By Tony Megahey
Kerry Weir has the track all to himself training at icy Tumut, where he can admire the spectacular snow drifts on the Snowy Mountains.
Weir maintains the traditional and passionate bonds between the racing and Rugby League fraternities in the Riverina where the Tumut football ground, ‘Twickenham’ to the locals, is in the middle of the racetrack.
“My father John brought our family from Narrandera to captain-coach at Tumut - Maher Cup days and big money - I became an apprentice jockey but I was too tall; weight beat me so I turned to training,” Weir explained. “Trainers get to eat a lot more than jockeys,” he chuckled.
Weir has maintained a consistent strike rate in his region and has previous TAB Highway placings, but reckons he has a couple of factors in his favour to suggest outsider Jounama can give a sight in a $60,000 Class 2, 1200m episode in soft conditions at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
“She’s a mare in form, won at 1300m so she’ll be strong at 1200m and she can handle rain-affected tracks,” Weir offered. “She’s up in grade and she’ll get back, but she’s on the limit and looking at the form there’s good speed in the race to suit us.”
Jounama carries 53kg for regular rider and Weir’s stable jockey Megan Taylor. Megan rode the well-performed Levee Bank for Weir when it ran third in a particularly strong Rosehill Gardens TAB Highway behind Suncraze and Don’t Give a Damn last September.
With Megan riding, Jounama has come from near last for highly impressive recent wins over 1100m at Gundagai and 1300m at Wagga Wagga. And there were excuses for her failure between those wins at Albury.
"The saddle slipped shortly after the start so forget she went around. Then she won from last at 1100m at Gundagai and they don’t do that on a leader’s track. This is her first prep for us; it took us a while to work her out but the way this mare is racing she deserves a chance in better grade.” In early TAB Highway betting markets, Jounama is $26 on TAB fixed odds.
Prolific series winner Danny Williams provides yet another Highway favourite in Highway Sixtysix ($2.60) to be ridden by Blake Shinn. Recent Highway placegetters Nicconita ($4.20) and Tim’s Principal ($7.50) are on the next line of betting.
Meanwhile, the historic Tumut Race Club is one of the oldest in NSW, formed in the 1850s: “It certainly is, seven meetings a year - the biggest is on Boxing Day - a brilliant day and Kerry Weir rode some good horses down here. He's a great fella,” enthused long-time Riverina bookie and devoted League follower, Sam Jones from Gundagai.
Sam’s brother Peter came from Gundagai to play rugby union for the Wallabies beside the Thornett brothers before switching to league with the Balmain Tigers and played five-eighth outside the late great Arthur Beetson.
“The racing and the league crowds are as one - always have been always will be,” Sam added. “Back in the days of the Maher Cup in the late 40s early 50s there were several current Kangaroos captain-coaching in the Riverina.
“There was a lot more money down here than in Sydney, long before the poker machines. The local sheep and cattle farmers and the publicans were wealthy men.
“There was as much money bet on the football as at the races. But I’ve got a photo of them playing Maher Cup in the snow at Tumut and training horses in the snow - magic!!