I WON'T GO BACK: Racetrack sinkhole prompts call for closure
ROCKHAMPTON horse trainer Andrew Suli says he won't go back to Calliope to race again after his horse and rider came to grief when a sinkhole opened up on the track during last Saturday's race meeting.
Suli, who holds licences to race both thoroughbreds and greyhounds, said jockey safety was always at the forefront of his mind and he feared for Gladstone-based hoop Gemma Steele when she fell off his galloper Party Pardee during the third race on the card.
"The hole was just past the finishing post," Suli said.
"It could have been a lot worse - either horse or rider could have been killed.
"Party Pardee lost a hind shoe in the process and did a lap of honour around the track after dislodging Gemma but the horse fortunately wasn't injured, and the main thing was that Gemma wasn't seriously injured."
After the incident in the third race on Saturday, stewards and a deputation of jockeys inspected a significant hole which had opened up on the track, about 30 metres past the winning post and two metres out from the inside running rail.
Stewards subsequently deemed the racing surface unsafe and called off the remainder of the meeting.
Steele was taken to hospital and later released.
"I'm very battered and bruised but at this stage nothing serious or broken so fingers crossed for no hidden issues," she said later.
Suli said jockey safety was always paramount.
"Even when I send horses around at trackwork every morning I'm always asking my trackwork riders every day if there's any soreness in the horses because you don't like sending them around sore," he said.
"Safety is priority - always jockey before horse.
"I wouldn't go back there (Calliope) again."
Suli said he believed volunteer clubs which raced once a year like Calliope should be closed down in the interests of safety.
He said he had raised the matter with the Rockhampton-based Queensland Trainers Association (QTA).
"Small clubs like Calliope can still race, but they should hold their race meetings at nearby bigger clubs like Gladstone which race more regularly and have more regular track and facilities maintenance done," Suli said.
President of the QTA Ross Shannon, who is also a member of the Country Racing Panel, said he supported Suli's view that the Calliope track should be closed and the club's meetings held at Gladstone's Ferguson Park racetrack.
"That makes sense because Calliope has had a number of issues over the years with track maintenance and it's just so hard for these once-a-year meeting, volunteer race clubs, to maintain tracks and facilities to the required standard," Shannon said.
Calliope Jockey Club president Jim Neill-Ballantine told The Observer that a steel drain ran under the area of the track where the depression was discovered.
He said rain water running through the pipe would have eroded the soil and combined with dry weather which had created cracks and weak areas, the impact of Party Pardee would have caused the collapse.
Mr Neill-Ballantine said the race club was working with Racing Queensland to ensure the track was repaired according to required standards and he was confident that would be done before the club's next meeting on Boxing Day.
Due to jockey Steele requiring immediate medical treatment and being indisposed, the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission adjourned an inquiry into the incident.