By MITCH RODD
THE Mildura harness racing community’s willingness to adapt to changes have been vital for competition to continue during COVID setbacks.
The racing industry is one of few sporting entities that has remained relatively constant during a year full of setbacks.
While events have had to go ahead without allowing onlookers in, there have been other benefits for the local harness racing contingent, such as local drivers sitting in the sulky more often than previously.
Mildura Harness Racing Club CEO, Michelle McGinty, has praised club members for their ability to work with the changes.
“We have had to implement biosecurity guidelines, conform to strict operational procedures and implement our COVID business plan,” she said.
“Whilst it has been a massive workload and a mammoth task to implement all of the COVID-19 processes and guidelines, once in place the entire process has been running extremely smoothly.
“There were a lot of challenges early on but the health and wellbeing of our staff, volunteers, participants and our region as a whole have always been my top priority and remain so.”
Michelle said racing under a regional model has benefited local trainers and drivers.
“We’ve seen drivers who may usually only have one or two drives per meeting picking up an entire book of race drives,” she said.
“It’s allowed the local drivers to have another source of income during the tough times, with a couple making a comeback to driving, some have even scored their first driving win in five-plus years.
“We’ve seen career best drives with a number of drivers driving quartets and trebles. In a recent meeting we had two trebles in the one night, with Luke Watson and Reece Moore both driving three winners.
“We have had major changes to the racing calendar and Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions saw our Friday day meetings transferred to Friday nights to allow Melton to race Friday day meetings in order to minimise the requirement for travel within Stage 4 areas during curfew times.
“It helps that our participants have been fantastic and follow the rules in place. The morale and unity around the club and the industry as a whole has been fantastic.”
Michelle said the Mildura racing industry is thankful harness racing has been able to continue during this period.
“There were a large number of people involved behind the scenes who have done everything possible to ensure the continuation of harness racing,” she said.
“The regional racing model has allowed trainers and owners to still have money coming in, it has kept the industry afloat.
“We have a large number of hobby trainers in the Sunraysia area so locally alone we would have seen a large number of participants who would have been decimated by a total shutdown.
“The consequences of a complete shutdown of harness racing would have been absolutely devastating on the industry. It was the unthinkable, it just wasn’t an option.
“The morale and unity around the club and the industry as a whole has been fantastic during this time. We have all had the one goal of continuing to race, whilst ensuring the health and wellbeing of our participants.
“Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) and Trots Clubs Victoria have provided a lot of guidance and introduced initiatives, such as the industry participant welfare hotline, to ensure participants have had support during these tough times.”
Michelle said there is currently no indication of when harness meetings will return to ‘normal’, although a revised feature racing calendar from HRV has been released indicating regions should be opening up for participants by the end of September.