Vital test run as major Ipswich development up and racing
RELAXING next to a veggie garden listening to birds chirping and watching kids play.
Who would have thought you'd experience such moments at a turf club?
However, those important little extras for the family are being offered near the multi-million dollar Ipswich Events and Entertainment Centre at Bundamba.
The features have been established in addition to the recently upgraded Eye Liner Lounge, Sports Bar and completion of a modern Grange Lounge able to seat hundreds of people in the Ipswich Turf Club (ITC)'s new grandstand.
The pleasant surroundings behind the ITC's three main grandstands provide a welcoming experience for patrons.
Saturday's metropolitan race meeting at the club gave the public a first look at the spacious, modern facilities that will serve the city better for years to come.
But it won't only be racegoers and people using the function rooms who will benefit when the new facilities are officially opened.
A new coffee barn and restaurant will also be open to the public.
After road works outside the turf club are complete and a new car park upgraded, visits to the turf club will have considerable more appeal for families.
Saturday's higher status meeting provided a vital test run as final redevelopment work by Racing Queensland is finished.
Like any major upgrade, some bugs need to be ironed out.
They include with the new stables, some TV monitors, parking and the usual function room learnings when everything is new.
However, with excellent views of the racing from the new entertainment centre and the grassed terrace, the public can expect many enjoyable outings in the future.
From a racing perspective, long-time Ipswich visiting trainer Robert Heathcote recognised the value of breathing new life into what were some tired Ipswich Turf Club amenities.
"They (the new facilities) are great. There is no doubt they are great,'' Heathcote said, having come to Ipswich since he started training in 1997.
"It's always been one of my favourite venues.''
However, the Ipswich Cup winning trainer said returning to the turf club would be even more enjoyable when the teething issues were resolved.
"We've got to do all we can for the patrons to get them back here particularly after this unprecedented period,'' he said. "We've got to make it enticing for people to want to come to the races.
"Once it's all sorted out and we get everything running along it will be great.''
Heathcote was right but trying initiatives to bring in new people is something the Ipswich Turf Club committee led by chairman Wayne Patch and supported by general manager Brett Kitching has done exceptionally well for many years.
The family friendly environment in the club court yard and the fresh dining and entertainment experiences about to open are prime examples.
Having an Ipswich Racing Museum in the same vicinity is another terrific touch.
Watching the racing from outside the comfortable new jockeys room and stewards headquarters, Heathcote said that part of the redevelopment was "outstanding''.
"You ask any of them and they'll say the same thing,'' he said.
"It's great. The track has come up well.''
Heathcote has some fond memories at Ipswich, having trained public favourite Our Lukas to back-to-back Ipswich Cup successes in 2009 (ridden by Larry Cassidy) and 2010 (Stathi Katsidis).
As he chased his first Eye Liner Stakes victory with Deep Image on Saturday, Heathcote had to wait to the following race to enjoy a win. That was with topweight Stuttering in the $65,000 Carlton Mid Handicap.
The straight-shooting Heathcote was disappointed the Ipswich Cup was not able to be run this year due to Racing Queensland's programming decision.
He would also have liked the Eye Liner Stakes ($85,000) to have received prizemoney "on a par'' with the Gai Waterhouse Classic ($125,000).
But as he rightly declared: "Unprecedented times''.
Another regular visitor for many years is former Ipswich Cup-winning jockey Chris Munce who is now a successful trainer.
Munce also spent large parts of the afternoon outside the impressive rooms set up for male and female jockeys to help them prepare properly for racing.
"It's all pretty modern and pretty fresh so it's been worthwhile waiting for I suppose,'' Munce said.
"With the whole parade (area) and everything it looks really well.''
As a trainer who knows what hoops have to endure, he said it was important to look after the jockeys.
"They've got a good little area in there now and getting time in between races to settle down so it all looks pretty good,'' he said.
Among Munce's riding successes were in the 1994 Ipswich Cup aboard Oompala and on Belltone in the 2012 Eye Liner Stakes victory.
But after seeing what is on offer now, Ipswich Cup Day will no longer be the only major social drawcard at the city's precious venue.
It's exciting times ahead as turf club officials welcome an even broader audience who will have access to a modern new centre.