Keeping their head above water

24 June 2022 Written by Patrick Bartley

So many Australians collectively watched on while southern Queensland and northern New South Wales were hammered by biblical proportions of rain in the last week of February.

When the rain began pouring into southern Queensland, owners, trainers and breeders were feverishly trying to find high ground for their racehorses, brood mares and the other numbers of thoroughbreds that were stranded while the rain, which was no longer being measured in centimetres but rather metres, was causing havoc in the racing industry.

As Queensland trainer Tony Gollan said after the rain continued to saturate the state: “I was so lucky that my block of stables were just that bit more above ground than Robert Heathcote’s who’s had water lapping through them just two days after the deluge began.”

Heathcote said that the water came quickly and there was nothing much that could be done. 

“We’ve had so much rain that the water just came screaming through into their boxes and there wasn’t really a lot we could do,” Heathcote said.

“Once there was a slight break in the weather, we were able to get down and be amongst the horses and get them out and get them dry.”

Emergency refuges were set up outside of Lismore, Murwillumbah, and a number of spots high enough to take care of them.

These properties were soon accommodating racehorses, brood mares, stallions and horses that were out of work when the rain came.

Trainers said that they stood in disbelief as volunteers from all parts of Queensland converged on the areas with swollen river and creek banks and did what they could.

“I was really moved by the way people from all walks of life who came in and helped out.

“You go from the terribly difficult part of not being able to do anything because of the velocity of the water but then when the rain stops there’s mud and more mud and then more mud to deal with.”

“What is gratifying is that if you have got say, 30 or 40 horses in work, all your staff members are prepared to live in the trainer’s house so they are on hand if any emergency breaks out,” Heathcote said.

“The trainers worry that if staff leave the stables it will be difficult with the roads under water for them to come back and care for the horses.”

At the time of writing, northern New South Wales had also been hammered by this once in a lifetime rain band.

“It’s becoming heavier by the day but, while Warwick Farm has been badly hit by rain, we are still able to have horses work there uninterrupted from any cancellation of tracks,” Heathcote said.

“We’ve been pretty lucky and while we’ve had four days straight of torrential rain, just this morning was the first time our underground tunnel which is used for horses to make their way onto the training tracks, had to be cancelled.”

Fortunately, while the surrounding suburbs such as Chipping Norton were badly affected, Warwick Farm training schedules remained in place.

It also underlines the fact that racing is so different from so many other industries because horses must be fed, watered and worked on a daily basis.