Derby day at Flemington has traditionally been the race day that the purists look forward to more than any other.
As the spring racing carnival nears, it’s easy to forget that the industry revolves around what happens off-track as opposed to on-course activities.
Spend a little time among racing people – those involved in it for a living – and you’ll quickly realise there are few communities anywhere in the world like the community of dedicated racing professionals and fans.
Horse racing is a sport which generally is frowned upon and looked at with disdain by the ignorant and the naive.
Outside of the spring carnival, racing only finds itself in the headlines of mainstream media outlets for negative reasons – corruption, animal cruelty complaints, tragic incidents.
Forget all the great stories. For every story focusing on compassion for racehorses, there are 100 giving Ward Young and his “animal activists” more air time than they ever deserve.
And for every story which tells of those in the racing industry working together to help those in need, there are 100 speaking of the industry’s lack of regard for those who need help the most.
It doesn’t matter that Ward Young’s statistics don’t hold up to any reasonable examination, or that those who rort the system in racing are few and far between – scandal sells.
The racing industry is often portrayed as heartless, a bastion of the wealthy and the greedy only involved for selfish motives.
Nothing can be further than the truth.
Twice this week, I’ve seen examples of the racing industry pulling together for a good cause.
On Monday, I was fortunate enough to join 200 other people from the racing community in the 4 Tracks 4 Kids charity walk to raise money for Sydney’s two children’s hospitals at Randwick and Westmead.
A percentage was also donated to the Simone Montgomerie Fund, to look after the family of Montgomerie, who died in a race fall at the Darwin Cup meeting in August.
It was a route that roughly worked out at 35km.
The first leg took us from Rosehill through Clyde, Auburn, Lidcombe, Flemington, Homebush, Strathfield, Concord, Burwood, Strathfield, Ashfield, Ashbury and Canterbury to Canterbury Racecourse. From Canterbury, we travelled through Hurlstone Park, Dulwich Hill, Marrickville, Sydenham, St Peters, Alexandria, Rosebery, Eastlakes, Daceyville and Kingsford before we arrived at the top of the Randwick straight.
Anyone who has a geographical understanding of Sydney will realise how far it was, especially for someone who is rather unfit.
A small number started at Warwick Farm, but due to traffic restrictions, most of us were only allowed to start from Rosehill.
Those who participated came from all parts of the racing industry.
There were media identities, trainers, jockeys, strappers, breeders, administrators and associates.
There were also doctors and nurses from the Sydney Children’s Hospital, as well as those who benefited from their work.
Yes, the genesis of 4Tracks4Kids was a bet.
TVN’s Richard Callander had said he would walk between the four Sydney racecourses if Italy didn’t beat New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw, and true to his word, the first walk was organised for the following year.
This year, led by Callander and his wife Kaye, over $300,000 was raised for charity through the walk, and it continues to get bigger and better.
If you are in Sydney next October long weekend, I thoroughly recommend doing the walk.
Not only do you get to meet some great members of the racing industry, but you have the chance to raise money for charity while challenging yourself.
It’s not an opportunity that comes up often!
The generosity of the racing industry was also seen earlier this year after the death of Simone Montgomerie.
Many in the racing industry dug deep to donate money to the 26-year-old’s family, in particular for her five-year-old daughter Kodah.
The contribution of Magic Millions media manager Greg Irvine, in particular, was noteworthy and heartwarming. Irvine was a close friend of Montgomerie, having known her for over 20 years.
I had the opportunity to chat to Irvine at Flemington on Saturday about his extraordinary efforts for Montgomerie’s family.
At first, he approached one AFL club and asked for a guernsey to sell to raise money for the fund.
However, he was flooded with lots to auction, including the guernseys of other AFL clubs, signed Sherrins, exclusive Black Caviar memorabilia, signed boxing gloves and the match ball from the first Bledisloe Cup contest this year.
The highest selling lot was an unframed oil painting, based on a photo taken by Irvine. It was one of the most renowned racing photos this year, with last year’s JRA Cup winner Bianmick rearing on his hind legs in the mounting yard at Caulfield. Jockey Darren Gauci, soon to be legged aboard the temperamental gelding, edges away cautiously.
In all, through his efforts, almost $23,000 was raised for the Montgomerie family.
People like Greg Irvine and the organisers of 4Tracks4Kids are far more influential and important in the racing industry than the greedy and the wealthy.
These are just two examples in a week – the people of the racing industry are generous with both their time and their money throughout the year.
I’m proud to be part of a community like the racing industry, which – for every lout – is full of the most caring people you will meet.
So this spring carnival, whether you are a daily punter or a person who only watches the Melbourne Cup each year, remember to acknowledge the efforts of those in the racing industry who have given generously.
They’ll be the first people to help you if you are ever in need.