From the veteran trainer, Norm Diebert Snr, to current leading driver, Blake Jones, Saturday night’s final harness racing meeting at Wagga Showgrounds is a chance to farewell the past in style.
The Leeton trainer will harness up Fairy Rainbow for son Malcolm to drive in the last event of the night, the Farewell To The Showgrounds Pace (1755m), which will bring down the curtain on 65 years of history.
“Where we’re drawn (six), we’re 100-to-1,” Diebert said of his chances of signing off as the last winning trainer.
“If we’d have drawn nice we’d have been a nice little each-way chance.”
Diebert also has a runner in the first. An old stable favourite, Knightsmile, will be the 76-year-old’s final drive at a track he’s been coming to for longer than he can remember.
“He’s been a nice horse for us. He’s paid for the rest of the team since he was a two-year-old,” Diebert said.
The nine-year-old was placed at group level as a youngster. He has won 16 races ( including five at Wagga) in 147 starts and is coming off a second at the track last week.
“He went good last start and he might be starting to show a bit of form.”
The impact of the draw on both of his runners points to the bigger story. The damage it does to a horse’s chances is why the tight circuit has had its day.
“No, I won’t be sad,” Diebert said. “It's been good and there’s been a lot of good races at the Showgrounds. Once they fixed her up (in 1992) it was a big improvement. And this next track will be too.”
The history is rich, though.
Diebert is a two-time Wagga Pacers Cup winner. He trained and drove First Penny to victory in 1979 for Col Thomas. Three years later, Diebert piloted Norm’s Idol to a memorable win.
“He was a very nice horse. John Oxley trained him and I drove him. He won by about half the straight,” Diebert said.
The names of great horses and horsemen flow.
“There’s been a lot of good horses go round on that Wagga track,” he said.
“Dall Scott – he was trained by Ned Wheatley who was a highly-respected Wagga trainer.
“Star Hill, he was trained by Ken Wills in the early days. There was a lot of top trainers – you also had the Jacks, the Walkers, the Brays, the Harpleys and Harrises, Eddie White.”
Blake Jones also has fond memories of the venue.
It was the scene of his first race drive (in 2007), his first winner, (“That’s one thing I’ll never forget. Toronado, for Dave Kennedy”) and he’s claimed four races on the card at Wagga on multiple occasions.
“It’s been pretty good,” Jones said . “It’s bittersweet really. In one way, it’s a bit disappointing but we’ll go on to bigger and better so the future looks pretty good.”
The Coleambally reinsman hasn’t been travelling across to Wagga for as long as Norm Diebert Snr.
But it has played a big part in his life. Not to mention his education.
“Pretty sure I skipped school on a few Fridays to go to Wagga trots. Probably for pretty much of high school. Or at least over the summertime, anyway,” he said.
“And I remember Grandpa (Joe Painting) picking me up from school at lunchtime and heading over there. It was probably the highlight of my school days!”
Jones (28 wins this season) and Cameron Hart (31 wins) are both in the top four of the state drivers’ premiership.
Two of the stars of the modern era get the chance to etch their own names into history in the last.
Hart will steer Carramar Arapaho for trainer Chris Hughes and Jones is behind the stablemate Trunkey Tash.
“I definitely think she’s a chance. She’s got plenty of speed but she’ll need a bit of luck in running. She’s probably not strong enough to make her own luck,” Jones said.
Jones has six drives on the night. He rates Man Hands as the pick of them, in the Wagga Harness Racing Club Pace (1755m).
“She was second last week and is probably my best chance,” he said.
“I’m not going with too many high hopes but hopefully one of them can give me a winner there on the last night.
“I’m sure they’ll get a good crowd there and hopefully it’s a good night.”
The 10-race meeting gets underway at 5.57pm with the last race scheduled at just after 10.30pm.