20th June 2006
The words of Gordon Bartlett (trainer of Sava Jet) saying he “walked away from the sport (of sprint racing) when the AJC shut us down as we were getting too popular”, certainly re-ignited the debate to many participants of “sprint racing”. To show readers the anger that the decision caused within Quarter Horse ranks, below is the reproduced article written by Sandra Crompton, who at the time was the Secretary of the Queensland Sprint Racing Association. This article contained her own personal recollections and interpretations of facts that surrounded the Queensland industry’s plight at the time and was published in the 1993 edition of “Quarter Horse Magazine”.
Sandra Crompton contracted cancer and sadly passed away in 2004 – as a relatively young woman. The article she penned bears testament to her love of sprint racing and quarter horses and is reproduced here in her honour.
Readers are free to make up their own minds about who was right and who was wrong in the debate all those years ago.
Sandra’s article read:
THE LAST STAND – AN INDUSTRY ON ITS KNEES
August 1st might well be the official birthday of all horses in the southern hemisphere, but in Queensland it could well be the sounding of the death knell for sprint racing under 800m on AJC registered tracks.
Quarter Horse people involved with sprint racing on AJC tracks are now faced with a “do-or-die” fight for survival or their section of the racing industry will be gone forever. The sprint industry in Queensland has always been pushed around, from one venue to another, for many years now. Perhaps it is because this section of the racing industry poses some kind of threat to certain people within the Thoroughbred industry?!
The following brief history of AJC sprint racing in Queensland may help to shed some light on the situation as it stands today. Some 12 years ago, The National Party’s Russ Hinze was approached to help foster and guide the budding sprint racing industry. Representatives from the sprint industry gained his support and an approximate 3 million dollars was pledged towards developing a complex at Rocklea in Brisbane. However, zoning problems coupled with a parcel of land which could not be acquired put paid to that plan, so then negotiations took place to make Toowoomba’s Clifford Park racetrack the home of the sprint race industry. The negotiations included the creation of a 500m straight at Clifford Park. At the time, the future of sprint racing under 800m seemed assured.
The annual “Sires Produce Futurity” concept was quickly developed primarily to provide funds for the sprint industry, so that it did not become a burden to the Thoroughbred racing establishment. Over the years that followed, hundreds of thousands of dollars, from the owners of sprint stallions and from the owners/breeders of the progeny of those stallions went in to Clifford Parks coffers to maintain racing under 800m at Toowoomba. Additional money was also acquired through sponsorships from businesses and other private sectors.
Racing clubs which programmed sprint events benefited from nominations and acceptances, increased gate attendance and, most of all, from TAB distribution on the funds supplied by the sprint industry (often on funds accrued when payments for certain events (ie. Sires Produce) were paid 2 years in advance!). As the sprint industry began to grow and prosper, rumours began to circulate (in particular at Clifford Park) that certain Thoroughbred breeders were becoming concerned that for every sprinter racing there was one less Thoroughbred gracing the turf. So a fear campaign began to kick in. In particular it was hinted that sprinters were unsafe rides for jockeys. A ludicrous idea when one considers that since sprint racing has been legalised in Queensland, not one rider fatality has been recorded and their have been very few injuries altogether. Then unflattering statements about the sprint industry began to appear in the press, and this together with a drop in prize money ($2,000 per race to $1,000 per race) for sprint races under 800m only, was designed to keep the pressure on and make the sprinters and their connections look and feel second rate. This smear campaign found its mark, with many abandoning Toowoomba and/or the sprint industry which left only the diehards to tough it out at Clifford Park. The muck-slinging continued, the diehards kept racing for meagre amounts, until the Toowoomba Turf Club announced that if any sprint race didn’t attract a field of 8 acceptors it would be cancelled. This announcement was followed soon after by another (no further programming of sprint races) which effectively meant the end of sprint racing in Toowoomba. Clifford Park, the home of sprint racing in Queensland, had kicked its kids out on the street! And to add insult to injury, the few who were behind the demise of the sprint industry in Toowoomba were looking at promotions for a job well done! After all, hadn’t they put those speedy squibs in the gutter where they belonged?!
Despair and confusion reigned in the sprint industry. It was about this time that the Gympie Turf Club, which had financial problems of its own, was approached by representatives of the sprint racing industry. The Gympie Turf Club, the (now defunct) State-wide Sprint Racing Association and, a little later, the Queensland Sprint Racing Association negotiated and soon Gympie was the new home of sprint racing in Queensland. An injection of many thousands of dollars in funding the sprint industry saw both Gympie and the sprinters up and racing once again. And once again a bright new future for sprint racing seemed assured.
With hope anew, what remained of the battered and bruised sprint industry loyally supported Gympie, even though it meant that many trainers had to travel over 9 hours for the pleasure of running their horses in races lasting around 20 seconds. For the last three years, sprint racings future just kept looking better and better. The number of sprint horses racing grew each season and so did the prize money which, as usual, was generated within the sprint industry through sponsorships and other forms of fund raising. The time looked right to approach the AJC, once again, in the hope that they would allow some well-performed sprint stallions entry into the Non-Studbook, which had been closed to them some years before.
(Whilst on the subject of the AJC and the Non-Studbook, it should be pointed out that back in the mid-1970s, the AJC was in need of some revenue in a hurry. To remedy the situation, the AJC opened the Non-Studbook to Quarter Horses and others. Over the next 18 years, hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed into the predominantly Thoroughbred racing industry from the sprint horse industry. Then, approximately four years ago, without any prior warning, the colt/stallion section of the Non-Studbook was closed. This meant that no imported entires or entires bred after the date of closure could be registered with the AJC in the Non-Studbook; a decision which severely affected the sprint horse gene pool.)
With AJC Non-Studbook negotiations looking fruitful, all that was needed to swing the vote in favour of these select stallions and sprint racing was a positive response from the Queensland Principal Club.
No one was prepared for the response that did come from the QPC. The club had moved to adopt Rule 43 (no racing under 800 metres) as of August 1st 1993. When asked why it had taken this action without first consulting the industry it represents or the race clubs which programmed sprint races, the QPC replied that it had done so ‘to bring Queensland in line with the rest of Australia’! There are states in Australia which program hurdle racing and steeplechases, but these are illegal in Queensland at present. Will we see jumps racing in Queensland in the near future, just to bring it in line with other states? I think not! I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
It seems that only a handful of Thoroughbred people, who refuse to recognise the financial contribution that sprint racing has made to the AJC and to Queensland racing as a whole, are those that have succeeded in bringing an entire section of the racing industry to its knees. These same people fail to see that the Quarter Horse was developed into the fastest horse in the world over the quarter mile through Thoroughbred lines and, to this day, the breed is kept that way (both here and in the USA) by selective infusion of Thoroughbred blood. Be that as it may, whether its racing over 300 metres in 20 seconds or 2,000 metres in 3 minutes, racing is racing and racehorses are racehorses. It should be the individuals right to choose over which distance his or her horses race – not the establishment’s choice.
It is my most sincere wish that sprint racing is not excluded from AJC racing in Queensland. It is also my wish to see members and friends of the sprint racing industry get off their knees and make this, the one last stand a mighty and memorable fight.
RACING IN THE 80’S
Although the first Quarter Horse stallions to come to Australia arrived in 1954, it was not until October, 1970 some 16 years later, that the first recognised Quarter Horse race took place at Trangie (NSW). The prize money was advertised at $1,000 and in spite of this, only five horses nominated. Of the five, two did not show up at all, one was disqualified at the track leaving two starters in an impromptu match race.
Quarter Staff, by Mescal, won the quarter mile race in a time of 25.9 seconds will El Grande being the place getter! April 1971 saw the first Quarter Horse win a race against a Thoroughbred, when Nevada Joe, by Vaquero, won over a distance of five furlongs.
It was not really until 1973 that the Quarter Horse racing scene really began to come alive. Stirred on by a flush of imported running blood, the Victorian Jockey Club ventured a tentative look at this new “Upstart” by permitting the conduct of the first Quarter Horse race at a licensed track. The event was billed as an EXHIBITION (no betting) and was conducted at TATURA. The race was won by what was to become one of the industries great dams – Brandywine Alpha.
In June 1973, the Weyba Cup was run at Noosa and won by the newly imported stallion Chicks Boy Image, with another new import Tinys Patriotic second.
A quick look at the quality of imported blood arriving in the country at this time will indicate the significance of this period in the development of the breed. Capricorn Estates listed the following stallions in 1973 – Hunch Bid, Booty Man, Wise Bid, Tinys Patriotic, Chicks Boy Image and the horse that is still topping the sires list – Thundering Jet.
Muskoka Stud was standing With It and Three Devils, Willomurra had Jet Master and Warning Flag and others of particular note were Bob Charge (Bob Crothers), Dickie Bar Joe (Barry Laws), Mr Bar Charge (Flying ‘L’ Stud), Sonic Jet and Jet Boom.
From 1974 the build up continued with the announcement of several ‘FUTURITIES’, in particular one from the Dubbo Quarter Horse Association and one from the Central Queensland Quarter Horse Association.
In March 1976, Capricorn Estates staged the greatest dispersal sale of running Quarter Horse stock seen in this country, grossing $375,000. In that month also the Quarter Horse Extravaganza, promoted as Q76, was held at Queanbeyan (NSW) attracting a crowd of 20,000 and establishing Mighty Meyers as the winner of the All Australian Futurity over Lion Don.
Late that year we were to enjoy the services of top USA Quarter Horse jockey, Jerry Nicodemus, who had a major influence on our aspiring jockeys.
Other stallions arriving in Australia by this time, included Grande Muchacho, Moon Rocketeer, Caseys Fancy, There Goes Dusty, Chick Dancer and Boss Jet. It would not be anything like a complete picture of this era if we did not make mention of just some of the personalities that made this period so prolific. Of the trainers, Heather and Paul Luckie, Con Wilson, Les Buckingham, Warren Skinner, Ian Rosenow, Neville Verenkamp, Bill Croll, Wal Ingram and Andy Kayser come to mind. Personalities like Betty Hobson, Terry Irwin (III), Paul Child, Robin Yates, Pat Clementson, Bill Tyson (Chief Steward), Tony Fountain, Bob Berry and Noel Fennell were all actively promoting the sport during this dynamic period.
Races were being run regularly at Warren, Dubbo, Bossley Park, Forbes, Grenfell, Denman and Gunnedah in New South Wales, Canberra (ACT), Willomurra (SA), Caboolture, Weyba Ranch, Kooralbyn and Townsville (Queensland) and Woodend and Baccus Marsh (Victoria). In these days the petrol crisis had not yet arrived and people were hauling horses all across country.
Champions were writing their names into the record books too, with super performances from the likes of Lion Don, Three Ohs Chick, Battle Deck, Supreme Jet, Alamitos Junior, Thundering Eddie, Finnigan etc etc.
During this period there were many schools of thought relating to the future direction of the industry and broadly speaking they split into two distinct groups with each State having its own variations on the themes. There were those who believed that Quarter Horse Racing should be integrated with and absorbed by the Thoroughbred industry, by simply modifying the AJC rule preventing races at less than 800m. The other school argued that Quarter Horse Racing is a sport in its own right, with its own breeding and personalities. They argued that they should continue to race until the sport developed to the point where it became self generating.
Unfortunately, both points of view have prevailed at one time or another over the years and during these waverings the major loser has been the Quarter Horse industry.
Many early overtures from the Quarter Horse industry to the AJC were met with total rejection. Indeed the AJC’s attitude today to Quarter Horse racing is one of active rejection from Government lobby level down. In one state of Australia where a State Government has been strong enough to stand up to the AJC lobby, Quarter Horse racing is conducted by the AJC on the basis of registered NON STUD BOOK Thoroughbreds racing over ‘SQUIB’ distances and then only because “we have to”, as directed by the Government.
Another State Government, although advised by its racing Department to “give it a trial”, at the last moment backed out and advised the Australian Quarter Horse Association that it could not afford to “compromise the multi million dollar Thoroughbred industry”. Somehow or other, Quarter Horse Racing is supposed to “compromise” the massive Thoroughbred industry?