By Andrew Adermann
Two of the state’s biggest names have thrown their support behind Racing Queensland’s regional racing model in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Yesterday, RQ outlined new biosecurity measures to adopt five key thoroughbred regions and four key greyhound regions as part of a multi-staged approach to health and safety.
The state’s racing industry body also announced it would abandon the up-coming winter carnivals for thoroughbreds, greyhounds and harness participants, to be replaced with standard metropolitan race programming.
Albeit an extremely tough decision to make, it has been warmly welcomed by industry participants across Queensland as every proactive measure possible is taken to keep afloat an industry that contributes $1.5 billion to the state economy.
Speaking to RadioTAB this morning, Brisbane’s premier horse trainer, Tony Gollan, said that all industry participants are doing everything possible to adhere to the directions given by the various levels of government in order to stop a COVID-19 spread.
“We’re just very grateful that we still have a job and we can still go and look after our horses, and race our horses,” Gollan said.
“Hopefully we can provide some entertainment and keep racing throughout what is a very tough time for everyone.
“We’re all trying to do our best to keep COVID-19 out of our industry so we can keep a product out there.
“If there were a breakout in one of the new regions, it allows the other regions to continue to race so it’s just breaking up the racing communities within the community.”
Gollan is also adapting to new methods of communication to his hundreds of owners, who are barred from meets as a result of RQ’s patron-free racing measures.
“We’ve tried to amp things up and give a high level of communication, but we’re trying to bring that race day experience for clients that would normally be there, while they’re at home” Gollan said.
“The sentiment out there is that they’re all just so happy that racing is still going, it gives them something to do and look forward to while you’re stuck at home.”
Gollan’s sentiments were echoed by leading metro jockey Robbie Fradd, who said the tough calls had to be made in order to sustain the industry during this period.
“I congratulate Racing Queensland for getting together and coming up with this plan,” Fradd said.
“It’s a great idea, we’re keeping people earning a living and we’re keeping the racing and everyone is able to carry on and provide for their family.
“They want to keep racing going for the benefit of all the people involved in the industry, and it onwards and upwards from now on.
“We’re all in this together, we all just have to pull our weight a bit.”
Fradd, who currently sits second on the Queensland Metropolitan Jockeys’ Premiership with 47.5 wins, said he is disappointed the $21 million carnival couldn’t proceed, but was totally supportive of the call to abandon.
“I think for the moment, it’s the right call (to abandon the Winter Carnival), because this could go on right past the carnival dates,” Fradd said.
“The big fields, top riders, top horses, if they can’t come then there’s no Carnival – there’s no drawcard and no showcase of Queensland racing.
“The carnival will be back and we’ll all look back on this and say ‘it was the right call.’
“It’s a strange feeling (riding to an empty crowd), it’s nice to come back to applause and a few cheers, but it’s very different at the moment.
“It is what it is, but it will be nice when the crowds come back, and in a way hopefully it drives a few people who have been starved of going to the races back through the gates and we get a few packed race days.”
Fradd feared that prior to last night’s announcement, it would be a matter of if not when racing was forced in to shutdown, but says now the outlook is far brighter to continue going as long as possible.
“The Government could’ve hopped up and said you’re finished for a month, two months – you never know,” Fradd said.
“The idea that RQ brought up is great because the Government can see that at least the racing side of it is doing their job to stop the spread.
“We should be okay, providing that everybody sticks to their zones and follows the proper protocol.
“I’m sure I speak on behalf of all the jockeys in saying thank you for getting this plan together and keeping us going.”