By TERRY WILSON
SOME frantic work by dedicated officials may have saved one of country New South Wales’s biggest social events from going the way of the dodo.
The Coonamble Racing Carnival, unquestionably one of NSW’s premier greyhound events, had to be cancelled last year because of the
COVID-19 pandemic and the same fate looked likely for this year’s carnival scheduled for early October after the spread of the virus across the state this year.
At one stage organisers had only three options for this year’s carnival – it was off, it was on at the scheduled dates, or it could be postponed.
In some positive news the carnival has been switched from October to January next year with new dates from Wednesday, January 26 (Australia Day), to Sunday, January 30.
It was a tough decision for head organiser Kevin Gordon and Coonamble president Graham Pickering and his committee to switch to a summer date, but at least it may prevent the second successive abandonment.
That, according to Pickering, would have had far-reaching ramifications for the club and place the annual greyhound get-together in serious danger of folding forever.
But now, with the new January dates locked in by Greyhound Racing New South Wales, the chances of its survival are looking better and better.
“The positive option is that it could be postponed until January,” said Pickering.
“We just can’t abandon it two years in a row, which would start saying ‘stuff Coonamble’.”
Because of the likelihood of there being high temperatures in January, a lot of the racing is being scheduled for twilight or night programs.
“The club understands what the weather will be like in the heart of summer so meeting start times will be fluid,” said organiser Kevin Gordon.
While the forced changes to the carnival are not ideal, he said the club is looking at the issue as an opportunity.
“It’s not what we wanted but with change comes opportunity,” he said.
“It means everything stays the same from a race programming and sponsorship point of view. All that changes are the dates to reflect the week(end) in January instead.”
The new dates have the carnival starting on Australia Day (Wednesday) January 26 and concluding with a massive day of finals action on Sunday, January 30.
And the hugely popular Calcutta at the Coonamble Bowling Club goes from its regular Sunday function to be held on Saturday (January 29),” Gordon said.
It is unfortunate timing for the club to have signed a new sponsor, NED Australian Whisky, for the carnival’s feature race the Gold Maiden (305m) only to have the race put back a few months.
But, as Gordon said, sponsors are sticking with the club.
The new NED Whisky deal means that the carnival’s feature event will now boast a purse of $12,000 for the winner.
The Sunday afternoon provides a big finale to racing, featuring a number of finals that include Silver and Bronze Maiden finals and the Tvati Coonamble Cup (530m) worth $4000 to the winner.
As well that afternoon there are other finals carrying $1000, $2000 and $3000 for winning connections.
As the COVID curse continued to wreak havoc with an ever-growing number of cases being recorded across NSW, it is heartening to see the efforts of people like Pickering and Gordon bidding to save the crown of Coonamble.
It was a bitter blow for all concerned last year because the four-day October party has always been a major social and financial attraction for the township, population 2700. It has been estimated that more than half the yearly turnover of the bowls club came via the greyhound carnival.
For many years the carnival was organised by leading race caller Paul Ambrosoli before being handed over to Gordon.
They somehow have to get a workable schedule for finals Sunday because the original October program had both morning and afternoon events, most of them finals.
And, at time of going to print, there were nine bookmakers, eight fielding on the locals and one on the away racing.
The Maiden has always been the carnival’s highlight, but who can name the last winner of the event.
Top marks if you say Noel Massina, a trainer from Bendigo in Victoria.
It was in October of 2019 that Massina had two runners in the final – eventual winner Born To Succeed and Kuranya, which ran fifth.
Massina is one who loved the October in Coonamble venture.
“It is close to my heart because I used to go there for more than 20 years and it was the same at Grafton,” said Massina.
“We just liked going to carnivals like that.”