CANCELLED: Drought takes toll on country racing
COUNTRY racing is feeling the full brunt of the continuing drought with race meets throughout Australia cancelled for the first time in their long history.
With water simply unavailable, clubs are finding themslevs in a difficult position with little grass cover, and track surfaces hardening.
The first of the region's races were cancelled last week and Bell Race Club president Daryl Ramsey said the future for country racing was looking very concerning.
"We are obviously very disappointed we were refused the races, we did a lot of work on the track and it appeared to us in good enough condition," Ramsey said.
"The most disappointing thing for us was there was no contingent of trainers or jockeys involved in the decision-making process becasue at the end of the day they are the ones who race," he said.
"For small towns like us, it's the biggest day of the year, it brings in a lot of money and to have our premier social event cancelled is shattering."
The Queensland Racing Integrity Unit conducts inspections of racing surfaces at all tracks to determine if a surface is safe or poses an unacceptable risk to jockeys and horses.
Queensland Racing Integrity commissioner Ross Barnett said the welfare and safety of jockeys and horses was their key priority.
"Stewards inspected the Bell track on December 24, December 30 and January 2 and found the surface lacked suitable grass cover due to drought and the top soil had eroded to expose a surface that was hard and compacted," Barnett said.
"Stewards discussed their safety concerns with club officials, in particular the unsafe track condition in the home turn and in the top section of the home straight," he said.
Despite the club's best efforts, which included watering and spiking, the stewards' final decision deemed the track unsafe.
Wondai-based trainer Lindsay Anderson said having meets cancelled was very frustrating.
"We really struggle in the bush, if something happens to a race we can't just go to another race like they can in the city," Anderson said.
"The track closure at Bell is very concerning for country racing as even the clubs that run off dam water are running out of water, and once the sand tracks get hard they're very difficult to race on," he said.
"I'm suprised Queensland Racing didn't get a trainer or jockey involved with the decision as they are the ones riding the track."
The Jandowae Race Club president Bruce Davis said they were in a similar position and were fearing the worst.
"I walked the Bell track with the president of Racing Western Downs and we thought it was suitable for racing," Davis said.
"It's very concerning for us becasue our track is just as hard as Bell," he said.
"A jockey and trainer should be included in the decision making process becasue at the end of the day they are the ones on the track.
"How the drought will affect other clubs is yet to be seen, however it's going to be very hard to race."