Friday night lights reborn: Passion driving harness revival | Video

FAMILY AFFAIR: Jane Morris, her daughter Poppy, horse Scarlett, and father Kel Winnell finish up the day's work at their stables in Spring Hill. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

FAMILY AFFAIR: Jane Morris, her daughter Poppy, horse Scarlett, and father Kel Winnell finish up the day's work at their stables in Spring Hill. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

Jane Morris remembers the childhood excitement of Friday nights at the race track with her father: Flood lights illuminating the track, the buzz surrounding busy punters and the smell of hot food and horses.

“It was energetic. Harness racing on a Friday night always meant a lot of people getting together to have a really good time,” Mrs Morris said.

When Orange Harness Racing Club’s Carnival of Cups was held on Sunday Mrs Morris’ role was not that of an excited spectator. Volunteering as the club’s secretary requires far more than sitting on the sidelines.

But as Mrs Morris will attest, the pay off for the hours of hard work required is in seeing a growing revival of the sport.

“It’s exciting again. There were a lot of people here on Sunday – they’re returning to the track,” Mrs Morris said.

In 2017 the meeting was held on Towac Park’s grass for the first time, after the closure of the Highlands Paceway track in 2015.

“The facilities at Highlands were in poor conditions and didn’t pass safety standards,” Mrs Morris said.

“But people wanted to see harness racing stay in Orange as it has such a long history in the area.”

Mrs Morris’ father Kel Winnell was one of the trainers who got behind the cause.

Involved in the sport for more than 35 years, Mr Winnell knew an Orange track was important to keep the spotlight on the sport, but he didn’t see the sense of throwing millions into an entirely new location.

“We really have to thank JD (former Orange mayor John Davis) who was with us all the way,” Mr Winnell said.

“The old site was three parts in the ground and we couldn’t get enough money to get it up to scratch.

“I called JD one morning and said ‘how about we race on the grass?’ He said ‘they can’t race on the grass’, and I said ‘mate, they can.’”

From that conversation a plan was hatched to move to Towac and become the state’s only harness racing club racing on a grass circuit.

In 2016 the Carnival of Cups went to Bathurst as a track was yet to be secured for Orange.

“Bathurst were good to us. They got everything organised, it wasn’t a problem,” said Mr Winnell. 

Mr Winnell said that after months of negotiations and seeking the right approvals from authorities, the club was eager to trial the grass.

The plans were approved and the gates at Towac Park opened to harness racing for the first time 12 months ago.

“There were a lot of people who weren’t sure whether it would work or not. We were taking a huge gamble,” Mr Winnell said. 

“This is our second year in and we saw a lot of happy people. Hopefully now we get allocated some more meetings.”

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