Racing: What a fine day it is at the Gunny races

Horse racing at Gunbower dates back to1881.The “Gunny” races used to be held in the  heat of January but last year the date was changed to the more weather-friendly first weekend in October.

Gunbower is a small town on the Murray Valley Highway, half an hour from Echuca. The flat plains stretch out on the south side of the highway. On the north side are dairy farms, creeks, lagoons, the bush and, of course, the Murray.The road out to the racetrack on Fox Island follows the contour of the Gunbower creek.

It’s Saturday, Gunny races day. An enterprising youngster sits on the side of the road selling dried flowers. Once inside the course, I sit in the pavilion with a group of cousins and eat lunch provided by the church ladies. It’s one  of the few days of the year when relaxing and enjoying good company take precedence over worrying about life on the land.

Sam Kekovich, who spent his early years in Gunbower, has returned “home” for the day as racing ambassador. When he is introduced by ‘Frog ‘ Spittal,  who won 50 cents on the Deal or No Deal telly show, they joke about who the biggest megastar really is today.

Sam reminisces about his days here as a youngster and says the greatest gift is to be able to do something for others. He claims to have single-handedly rescued the meat industry.

For me, the races are all about catching up with my many relatives and school friends. I leave the science of picking winners to the experts. I do, however, enjoy leaning on the fence of the mounting yard and studying the horse flesh.

Groups on end-of-season football and netball trips swell the local crowd. Telly screens in the betting ring keep punters  abreast of events around the country.

Some young men in fancy dress are brave to enter the fashions on the field contest.  My old Island school friends, the Hancock twins, celebrate turning 50. A high school friend and I discuss local footy and AFL issues.

Halfway through the day one local swears he is never backing a favourite or a local horse again! Others are unfazed and seem keen to back a horse owned by my uncle Bill  and cousin Andy, MacGill ‘N’ Bill.

With No.5  and the jockey  wearing Geelong colours, it has to be a sure thing. It is early, but fades to finish back in the field.

Jack Styring calls his 59th  Gunbower Cup, which is won by Ponbar Avenue. It’s ridden by Steven Vella and trained by Sheila Laxon and John Symons. Seven races are run on the day.

Racing club president Peter Brereton and his father Basil estimate  the crowd  to be somewhere between 1600 and 2000. They say it’s a good crowd.

Farmers go home to milk in the afternnoon  but return later in the day.

After the last race, buses head back into Echuca and beyond and the locals head to the Gunbower  pub or home. The young lad selling flowers is still on the side of he road as police station themselves in a strategic spot to breath-test departing racegoers.

The Gunny races are over for another year.


  1. Pam,
    I notice MacGill ‘N’ Bill is entered in the Manang Cup this week! Mail please so we can arm Adam for a punt!

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Well it is a nice looking horse but I won’t tell you what my cousin said after the race when I asked what happened. It was drawn wide and ran wide and lead early- My impression was that it ran too fast too early. Hope it runs better at Manang.

  3. i always poke fun at my dad.
    i say to him: ‘Daddy can u get me a horsey?’
    no horse yet, haha.
    ive always loved black horses, they look so stunning. :)

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