Inaugural race meeting The Hunter off to a steady start

This article was written by Craig Kerry and originally appeared in the Newcastle Herald

Newcastle Racecourse hosted a standalone Saturday meeting, meaning it was the top, metropolitan level program in NSW, attracting standard prizemoney of $125,000 a race. It was the first time the track had hosted such a meeting since 2000.

It also featured The Hunter (1300 metres), a new $1 million race and the richest held at a provincial level club.

When announcing The Hunter, and next Saturday’s $1 million The Gong at Kembla Grange, in June this year, Racing NSW hoped to attract a crowd of 10,000 people to the Broadmeadow course.

On Saturday, Mr Benson estimated a crowd of about 6000 at the meeting, which also featured the $160,000 group 3 Spring Stakes (1600m) for three-year-olds and Max Lees Classic (900m) for two-year-olds. Both had been moved from traditional slots to bolster the new program.

And while the crowd was short of initial hopes, Mr Benson was thrilled with the meeting, which was held in ideal weather and with elite-level racing.

“I reckon it’s the best race meeting we’ve put on since I’ve been there,” said Mr Benson, who has been chief executive of the NJC since early 2016.

“For all our staff to pull off what they did today and do that good a job, with all the hurdles that have been thrown in front of us, they’ve just done a huge job.

“I thought the crowd was really good. All the precincts that we had, everyone was well dressed, well behaved, the standard was excellent. I couldn’t be happier.

“The track was outstanding. The jockeys loved the track. We turned on what we hoped we’d turn on today, given all the realities we were working in.”

Mr Benson believed the popular Legends of League tournament nearby at McDonald Jones Stadium, and next weekend’s Newcastle 500, may have taken away from The Hunter crowd.

“The Supercars are next week and some people may have bought their tickets and decided they can do only one thing every couple of weeks, but I think it’s a huge foundation for us to work from,” he said.

“That’s the biggest crowd we’ve had since I’ve been in the job and it was clearly the best race day as far as races are concerned. It was the best event we’ve provided for the customers.”

Fund-raising activities at the meeting focused on the NSW Rural Fire Service, but more than $20,000 was also raised for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service at The Hunter Luncheon on Friday.