TRY as they might, it was difficult for racing’s cheerleaders to conjure up a carnival mood at Flemington racecourse on Monday.

RON REED reports for the HERALD SUN that this was the official launch of the most enjoyable two weeks Melbourne celebrates in just about any given year, but a chill wind blew in more ways than one _ and the proffered champagne was left mostly undrunk _ as Racing Minister Martin Pakula was obliged to begin proceedings with a media update on the unthinkable news from overnight.

A gunman had fired shots at chief steward Terry Bailey’s home with his family inside, an act that would qualify as terrorism if it occurred on the streets or, God help us, at the track on race day, amid 100,000 revellers.

Nothing like this had happened for 85 years and when it did, for the only time, it was a horse and not a human who was the target.

One blast from a shotgun from inside a car was aimed at the legendary Phar Lap in a street near Caulfield racecourse early on Derby Day in 1930. It missed and the great galloper, undaunted, won at Flemington a few hours later before claiming the Melbourne Cup on the Tuesday.

The only remotely comparable incident was when Walter Hoysted, a member of a famous racing family, brandished a shotgun from the middle of the track at Flemington in February 1966 in protest at what he regarded as excessive whipping of horses _ an issue that still causes great angst, with Bailey forced to inflict multiple fines against the jockey of the moment, Hugh Bowman, at Moonee Valley last Saturday.

Hoysted warned that if jockeys rode with whips he would use the weapon _ but in a 16 minute stand-off with police he went no further than firing one blast harmlessly into the air.

Normally Bailey would probably have been at Flemington on Monday to lend his considerable presence to the event even though he has far more important work on his agenda than simply cranking up the hype-ometer, but it was no surprise he wasn’t. Or that he was unavailable to the media for the rest of the day.

His family’s security and emotional wellbeing came first by a long margin, naturally.

His job isn’t easy at the best of times and he has had a particularly difficult few months with a variety of integrity issues eating away at the image of the so-called sport of kings.

For all concerned, the timing of such an incident _ with the eyes of the racing world, literally, firmly fixed on Melbourne _ couldn’t be more uncomfortable.

Having not spoken to Bailey at that stage, there wasn’t much Pakula could say to enlighten anyone on what had happened and why, but he repeated one message several times for emphasis.

It was, he said, an appalling, outrageous and unacceptable act, but if the perpetrator(s) thought it would influence Bailey or the other men in charge of integrity, they had another think coming.

Pakula called him “one tough cookie” and spoke of what a difficult job enforcing rules was because you were bound to upset people from time to time.

Nodding in furious agreement was Bailey’s predecessor Des Gleeson, who was one of the first on the phone when the news broke.

In a long stint, Gleeson was never shot at but he did field a number of death threats on the phone and had to get a silent number.

Gleeson agreed it was an occupational hazard. “I expect all chief stewards have received threats, in fact I know they have,” he said.

“The police say phone threats don’t mean a lot, the bloke gives you a serve, says ‘I’ve fixed that bloke up’ and they don’t take it any further. But you worry about your family.

“I got one at teatime one day and had to pretend it was someone else _ it shook me, I can tell you.

“One bloke rang and said he knew where I lived and even told me how many steps there were to the front door _ and he was spot on.”

Always, the show must go on. So VRC chairman Michael Burn told the shivering attendees _ at least Gai Waterhouse had the sense to wear a large fur coat _ about plans to honour the late Bart Cummings and that there were still 42 hopeful horses in the big one. All that and more.

But on a bleak, damp morning no amount of upbeat chat could disguise the reality that there was really only one topic of conversation _ racing had been rocked to its core.