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Club Spotlight: Gayndah

Gayndah-01-FB.jpgBy Jordan Gerrans

Premier Australian trainer Chris Waller was the toast of Queensland racing late last month when he ran one-two in the time-honoured Group 1 Queensland Derby.

Kukeracha was first past the post for the powerful camp, with Senor Toba not far away in the 2400 metre show-piece event.

In 2021, the annual Group 1 Queensland Derby is run in the middle of the 2021 TAB Queensland Winter Racing Carnival and one of the highlights of the carnival season.

If we flash back to the 1860s, it was the tiny town of Gayndah that held that title of hosting the first Queensland Derby.

Such is Gayndah racecourse’s significance to the history of the racing industry in the Sunshine State, it was heritage listed in 2005.

“As a horse-racing track, established in the 1850s during the first phase of free European settlement in Queensland, the Gayndah Racecourse is evidence for the importance and early development of the sport,” the Queensland Government states on their heritage listing website.

“Horse races were amongst the first organised sporting events in Australia and served as both a recreation and for the furtherance of horse breeding.

“This was important in an era when horses were used for transport, industry and warfare as well as for recreation.

“The first Derby held in Queensland was held on this track in 1868.

“The establishment of a racecourse is part of the pattern of Gayndah's development as an early town, established in 1849 as a centre for the Burnett District.”

Just a week on from the 2021 Queensland Derby in Brisbane, the Gayndah Jockey Club held a race meeting at their historic track.

Former club president Chris Seidner believes Gayndah’s unique slice of Queensland racing history is something the club takes pride in.

Gayndah-02-FB.jpg“The Derby the other week in Brisbane and we had the first Queensland Derby run out here at Gayndah, obviously our history goes a long way back,” Seidner said.

Current Gayndah Jockey Club president Jason Waldock explained that the track’s facilities have come along way since the first ever Derby.

“It is the grounds itself that is heritage listed, not so much the buildings, but every improvement we do to the racecourse or club, we need to get an exemption to do so,” Waldock said.

“We are in the process of erecting a new tower at the racetrack, which will be hopefully done soon.

“We have put a new shed in, an under cover area and a few things around the club house so there is shade around the club house, and a few more boxes.”

Gayndah-06-club.JPGAccording to the history books, the first Queensland Derby was won by a horse named Hermit.

The Derby was held at Gayndah for two more years, then known as the Queensland Jockey Club, until falling into abeyance and being revived in 1872 in Brisbane.

According to Waldock, Gayndah’s influence on the history of racing is often celebrated.

“Down at our museum, there is all the Queensland Derby memorabilia, banners and sashes from all those years back,” Waldock said.

“They have been able to collect lots of that stuff.

“The history is important to us and we embrace it as part of our Club’s advertising, showing that we are the oldest Jockey Club in Queensland.

“We push it to anyone that asks, telling them that they should come see the oldest club in the state.”

In 2021, Gayndah boasts a small but tight knit racing community.

They race twice a season, down from as many as five race days a year, with no trainers based at the track itself.

Local Gregory Huth started training last year, following in his footsteps of his grandfather who used to train himself, and had three starters go around in his name in the bush.

“It is great he is having a go, we used to have many more trainers but it has died down a bit over the years,” Waldock said.

Huth did not use Gayndah Jockey Club itself to prepare his small team, instead using his own property.

As has been the case in many country towns across Queensland in recent years, Gayndah has battled drought, with club members declaring their track has been dry for the best part of four years.

They received some rain in the lead-up to last Saturday’s meeting, which all the locals were smiling about.

The idea of putting a boar in at the track has been floated in recent years to help the irrigation across the racing surface and improve grass coverage.

Life-long racing industry participants, Seidner and Rhett Bellert, were on hand to help Waldock and his team prepare the track to race last Saturday.

Bellert was born and bred in the town before departing as a 15-year-old to start his jockey apprenticeship in Nanango.

“I had my first ride at Gayndah and I duly won,” Bellert said.

“She was a pretty good mare, she won six in a row after that.”

The now 58-year-old rode over 250 winners in his career, including metropolitan victories in Brisbane and winners across the border in NSW as well.  

Bellert has taken a step back from the industry in recent years but still helps out his home track of Gayndah to get ready for their two meetings a year, as well as working as the clerk of scales on race days.

The club itself is run by a loyal bunch of volunteers who have been there for much of their lives.

Waldock recalled working behind the bar as an 18-year-old at the races, before eventually progressing to become the president, with his wife the secretary on the committee.

“We all pinch in to help,” the president says.

Gayndah-05-FB.jpg“We are only a young club as such, most people on the committee are young and trying to make the club improve if we can.”

Former president Seidner has spent most of his life in Gayndah, with his grandfather training and his father riding track work.

“It has been part of life; we just grew up that way,” Seidner said.

“It is a great industry, I love it.”

Last Saturday’s five-event non-TAB program saw buses from the Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg bring punters to Gayndah.

They sold 500 tickets prior to the race day and expected many more than that to roll through the gate on the day.

Visiting hoop Rhiannon Payne was the star of the show, riding two of the five winners on offer. 

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