'No picnic races for at least two months' in virus emergency

Tullibigeal held its picnic meeting last year but didn't race due to water on part of the track, but this month's event has been abandoned due to coronavirus crowd restrictions. Photo by Virginia Harvey of Fashions on the Field winners last year.
Tullibigeal held its picnic meeting last year but didn't race due to water on part of the track, but this month's event has been abandoned due to coronavirus crowd restrictions. Photo by Virginia Harvey of Fashions on the Field winners last year.

It's not what anyone wants to hear in the country looking to kick their heels up in the face of the drought or celebrate recent rain, with picnic races being called off one by one until at least the end of May because of coronavirus.

While TAB meetings and country race meetings will proceed without spectators at this stage, picnic races will suffer a different fate as they rely on crowds and sponsorship.

Already Tullibigeal, Trangie, Ardlethan, Grenfell and Cootamundra picnics have been abandoned, with many more picnic races to follow in the next few months. There are about 36 picnic races in NSW each year.

The decision to abandon the picnic races is not an official edict - yet - but NSW Picnic Racing Association president Craig Tyack, the man behind the famous Tullibigeal races, said his interaction with Racing NSW showed its clear intent that there should be no picnic races held at least until the end of May - and probably longer.

Funnily enough he said he was told they could be held without spectators.

"I quickly explained that would be ridiculous for picnic races," Mr Tyack said.

"It's still in the hands of each picnic club to call it, but obviously no one will want to break the federal government's edict about no bigger gatherings than 500 people."

Although no official statement has been made, the famous Back'o'Bourke picnics and the Moree picnics would also be unfortunate casualties unless there is a major turnaround in the spread of coronavirus. It will be up to clubs if they want to reschedule later in the year.

Ironically last year Tullibigeal held its meeting but didn't race because of a rain event in the middle of the drought. Now theth March 28 meeting is cancelled . The Racing NSW reason is "meeting abandoned due to coronavirus government restrictions".

Leanne Frankel, Tullibigeal treasurer, said she was very disappointed as the races often attracted over 1800 people to the Lake Cargellico and Condobolin area. "We had ordered the meat and alcohol but luckily none of that had left the distributors yet," she said. "We were all prepared to go."

There was some discussion on the committee about abandoning the meeting and someone declared what would happen to the club if the event was held and they were sued, or someone contracted coronavirus.

The federal mass gathering ban came into effect on Monday. As Coonamble raced on Sunday, it will be the last country race meeting in NSW to also have a crowd for some time to come.

The loss of picnics will also be a blow also to highweight jockeys and trainers getting their horses ready for the picnic circuit. Craig Tyack said he would turn all his picnic horses out now into the paddock.

The Murrumbidgee Turf Club has offered to hold a race meeting just for picnic participants.

Racing NSW said in a release: Please be advised that with the recent abandonments of picnic meetings in New South Wales, an additional picnic meeting has been scheduled for Wagga Wagga on their Riverside Course (Saturday, March 28).

"With Coronavirus issues forcing picnic meetings to be cancelled around the state, our club has been working with Racing NSW to try and add a picnic meeting to help participants earn prize money," said Steve Keene, Murrumbidgee Turf Club's CEO."