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Club Spotlight: Moranbah

Moranbah.jpgBy Jordan Gerrans

It is not for eight months yet, but the Moranbah racing community are already buzzing ahead of the 2021 Country Cups Challenge qualifier to be run at Treasure Park.

The annual Country Cups Challenge final in Brisbane every year has become a headline fixture in the bush racing scene around Queensland with countless stables keen to qualifier their horses.

The 2020 edition of the feature country event was taken out by Mareeba marvel Paniagua after the Alex Malliff-trained gelding went on a stunning eight race winning streak, including the Cairns Cup.

And, later this year, the winner of the CCC final may just come from the Leichardt district-based track – the Moranbah Race Club.

As Moranbah Race Club president John Juhas explained, the club, which is two hours inland and slightly south from Mackay, have been desperate to land a qualifier for the race for quite a while.

“In the November meeting, we have been battling for some time to get a Country Cups qualifier race and we have finally got one this year,” Juhas said.

“We have been trying for some time to get a race like that and now we expect it to be a very big day in November.

“We have been trying to get it for ages.”johnson.png

As Moranbah is centrally placed within north Queensland, the qualifier could well be a strong lead-in race to the final with Treasure Park within close proximity to Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and even Far North stables.

As Moranbah will break new ground by hosting a CCC qualifier later this year, they also registered another first recently.

The sand track at Moranbah had not had a permanent stable be based on it for five years before stalwart of country racing, Bevan Johnson, recently made the move north.

Horseman Johnson was previously based at Miles, before moving up to Bouldercombe just over 12 months ago, and now only recently again shifting to Moranbah.

He made those decisions to make it easier to race on the provincial circuit around the state, being closer to tracks like Mackay, Townsville and even Cairns to test out his best horses.

“We are really happy with the move and the track and facilities here at Moranbah really suit us,” Johnson said.

“We decided to make the move to be closer to more provincial tracks around the area and it is well placed for that.

“As a track it has everything we need.

"It might be a bit more central because we do a lot of travelling.

"You have to place the horses where you think they can win."

As club president Juhas noted, Johnson was keen to move to Moranbah to utilise the all weather track.

Fab's Cowboy

Bevan-Johnson.JPGAnd, with Johnson now at Moranbah, that means champion Queensland iron horse Fab’s Cowboy is also in town.

The nine-year-old gelding recently brought up win 41 from 100 career starts as Johnson aims to get him up to 45 victories before they consider retirement.

Even when there were no trainers based at the track for half a decade, the club’s committee still regularly kept their racing surface in a great condition, working on it every few days.

With Johnson now the only trainer based at the track in 2021, Juhas explained that it never used to be that way.

Juhas has been involved with the club for almost two decades and recalls the time where there were more than a dozen stables at his club.

When the current president first moved to town, the track was a thriving facility in the mornings but with the downturn in the mining industry in the area, many of the trainers moved away or retired.

The dual-licensed Bonnie Thomson, who calls Townsville home these days, recalls riding at Moranbah around two decades ago.

“I remember riding there as an apprentice when I was based in Emerald all those years ago,” Thomson said.

“It was always a good sand track.”

Thomson would love to have made the trip south to Moranbah this coming Saturday but has already committed to rides at Mareeba.Moranbah-again.jpg

In 2021, Moranbah will host three race days in the year, including March, this weekend, as well as a June and November date.

Juhas thinks they could easily host another date to take them to four race meetings for the year if there was more available.

“We have got a very good track, it is all sand, but once we get the water on, it is a very good track,” Juhas said.

The club’s president first relocated to Moranbah to work in the mining industry before a friend invited him down to a race club committee meeting and within a year, he was leading the club.

Juhas’ interest in racing comes from the ownership part of the game.

He had a decent share in a mare named Loyal Lauren, who won 11 races from 52 starts for $260,500 in prize money, before she retired in 2006.

“Eight of us owned her, it was a thrill with all the races she won,” Juhas said.

“The worst bit was driving two hours to Rocky from Moranbah then flying to Melbourne to watch her race, it was a lot of time and effort and was getting very expensive.”

Treasure Park will host a rare six-event non-TAB program this Saturday after another race was added to the card after Bowen’s race day was washed out last month.

The club are hopeful the November meeting will also be a six race affair.