THE region's richest horse race will now be known as The Illawarra Mercury Gong.
In a landmark deal, Illawarra Mercury publisher ACM has formed a partnership with Racing NSW, which includes naming rights for the $1 million The Gong race and the $1 million The Hunter.
The Illawarra Mercury Gong, raced over 1600 metres, is run on Saturday, November 25, at Kembla Grange Racecourse.
The Newcastle Herald Hunter, a 1300m quality handicap, will be raced at Newcastle racecourse on Saturday, November 18.
Both features are part of the Racing NSW Everest Carnival and are the richest races staged outside of the metropolitan area.
Since its inception in 2019, The Gong, has grown in stature, attracting the nation's leading trainers and jockey. The inaugural edition of the race was won by Mister Sea Wolf. Riodini, ridden by Tim Clark, won the 2022 race.
Racing NSW CEO Peter V'landys welcomed the partnership.
"As a Wollongong boy I grew up reading the Illawarra Mercury and know first hand how important the paper is for the area," Mr V'landys said.
"The Gong race meeting has very quickly become Kembla Grange's biggest race day of the year, attracting a new and young audience to the races. It's become Kembla's version of The Everest and will only keep getting bigger.
"For the Illawarra Mercury to now be the official sponsor of The Gong is just a natural fit."
Until now, The Gong had been without a naming rights sponsor.
"We are excited to have such a well respected and recognised brand in the Illawarra support what's fast becoming one of the major races on the Australian racing calendar," Steven Keene, CEO of Kembla Grange Racecourse, said.
"Racing for $1,000,000 and being trusted to close out the iconic NSW Spring Carnival is a privilege, and we look forward to working with the Illawarra Mercury in bringing this massive event to the wider Illawarra community."
Off the track, the action is also lively with fashion and entertainment and officials are confident of crowds of more than 6000 for the day.
The Illawarra Mercury, part of the ACM network, is a long-time supporter of Kembla Grange Racecourse and this new partnership is a formal extension.
"ACM and its flagship Illawarra Mercury are delighted to be partnering with Racing NSW as the sponsor of The Gong 23," ACM managing director Tony Kendall said.
"We look forward to celebrating this iconic racing event for the Illawarra region across the Illawarra Mercury and our weekly titles throughout the region.
"We're keen to grow attendance at the event with promotional activity as well as covering all the racing action and trackside fashion and fun for our loyal print and digital audiences."
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