LETSGOHORSERACING comments on the EAGLE FARM debacle

HEADS should roll over the Eagle Farm track debacle and the first to go should be Brisbane Racing Club CEO Dave Whimpey who deserves to pay the price for his willingness to be the public face of this embarrassment.

The head of Racing Queensland CEO Elliot Forbes should also be on the chopping block despite the fact that the control body – following enormous protest and pressure from top interstate trainers and jockeys – has decided to throw the BRC under the bus.

Have a read of reports on how officialdom handled this disaster in the past month and you will see that RQ – moreso Forbes as the mouthpiece – was happy to support the stubbornness of the BRC Board in refusing to accept warnings that a major disaster was looming.

Back in April when top trainers Tony Gollan and Chris Munce tried to warn RQ and the BRC that the Eagle Farm track was a disaster waiting to happen during the carnival their criticism was ridiculed.

Whimpey told Radio TAB he was ‘disappointed’ in comments made by the pair and described suggestions to rip the track up as ‘embarrassing’. Fast forward to last Saturday and there’s embarrassment and egg on someone’s face now but it certainly isn’t Gollan and Munce. In fact many are saying Whimpey and the BRC owe the pair an apology.

As Nathan Exelby of The Courier-Mail  correctly wrote at the time: ‘To describe Gollan and Munce’s comments as ‘embarrassing’ is to vastly underestimate the toll that the long-running Eagle Farm saga has taken on them and their colleagues’.

Instead of admitting his mistake (and that of the BRC Board) – after Saturday’s carnival disaster at ‘Clod Land’ – Whimpey is reported in today’s The Courier-Mail as declaring he has ‘no regrets about not making an early call on the Stradbroke Handicap despite dire warnings from trainers last month.’

There’s none so blind as those who cannot see and unfortunately Dave Whimpey – a virtual newcomer to the racing industry – needs to start listening to those who have been around for so much longer than he has before he loses the total confidence of the industry.

And surely the statement attributed to him this week in The Courier-Mail that Eagle Farm was anticipating a crowd of 36,000 on Stradbroke day was a ‘misprint’. One could argue that 16,000 would be a stretch considering the turn-out to recent carnival meetings.

There was, of course, the silly argument that the Oaks meeting should be run at Eagle Farm because the crowd last Saturday was more than the combined total at the Doomben 10,000 and Cup meetings.

If the figures released were actually correct – and many who were there question these – there is still some elasticity in the forecast. According to official reports the combined total attendance at Doomben on these two days was about 11,000. The figure released for Eagle Farm last Saturday was 8,000. Pinocchio must have done the estimate that more than twice as many turned up at the Farm as on the two previous days at Doomben combined.

Whimpey and the BRC Board continue to live in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ maintaining the RQ decision – taken only with a legal backing – to move Oaks and Stradbroke day to Doomben is wrong. They are out of step with just about every other single individual in the industry.

“It would have been too early to pull the pin six weeks ago,” Whimpey told The Courier-Mail. “Eagle Farm is the home of racing. We were confident we could get that track to a safe level. Look it was a challenging track. We always knew it was heavy and would chop out.”

In other words they knew beforehand that Saturday’s racing would be a public relations disaster, a nightmare for those participating not to mention the punters, but ploughed on regardless. How dumb is that?

It appears that even a personal plea by champion trainer Chris Waller to Whimpey to highlight that the track was not fit for Group 1 racing fell on deaf ears.

“Obviously we can all jump up and down in the media but the fact is I would rather go straight to the source and put my cards on the table,’’ Waller told The Courier-Mail on Monday night.

“Our cards are the horses were really doing it tough. The punters were jumping up and down and we feel the brunt of that as trainers. Some of my horses were getting beaten 10 and 20 lengths and they were well in the market. You just can’t go through that again. The horses were pulling up distressed. The distance between first and last horses was embarrassing.”

Trainer Jon Zilke this week told RSN – the Melbourne racing radio station – of horses that had suffered serious injuries racing on the new Eagle Farm track. Program hosts raised the question of possible legal action being taken against the BRC by owners of horses facing career-threatening injuries.

Whimpey remains adamant the new Eagle Farm surface will not be dug up despite reports from track and turf experts that this is the only solution to the problem. “I think the word dig up is quite an emotive thing. We won’t need to dig up the track. The track has $10 million of drainage and technology in it. We have got two or three options. We have agreed with Racing Queensland not to make a statement about that.”

Robert Craddock raised an interesting question in a report in today’s The Courier-Mail: How can you spend $10 million on a track redevelopment only for it to be worse than it was? It’s like having a seven-figure home renovation only to find out your basement floods every time you turn the shower on. The big question now is how racing can fix the problem and that one might be a few million dollars away.

The question ‘Crash’ didn’t ask that the control body and the politicians need to answer is this: Where are those millions going to come from. Surely not the cash-strapped industry and is it fair for the taxpayers to pay up. Perhaps the answers lies in whoever is responsible for this track redevelopment – be it Evergreen, the company who installed it, or the BRC who contracted them to do so, having to cough up with the compensation costs regardless.

And back to the subject of RQ and Dave Whimpey’s one-time side-kick in this debacle, Eliot Forbes. Should be questioned by his Board concerning how certain events played out at the weekend.

According to reports, RQ (more specifically Dr Forbes) was happy for Oaks and Stradbroke Day to proceed at Eagle Farm late on Saturday afternoon despite the disaster that had occurred during the day.

All of a sudden on Sunday and RQ has a change of tune and in the eyes of many – after protests and threats not to race at Eagle Farm from some of the biggest names in the training business – the BRC gets thrown under the bus.

Whimpey and Forbes are relative newcomers to high profile roles in racing in the Sunshine State. They have thankless jobs but actions play louder than words and in the eyes of those who have been around the industry for a long time neither has done much to gain confidence that racing here is in safe hands.  


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