A DAY AT THE RACES
Families picnic underneath the trees amid the scent and sizzle of barbecues.
Young girls in their best dresses drift through the crowd in pairs. In the
mounting yard, there are tense last-minute conversations between trainers and
jockeys before the horses prance out onto the track. From the very earliest
days, South Australia's country race meetings have been important events on the
rural calendar, social gatherings in which everyone plays a part, from horses
and trainers to the toddlers picking up discarded betting tickets while judges
puzzle over which of their lovely mothers will win the Fashions-in-the Field.
Fashions come and go but racing has always been about numbers. Any
bookmaker worth his salt can calculate the odds faster than a maths professor
and conversations in the betting ring revolve around racing's strange numerical
codes, ten to one, six to four, or the mysterious 'odds on', while race-goers
pass tips to their friends in arithmetical shorthand.
"Have a look at number seven in the third."
"And they're racing!"
The commentator's drone is the quintessential soundtrack to a day at the
races, mingled in recent times with the pop of champagne corks, while out on
the track the horses are as tightly bunched as a fist and moving smoothly. When
they turn out of the back straight and along the far side, the commentator
shifts up a gear and by the time they swing into the home straight, punters
clutching betting tickets are shouting for their favourites. For a couple of
seconds the air is charged with possibility, before the thunder of hooves
drowns out the delighted cries of winners, the quiet resignation of losers. It
is time to visit the bar, or lean on the fence of the saddling paddock where
candidates for the next race are strutting their stuff.
Set amongst the sprawling farmlands of South Australia's mid north, Jamestown
Racecourse was top to toe electric yellow on Cup Day. Canola was this year's
cereal crop, an inspired choice that, together with a sky of solid blue,
accentuated the jockeys' racing silks and turned each race into a shifting
kaleidoscope of colours.
The 2005 Jamestown Cup was the final leg of the Outback Cups Championship
that incorporates racing there as well as at Hawker, Quorn, Port Augusta, and
Roxby Downs. Both the Jamestown Cup and the Championship were won by Go Spider,
a 7 year old grey from Gawler.
"Have saddle, will travel," is how winning jockey Jay Burgess describes
her peripatetic career. At Jamestown, Jay had a full race book and the next
day was to be the same at Port Lincoln.
Like the hard-working professional jockeys, country racing clubs have to
work at filling the stands. Live music attracts young people and alongside the
racing there is often a rock band. In keeping with Jamestown's Scottish
heritage, the Caledonian Pipes and Drums introduced the first race with tartan
Thoroughbred Racing SA Chief Executive Officer Ian Hart was enjoying his
first visit to Jamestown. "While there are so many people in the community
prepared to support country racing," Ian said, "there is no risk of it dying
The sport is showing an 8% growth across the state, with the country
racetracks leading the way. Closer to Adelaide, Murray Bridge Racing Club has
plans to purchase 800 hectares to develop facilities that the Club believes
will attract new trainers and breeders and provide a better service for those
already in the area.
The 2005 Balaklava Cup drew a record crowd of around 14,000. Stretch limos and
tour buses clogged the car park and in the Malaysian Airlines marquee a jazz
band belted out Mack the Knife. The atmosphere was of a corporate day out
rather than a family picnic, with marquees lining the track from the grandstand
almost as far as the eye could see. One or two bookmakers had pitched camp
along the course to service the marquee crowd. Hollywood Sid was one such,
delving into the trademark big white bag for cash, expertly flipping name
Fashion is full on at Balaklava and on Cup Day the going was tough, with
judges Carla Caruso and Cassi Maddern facing a nearly impossible task. With the
wind billowing skirts and the crowd leaning forward to check contestants' legs,
would-be Trinny and Susannahs in the audience kept up a running commentary.
On the way home from Balaklava, race goers disembarked at the Mallala
Football Club for a final top up of beer and bubbles. Inside the clubhouse,
Johnny Wonny played electric guitar and the women in hats danced with abandon.
By contrast, after the last race at Jamestown kids collected empty soft drink
cans, the picnickers packed up their cool boxes and a team of children kicked a
football on the track. That night, the Jamestown pubs were packed, their
kitchens working at full stretch to turn out steaks and schnitzels. The
lighting might have been more subtle, but the mood was relaxed and amiable with
country manners much in evidence.
Jeanette Macdonald, Band Manager of the Royal Caledonian Pipes and Drums,
said the band members were looking forward to coming back next year. The
feel-good buzz of a day at the races and the turnovers on track suggest that
they won't be the only ones.
Full On Fashion
Beautiful hats at Balaklava.
Jamestown Racetrack's canola crop.
Waiting for a Tinny
The bar, Jamestown.