FOR the first time in more than a decade, country racing will return to the central Queensland town of Alpha.
But for how long?
The state's governing body Racing Queensland has surprised many insiders with the announcement of the Alpha meet on one hand - set down for June 22 next year - and the commissioning of an industry-wide sustainability review on the other.
Emerald Jockey Club president Leon Roberts said the state's racing industry was being torn in two different directions.
"One of the points made in the briefing paper is the fact that the question has been raised if Queensland has too many race clubs already, and if existing club infrastructure is being maximised," Roberts said.
Racing Queensland was unable to comment about the exact circumstances as to how the new race meet in Alpha came to fruition, but the emergence of big mining projects near Alpha was likely to be the main thrust behind the decision.
Dingo Race Club president Jeff Olive regularly drives past the abandoned Alpha track, nestled in overgrown scrub a few kilometres west of town, en route to a property he owns near Blackall.
He said given the strong race nominations at western clubs, there was some hope yet for the Alpha race meet.
"We struggle out here (Dingo) but I know Blackall always gets a good number of horses and they've usually got a few emergencies," Olive said.
"The track would need a bit of a tidy up, but yeah, I think it would be good."
Roberts said the investment to bring the track in line with industry standards would be significant, and given RQ was already looking at cost-cutting measures through its sustainability review, it was unlikely they would be willing to part with anything more than the absolute minimum contribution.
"I would suggest it will cost them a substantial amount of money to bring the race track and surroundings up to the level to meet the required Racing Queensland standards," he said.
"Then it is difficult for all clubs with one race date a year to remain viable. They will be relying heavily on the support of local businesses and mining companies.
"I know here in Emerald, if we relied solely on the mining industry for sponsorship to keep us viable, we would have gone out of existence a long time ago."
News of the scheduled Alpha meet revived a few cherished memories for former Springsure hoop turned metropolitan jockey Lacey Morrison.
"I rode there years ago when I was an apprentice," Morrison recalled.
Morrison, who is due to ride in Townsville this weekend, said provided the race committee was offered adequate support, there were plenty of reasons to give Alpha another crack.
"I don't see why not if the whole community gets behind it. Another bush track is always a good thing," she said.
Information already collated in the sustainability review tells of a general decline in waging across all codes - thoroughbreds, harness and greyhounds.
Racing Minister Steve Dickson said the Alpha meet was part of a $4 million investment to rebuild country racing in the next four years.
"I am determined to build a sustainable future for Queensland country racing, and these new regionally-focused meeting programs form a big part of this commitment," Mr Dickson said.
"This initiative will provide a much-needed boost to country racing, allowing clubs to attract stronger race fields and entice more patrons to the track."
Final submissions to the sustainability review close on August 3. For more information, visit racingsustainabilityreview.com.au.
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