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Warrnambool's Margaret Lucas visits Paeroa

Margaret Lucas looks like the warm, down-to-earth, sensible countrywoman that she is. But it would be a serious mistake to assume that her realm of operation is bounded by a farm-gate or a kitchen door.

For Margaret chairs one of the most successful country racing clubs in Victoria, the Warrnambool Racing Club. She attended the National Jumps Day at Paeroa on Sunday with the Warrnambool chief executive Chris Nolan to meet New Zealand trainers likely to be interested in taking horses to their club's famous May Carnival next year.

Margaret is the first woman to lead the club in Warrnambool turf history. That history began as soon as the first European settlers could organise a race meeting, within a year of their arrival in 1847. The Grand Annual Steeplechase - 33 fences over 5500 metres - was first held in 1872 and is the feature of the carnival always held on the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in May. The meeting attracts more than 35,000 racegoers - more than Warrnambool's resident population - and combines excellent management and promotion with the warm friendliness of a strong country community that loves jumps racing.

Margaret is a passionate representative for Warrnambool and country racing in general, and has not been afraid to express strong views about Racing Victoria's handling of matters beyond Melbourne.

She says "These are interesting times in Victorian racing with many changes, some of them made without enough consultation with industry stakeholders." The latest change is the departure of Racing Victoria chief executive Neville Fielke, after only 18 months in the job.

Margaret sees the value of the business discipline and accountability that have been introduced to Victorian racing during the past decade. "We've just broken all our own records again and our community is very committed to jumping and racing in general." My own observation of the 2001 May Carnival was that Warrnambool demonstrates how well a grass roots racing community can work when it is supported by effective industry management and structures.

At Paeroa Margaret was very impressed with the number and skills of New Zealand's female jumps riders, especially Rochelle Lockett and Michelle Hopkins. "Rochelle is delightful and I was gobsmacked to see Michelle return to scale on the day's major winner, then go and saddle up her next mount."

Margaret also noted the size of the steeplechase fences. "It's good to see they're still high in New Zealand. Please keep them that way!"

Promising young Warrnambool jockey Brad McLean accompanied Margaret and Chris to Paeroa and was rewarded with a third on Paddy Maloney in the open hurdle.

The 2004 Warrnambool May Canrival will be held on 4, 5 & 6 May and features the $A120,000 Grand Annual Steeple, $A100,000 Warrnambool Cup, $A60,000 Galleywood Hurdle, a $A60,000 open handicap over 1200m and the $A50,000 Brierly Steeplechase. More information can be had from Chris Nolan,
Ph: (0061 3) 5562 2211,
Web: www.warrnamboolracing.com.au


- Susan Archer