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Club Spotlight: Roma

By Jordan GerransR7-Gdansk-Toby-and-Trent-Edmonds-Matthew-McGillivray-7.jpg

Out in the Downs region of Queensland, Roma’s Bassett Park has long proved to be an excellent breeding ground for jockeys.

Group 1 winning riders have cut their teeth out at the Roma Turf Club, with potentially another in the making out at the sand track.

Anthony Lane was a leading bush rider in his day, as well as mixing it with the best in the state with a handful of metropolitan winners.

Experienced country trainer Craig Smith gave Lane some of his first rides in the area, a hoop he had a two decade long association with, just as he did with Matthew McGillivray (pictured), who has gone on to Group 1 glory and ride winners around the country.

Matthew’s younger brother, Dan, is next in line when it comes top riders from Roma making their name on a bigger stage.

Dan is atop the Queensland Country Jockeys premiership with 23 winners for the season, with plenty more to come before the end of July.

Smith, who has trained at Roma for more than 30 years, has mentored all three over the years and believes Roma and tracks within driving distance are a perfect place for aspiring jockeys to learn their trade.

It is important to become a horseman, on top of being a jockey, Smith notes, which is something he teaches all his apprentices.

He says it is “hard and tough riding” in the bush, with youngsters able to learn from seasoned riders on the non-TAB circuit in a more casual environment than being in the city.

“I love the challenge of teaching the young fellas and if they have the effort and ability, it will come through for them,” Smith said.

“It is good for my stable and good for them.

“I have had seven or eight apprentices over the years, and they have all outrode their claims and gone out of their time.

“Matty and Tony have gone on to be very good jockeys and others have done it too.”

McGillivray believes respected Queensland country trainer Smith was crucial to his development.

“Craig Smith and his family are lovely people and he looked after me really well," he said in early 2018.Roma-Turf-Club-01-web.jpg

"He put me on quiet horses for a while so I could get a feel of what it was all about, Craig kept stressing the importance of keeping a horse balanced.

“Places like Longreach and Barcaldine are seven hours from Roma and it made for a long day when I rode there, but you can’t buy that kind of experience.

“I wasn’t allowed to pull the whip on a horse until I’d ridden 20 winners.

"I covered a lot of territory - more than 80,000 kilometres in one season - and went to Birdsville two years in a row - the first trip I rode seven seconds but the second year I landed six winners.’’

Roma-Turf-Club-29-web.jpgThe Roma Turf Club is these days run by co-presidents, Smith, who doubles as the leading trainer in town, and Peter Flynn, who calls the races at Bassett Park.

Flynn thinks Lane’s efforts in the saddle are some of the best to come from the area.

“He won many premierships in Roma and in the south-west area, including riding many winners in Brisbane, as he had a few weight issues which held him back in Brisbane,” Flynn said.

“From a Roma point of view, he is a fantastic story from our town.”

Lane, now 50 years of age and no longer race riding since 2012, has continued his work in the racing industry as an assistant trainer and track work rider to Cliff Brown.

A multiple Group 1 winner, Brown has been one of the top trainers in Singapore in recent years, finishing top five in the premiership last season, and is in the process of moving his operation back to Australia.

Lane and Brown are not long out of quarantine, looking to set up their new base in Victoria.

Lane’s top career achievements include a Roma Cup winner on Dancefloor Prodigy in late 2011, as well as a Birdsville Cup.

And, Smith feels the younger McGillivray is every chance to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and Lane – getting their start in Roma and going on to bigger and better things.

“We have produced some great jocks over the years, and I have had a good run with apprentices,” Smith said.

“I have got young Dan with me now, Matt’s brother, he is progressing along quite well into his second year now.

“Dan is learning the ropes really well, he is going great.

“Matt excelled and was ready to go to the next level.”

Racing at Bassett Park is split across two clubs, the Roma Turf Club, who will race this coming Saturday, and the Roma Picnic Race Club, which raced last Saturday and races once a year.

Roma Turf Club race eight times a season.

Smith describes his committee as progressive, always looking to improve facilities.

A stable upgrade has recently been completed, with 42 new stalls being built on course.

“With the help of Racing Queensland, the local clubs and councils, we are in the process of developing a $500,000 upgrade to our stewards and jockeys’ room on top of that,” Flynn said.

“The idea is to cater to the influx of female jockeys we are seeing at our racetrack.”

Three full-time trainers base themselves at Roma, as well as five hobby trainers, with around 80 horses in work at a time.

At the recent Roma Picnic Race Club meeting, Flynn estimated 40 of the 52 horses that faced the starter wertr trained at Bassett Park.

Roma has a mix of non-TAB and TAB race days, with two nationally televised race days on the way this year.

The annual Roma Cup meeting has been a TAB for the best part of the last decade and they will add another SKY Racing date later this year with their Roma Rugby races to be broadcast, which doubles as a racing and rugby union event.Roma-Turf-Club-13-facebook.jpg

“It is a great training facility here at Roma,” Smith said.

“We have just had new stables being built.

“We have only lost a couple of meetings in the 30 years I have lived here.”

Ahead of the five event program on his home deck again this Saturday, the Smith barn has been firing of late.

He usually has around 20 gallopers in work and has trained a winning double each of the last two weeks.

Smith targets QTIS races and says he was busy at the recent Magic Millions sales, searching for more QTIS opportunities for his owners.