The Hunter meeting hitting the mark with punters

Story: Craig Kerry

Picture: Peter Lorimer

A crowd of almost 4000 people flocked to Newcastle Racecourse for the third annual Hunter standalone meeting on Saturday.

The 10-race metropolitan program included the new $300,000 Beauford (2300m) and a high-class edition of the $1 million The Hunter (1300m), which was taken out by headline act Lost And Running.

“All the KPIs are up,” Dowell said. “Our wagering on the numbers I’ve done is up 30 per cent on the first two years, which is quite incredible really. That was good, we had an outstanding track and I think we probably engaged with the media better this time as well. It all helps.

“In the middle of last year, there was a significant jump [in betting turnover] in the space of a few weeks when people came out of lockdown. This has been a slower burn [after the most recent lockdown].

“It’s increased, but that is a massive jump on the first two years so it proves the event is growing in stature.”

Attendance on Saturday was limited because of COVID restrictions and the requirement for all patrons to be fully vaccinated. Dowell was confident of a record turnout next year when restrictions are most likely gone. He hoped to build The Hunter into a festival event and lure more patrons from outside the region.

“There’s a suggestion that we will probably go close to doubling it next year,” he said of the crowd. “I’d like to think that, without putting too much pressure on ourselves, that we could get a record crowd in year four.

“Year one was our biggest crowd, it was only a little bit more than we had the other day. But I would be expecting a crowd of 6000 or 7000 next year.”

The winner of the main event was also significant for the future of the program. Lost And Running was the first runner out of the $15 million Everest (1200m) to back up in The Hunter and he dominated on Saturday.

“The Hunter is no longer an afterthought. It’s becoming part of those Everest runners’ preparation,” Dowell said.

At Scone on Monday, Newcastle-based Patrick Cleave landed his first win as a trainer when Omar scored a half-length victory in a benchmark 66 handicap (900m).

Cleave, who works for top Newcastle trainer Kris Lees, has had his licence for the past 12 months and has raced only Omar. The six-year-old also gave apprentice jockey Bailey Wheeler just his second victory.

Jockeys Winona Costin and Ashley Morgan had winning doubles.