Green light for racing to return to Eagle Farm
THERE were a few things not seen for a while at Eagle Farm earlier this week: horses, people and smiles.
The iconic Brisbane racetrack has been something of a ghost town for the best part of four years as the turf has been pulled up, replaced and pulled up and replaced again.
The course was most recently closed in May last year after originally being closed for two years for major renovations in 2014.
But on Monday under glorious blue skies and the eyes of a hundred or so interested parties, the strip of green that has been an estimated $20 million in the making was given its final test before a decision was made on when racing would return in earnest.
Racing Queensland and Brisbane Racing Club made the announcement on Monday afternoon that the first meeting on the new track would be held on Saturday week.
It was a decision that was much anticipated and roundly applauded, but given the reaction by jockeys and trainers at Monday's trial, something of a no-brainer.
Following problem-free trackwork last week the RQ and BRC scheduled two 1000m trials and two jump-outs on the course proper.
The only participants not fulsome in their praise of the surface were the horses, but one got the impression they would have happily given it the hooves up as well.
Jockey Jim Byrne described the course as "a pleasure to ride on".
Other jockeys praised the lack of loose turf "kickback" from the leading horses, while trainers such as Robert Heathcote and Chris Munce were delighted to see the return of the grand old lady, which has been the spiritual home of Queensland racing since 1865.
Munce, who won the 1998 Melbourne Cup on Jezabeel and twice won Eagle Farm's premier race, the Stradbroke Handicap, in 1997 and 2000, wasn't content to view the new track from the sidelines. He rode in one of the jump-outs.
"It's looking beautiful, it's amazing," he said after the two trials, the second of which was won by his horse Pony Power.
"There's no marking of the turf and the running has been fair to all."
But much as he was impressed with the quality of the course from a professional point of view, Munce was equally pleased for the future of Queensland racing.
"This means everything," he said. "Eagle Farm is Queensland racing.
"To get racing back here where we all know it should be is great.
"Time will tell how good the track is but at this stage everything is pointing in the right direction.
"We've all waited for this for the last few years and to see it finally happen is really exciting."