The Birdsville Races has announced the biggest race field in the event’s 136-year history, with 170 entries accepted to this weekend’s bumper program, six more than the previous record set in 2015.
Western Queensland’s richest race meet will draw a total of 33 trainers, up from 19 in 2017, and 22 jockeys up from 15 in 2017.
The final field comes from places as far away as Darwin, Ballarat, Stawell (Victoria), Quorn (SA), Adelaide, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga and the Gold Coast.
Trainers include 2017 Queensland Country Trainer of the Year Bevan Johnson from Toowoomba who leads overall acceptances for this year’s event, with 17 starters across the two days.
Johnson is joined by Roma trainer Craig Smith, who took out last year’s Birdsville Cup on the Adrian Coome-ridden Fast Fella.
Smith notches 10 acceptances for 2018, and has teamed up with former Brisbane champion apprentice jockey Nathan Day for the headline 1600m UBET Birdsville Cup – which, this year, offers a record $40,000 in prize money.
Smith is looking for his third win in the Cup having also won in 2012.
Also looking to emulate past successes will be Barcaldine trainer Todd Austin, who has attended more than 30 Birdsville Races.
Austin, a former Birdsville Cup winner in 2013 with Primed, records seven acceptances to the 2018 program.
Other former Birdsville Cup-winning trainers in contention include Jay Morris (Mount Isa) and Rodney Robb (Nyngan, NSW).
The field is dominated by Mount Isa with seven local trainers fielding horses across 13 races.
Female trainers also have a strong presence at this year’s event. Rockhampton’s Kim McGovern and Darwin’s Tayarn Halter lead the women’s charge with seven acceptances each, and Mount Isa’s Denise Ballard turns in five acceptances.
The jockey field includes 2018 Queensland Country’s Premier Jockey, Mount Isa’s own Dan Ballard.
Ballard took out the Queensland Country’s Premier Jockey title for the fourth time in 2018, winning 54 races in 167 starts over the season to finish 19 winners clear of his closest rival.
Dan’s father, Keith will also ride in the UBet Birdsville Cup.
Gary Brook, vice president, Birdsville Race Club said they were thrilled to welcome the biggest field ever.
“It is testament to how this event continues to grow year-on-year,” Mr Brook said.
“The Birdsville Races have become not only a bucket list experiences for racegoers and travellers, but trainers and jockeys alike.
“And with record-prize money on the line and new punting and broadcasting deals in place for the 2018 event, it comes as little surprise that the field has jumped up a notch.”