Racing to success in 2023

Emma Pritchard


Following two weeks of clear skies and sunshine, quality fields of thoroughbreds from leading stables competing on the track, high crowd attendance, and plenty of positive praise from visiting jockeys, trainers, and industry representatives, Clarence River Jockey Club (CRJC) officials have described the 2023 XXXX July Racing Carnival as one of the best in recent years.

“It’s been a fantastic carnival,” said CRJC Chairman Graeme Green.

“We’ve been helped significantly by the weather, which has been perfect, and we’ve had two great weeks of racing.”

CRJC CEO Michael Beattie agreed the moment of the carnival was welcoming former apprentice jockey and Grafton girl Leah Kilner back to the track as the stable representative for Queensland trainer Robert Heathcote ahead of the running of the 2023 Grafton District Services Club (GDSC) Ramornie Handicap on July 12, which was won by Heathcote’s talented sprinter, The Big Goodbye.

It was a bittersweet occasion for Kilner, who had previously celebrated three wins on The Big Goodbye before sustaining serious injuries in a shocking race fall 12 months ago.

While CRJC Track Manager Jesse Boffey said the racing surface held up superbly during the carnival, and acknowledged his team for their hard work in ensuring the turf remained in good order to accommodate 38 races across five days, race caller Terry Spargo, who called every race from Grafton between July 2-16, said the weather this year was undeniably much better compared to 2022, adding it was great to see huge crowds return to the track.

2318 people attended Ramornie Day on July 12, while 3946 were trackside for the running of the Grafton Cup on July 13.

Among them were Sydneysiders Lynette and Tony Browning, who were enjoying their third visit to the carnival.

“It’s definitely the best country racing carnival we’ve been to in Australia,” they said. 

“We love everything about it.”

With six wins and six minor placings from 36 rides, Ben Looker was announced as the 2023 Clocktower Hotel Jockey of the Carnival, while Wyong based Damien Lane was the winner of the 2023 Clocktower Hotel Trainer of the Carnival with four winners and one minor placing.

Looker said he enjoys returning to Grafton each year to ride during the July Racing Carnival, while Lane said his stable is also proud to support the annual event.

“It gets bigger and better every year,” he said.

“I’d also like to thank my team for everything they do behind the scenes, the CRJC, and all the sponsors.

“It’s a great carnival, and hopefully I’ll have some good horses to bring back next year.”