Sydney may host the high-profile, rich feature races, but there has never been any doubt that Regional NSW is the heart and soul of greyhound racing, and that was never more evident than on Saturday night when the ‘House Full’ sign was posted at Grafton.
Even old-timers were scratching their heads trying to recall the last time there was a sellout at a NSW greyhound track, or the previous time they needed to push their way through such a large crowd.
The main attraction was the final of The Thunderbolt which, with its $75,000 first prize is the richest shortcourse greyhound race in the world. The race over the 350m trip was won by Vamoose, trained at Branxton by 72-year-old Susan Smith who bred the dog, and wisely refused a large offer for him after just a couple of starts.
But Saturday night was about more than just a race. It was a night when the regional community came together to celebrate and party with more than 3,000 on track who were also entertained by country music stars Brooke McClymont and Adam Eckersley.
“I’ve been here for 42 years and it’s the most people I have ever seen on this racetrack,” said Grafton President John Corrigan. “It was more than a race night. It was a community night. We had more than 400 kids here. I’ve never seen so many kids in my life, and Brooke and Adam had everyone rocking as well when they performed.
“I would say about 20 per cent of the people came specifically to watch the dogs race, the other 80 per cent were here for the entertainment and to have a great night out.
“Really, this is our Million Dollar Chase of the North. We don’t get much up here, it’s all in Sydney and we get that, but when you put a race on like this and promote it to the community, the people will come and support you.
“We have won the lottery hosting this race and I hope we have done the industry proud with the way we have done it.”
Local Member, Richie Williamson was born and bred in Grafton, and has lived in the region all his life. He was mayor from 2008 to 2016 and following the retirement of the Nationals’ Chris Gulaptis in March, Williamson ran and was elected in the seat of Clarence. He was on track to witness the incredible turnout.
“What a great night for Grafton. What a great night for greyhound racing,” he said.
“Look greyhound racing means a lot to the city of Grafton. It's wonderful to be here with 3,000 of my local constituents who are going to party hard tonight, and we've just witnessed one of the great races on the greyhound calendar.
“It’s tremendous and of course we thank the Brooke (McClymont) and Adam (Eckerlsey) who are here tonight, rocking the 3,000 people here on track.”
Greyhound Racing NSW Chief Executive officer Rob Macaulay has been on track for all of his organisation’s major events from the Million Dollar Chase at Wentworth Park to the $500,000 Ladbrokes 715 at Newcastle’s Gardens, and the $125,000 Country Classic at Dubbo, but even he was gobsmacked by the turnout at Grafton.
“We’ve seen something very special here,” he said. “A massive crowd, and John Corrigan and the Grafton club have done just a tremendous job. Everybody's having a ball, great people playing music, great dogs racing on this superb track. We're very pleased.
“I think that it is fair to say that greyhound racing in NSW has never been stronger. People are 10 deep at the rail (watching the races), 10 deep at the bar, 10 deep for the tote … everyone's having a really good time. I've never seen so many people lined up looking at dogs before the race, the trainers are having a ball and it’s been another night of great safe racing in NSW.
“Congratulations to everyone involved with bringing this night together.”