Merton have celebrated their 150th anniversary of racing at the track on New Year’s Day with a successful meeting held in fine conditions before an estimated crowd of around 1,500. A six race card kicked off mid-afternoon with punters and picnic goers mingling beneath the elm trees and pulling eskys from their car boots.
As the Strathbogie Ranges bathed in the sunshine the jockeys in the first made their way to the barriers at the 1100. The PA system bellowed the second from Doomben and children scurried in-and-out of rare lawn space.
Aunty Nellie won the first, and on a day of celebration, it was fittingly ridden by Ashlee Beer. Beer saluted again in the second on board Ernie's Mate. Those collecting raised a glass in appreciation of the rider.
Seymour jockey Reece Goodwin won the next two races on Eclipsable and Leixlip Lad respectively. 1992 Melbourne Cup winner, Subzero, was paraded up-and-down the home straight before the Cup, posing for photos as children reached over the fence to pat the grey champ affectionately known as ‘Subbie’.
Anxious punters gathered around the mounting-yard as the field for the Cup paraded. Jockeys mounted as bookies got busy. Beer was in favour again, this time on the Russell Mutimer trained Clovelly Hill who was looking for three-in-a-row.
However it was Heart of the Devil trained by Darren Stumpo and carrying 66 kilos that booted clear to win, well ridden by Craig Kirkpatrick. The time of 1:58.93 over the 1900 was well outside the race record held by Mud Eye of 1:55.83 in 1998.
Kirkpatrick continued the theme of riding doubles when he rode Delrazzi to victory in the last. High heels and hats lost their place. The keener punters were glued to TV’s showing Ascot in WA hoping for a late winner.
For those who had made the two-and-a-bit hour drive up from Melbourne, it was time to pack the car and head home. Merton is one of the oldest racetracks still operating in Victoria and nestled between the scenic towns of Yea and Mansfield.
Their New Years Day meeting is certainly a must for horse racing fans whether they are looking to fill their pockets with early winners or simply tame a hangover from the night before.