Skip to main navigation Skip to main content
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. November 2021
  4. Racing thriving in Roma year round

Racing thriving in Roma year round

ZOJAfdEY.jpegBy Jordan Gerrans

The annual Roma Cup is a date that most racing fans in Queensland have on their list to tick off at some point during their lives.

The population of the small town in the Downs racing region of the state swells on Cup weekend every year, with punters coming from all over the Sunshine State to be at Bassett Park.

Those from the bush out further west than Roma congregate with the city slickers from Brisbane and the Gold Coast, who also make the trip out to the town.

And, while Cup day at the Roma Turf Club shines the spotlight on the town and local participants, those on the ground every day of the year say racing in the area has not been as strong as it is now for some time.

A race caller around the area for just under half a century, Peter Flynn has seen the highs and lows of racing in the region and points to the growing interest from the general public and increased prize money on offer as being behind the industry’s rise.

“Racing at the moment is really booming in this area,” Flynn said.

“For example at St George earlier this month, they had a six race program which had $73,000 in prize money on offer and similar recent meetings at Mitchell, Surat and Morven have all raced for about that sort of money.

“They had excellent support at St George that day from not just the racing industry but also from the locals turning up the race days – there has been big crowds.

“The locals are looking for somewhere to go, COVID has had them sitting at home and now they are out supporting the clubs.”

Veteran Roma trainer Wayne Baker was quick to pinpoint the increased prize money and new stables being built at Bassett Park as positives for the industry.

A stable upgrade has recently been completed, with 42 new stalls being built on course at Roma with much more space and comfort for gallopers at the track.

“Racing is going good at the moment,” Baker, who learnt his trade from Brisbane trainer Barry Baldwin, said.

“The prize money has gone up a little bit, it would be great to go up ever more, but it is good the way it is.

“The new stables and barns are great.

“The Roma Turf Club have done well; they have put in a new walker and other things we need.

“They are great facilities.”

Former jockey Jessikah-Lee Brand, who is now a track work rider and trainer, remarks that there is a close-knit racing community at Roma and in the surrounding downs.

With new flash boxes at Bassett Park that were only recently constructed, trainers such as Wayne Baker, Craig Smith and Ben Waldron house their gallopers, with a few hobby trainers also having horses at the venue.

vs5Ax6yU.jpeg“Everyone gets along and helps each other out,” Brand said.

“If you have got one too many on your truck going to the races you can always chuck that one on with someone else.

“There is never 50 horses working on the track at the one time in the mornings, you can take your horses out there and take your time, really get to know them and make sure they work properly.”

New facilities have been built, more prize money is on offer and massive crowds are regularly on hand at the sand track in 2021.

In the process, the Roma Cup has developed into one of the most popular regional race days in Queensland over the last couple of decades. 

But it was not always that way.

As the club’s co-president Flynn explains, there has been a concerted effort over the years to build the occasion into what it is in 2021.

“In the last 1990s we were probably drawing a crowd of about 1,000 to 1,500 people,” Flynn remembers.

“Over a period of time we decided to make the Cup a little more popular and more of a place to go for people and in a period of 10 years we got the numbers up from 1,500 up to 10,000.

“It was a fairly significant event in 2010 when we got to that number and in the 10 or so years since, we have peaked at around 8,000-10,000.

“With COVID, we were down to 2,000 in 2020 and in 2021, we were hoping for around 5,000.”

While the Roma Cup is a one day event for many of the thousands of punters at Bassett Park, for the team behind the local turf Club, it is months of planning and organising to deliver the product.

“We probably look at starting organisation wise four months before the day itself, mainly checking on previous sponsors and checking on facilities to make sure the infrastructure are up to date,” club co-president Flynn said.

“And, then, looking at the massive amount of tents and infrastructure that we need to import for the weekend.

“There is a deal of work that goes into setting up the Cup.”

The 2021 Roma Cup also ran a bit smoother than others in the past.

“One of the things we lay claim or fame too is that at one of our Roma Cups, the town actually ran out of petrol,” Flynn said with a chuckle. 

“At that stage before the resource boom, there was only two service stations in town and by Sunday afternoon, they had run out of petrol.”