Kendall Jennings, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper
While the Easter Bunny was setting his final route for Easter Sunday deliveries, the Country Races came to Kerang on Saturday, April 3. A brilliant day of sunshine, 32 degrees, with a complex primed for racing, rated at a good three for a track and with good grass coverage and cushion. With a seven-race line-up, the crowd was capped at 1,000 patrons due to COVID-19 restrictions.
I have never been so close to racing before, a privilege for owners, trainers and the media. Oh my, I was in for a treat, feeling like a kid at the lolly shop, eyes wide and smiles everywhere. I was treated to an all-area pass, and I made the most of it. I spoke to jockeys, trainers, owners and volunteers, absorbing as much as I could to learn more about horse racing—everything from horse earmuffs to shoes.
I was advised by Swan Hill trainer, Con Kelly, what the best track conditions are for racing and how a horse can pull up after racing on different surface types. Something I had never fully considered was the horse. Jockeys are elite athletes, training on and off the horse, staying fit all season. Then there are the horses. They also must be fit and healthy, be fed at correct times, may have to be rested, and be familiar with a different person riding them, and that person’s personality. Country Racing has two vets on-site. One follows every race, so if something happens to the horse a vet is there instantly. Another is in the mounting yard. The closer you look, the more complex a race meeting is. There is more than just placing a bet and going to the bar. I learnt how the barriers worked, about event timing and how Kerang is unique with its flood irrigated course.
In race two, Benalla’s ‘Velvet Snow’ wasn’t a happy girl; she decided that jockey, Mikaela Lawrence, was not required for the race and gracefully ejected her at the barriers. Then the grey went for a race-winning run on her own around the Kerang turf with two support riders in tow. The five-year-old mare ran past the post in reverse and still wanted more. In the end, the grey decided she had done her bit and returned to her stall in her own time, while she was officially scratched by stewards.
Local trainer, Tamra Taylor, put in long days training while also working at the Kerang District Hospital. Over 1100 metres after a 66-week spell, ‘Friskocity’ finished seventh. Mark Ashby’s ‘A Moving Place’ over 1400 metres finished ninth after a 46-week spell.
I have been following the McNeil lads over the past month and in the Kerang racing of-fice, a framed photo on the wall caught my eye. It is from the Sunset Handicap at Moonee Valley, July 29, 1989, winner ‘Rulcify’, a four-year-old chestnut gelding. Trained by N. H. McNeil, the jockey was A. Trevena, owners N., M. and I. McNeil. On Saturday, Logan McNeil rode in every race, managing two third places, two fourths, and three sixths for the day. Older brother, Jye, spent his day at Caulfield, which was broadcast at the Kerang track. Jye had two seconds, two thirds and a fourth for his day, then a second place at San-down Hillside on Sunday, April 5.
Easter Saturday was a great day at the races. Live music by Jefferson Smith enhanced the atmosphere. There was a big screen for viewing races, and Kelly Sports for the kids.
Winners were Drink. Driving. They’re better apart Maiden Plate 1400 metres ‘Danger in the Past’, Walkers IGA Maiden Plate 1100 metres ‘Very Shamus’, Peter Walsh Nationals BM52 Handicap 1100 metres ‘Lightning Rider’, BET365 Handicap 1100 metres ‘Pill Box’, Jack Fowler Memorial BM58 Handicap 1800 metres ‘Ceardai’, cluBarham Kerang Cup 1400 metres ‘Portland Jimmy’, and thegannawarra.com.au BM58 Handicap 1400 metres ‘End of Day’.
The next Kerang Turf Club meeting will be held on December 26, the Autopro Kerang Boxing Day Cup (Autopro Kerang has been supporting horse racing in Kerang for 19 years).
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 8 April 2021.