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Memories of the Creek: 50 years of night trotting at the Albion Park HRC

On Saturday, September 8, the Albion Park Harness Racing Club will celebrate 50 years of night trotting at 'The Creek'. 

The first meeting under lights took place on Saturday 7 September 1968, with packed grandstands with an estimated crowd of 15,000 and close to 80 bookmakers. 

Some legends of the sport both past and present will be in attendance to share their memories of the night, and to cheer on the current generation on the 10-race metropolitan program.

In the lead-up to the meeting, we caught up with some people who have played a leading role in Albion Park over the past 50 years. Racing Queensland will have many more in next month's edition of PACE Magazine. 

Kevin Thomas – former leading harness trainer/driver

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Kevin Thomas was the leading Australian driver for three seasons running, his most prolific being the 1976/77 season when he steered 174 winners. He is now well-known for his highly successful spelling and pre-training facility Washpool Lodge near Aratula, which has hosted champions such as Black Caviar, Buffering and Black Heart Bart.

My favourite moment was probably finishing third in the 1977 Inter Dominion with Sporting Sun.

He was owned by Victorian interests and they sent him here to Queensland to race with me. He was always a good horse but he really thrived here in Queensland.

He ran third in the final that night and I can remember the stands were packed. They were the days when there was 40 bookmakers under the trees at Albion. Silks Restaurant was always full, you couldn’t get in there unless you booked. It was unbelievable, the crowds, the bookies and the competition very fierce.

We had some really good trainers ... They had big teams of horses and were really competitive.

 

Kevin Seymour AM – Lifelong harness fan, former APHRC committeeman and owner/Breeder

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Mr Seymour has bred and raced some of the greatest horses seen on Queensland race tracks. On opening night back in 1968, Mr Seymour was working at the club. He remembers the night fondly. And, despite the countless feature wins he has shared in over the years, one Albion Park winner stands above the rest.

There was 15,000 people there on opening night and the club employed 110 staff and 79 bookmakers. The crowd was that big we had tractors with carriages towed behind them to bring customers from the infield across to where the stand was.

The chair of the club was Sir Clive Uhr, who was also the chair of the Brisbane Amateur Turf Club at the time, and it was the first time that a trotting meeting had been held under lights. The first race was won by Curly Adios and was trained by Sam Zammit. It was a very popular result.

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I think there was eight races on the night and the (standard) prize money was about $775 per-race. That was pretty good prize money for the day, in relative terms.

One win that stands out for me over the years was a horse I owned called Crazy Chief – I bought him with a deposit for a lounge suite that I was to buy for my wife. I went down and put $200 on the nose and he won at 10-1. He paid for himself right there and then. That’s what hooked me on harness racing and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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Brett Rail – Racing Queensland Harness Manager (Operations)

Brett Rail has a lifelong love of harness racing, which has extended into a career in administration at both Harness Racing Queensland based at Albion Park and now at Racing Queensland. Once upon a time, Mr Rail was a keen owner and punter. This is just one of his favourite memories of Albion Park over the many years.

I have many fond memories of Albion Park over the years not only with horses I owned that were successful at Albion Park such as The Power Of Chris, Lethal Reign, Cams Crusader, Tilman and The Demolition Man but memories of great wins such as Village Kid’s Interdominion, Thorate’s track record breaking win and Riverlea Jack’s Winter Cup win against an outstanding field in a closing quarter of 27 flat which was unheard of at the time. Importantly I also met my wife Amanda at Albion Park.

Perhaps my greatest memory is a win by a horse called Sammy Batman. I spent about $10 on a multiple double with bookmaker Andy Pippos who was keen to take my money with Sammy Batman in the last leg at 25/1. Horses in my earlier legs had won and, if I remember correctly, two of them were Peppermint Pattie and Toura.

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The late Darrell Alexander celebrating a win in-front of a packed house at Albion Park.

Coming into the last race my brother Craig Rail, who at the time was practising race calling into a hand-held recorder from the grandstand, declared Sammy Batman as no chance. In the straight Sammy Batman stormed home to win by a nose with Craig declaring “he’s won” in astonishment as they crossed the line. To this day I consider this his greatest ever race call.

Needless to say, Andy Pippos was not overly happy in paying out the substantial sum won on the multiple double. Sammy Batman never won another race.

Ron Wanless – former trainer, driver and owner

Ron Wanless made his name across a variety of sports, but had a real love for harness racing. Son of the great trainer/driver Merv Wanless, who prepared the great Queensland champion Lucky Creed, Ron and his brothers Keith and Leigh were steadfast figures at Albion Park.

There was one night at Albion Park that holds special memories for me. I had won the first 18 races for two-year-olds in Queensland in the 1981 season and it was the Sapling Stakes for two-year-olds. My horses ran first, second, third and fifth, but I can’t remember the fifth horse off the top of my head. It was a proud moment and I believe the first time anyone had trained the winning trifecta in a feature race in Queensland.

Lucky-Creed.jpgRon Wanless' father, Merv Wanless, prepared the great Lucky Creed. 

The success of Albion Park trotting wouldn’t have been possible without Russell Hinze (former racing minister). I remember walking into Silks Restaurant during the 1980s and you’d see Russell and his wife Fay sitting there with his two Rottweilers in the corner – he was the only person allowed to bring dogs in. I trained horses for Russell, he was a good bloke.

One day, he rang me and said, “Son, I’ve done it. I’ve got Albion Park for the trots.” I couldn’t quite believe it. That was a very special moment because we’d been fighting for years to get it. He loved trotting more than racehorses or greyhounds, although he did own a couple of successful thoroughbreds (notably Our Waverley Star). 

Russ-Hinze.jpgFormer Queensland Racing Minister Russell Hinze (right), with then Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. 

I loved trotting because it was a family sport. My dad was a champion trainer. He reared me and my three brothers and sisters on trotting horses. What I loved was that you could own, train and drive your own horse.

Damian Raedler – CEO Albion Park Harness Racing Club

Damian Raedler has enjoyed a close association with ‘The Creek’ for 35 years. Mr Raedler was the club’s longest-serving CEO (1983-2003) before spending time as the CEO of HRNSW and as the Racing Operations Manager for Harness Racing Queensland and Racing Queensland.

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I was the CEO responsible for the conduct of three successful Inter Dominion Carnivals at Albion Park in 1986 (Village Kid), 1993 (Jack Morris) and 2001 (Yulestar). I was also heavily involved in the conduct of the 2009 series (won by Mr Feelgood USA) hosted by the APHRC at the Gold Coast.

I’d have to say hosting all three at Albion Park was a real honour for me to successfully run and represent the club at an executive level. In those days the series was heavily covered by all of the publications in Queensland.

Village Kid winning every heat and the final was a special memory. There was the best part of 20,000 people there on the night of the final, with a temporary grandstand and infrastructure placed in the Member’s carpark. During this time there was no SKY Racing Channel so I negotiated with the ABC to cover it. They produced a half-an-hour special, which showed the last lap of the heats and then an hour-long special on the night of the final. 

Jack Morris’ win in 1993 holds both fond and sad memories. Jack Morris’ trainer Sean Harney, who I was close friends with, was suffering cancer and died soon after. This meeting was also covered by the ABC at a cost of $40,000.