Keith Nolan Classic to be run at Friday twilight meeting

NSW Minister for Racing Troy Grant, centre, on Tuesday announced a shot in the arm for regional racing. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

NSW Minister for Racing Troy Grant, centre, on Tuesday announced a shot in the arm for regional racing. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

The Illawarra Turf Club's biggest raceday will undergo a massive revamp from its current "Sensational Sunday" format, and include a new $100,000 feature race as part of the The Championships from next year.

The club will move its annual Group 3 Keith Nolan Classic meeting from the Sunday timeslot to a twilight spot on Friday, March 13, in 2015.

Illawarra Turf Club Chairman Barry Vandenbergh said it was hoped the change would help boost crowd numbers and TAB figures, while enabling the three-year-old fillies event to maintain its status as a stepping stone to the Group 1 Australian Oaks in the autumn.

The day will also include a $100,000 qualifying race for the newly-announced Provincial Championships Final in 2015.

Minister for Racing Troy Grant and Racing NSW announced on Tuesday the introduction of the new series, which features five heats before a $300,000 final at Royal Randwick on April 11.

Kembla will host the first event on Keith Nolan Day - a move Vandenbergh believes was perfectly timed.

"We have been talking at the board level for four or five months on what other race we could introduce with an increase in prize money to make it sort of a two-feature raceday," he said.

"Not taking anything away from the three-year-old fillies race, because that is a $200,000 race, but something that was above the standard $22,000 race.

"For this to come out from Racing NSW to us is just wonderful because it solves our problem and gives us that second major feature on the day."

Following Kembla's opening event, Newcastle (March 18), Wyong (March 22), Hawkesbury (March 26) and Gosford (April 2) will hold qualifiers. The first three over the line in each will earn a spot in the final.

Vandenbergh said it should provide a strong appeal to local trainers.

"I think when our local trainers hear what has been announced [on Tuesday] they will be wishing they have a few more horses in their stable because, with all the rules and regulations, it has got to be a provincial trained horse," he said.

"There are some fantastic horses trained on the provincial tracks. There are Group 1 winners coming from everywhere on the provincial tracks all the time. From that point of view, we expect this to attract a better quality of horse to the provincial trainers."

The announcement of the series comes after Racing NSW revealed a similar Country Championships Final a fortnight ago.

"The one thing missing last year [from The Championships] was the inclusion of our regions - the country and provincial areas," Racing NSW chairman John Messara said.

"This new initiative which we have devised in consultation with the minister and the government, I think, will fill the hole."

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