By HARRY CLARKE
AS the story goes, it was thanks to a dispute between two local sheep shearers in 1901 that the iconic annual Roma Picnic Races were born.
“An argument broke out in a shearing shed on the property “Bellevue” between two of the workers,” said Roma Picnic Race Club president Andrew Harland.
“They decided to settle it with a horse race. They had a two horse race down at Camp Creek and it went from there.
“Here we are at Bassett Park over a century later and the event is still going from strength to strength.”
The Roma Picnic Races now has a five race card and packed fields of horses. It draws local punters out in droves, and plenty of city folk from the east also travel out for the popular country meeting.
About 2,500 people came through the gates of Bassett Park for the 2022 instalment on Saturday, preceeded by a Moroccan themed black tie ball at the track the night before.
Local trainer Craig Smith had success early in the day, winning the first two races with As Good As Ready and Chester’s Angel respectively.
Smith also got a third in Race 3 with Better Be Great.
The Roma Picnics Cup, sponsored by Morgans Financial Limited, was won by 8yo gelding Froze ridden by Olivia Webb, trained by Bevan Johnson from Moranbah and carrying 61kg.
“I was pretty confident,” Johnson’s rep said.
“The track was actually pretty wet and the horse has been racing pretty well in the wet, so I thought he was a good chance.
“He’s been training well and he usually does pretty well first and second up.”
It was events away from the track which drew the biggest crowds on Saturday. Fashions on the Field was as popular and well supported as any style contest you’d see on a carnival day at Doomben.
As was the case following the black tie ball on Friday, the picnic party continued well into the night at Bassett Park and then on to local pubs and hotels.
The Roma Picnic Races has been a favourite on the region’s social calendar for well over a hundred years. It was disbanded in the 1930s but revived again in the 40s.
The first race meet was for grass fed horses only, according to the history books, hence the “picnic” races tradition.
The racing of locally owned horses, raised in the paddock, was well supported by the district and continued for almost nine decades until Racing Queensland standardised all clubs and the grass fed tradition was no more.
Following that Camp Creek dash between two feuding workmates, the first public race day occurred in June 1901 and 70 horses competed in the event.
Andrew Harland (pictured) and wife Sarah will serve as presidents of Roma Picnics Race Club for two years before handing over the reins to Rohan and Sarah Parkinson.
By tradition, committee members serve two years as junior vice presidents and two years as vice presidents before taking up the top job.
“My parents were on the picnics committee, I’ve had really good friends on the committee and its a race meeting I really enjoy. It’s just a really good committee to be part of,” Harland said.
“We’re very lucky to have a facility like Bassett Park. It’s not only used for racing – it’s used for football, netball, the Roma show, Easter in the Country and plenty of other social functions.
“Over time, as more money gets invested into Basset Park, it will keep getting better and better. It’s a great location and this is a great event.”