By the late 1970s and early 1980s, hard times had descended on the TTC – indeed, on most provincial and country clubs – as the anomalies in the formula used by the government for the distribution of TAB profits bit deep. Race day crowds were also on the wane at the majority of the state’s tracks and from March to May, 1980 the TTC was forced to reduce prize money to stay liquid and contain the deficit for the year’s operation.
The introduction of Gold Lotto in 1981 put further strain on TAB distribution but the club managed to turn an operating of loss of $21,000 in 1979-80 into a $2100 profit in the next financial year.
During the 1982-83 season, a number two grass training track and a new sand track were formed and an automatic watering system was installed to water both the course proper and the training track.
In early 1984, the computerized totalisator system which had been operational at the course for three years was finally linked up to the TAB network, giving punters the option of betting on the ‘giddy goat’ or with the bookmakers on all southern and local events.
Cluden Park gained national recognition on two occasions in 1985, firstly on 23 February when the much-travelled galloper Picnic In The Park won his twentieth consecutive race there to break a long-standing Australian record.
A little over three months later on June 1 - and for just the second time in Australian racing history to that point – a triple dead-heat for first was semaphored when the judge couldn’t separate Angular (Bill Cullen Jnr), Apollo’s Flame (Peter Warren) and Plenty of Spirit (Gilly Farrell) in the Kissing Point Open Handicap (1000m).
While the first triple dead-heat had been recorded almost 30 years earlier in the 1956 Hotham Handicap at Flemington (Fighting Force, Ark Royal and Pandie Sun), similar results soon followed Cluden’s brush with history at Stony Creek (Vic) on January 23, 1987 and at Cowra (NSW) on January 20, 1997.
All four of these classic moments of the Australian turf have been immortalized in photograph and name at Cluden’s popular Triple Dead-Heat Bar.
In 1987, after three of the driest years on record in Townsville, an amount of $500,000 was made available from the government’s Racing Department Fund for the development of a water treatment plant adjacent to the members’ car park. The beauty of the plant was that it was able to reclaim sufficient water to allow up to 37mm per week to be sprayed from the irrigation system, allowing the tracks and the lawned areas to be kept up to the mark
The year also saw prize money climb over the magical $1 million mark for the first time although this milestone was offset to some degree by an alarming decline in the number of bookmakers plying their trade in the Cluden ring and the ever-dwindling race day crowds.
Cluden joined the ‘$100,000 club’ in May, 1991 when the TTC hosted the inaugural $100,000 Parry Nissan Great Northern Two Year Old race restricted to horses sold at the 1990 Sunstate Yearling Sale and won by Margin.
The Sunstate Yearling Sale was perhaps the most significant development for racing in Townsville in modern times, with the sale providing over 100 new horses each year to the North Queensland Racing Industry. Up until this time, two year old racing had been virtually non-existant in Townsville, but by promoting a yearling sale and connecting it to North Queensland’s richest race, two year old racing became viable and accessible to all Northern racing participants.