Racing future

Oakbank’s Easter Racing Carnival last weekend was again marred by dwindling crowd numbers.
While overall attendance fell by more than 20% this year, the biggest hit was taken by Easter Monday, which drew just 10,000 people compared with last year’s 15,000-strong crowd.
The decline is not a recent trend, with crowds decreasing consistently over the past several years.
A Select Committee into jumps racing may have given the club the green light to continue its signature event, The Great Eastern Steeplechase, but the club’s committee is still pushing against the tide.
While jumps racing was once accepted as a sporting spectacle, the ethics of racing horses over hurdles is continually called into question, with a growing population demanding change.
The death of a racehorse during Saturday’s meet only added fuel to that fire.
The campaign of the anti-jumps group has also been amplified by a Racing Minister who so vocally opposes the sport that he refuses to attend the State’s most popular horse racing event.
But if growing opposition to jumps racing is one nail in the carnival’s coffin, a trend away from attending public holiday race meetings is another.
With an increasing number of competing Easter events across the State and many people opting to leave town for the weekend, drawing a strong Easter Monday crowd may not get easier, with or without jumps racing.
Club chairman Barney Gask declared he was happy with the weekend’s turnout.
But the declining numbers at a once thriving event tells a very different story – the Oakbank Racing Club is in trouble.
The committee recognises that change needs to be made to stop the steady bleed of punters from its event, but the solution remains illusive.
Mr Gask has made it clear that jumps racing will continue at Oakbank and that the committee is determined to seek other ways to improve the event.
However, even if the Monday races are moved to another day (a Saturday to Saturday format) or it does become a flat-only racing program, the club will still be hard-pressed to revive the event to its former glory.