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Mixed feelings as old site farewelled

“Mixed feelings” of nostalgia for the past and excitement for the future sums up the zeitgeist ahead of Wednesday’s final meeting at the Murray Bridge Racing Club’s existing site.

The eight-race program will bring down the curtain on over a century of history, as the club continues final preparations at its eye-popping new Gifford Hill facility.

But before Gifford Hill hosts its inaugural meeting (in July) and is officially opened (in August), the current site will be farewelled fondly and appropriately, says club secretary/manager John Buhagiar.

“There’s so much history there and while we’ll bring that history to the new course, this is certainly goodbye for the current site,” Mr Buhagiar said.

“The old track has served the club so well, but this change is coming at a time when the surface and the facilities are very tired.

“So, the timing is perfect, but we really want to make Wednesday about reflecting on our past, with an eye to what’s ahead.”

After forming in 1899 and racing at Monarto for a few years, the club went into recess, before re-forming and holding its first meeting at the current site in 1914.

Mr Buhagiar said the club’s rich history underlined the important role it has played in the development and success of thoroughbred in South Australia.

“Last year we embarked on a social media program whereby each week we would put up a post that had some historical significance to the racing club,” he explained.

“Having to do that helped me understand how significant Murray Bridge has been as a training base, not only for the last 20 or 30 years, but since the 1920s and 1930s.

“Some of those trainers were huge trainers, in Australian standards, not just South Australian standards. The club can be very proud of its history.”

The club’s timeline is replete with high points, from the various infrastructure purchases and track configuration changes and upgrades, to facility renovations, and on-track highlights, including appearances by a couple of Australian turf legends.

Wednesday’s final meeting will bring together many of those who played a role in sustaining the club over the years – and will finish with a nice touch.

“We have invited people who have been voted by the members to run the club – as many as we can contact,” Mr Buhagiar said.

“And for the last race of the day we have an Irish crystal trophy. We’ll be presenting that to the winner on behalf of the Murray Bridge Racing Club.

“The day will be a last hurrah and a last drink on the old girl.”

The existing site will remain active for up to six weeks in its role as a training centre. During that time, infrastructure will be dismantled and moved to Gifford Hill as required.

Setting aside any temporary melancholy, Mr Buhagiar is adamant the timing of the move is just right.

“Our current site struggles from the point of view of what’s required nowadays to attract the public, and what’s required from a racing surface,” he said.

“The old track was originally built on a paddock with no drainage, no profiles in it, and no special irrigation.

“So while it’s done a great job for us, it’s probably a good time to be moving.

“After Wednesday we’ll turn our attention to bringing more people to the town and the region in our new facility, at Gifford Hill.”

Words by Paul Mitchell. 

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