By David Gilbert
ANYONE who attended the Racing SA Industry Awards night at Morphettville last Saturday who had never previously heard of Jacob Opperman, certainly knows his name now.
At South Australian Racing’s night of nights, the Mingbool based Opperman won all three awards up for grabs for apprentices in this state for the 2020/21 racing season.
The 17-year-old took home the Provincial and Country Apprentice of the Year, Metropolitan Apprentice of the Year and South Australian Apprentice of the Year titles.
A mighty effort for an apprentice in his first full year of riding and the fact he only got his ticket to ride in the metropolitan area at the start of this year.
Fortunately, Opperman did not have to get up on stage to make three speeches as it was all done in one hit.
Nevertheless, was it a nerve racking experience for a youngster to get up and be interviewed in front of a room full of people?
“Not really, Terry MacAuliffe (the compere with years of experience) was able to guide me through it,” Opperman stated.
Of equal significance for Opperman was the result of the prestigious John Letts Medal for the best jockey in South Australia for the 2020/21 season, as voted by the stewards panel.
Young Opperman finished equal third with Kayla Crowther, behind Jessica Easton (winner) and Jason Holder.
It was Easton’s first full year of riding in South Australia, arriving here just over 12 months ago as an apprentice from Victoria.
Opperman’s father Jamie was impressed by the night which also saw five new inductees into the SA Hall of Fame.
“There were 300 people or more there and although it was a long night, it was rewarding to learn about some of the greats of SA racing,” he said.
Jamie brought up a very valid point.
“If they can have that many people to a function in Adelaide, how come the Limestone Coast Thoroughbred Racing awards afternoon did not go ahead a couple of weeks ago?” he said.
Indeed, it makes you wonder as the Glenburnie racecourse (where the function was due to be held on August 15) can hold at least 200 people and it would easily have accommodated the 80-100 people who usually attend.
There is a line of thought amongst some senior local racing industry participants that the function may have been put in the “too hard” basket.
However, according to Limestone Coast Thoroughbred Racing vice president Bruce Jaensch, it was due to catering issues.
IF the South Australian harness horse of the year award was awarded next week, right up there amongst the favourites to win it would be the local pacer Van Mara.
Since joining the Steve Fennell stable back in the autumn, Van Mara has been a real money spinner with six wins and a second from seven starts, all at Globe Derby Park in Adelaide.
Those six wins have all been in succession, the latest last Saturday night when the rising nine-year-old easily accounted for his rivals in the 2230 metre NR 74-120 pace to take his earnings for the Fennell stable to around $27,000.
“We went to Melton earlier this year and claimed him for $12,000, so he has well and truly paid his way,” Fennell said.
“He has been going around in free-for-alls every time he has raced in Adelaide, and his rating is now up to around 112.”
Fennell would love to test the waters with Van Mara in Victoria where there is better prize money on offer, but that is not possible in our present COVID climate.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t be going to Adelaide every time to race him if I didn’t have to as it means an 8.30am start on race day and we do not get home until 4am next day,” he said.
Despite his picket fence winning form, punters have been swaying away from Van Mara whenever he starts at Globe Derby Park.
“He hasn’t gone around as an outright favourite all the time he has raced in Adelaide, which is good for the likes of us who like a bet,” Fennell said.
Last Saturday night, Van Mara shared favouritism with Motu Gatecrasher around the $3 mark, and won by 11 metres after claiming driver Samantha Pascoe opted to sit outside the leader from barrier five.
PUZZLING MOVE BY PENSHURST
I MUST admit to being totally stunned to learn that a race meeting that has successfully stood the test of time for 120 years in western Victoria has been moved to another date.
The Penshurst Racing Club race once a year on Boxing Day and have moved the meeting forward to a Saturday in late November.
True, the crowds in recent times have been nothing like the halcyon days of last century, but it has always been a big family day, attracting around 600 people including many holiday makers from the nearby coastal towns.
So, was it a sinister move by Racing Victoria to move the Penshurst meeting to an obscure date in the hope that it may be unsuccessful and give Racing Victoria the clout to perhaps suggest Penshurst fold or merge with another club sometime in the future?
“No, it was totally our decision,” Penshurst committeeman and former president Brett “Nugget” Linke told The Border Watch earlier this week.
“We had been thinking about it for a while as we have had trouble getting jockeys to ride here as there are four other country meetings in Victoria on Boxing Day..
“Also, all our workers, including our secretary, are volunteers, and we have been finding it difficult to get people to commit themselves at that time of the year (Christmas).
“We have gone out on a limb by moving the meeting and it will either be successful or we will have egg on our faces.”
Indeed, the new date (Saturday, November 20) raises a few questions as it is a week after the iconic Dunkeld race meeting, just up the road when the majority of the local summer sports usually have a bye.
You cannot expect the summer sports to have two weekends off in succession to accommodate the Penshurst meeting.
The preceding day, there is a TAB meeting at Terang which will most likely affect horse quantity and quality for Penshurst.
The Winning Post racing calendar shows the new Penshurst date to be a non-TAB fixture, which means the Penshurst club will rely heavily on a big crowd to make it successful as any money from non-TAB meetings come through gate takings and from on course food and alcohol sales.
MILLICENT OFF AND RACING
RACING (of sorts) returned to the Millicent racecourse last Monday morning after an absence of 35 years when four official jump outs over 800 metres were conducted.
There were some concerns due to the lack of jockeys in the Limestone Coast but that was not a problem.
“It went off well as the track was in good condition and four jockeys were present,” apprentice Jacob Opperman stated.
Sunday, September 5: Casterton races (public not allowed; essential personnel only).
Wednesday, September 8: Penola races (public allowed, at this stage).