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Oakbank faces up to testing times

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“Mad March” and changing social patterns have battered Oakbank Racing Club’s Easter Carnival in recent years, says the club’s long-standing chairman.

Launching the 2014 Carnival yesterday, John Glatz said the club, which runs Australia’s biggest picnic race meeting, was having a tough run.

It has commissioned a three-year review to revive the carnival.

“Twenty years ago we could make money without trying; now it’s very difficult,” he said.

“Our income’s been cut by half, sponsorship is down … it’s not easy.”

Last year the club recorded a $181,000 loss, following on from a $23,000 loss in 2012.

It retains a members’ surplus of $2.1 million.

“Crowds are down to half what they were 10 years ago and the holiday Monday is where it’s changed the most.

“It’s a trend we’re seeing across Australia where there has been a decline in attendances for races on Monday public holidays.”

Glatz said Oakbank has also suffered from being at the back end of Adelaide’s long spend in Mad March.

“The Festivals, car races, Adelaide Cup, the Fringe and WOMAD have all been digging into people’s pockets and were at the end of the period.

“Yet, we started 138 years ago as a family picnic race day and we’ll keep concentrating on families.”

The club launched a gourmet food area called The Paddock and a special Kids Zone under a huge marquee with a range of activities.

It has also secured the sponsorship and support of Thomas Foods, one of the largest agri-businesses in Australia, headed by Darren Thomas who was one of the key players in the development of BrandSA.

On the racing side, the revival of jumps racing in Victoria has been beneficial with strong fields expected in the Von Doussa and great Eastern Steeplechases.

New Zealand trained John Wheeler is bringing a team of seven across the Tasman and trainers from Tasmania and Vicotira will add to the strength of the local fields.

It has been more than one hundred and thirty eight years since Tormentor won the first Great Eastern Steeple around the undulating hill course back in 1876.

The race has always been run on Easter Monday except during World War Two when the army occupied the course and it was run at Victoria Park and Morphettville.

The club has been through World Wars, depressions and recessions; John Glatz says it will survive, but may have to change.

“Heck, we might have to consider racing on Good Friday and Easter Sunday; but I’ll have to check with The Pope first.”

Oakbank has plenty of history, but this RSVP from Queensland’s federal MP for Darling Downs, Tom McVeigh, in the late 1980s  perhaps sums it up best:

True to the plans of all who organize this annual event to preserve “A People’s Party”;

Amidst a sight so vividly alive with it’s seamless beauty of scenery;

But above all it is the spirit of it all that envelopes your heart;

As it did to me last year and will do next year and forever;

The friendly ‘Hello”, “How are you Mate” “Join us for a celebration or two”;

Herald the feeling that you are welcome and at Home and they are glad to know you:

To share the banquet of life with each shake of the hand unlike so many places elsewhere the welcoming handshake seems to be with a closed fist it is that cold’

“Tis not so at Oakbank at the Easter Carnival and always;

You can walk the course, sit on the log fence, talk to the horses and humans;

In a landscape tethered to beauty and so may I suggest you attend and be saturated With the spirit of goodwill which permeates the celebration and spare a thought for me;

Unable to attend but look forward to seeing you all next year.

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