Safety concerns on Wallabadah Cup track end 169-year tradition of New Year’s picnic races

It has been 20 years since jockey Cody Morgan won the Wallabadah Cup, but a false tooth is a constant reminder of the experience.

“A rock flew up and hit me in the face and knocked out my front tooth in the middle of the day the first time I went,” he recalls.

Two decades later, the Cup, one of the state’s oldest racing meetings and a New Year’s picnic tradition, has come to an end.

With five weeks to go before the 170th Wallabadah Cup race, Racing NSW officials have recommended the races end for safety reasons.

Mr Morgan, now a coach, said the track, about 55 miles south of Tamworth, felt like a roller coaster.

The Cup has been an institution in the northern New South Wales city since 1852, but the location of the racetrack on a hill proved too difficult for authorities in 2021.

The local race committee accepted the decision at a meeting Wednesday night, but former president Bill Kelly said it wasn’t easy.

“There are very tender hearts in the city right now,” he said.

Wallabadah Races circa 1930.(Provided: Peter Jenkins)

Track deemed to be at risk for the horse and rider

Racing NSW said the writing had been on the wall for some time.

“The NSW jockeys were reluctant to continue racing there,” said Racing NSW general manager of industry and analysis Scott Kennedy.

Located on the hillside on the southern outskirts of the city of Wallabadah, the drop from the top of the track to the straight line is 18 meters.

“With our modern standards, this is probably not the safest track, and not the kind of track we want for horses and jockeys,” Kennedy said.

Two men pose next to a gray horse
Brothers Cody and Luke Morgan both rode winners at the historic Wallabadah Cup.(Provided: Lucy Goodsell )

Mr Morgan said he was not surprised.

“The jockeys who have all ridden there over the years, that’s to their credit. I can see how it could be classified as dangerous,” he said.

A Cup meeting was canceled in 2020 due to drought, and again this year due to COVID-19.

The locals knew his days were numbered.

people in a paddock on a running track
Track racing fans at the 2016 Wallabadah Cup.(ABC News: Lisa Herbert)

The meeting will not be moved

At its peak, the Wallabadah Cup drew up to 5,000 people from across the country, hosting the New Year’s airside.

Its relaxed picnic setting was as much of an attraction as the race.

The committee, however, said the race meeting would not be moved to another location.

“We always had the option of racing on another track like Quirindi or Tamworth, but the committee decided it was not viable to move,” said club secretary Peter Jenkins.

An old Kodak, black and white photograph showing horses galloping on a dirt road in the early 1900s
The Wallabadah Jockey Club is Australia’s oldest, this photo from the early 1900s.(Facebook: Bernice Saunders and Colin Saunders via the Quirindi Rural Heritage Museum)

Mr. Jenkins has been involved with the club for 48 years.

In 2018, he launched a book detailing the history of the Cup.

He didn’t know the story would end a few years later.

End of an era

The first race in 1852 did not take place at the present site – for 40 years the Cup was held on a track around the village itself, Mr Jenkins said.

The cup itself can be found behind the bar at the local Marshall McMahon hotel.

a man is holding a large cup of money
Publican Glenn Pratt holds the Wallabadah Cup aloft with a permanent home at the Marshall McMahon Hotel.(ABC New England Northwest: Jennifer Ingall)

The last winner, Crinklewood, was coached by Craig Martin of Tamworth.

“We still have it, no one said take it anywhere. I hope it stays here on display,” said publican Glenn Pratt.

While there is no future for racing at the Wallabadah track, the committee will meet in the new year to consider what other uses could be made of the 24-hectare site.

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