The only negative to be found in Kalgoorlie last weekend was the eerie desolation of the trotting track formerly known as the Golden Mile Raceway.
Here is a magnificent harness racing venue, a state of the art circuit where a true champion pacer would give the Australian mile record a nudge.
The long straights, sweeping turns and generous camber no longer resonate to the rhythmic drum of a pacer’s hooves.
Harness racing had been a part of goldfields history for well over a century, but paltry crowds and unpalatable prize money levels had seen the sport wither on the vine.
Racing and Wagering WA made the decision last year to call it quits when race field sizes dwindled to unacceptable levels. With only a handful of local trainers to support the meetings the end was inevitable.
Harness racing on the goldfields is sadly laid to rest, but thoroughbred racing is as robust as it was when the first Kalgoorlie Cup was run in 1897.
The Kalgoorlie Cup has been on my bucket list for many years and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity when the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Racing Club invited me and my wife Ann to join them for the Sportsman’s Luncheon on Friday, and the Iron Jack Kalgoorlie Cup on Saturday.
Walking onto the course on Saturday it wasn’t hard to imagine how it must have been in the rollicking days after Paddy Hannan, Tom Flannigan and Dan Shea discovered gold at Mount Charlotte in 1893.
In a matter of weeks thousands of prospectors had massed in the vicinity of the new “strike”, and soon after the Golden Mile was established - at the time the richest square mile of land on the planet.
It didn’t take long for horse racing to become the primary source of amusement for entertainment starved gold diggers. The Kalgoorlie Racing Club had its beginnings in 1896, and the Kalgoorlie Cup was run for the first time in 1897 - in fact it was run twice in the inaugural year, won on both occasions by Paul Pry.
The passage of 114 years hasn’t dimmed the bragging rights of local racing enthusiasts who are quick to tell you the 1905 Melbourne Cup winner Blue Spec was a Kalgoorlie horse. They are also quick to add he won the Kalgoorlie Cup the year before.
The famous “round” (Kalgoorlie, Boulder and Coolgardie Cups) has produced a million stories of legendary horses and horsemen, tales of rich men and scallywags, and the many uncertainties of racing.
An estimated crowd of 8000 turned out on a glorious spring day for the $130,000 Listed Iron Jack Kalgoorlie Cup. The racecourse reflects the theme of the entire city of Kalgoorlie - heritage buildings which have been faithfully maintained creating an old world atmosphere.
To walk down any street in Kalgoorlie is akin to being transported back to the nineteenth century. You get the same feeling at the racecourse with its 1896 grandstand and the original tote house which is currently undergoing extensive restoration work.
The charming old tote building houses the Signpost museum, named after a prolific Cups winner on the “round” in the 1990’s. Thanks to the efforts of Noel Jerrard and David Reed the museum is packed with items of tremendous historical significance. Some of the memorabilia was already on site, some was donated by relatives of old racing families. To browse through the Signpost Museum is to revisit 120 years of Kalgoorlie racing history.
Thoroughly enjoyed a trip down memory lane with Noel Jerrard who gave 37 years of devoted service to the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Racing Club Committee, three of those years as Chairman in the 1980’s. Noel, formerly a respected builder in the district has a deep sense of local history and takes great pride in the development of the museum.
Current Chairman is John Relph who made us feel very welcome on the big day. John is supported by Sam Brook, Aaron Heal, Dr. Andre Koletzko, Kathryn Paterson and Robyn Steenbach.
Special thanks to CEO Tony Crook who filled his role with great professionalism right through the carnival. Tony is enjoying a massive career change after a stint in the rough and tumble of Federal politics.
His journey from a pastoral background in the wheat belt region at Merredin, to a stunning victory over Wilson Tuckey at the 2010 Federal Election was a fascinating one. Tony won the seat of O’Connor with over 53 percent of the two party preferred vote, and was suddenly in Canberra where Julia Gillard was getting ready to preside over a hung parliament.
By the time the next election rolled around Tony had tired of the grind of parliamentary travel and constant separation from his family. His resignation in 2013 resulted in a 3.5 per cent swing against the WA Nationals, and the return of the seat to the Libs.
I was delighted to catch up with Milton Pettit during the course of the weekend. Now a spritely 83, Milton was born in Kalgoorlie and began his race calling career there in 1954. He had a short stint in Melbourne before moving to Tasmania which he calls home to this day.
He became a household name on the Apple Isle, racking up a record 41 consecutive Hobart Cup calls. He returns to Kalgoorlie at Cup time every year and it’s obvious he’s still regarded as a local. Fittingly his last official race call was at the Hannan’s Hcp meeting in 1999.
The big crowd warmed to the win by Spiritual Warrior in the Iron Jack Kalgoorlie Cup. The winner is prepared by former high profile harness trainer Justin Warwick who has made a spectacular transition to the thoroughbreds.
Spiritual Warrior, a $45,000 purchase from the goldfields region returned to his former home to win the listed event. The five year old son of Blackfriars was ridden by Justin’s daughter Lucy who earned every cent of her winning percentage.
Spiritual Warrior “walked” out of the gates and was buried three back on the fence in the early stages. Because the horse has a tendency to over race, Lucy elected to get off the fence at the winning post but clipped heels as she eased out.
The horse blundered badly almost unseating the young jockey who did a tremendous job to stay on. As if Lucy didn’t have enough troubles, Spiritual Warrior then “fired up” and she had little option but to let him stride to the front at the 1200m.
William Pike on the Adam Durrant trained First Affair was closing fast in the last 50 metres, but Lucy was able to coax her Dad’s horse over the line. There was every indication Spiritual Warrior’s army of owners were gearing up for a traditional Kalgoorlie Cup victory party.
A special tribute to retiring track manager Craig Wright ,who had the racing surface in immaculate condition. Not long out of a severe Kalgoorlie winter with its fearsome frosts, the course proper boasted a lush covering of turf all the way around. Craig explained that he’d over sown the kikuyu turf with rye grass coming into winter. He followed up with a liberal dose of fertiliser in early spring which enhanced the green tinge.
Finally my thanks to Darren McAullay, who was unstinting in his hospitality and assistance. Like Milton Pettit, Macca also grew up in Kal and cut his teeth at the local track.
This bloke is a working dynamo. He called the card both days, hosted the Sportsman Luncheon which included some auctioneering duties, and reeled off a couple of early morning radio programmes just to keep his eye in.
He’s a thorough professional and an all-round great talent. Western Australian racing has a great friend and ambassador in Darren McAullay.
Thank you Kalgoorlie for an unforgettable weekend. Keep going the way you’ve been going for 122 years. You must be doing something right!
(Banner image courtesy Lyn Webb - A huge group of winning owners at the Kalgoorlie Cup presentation.)