JUMPS racing makes a reappearance in Ballarat tomorrow.
Ballarat Turf Club has programmed two hurdle events – the first the track has seen in several years.
This is one of three meetings at Dowling Forest Racecourse which will feature hurdle races this season.
Ballarat has a great tradition in jumps racing.
Long-time racegoers to Dowling Forest will remember the steeplechase hedge fences, which disappeared in the 1990s in a track redevelopment.
An array of trainers in the area have over many years produced some greats of the sport.
The latter remains in play today. Robert Smerdon, who these days splits his training operation between Caulfield and Ballarat, has the country’s best hurdler – Black and Bent.
In the past 10 years he has guided Zabenz to a group 1 hurdle win in the United States and also oversaw the now-retired Some Are Bent’s great career.
Darren Weir, who has Ballarat’s biggest training operation, has a significant team of jumpers and has numerous feature jumps wins to his credit.
But for all the highlights this type of racing provides, there will again be collective nerves and anxiety ahead of tomorrow’s jumps event – just as there are every time hurdlers and steeplechasers step out on the track in the existing climate of uncertainty.
Jumps racing has come under enormous scrutiny in Victoria and South Australia – the only Australian states which still run these events – over the past few years
It went to the brink of extinction.
Racing Victoria Limited and the state government have put in enormous effort to retain it.
There is no bigger supporter than Racing Minister Denis Napthine.
As well as the introduction of stricter qualifying and racing conditions, stakemoney has been increased substantially.
For all this though, the new jumps season has had a horror start with horse deaths in Victoria and South Australia.
This has only added to the pressure mounting from the anti-jumping lobby, in which the RSPCA is a major player.
The protests are not going away.
That is their right.
They will continue until jumps racing comes to an end.
Every time there is a mishap the protests will get louder and the future of jumps racing will become shakier.
This is why there will be a collective holding of breaths by supporters and opposers of jumps racing from the time of the first hurdle to the last in Ballarat tomorrow.
Jumps racing can be spectacular.
Watching Black and Bent win his eighth straight hurdle race at Sandown on Wednesday was exciting for racegoers.
The Warrnambool May Carnival, which is built around jumps racing, will again be a highlight of the racing season.
There will be thrills.
It cannot afford though to have any spills.
With jumps racing fighting for its survival, its future might well be determined by Warrnambool’s three-day racing extravaganza.
Ultimately jumps racing will determine its own fate.
There is nothing more certain than this.
Ballarat Turf Club and all supporters of the jumping are hoping that tomorrow will provide another stamp of approval for the future of the sport.