What a pity the last race numbers error at Clifford Park on Saturday had to take the gloss off a spectacular Queensland race meeting. Stewards declared correct weight before officials discovered the wrong horse had been placed fourth.
Curdled (number 5) was semaphored fourth placegetter but in reality finished eighth, a length behind the legitimate fourth Cool Drafts (number 15). A few First Four players received a surprise windfall, while others were left wondering what might have been.
Their disappointment was allayed over the weekend when TAB, in a sweeping goodwill gesture, announced that holders of tickets on both First Four combinations would be paid.
While the superstars of Australian racing were strutting their stuff at Royal Randwick, historic Clifford Park hosted some pretty useful horses in the TAB Toowoomba Cup and the Audi Centre Weetwood Hcp, both worth $150,000.
Chris Waller was busy at Randwick where he saddled up nineteen runners, plus a pretty important mare who was scheduled for an exhibition gallop early in the day.
He may have been able to sneak to a TV monitor to watch The Lord Mayor win the Toowoomba Cup and Sexy Eyes the Weetwood Hcp. Waller had to send eight horses to the Downs to clinch the double, but he got the right two.
Special acknowledgement of the efforts of his Queensland manager Paul Shailer who’s ticking plenty of boxes.
Most of the 5000 strong crowd witnessed a touching scene just minutes before the running of the Weetwood Hcp, when paraplegic former jockey Ben Saunders, astride a retired racehorse, led the field onto the track.
The widely promoted event took place two years after Ben and fellow trackwork rider Wade Clasohm were involved in a freakish accident at Clifford Park.
After two months of intensive training under the tutelage of paraplegic former jockey Kristy Banks, Ben felt ready to face the challenge. With the aid of a special saddle and safety strap, he actually cantered his mount up the home straight to rousing applause.
By the time he got to lead the Weetwood winner Sexy Eyes back to scale it was obvious he was really enjoying the occasion.
Ben Saunders and Wade Clasohm are two inspirational guys who have the respect and admiration of the Toowoomba community.
We all have a bucket list, but few of us ever get to realise all aspirations. For some reason I’ve always wanted to see the running of a Weetwood Hcp and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity when the Toowoomba Turf Club Committee invited me and my wife Ann to join them for the big day.
It wasn’t hard to imagine the legendary Bernborough thundering down the straight when we walked onto Clifford Park on Saturday. The whole place is neat and well kept. Anything that needed painting had been painted, the stand and hospitality areas are first class, and that magnificent Strathayr track could have doubled for a bowling green. The complex had the appearance and feel of a metropolitan racetrack.
Heartiest congratulations go to Chairman Kent Woodford and his enthusiastic Committee, to CEO Blair Odgers and to Business Development Manager Lizzy King. This dynamic lady, a former journalist and radio announcer, has embraced the racing game with great verve.
Lizzy covers all bases and got over more ground around the racecourse on Saturday than three Toowoomba Cup winners.
The day’s racing was complemented by some crisp and entertaining race calling by Anthony Collins. A product of the Darling Downs, this young man had to fill a giant pair of shoes when the legendary Pat O’Shea passed away after a short illness in 2015.
Like everything at Clifford Park, Anthony’s broadcast box is modern, spacious and well appointed. The first thing that struck me when we visited during the afternoon was a framed photograph on the wall honouring Pat O’Shea and two other Toowoomba broadcasting pioneers.
Instantly recognisable is the great caller Vince Curry, who was only 54 when he died in 1983. Vince began his distinguished career in Toowoomba, before moving to Brisbane in 1960. Also featured in the photograph is the late Bob Mahoney, the voice of Clifford Park for almost a quarter of a century.
I’m sure young Anthony is aware he treads the same path as his great predecessors and pays homage to them with every race he calls at the historic course.
It was a delight to catch up with talented jockey Skye Bogenhuber, who’s making a rapid recovery from injuries sustained in a nasty “jump out” accident a month ago. They don’t come much tougher or more determined than this lady, and she’ll be back sooner rather than later.
The five time premiership winning jockey enjoyed a social day at the races, but conceded she felt like a duck out of water. Skye has already won a Toowoomba Cup and a Weetwood Hcp and would have given anything to be out there on Saturday.
For those who are regular punters on Toowoomba racing, I’d like to nominate the unluckiest runner of the day on Saturday. Angel Dane was shooting for the hat trick in the Fillies and Mares BM 75 and was probably beaten by the number 1 gate.
She was hopelessly blocked for a run most of the way down the straight and finished fourth only 1.3 lengths from the winner Splitter. Larry Cassidy said she felt as though she would have really “let down” with a clear run, and pulled up as though she hadn’t been around. Trainer Steve Tregea will place her to advantage next time.
Another Weetwood day highlight was to catch up with recently retired broadcasting great Paul Dolan and his partner Gail. “Dogsy” tipped me a winner before the day was out and it wasn’t a four legged one. He insisted we join him for dinner at his favourite Toowoomba Chinese restaurant, where he was the most charming host.
It was Skye Bogenhuber who introduced me to Kevin Kemp, trainer of four Weetwood Hcp winners, earning him the popular sobriquet “Mr. Weetwood”. Kev has an interesting background in the racing business and is the subject of this week’s racing profile. You’ll find his story here.
In the meantime, my thanks to the Toowoomba Turf Club for hospitality beyond compare.