This was always my favourite Justracing billboard and it promoted the three codes of racing. With their express permission, it featured Natalie Rasmussen with her four-time Inter Dominion winner Blacks A Fake, Tony Brett with his Group 1 greyhound winner Black Enforcer and yours truly with Apache Cat. Affable Victorian based trainer Greg Eurell and Apache Cat's wonderful owners let me hold the gelding one day after he won a Doomben 10,000 to allow this photo to be taken.
After much consideration following a recent medical assessment, which cast a shadow about my current state of health, even though I felt good in myself, I have made the decision to cease writing stories on Justracing today after just over 20 years.
Over two decades ago I could envisage that new technology called the Internet could revolutionize the world, but unfortunately trying to sell the concept to both the racing industry and the motor vehicle industry was a hard slog. I was openly laughed at in the initial years by both industries, but in reality being laughed at only strengthened my resolve and as happens, perseverance paid off, to the point where I proudly grew the racing business, eventually becoming the biggest racing website owner in Australia – numerically – via having four racing websites operating with daily editorial content Monday to Friday inclusive.
But as recently as a couple of weeks ago I sold three of those domain names as well as some other racing domain names that I’ve acquired over the last two decades and Justracing won’t have any editorial content after today.
The racing industry that I have written about for 20 years continues to be its own worst enemy and in reality, it unfortunately hasn’t improved much in that timeframe. In fact as I wrote yesterday, if anything, it’s continually on a downward spiral with one controversy after the other creating nothing but negative press. For the industry to go forward it has to be capable of firstly helping itself, but the facts and realities are that it habitually struggles and is forever under the whip. It’s seemingly continually embroiled in controversy and to that end the last 18 months has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for the racing industry. The 4 Corners story on the greyhound industry in February 2015 started the decline and that particular industry’s woes have been duplicated in the other two codes with both those other codes of thoroughbreds and harness having copious positive swabs to cobalt, dramas with the state of multiple metropolitan tracks along the eastern seaboard, like the recently reopened Eagle Farm in Brisbane, the much maligned Randwick track in Sydney and Flemington last Spring Carnival in Melbourne. Then the newly elected Queensland Labor State Government thankfully sacked the entire Racing Queensland All Codes Board in mid-2015. My thoughts are, had that Racing Queensland Board been doing raids on greyhound trial tracks, the racing industry in this country may not have been in the sad predicament it is today. In Queensland when the proverbial hit the fan - as I noted in an exclusive article that I penned here at the time - we didn’t even have an accurate list of registered greyhound trial tracks in the monthly greyhound journal Chase that Racing Queensland was forwarding to all participants.
I’d like to think that much has been achieved by the Justracing website in the last 20 years and it’s a fact that it was the first website in the world to bring the three codes of racing under the one umbrella. At the end of the day they should all be as one, but of course they aren’t. Governments like the New South Wales government could at least make it look as though they were interested and launch a full scale inquiry into wastage in the three codes, but they pick on the weak link in the chain – the greyhound industry – with not a murmur about anything else. In February last year I wrote that “welfare issues” will be the biggest challenge for the racing industry moving forward. Given the events of the last 18 months, that article really should be award winning journalism, but of course it won’t be.
Some of the achievements of Justracing over the last 20 years are listed below:
1-Justracing was the first website in the world to bring the three codes of the industry together.
2-Justracing was the first Australian racing website to put a thoroughbred stud, harness stud, thoroughbred trainer, jockey, race club and thoroughbred insurer on the Internet. For the record Wattle Brae Stud on the Darling Downs was the first thoroughbred stud, Egmont Park was the first harness stud, Kelly Schweida was the first trainer, the first jockey was a dead-heat between Ken Pope and Glenn Lynch, the Sunshine Coast Turf Club was the first race club and Fitton Insurance was the first bloodstock insurance company on the Internet in Australia. At this point a special acknowledgement needs to be made to Gary and Phoebe Turkington, owners of Wattle Brae Stud. To set the scene, Phoebe had a journalistic background and she could see the merit in this new technology called the Internet and when she and Gary agreed to my proposal, the barrier stalls flew open and the race was underway. Just over 20 years later it reached the finish line.
3-Justracing raised funds via this website in conjunction with the Lions Club at Herberton in 2005 to put a suitably engraved headstone on the unmarked grave of Australia’s first female jockey – Wilhemena Smith. I flew to Cairns then drove to Herberton for the unveiling ceremony on 14/8/2005. There is a full montage of photos from the day, above on “Photo Gallery” and then scroll down to Wilhemena “Bill” Smith. Don’t worry about where that area has been hacked – the world is full of dickheads with nothing better to do than ruin someone else’s hard work..
4-I was filled with pride to win the Racing Queensland annual award for “the best story by a newspaper, magazine or website” in the 2005/2006 racing season for my research and story on Wilhemena Smith, a female jockey that rode as a male. It should also be stated at this point that Bob Bentley and his Racing Queensland Board of the time offered funds to help erect the headstone in Herberton Cemetery to Wilhemena Smith, but I declined the offer, as I felt it would possibly place that Board in a compromising position for future approaches on other projects.
5-After a phone call to me from jockey Cecily Eaton, the website single-handedly did a fundraiser for injured Chinchilla trainer Andrew Donnelly who had been badly injured in a trackwork fall. With the assistance of some dedicated people we raised $30-odd thousand dollars for Andrew and that gave him some breathing space to get his health back after a long period of convalescing. He’s back doing what he knows best now – training winners. A couple of years after the fundraiser my phone rang one day and Andrew Donnelly was on the other end of the phone expressing his thanks to all those who gave him the chance to train again. Over the years the website also did plenty of work to help out four other injured jockey fundraisers – Marlon Dolendo, Darryl Johnston and in more recent times - Bobby El-issa and Cheryl Rogers.
6- I enjoyed helping out scores of apprentice jockeys and battling trainers and senior jockeys who have had their story written here over the last 20 years. Many of the thoroughbred stories also appeared in the Racing Queensland Magazine. As a matter of interest, in all of those stories that were penned, only one or two ever rang me to thank me for the story that was written on them. I recall answering my mobile one day and the chap on the other end of the phone who said “I just rang to say thanks”. It was Carl Spry who today is a licensed trainer and jockey in the Northern Territory. Over 20 years “thanks” were so rare that I always remember Carl ringing. Funny how one little six-letter word can mean so much.
7-Cumulatively many thousands of photos from across the three codes of racing went up on the various websites over the years to help promote the industry.
8-In 2006 I wrote and published a 606-page book entitled justracing.com.au Volume 1. I did intend to write more volumes but it’s an easy industry to get disenchanted with when one is continually copping flack from racing administrators, so a second volume never got written. My one great sadness with the book was that my mother passed away just a couple of weeks before it was printed and ready for sale. I tried to rush it through for her, as I knew she was running out of time, but sadly fate never intended it so. Instead of her getting a book - I had to read out the eulogy at her funeral. What an awful consolation prize that was.
9-Up to six Justracing billboards promoting the three codes of racing have been operational at any one time either in Queensland and New South Wales major highways. Not one cent of funding was ever received from any racing administration to fund those.
10-Created what would have to be a world record by visiting five race meetings across the three codes in 2006 on the one day and did an interview and took photographs at each meeting on the one day. So between 11.40am and 7pm on Saturday 8/4/06, I travelled 352 kilometres and attended five race meetings, in order the Rocklea trots, Capalaba greyhounds, Ipswich gallops, Kilcoy gallops and Albion Park trots. No interviews were pre-arranged and my rules were that I had to conduct an interview at each track and photo a race finish at each venue and put the race photo and interview up over the next couple of weeks. The schedule for the day appeared in my book and read: 11.40am leave home, 12.20pm arrive Rocklea, 12.43 leave Rocklea, 1.08pm arrive Capalaba, 1.40pm leave Capalaba, 2.28pm arrive Ipswich, 2.53pm leave Ipswich, 4.01 arrive Kilcoy, 4.10pm leave Kilcoy, 5.35pm arrive Albion Park and 7pm leave Albion Park. Those interviewed were Steven Doherty (Rocklea - driver), Paul Felgate (Capalaba – owner/trainer), Wayne Patch (Ipswich - Chairman), Tony Purvis (Kilcoy - bookmaker) and Shannon Price (Albion Park - trainer)
11-Justracing had its own set of colours registered for harness racing in Queensland and they were entrusted to a wonderful man - Tim Gillespie - who has done a terrific job with them. They even adorned his wonderful pacer Freckles on occasions and they got plenty of air play there as Freckles won just 64 races.
12-On a personal note I’m proud to be one of the few people in Australia who has had the good fortune to win races as an owner across all three codes.
13-About 12 or 13 years ago I also started the first commercial sectional times thoroughbred service in Australia and that service had clients in six countries at its peak, as the Internet also opened up the opportunity for punters domiciled anywhere around the globe to bet on Australian races.
14-Justracing proudly helped out many fledgling Australian and New Zealand racing websites with free advertising and in all cases even paid for banners to be constructed for them and placed on Justracing or stablemate websites, so as to help them along the way via increasing their hits and public awareness of their existence.
A big thank-you goes out to all those people who have written and contributed stories for any of the four websites over the years, A special thanks in particular is extended publicly to Brisbane rails bookmaker Lindsay Gallagher whose Monday column was put up here for over a decade. When RadioTAB dispensed with his Monday report over a decade ago I saw an opportunity and approached him, offering him a column on Justracing every Monday. I can now exclusively confirm he didn’t say “Yes” when I first approached him, in fact he was quite hesitant, but after I annoyed him constantly, he eventually agreed. For the record we never had a cross word in all those ensuing years and he was always professional in his approach to his segment and kindly financially supported every Justracing fundraiser. How did we do all of his reports over the last 11 or 12 years? In the initial years we would do them on course after the last race with him speaking into a recording device of mine. In the last six or seven years every Sunday morning at 9.20am I would ring his at home and I’d record him going through his report. Then my besotted bride would type his report. There’s another wonderful person – my wife Denise - who has been married to me for over 40 years. She’s been there every step of the way and I guess has missed out on a lot of outings because of racing. We got married on Stradbroke Day 1976 and on our 40th wedding anniversary this year I went to Eagle Farm and was asked to leave the enclosure – even though the club accredited me almost a month earlier. I rated it “disgraceful” - and a sad day for Brisbane racing.
Thanks to all those people who trusted me implicitly to the point where they were able to pass on information confidentially over the years that allowed “exclusives” to be written. They know who they are and naturally their names are eternally as safe with me as my first employer, the National Bank is, to invest money with.
What are some vivid memories that I have of the last 20 years? Here’s a few. One day back in 2004, I drove to Twin Towns club on the Queensland/New South Wales border to meet a man who was once Australia’s biggest punter – Eddie “The Fireman” Birchley to ask him if I could write his biography. After we spoke at length and he summed me up, he agreed to my request and proceeded to tell me of his amazing betting plunges, including how he once had $208,000 on a horse called Caboul which won in Melbourne. $208,000 is a lot of money now, but given the fact that Caboul raced in the mid-1970s, God knows what that equates to in today’s dollar terms. I’ve met thousands of men to this point of my life, but I’m happy to say publicly that I never met a nicer or more genuine man than Eddie Birchley and he and my wife and I struck up a friendship from that initial meeting that ensued. Just a beautiful man. Talking of “a beautiful man,” I was blessed to have the late Sunshine Coast trainer Frank Penfold allow me to write his biography in September 2005. And Jim Atkins also shared his fascinating life journey with me at his Toowoomba home in the same year. Jim was certainly an interesting man to sit down and spend some time with. Speaking of Toowoomba, on 28/6/11, I penned story of former Toowoomba jockey Jack Ross when he was 81YO. I met up with Jack and his wife Joan at the Toowoomba Golf Club. What a charming couple to meet and what an interesting life journey Jack had had. I got immense satisfaction watching the young people come through the harness racing driving ranks at non-TAB tracks like Rocklea and Marburg and become top drivers in their own right. I recall being out in the centre of the Brisbane RNA Showgrounds one year in front of a big crowd to present the Justracing trophies to the young kids who took part in the mini-trotters race, which I’d sponsored. Whilst standing there I noticed a newly licensed little six-year-old girl with her pony. She’d only just been licensed to drive mini-trotters as one had to be at least six. Her name was Chantal Turpin. Roll the clock on 17 or 18 years or whatever and today she is married to Pete McMullen and is one of Queensland’s most respected harness trainers. I vividly recall doing a story on a young female apprentice jockey one day at a Beaudesert non-TAB thoroughbred meeting. She was just starting off and I had no idea when I wrote her story that many years later she’d become the first female jockey to win a Toowoomba jockey premiership. Her name was Skye Bogenhuber. I got to know a young chap when visiting country non-TAB thoroughbred meetings to take photos and seek out stories. He’d be there with his father - watching and absorbing. The “young chap” grew up to be Tony Gollan and he’s now the premiership trainer in Brisbane. But it wasn’t all beer and skittles. I went to the Ipswich racetrack one day to meet a senior jockey to get him to sign a couple of caps. We got on well and he was an affable chap. He came out of the jockey’s room and obliged. His name was Stathi Katsidis but he sadly passed away just a few days later.
Thanks to all the wonderful people who have contributed so much over the last 20 years whether it was through being a writer, photographer, typist, proof-reader, or the IT people who were charged with the responsibility of fixed all the website hacking over the years. A public thanks is extended to two men who sadly aren’t in our midst anymore and the world is a lesser place for their passing - the late racecaller Wayne Wilson and QBBS boss Ian Baxter. Both had full faith in the website and helped me out enormously in its formative days. Thanks also to two other men who are still in our midst, RadioTAB personalities Steve Hewlett and David Fowler. Steven Hewlett gave me plenty of air time along the way on RadioTAB, whilst David Fowler did the same on Briz31 and gave his time for free to compare the Andrew Donnelly fundraiser. Whilst I haven’t appeared on RadioTAB for some years and Briz31 don’t have a harness show anymore, both men assisted with the exposure of the website and for that I am eternally grateful. And various Brisbane Racing Club track managers over the years – Bill Shuck, Jim Roberts and Sean Bridges – all rang me on Friday afternoons for many years to bring this website’s readers the latest information on the respective track they were in charge of. Of course nowadays all that information goes up on the Racing Australia website.
Justracing advertising will still be seen on billboards and semaphore boards and the like into 2017, but rest assured that will only be advertising that is paid in advance continuing on until its expiry date – not because of any thought of a comeback.
I’m also proud of the fact that no story ever went up on this website anonymously. My mobile phone number and email address was always at the bottom of every story, just as it is today for all to see. There was no hiding behind anyone’s skirt. Along the way I got death threats, threats of physical harm, was asked to leave the Ipswich Turf Club enclosure and the Brisbane Racing Club enclosure, had Racing Queensland write to me to withdraw my media accreditation in early 2015, but thankfully whilst we were arguing about that a new State government got elected and all Racing Queensland Boards were sacked after the greyhound live baiting story surfaced. I got sued (never successfully) for defamation and except for a hell of a recent medical scare felt I could have gone on for another 5 or 10 years. But after a long country drive by myself two Thursdays ago, far from the madding crowd, I decided that two decades is long enough to devote to writing daily about an industry that in reality habitually struggles to help itself and I concluded that it’s high time to devote more time to my health and to those persons who I like to spend time with, like my wife of 40 years and a handful of other selected people who know they are special, simply through me allowing them to get close.
I’d like to publicly thank all those people who have taken the time to visit the website/s over the many years and all the clients who have parted with money to join one or more of the website services, or those entities that have been advertised on the websites. Those paying clients and advertisers have been responsible for keeping the website financial and paying the many staff and IT costs that have been employed over the last 20 years. Race sponsorship has been possible across all three codes in the last two decades and until recently that sponsorship existed in two countries - Australia and New Zealand.
This website will stay visible to the general public for those persons who would like to go back and read past articles that have been written over the last 10 or 15 years. It’s just a matter of scrolling down to the bottom of this article and going back into the archives. Up above there are “Feature Articles” to read, or in the same area one can view photos albums of historical racebooks, trainers and jockeys and so on and so forth.
In closing, thanks sincerely for taking the time to visit the website, as without readers it would never have amounted to anything. I accept the fact that not everyone liked the website or myself - and I accepted that - but when one has to write the hard stories on the racing industry, as I have done over a long period of time, not everyone will be happy with what gets written, but that didn’t concern me in the slightest, as I never thought that life was a popularity contest.
And I’ll finish this story off with the exact same words that I used just over 20 years ago at the bottom of my original story, which simply were, “May Lady Luck walk with you and Dame Fortune smile upon you”.
Goodbye and good luck.