The course proper at Eagle Farm last Saturday has come in for plenty of criticism both on the day and subsequently, but there were other sad aspects of the meeting that I noted.

Firstly given the fact there were 10 races, including a Group 1 feature race worth half a million dollars on Tattersall’s Tiara day – and entry was down from $45 at the gate on Stradbroke day to $25 at the gate last Saturday – I thought there was a poor crowd in attendance on the day at Eagle Farm.

For those who are unfamiliar with the modern day Eagle Farm, there are two betting rings – a top ring where the rails bookmakers are positioned – and a bottom betting ring. From my observations none of the bookmakers operating in the two rings was visibly being run off their feet on the day and staff didn’t need to take an angina pill to help get through the stress of the day.

To show just how poor the crowd was, at no stage did I observe any punters having to get in a queue to have a bet at any of the Ubet tote windows located in the bottom betting ring. In fact there are six Ubet tote terminals which can be opened for Ubet clients in the bottom betting ring, but only four of the six were open and operational on the day and from my observations four was possibly even overkill.

And talking of bookmaker or Ubet betting outlets, there’s obviously no shortage of mug punters in 2016 as evidenced by the fact that former “slow as a wet week in Tully” flat performer Honey Steele’s Gold could be sent out as the $1.30 favourite in Race 1 at Morphettville. It’s history now that the donkey was about the first horse beaten at $1.30 and beat only one horse home, in the four-horse thriller. Punters betting on any of the three codes of racing would be well advised to read the big Justracing banner on the left about odds-on betting. Taking tomato sauce odds is just a mugs game. Fancy taking $1.30 about a horse that can’t even talk and tell you if it’s got a headache? Then after all the other 642 variables of racing, any of which could see it rolled, in the case of Honey Steele’s Gold, it’s then also got to jump obstacles. Needless to say any bank tellers that decided it was easy money wouldn’t have turned up for work yesterday. When I worked in the National Bank 40-odd years ago I actually worked with a chap who did the wrong thing by the bank after what I’d call “a well proportioned female barmaid” took his eye. I fancy he did time in the company of “Big Bubba” in “the big house”. But anyway I digress – and got sidetracked. Just wanted to share that little bank teller gem, which I witnessed along the path of life.

The next problem at Eagle Farm was that they had no hot chips on sale. Now you mightn’t think that sounds like a problem, but down in the area where the rank-and-file punters were, there were plenty of humanoids that weren’t happy that they couldn’t buy a cup of hot chips. How the hell can you conduct a major sporting event in Australia and not find a hot chip in the joint? It’s bad enough that sporting clubs charge an arm and a leg for a cup of chips, which values a 60-kilo sack of spuds at more than a thousand bucks – but to not have any on sale didn’t go over well. For the record, I think the last time I bought a cup of chips at a Brisbane Racing Club meeting, plus a can of Coke to wash them down, was when I was at the Doomben races and it cost me about $9.

The other issue that I’d like to raise here today is that I fancy the industry is in need of more definitive details on the appointment of footballer Billy Slater to the Racing Queensland team. The usual crew are excited and are all over the story in newspapers and so on. And that’s their right I guess, but before I get excited or disappointed over the concept, I’d like to know some answers to a couple of questions that the positive newspaper stories didn’t even mention. Firstly how much is the racing industry paying the bloke and where’s that money coming from? Secondly is he employed on a weekly basis, monthly basis, annual basis, or for what exact length of time? And thirdly how does anyone in the corridors of power expect to measure his performance? For instance let’s say he attends the next thoroughbred race meeting at Dingo to present the winner of the Dingo Cup with their trophy. How will anyone know how many people are there at Dingo because of Billy Slater being on course? Surely unless we survey every patron on course and specifically ask them a question like, “Why are you on course at Dingo today,” how the hell will we know if one extra person came through the turnstiles because of Billy Slater?

Anyway you have a read through the Media Release regarding Billy Slater’s appointment from Racing Queensland last Friday and please advise me if you can see 1) how long Slater is appointed for, or 2) how anyone is going to measure the impact he has on the three codes – or does Racing Queensland just employ people on a wing and a prayer, with no idea whether the industry at large has benefitted from the appointment or not. In full, here’s what was written last Friday (24 June) in the Racing Queensland Media Release:

Racing Queensland has today announced Queensland icon and rugby league legend Billy Slater as an official ambassador for all racing codes in Queensland.

The new partnership will put Slater at the forefront of a state-wide campaign to increase awareness of the racing industry and appeal to a wider audience of fans.

Kicking off in July, ‘Billy Slater’s Racing Road Trip’ will see him visit several Country and Provincial Races across the State, providing opportunities for race-goers to meet with the State of Origin star via exclusive competitions and club events.

As part of his role as ambassador, Slater will also attend Greyhound and Harness race meetings across the state.

Innisfail-born Slater has a strong link with racing, having spent a period as a trackwork jockey with Gai Waterhouse in Sydney before focussing attention on his rugby league career.

“I loved attending the races as a kid and being able to share the experience with my family is a real thrill,” said Slater.

“There are some fantastic and iconic race meetings across Queensland that I’ve always wanted to attend and through this partnership with Racing Queensland I will be able to not only attend but share my experiences with others.

“It’s an exciting partnership and I’m looking forward to giving back to the racing industry.”

Racing Queensland Acting Chief Executive Officer Sam Adams said Slater’s involvement was a coup for the racing industry, in particular the country and provincial clubs that will benefit from his attendance at key racing events.

“Billy is an exceptional athlete and a fantastic ambassador for Queensland,” said Adams.

“He has grown up around horses and understands how racing is such an important way of life for so many people. Being able to partner with Billy allows Racing Queensland to appeal to a wider audience and gain new fans across all codes.”

Slater’s first appearance as Official Racing Queensland Ambassador will be at this Saturday’s Tattersall’s Club Tiara Race Day at Eagle Farm. Accompanied by his family, Slater will be involved in a variety of activities including the overall prize presentation of the UBET Super Six Trainers Challenge.

In addition to attending race meetings, the partnership will leverage upon Slater’s trackwork experience to promote Racing Queensland’s education and training programmes. Slater will also be on hand to provide valuable insights into life as professional athlete.

“Racing has always been a passion and my experience with Gai provided me with a solid foundation on which I could build my rugby league career,” said Slater.

“Being able to give back to youngsters who are looking to forge a career in the racing industry is something that I am looking forward to.”

Kicking off in July, ‘Billy Slater’s Racing Road Trip’ will see Slater visit several Country and Provincial Races across the State with opportunities for race-goers to meet with Slater via exclusive competitions and tie-ups with clubs.

I’d like to query the Racing Queensland Media Release on a couple of points it raised. It was stated in the Media Release that: “As part of his role as ambassador, Slater will also attend Greyhound and Harness race meetings across the state”. I have a terrific sense of humour and that sentence, “Harness race meetings across the state” saw me rolling on the ground doing Louie The Fly impersonations. Who are we kidding here – that to me is what I’d call “a ridiculous statement” as the last couple of Racing Queensland Boards have cumulatively closed just about all the harness tracks in Queensland, to the point where the only harness racing clubs that regularly race in the entire length and breadth of Queensland are at Albion Park and 30 kilometres north of there at Redcliffe. Marburg conducts 12 non-TAB meetings a year, consisting of five races per meeting at $1,500 per race. And Racing Queensland allow Marburg to stage an extra two races at the one meeting each year (Easter Sunday) on the proviso they fund those two races themselves, so I’d hardly call that a raging success story on the part of Racing Queensland. So I’m thinking Billy could visit all the harness venues in one week if he picked the right week, when all three tracks had a meeting scheduled. In fact he and I could have lunch at the Sundower Hotel at Haigslea on the way to Marburg one Saturday, as that pub is a sponsor at Marburg and I could give him the drum on what I’ve seen and learned in 20 years of being involved in this website. On second thoughts that would be no good, as by the time I finished telling him “what I’ve seen and learned in 20 years” in “the incestuous world of thoroughbred racing” alone, the Marburg harness meeting would be over.

And in any event, the weather has turned as cold as a mother-in-laws kiss in South-East Queensland in the last week, so I doubt Billy will get laryngitis from talking to all these new found racing “fans” who are going to link up with him at harness meetings in July 2016 when he starts work officially. I mean stand back and smell the roses here and if I could only photograph about 10 people in the Albion Park grandstand (in words so there’s no confusion here that’s ten) when champion pacer Blacks A Fake was resuming from a spell after winning four Inter Dominions, well whilst I’m trying really hard to stay positive, I think Billy is going to be under the whip on that harness racing aspect of his role, as “Earth to Racing Queensland – we don’t have any harness tracks north of Redcliffe which is 30 kilometres north of Albion Park, or west of Marburg, which is 60 kilometres west of Albion Park”. And don’t start me on where all the greyhound tracks we once had dotted all through Queensland from Cairns in the north, to the Gold Coast in the south, to Mt Isa in the west all went – or we’ll be here a fortnight.

And on the subject of harness racing, in sad industry news, well-known harness identity Jim Retchless sadly passed away last week. Denis Smith who writes a weekly column in the Ipswich daily fish and chip wrapper, The Queensland Times, wrote the following about Jim Retchless, “As always, death takes precedence, even over the potentially good tidings which follow this notice. Last week we lost Jimmy Retchless cut down in the twilight of his life by serious illness. Jimmy, whose smallish stature, olive skin and Viva Zapata moustache earned him the nickname of ‘The Mexican’ was active when this writer moved to Queensland in the late 70’s. He was a catch driver of rare ability, having the priceless knack of being able to sum up and get on the right side of a horse at first meeting, mares included. His stats, gathered in a time when there was much less opportunity for professional drivers than there is today, were, as a trainer, 974 starters for 136 wins, 125 seconds and 94 thirds. In the sulky, he went round on 3849 occasions for 450 wins, 464 seconds and 399 thirds bringing in $1,174,097. He was a good horseman, a kind and friendly man and sadly, his stats do him no justice at all. He is sorely missed by all who competed against him and the punters who backed his drives”. 

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