Woolamai racetrack, Bass highway on a lazy Saturday afternoon may not be Dubai, Ascot or even Flemington but there is undoubtedly an exciting laid-back appeal to picnic racing in regional Australia.
The particular race day I attended in middle January had everything a metropolitan meeting possesses - except for the TAB and a whole heap of snobbery. Picnic race days have a lot of endearing qualities beyond metropolitan races’ capabilities. Boozy brawls, streakers running the straight after the last race and a sixteen year old race-caller who was as glib and race savvy as any experienced caller in his field. Fast food and flies, sausages in batter, beer chilled in toddler’s blow-up pools filled with glacial amounts of ice, and thoroughbreds jumping out of their skins. Every bachelor and bride-to-be in the district was celebrating their hens and bucks functions and every slow horse in the state was racing.
A few jockeys were bucked off, kicked and head-butted. One poor silk earnt herself a ride in an ambulance to the local hospital. A brave (or very stupid) local rider had three attempts at mounting a mare that was full of shit and rage. He finally flung his leg over her while running at the pace of the mare’s canter. She was halfway up the straight on the way to the barriers by the time he was officially on board. That cranky equine totally missed the start by at least four or five lengths (I think on purpose) and she lost the race by more of a margin than her failed start. Once past the post she gave the silk a buck-off so beautifully executed I’m sure she planned the whole event early in the morning before her bran mash.
There was a real competitive feel to the day and as I was pinballing from the mounting yard to the bookies I felt I was in horsey heaven. And that is what it’s all about- the horses. Well for me anyway. A flutter is always a bit of fun and watching the parading horses is a feast for equine eyes. If you ever attend the ‘picnics’ you must back the 11-year-old flea bitten grey gelding for a win in the fourth race. (There is always a flea bitten grey.) He should have been in the paddock six years ago or bucking a pony-club kid off his sore back, but instead of an easy retired life he’s running a 1500 metre race and giving all the older lady punters a chance to lose money on their sentimental wager.
And yes, in case you’re wondering the old grey lost. And yes, if you get the opportunity to attend a race day at a country picnic meeting- get there.