It's Easter Saturday (4 April 2015) and I'm heading out to the Balnarring Picnic Racing Club at the Emu Plains Reserve on Coolart Road in Balnarring. What a surprise to find out it's the same grounds I go to for the Emu Plains Market (next market date 18 Apr 2015), one of my favourites.
In all honesty, I've never been to a race in spite of the many Melbourne Cups over the years I've lived in Melbourne. I was reassured by Neil the Secretary of the Club that I was the exact sort of person this event is tailored for, hence I marched out there looking forward to my new experience. A race day where even a novice can sit back, relax and take it all in.
Horses heading over to the starting stalls to get race ready
Arriving there close to 1pm in time for the start of the races, I parked my car and headed to the office to catch up with Neil and get my special pass that allowed me into the member's area. From the very moment you park, you can feel and see the relaxed picnic atmosphere of families strewn across the grounds looking very comfortable. Everyone makes a day of it and many bring their own marquees to shelter family and friends and mark their territory, picnic baskets and drink eskies in tow.
I happily received my Balnarring sports bag from Neil, filled with a few goodies like a towel, a sun visor, a soft drawstring carry bag and a large empty lunch box (running joke between Neil and myself); the whole package being a promotion highlighting Country Racing Victoria which counts Balnarring as one of their own. The first 80 cars to arrive on the grounds received this promotion.
Neil (Secretary) and Terry (Vice President) made me feel very welcome, but to be honest, the whole picnic atmosphere had me from the word 'go'. That's exactly how the club organisers want you to feel and for me they're certainly hitting all the spots. At $10 per adult and children under 18 going free, it's a very affordable day out to do some family bonding away from the square eyed activities of sitting in front of a computer, television or mobile phone screen. The rewards are huge in terms of family and friends time, not to mention the chance of winning at the races or the amazing raffles they have. The relaxing country atmosphere, lots of parking, activities for the children, onsite TAB, Bookies and Punter's Club and food and drink vans for those who'd rather buy and eat a hot meal are a bonus.
Someones got to keep an eye on the races; Police on hand; Neil (Secretary) & Terry (Vice President); Marquees for hire; Prizes awaiting the winners; Bring your own marquee
Mind you, there's nothing like a beautifully planned picnic basket either to make these events feel even more special to live on in the memory of family traditions. I'm imagining the picnics of days gone by (though I have no doubt there are families out there that put in the same effort today) beautiful quiches, salads, frittatas, roast chicken legs, cuts of cold meat, home baked cakes, drinks and more. I think I'm making myself hungry here.
The gates open at 10am (and the races started from 1pm onwards at this event) so there's plenty time before the races to park, settle in, set up your tents and marquees and get yourself ready for a relaxing fun day with loved ones. The club also have marquees (I saw a couple of quite large ones, one of them filled with people celebrating a birthday) which you can hire for special occasions, their preferred supplier being Peninsula Party Hire.
Lollies & chocolates for sale; face painting; playground with a variety of play activities available, including a jumping castle
Amazingly, the kids love watching the races and they're all lined up before each race at the fence, cheering the jockeys on. With a large portion of the reserve as their playground, there's plenty for them to keep busy. There's the jumping castle, the face painting and regular playground equipment like slides and so on. There's also play activities with skittles and hoops, stationary bat and ball, ribbon twirling, cricket and more in the playground area supplied by Kelly Sports who have their tent set up in the play area.
Sustenance on the grounds with wood fired pizzas, coffee, sandwiches, hot food, ice cream etc.
The adults have the onsite TAB and Bookies and the Club runs a Punters Club where everyone who wants to be in it to try their luck for the day puts in $20 with only 100 tickets being sold. The bets are placed by those with 'racing/horse knowledge' and at the end of the day you line up to either pick up your winnings, or perhaps a portion of what you put in (where the bookies win) and sometimes you get back your full investment intact.
The Racing Club also runs a raffle where only 200 tickets are sold at a time for the cost of $5 a ticket and the raffle is drawn when all 200 tickets are sold. It's a chance to win a whole $500 and the odds are great. With their long term experience, the Racing Club makes judgement as to how many raffle draws it holds in a day. If there looks to be a lot of ticket sales, there could be up to 3 raffles being drawn for the day. That's 3 lucky winners getting $500 each and the club getting a bit of money for much needed running costs.
Safety is paramount and given priority with members of the Lion's Club at the gates directing cars and also on the grounds as security personnel. The presence of Victoria Police is also felt, doing their thing in delivering a safer Victoria.
On the racetrack following behind the horses are the ambulance paramedics, the vet surgeon in the four wheel drive and a couple of 'Clerks of Course'; their focus, the safety of the riders and the horses.
After each race the correct weight is confirmed before the announcement of the winner of the race. If you're new to racing like me, Racing Victoria and Racing NSW beginner's FAQs are a good start.
Members club area; two Clerks of Course; ambulances & vet surgeon on the move
There's no huge ceremony or song and dance made about awarding the winners of each race with their prizes. There's generally just a few people witnessing and cheering the jockeys on, which seemed a bit sad to me as a novice expecting some ceremony, but I guess it's what happens. Everyone is used to it and seemed unperturbed including the jockeys.
The winners on this Easter Saturday races were as follows. Jockey Courtney Pace was also awarded two extra prizes as best 'ride of the day' and best 'ride of the year'. Congratulations Courtney!
Race 1 Shot the Sheriff
Race 2 Petite Cherie
Race 3 Bowtale
Race 4 Believe in Harmony
Race 5 Here's to a King
Race 6 Santegic
The people are the heart and soul of these events; trainer and horse; Mr & Mrs Gary Lee; jockeys on the standby; members enjoying the members club; Neil the secretary and his grandson; the cuties taking care of the sweet stand
If you choose to sponsor a race ($500) to mark a special occasion as did Mr Gary Lee and his beautiful wife, celebrating Gary's 70th birthday, for your sponsorship dollars you get naming rights of the race, your name in the race book, a full page advert in the race book of your business or birthday announcement if you're not in business, 30 admittance tickets, 30 race books and you get to present trophies to the winning connections (owners of the horse).
Needless to say, a club like this lives through the generous involvement of sponsors, so next time you're thinking of doing something special for someone or to mark a special occasion, sponsor a race. As you can see from what I've listed above, you get back so much for your generous support, so these events can live on for families to enjoy.
Speaking of enjoyment, my tummy is doing the talking again. On the grounds there's a bar for the grown ups and the food vans that were there on the day were Wood Fired Pizzas, a stall of sandwiches, chips, rolls and the likes, Crib Point Football and Netball selling sausages in bread and drinks, the Coffee, Glorious Coffee van, Shakers Milkshake Bar with their shakes and ice creams, and my favourite Lion's Club van selling hot chips, amazing potato cakes, burgers, dim sims, rolls, drinks and more.
Food is very affordable between the range of $2 and $12. There's also a lolly and chocolate stand near the playground area selling bags of lollies and a variety of chocolate koalas. This stall is there to raise some money for the Occasional Child Care Centre Balnarring Inc for running costs so they can keep costs low for families who use the Centre.
A very family friendly event; Jockey Courtney Pace wins best ride of the day and best ride of the year; nothing like a good cuppa
Make Balnarring Picnic Racing Club one of your family traditions. You don't have to know about racing or even place a bet to enjoy the grounds and all that's on offer for kids and adults alike to spend the whole day together, enjoying the feel of 'community'. The country atmosphere with many horses parading in the mounting yard (there's no birdcage) and tethered in the stalls are a delight for the kids to be so close to nature. There are two big blocks of facilities on the grounds with a grant put in for another block; each block holding 12 ladies and 6 mens toilets.
This Easter Saturday being its last 'meeting', prepare yourself to enjoy the next seasons meetings. The Balnarring Picnic Racing Club runs 6 meetings a year (sometimes more depending on the additional special occasion that may fall in these timeframes like the Easter Saturday meeting) and you can almost predict the dates.
Starting in November of each year, it's on the first Saturday after the Melbourne Cup. In December it's on the 2nd Saturday of the month. In January it's on the 1st Sunday of the month and of course on Australia Day (26th January) which also falls in January. There are no meetings in February and generally there can be two meetings in March, Labour Day and Easter Saturday, depending on whether it falls in March or April. You are now armed with the knowledge, so be aware, be prepared and it's a race to the next meeting later this year. See you at the winning post!
thanks for such a wonderful write up. we loved having you and your daughter at the races and look forward to you attending next race season. On a personal note I know what a great job you are doing with your daughter by yourself. It makes my work with my special needs son look easy. Please keep in touch