CONTROVERSY has ridden shotgun with NEVILLE STEWART for much of his tenure as chairman of the Toowoomba Turf Club and that looks set to continue when he pursues a seat on the Board of Queensland Racing.

The timing of his recent resignation after 21 years at the helm of the TTC has even raised questions over his eligibility for the Board position but he and his long-time friend, QR chairman, Bob Bentley, have been quick to dismiss those suggestions.



There is certain to be a lot more debate on this issue and the manner in which the short-list for the Board ballot was arrived at has already been raised in the Queensland Parliament and could even be the subject of a legal challenge.

Racing Minister Peter Lawlor was asked by Opposition Racing spokesman, Ray Stevens, during the recent Estimates Hearing if he could confirm that the process to identify and supply four candidates for election to the Queensland Racing board was flawed and what steps would be taken to remedy the situation.

Mr Lawlor, a one-time fellow director of the Gold Coast Turf Club with Mr Stevens, said he had no power to intervene in the process which was in place for the selection of Board members of Queensland Racing.


But the Racing Minister did make an interesting observation to Mr Stevens:

Without mentioning names, I think that probably both you and I are concerned about one particular person...whilst I might be concerned about it, I do not have any control over it and I will not interfere in the process.

There is no doubt in the minds of anyone who knows anything about the politics of Queensland Racing that Mr Lawlor – despite choosing his words carefully and giving himself a nice political out – was referring to Neville Stewart.

The process, as I understood it, called for nominations. I think about 26 nominations were received. An independent assessment was made of those 26 nominations and they were reduced to four. There were some surprises, I think you would agree, surprises to you and surprises to me, but we were not involved in that process and nor should we have been. There will now be an election, I think in November, to select two of those four that are short-listed to go on to the Board of Queensland Racing.

Decisions on the process to be followed for the selection and appointment of directors to Queensland Racing are not matters which the Minister has any involvement in. These elections are conducted in accordance with the requirements of Queensland Racing’s constitution and the requirements of the Corporations Act 2001.

Mr Stevens said his concern was that the selection process was lawful, to which Mr Lawlor replied: On that point, I think you are probably alluding to the issue of people standing on committees nominating and when they are actually appointed they are not allowed to be members of the committee.

My understanding is that they will not be members of the committee when they are appointed, whoever the two are. That will then satisfy the requirements of the constitution.


Stewart will stand for the Board vacancies alongside businessman and former Brisbane Turf Club chairman, Wayne Milner, Gold Coast dentist, Dr Brian O'Hara and Brisbane accountant, Brad Ryan.

In an interview with the Toowoomba Chronicle, Stewart dismissed any suggestion he was ineligible for the QR post because of his TTC position, while explaining his reasons for stepping down.

"Any suggestions I am ineligible to stand for the QR Board are incorrect," Stewart said. "I pride myself on taking advice from people who know what they are talking bout in legal and Government experts and I consider that to be the end of the matter."

Stewart said his decision to leave the club would uphold a long-term family wish supported by his late son, Alex, who was tragically killed in a recent quad bike accident on the family's Oaklands Stud. "I had indicated in the past that this would be my last term and simply it's a family based decision," he said.

"Alex had spoken with me about my commitment to the TTC and how he wanted me to ease those ties so he could experience other facets of racing away from Clifford Park. I'm now very honoured to be on the QR Board short-list.

"It's sad that Alex is not alongside me but I have the support of my other two beautiful sons, Alistair and Hamish, in this decison. I remain a TTC life member and will continue to support the club," he told the Chronicle.

Over the years the man the racing industry calls 'Nifty' has been at the centre of much controversy concerning the TTC and his earlier involvement with the QR Board and its chairman, Bob Bentley, a long time and close friend. He will long be remembered as the driving force behind the club pioneering twilight racing under lights in Queensland which has been a huge success story.

A one-time high-profile member of the Queensland Liberal Party, Stewart has managed to secure the support over the years from sections of both sides of politics. He was extremely close to two Labor Racing Ministers in Bob Gibbs and Merri Rose. Those relationships were raised under Parliamentary privilege on several occasions.


In more recent times he has been at the centre of a battle over the controversial replacement of the grass track at Clifford Park with a cushion circuit which upset many long-time Toowoomba trainers, including the legendary Jim Atkins, now in his 90s, who has vowed never to start a horse on the new surface.

The cushion track controversy split the Downs racing fraternity and left much bitterness in its wake. Stewart believed the installation of the new track was required to drought-proof and to ensure safe racing.

Some didn’t share his conviction and a bitter debate climaxed in a public meeting of club members. In a controversial vote the conversion to cushion was approved by a narrow margin.

“What I was put through for four-and-a-half months was uncomfortable for me and my family and committee, but we persevered and we won the meeting and the track is here,” Stewart told the Toowoomba Chronicle.

These days when Stewart speaks of racing there is little fight in his words. As would be expected he is still mourning the untimely loss of his son. At the opening of the new track at Toowoomba in early July he said: “For me it’s mixed emotions: happy, proud and fulfilled that the event is here and ready to run. But due to fate, there is also emptiness.

“Alex was my best mate. He lived and breathed racing and breeding and the property and the horses. It’s such a tragedy for him that he’s not here to fulfill his destiny. It’s something that we have to live with.

“I reckon my son will be looking over my shoulder as each day goes by, ensuring good fortune and good decision-making for all times,” Stewart said. "You have to have faith. Without it you have nothing."

The Cushion Track, involving a $10 million upgrade package, was just another issue which saw QR chairman Bentley and his good mate Stewart ride into battle together and come out winners. They triumphed when Toowoomba hosted a metropolitan meet for the first time. It was seen as a vindication of their vision that had been scorned by so many.

But racing under lights at Toowoomba in winter is never going to be embraced by the racing industry as a whole and the question of when the Cup and Weetwood meeting will be held next year is one that will have to be addressed.

There are many on the opposite side of racing’s political tracks in Queensland who fear what might happen if Stewart and Bentley join forces again at the helm of QR, which now looks inevitable.

Serious questions are about to be raised about the selection process and whether a couple of the candidates that have made the final four will turn out to be – in the words of the critics – ‘sacrificial lambs.’ There is a push for additions to be made to the short-list before the ballot is decided.

Another question that has been raised is how some very high profile candidates missed making even the shortlist. These included an incumbent Board member in Bill Andrews, who has done a terrific job; a prominent businessman with credentials most believe to be the equal or superior to those on the short-list in Dick McGruther and the former Gold Coast Turf Club chairman, Bill Millican, whose former deputy, Brian O’Hara, made the short-list ahead of him, despite losing his bid for the chairmanship when Millican retired. It should be mentioned that O’Hara paid the price for campaigning heavily for a new racetrack complex on the Gold Coast.