Organisers of the Kangaroo Island Cup say they are on track for a record crowd next month in the wake of the devastating fires that are drawing new attention to the time-honoured event.
The island's three horse racing meetings for the year began on Saturday (January 25) and continue on Thursday, February 20 with the cup to be run on February 22 at the Cygnet River track.
The Kangaroo Island fires were last week declared contained after burning 210,000ha - almost half of the island - across a 612-kilometre perimeter for more than three weeks.
The fire came within a few kilometres of the racecourse, which is between Kingscote and the island's airport and has been used to stable horses from affected properties in recent weeks.
Kangaroo Island Racing Club secretary and treasurer Greg Miller said unprecedented interest had the club preparing for a Cup-day crowd of 4000 people, up more than 40 per cent from the previous record of 2800.
He said about 600 people were also expected to attend the Australia Day weekend races at the weekend and a crowd of 1000 was expected on Thursday, February 20.
"We've got a charter flight coming out of Brisbane and other ones out of Adelaide and there are people who just want to get on board to help get the island back to normality," Mr Miller said.
"The races aren't going to make it normal but what it's going to do is give people a chance to relax, get over the mental stress they've experienced and help get tourists back on to the island.
The race club committee met after the fire peaked on January 3 and 4 and agreed to donate all the net profits from the event to the Kangaroo Island Mayoral Relief & Recovery Bushfire Fund.
Mr Miller said the long lunch marquee had sold out twice already and again been expanded while privately booked marquees on cup day were also proving popular.
Other community events during cup week include the Ozone Hotel street fair and Calcutta in Kingscote on the Friday night, a Thursday night cocktail party and an after party at the Parndana Hotel on the Saturday night in one of the island's hardest hit communities.
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South Australian racing identities Clare Lindop and Terry McAuliffe will be on the island during the week and Thoroughbred Racing South Australia is offering record prize money.
TRSA and the Kangaroo Island Racing Club is also offering generous travel subsidies for trainers bringing horse trucks and floats over via SeaLink ferry. Jockeys are also being offered free ferry travel on race days to and from the island.
"We like our racing and we have it every year but this racing club was formed in 1883 and it's generally the biggest single event that happens during the year," Mr Miller said.
"The community has supported the race club and now it's time for the race club to put back in to the community.
"Our regular owners and trainers are supporting us but we won't know exactly who we're going to have for the cup meeting until the week before but we've certainly had a lot of response from trainers who have indicated they are coming over but until the nominations come out we won't know for sure."
Ferry companies SeaLink and Kangaroo Island Connect are offering discounted passenger fares from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw to encourage tourists to return to Australia's third largest offshore island before June 30. But SeaLink is not offering the special from February 20-23.
This article was originally published on The Lead.
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