A buoyant crowd of 3342 turned out for the Tuncurry-Forster Gold Cup meeting last Friday.
Most of them viewed the nine race card from the landmark hill adjacent to the home straight. The elevated area affords racegoers a panoramic view of a racecourse which commenced operations only eleven years ago.
Tuncurry-Forster’s infield lake must be a source of envy to those race clubs whose tracks have been reduced to dust bowls by the crippling drought.
The spring fed reservoir enables the track manager to pump as much water onto the course proper and training grass as he deems necessary. Just minutes after the running of the last race on Friday, the elaborate sprinkler system put on a show of its own.
If only Norm Roberts and Don Creighton were still around to see the result of the project they proposed almost forty years ago. In company with John Darcy they formed an interim committee in 1980 to investigate the possibility of developing a racecourse in the popular mid north coast region.
It took the little committee almost five years to locate a potential site. Work had already begun on a housing development to be called Destination Bay, on 116 acres (47 hectares) of land just 4 kilometres from the Tuncurry town centre.
Norm Roberts had learned that the developer in question had run short of funds and was obliged to sell the full parcel of land. The proposed housing development site was situated on solid landscape, but the remainder was little better than swampland.
Roberts, Darcy and Creighton jointly purchased the property and quickly arranged for the semi developed building site to be sold off in 34 lots at $25,000 to $35,000 each.
Dredging of the site commenced in the mid 1980’s and an inestimable quantity of sand was removed over the next fifteen years. Some was used to raise the level of the proposed track, while thousands of tonnes were sold to construction companies.
Monies raised were immediately channelled back into the development of the dream racetrack. Those involved in the project visited several NSW race tracks to study design and dimensions.
They decided to use as their template, the Moruya course on the South Coast which had undergone extensive improvements in 1985 and was being widely praised by jockeys and trainers.
The interest shown by Tuncurry-Forster locals over the years has been overwhelming. Many machinery owners have donated their time and expertise, while volunteer labour has never been in short supply. Many race day roles today are filled by volunteers.
The racecourse has a circumference of 1800 metres and a width of 20 metres. Every starting chute gives runners an ample run to the first turn.
The course proper and training circuit offers a plentiful coverage of kikuyu turf, which thrives on a regular watering regime. Recently retired Australian Turf Club track expert Lindsay Murphy has given valuable consultation to the Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club on track maintenance and fertilization.
Lindsay was also instrumental in the Jockey Club’s acquisition of the former Canterbury Park starting gates a few years ago.
The Tuncurry-Forster resolve didn’t stop with the completion of the racetrack. Establishment of infrastructure has followed at an amazing rate. The fully covered betting ring accommodated eleven bookmakers last Friday. A brisk bar trade all day ensured that the new toilet block wasn’t short of customers.
A magnificent 220 seat pavilion was bursting at the seams, while twenty nine gazebos were the scene of much merriment. A six window mobile tote facility catered for hundreds of punters.
One hundred race day stalls were strained to the limit with a nine race card. Fortunately runners in earlier races left the course promptly, making way for the later arrivals.
The race day office, male and female jockeys rooms, weighing room and stewards room are all housed in a modern building. There’s a special barbecue area for the exclusive use of trainers and strappers with all food available at cost price.
There’s a veterinary room, swab stall and three wash bays. The commentary box, stewards patrol deck and judge’s box are all housed in an “easy on the eye” tower.
It was great to see a large and happy group of owners celebrating the win of Lady Evelyn in the Tuncurry-Forster XXXX Gold Cup, officially sponsored by L&B Glass & Aluminium.
Ridden the copy book race by Andrew Gibbons, The Reset mare recorded her eighth win for just over $200,000 in prize money. She’s prepared by the talented Jason Deamer who’s rapidly gaining recognition in the training ranks.
Co-feature race was the Evermore Pearl (BM 66) with trophies supplied by Broken Bay Pearls. Fanciful Dream gave Paul Perry and Jean Van Overmeire a double for the day. Nathan Perry filled in for his dad, while Van Overmeire made the trip from Sydney when the stable offered him several rides on the programme.
It was fitting that local trainer Terry Evans should win with Up The Stairs on his hometown Cup day. Terry is the only trainer based on the racecourse, with eighteen boxes at his disposal.
Special endorsement is in order for a professional Jockey Club Committee. Racing NSW Country has no more dedicated or passionate Club President than Garry McQuillan, who has filled the role magnificently for thirteen years.
Garry is the son of the late Ern McQuillan, former ace sports photographer and the grandson of Ern McQuillan Snr who was a legendary name in Australian boxing. Garry is a man of vision and innovation, constantly looking for ways to enhance the progress of the Jockey Club.
If Garry has an equal when it comes to energy and drive, it has to be his devoted wife Margaret. The McQuillan’s are a dynamic duo, on and off the track.
Garry has the backing of fellow committee members Adrian Wood, Mick Anderson, Julie Manning, Cheryl Gibson and Bill Fanning. He also has the support of professional people like Adrian Richards, Michael Summers and Chris Turner in an advisory capacity.
There’s little doubt the sheer perseverance and determination of the Tuncurry-Forster committee was the thing to swing the scales their way, when they applied for a licence to race. It’s the old story. The Lord (in this case RNSW) helps those who help themselves.
What a moment it must have been in 2009 when the go ahead was given by Racing NSW.
There’s only one thing the Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club does better than building racecourses and that’s extending unprecedented hospitality to visitors.
Currently only five meetings a year take place on this beautiful mid north coast circuit. The upcoming agenda is December 9th (Xmas Party Race day), January 18th 2020 (Sea Food Race Day), February 29th (Men Of League Charity Race Day) and May 16th (Ladies Day).
A writer called Dan Pena might have had this little country race club in mind when he said “Life without dreams is like a bird with a broken wing - it can’t fly”.
The Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club is soaring high.
(Banner Image courtesy Steve Hart Photographics - The XXXX Gold Cup was on display in the mounting yard.)