Sydney racing fraternity mass…By Bernard Kenny

Sydney’s annual Racing Fraternity Mass will be celebrated on Sunday 11 March, 11.00am in the Royal Randwick Ballroom, Level 2 Queen II Grandstand, Royal Randwick, and is held in addition to the Australian Racing Christian Chaplaincy.

“The Sydney Racing Fraternity Mass is a celebration for all denominations, everybody, not only just Catholics, in joining together in a prayer of the Mass in thanking The Lord for the horse,” said Brother Dan Stafford OAM, Sydney Catholic Racing Chaplin and a Brother in the Redemptorist Order for some 50 years. “The horse brings people together, look at Winx, and previously Black Caviar, as the thoroughbred is one of God’s people.”

“It’s a time of thanking the Lord, the Maker, God, for the thoroughbred, for if no thoroughbred there would be no jobs for millions throughout the world,” continues Br Dan. “A time of thanking God and asking for his blessing on the thoroughbred industry. It is a time in asking for God’s blessing for those who are ill and those who are working in the industry – it is a big industry and society.”

People from all walks of life attend; the jockeys, trainers, strappers, racegoers, bookmakers, punters, press, media, stipendiary stewards, committee members, administrators; everybody from all walks of life. Father Tom Stevens will again celebrate Mass with luncheon refreshments provided afterwards.

The Racing Mass in Australia dates back over 60 years and is conducted in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin and Sydney at Carnival times. Our early settlers built racecourses and churches with the doctor, priest, policeman and publican help run those towns, with the racecourse giving an atmosphere of celebration, friendship and a day at the races.

Norman Cardinal Gilroy, the Archbishop of Sydney, celebrated Sydney’s first Racing Fraternity Mass on Sunday 4 October 1970, at 2.30pm in St Mary’s Cathedral, while this tradition has continued for almost 160 years of the Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

Today Rev Colin Watts, Anglican Minister, is the full-time Sydney Racing Chaplin and has fellow chaplain’s Br Dan Stafford OAM, Rev Paul Bayliss, Vicki Walker, Rev Paul Cohen, Mark Bartimote, Bob Prior, Pastor Trompp, Rev Phil Zamagias, Brendon and Fran Hotschilt, Philip Woolford and Rev Ross Ellwood all servicing racing Australia-wide. The ARCC Board is chaired by Anglican layperson Dr Karin Sowada, a former Senator and strapper.

The ARCC has links with the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America which has 77 chaplains working at 117 racetracks across the USA, while Rev Watts maintains networks with the racetrack chaplaincy programs in England, Canada, South America and South Korea.

Rev Watts is steeped in racing as his father and grandfather both trained in harness racing and dabbled in thoroughbreds. He said he constantly re-lives their memories as he passes the former Ascot Racecourse, Mascot on his daily duties. Rev Watts follows in the footsteps of fellow Anglican minister Rev Paul Bayliss who established the Sydney Racing Christian Chaplaincy in 1966.

In accordance with the Christian faith the ARCC is to serve the needs and support the well-being of people working in our racing industry by identifying and relieving the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental needs of this community. Needs may include financial distress, abuse, relationship breakdown, sickness, disability, grief, misfortune, court issues, even suicide and has a high inference of serious injury and even death.

It is a high-pressure industry which can result in physical, mental and emotional strain. Racetrack chaplains offer a historic and non-judgement program of services to people in racing, especially stable staff and work closely with race clubs, management and individuals with acute and long-term needs of individuals.

Br Dan Stafford, the Sydney Catholic Racing Chaplin, has a driving passion for racing and answers calls of need from within the racing industry, be it a helping hand in illness, injury or even a sad passing. “There are those who suffer addiction, not only alcohol or gambling, who require words of encouragement and a ray of divine light,” he said. “We have all suffered from some form of addiction at times.”

It has been said that ‘the racecourse is a great leveller of horse and man, bringing together those from all walks of life, creeds, rank and social structures on a place of equal footing. They are there for the comminatory, friendship, entertainment, a good day out –  they may not even have a bet, be it a game of chance, or even watch a race!



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