By GREG WHITE
AT least, a pub with no beer has drinkers sipping wine and spirits.
But a racetrack where the punters have been excluded for fear of spreading the EI virus is a place that's totally lonesome, morbid and drear.
To cover yesterday's local 'ghost' meeting Coffs Coast Advocate sports writer Greg White needed to lodge in advance with the NSW Department of Primary Industries a declaration stating he hadn't knowingly been in contact with the virus.
Before entering the gates, White was checked off a strictly monitored list of those allowed to be on the course before being asked to disinfect his footwear and wash his hands in a foul-smelling solution.
Once inside, around 60 jockeys, trainers, stewards and race day employees and don't forget the horses did the usual tasks necessary to send a nine-race TAB meeting to an eager audience in pubs, clubs and homes around the nation.
Everything went off like clockwork except no fans screamed their fancies to the line, tote windows stayed closed, bookmakers' stands were vacant and the bars and canteens normally packed with happy patrons remained forlorn and silent.
Better get used to it because as this EI nightmare spreads throughout the land, this may be the way we race for some time to come.
Leading Coffs trainer Brett Bellamy said: "I'm happy to be racing. My thinking is the real crunch hasn't happened yet. I think we should vaccinate quickly in this area but that will be decided by the powers that be, not us."
Local trainers Joe Janiak and Gordon Yorke are also pro-vaccination.
Janiak is dismayed at the Victorian attitude in not allowing his horse, who has already been fully vaccinated, to race in Melbourne.
"They're allowing the New Zealand and English horses to come over, I can't see why they keep knocking Takeover Target back. It seems discriminatory," he said.
And Grafton trainer Phil McLeod said the EI crisis should be a wake-up call to government.
"It's time the federal and NSW governments realised the importance of country racing and the lack of funds we get back for our efforts," McLeod said.