Creating champions before the dawn

A photo essay of the behind the scenes work of those involved with race horses preparing them for Grafton's July Racing carnival. PHOTO: Debrah Novak
A photo essay of the behind the scenes work of those involved with race horses preparing them for Grafton's July Racing carnival. PHOTO: Debrah Novak Debrah Novak

THIS week thousands of locals and visitors will descend on Grafton for the historic July Racing Carnival, a week-long tradition of horse racing involving punters, families, fashionistas and trainers dating back 173 years.

This year when you sit in the heritage stands at the racetrack with the 20,000 other people who make the annual pilgrimage to watch these majestic thoroughbreds, remember there were humble beginnings to this racetrack and like then the people today still work hard behind the scenes.

The wild Mylne brothers in 1839, known for their hospitality and weeklong parties, were the first to introduce cattle and horses to Eatonswill now known as Eatonsville while in 1841 a Scottish squatter, Dr John Dobie, founded Ramornie Station and was the first man to bring 15 mares to the district and it is he who the Ramornie Cup is named after.

In 1842 another Scottish immigrant, Thomas Hewitt, squatted on Alumy Creek and his favourite hobby, you guessed it, was match racing and it was the illegal fencing of his enclosed paddocks which enabled Grafton's first racetrack, where you sit on course today. Six years later Hewitt would own the first local champion horse and a strategically built pub next to the track.

Exactly 130 years ago in 1882 the official timekeeper of the track, German-born Otto Fuchs, took his camera to work and captured the first photo finish of a horse race, however it took a long time for this idea to catch on until 75 years later Grafton officially trialled photo finishes.

While there may have been plenty of competition and action on the track in the early days it spilled over into the nearby districts as well. The Clarence River Jockey Club formed in 1861 and the rivalry between the other jockey clubs in the area was fierce with Grafton's arch nemesis, Glen Innes, offering the greater prizemoney.

The Grafton racing fraternity of the day wanted to have a greater impact on racing in NSW and to be seen as the premier country racing destination. This particular colonial identity was sought after and highly regarded as an example of a community that was civilised and cultured.

A local dignitary and political figure, Thomas Bawden, suggested a new feature race could be the answer to knocking Glen Innes off its perch and it worked, the Grafton Cup celebrates its 99th birthday next week.

There are many theories in training a winner and one of those is to provide the thoroughbred with an alternative exercise program other than trackside and one of those is swimming the horses. Six days a week, horses with their trainers alongside them are rowed across the Clarence River.

This photo essay is a tribute to those who still work behind the scenes of our horse racing industry, those people and the horses up before dawn seven days a week on track and swimming the River Clarence.

Topics:  grafton horse july racing carnival

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