IN THE SADDLE: Crowds gather at the railing to watch a race at last year's Roma Cup.
IN THE SADDLE: Crowds gather at the railing to watch a race at last year's Roma Cup. Alexia Austin

The vital role of country racing in the south west

What started as a country sport to entertain early settlers has quickly become part of the national culture, but in many rural and regional parts of the country, racing is worth so much more than the dollars it brings to the towns.

There are 300 racecourses across Australia, more than any other country in the world, and only the United States can claim to have more horses starting every year. For country racing, a track on the edge of town, a running rail and a bit of shelter for the bookies and bar flies is all a town needs for a race meet.

Downs country rep for Queensland Country Racing Peter Flynn said a race meet was a good excuse to come together, catch up with friends, have a chat and forget about the drought -

if only for a day.

"Roma is the major strategic club in Downs Country with five meetings including the Roma Cup,”

he said.

"Smaller clubs such as

St George, Morven, Mitchell, Injune, Quilpie, Augathella, and Surat race once a year.

"And Charleville and Cunnamulla race four times a year as strategic clubs.”

Mr Flynn said the once-a-year meets were an integral part of a town's social fabric.

"It's an opportunity to get together and support each other and be a part of the racing community,” he said.

Mr Flynn estimated that for every dollar spent on a race meet, $3 would be brought back into the community.

"Most of these clubs hold their meetings for about $50,000,” he said.

"But there would be much more as far as social turnover for bars and food, a small club could make up to $150,000.”

Mr Flynn said a country race meet wasn't just about the dollar value though.

"An important thing to note is the mental health benefit of race meets.

"Getting the husband

and his wife who are struggling on the land day

to day, it gets them away with their friends to be

able to not think about it

for a day or two.”

"Take away the financial side, that's one of the major benefits of country race meets.”

On February 1 a Racing Queensland meeting will be held to finalise dates for 2018 and 2019.

Mr Flynn said a draft program had been released.

"At this stage no meetings will be taken away from the country areas.”