Day At The Track

Group 1 Mile was Ross Gigg's dream

03:37 AM 22 Dec 2018 NZDT
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Ross Gigg at Newcastle Paceway
Ross Gigg at Newcastle Paceway

Newcastle Harness Racing Club chairman Jim Bell remembers it was much-loved former chief executive Ross Gigg's dream to have the track's feature race lifted to group 1 level.

And Bell says the club will not forget his legacy now the Newcastle Mile has reached the elite level.

Harness Racing NSW announced on Wednesday that the race will become a Miracle Mile qualifier for the first time since 2014 as well as rise from group 3 ($30,000) to group 1 ($100,000) status. The March 2 Miracle Mile at Menangle will increase from $750,000 to $1 million.

Gigg, who was NHRC boss for 22 years, died in May 2014. The club renamed its feature race the Ross Gigg Newcastle Mile. A group 2 $75,000 race and Miracle Mile qualifier in Gigg's time at the helm, the event has been a group 3 the past three years.

Jim Bell

 Jim Bell


Gigg was instrumental in bringing the group 1 1997 Australian Pacing Championships to the Broadmeadow track and was working to lift the Mile to that level.    

"It's just marvellous," Bell said of the Mile upgrade. "It was the only time [in 1997] that we had a group 1, and it was Ross's dream. We got the Mile up to $75,000 at one stage but the way things were funded through the industry, it didn't become possible, but it's been a dream."

The change means the Gigg name will no longer be part of the race title but Bell said the club will find another event to honour him.    

"Ross Gigg won't be forgotten," Bell said. "With the prizemoney comes obligations, but Ross will be remembered and the board will work out an appropriate race and a feature race."

The upgrade should bring a top-class field to the Newcastle Mile, especially with its status as the first of four Miracle Mile qualifiers, and Bell was hopeful of a strong turnout trackside.

“It's all happening in our 30th year,” he said.

“To be part of the Miracle Mile, a million dollar race, it's fantastic. 

“Hopefully it's the same as it was before.

"People come out to see quality horses so hopefully we get a good crowd."

Securing group 1 status and regaining its place in the Miracle Mile series is a coup for the NHRC's headline event and gives it a special place in Hunter racing. 

Newcastle and Scone thoroughbred race clubs hold group 3 events as their pinnacles each year, while The Gardens greyhound track at Birmingham Gardens has the group 2 Black Top as its highest-rated feature.

The other qualifying races for the Miracle Mile are the Chariots of Fire for four-year-olds on February 16 and two sprints on February 23, all held at Menangle. The winners gain an automatic place in the $1 million finale.

Some of the greats of pacing, including Westburn Grant (1990 and '91), Sabilize (1994, '95, '96), Our Sir Vancelot (1998) and Courage Under Fire (2000, '01), have won the Newcastle Mile.

By Craig Kerry

Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

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