Jenny - Clean

THE integrity and policing of racing has been a hobby horse of mine over the years and when it comes down to ‘the ones who got away’, Queensland wins hands down.

Don’t jump to the conclusion of any suggestion that some industry personnel have enjoyed a modicum of start. My reference is solely to the incredible number of high profile stewards that have been lost to racing in the Rainbow State.

This could not have been more evident to those who watched coverage of two of the biggest events in world racing – the recent Spring Carnival in Victoria and last Sunday’s Hong Kong International Day.

Centre stage was arguably four of the best stewards that the racing world has seen in Queenslanders Terry Bailey and Alan Reardon, spearheading the Victorian panel, while Kim Kelly and Steve Railton are now based in Hong Kong.

All four cut their teeth in Queensland Racing and for one reason or another moved on to greener pastures. Two were forced out by a political regime hell-bent on having more ‘loyal’ supporters controlling ‘their’ brand of integrity and policing of racing in the Rainbow State.

There are those who believe that racing in Queensland has suffered from this mass exodus of stewards – which also saw Ray Murrihy and his son-in-law, Greg Rudolph, head to Sydney where they now spearhead the Racing New South Wales panel.

When it comes to ‘those who got away,’ it is never too late to lure them back. Some of course would not entertain a return under the current hierarchy. But sooner or later times will change and opportunities will arise.

My personal opinion is that QR should never have shown Alan Reardon the door and that his unceremonious dumping was one of the most disgraceful decisions ever made by the Bentley Board, obviously on the advice of an Integrity Department that fortunately eventually fell on its own sword.

Reardon was tough but highly respected by all sections of the industry. I witnessed first-hand the disgusting treatment that he received after taking over from Railton. Such was the respect for his ability that Reardon’s services were quickly snapped up, firstly by Murrihy in Sydney and then by Bailey in Melbourne. He hasn’t looked back and QR is much the poorer for his loss.

Bailey has been a huge success story, following in the footsteps of his father, Glen, a former respected and high profile chief steward from Central Queensland. Terry rose from office boy at the Rockhampton Turf Club to become Chief Steward at the Gold Coast.

He was lured south by Harness Racing Victoria and made such an impression there as chairman that he was sought out by Racing Victoria as heir apparent to the long-serving Des Gleeson. It was no easy transition but he has weaved a path through a political minefield that confronts arguably the toughest stewards’ chairmanship in the country.

Even the hard-to-please sections of the racing media in Victoria have embraced Bailey. Matt Stewart is a no-nonsense racing writer with the Herald Sun in Melbourne and here’s what he had to say about Bailey in a recent story:

‘RACING'S new sheriff revealed himself late on Melbourne Cup day last year.

The racing industry had an inkling Terry Bailey was a hard nut long before he officially seized the reins from genial Des Gleeson on August 1 last year; a new season and a new era.

As co-deputy chief steward for three years under Gleeson, Bailey had an attack-dog reputation, yanking at the chain for his chance.

Bailey, now 41, gained that chance when Gleeson retired and Bailey bared his teeth that Melbourne Cup night, three months into the job, lining up three Irish jockeys for a post-Cup grilling, dragging legendary trainer Aidan O'Brien back from Crown Casino to face the music.

O'Brien is regarded with priestly reverence. He rarely raises his voice and no one raises his voice at him - except for the young Melbourne chief steward.

O'Brien was taken aback by Bailey's relentless grilling and his terse, I’m boss, not you, tone, warning the trainer and his jockeys before the Cup about team riding and grilling them after it about their suicidal on-pace tactics.

Those close to O'Brien say he’d never been more belittled, not since primary school at least, never been more angry. He left the track, packed his bags and flew home.

O'Brien didn’t return this year for two reasons - his fear of a hard track and his hatred of the Chief Steward.

The O'Brien incident did not surprise locals who had quickly become accustomed to Bailey’s direct manner, a manner glimpsed by millions who tuned into Channel 7’s coverage of (the) four-day Flemington carnival, which regularly took a peek behind the stewards’ door.

A year on from O'Brien, and 15 months after taking over as racing’s top ‘cop’, Bailey says he is comfortable with his reputation, comfortable that he and his panel are on track.

Bailey has imposed himself on the job, on this carnival.

He faced a firestorm at trainer David Hayes’ stables on Melbourne Cup morning. Hayes, as angry as anyone has seen him, almost dared Bailey and his vets to scratch Changingoftheguard, a horse Hayes declared fit to race. Bailey scratched the horse.

Of the O’Brien exchange a year ago, Bailey says: “I don't know how they do things over in Ireland but judging by Mr O’Brien's mood, I’d say it’s a bit different to here.”

Bailey said he sought advice on his personality and whether it needed some moulding as he accepted the top job.

“Just before I took over from Des I spoke to him and asked him if I thought I should fine tune a couple of things? His advice was ‘don't change Terry Bailey,’ he said.

“I gathered from that that he thought I was basically on the right track.

“I grew up in Central Queensland and we always called a spade a spade. I’m hoping that the participants see me that way, that I’m direct and to the point and there’s no grey area.

“I've got no doubt I’ve knocked a few noses out of joint. That’s the nature of the job – you’re dealing with livelihoods. In some sense we are still judge, jury and executioner and to a degree you sympathize with people who cop it from us because you know them and know how hard they work.”

When Bailey first took the reins, some claimed he talked too tough, threw the book at jockeys too hard and too often and, having not ridden in races, did not read them particularly well.

One top jockey said most riders have more faith in Bailey to ‘read it right’ than they did a year ago.

“When he first stepped in, I thought ‘geez, what have we got here?’ He seemed hell- bent on throwing the book at everybody, seemed to think every jockey and every trainer was trying to pull one over on him,” the jockey said.

“But I've got to say I’ve got full faith in him now. He’s got used to different jockeys and their styles. He's now bigger on race safety than anything else and that's really all we can ask.”

Bailey, according to the racing rumor mill in Victoria, was not embraced by some of his panel colleagues when he got the top job. Whether he has by now won them over only time will tell, but he moved to cover his back with the appointment of Reardon as his deputy. That has ensured he has an extremely competent and loyal back-stop.

The new Hong Kong Jockey Club chief steward, Kim Kelly, like Bailey, graduated from the Gold Coast – it must be something in the salt air at the tourist strip. He has survived and thrived in the most pressure-packed job in the racing world where he comes in for regular intense scrutiny from the Chinese gambling community.

Here’s what the South China Morning Post had to say about Kelly when he took over:

‘KIM Kelly, the former leading Queensland and New South Wales steward who has made it to the top in Hong Kong, will be in the spotlight from the start of the season in his new and challenging role as Chief Steward.

“I don't have the looks for Hollywood, so if I wanted my name and my photo in the paper all the time, I’d have gone into politics,” Kelly said.

“Stewards are a bit like referees. If we’re not the post-race focus of the racing journalists every day then we’re probably doing a good job. It’s in the nature of stewarding that we will be the focus at certain times, but the fewer people highlighting what we did and the more they are focusing on the racing, then the happier I’ll be.”

Kelly replaced Jamie Stier in the hot seat and expects little to change on racing’s judicial side, but he is emphasizing the ‘c’ word. Or words.

“Take your pick - consistency, communication. I’ve been here for some years, the system in general won’t change a lot and my major aims will be safety and integrity, just as they are for all stewards,” Kelly said.

“But I have stressed to my team that we also want consistency. Whether we are talking about the punter or the licensed professionals, jockeys and trainers, I want them to be able to look at our decisions in March and compare them with what we did in November in a similar situation and see that decisions are being made on the same consistent basis.

“I've found that people are less worried about where you put the goal posts - that is, your interpretation of the written rules - than they are about the posts being moved from one incident to another.”

But what the racing press may notice as new is Kelly’s wish for greater communication - and the fact that it’s a two-way street.

“Racing is founded on opinions, and I know that in everything we do there are countless people out there - in the public, in the media - who think they can do this job as well as or better than I can,” Kelly said.

“And I'm comfortable with that because racing is about opinions. And I am always ready to talk. If people in the media want to discuss decisions, that’s fine with me. But I want them to know that, if their criticism is unfair or just plain wrong, then I won’t hesitate to call them either.”

Kelly came through his biggest test with flying colors last Sunday when International Day passed without a hitch. There was no post-race negativity – or otherwise – about the job the stewards did, which was just how he prefers it.

When Kelly took over as chief stipe in Honkers he adopted the Bailey approach and enticed an experienced colleague and loyal friend in Railton to Hong Kong as his back-stop. For Steve it has very much been a case of ‘one door closes and another opens’ since his much-publicized and bitter departure from Queensland Racing.

When he took over from Murrihy as Chief Steward in the north, Railton looked set to settle into the job that he loved and was highly respected at by the industry stakeholders. But he fell foul of QR chairman Bob Bentley.

The official line was that Railton refused to take orders from Bentley and the Board (there certainly was no love lost between them). But most believe there was no place for him in the new Integrity Department being established under the guidance and expertise of a man that the industry affectionately labeled, ‘Dr Dolittle’ – Bob Mason.

I am not for one minute questioning the integrity of Mason and the band of faithful supporters that he sadly brought to QR, but having witnessed them in action, his appointment was one of the biggest disasters of the Bentley era.

There are those of us who enjoyed a quiet celebration the day that Mason and his motley crew left the building. Unfortunately during his stay a lot of careers and lives were thrown into chaos – arguably because they failed ‘to toe the company line’.

Mason, a one-time practicing veterinarian, made a successful transition to the Public Service and survived several Racing Ministers of rival political persuasions. His bureaucratic attitude did not sit well with many in the industry when he moved to QR where it arguably became a case of ‘my way or the highway.’

Two lengthy and costly Government-ordered Racing Inquiries decided a separation of powers between QR and stewards was needed. What has since happened one could well describe as nothing more than a band aid cure.

For too many decades, when it came to stewards, it is my opinion – shared by many others – that policing of racing in Queensland has suffered because of political interference. This didn’t just happen yesterday. In fact it was worse when the 'goat riders' were in power during the Joh era.

It started back in the eighties when Sir Llew Edwards had a turbulent time as Racing Minister because he tried to support the action of a hard-hitting stewards’ chairman in one of the minor codes who unfortunately took on licensees with strong political ties to the Government of the day.

It allegedly saw the retention of hefty party political financial backing through an agreement whereby the Nationals took control of the Racing portfolio from the Liberals and the late Russell Hinze became Minister for Racing and just about everything else.

The thoroughbred and harness racing industry – in particular – welcomed the appointment of Hinze who threw hundreds of millions of dollars into complexes that nowadays lie idle throughout the State or are falling down in major centres and needing costly repairs or replacement (like Albion Park).

Hinze ruled with an iron fist and there were several occasions when he was accused of interference when his private harness racing trainer was in bother with the stewards. One such occasion involved an assault allegation. (He is said to have belted a fellow stable driver who beat him home in a race at the Gold Coast).

One could hardly blame the stewards for feeling a little intimidated. They had seen what had happened to a constable who pulled Hinze (then Police Minister) and his driver over for a traffic infringement. The ‘big fella’ pulled out a map of outback Queensland and apparently asked the ‘copper’ – ‘Where would you like to see out your career?’

‘Big Russ’ – for all his failings – will be remembered as the Minister who changed the face of racing in Queensland forever. But there are those, yours truly included, who continue to ask the question: ‘At what cost?’

One of the greatest liabilities of the Hinze era that Bob Gibbs inherited when he took over as Minister for Racing was the huge debt – hundreds of millions borrowed off-shore at absorbitant interest rates to finance the spending spree for which he is still remembered so fondly.

The decision by Hinze to close down the famous sand track, the Creek at Albion Park, was a controversial one at the time but could be regarded as even more disastrous in this new era of night racing. Imagine that complex redeveloped (with a grass or synthetic surface) and what a popular attraction that venue would be today for gallops under lights.

Instead, Queensland punters are subjected to more and more racing – and massive upset results – on these awful cushion tracks at Toowoomba and the Sunshine Coast. Few want to bet at these venues which continue to be haunted by problems with poor fields and ordinary betting turnover.

But that has got nothing to do with what I started out talking about – the stewards that got away – and hopefully one day in the not too distant future a new-look QR Board will open the purse strings and pursue one of the above-mentioned four to return home to serve an industry which should never have lost them in the first place.


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