CRITICS of the Coffs Harbour racing industry have been silenced and may have cause to be left red-faced following the success of the summer mini-carnival.
Racing Club hierarchy have gone from being dismayed at a swipe handed out in Grafton newspaper column The Home Straight on January 2, to quiet glee at the figures returned by both recent TAB meetings and the big crowd of holiday-makers who turned up at the community fixture on December 27.
The article, written under the nom-de-plume 'The Horse Whisperer', talked of 'some local (Grafton) trainers avoiding the (Coffs Harbour) track like the plague and punters shying away'.
But of the 20 races run over the mini-carnival, five were won by Clarence Valley-based trainers.
Horses trained locally or on the track were first past the post in eight events with Port Macquarie supplying three, Taree and Casino one each, and private training complexes preparing two winners.
Rather than have punters shy away, the TAB turnover on December 30 was $1.7 million ($500,000 over budget) while last Sunday's Pink Silks meeting had a turnover of $1.24 million when the club were merely hopeful of reaching the seven figure mark.
“The figures do the talking and I don't think it's worth it for the Racing Club to respond to every criticism,” CEO Russ Atkinson said.
“In fact, there's some merit to the comments if a Grafton horse is trained specifically to race well at its home track and then finds it difficult to win at Coffs or anywhere else for that matter because the quality they are facing is too strong.
“If a trainer thinks he can win, he'll go to where he believes he can do it ... the results show horses are travelling down and winning plenty of races and we welcome that.”
Atkinson believes not everybody understands the subtle climate differences between the two racing centres and agrees wet weather can provide headaches.
“We get more rainfall than Grafton and that leads to misconceptions about track conditions,” he said.
“The rapid upgrade last week proves the drainage work is doing what it's supposed to do and we have another schedule of works in the pipeline, particularly on the training track.
“With 50 or more horses doing fast work three times a week it's a massive job to go around filling in the divots and keeping the surface in top condition, especially when there's bad weather about.”
According to the CEO, the great strength of the complex is its geographical position.
“Look at where we are and look how we draw horses every meeting from Taree and Port Macquarie in the south, and then up as far as the border,” he said.
“For the local trainers - and how many times have the likes of Yorke and Bellamy said this - we are in easy proximity of the Gold Coast, Brisbane and major southern provincial centres and we are winning at those tracks all the time.
“With clubs like Tuncurry coming on line it will only get better as they place their horses in Coffs races.”
Coffs Harbour won't race again until the TAB meeting on Monday, March 23.