Day At The Track

Stuart Maxwell announces retirement

05:10 PM 17 Jun 2020 NZST
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 Stuart Maxwell in the broadcaster's box at the Young Paceway,Harness racing
Stuart Maxwell in the broadcaster's box at the Young Paceway.

Legendary Young harness racing caller and sometimes social commentator Stuart Maxwell has announced his retirement.

Maxwell's involvement with the harness racing industry spans nearly 60 years.

He was made a life member of the Young Harness Racing Club by former president David Hodges in 1984.

"I've finally answered the call of the wild and will now concentrate more on the sweeter things in life and soak up the beautiful Australian outback in my trusty van accompanied by my wonderful wife Dawn," Maxwell said.

He started off in the industry as a 16-year-old helping his older brother Brian train some "handy horses" and he had his first drive at 17.

He was married in 1967 and became more involved in the sport by way of having the luck of driving Diamond Jedda to 10 wins on various tracks across the region.

Family responsibilities became paramount and he moved into a more suitable roll taking on the position of secretary of the then Young Gymkhana committee that had previously been organised by the late Jack Black, John Darmody and Fred Smithers.

"Sunday afternoon gymkhanas were a popular way for trainers to prepare their horses for race day experiences and for the public to witness the increasingly popular activity in a relaxed atmosphere. Stallion parades, yearling parades and two-year-old trials followed and the years that followed attracted almost 50 participants the industry, unfortunately those days are long gone. I have a list of those involved in those early years and starting with A for Asplin and ending in Y for Tommy Young, there are over 50 names," he said.

He recalls the late Len Butt asking him to call a gymkhana race one day and "as they say, the rest is history", Maxwell said.

"The opportunity came to step up to the plate when Wagga caller Ted Ryder passed on and Ray Warren moved to Sydney. Would you believe we actually did some live calls on Radio 2LF. That was in the days of right hand racing."

Maxwell reflected on some major changes in the industry over the years including the change from racing right to left, the removal of the inside running rail and over head lighting, introduction of the TAB, midweek racing, mobile starts, improved lighting towers, upgraded tracks and larger tracks.

"There's been numerous other improvements at the Young Showground. Improvement including the race day stable area, broadcaster's box, secretary's office, bar facilities and TAB office and the like were the result of some overwhelming support from numerous volunteers and the use of some heavy equipment supplied by Bob and Len Hardy, the Showground Trust, David Hodges and many other local enthusiasts," he said.

On a more broader scale, he believes the sale of Harold Park and the development of the Menangle Paceway at a cost of over $6 million was a major turning point in the industry.

"It is still considered a contentious issue by some, the centralised racing tracks and the allocation of prizemoney and racing dates still arouse some heated discussion amongst the faithful," he said.

The final meeting at Harold Park was conducted on December 17, 2010 with Grenfell pacer Holy Camp Boy taking out one of the races for Clive Anderson.

The final race was taken out by Dubbo pacer Karloo Mick who raced over the 3370m journey from a standing start.

Ironically, at the opening meeting at Menangle, another Grenfell trained pacer in Burning Stature trained by Mark Hewitt landed the major winners cheque of $60,000 for her owners.

The opening race on the day was won by The Maelstrom for Gavin Fitzpatrick.

The Young Harness Racing Club, he believes, have been fortunate in attracting some quality administrators over the years since the change from Young P and A to the Young Harness Racing Club.

"Those people have been well recognised for their efforts and I'm hopeful that this will continue over many years to come. The hospitality of clubs including Young, Cowra, Grenfell, Goulburn, Cootamundra, Temora, Canberra and Junee during my time as a racecaller has enabled me to continue in my position for all those years, not forgetting my friends in the thoroughbred industry who I hope will continue to give me some breakout moments throughout the year. Harden, Young, Yass and Boorowa will always be high on my agenda for some years to come," he said.

Maxwell said he's commenced a chronicle of the history of the Young Harness Racing Club over the past 60 years.

 

Peter Guthrie

Reprinted with permission of The Young Witness

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