09 May 2017
HOW GOOD IS THE ‘BOOLby MATT CHARLESWORTH
There’s one event on the calendar that stands above all else in the minds and hearts of regional Victorian’s. For three days in May, racing fans flock to the stands of the Warrnambool Racing Club to view the internationally acclaimed racing and jumps carnival. The third and final day is the largest of them all. An entertaining program packed with both the Grand Annual Steeplechase and The Warrnambool cup. A real can’t miss. Especially considering the entire Warrnambool city and surrounding areas are treated to a public holiday to celebrate the occasion. I certainly couldn’t turn down the opportunity and made the trip along the Surf Coast for the 2017 Grand Annual.
Upon my arrival, it quickly came to my attention that I was missing two essentials. A form guide to study the day’s schedule and my sunglasses that I had mistakenly left on the bench in the hotel room. An amateur move in both circumstances. Firstly, the kind gentlemen who sat next to me on the town transfer bus revealed that the key to betting success lies deeper than just the name of the horse. And secondly, I could have sworn that the sun shines brighter in Warrnambool. No complaining nonetheless, as all 20,000 of us racegoers were treated to blue skies and sunshine. I arranged to meet with some close family friends who just happen to attend the races each year. They would be my guides for the day.
The major races weren’t due to jump for another few hours, so we went about exploring the grounds. The member’s area was buzzing. Elegant ladies met the clean-cut gents under the shade of the dome-shaped trees. The fashion statements continued as we wandered towards the Fashion on the Field tent. $20,000 worth of prizes were up for grabs across four categories. Traditional Lady, Contemporary Lady, Best Dressed Gent and lastly, Most Spectacular Hat. We were lucky enough to catch a heat of the Contemporary Lady and the final of the Best Dressed Gent. I was particularly interested in how the gents suited up, as I was certain my new tweed jacket was enough to impress any fashionista. However, I was quickly put back into place. One after the other, each contestant marched on stage, parading their finest suit and tie. A dapper line-up with both traditional and modern looks; I began to feel thankful I was on the audience side of this competition.
Before we knew it, the start of race 7, the Grand Annual Steeplechase was upon us. 5500 grueling metres and 33 fences stood between the horses and the finish line. The most jumps of any other race in the world. By this stage of the event, I had adopted the racing spirit and decided it was time to visit the TAB. For such a formidable race, I knew it was time to go big, really big. I took a tip from the gentlemen I had met on the bus and placed 5 dollars on the nose of “Mannertone”. I took my ticket and followed the sea of people heading down to the racetrack. Twelve jockey’s and their horses entered the barriers adjacent to the marquees. Within seconds, the field was off and running. I joined many others at ground level, anxiously clinging to the fence. Much of the race was viewed on the big screen. It wasn’t until the final corner that the frontrunners could be seen navigating the sweeping left. “Regina Coeli”, a previous winner, was leading by less than a length, holding off “No Song No Supper” who was also running strong. Such a tight margin for what is considered the marathon of all steeplechases. Either horse could have taken the title at this stage. The height of the atmosphere peaked as the two thoroughbred’s dashed for the finish line. The race caller summarised the moment perfectly. “HOW GOOD IS THE ‘BOOL” echoed across the PA systems, prompting a roar from the thousands of fans watching on. “Regina Coeli” found the strength to kick on home to take the win; a fitting finish for the carnival’s headline race. As for “Mannertone” and my 5 dollars, the same excitement couldn’t be shared.
The Warrnambool Cup ran not long after and so, too, followed the remaining two races. The event was enjoyed by a diverse crowd; Males and Females from each generation were in attendance. I was lucky enough to cross paths with some noteworthy persons throughout the day. Laura Lafferty, Gai Waterhouse and the most notable attendee, my Grandpa. Laura Lafferty as the 2017 “Face of the Races” and fashion judge. Gai Waterhouse, Famous trainer and member of the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. And lastly, my Grandpa, who unknown to me, attends the race meet each year.
The races exceeded all expectations and Warrnambool the town itself, was also a huge hit. A unique mix of both the country and the coast, with a hint of Melbourne’s trendy feel. Residents made the most of the public holiday, filling the restaurants and bars as of night. Courtesy busses that ran between the town and the race track were perfect for getting around. I will most definitely be back. I’d love to get more involved… It’s a real shame I’m too tall to be a jockey.