the impact of the pandemic and Racing NSW’s decision, cancelling their upcoming meetings.

NSWPRA President Craig Tyack highlighted the current plight on picnic racing clubs.
“We have been told there are no crowds going forward and only trainers and jockeys can attend,” Tyack said.
“The stewards have said we could possibly run with no crowd but no club wanted to do that because and it’s not really in their interest.”

Tyack, who also trains, suggested there was no time frame on a return to normality and that it could be a long, dry spell for the NSW picnic racing scene.
“We have been given no indication on when it will change, nobody knows anything,” Tyack said.
“Trainers might have to turn their horses out, I’ve turned mine out.”

The picnic racing association president was adamant that clubs could push through a lean season but he did admit it would be tougher on some meetings compared to others.
“Yeah most clubs will get through it because they have good financials, some others might struggle but if they have the sponsorship this year, hopefully they can organise to race again next year,” Tyack said.

Racing NSW steward Jason Shultz reiterated Tyack’s comments but wanted to remind people, the final decision to race was left with the clubs.
“With the race meetings that have been cancelled, they were at the request of those clubs, not at the direction of Racing NSW” Shultz said.
“I understand why they made those decisions, as it would be financially very hard to hold a meeting without a crowd.”

In light of the situation, Racing NSW in cooperation with the Murrumbidgee Turf Club has decided to hold a non-TAB picnic meeting to help support industry participants.
“We were actually working through this yesterday afternoon and Wagga will be holding a non-tab event for picnic horses and jockeys,” Shultz said.
“It will run on March 28 and we have made sure the races are suited to picnic horses, giving them a chance to keep racing.”

In the mean time, community race clubs are also expected to struggle, with once a year meetings like Hillston Jockey Club (April 4) and Lightening Ridge (April 11) certainly impacted by the new rules.

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