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Club Spotlight: Quilpie

Quilpie-Diggers-Race-Club-04-web.jpgBy Jordan Gerrans

To get to a race meeting at the Quilpie Diggers' Race Club, it is effectively the end of the road.

While there are further western racetracks in Queensland - including Birdsville and Betoota in the Central West region of the state - Quilpie is the last based on a sealed bitumen road in the region.

Located in the Downs region for racing in Queensland, Quilpie has a population of around 600.

“We are the furthest race meeting west until you get to Birdsville or Betoota on the road from Brisbane,” Club president Sam Bartlett explains.

“We are the last racetrack on the bitumen I suppose, the dirt road starts after Windorah out that way.”

Charleville trainer Mark Johnstone is a regular visitor to Quilpie.

“It is pretty much the end of the bitumen…out on the back blocks,” Johnstone said.

With the Quilpie Diggers' Race Club comes a recently redeveloped racetrack and facilities, but within the town there are no active stables.

There is one licensed trainer, but he no longer has any gallopers in work.

When they do race, which is once a year, trainers and horses travel from all around the area and even from across the border in NSW.

Johnstone, whose yard is in-form of late – recently lifting the Noorama Cup - described Quilpie as a tight turning track which benefits front runners with the dust and dirt providing backmarkers with plenty of kick-back.

The stalwart of racing in the area has been going to Quilpie for more than two decades to race his team.

“When we go out there, they have one the best possible set-ups you could get out in our area,” Johnstone said.

“For what they do for once a year, gee whiz it is impressive.

“They have done a good job, they have a good committee and whenever we race there, they certainly look after you.”

Bartlett, who has been on the Club’s committee for many years and was around four years ago elevated to president, is proud of what his volunteer-led club have been able to achieve.

“We have a lot of fun as a club, it is an event that brings the community together, it is one of the bigger social events of the year for our area,” Bartlett said.Quilpie-Diggers-Race-Club-02-web.jpg

“We take pride in doing a good job and have a fun day.

“We worked closely with the Council about five years ago to do up our facilities, they are great.

“We get comments great every year about how good our facilities are, with all the boxes for race day staff air conditioned, the people just love coming back every year.

“It is pretty flash our little track.”

Quilpie-Diggers-Race-Club-01-web.jpgBartlett and his club are looking forward to showing off those flash facilities to a new bunch of owners and trainers this weekend as they host a six-event non-TAB program, with an additional feature race. 

Racing Queensland recently announced Quilpie as one of the new venues which will take part in the 2021 TAB Battle of the Bush Series.

Quilpie was set to make their debut in the series last year, which was put on the back burner following restrictions.

Everyone involved is excited to host a qualifying heat this week, with the series culminating in the $200,000 Final on Tattersall’s Tiara Raceday at Eagle Farm on Saturday, June 26. 

The Battle of the Bush commences at the Quilpie Diggers' Race Club on May 1 and will again feature 16 qualifiers (two per country region) across the state.

The club expect trainers from Charleville, Cunnamulla, Roma, from over the border from NSW and even as far away as Toowoomba for the series heat.

“That is the plan, hopefully we get a good roll up of trainers, we have already had a number of inquiries from trainers from different areas that do not always come to Quilpie,” Bartlett said.

“That is good to hear and hopefully we can have a good weekend and everything can run smoothly.”

Johnstone, who has 13 in work at his Charleville base, is likely to have a number of winning chances around Saturday’s six races.

He says he races his team of horses with a good bunch of owners, declaring it is a family operation as his wife helps train his gallopers, while his brother in-law rides his track work.

Bartlett moved to the bush after growing up in Newcastle, where he learnt to love racing as a young boy.

He recalls going to watch track work in his hometown alongside jockey Dale Spriggs, with his involvement in the sport growing from there.

Bartlett also owns a few horses, including a gelding who won last weekend’s Dalby Amateur Cup and ran second in last year's Country Cups Challenge at Doomben.

Quilpie is one of many clubs in Queensland who race just once every 12 months.

“The biggest thing for us racing once a year is maintaining momentum as a club and committee,” Bartlett said.

“You always gain momentum as the races approach every year but after the races, because it is a lot of hard work to put it all together for some time, there is always anxiety and panic looking forward to the next one.

“There is lots of new rules and regulations that we need to follow now, maintaining standards like that as a once a year club can be difficult.”

The Quilpie Diggers’ Race Club was founded by a group of local World War II soldiers who shared experiences as prisoners of war.

“On their return home, they decided to form a racing club; hence, the inclusion of “Diggers” in the official club title,” the club’s website explains.

“Throughout the history of the Club, there have been stories of service, endurance, controversy, scandal, tragedy and heroism involving great country horses, trainers, jockeys and owners."

Club spotlight will be a regular feature that shines a light on the unique and individual racing clubs across Queensland.