The crowds flocked back to the Albury Gold Cup on Friday, but the COVID-19 hangover was still lingering around with the smallest turnout since the inception of the half-day holiday more than 20 years ago.
The marquee day consistently attracted crowds of more than 12,000 people up until the twin blows of the 2019 raceday washout and staging the cup with no crowd last year due to coronavirus.
Attendance was capped at 9800, but the final attendance, which watched history created with leading Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse winning her first Gold Cup with Entente, fell more than 1000 short of the allowable crowd despite a raceday rush for tickets.
"It has been a tough couple of years for the race club and the community," Albury Racing Club president Mark Cronin said.
"But to see people back socialising, renewing old acquaintances, having a great time is just great.
"It was an eerie feeling watching the cup being run last year and not seeing a soul on the course.
"It was incredibly disappointing, particularly when the rug was pulled from underneath us only a few days before."
Quizzed on the non sellout, Mr Cronin said: "It says we've got to re-establish our brand.
"People have had two years of an interrupted cup and it just might take two or three years to get it back to where we were.
"You've got to go online and book your tickets. It is a change to the way you organise yourself to get to the races.
"But I'm sure we will back with our crowds of 13, 14, 15 thousand in the not too distant future."
Waterhouse had won the Wagga Cup before, but never the Albury feature with Entente trained in partnership with Adrian Bott.
Stable racing manager Neil Paine was also excited to see crowds back at the track..
"Gai and Adrian love supporting country racing," he said.
"To have the crowd yelling again for the last 100 metres was so exciting."
At the committee luncheon where member for Farrer MP Sussan Ley and member for Albury Justin Clancy were among the VIP guests, a special presentation was made to the connections of last year's Gold Cup winner Spunlago.
Even though the actual 2020 cup didn't make it to the event, former ARC secretary-manager and part-owner Peter Stubbs accepted the honour denied connections on the day last year due to COVID-19
Spunlago is trained by Stubb's brother Ron on the Albury track and finished 10th in the race on Friday
"It was an absolutely fantastic gesture by the club," Mr Stubbs, who lives in Canberra, said.
"It was disappointing you are not actually here, but you never lose the excitement of having won it.
"I watch the video regularly and it has created a camaraderie among the owners."
The club's two-year agreement for the half-day holiday with the NSW government is up for renewal.
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