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By Stephen Ferguson | Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Today HRO kicks off a new addition to the site whereby a guest blogger is invited to cover a subject of their choice. Stephen Ferguson is the first guest blogger on HRO. Ferguson has been the CEO of the Brisbane Racing Club since its inception. Prior to that he held the same position at the Queensland Turf Club. He started in the racing game in NSW as an owner 27 years ago, graduated to becoming a Steward, then shifted into racing administration.

A key part of our sell to southerners this year was that the Brisbane carnival had two of the best races in Australia the year before. It is a fact that in 2010, the Doomben 10,000 was the highest rated race in Australia - higher even than the Cox Plate and the 2010 AAMI Stradbroke had been the highest rated handicap - higher even than the Caulfield or Melbourne Cups.

Black Caviar was obviously the dream catch and it was not until she actually got here that we were sure it was “game on”. Kevin Dixon and Bill Shuck kept in close contact with Peter Moody, but didn’t drive him mad. The early moves were like a spy movie with her arrival details shrouded in mystery, but it was all in a good cause as BRC went the extra mile to accommodate Black Caviar.

Our Racecourse manager Bill Shuck bore most of the stress with having her here. However, local trainer Desleigh Forster was probably under more pressure as Peter Moody’s team is always stabled with Desleigh.

Waiting for Black Caviar to come was a very anxious wait for us all. We also knew that if Hay List came as well, it would really make it a competitive carnival.

Once again, we didn’t drive Peter Moody or John McNair mad, we just found out their needs and sought to meet them.

Peter and John are two of the least fussed individuals you will ever meet. Like all good trainers, all they worry about is their horses.

I can’t speak highly enough of Peter Moody and John McNair’s efforts in making themselves available for the media during their time here. The average racing person has little idea how much of trainer’s time is demanded by the media.

Peter was concerned about Black Caviar becoming upset so we put in place a plan to keep her presence as secret as we could and keep it as quiet as possible. Bill was our point of contact and not even he knew until she arrived.

Black Caviar was stabled infield at Eagle Farm with Desleigh Forster. The infield stables were a saviour as it was very easy to control who went out there. It is true that we had two security guards 24 hours a day, but even if you got past them you would not have got past the “Roger”, Desleigh’s stump tailed blue heeler. It is also true that we built extra boxes for Peter, but these will be used to accommodate other visitors as well.

All that effort was well worthwhile as this year’s carnival certainly got off to a good start as Black Caviar set the early success of the carnival on a new plateau and the momentum rolled on from there.

While Black Caviar stole the show, we also succeeded in getting another champ to Brisbane in the form of the John McNair trained Hay List.

I had first raised the Queensland Carnival with John 12 months prior to the event after Hay List won the Healy Stakes. I was at the stables when Hay List got off the float at Eagle Farm and I knew then that we had a cracker of a BTC Cup Day ahead of us.

At first, the big fellow didn’t settle into the stable and yard we had for him. Very quickly, Bill Shuck took John and Hay List around to Brad and Ros Pratt’s stables in Hendra, where Hay List settled in straight away.

The fact that Brad and Ros took John and Sue in at such short notice speaks volumes about how racing people go out of their way to help each other.

I was very sad for John and Sue McNair and the Davenport family when Hay List went amiss the day before the Doomben 10,000.

I have known John since he came to the East from Perth about 16 years ago. I used to drop by his stable most days and saw how much effort John had put into keeping Hay List well during his stay here. It was a very stressful time as you could see Hay List was doing it tough.

It was quite demoralizing for all the BRC staff when Black Caviar and then Hay List were withdrawn. Funnily enough, Sincero was our “plan C”. We had copped the tip very early in the year about how good Sincero was. Stephen Farley hadn’t been to Brisbane before, so he was someone we did put a bit of work into. Stephen is a great bloke to deal with, but I confess to being a doubter like many others after Sincero’s run in the QTC Cup.

A lot of people think that you really need to ‘work on’ trainers to get them to the Carnival, but we prefer a low key approach.

Paul Brennan and Brent Leisemann from RQL have prepared a very good carnival magazine with the best “ready reckoner” in Australia to help trainers and owners find sequences of races for their horses. Lester Grimmet and the handicappers at RQL are also very helpful to the trainers in clarifying conditions, ballots and possible weight scenarios. These fellows fly beneath the radar but do a heck of lot work getting horses here.

So the trainers know which races might suit their horses and they don’t need us driving them mad on the telephone.

The approach we take is to just say hello to trainers at various race meetings and sales, plus the odd phone call. The message is simple; “If you need anything, just give us a call”. Trainers want to know about things such as stabling and grass track availability rather than us bashing their ears about what races we think they should start in.

We prefer to let our deeds do the talking and believe that is why we get such a high level of repeat visits.

Importantly, when talking to trainers we talk about the whole carnival program including Gold Coast, Caloundra and Ipswich. We all fit into the same program and are reliant on each other’s days working well.

This year, trainers such as Len Morton and John McNair said that they were looked after better in Queensland than at any other carnival.

Of course, some trainers were light on runners this year, such as Bart Cummings and Gai Waterhouse. Some years trainers just don’t always have the horses to suit our carnival.

The carnival doesn’t work without a lot of assistance from people that go unnoticed. Channel 7, Sky Channel and the Courier Mail all went the extra yard in helping us promote the Carnival.

Local trainers in particular play a huge part in providing stabling. Trainers such as Desleigh Forster, Dan Bougoure, Kelly Schweida, Barry Baldwin and Rob Heathcote all give up boxes to accommodate visiting trainers.

Bill Shuck works very hard on finding trainers accommodation. We struggle a bit for room here in Brisbane, so Bill is also happy to steer trainers to the Gold Coast, Deagon or Caloundra if he thinks that best suits their needs.

All the trainers have different styles, which means they prefer different types of venues and training tracks. Stephen Farley was a good example this year. He chose to go to Deagon because it is quieter and has a sand track similar to what he has at Wyong.

We rebuilt the betting ring and refurbished an old office to create “The Lookout”. Our Facilities Manager Mark Williams and his team started this work after the last race at Doomben on 16 April. People are astounded that Mark and his team worked well into the night after the race meeting that day.

They also worked on the Sunday, and every weekend until they were finished. Four weeks later on BTC Cup Day, Doomben looked like a new racecourse. These fellows fly below the radar but deserve a huge pat on the back.

Special mention this year should go to Rob Heathcote. Rob won races on five of the six days of the Brisbane Carnival. The only day he didn’t train a winner, he ran fourth beaten 2.2 lengths in the AAMI Stradbroke - the highest rated handicap race in Australia. For mine, Rob’s carnival performance is the training achievement of the season.

In the final count mention must also be made of the fact we were helped by the weather and that the tracks came through with flying colours.

The crowds were up 17% this year and were up 22% the year before. More and more we are seeing strong figures for feature days, but less so for standard days.

As we have seen with the recent spate of Queensland sporting success, not everything is bigger and better south of the border and we will continue to strive to make our carnival the best it can be.

More articles

Stephen Ferguson
Stephen Ferguson
Black Caviar was obviously
the dream catch.
Black Caviar was obviously
the dream catch.
Hay List ... the other Champ!
Hay List ... the other Champ!
I can't speak highly enough of Peter
Moody and John McNair's efforts in making themselves available to the media during their time here.
I can't speak highly enough of Peter
Moody and John McNair's efforts in making themselves available to the media during their time here.
The crowd at Doomben on BTC Cup day.
The crowd at Doomben on BTC Cup day.
I confess to being a doubter after Sincero's run in the QTC Cup but he went on to scaoe an emphatic win in the Stradbroke.
I confess to being a doubter after Sincero's run in the QTC Cup but he went on to scaoe an emphatic win in the Stradbroke.
Rob Heathcote won races on five of the six days of the Brisbane Carnival.
Rob Heathcote won races on five of the six days of the Brisbane Carnival.
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