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  • Provincial Racing NSW


APRIL 29, 2006.

It’s a date which will live long in Brian Fletcher’s memory.

That was Hawkesbury Race Club’s historic first Saturday stand-alone meeting, but achieving it was far from easy.

“It was a heck of a battle,” the former Hawkesbury chief executive and now Penrith Panthers boss recalled today.

“We had the full support of the Provincial clubs, but the then Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and Sydney Turf Club (STC) were dead against giving up a Saturday date.

“Jim Murphy was the initial CEO of the NSW Thoroughbred Racing Board (now Racing NSW), and then Merv Hill came from South Australia to take over.

“I remember getting a letter from him to the effect that the matter was over, and it would never be entertained again.

“But I wasn’t going to give up.

“Thankfully when Peter V’Landys came on board as Racing NSW CEO, he saw the merit in the proposal and got us off the ground.”

Coonamble-born Fletcher spent twenty-six and a half years at Hawkesbury before signing off at the 2016 stand-alone fixture to take on the Panthers’ role.

Regarded as one of racing’s most innovative and successful administrators, Fletcher arrived at Hawkesbury in 1989 with the club facing a $1m debt.

Within three years, the club was not only debt free, but also built a new wood chip track and dining room at a cost of $1m.

Fletcher says he began floating the idea of a Saturday stand-alone day at Hawkesbury several years before it finally came to fruition.

“It made sense,” he said. “There was a gap in the race dates after the Sydney autumn carnival, and many of the horses were heading north for the Queensland winter carnival.

“Introducing a stand-alone meeting at Hawkesbury gave trainers the option to stay and race here for good prizemoney.

“And it also meant Randwick and Rosehill tracks could get a break after being in heavy demand during the Sydney autumn.”

Hawkesbury’s inaugural meeting in 2006 was run on a “Good 3” surface, and the nine-race card boasted prizemoney of $540,000.

Such has been the success of the meeting, coupled with the remarkable escalation of prizemoney, sees that figure almost trebled on Saturday.

“Being basically a midweek club, staging a feature Saturday meeting at Hawkesbury gave us a wonderful opportunity to attract so many local people who worked and could not attend otherwise,” Fletcher said.

“We had around 10,000 at our first meeting, whereas the normal midweek crowd was 900.

“Sponsors came out of left field to support the first stand-alone, and everyone benefitted, including the other provincial clubs.

“I’m not the least surprised it is now acknowledged as one of the most popular and successful days on the racing calendar.

“The Scone two-day carnival followed and now Newcastle (The Hunter), Kembla Grange (The Gong) and more recently Gosford (The Coast) all have Saturday stand-alone dates.”

Feature events on the opening day at Hawkesbury in 2006 were the Rowley Mile, Hawkesbury Guineas and Hawkesbury Crown.

The Hawkesbury Gold Cup was moved to the Saturday meeting in 2014, replacing the Rowley Mile (which was shifted to a later date) and it along with the Guineas and Crown all carry Group 3 status.

Warwick Farm trainers, the late Guy Walter and Paul Cave, won the Rowley Mile and Guineas respectively with Fighting Fund (Kathy O’Hara) and The Free Stater (James Innes), and then Gosford-based Charlie Britt landed the Crown with outsider Barberton, ridden by now Victorian trainer Brett Stanley.

Jim Cassidy took the riding honours with a treble, scoring in consecutive races on Bomber Command, Anden and Hasta Manana.

Noel Mayfield-Smith, now training at Coffs Harbour, won the first race with Real Strike, ridden by Darryl McLellan, who lost his offside stirrup iron when his mount began awkwardly.

THE full list of winners for the inaugural 2006 stand-alone is as follows:

RACE 1: $45,000 CLASS 3 HCP, 1200m (REAL STRIKE, $6, N. Mayfield-Smith/D. McLellan);

RACE 2: $25,000 2YO OPEN HCP, 1400m (BOMBER COMMAND, $3.60 fav, F. Cleary/J. Cassidy);

RACE 3: $50,000 CLASS 6 HCP, 1400m (ANDEN, $9, M. Smith/J. Cassidy);

RACE 4: $50,000 CLASS 6 HCP, 2000m (HASTA MANANA, $10, Gayna Williams/J. Cassidy):

RACE 5: $75,000 HAWKESBURY CROWN, 1300m (BARBERTON $31, C. Britt/B. Stanley);

RACE 6: $100,000 ROWLEY MILE, 1600m (FIGHTING FUND, $16, G. Walter/K. O’Hara);

RACE 7: $45,000 CLASS 3 HCP, 1400m (MELODY, $5, D. Smith/D. Beasley);

RACE 8: $100,000 HAWKESBURY GUINEAS, 1400m (THE FREE STATER, $3.70 fav, P. Cave/James Innes);

RACE 9: $50,000 FLYING HCP, 1000m (GUMNUTS, $4.60, J. Hawkes/Rod Quinn).

*Words John Curtis - April 17, 2023 - Pic The Free Stater taking out the inaugural Hawkesbury Guineas - Bradley Photos - Brian Fletcher Geoff Jones*

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