‘Sheer joy’ as Gunnedah, Narrandera and Coonabarabran are included in The Big Dance

Gunnedah Jockey Club will host one of the 29 qualifiers for the 2023 The Big Dance.

Earlier this month, Racing NSW confirmed the schedule of eligible races for next year’s $2 million The Big Dance, and three new country cups have been added to the list, with Narrandera Race Club, Gunnedah Jockey Club, and Coonabarabran Jockey Club joining the fray.

Now there are 29 The Big Dance and The Little Dance qualifiers, meaning the first and second place getters in the $75,000 Coonabarabran Cup on December 23, $40,000 Gunnedah Cup on May 28, $50,000 Narrandera Cup on July 23, along with the 25 other country cups and one wildcard qualifier will get a chance to race for glory at Royal Randwick on November 7.

For Gunnedah Jockey Club secretary manager, Lyn Tongue, the announcement was a pleasant surprise. 

“I was elated and felt sheer joy and I was also shocked because it was a really big surprise for us,” Tongue said.  

“Our club is only such a small club, and our cup is only worth $40,000 in prizemoney but to think that the winner of our cup has the chance to go into a $2 million race is unbelievable.”

Tongue believes the announcement will only elevate the Gunnedah Cup meeting. 

“Absolutely, it filters down and benefits everyone involved,” Tongue said. 

“The better class of horse in your cup, the more prestigious the race becomes, and because they are vying for a position in The Big Dance, we expect to attract some good quality horses. 

“Hopefully the punters support the meeting, and the turnover should be good for the club.”

For Gunnedah, they are moving full steam ahead, with the club racing four times before their Big Dance Gunnedah Cup meeting on May 28.  

“What we need to do for the months ahead is show everyone that we are worth that nomination,” Tongue said. 

“We will be working hard until the 28th of May because this will absolutely put this place on the map, and we want to show Racing NSW and Racing NSW Country that we deserve to be on the list and included in the Big Dance. 

“We won’t be resting on our laurels. We’ll be painting every post and fixing every gate.”

Narrandera Race Club’s committee was also surprised to hear the news that their cup would be a qualifier for The Big Dance.  

“It’s fantastic, and it will put us on the map,” Narrandera Race Club acting president Graeme Mathieson said. 

“It got me by surprise, as I wasn’t expecting us to be included, but now that we are included, I expect that there will be some big trainers chasing it and some good horses racing in it, and it is just a fantastic result for our club and the town in particular.”

Racing manager Michael Bailey has been pushing Racing NSW hard for the Narrandera Cup to be included as a qualifier for The Big Dance, and Mathieson thanked him and his hard-working committee for their persistence during the 2022 season. 

“Mick has been pushing for it for a while now and we are very thankful for his efforts, but in saying that, for a very small committee, we have had a huge year as a club,” Mathieson said. 

“We have held multiple meetings at the last minute, and one of those meetings we put on with 24 hours’ notice during the big wet, and we were able to do a lot at such short notice, and I think that this announcement is reward for that effort.” 

While Mathieson and the Narrandera Race Club will be directing a lot of attention toward their 2023 racing season and the Narrandera Cup meeting, he said their main focus right now was on delivering an exceptional Christmas meeting on December 17.

“We have got this meeting in December, which is shaping up to be huge,” Mathieson said. 

“It is just before Christmas, and the inquiries have been amazing, suggesting it will be one of our biggest ever crowds, so we are working on that, but once we get through it, we will be full steam ahead for the Big Dance meeting.”

While it is a busy month of The Big Dance qualifiers, with the Mudgee Cup (December 2), Nowra Cup (December 4), and Armidale Cup (December 11) all taking centre stage, Coonabarabran will soon enough host their feature on December 23, and the club is pleased to be involved.

“We are extremely happy,” Coonabarabran Jockey Club publicity officer, Sarah Baglee said.

“The thing is, The Big Dance is meant to be about country trainers getting a chance at the big dollars and a big return, and everyone wants to be able to take their horse to Randwick and Rosehill and having the Coonabarabran Cup as one of the qualifiers for The Big Dance gives country trainers a real chance.”

There have been concerns raised in regard to city and provincial trainers targeting country cups with higher class horses in order to qualify for The Big Dance, but Baglee hoped to see a largely country-contingent contesting the Coonabarabran Cup. 

“Unfortunately, there have been a lot of country cups won by Sydney trainers, but I hope our cup is run with mainly county trainers like your Clint Lundholm, Brett Robb, Cody Morgan, and those stables,” Baglee said.

The dates for the 2023 The Big Dance country cup qualifiers.

“Even those small family trainers, where they have one or two horses; there would be nothing better than seeing one of their horses win and get a chance to go to the big smoke and race for some serious dollars.”.

Right now, Coonabarabran Jockey Club is focused on hosting a bumper cup meeting after the popular race day was washed-out on October 23 and subsequently transferred to the upcoming December 23 date. 

“It’s massive for us, and especially when you consider the money that this race day will bring to the town,” Baglee said. 

“It books out motels, brings in fundraisers, and all of our local community groups and businesses benefit from being involved with our race day. 

“Everything on the day is run by community groups, and we give money back to these organisations, so we want this day to be a really great day for the community.”

Author’s hoofnote

Love it or hate it, it appears The Big Dance and Little Dance is here to stay. 

While there still needs to be work done regarding country cup handicapping, protecting country stables, and the inclusion of a ‘country-only’ final, credit must go to Racing NSW for including three genuine country cups in Coonabarabran, Narrandera, and Gunnedah that should largely be contested by country gallopers.