Oakbank Easter Steeplechase switch

CHANGES: Oakbank Racing Club will run the $160,000 Great Eastern Steeplechase on Easter Saturday, instead of Easter Monday, next year.
CHANGES: Oakbank Racing Club will run the $160,000 Great Eastern Steeplechase on Easter Saturday, instead of Easter Monday, next year.

OAKBANK Racing Club has conducted a major overhaul of its Easter Carnival and will break with a tradition which extends nearly 100 years when it races in 2018.

The club will run the time-honoured $160,000 Great Eastern Steeplechase on Easter Saturday, instead of Easter Monday, a date it’s occupied since the 1930s.

With the switch in dates for the Great Eastern Steeplechase, the $100,000 Von Doussa Steeplechase has been changed from Easter Saturday to the club’s  prelude meeting on Sunday, March 18, which provides a 13-day break to the Great Eastern.

Feature races including the Classic Hurdle, Oakbank Cup and Oakbank Stakes will all be run on Easter Saturday, as the club looks to bolster the day after attendance figures dropped dramatically for the Easter Monday meeting over recent years. Minor races, including a hurdle and steeplechase, will be run on Easter Monday as the club holds on to a two-day meeting.

Former chairman and ORC committeeman John Glatz said the switch in dates for the Great Eastern Steeplechase was needed because of dwindling crowd numbers. Horses were also not backing up from the Von Doussa Steeplechase when it was run on the Saturday.

“It’s changing times,” Glatz said.

“We had to move with the times. We had 36,000 people on-course for Easter Saturday this year and 15 years ago it was 18,000.

“People have voted with their feet, so we’ve decided to change the Von Doussa to our March meeting.

“It will allow horses 13 days to get over the Von Doussa to run in the Great Eastern. Public holiday Monday race meetings used to be huge, but they are not now.”

Thoroughbred Racing South Australia chairman Frances Nelson welcomed the change for the state’s feature jumping events.

“I congratulate the Oakbank Racing Club for making the move,” Nelson said. “They want to make Easter Saturday a Super Saturday for racing in South Australia and we back the move to the hilt.

“New sponsors have indicated that will jump on board for Easter Saturday.

“We’ll have live hosting from Racing.com, which will be an added bonus to the day.”

NEW YEAR’S TREAT

WOODFORD Racing Club officials have their fingers crossed regarding its annual cup meeting to be run at Warrnambool on New Year’s Eve.

The first of eight races is scheduled to start at 2.25pm and the last is set down for 6.35pm.

Woodford Racing Club president Peter Haynes said apart from the races, plenty of entertainment and food has been organised for patrons at  the popular meeting.

“We wanted to run on the Sunday and New Year’s Eve falls on the Sunday so that’s when we’ll race,” Haynes said. “Our meeting is usually a huge day but with it falling on New Year’s Eve, we’re not really sure how many people will attend.

“We’ve got plenty of entertainment off-course and gourmet food for the patrons. Patrons will be able to stay on-course till 9pm before they go off to see in 2018.”

Terang has a meeting the next day, on January 1.

RIDLER RETURNS

JOURNEYMAN jockey Stephen Ridler will be back where his career began when he attends the popular Terang races on New Year’s Day.

Ridler 57, mixes riding between Darwin and Alice Springs but will come home to Stawell to visit his mother over the festive season before going to the Woodford races on New Year’s Eve and Terang on New Year’s Day. “I rode a winner at Alice Springs on Saturday and booted home two winners at Darwin last week,” he said.

“I reckon it’s not a bad effort to still be riding at my age. I’ll be 58 in a few weeks and hope to continue for a few more years.”

Ridler, who is based in Darwin started his apprenticeship as a 16-year-old with the late Terang trainer Fred Drever.

The former star South Western District Racing Association apprentice rates Drever the best trainer he has has ridden for in his 41-year career.

JERICHO TRIAL

WITH nine permanent fences removed from the open country at the Warrnambool racecourse, the racing club is now ready to run a 2000 metre flat trial on Tuesday as it prepares for the inaugural $300,000 Jericho Cup in November 2018.

Four locally trained horses will take part in the trial, which will start  in steeple lane before going into Brierly Paddock, Granters Paddock and down over the Tozer Road double and then turning right before making their way to the finishing line.

Warrnambool Racing Club chief executive Peter Downs said the trial was an important milestone for the 4600 metre flat race next year.

“The flat trial goes through the paddocks and will give stewards the chance to tick off the  surface where the old fences used to be as we’ve relaid new turf,” Downs said.

“The Jericho Cup will be run on the same course as the Grand Annual Steeplechase. “The whole idea of the flat trial is to iron out any issues which may arise.

“The race is a great initiative of Bill Gibbons and has created great interest from all parts of the industry.”

The nine permanent fences are to be replaced by temporary wheel-in fences which will be used for the 2018 Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeplechase.