Nothing is certain in the world of greyhound racing. It seems like every day we have new or changing rules and all too often we hear about the imminent closing of one of our most valued tracks. Recently the ominous closing cloud has loomed over Appin Way- the only remaining straight track in NSW which as of the new financial year has lost its funded non- TAB meetings. The non-TAB meetings held at Appin will now be converted to TAB-C races at Wentworth Park to be held on a Monday night.
Explained to be for a number of reasons, the decision to take away funding has been controversial to say the least with local trainers very unhappy about the choice. The track is seen by many to be an ideal track for young dog’s just starting out and for those who cannot handle the gruelling requirements of one or two turn racing whilst it also serves as an excellent racetrack to boost and build up a dog’s fitness.
The last funded meeting to be held at the straight will be this Saturday, with many spectators expected to bid farewell to the track and form a part of its final racing chapter. With the curtain now closing on one of our most prized rural tracks, it is only fitting to revisit the history of Appin Way.
Greyhound Racing was born at Appin Way on October 6 1975, six years after the venue had been purchased by the NSW GBOTA. The 43 acres of gently sloping hills and wide open paddocks had previously been used for cattle before being brought for $16,000 by the GBOTA and was then converted into a straight trial track run under the operation of Sid Shackleton. During its time as a trial track land prices soared, so much that by the time the first race meeting was held, the land itself jumped in value to a staggering $300,000.
The track was a welcome relief for many trainers in the Sydney region, who had been starved of straight track racing since the closure of the Richmond straight in 1968. Prior to its opening, trainers had to rely on straight racing at Wyong, which was often heavily inundated by nominations and as such the Appin Way track was seen to be a sister track to the ill-fated Wyong venue.
The track was established with two distances which remain to this day- 274 metres and 366 metres. The hill slope that the track was built upon meant that the longer journey was a hard run and suitable for the strong chasers and stayers as was discovered on opening day.
The ribbon to the state of the art facility was cut at 1:15pm by Mr Max Ruddock, the minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer in the Liberal State Government who was just one person in an enormous crowd of 12,000 fans who flocked to the track on a glorious day of sunshine to welcome straight track racing back to the area. Within the crowd was the proverbial who’s who of greyhound racing including politicians, club officials, TAB executives, local government heads and media personalities.
Fifty bookmakers were on course for the first race meeting giving trainers and punters alike an opportunity to bet on local races as well as greyhound racing at Wyong and Newcastle and racing as a whole from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The first race held at Appin Way was taken out by Flaming John, a son of Little John and Top Bettina trained by P. Cruise of Como. Also taking out a race on the maiden meeting was Bill Barnett a renowned mentor from Jerry’s Plains (small town in the Hunter Valley near Singleton) who scored with Yoorami John. The Barnett family were involved with the breeding, training and owning of many top greyhounds at the time including the influential stud dog Chariot Charm who was triumphant in the 1965 National Derby.
Ron Oldfield is someone who has experienced the highs and lows of Appin Way since taking over trials and track maintenance 30 years ago. Original caretaker Sid Shackleton handed over the reins in 1983 with Oldfield the dedicated face of the track since that time.
“The track is still racing the same now as always with the drag hare. The one thing that has changed is the amount of races. We used to have 20 races per meeting which was then progressively cut down due to expenses”, Oldfield said.
“It’s a good track for fitness and for those that like to chase the drag lure because it imitates how small prey like rabbits and foxes run naturally”.
Despite the upcoming closure, GRNSW is adamant that the track will be maintained for trailing, something that Oldfield is also committed to whilst he admits it will be a new challenge, “We will still have trials so trainers can keep their dogs fit but because there is no racing the trials will probably drop, I am just hoping not too much”.
The closure of Appin comes during a pivotal period for the town which has seen redevelopments commence with the surrounding areas transformed to housing, “The area is changing with around 400 houses near the track,” Oldfield said, “There will be more buildings up and around the town so it’s sad in the sense that that may have brought more people to the track”.
Despite the sudden closure, Oldfield still holds on to a glimmer of hope for the track that has been the starting place for his and wife Christine’s famous November line.
“The track shut down around 1999/2000 and I kept trailing for 12-15 months before people started talking and racing was then returned to the track. Because people are trialling they may do the same thing again this time”, Oldfield said.
Oldfield is not the only one who will feel the loss of racing at Appin, with many trainers upset by the decision.
Greyhound enthusiast Jaime Lloyd has been involved in the industry her whole life and is currently an owner, with her father Bruce a trainer located in the Wollongong area
“We are shattered”, Jamie conveyed, “We are losing a track that has for years accommodated some dogs we have trained that wouldn’t have a career elsewhere”.
The Lloyd’s sentiments are also lamented by owner Brian O Neale, “I love the track and it will hurt a lot of country trainers who don’t have dogs good enough for TAB tracks. Also you will find it harder for people to get runs with the 120 dogs from there on a Saturday having to find somewhere else to race”.
With the funded meetings now taken away the GBOTA has stated that they are endeavouring to have a level of self-funded race meetings in the future, however with no funding assistance it will certainly be a challenge. Nonetheless with the strong team behind the scenes, Appin Way will not be lost completely and hopefully one day can return to the glory it once possessed.
The last funded race day at Appin Way is this Saturday 22nd June. It would only be fitting to see this remarkable club go out with a strong farewell, so if you are in the area or free for the day, head to the track and catch the last meeting of straight track action in NSW before it is too late.