As the head of communications at the Australian Turf Club, de Vine is constantly being tested but he is always patiently sailed through tribulations and racedays with a smile.
Brett’s favorite part of the TAB Everest is not the finish but the start – “at the moment the barriers open and the crowd lifts and roars as one.”
Given the constant pressures on his time with Everest Carnival in full swing and the challenges that the pandemic has put on the ATC, de Vine chose to do the interview with Everest Diaries over email from his office at the racecourse.
The man whose passion for racing spans three decades was pleasantly surprised to see how popular the race became just in the first year.
“That first year we were within less than 30 minutes of having to lock the gates and declare a sell-out because so many people decided to arrive and purchase tickets on the day,” said Brett.
The fact that in pre-pandemic times, the TAB Everest has attracted crowds of over 40,000, with the majority being under thirty-five has delighted de Vine no end.
Here, de Vine opens up to Everest Diaries about the construction and opening of Royal Randwick Racecourse’s newest addition the Winx Stand, what the fifth running of the TAB Everest is likely to look like and his favorite racehorses.
Q: The ATC has invested in some top-quality hospitality spaces such as the Winx Stand and The Playground. Could you tell us more about these projects?
A: Construction of the Winx Stand was delayed for a number of weeks due to Government-ordered Covid lockdowns and restrictions on workers. This has delayed a full opening of the stand, however, we hope to have it partially opened in time for Everest Day on 16 October. The Winx Stand is expected to be fully open further toward the end of the Sydney Spring Carnival and perhaps in time for Melbourne Cup Day in Sydney at Royal Randwick. It will certainly be a big summer of racing at Royal Randwick, where we will look to open again to larger crowds for themed race days around Christmas
Q: What are ATC’s plans for opening these hospitality areas in light of the current COVID situation? What do you/ does ATC envision for racegoers when these stands are opened on The Everest race day?
A: The first and most important aspect will be full vaccination. NSW and large parts of Australia have been put into lockdown over the winter and early spring due to COVID, which has meant no spectators at our racecourses. It is expected vaccination rates will lift to more than 70 per cent in mid-October which will mean allowing limited numbers of owners and ATC Members back on course. All patrons will be required to be fully vaccinated, wear a face mask and comply with a range of COVI-Safe protocols. There is likely to be a cap on crowd numbers.
Q: What are ATC’s plans for the TAB Everest Raceday?
A: We continue to work with Government and health authorities on the exact number of people that we may be permitted to have on course. Royal Randwick has a capacity (ahead of Winx Stand opening) of about 44,000, but Government may limit crowds to a total of 5000 or even allow a 1 in 4 ratios which would allow us to have around 11,000 spectators. These decisions remain under review pending vaccination rates. The ATC has a proven track record of operating COVID-Safe meetings over the past 18 months and has a range of safety protocols in place. These include state of the art temperature testing devices and racing and industry “bubbles” which separate racing participants from other customers. The extensive and vast outdoor spaces at Royal Randwick and Rosehill Gardens help this further, along with a variety of indoor areas which make social distancing even more manageable
Q: Today The Everest is described as the grand finale of Australian sprint racing and with The Kosciuszko also being raced on the same day The Everest Raceday has become an iconic event over the past 5 years. Please tell us more about your own Everest journey? Five years ago, did you foresee this kind of popularity?
A: The Australian Turf Club and our great partner Racing NSW were always confident in the TAB Everest concept but not even we expected it to take the racing world by storm so quickly, even in its first year. The buzz and atmosphere for the running of the first Everest was nothing like I had ever experienced in more than 30 years of going to the races, and in the past eight years working for the Australian Turf Club. That first year we were within less than 30 minutes of having to lock the gates and declare a sell-out because so many people decided to arrive and purchase tickets on the day. Perhaps most pleasingly, that first crowd was predominantly made up of young racegoers, and we later learned that almost 80 per cent of ticket purchasers were aged under 35. Since that first running and crowds of more than 40,000 people (not including COVID affected last year), the race has continued to grow in stature and is already rated and acknowledged as the world’s best sprint race. Prizemoney this year goes to $15 million.
Q: What is your favorite part of The Everest Raceday?
A: There is a different vibe on TAB Everest Day to any other day, and that is because it has been embraced by younger people. You can feel the excitement in the air from the moment you walk into Royal Randwick. The build-up to The Everest unfolds for months but then to a real crescendo on the day.
My favorite part comes at the moment the barriers open and the crowd lifts and roars as one, like a pressure release that the next 1 minute and ten seconds or less comes down to this. The only other race in Sydney where this roar happens is the start of the Longines Golden Slipper, a race that has 65 years of history and is another of the world’s great events. For The Everest to already be building this same sort of relationship with racegoers is very special.
Q: Having been surrounded by horses all your life, what is your earliest racing memory? And what's kept you in the game since getting involved?
A: My earliest memories were listening to races on the radio back in the 1980s and then watching the races on the TV on a Saturday afternoon. A champion named Kingston Town was a “household’’ name at the time with his legendary trainer Tommy “TJ” Smith and regular jockey Malcolm Johnston. Kingston Town was not only a superstar athlete but was a shiny black colour which seemed in the eyes of a kid to make him run even faster. I think seeing a horse in action like Kingston Town, and then waiting for the next great champion to become a household name is a huge attraction. We have perhaps only had three of those household names in racing since -- Makybe Diva, Black Caviar, and of course the greatest of them all, Winx. All four of those horses had their own charisma and galloping style, making them absolutely unique.
Q: Which is your favorite racehorse and racecourse of all time? Why?
A: Winx would have to be the favorite racehorse simply because of the firsthand memories she, her trainer Chris Waller and jockey Hugh Bowman, and her wonderful owners all gave me. Seeing Winx at trackwork in the pre-dawn and then on to the extraordinary wins over many years live on track will forever bring that tingle down the spine when you see a replay or think back. She just had an aura – arguably not as spectacular to look at as a Kingston Town or a Black Caviar, but a supreme animal and athlete as soon as you saw her walk into the mounting yard and then step onto the track for a gallop or race. The favorite racecourse is a dead heat between Royal Randwick and Rosehill Gardens in Sydney. Each has its own great history and a different but equally engulfing spectator atmosphere on a big race day.
Q: Who do you think is a rising star within the industry?
A: Two people – jockey James McDonald and owner and bloodstock agent James Harron. Aged less than 30, James McDonald is winning Group 1 races at a rate that may set records never to be broken again. As someone who watches a lot of races, it is rare for me that a jockey can consistently have their horse running in any part of the field forward, middle, or back, but seemingly in the right position and traveling kindly. Only Darren Beadman in my lifetime had that ability. James over the next decade could – just on the number of winners – become the greatest of them all. James Harron is another young man who has been around horses most of his life and has an innate ability to know a good horse. He has already selected a Longines Golden Slipper winner and an Everest winner in just the past five years. I also like his balance between a deep respect for the tradition and history of racing, with a fresh mind and business sense in this great industry.
Q: If you were an Everest slot holder, which horse would you pick?
A: If the question is for any TAB Everest already run it would have been Winx. I would have loved to see Winx’s remarkable trainer aim to harness her speed into the world’s richest race on turf and over 1200m, out of her “comfort zone. I think she would have won. If it is this year I’d say Classique Legend. His trainer Les Bridge is a maestro – amongst so many big races over 50 years, Les can lay claim to be the only trainer in history to have won a Golden Slipper, Melbourne Cup, Doncaster Mile, and now a TAB Everest. I love his personality. And his horse seems to also have a personality, helped along by being that beautiful grey colour. Plus, I think ability-wise, Classique Legend at age five this year could be in for his best time yet. Last year when watching the TAB Everest, you could sense the race was “over” just after they came down that famous Royal Randwick rise. You wouldn’t have said that for the previous three runnings of The Everest.
Q: What book, movie, or TV series have you recently really enjoyed and why?
A: Ted Lasso on Apple TV – because it makes me smile and laugh.