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Home-track trifecta praise Gifford Hill

A trifecta of Murray Bridge trainers have lavished praise on their new home track, ahead of this weekend’s official opening day.

Murray Bridge stalwarts John Hickmott, Karen Byrnes and Kevin Frew unanimously endorsed the Gifford Hill course, which will host SA’s standalone metropolitan meeting on Saturday.

Hickmott saddled up several runners at the multi-million dollar racecourse’s debut – a midweek meeting on July 24 – and has four acceptors for its second meeting, which will double as the ‘official grand opening’ of the much-anticipated facility.

“The track is bloody outstanding,” Hickmott said, “and it will continue to race that way.”

Fellow trainer Kevin Frew had one runner on July 24 and said the lengthy lead-in time to the first meeting had paid dividends.

“It’s been down for a long time, but they didn’t get around to racing on it until now and it’s been a blessing in disguise,” he said.

“That’s what new tracks need: a couple of years without racing on them, but it’s pretty hard to do normally.

“At that first meeting the best horses were winning. At the old Murray Bridge track you could set something that was a frontrunner, or half way through the day you’d know what the bias was and try to have your horse ridden to suit, but the other day there was no bias.

“That’s probably why (Tony) McEvoy won so many.”

Trainer Karen Byrnes has been campaigning in Darwin for the past seven weeks, but is “heading back down south” this week to her Murray Bridge base. Even from the Top End, she has detected the vibe around Gifford Hill.

“I had a look at it before I left, it trialled good and it obviously raced good too,” she said.

“The track’s been down for eight years and everyone’s pretty rapt with it.”

Frew said the prospect of a Saturday metropolitan meeting – and more in the future – had created “a real buzz” around Murray Bridge.

A bumper crowd attended the midweek meeting and Murray Bridge Racing Club secretary/manager John Buhagiar said the soft opening was used to address any teething problems ahead of this weekend’s big day. Mr Buhagiar said the track and the $20 million Bridges function centre had already drawn substantial praise.

Saturday’s eight-race program starts at 12.26pm local time.

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