Wallabadah Races Canned for Good
Author’s Prelude (WPH):
We could see it coming. Another one ‘bites the dust’. Others will follow. Some will say this is more ‘WOKE’ in action. Others will see it as responsible industry governance with human/animal safety and welfare paramount.
Featured Image: Horses enter the straight during the 2016 running of the Wallabadah Cup.(ABC News: Lisa Herbert)
End of an era: Wallabadah races canned for good
By Jeff Hanson
November 27, 2021
Fundamental Question: ‘Will Merriwa be next’?
Wallabadah Jockey Club will not race again. Photo: Northern Daily Leader.
The Wallabadah Jockey Club has been part and parcel of the North West racing scene since 1852 and claim to be the oldest country racing track in Australia.
On the eve of their 170th anniversary meeting that was scheduled for January 1 2022, the club recently announced that they would not be hosting any more meetings, stating that their track did not meet Racing NSW standards.
In an interview with Prime7 News North West, Club representative Tim Mackie said it was the undulating nature of the unique Wallabadah course that led Racing NSW to make the tough decision.
“If anyone has been here, they know what the up-hill, down-hill nature of the track is and due to that, country racing have had to make a decision,” Mackie said.
The country course has a nine-metre decline from its peak to the home straight, and according to the Prime7 News report, the NSW Jockey’s Association told racing NSW that jockeys were ‘reluctant to return’, which prompted an investigation by Racing NSW stewards that led to the track being deemed not suitable for ‘horse and rider’.
Wallabadah races in the early 1930s.
Mackie said it was disappointing to lose so much history, with Wallabadah considered the oldest country racing club in Australia, but he understood that the safety of jockeys and horses was Racing NSW’s main concern.
“This race meeting, in my opinion, has been a flag bearer for the history of horse racing and it’s unfortunate that it has come to this,” Mackie said.
“But we live in the modern world where workplace health and safety is paramount.”
NSW Country and Picnic Racing unsuccessfully reached out to Racing NSW for comment regarding the closure of Wallabadah.
The Wallabadah New Year’s Day meeting has since been moved to Tamworth.
Wallabadah Cup track safety concerns end 169-year New Year’s Day picnic races tradition
/ By Jennifer Ingall
Posted 16h ago16 hours ago, updated 15h ago15 hours ago
Horses enter the straight during the 2016 running of the Wallabadah Cup.(ABC News: Lisa Herbert)
Help keep family & friends informed by sharing this article
It has been 20 years since jockey Cody Morgan rode a winner at the Wallabadah Cup, but a false tooth is a constant reminder of the experience.
- Racing NSW says the Wallabadah Cup track doesn’t meet safety standards
- The first race was held in 1852
- Its organising committee says the race meet will not be relocated
“A rock flew up and hit me in the face and knocked my front tooth out halfway through the day, the first time I rode there,” he recalled.
Two decades later the Cup, one of the state’s oldest race meetings and a New Year picnic tradition, has come to an end.
Five weeks out from the running of the 170th Wallabadah Cup, Racing NSW officials have recommended an end to racing for safety reasons.
Mr Morgan, now a trainer, said the track, about 55kms south of Tamworth, was like a rollercoaster.
“You come down around a sweeping bend. A lot of the horses don’t handle it travelling at speed,” he said.
The Cup has been an institution in the northern NSW town since 1852, but the location of the racetrack on a hillside has proved too much for authorities in 2021.
The local race committee accepted the decision at a meeting on Wednesday night, but former president Bill Kelly said it was not easy.
“There’s some very tender hearts in the town at the moment,” he said.
Wallabadah races circa-1930.(Supplied: Peter Jenkins)
Track deemed a risk to horse and rider
Racing NSW said the writing was on the wall for some time.
“NSW jockeys have had misgivings about continuing to ride there,” said the general manager of industry and analytical for Racing NSW, Scott Kennedy.
Located on a hillside on the southern outskirts of the town of Wallabadah, the decline from the top of the track to the straight is 18 metres.
“With our modern standards it’s probably not the safest track, and not the sort of track we want for horses and jockeys,” Mr Kennedy said.
Brothers Cody and Luke Morgan have both ridden winners at the historic Wallabadah Cup.(Supplied: Lucy Goodsell )
Mr Morgan said he was not surprised.
“The jockeys who have all ridden there over the years, it’s a credit to them. I can see how it could be classified as dangerous,” he said.
A Cup meeting was cancelled in 2020 due to drought, and again this year because of COVID-19.
Locals knew its days were numbered.
“People who have grown up here they won’t know what to do New Year’s Day,” Mr Kelly said.
Race goers track side at the 2016 Wallabadah Cup.(ABC News: Lisa Herbert)
Meeting won’t be moved
In its heyday, the Wallabadah Cup attracted up to 5,000 people from all over the country welcoming the New Year track side.
Its relaxed picnic setting was as much an attraction as the racing.
The committee, however, said the race meeting will not be moved to another location.
“We’ve always had the option of racing at another track like Quirindi or Tamworth, but the committee decided it’s not viable to move,” said club secretary Peter Jenkins.
“It would lose the character of the meeting by taking it anywhere else.”
The Wallabadah Jockey Club is the oldest in country Australia, with this photo estimated to be from the early 1900s.(Facebook: Bernice Saunders and Colin Saunders via the Quirindi Rural Heritage Museum)
Mr Jenkins has been involved with the club for 48 years.
In 2018 he launched a book detailing the history of the Cup.
Little did he know the story would end just a few years later.
End of an era
The first race in 1852 was not at the present site — for 40 years the Cup was run on a track around the village itself, Mr Jenkins said.
“The publicans had a fair bit of input into organising and running the meetings. I think they had an ulterior motive with the track running past the front door of the pub,” he said.
The Cup itself resides behind the bar at the local Marshall McMahon Hotel.
Publican Glenn Pratt holds aloft the Wallabadah Cup which has a permanent home at the Marshall McMahon Hotel.(ABC New England North West: Jennifer Ingall)
The last winner, Crinklewood, was trained by Tamworth’s Craig Martin.
“We’ve still got that, nobody’s said anything about taking it anywhere. Hopefully it does stay here on display,” said publican Glenn Pratt.
While there’s no future for racing at the Wallabadah track, the committee will meet in the new year to consider what other uses could be made of the 24-hectare site.