Years of toil, months of anticipation and a couple of tantalising teasers will culminate with the Gifford Hill official opening race day at Murray Bridge on Saturday, August 10.
South Australia’s new state-of-the-art racetrack and the $20 million Bridges function centre will be formally launched with a standalone metropolitan meeting.
The momentous occasion will mark the end of an 11-year journey for the Murray Bridge Racing Club – and the start of an exciting new chapter in the history of the club, the rural city itself, and SA thoroughbred racing.
When opening day arrives the track will have been tested twice: initially at the first trials on Wednesday, July 10 and then again at a comparatively low-key midweek meeting on July 24.
The official unveiling will draw together the main players behind making Gifford Hill a reality, while SA Governor Hieu Van Le and his wife will be special guests.
“I can’t wait for that first Saturday race meeting,” said Thoroughbred Racing SA chief operating office Nick Redin.
“Gifford Hill is a key piece of infrastructure in our overall rating system, it’s been a long time in the making, but it’s going to be great.
“And I think on opening day we’ll see big fields and plenty of interest.”
The anticipation of a healthy crowd for Gifford Hill’s official opening race day is a welcome opportunity to finally put the facility through its paces, according to Murray Bridge Racing Club secretary/manager John Buhagiar.
“It’s going to be a great day for us, because we’re going to show off everything that it can provide,” Mr Buhagiar said.
“It’s also our first Saturday race meeting for many years, so that gives us the opportunity to have city-level prizemoney for one of our race days.
“So I’m looking forward to us being strongly supported by our locals and visitors.”
The new facility’s entire – and extensive – range of food and catering outlets will be open, while some live music and the official opening ceremony will add a special touch to the day.
On the track, Mr Buhagiar shares Mr Redin’s optimism about what to expect.
“I’m certain we’ll get good-sized fields, especially with us being South Australia’s largest training centre outside Morphettville,” he said.
“We anticipate getting good patronage all round, but especially strong support from our local trainers – I know they’re excited about racing on the track.”
Mr Redin said the opening day would herald the onset of “an exciting time for South Australian racing”.
“We hope we’ll be there a couple of times on a Saturday every year,” he said.
“The Murray Bridge track is now the fourth track we’ve had rebuilt in 10 years, following on from Gawler, The Parks track at Morphettville and the recently redeveloped Mount Gambier track.
“Gifford Hill – with its artificial track – is going to be a key training centre going forward, and the official opening day is a chance for people to come and see what’s a pretty exciting part of the future of racing in South Australia.
“I think the club’s got 22 race meetings next year – that’s a significant list already, given I think they had 15 this year.”
Both Mr Redin and Mr Buhagiar predicted opening-day racegoers would be particularly taken by the elevated spectator viewing offered at the new site, situated adjacent the South Eastern Freeway.