Des Day has been involved with the Stanthorpe Races since the beginning.
Des Day has been involved with the Stanthorpe Races since the beginning.

Fifty years and counting for long-time club stalwart

FORMER Stanthorpe Jockey Club president and current patron of the club, 80-year-old Des Day, hasn't missed a Stanthorpe Cup since the first race meeting at Armstrong Park in 1966 - it was the year after he married his wife Fran.

"And my word, we'll be going this year," he said this week, ahead of Saturday's race action - an annual celebration of racing, fashion, marquee lunches and the chance to sample some of Queensland's finest wines.

Mr Day said there was one year, in 2003, when he only stayed at the races for "about an hour" as he was exhausted from fighting bush fires in the area all night.

This year, the races would provide a much-needed distraction from the despair of ongoing drought and the recent devastation from bushfires, he said.

"If people are losing money or winning money, they forget about everything else for a change.

"The trees and hills are all dying and everything is down to dirt in places so it does look very depressing."

Mr Day, who is also a life member of the Lions Club and the Ballandean Hall, said the Stanthorpe region was "battling".

"For people with apples they're trying to keep their trees alive and some trees will die I dare say. We need a lot of rain - 5ml-10ml is good for a few days but we really need a few inches and then a week later another few inches.

"But every other drought has broken so this one will break too, there's no doubt about that. It's just when is the problem."

Mr Day said he remembers the first race day clearly as a horse he bred with his father Les Day - Clay Target - won one of the races.

"He was trained in Toowoomba and he won in Toowoomba the Saturday before and then he won in Stanthorpe the next week.

"It was a big day out for the whole district. There were cars everywhere here.

"We used to get some good horses up from Brisbane but we don't get that now because the prize money in Brisbane is too high."

Mr Day, who was president of the club for about five years in the early 1970s and has been on the committee ever since, said the club had modernised significantly since its early days.

"The whole race was worth about $2000 when I was president - I reckon it was the richest race day in the Downs.

"The bar used to be a roof over the top, 10m x 10m square, and the keg used to sit on the bar.

"Now we have new stables with concrete and there's proper running rails all round the track.

"Before it was all timber rails for a mile around the track."

Mr Day, who bred horses for "quite a number of years" until about 12 years ago, said his last horse, Hail Rocket, won about six races in Toowoomba.

He said the prize money is better these days, but "it's still got to get better".

"With the costs of racing, a lot of people nowadays have just a 5% share in a horse which helps. Sometimes about 10 people own a horse.

"It gives everyone a chance."

Ballandean born and bred, Mr Day now runs about 50 head of cattle and his love of horses has only been rivalled by his love of a good April Fool's Day joke.

"Once we put an ad in the paper that one of the neighbours was giving away strawberries, and we sent the bill for the ad to someone else.

"But none of us grew strawberries. Apparently they did have people turning up to buy some."

He also once infamously phoned two apple growers - "one of them was my brother actually" - to inform them that an apple truck had turned over and spilt apples everywhere.

But, there was no rollover and no such apple truck.

"I said that if we picked the apples up we could send them to the factory for juice and they would have made a few dollars.

"My brother and neighbour arrived to pick up the apples, but they couldn't see any anywhere.

"They weren't all that happy about that one. They said, 'You think we've got nothing bloody well to do.

"It's good to have a laugh, especially on someone else."