Memories of Bulli track will linger for sport

Mick Gamble had always kept an eye on all things harness racing at Bulli Showground. Still lives beside the track.

From track curator to nightwatchman to mobile starter – if there was a job to do he would usually be at the ready.

Except maybe for an unplanned check of the grandstand’s drainage system while putting a horse through its paces at daybreak. Or so legend has it anyway.

‘‘We were turning into the back straight and a fox or something ran out in front of us,’’ he recalled. ‘‘David’s [fellow trainer David Wonson] horse stopped and mine didn’t.

‘‘I just catapulted and I reckon I went as high as a telegraph pole. I was that long in the air I straightened myself up and started to run before I hit the ground.’’

And how did that fare?

‘‘But it doesn’t work, does it? I just hit the ground like a sack of potatoes,’’ he said.

And without a broken bone to show for it.

‘‘That’s true. Even as funny as it sounds.’’

Gamble is just one of the many helpers who has made Bulli harness racing great for more than 60 years. Sadly, harness racing is no more at Bulli Showground, with the club officially putting  its part-time racing interest at Slacky Flat to bed.

Not that Brian Hancock will forget all those, like Gamble, that made it a fixture in the community.

‘‘They were salt of the earth people and I’ll never forget them,’’ the harness racing legend said of the countless volunteers, rattling them off name by name.

‘‘There’s little things that people don’t realise that little club did for the community and we’ve got no harness racing or registered track on the South Coast [now]. The community has lost something.’’

Maybe lost a physical presence, but definitely not the memories.

Perhaps the most bizarre when the trainer of a beaten 10-1 on favourite jumped the fence and joined a raucous demonstration one day, responsible for showering beer cans on the track.

When quizzed on what he was doing he simply replied: ‘‘When the odds are stacked against you and you can’t beat them, always join them.’’

Names such as Hancock, Robinson, Frost, Newman, Bennett, Binskin, Ford and Wonson all honed their craft at the track.

The first three all metropolitan premiership winners while based on the South Coast, primarily using a track so quaint in comparison to the modern-day mega circuits it almost feels like you can throw a blanket over it.

‘‘That tells you something – the simple fact that it was a very, very strong harness racing area,’’ Hancock said.

The horses?

Who can forget the 1980 rumble, at a heaving Bulli Showground, between Paleface Adios and Koala King only weeks after the latter had surged to Inter Dominion glory.

Lucky Creed was a star attraction too, while Hancock never shirks from the fact Courage Under Fire and Our Sir Vancelot did a lot of their schooling and then went on to race at Slacky Flat.

‘‘I had respect for the community and I started all my good horses there,’’ he said. 

For a man who scaled the heights with both thoroughbreds and standardbreds, Kevin Robinson was normally reserved about his achievements.

Except maybe for one special memory at Bulli that stands out like a beacon.

‘‘We called his stables Regal Lodge after a horse called Regal Gold and I know he’s got an old photo of that horse winning by nearly the length of the straight,’’ said Kevin’s son Terry, now a gallops conditioner himself. ‘‘Obviously the horse meant a lot to him. He didn’t get a lot of photos – but that was one of the photos he got.’’

Shrewd administrators such as Gary Holz and Errol Milner could have predicted this day many moons ago.

 Deserting the club’s regular Tuesday night meetings in favour of a Monday afternoon timeslot, they were responsible for surging turnover  that topped $1million.

That was big money back in the day. Still is now.

And while money has played its part in the track’s demise, that’s not what harness racing at Bulli Showground will be remembered for. It will be remembered for the people, the horses and all their glory.

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