THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Sprint Championships, and it is a little surprising that for Wentworth Park this will only be the eighth time in 51 runnings that the event has been hosted at the Glebe course.
Surprising because between the inception of the National Sprint Championship in 1965 and 1972, when the Gabba track opened in Brisbane, the event was effectively a test of the best sprinters from New South Wales and Victoria, with Tasmanian and Queensland contestants rarely able to make the final eight.
From 1965 to 1976 a series of heats and quarter finals were held in home states with the top point scorers from NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland coming together in the host state for semi-finals. The eight highest point scorers in those semi-finals would then contest the final. From 1977 to the present each state runs heats and a final and sends representatives to the host for the final.
Of course, Sydney was blessed with two metropolitan tracks until 1987, but even so Wentworth Park hosted just three finals, the first in 1967, the second in 1971 and the third in 1975.
Well-known western Sydney trainer Laurie Lewry took out the 1967 running, conducted on the grass surface over 580 yards (530 metres) when his charge Meteor Paso downed fellow NSW contender Swan Opal in a roughly run affair. Meteor Paso ran a slow 31.8 (the track record was 30.8 at the time) in a race which saw Dollar Hunter and Paycart falling in the September 30 final. The winner earned $4,000 for the victory.
In 1971 the champion NSW bitch Shapely Escort looked the hardest to beat despite drawing badly in box six, but her chances were ruined when she almost certainly sustained an injury when the boxes failed to open. The field was removed from the boxes and the finalists were given a rudimentary check by the course veterinarian before all were declared fit to race. NSW hope King Miller, on lease and trained by Ray Balk, led all the way from box one to down the classy Milo’s Charm by a neck in a fast 31.1 (the track record was still 30.8) with all-distance star Top Saba third to make it an all-NSW finish.
The 1975 final created history when former NSW trainer Paul Cauchi produced Queensland contender Coorparoo Flyer to defeat NSW finalist Solid Bond by a head in a fair 31.36 and collect $8,000. It was the first time the winner had not come from either NSW or Victoria.
Amazingly, it would be 16 yeas before Wentworth Park hosted the next national final. And when it did so, it would be on a remodelled circuit, re-opened in 1987, with a new sprint distance of 520 metres.
In what was one of the last major races held on the grass surface, the champion NSW bitch Jessica Casey came from box six to defeat the West Australian sprinter Racing Hawk by two-and-half-lengths with Tasmanian Just Brilliant six lengths away third.
Wentworth Park played host again in 1994, this time on a loam surface, in a race which proved an anti-climax as NSW contender Gallant Ruler blitzed the field to score by a record margin of 12 lengths from Victorian Kyasha with Tap Dance third. It would be the easiest $35,000 Gallant Ruler would ever earn.
Wentworth Park had the honour of hosting the last championship final for the 20th century with local hope Harry Handbeating another local contender Woy Woy Boy by four lengths.
2008 was the last time the final was held in Sydney and it was yet another disgraced former trainer, Queensland’s Reg Kay, whose charge Knocka Norris scored by seven-and-a-half-lengths from local contender in a speedy 29.83. First prize money was $50,000. This year the first place money will be $75,000, a substantial 50 percent increase in just seven years.