Racing: Country cups offer great post-footy fun

By Chris Riordan
This Thursday we flick our calendars to October and focus on the spring carnival and racing’s brief visit to the forefront of Australian sport. Before Flemington and Randwick elbow in with their magnificent meetings next Saturday, I do want to highlight three wonderfully Australian cup meetings that are taking place in the bush today.

Quambatook, population 200, is the tractor-pulling capital of Australia and the birthplace of country music performer John Williamson. Situated in north-west Victoria, the quaintly named Quamby has its Cup today over 1600 metres at the Swan Hill racecourse.

While the $10,000 Coleraine Cup is the feature race at the Western District club’s annual non-TAB meeting, easily the best race on the card (quality wise) is the time-honoured $15,000 Great Western Steeplechase (3500 metres).

The cream of Australia’s jumping jockeys have been lured to Coleraine to ride in the steeple, which has a capacity field. This track and the event have history that dates back to settlement; jumps poet Adam Lindsay Gordon has immortalised in his works. But anti-jumps lobbyists are forecasting doom for another great regional tradition.

In South Australia’s backposts, the farming town of Halidon comes to life for the “Melbourne Cup of the Mallee”, the Bardrill Mindarie Halidon Cup. The club is supported by many of the farmers and business people in the district, which is just as well given the towns of Mindarie and Halidon have a population of 28.

Before we frock up for Flemington, I think it is important to remember that a racecourse was as much a symbol of settlement as a pub, a church and a school. Long may they be celebrated.

Check out the Country Racing Victoria website and consider a day at the country races.


  1. Richard E. Jones says

    GOOD luck with country racing, Chris.
    As the sports editor of a major regional newspaper, it was my task to attend — and report on — country race meetings a couple of decades back.
    Kerang would hold a race day on Boxing Day in the late 70s-early 80s. It was my unhappy lot to saddle up, so to speak, after a big Xmas Day and reluctantly drive from Bendigo to Kerang for the meeting.
    Irregularly there would be a race day at St Arnaud on a track in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully those race days fell just on 4 days or so per year.
    These gallops at Kerang and St Arnaud were largely non-TAB meetings.
    Because the meetings were held in a much larger town, Bendigo’s race days attracted a better class of horse. But only marginally.
    There were some dreadful nags going around in those days and no doubt there still are.
    As a non-punter what used to drive me crazy was the interminable wait between races. There was some upside to all of this, however, especially at Bendigo.
    An avuncular Bendigo Jockey Club secretary used to invite my wife and I to regular committee luncheons. Now that’s the way to attend a race day.
    Sit behind the giant plate glass windows, sip on a nice red and have the three courses delivered to your table. Just occasionally there was a need to excuse yourself to conduct the obligatory post-race interview with jock., trainer and owner down near the weigh-in area.

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Chris, the Gunbower races(half an hour from Echuca) are on next Sat. They used to be held in the stinking heat of January but last year changed to the first weekend in Oct. Good crowd. Mostly locals but a few footy trip buses from other places there. It’s the perfect weekend to dissect the footy season! Last year one brave local was still wearing all his Geelong clobber. He copped plenty of teasing. He’ll be happy this year.

  3. Pamela Sherpa says

    Richard – Boxing day at the Kerang races is still a huge day for the district.

  4. Does Jack Styring still call the Gunbower races?

  5. “baring his molars to the breeze” most likely. He’s close to the use-by-date.

  6. mark freeman says

    Or “With his mouth open like a cod-fish calling to its young”

    Long live the great man, who as a breeder introduced the Star Kingdom line into Australian bloodlines (or so he told me!)

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    Jack Styring still does the Gunbower races- a genuine old fashioned race caller that’s for sure. Can’t remember the number of consecutive years he has been the caller but it is many.

  8. Mark Freeman says

    I think he might have topped the half ton at Gunbower recently Pamela, which is a fair effort alright.

    And Crio you make mention of the Coleraine Cup meeting being an annual non-TAB meeting – I don’t reckon it’s been that for long. I was there in 1999, when the meeting was called “The Blokes’ Oaks” and I reckon it was a TAB meeting then. I think it might have lost it’s TAB meeting status as part of that review a few years back where Racing Victoria tried to pension off far flung bush racecourses.
    I know that last year it was non-TAB as I wanted to back Key Symbol who won the cup. I remember betting on the tote in the years before that.

  9. Jack Styring did his 50th Gunbower Cup about five or six years ago. It was in the days when the cup was still run on the first weekend of January. I was supposed to cover it for the paper but something popped up and I had to cover the Portsea Swim Classic instead. Old Jack certainly didn’t call that one.

    Conjures a good image, though.

  10. Penshurst on Boxing Day and Dederang early in January are great meets.
    I go to Hanging Rock races just to listen to Jack.
    Love the above quotes.
    “Get in the queue brother.”

  11. I’m going to the very unsexy Money Valley tomorrow. Hope to be at Flemington Saturday. Anyone going to Murtoa or Gunbower Cup instead (or even Benalla’s Cup on Sunday)?

  12. We’re missing the big one.

    In 1995 I went to the Pooncarie Cup meeting at Poncarie, about 100 kilometres north-east of Mildura, on the Darling River.

    It’s big hat country!

    Only small hats when we got back over the river to Mildura.

  13. Pamela Sherpa says

    Daff , bad luck you ended up on the beach at Portsea and not in the Gunbower creek!

  14. Pamela Sherpa says

    Chris – I’ll be going home to catch up with everyone at Gunny.

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