I continue with my resume of the denouement of the Scone Race Club during the latter part of the 20th century. This article has appeared in several iterations; all under my signature. I include it here for ‘completeness’.
The Featured Image is of absolute legend Lester Pigott on ‘Windeyer’, 7 April 1995. This was just a few months after the opening of the new track. I doubt he would have ridden at White Park? Lester spent some time with Hilton Cope and myself in the Judge’s Box.
The Exodus, the Genesis and “A Dream That Could Be Realised”:
The Evolution of a New Racecourse
On one of his frequent visits to the Upper Hunter Valley, Emeritus Professor Rex Butterfield, President of the Australian Equine Research Foundation and Keeneland (USA) representative in Australia, remarked on the similarity of events at that time to the genesis of the “Keeneland Concept” in Kentucky in 1936. The date was sometime in the early 1980’s and the Upper Hunter was witness to a flurry of activity in the development of thoroughbred racing and breeding in the district, possibly unprecedented, even in the benchmark industries so important historically to the locality.
In his concluding remarks addressed to a mass meeting of breeders and others interested in racing at the Lafayette Hotel on Wednesday afternoon March 20, 1935 Major Louie A. Beard said: “This may seem like a dream, but I believe it is a dream that can be realised.” (‘The Thoroughbred Record ‘(USA) October 10 1936).
The meeting witnessed by Professor Butterfield was held at the Scone Bowling Club. It was a gathering of like-minded people representing the fledgling Hunter Valley Bloodhorse Breeders Association (HVBHBA) and inevitably the local racing industry. The significance of the astute Professor’s observations as we approach the closing of White Park Racecourse (22/10/94 and 24/10/94) and the opening date (18/11/94) of the new course at Satur can now be placed in true perspective. Actually the rebirth of the new track is in fact a return after a lapse of around100 years, to racing in the Satur locality. As detailed in Daniel Morgan’s excellent thesis The Reality of the Turf (Scone’s Colonial Horse Racing, 1842 – 1900), first class racing was held at Mr. Frederick Augustus Parbury’s property from 1892 – 1915 under the auspices of the Scone Jockey Club.
During the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s some vitally important decisions were reached in a remarkable chronological sequence which were to have enormous impact on the future development of racing in Scone, and indeed to rescue and secure its (precarious) position. Pivotal in this process were a few individuals, most of whom represented either or both the Scone Race Club and the HVBBHBA. The committees of both these organisations had enjoyed a recent period of growth and strength at a fortuitous time.
The early seed for the concept of a better race track for Scone had evolved from the fertile mind of local agent F.W. (Bill) Rose (FWR). The committee of the Scone Race Club had long deliberated on the restrictions and deficiencies imposed by the less than adequate White Park and the sharing of the facilities with the Golf Club in particular. The Club was being thwarted in its efforts to attract funding for development from the Racecourse Development Fund established by the NSW TAB.
The hidden agenda behind consistent refusals or pittance donations by the TAB was that the discerning decision-makers did not support the further development of White Park Racecourse!
To its great credit, the Scone Race Club Committee at the time accepted the stark and harsh reality of this observation. The major problem was what to do about it and how to achieve a realistic feasible solution acceptable to the Race Club and the broad community. The initial response was for the Scone Shire Council at FWR’s instigation and insistence to purchase Dal Adams farm adjacent to White Park and to develop this ideal location as a Sports Complex in perpetuity for the citizens of Scone. To the great credit of all concerned, this conceptual plan was rescued from potential and established as reality from this time. The Sporting Development Committee under the chairmanship of Brian McGrath was constituted by Scone Shire Council to expedite and oversee this project.
The secondary agenda underpinning this idea was to separate the interests of the sometime feuding Golf Club and Race Club and to permit the expansion of the Racecourse to a 2000 metre track within the confines of White Park. No golf fairway was to straddle the course proper. At an on-site sub-committee meeting comprising Brian McGrath, Terry Barnes (Scone Shire Clerk), Bill Rose and the author the overall practicality and financial feasibility of the total concept was addressed. The quotation for the erection of three new creek crossings to support the enlarged track came to $180,000. The two Race Club delegates conferred and volunteered the opinion that considering this scale of finance the concept was not viable and an alternative solution should be found. To say that this revelation surprised Brian and Terry would be a gross understatement! It was, however, agreed that the harsh truth of this decision was realistic and that the proponents of change should consider other avenues. The importance of this deliberation cannot be over-emphasised as absolutely basic and underpinning all future decision and debate!
The outcome for the district was the establishing of a magnificent Sports Complex accommodating a wide range of sporting pursuits but did nothing to alleviate the existing and ongoing problems of the Golf Club and Race Club!
The Chairman of the Sydney Turf Club at this time was Mr. George Ryder, a long time Hunter Valley thoroughbred breeder first at Woodlands Stud and latterly at Kia Ora. George was an enthusiastic, energetic and innovative administrator, but who on occasion “ran his own race”. He was an active proponent of the total concept to restructure country racing in NSW. In some cases this involved amalgamation and pooling of resources of race clubs in close geographic proximity to improve the overall standard in general and not to in his opinion fractionate the TAB distribution ‘cake’ into too many small, nonviable fragments. It was the perception by many close to the action that this represented the strong majority view of AJC, STC and TAB committees as well as NSW Government Policy. The ‘carrot’ as dangled by George Ryder was a sum in excess of $600,000 provided by the STC to facilitate the relocation of a major racing facility in the Upper Hunter. It was later revealed that this concept did not have the unqualified support of the STC directors!
The Scone Race Club Committee deliberated on this proposition and submitted as one possible solution the pooling of resources of the Scone Race Club and the Upper Hunter Race Club to establish a single large modern racing facility financed in part by the STC as well as other funds. This was interpreted by the racing fraternity in the district as meaning one thing only – amalgamation!
A furious and heated debate ensued culminating in a very public and well attended meeting at the Scone Bowling Club chaired by the author when the Scone Race Club membership totally rejected by a very large majority any consideration of relocation or amalgamation of the Club’s racing facility. The committee (other than a few populist defections) nonetheless maintained the position that to remain on White Park without major structural change would ultimately and inevitably lead to the demise of the Scone Race Club as a separate identifiable entity in the medium to long term. This was truly “grasping the nettle”. It was a very vital and compelling decision that was to significantly influence subsequent events as they unfolded. Sir Humphrey of “Yes, Minister” fame would have labelled this as politically inexpedient and naive but courageous! It would come as no surprise that total membership of the Scone Race Club attained its historic zenith at this time! Chronologically it was imperative to hold this debate and to address the very real issue of the progress and future of racing in Scone. To have hesitated or procrastinated on this issue could justifiably have loaded ammunition for future generations to aim at the administration of the time. The author, with others, was determined that accusations of ineptitude or apathy could never be levelled at the committee of the day!
It was from this standpoint that FWR, with single-minded purpose, vigorously pursued his vision and goal of the purchasing and development of a site selected by him at Tarrangower, Satur. That he was able to achieve this is testimony to his bullish determination, part of the motivation coming from the challenge of not the principle but the feasibility of the objective. The procedure and process was largely withheld from the committee in general other than a select few. This was regrettable although in hindsight probably necessary in order to achieve fruition. It inevitably led to some dented pride, bruised egos and a somewhat divided committee but if the ends justify the means then totally sustainable.
The subsequent purchase and ability to raise the significant funds for the total project brought into play a remarkable and providential series of people and organisations, co-incidentally and fortuitously in the right place at the right time!
The vehicle for fund raising was to be the Hunter Valley Equine Research Foundation (HVERF) the brainchild of the author and Brian Agnew of Wakefield Stud from his perspective as energetic and popularly elected President of the HVBHBA. This is a registered charitable trust set up by the HVBHBA to raise funds for local equine research projects and to which donations were exempt from taxation. The HVERF was to become the landlord of the Satur facility and to purchase the property from FWR and grant the Scone Race Club a portion for the new racetrack on a long-term peppercorn rent.
Purchase of Tarrangower was for an amount in excess of $1 million which had to be locally raised. That this was readily achieved is testimony to the ability of all concerned and again attributable in part to some extraordinary circumstances.
This period of time (mid to late 1980’s) was arguably the most inflationary and bullish market in the history of thoroughbred racing and breeding in Australia. The donation of very high stallion service fees was a major activity in fund raising. Also the entrepreneurial flair and genius of Tony Bott recently established as studmaster at Segenhoe could be harnessed to organise some very high profile and vastly successful activities at Segenhoe and the Sebel Town House, Sydney (at Easter). The auction of donated goods and chattels at these events realised significant sums of money towards the project as well as donations to charity (more than $100,000 to the NBN Telethon appeal).
That the funds were raised and the purchase completed is testimony to the singular purpose and dedication of a number of protagonists and a few in particular. Having secured the title to a suitable property, the Scone Race Club was then in a strong position to approach the TAB – RDF (as previously advised) to provide funding to complete the total concept. The procedure of development and fruition has been very successfully guided and negotiated, not without considerable personal sacrifice, by the incumbent Race Club President, David Bath of Bhima Stud. The reality of the complex as it approaches its genesis is a tribute to David’s persistence, patience and zeal.
The challenge facing the administration of the Race Club will be to transport and/or re-create the special ambience that was such a very special feature of racing at White Park, universally acknowledged by successive generations of patrons.
The committee might very well consider the aspirations of Hal Price Headley, on the day before Keeneland opened its 1937 spring meeting, who stated:
We want a place where those who love horses can come and picnic with us and thrill to the sport of the Bluegrass. We are not running a race plant to hear the click of the mutuel machines. We don’t care whether the people who come here bet or not. If they want to bet there is a place for them to do it. But we want them to come out here to enjoy God’s sunshine, the fresh air, and to watch horses race.
Clearly, in today’s climate, some of that logic is questionable. However, the ideals and principles are highly commendable.
The concept that dreams can be realised with sufficient motivation and purpose is to some extent fuelled by the emotions as expressed and quoted in Daniel Morgan’s treatise on The Reality of the Turf:
The passion for horses may be ridiculed by persons of narrow mindedness and sedentary lives; but the feeling has ever been characteristic of the most intellectual and powerful races of mankind, and the highest order of literature and art has been inspired by the contemplation of this admirable gift of the creator. (Sydney Morning Herald, October 3, 1857).