By Mark Brassel
GLADSTONE RACECOURSE WAS HAILED AS THE “BEST IN NORTHERN NSW” WITH PUNTERS AND SPECTATORS TRAVELLING DOWN THE RIVER BY BOAT – AND IF THE BOAT WAS LATE, THE RACES WERE HELD UP UNTIL IT ARRIVED
It was back in the 1880s when a group moved to establish Gladstone & Lower Macleay Jockey Club but to cut a very long story short, the Club, and the course, died a slow death. Yet after all these years one man refuses to leave … Peter Ball.
It’s probably a good thing trainer Peter Ball enjoys his own company, he has been based in Gladstone all his life and he wouldn’t change a thing.
Gladstone is a small village with a population of 387 on the banks of the Macleay River, 16km up the river from Kempsey. Having held a trainer’s licence since he was just out of his teens, the now 79-year-old prepares his small team at the old Gladstone Racecourse.
“I don’t have to wait for the track to open of a morning – I’ve been the only trainer at Gladstone for more than 20 years!” Ball professed.
Daughter, Gaye Ball, said her father, despite his age, maintains the course impeccably: “Dad mows and harrows the track constantly and keeps it in great nick.
"He usually starts about 6am overseeing the horses’ workouts and just does it in his own time,” Gaye explained. “Terry Treichel and Steve Sutcliffe regularly come over to ride the horses work.”
Peter Ball did have company a couple of decades back but he is now the sole trainer at Gladstone: “Peter Millard trained there about 20 years ago but now it’s just me,” Peter said.
Millard won the 1993 Ramornie Handicap at Grafton with Roussali with Maurice Logue aboard when he trained at Gladstone, but relocated in 1998.
Garry’s Munday’s splendid book “From ‘Go to Whoa’ – The First 100 Years of Horse Racing in the Macleay Valley” explained how the demise of Gladstone Racecourse came about in 1969.
“Through thick and thin, bad times and good times, Gladstone & Lower Macleay Jockey Club ran meetings, even in times of war and depression the meetings were held.
Disregarding its wonderful history, the Club was doomed by rules, regulations, finances, its proximity to Kempsey’s Warwick Park and the Government’s plan to rationalise racing in NSW.
Today the track is used for training, a far cry from its illustrious place at the top of the courses on the North Coast.”
These days Ball only has a maximum of half a dozen horses in work but they all have their share of ability.
Art’s Got a Gun has been a good money spinner with seven wins and 12 placings having accumulated more than $110,000 in prizemoney.
There’s also Financial (a Taree winner from his five starts), Moonlight Forest (five wins), Smithtown (three wins) and Ted’s Dream (placed twice at Taree from just three outings). And then there’s San Marco, a young gelding the trainer believes might be his shining light.
San Marco is still a maiden after seven starts but finished placings at Hawkesbury and Gosford last spring, having competed in the Inglis Classic at Royal Randwick early last year won by Frolic.
The Balls acquired the three-year-old following a recommendation from jockey Paul Hammersley: “San Marco’s our new boy and we got him at the end of January,” Gaye Ball said. “He’s about a month away from racing but is a beautiful horse. Paul Hammersley had been riding him and he told us he’s a lovely type and great natured. He looks like a trail horse he’s that quiet and relaxed.”
Ted’s Dream has finished strongly in his past two starts for placings at Taree and he also is a worthy representative of the team: “He’s Art’s Got a Gun’s little half-brother. He’s a big gangly type of horse and Robert (Thompson) told us to give him a spell and he’ll grow into a very nice racehorse.”
Looking back, Peter Ball rated Villamill as his best galloper having won the 2013 Kempsey Cup: “He won seven races including the John Carlton Cup on Grafton Cup Prelude Day.”
But Gaye plumped for a horse named Schwantz as her favourite: “Schwantz was very good to us - he was named after Kevin Schwantz (former US World Champion motorcycle road racer who competed during the 1980s and early 1990s). He won 15 races including the Armidale Cup, Wingham Cup and Gladstone Cup at Kempsey.
“We took him to Rosehill on a Saturday in January 1993 and he won a 1500m race. We got 33/1 about him and had $300 each-way. That was a lot of money in those days and it virtually built our house.”
Apart from Gaye who helps out, racing is in the Ball family’s blood with Gaye’s brother Tony Ball formerly with Godolphin working under Peter Snowden, then John O’Shea and James Cummings.
“Gladstone still has charm and is a fantastic place to train my little team; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”