STAWELL Racing Club operations manager Penny Penfold believes the club will feel a financial loss for up to two years after the poisoning of the Stawell Racecourse track.
Ararat Crime Investigation Unit detectives have appealed for witnesses following the suspected deliberate poisoning of 1000 metres of the Stawell Racecourse track.
Police believe an unknown offender or offenders gained entry to the track on Pomonal Road in the week leading up to March 25 and poisoned it.
As a result, Stawell Racing Club’s iconic Easter Sunday cup meeting has been abandoned.
Ms Penfold said the club was devastated.
“We are absolutely bewildered as to why someone would want to do this,” she said.
She said the club had no choice but to abandon the Stawell Gold Cup meeting.
It is the club’s pre-eminent meeting of the year, attracting about 4000 racegoers a year.
“It is a huge financial loss for the club and we will be feeling the loss for the next 12 months, if not two years,” Ms Penfold said.
Despite the shock, the club has vowed to soldier on.
Ms Penfold said the club would host a ‘phantom’ meeting on Easter Sunday to provide for the thousands of patrons who traditionally attended the cup day.
She said the club adopted a ‘kids eggstravaganza’ theme in 2013 aimed at transforming the event into a family-oriented, child-friendly day.
This year’s event would build on its success.
“There will still be lots of children’s activities, live music, fashions, a full bar and catering,” Ms Penfold said. “There will also be a big screen showing metro and other country races and TAB betting facilities.”
Entry would be free.
Northern Grampians Mayor Kevin Erwin has urged Wimmera residents to throw their support behind the club.
“It’s pretty devastating,” he said.
“I really do feel for the club, it’s had a terrible start to the year.
“Its first meeting for the year was cancelled because of heat and the second was transferred to Ararat.
“This is a major blow.”
“I really do feel for the club, it’s had a terrible start to the year... this is a major blow"
Cr Erwin said the cancellation of the Stawell Gold Cup would have a major impact on both the club and the city, with the population set to increase by thousands during the Easter long weekend.
“Full credit to the club – it’s soldiered on,” he said.
“I’d like to encourage everyone to support it by attending the racecourse on Easter Sunday.”
Detectives believe the track vandalism was a targeted attack.
Detective Senior Constable Marcia Parry said police were notified on Friday after the club’s groundsman noticed the surface deteriorating at an unusual rate.
She urged anyone with information to call Ararat Police Station on 5355 1500 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or visit www.crimestoppers.com.au.
In Victoria, criminal damage carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.