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Last two proven stayers

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Picnic races have a long tradition in the bush and the Australia Day races at Wandecla, near Kojonup, are no exception. Kate Matthews reports

Picnic races used to be all the rage in the 1950s, but fast forward to 2011 and there are only two meetings on the calendar — Wandelca, on Australia Day, and the Landor Races, near Carnarvon, in October.

According to Country Racing Association chairman Dixie Solly, these are the only two races in WA open for amateur riders, after professional riding became the norm in the mid-1960s.

“The importance of these meetings is the benefit they bring to the towns and the tradition of bush racing, ” Mr Solly said.

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“It gives amateur riders and track riders the opportunity twice a year to don the silks. There is also the social aspect and it gives the battlers of the industry a chance to take their horses for a run.”

Late last year, uncertainty surrounded Wandecla’s future because the course is only partially railed. To meet the steward’s requirements, an inside and outside rail is needed.

Mr Solly believes there has been a lot of mis-information surrounding the rail issue.

“Kojonup, along with 25 other country racing clubs, has a submission before Royalties for Regions for $1.3 million to purchase aluminium running rails which will guarantee they comply with the stewards’ request, ” he said.

“It will go to Cabinet soon and Kojonup is under no more a threat than the other 25 clubs.”

Mr Solly said country races had sparked the interest of many involved in the industry and were a great tradition, epitomising the spirit of country people.

“The lifeblood of the industry is the grass roots clubs, in my book, ” he said.

Wandecla’s race day, organised by the Kojonup Polo and Polocrosse Club (KPPC), isn’t just about battlers having a go, it’s become a favourite among some of racing’s big names and is a major social attraction.

Visitors travel from as far as Perth and Albany, including Perth and Bunbury Cup winner Michael Miller, Ascot trainer and Kalgoorlie Cup winner Ian Glading, Tom Percy QC and local identity Barry Carpenter, a 17-time Kojonup Cup winner as jockey, trainer and owner.

Mr Glading said Wandelca was one of the best meetings in the State and he would choose it over Ascot any day.

“It’s a great family day out and a great traditional race meeting, ” he said. “There is nothing more Australian than this.

“There aren’t that many of these meetings left. They were once all over Australia, but are starting to die out.”

Mr Percy, a race writer as well as a leading legal light, said it was the meeting he would never miss.

“Picnic race meetings are a great cultural icon for Australians, especially on Australia Day, ” he said. “There is nothing more Australian than to come to a country race meeting and race your horse.

“You only have to look at the faces of the amateur riders when they win a race — it’s priceless.”

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