AFTER what seems like an eternity since crowds were last allowed on track, the Bendigo Greyhound Racing Association is counting the days until it can put the welcome sign back out for the public for the first time since March last year
Starting with next Friday's November 26 meeting, double vaccinated patrons will once again be able to head to Lord's Raceway and enjoy the comfortable amenities and experience live greyhound racing - just in time for Christmas and end-of-year catch-ups.
It comes after gallops followers were allowed back on course at the Bendigo Jockey Club last week for the first time since March and the Bendigo Harness Racing Club hosted a crowd for the first time since earlier in the year at this week's Elmore Pacing Cup meeting.
As is the case with hospitality venues and events under COVID regulations, all spectators will be required to QR code and show proof of their fully vaccinated status prior to entering the course.
In what has been a challenging 20 months for most businesses, the BGRA has had to conduct some of the best racing seen at the track behind closed doors, including two Bendigo Cup carnivals, an Easter and winter carnival and the inaugural Pink Diamond series as well as cancel many social and community events.
Departing Bendigo Greyhound Racing Association manager Troy Harley said despite the public lockout and cancellation of events, the BGRA - like all racing venues - was fortunate enough to continue during COVID.
With that came the continuation of employment and local expenditure, reiterating the important role race clubs like the BGRA play in the community.
"From the time of the initial lockdown in mid-March 2020 to the time when the public will be welcomed back at the end of the month, the BGRA's day to day operations will have injected more than $2m into the local Bendigo economy - with $1m in wages and $1m in local expenditure," Harley said.
"Included in the spend was the undertaking of two major projects involving several local businesses - a major upgrade to the track lighting done by Eascom Electrical and the refurbishment of the old trackside café, now known as the Past The Post Lounge, done by Peter Brown Custom Homes and local sub-contractors.
"Add the local participants share of the Victorian stake money on offer as well as the expenditure by the local trainers, breeders and owners in greyhound racing in the Bendigo region, whether it be as a profession or a hobby, and greyhound racing, along with the other two racing codes, have once again proved their economic value, especially to regional communities."
For the 2020-21 financial year, racing at the Bendigo greyhounds offered in excess of $3m in stake money, paid out over $600,000 in travel and starter subsidies and almost $60,000 in bonuses
The club has also posted some incredible wagering figures in recent times with several records broken on feature race nights.
The best result was a provincial club wagering record of $6.9million on Bendigo Cup finals night in October and four race meetings holding more than $5m in the past year.
"Bendigo Cup night wagering figures are not just a record for a non-metropolitan greyhound race meeting, but also sits at number six on the highest wagered greyhound race meetings ever in Victoria behind three Melbourne Cup nights and two other metropolitan race meetings at The Meadows in 2020," Harley said.
"While the financial and economic benefits are significant, as is the employment levels in the racing industry, there is no doubt that the continuation of racing during the pandemic played a major role in ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of those involved in the industry.
"And the industry has shown its gratitude for being allowed to continue by way of meeting all challenges and restrictions without fuss.
As the public returns to the track so too will the BGRA's events, starting with the dual-code Christmas race meeting on Friday, December 10.
The club expects to see all its usual promotions, charity events, social nights and racing carnivals to return in 2022.
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