Day At The Track

Normality finally in Wayne's world

09:00 AM 02 Nov 2020 NZDT
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Wayne Hill back at Mildura tomorrow night,Harness racing
Wayne Hill back at Mildura tomorrow night

The prospect of an eight-hour interstate road trip's not everyone's cup of tea, but for champion South Australian harness racing driver Wayne Hill it's part of his weekly routine - and he's stoked to be back doing it.

Until April, Hill routinely made the 400-kilometre Sturt Highway road trip from Adelaide to Mildura, but the hard-line COVID-19 State border lockdown left him confined to local meetings only.

He searched for any possible exemption to cross the border without luck - until last week. And he will finally be back for Mildura's epic 12-race program tomorrow on Melbourne Cup night.

"I've been in contact with the South Australian police on a pretty regular basis," Hill said.

"I really thought there was some positivity last Wednesday week when I was talking to them and I got the green light a few days later. So first thing on the following Monday I applied and the next day I was issued with a permit," he said.

"I have to do a COVID test every week, but I'm more than happy to do that. Then when I get to Mildura, I'll be temperature-checked at the entry gate like everyone else."

For South Australian drivers, competing at Mildura is an incentive money wise, with Victorian driver fees around $70 a drive, as well as percentages for a top-five finish. Hill admits part of the appeal is financial - but it's also become a habit he enjoys.

"It can be really good if you have a reasonable night. The four-hour road trip over and back is the downside, but it just becomes part and parcel of your week if you're doing it all the time," he said.

"There wouldn't be many Mildura meetings that I've missed in the past five years. I love going there because the people are friendly, the club committee and all the other trainers have always got time for a chat, and I do enjoy the track.

"I've kept in close contact with a few of the trainers over there and I'm excited they are again staying loyal to me. That's really nice and I can't wait."

Hill is engaged to drive in nine races but he's only one of a throng of trainers and drivers heading to the Mildura fixture.

A 12-race card brings a logistical nightmare at the country harness racing hub, but Mildura Harness Racing Club secretary manager Michelle McGinty says it's a challenge she loves to have.

"Harness racing is in great shape in our region - it's definitely one of the healthiest places in the state and we could regularly program 13 or 14 races," McGinty said.

"We often program 10 or 11 to try to get as many people as possible a run, but I think it's the first time in about three years that we've been granted 12 races - it's great for the trainers, great for the drivers and great for the club," she said.

"I think a lot of trainers watched our racing during COVID and thought they'd give it a try once restrictions eased, and we're seeing the benefit of that now.

"The only downside is trying to manage the logistics - nearly 120 horses in 103 stables on track is a bit of a challenge! We need to get trainers and horses in and out, and stables and facilities cleaned down in between under our COVID procedures. But we have a fantastic team of staff and volunteers who make sure it all gets done."

Mildura continues to be one of the State's most popular venues. McGinty said the $12,000 and $20,000 fast class events were prompting new interest, and the growing local horse population is bolstered this week by 16 visiting trainers.

Horsham trainer Aaron Dunn is another hitting the road.

"The trip up and back takes a while, but there's usually three of us, so it's pretty easy and there's a great atmosphere," he said.

"It's a friendly place and a lot of characters up there, so there's always someone to talk to and have a bit of fun, but also the Mildura racing is almost every week, too, so it's easy to program horses to race there."

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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