By Rod Thompson
Racegoers attending the Darley Scone Cup Carnival this week are in for a treat - on and off the track.
That's the tip from Scone Race Club's CEO, Heath Courtney, as he prepares for his third edition of the prestigious two-day meeting on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 May.
"We're mixing things up a bit this year," he said. "We are introducing a few new function packages to create little precincts [within the racecourse] to suit everyone's tastes.
"People will be able to pick and choose where they want to be. Of course, we'll still have the Darley marquee. But, in 2019, we've got The Peak.
"It's a contemporary new-age pavilion on the [tiered] hill.
"We're bringing people back to where the action and horses are - the real 'stars of the show'.
"We've also put aside reserved seating trackside, which should be a hit with everyone.
"Trick riders, numerous displays and a roaming brass band will add to the 'carnival' feel."
With nearly $2 million in prizemoney on offer, over the two days, Courtney is well aware of the carnival's drawing power.
"We're expecting all the big names to be here," he said.
"Last year, Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott won the Scone Cup with Sedanzer, while we witnessed the emergence of Osborne Bulls, which claimed the [$150,000] 2018 Yarraman Park Luskin Star Stakes Listed for James Cummings.
"That galloper's won more than $2 million in his career. The team at Godolphin, which is flying at the moment, always supports the [Scone] club.
"Plus, where else would you see the likes of Gai, James, Chris Waller and the Snowdens walk among a local crowd?
"It's a totally unique atmosphere - and those high-profile trainers feel right at home here. We're offering city-class racing in a country setting.
"That's what makes this carnival so special. And, we're extremely proud of that fact."
To celebrate the Scone Cup on Friday, there is a half-day public holiday from noon in the Upper Hunter Shire, with the exception of the Merriwa district.
As in previous years, it'll apply to towns and villages including Aberdeen, Blandford, Bunnan, Ellerston, Gundy, Moonan Brook, Murrurundi, Parkville, Scone, Rouchel, Timor and Wingen.
Upper Hunter Shire mayor Wayne Bedggood said there was a great deal of community consultation to hold public holidays and he hoped residents would support the event.
"We look forward to seeing everyone at the 2019 Darley Scone Cup Carnival," he added. "It's one of the many highlights of the Scone Horse Festival."
The Scone Visitor Information and Horse Centre will be open every day of the festival with maps, advice and merchandise, from 9am to 5pm weekdays and 10am to 4pm on weekends.