An exciting new era dawns for Western Australian racing on Sunday with the inaugural running of the Bluff Knoll in Albany. With a prize pool of $357,060, it’s WA’s richest racing event outside the metropolitan area.

The Bluff Knoll follows the highly successful slot race concept of The Everest in Sydney and The Quokka in Perth.

Maintaining a local theme, the race is named after Bluff Knoll, the highest peak of the Stirling Range in the Great Southern region.

Albany Racing Club general manager, Mark Bayliss, spoke to Julio Santarelli in the busy lead up to the Bluff Knoll on the weekend.

JS: How do you assess the line up for the first running of the Bluff Knoll?

MB: There are five or six quality runners in the field, but a bit of a long tail. If you look at the Everest, if you look at the Quokka, you have your top six or seven horses and then you have that tail, but I would rather five to six or seven good horses that are highly rated in the field. For our club it’s a great outcome to have group and listed performed horses. It’s a great result for the slot holders and great for the club.

JS: It’s a great starting point with the likes of Oscar’s Fortune, second in a Winterbottom Stakes, Red Can Man, Laced Up Heels, moving forward what do want to see happen with this race and this meeting in the future.

MB: The message I want to push and get out there is that this should be a standalone meeting next year. And the aim of the club is to make it half a million dollars in prizemoney. But I really believe Albany will prove they deserve a standalone meeting.

JS: What was the inspiration behind the Bluff Knoll and getting it to this stage. The Everest and the Quokka are successful slot races, but when did it become a reality for Albany racing?

MB: The actual concept was really raised by us as a club, we had been thinking about it. The actual name of the race came from one of our patrons, Toby Barry, our vice patron, he came up with the name Bluff Knoll. For Albany, it fits the cap perfectly.

JS: Racing needs to continually evolve and recently we’ve seen the explosion of popularity with the Everest and the Quokka slot races.

MB: We had the idea before the Quokka was announced, but waited and had it on hold until the Quokka had started. It made sense, we accepted that, let the Quokka go first and we would have second bite at the cherry. We were all ready with our application to RWWA.

JS: There has been good promotion, discussion and hype about the Bluff Knoll since the announcement was made. Has it reenergised racing in the Great Southern, is there a sense of anticipation around Albany about the race?

MB: I think so, you will always get a few negatives, but the local people have got right behind it, the actual public. It’s attracted a wide range of corporate interest, the top end of town who have the money. A lot of people are really excited to be a part of the day. I hope we can demonstrate as a club what we are capable of doing on big days. You have to keep evolving, you can’t keep still.

JS: I understand you have got a musical theme happening before the race, along similar lines to what they do at Moonee Valley before the Cox Plate with Daryl Braithwaite singing The Horses.

MB: We’re going to sing a song on the day, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. The two main verses to the song will be in the race book and we’re going to ask every patron and participant to come up on the main grass at the front of the track before the race. It will be our anthem.

JS: What do hope to get out of the day for the club and Albany Racing?

MB: We’ve invited the Mayor and other dignitaries so that they can see what we are as a club, what we can do, but at the end of the day we need the city to get behind us. We need to get other bodies to come in and build relationships, build momentum together.

JS: Is the date for next year’s Bluff Knoll set in stone as yet, the same schedule as Sunday?

MB: No. So, next year will be a week after. Going forward it’s penciled in for the following week. We want this to be an annual event.

JS: A week later seems a good fit and gives you clear air away from the Bunbury Cup and Bunbury Stakes.

MB: I have to tip my hat off to Vinny Meens at RWWA, the chief handicapper, he cops a lot of flak but he’s helped us with this race and schedule, even though it was a bit uncomfortable that we knew we were going to be on the back of Bunbury, but next year he’s assured me we won’t be on Bunbury Cup weekend.

JS: You must be rapt with the support of Perth trainers.

MB: The Luke Fernie’s, the Dion Luciani’s, Neville Parnham, Dan Morton, the Gangemi’s, Mr Peters, they’ve all been terrific, they’ve all been terrific to deal with. They have been a pleasure. They appreciate and understand the big picture.

JS: You’re the head figure at Albany, but it’s taken a team effort to get to the stage that’s presented on the weekend.

MB: I’m proud of the people I work with at the club. To have the support of our president, treasurer, the committee and all that, they’ve backed us in. And don’t forget, we’re basically a two and three man show down here, as far as full time staff and then we have the causals that help out. Without being rude we don’t have the resources of the likes of Perth Racing. We can only do so much and if it all goes to plan it will be a great achievement for the club, myself and my staff.

JS: What’s your tip for the race then?

MB: I think Oscar’s (Fortune) at the weights, I can’t see him getting beat. Red Can Man will want to win for the locals.

JS: You haven’t mentioned your horse, Beau Zoom, trained by your partner, Rebecca. What do you think the reaction will be if the seven-year-old gets up. He’s been racing well in Albany.

MB: There will be a lot of controversy (laughs). I don’t want to think about it (laughs).

JS: Good to see you have some humour about it all, but in all seriousness, all the best to the Albany Race Club. You’ve assembled an excellent field with top horses and good prizemoney.

MB: We’re pretty happy with what’s gone on so far and the best part is the weather, 23 degrees, no wind, which is even better.

JS: What crowd are you expecting?

MB: We’re anticipating our biggest crowd ever.  The marquees are all sold out and with members that’s a thousand already.

JS: Good luck, Mark, hope all goes well for the 2024 Bluff Knoll.

MB: Thanks, but I really want to push for a standalone next year. That’s my goal.