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Australia Wallabadah Cup track safety concerns end 169-year New Year's Day picnic races tradition

05:25  27 november  2021
05:25  27 november  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Horses enter the straight during the 2016 running of the Wallabadah Cup. (ABC News: Lisa Herbert) © Provided by ABC NEWS Horses enter the straight during the 2016 running of the Wallabadah Cup. (ABC News: Lisa Herbert)

It has been 20 years since jockey Cody Morgan rode a winner at the Wallabadah Cup, but a false tooth is a constant reminder of the experience.

"A rock flew up and hit me in the face and knocked my front tooth out halfway through the day, the first time I rode there," he recalled.

Two decades later the Cup, one of the state's oldest race meetings and a New Year picnic tradition, has come to an end.

Five weeks out from the running of the 170th Wallabadah Cup, Racing NSW officials have recommended an end to racing for safety reasons.

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Mr Morgan, now a trainer, said the track, about 55kms south of Tamworth, was like a rollercoaster.

"You come down around a sweeping bend. A lot of the horses don't handle it travelling at speed," he said.

The Cup has been an institution in the northern NSW town since 1852, but the location of the racetrack on a hillside has proved too much for authorities in 2021.

The local race committee accepted the decision at a meeting on Wednesday night, but former president Bill Kelly said it was not easy.

"There's some very tender hearts in the town at the moment," he said.

Track deemed a risk to horse and rider

Racing NSW said the writing was on the wall for some time.

"NSW jockeys have had misgivings about continuing to ride there," said the general manager of industry and analytical for Racing NSW, Scott Kennedy.

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Located on a hillside on the southern outskirts of the town of Wallabadah, the decline from the top of the track to the straight is 18 metres.

"With our modern standards it's probably not the safest track, and not the sort of track we want for horses and jockeys," Mr Kennedy said.

Mr Morgan said he was not surprised.

"The jockeys who have all ridden there over the years, it's a credit to them. I can see how it could be classified as dangerous," he said.

A Cup meeting was cancelled in 2020 due to drought, and again this year because of COVID-19.

Locals knew its days were numbered.

"People who have grown up here they won't know what to do New Year's Day," Mr Kelly said.

Meeting won't be moved

In its heyday, the Wallabadah Cup attracted up to 5,000 people from all over the country welcoming the New Year track side.

Its relaxed picnic setting was as much an attraction as the racing.

The committee, however, said the race meeting will not be moved to another location.

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"We've always had the option of racing at another track like Quirindi or Tamworth, but the committee decided it's not viable to move," said club secretary Peter Jenkins.

"It would lose the character of the meeting by taking it anywhere else."

Mr Jenkins has been involved with the club for 48 years.

In 2018 he launched a book detailing the history of the Cup.

Little did he know the story would end just a few years later.

End of an era

The first race in 1852 was not at the present site — for 40 years the Cup was run on a track around the village itself, Mr Jenkins said.

"The publicans had a fair bit of input into organising and running the meetings. I think they had an ulterior motive with the track running past the front door of the pub," he said.

The Cup itself resides behind the bar at the local Marshall McMahon Hotel.

The last winner, Crinklewood, was trained by Tamworth's Craig Martin.

"We've still got that, nobody's said anything about taking it anywhere. Hopefully it does stay here on display," said publican Glenn Pratt.

While there's no future for racing at the Wallabadah track, the committee will meet in the new year to consider what other uses could be made of the 24-hectare site.

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