Murphy's exit marks the end of a golden turf era

Winner: NSW racing administrator Lindsay Murphy.

Winner: NSW racing administrator Lindsay Murphy.Credit:Jenny Evans

The year 1977 was a very good one for the Sydney Turf Club, with Luskin Star producing one of the best Golden Slipper wins, women’s rights breaching the member’s enclosure, the first computerised tote meeting and Lindsay Murphy.

Now 63, Murphy will be the last STC heavyweight, on ability more than girth, to leave the centre stage of NSW racing.

The STC was a major contributor to the most dynamic turf period in the state, which is now controlled by the iron hand of Racing NSW supremo Peter V’landys, with the Australian Turf Club – a combination of the STC and the then controlling body, the Australian Jockey Club – just a subsidiary.

No doubt the major influence for STC success was the way they groomed their staff, and Murphy is a prime example. Murphy began with the club in 1977 as a junior clerk in the office after being  interviewed by the stalwarts Pat Parker, the CEO from 1976-2000, and John Nicholson, later  racing secretary from 1980 until the merger. Murphy moved on to get his hands soiled with tracks  under the energetic John Jeffs.

Murphy, now general manager of racecourses for the ATC, will officially retire at the end of the month at a time when services in Sydney,  overall, have  never been better.

Hopefully the STC’s contribution, detailed in Gary Lester’s  The Essential Club, will never be dimmed. Yes, the introduction of the Golden Slipper possibly tops the bill, changing the face of  Australian racing, and a plethora of other great races after groundbreakers like barrier stalls and photo finish cameras.

Perhaps the computerised tote, which was rocket science at the time, was a dual STC-AJC venture, but it was  introduced at Canterbury on June 15, 1977, and took punters into a new age of betting.

The AJC was also shy of admitting women as full members but not the STC, which pushed for them in 1977 and gave 26 full privileges in 1978.

Murphy maintains that Jim Fleming, the food store magnate who took his “Fabulous Flemings”  enthusiasm into the club as STC chairman, was the most dynamic administrator.

“He just wanted new ideas and made you carry a notebook to monitor where they were going,” Murphy recalled. “He didn’t mind if they didn’t prove successful but wanted them fully explored.”

Fleming challenged the Melbourne Cup prizemoney with the Golden Slipper, just an earlier example  of the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry which took a new turn this week when a $400,000  prize for jockeys – the Star of the Saddle – was announced to keep them in Melbourne for the spring after an aged SMH hack recently suggested V’landys put a World Jockeys Championship on to get the best and  keep them in Sydney over the same period.

Obviously, Fleming was more V’landys than AJC. Beancounters grimaced at Fleming’s venture into a  hurdle racing day at Rosehill that didn’t take off, like his introduction of an international event  to the Sydney autumn scene.

“Jim was before his time getting European horses here," Murphy reckons. “We just didn’t have  the facilities to handle them.”

However, the Tancred carried internationals in 1988 and 1989 on Golden Slipper day but ceased as  board members figured the promotion was too costly given the club paid the exes of the visitors.

With Sandown in Melbourne in danger of the auctioneers hammer, Murphy favours keeping Canterbury as a racecourse.

“Racing surfaces are now good and more consistent because we have five tracks operating,” he  stressed.

“Even Warwick Farm, which is in need of a rebuild, is playing better at present, and our major circuits,  Randwick and Rosehill, have been racing well despite recent heavy conditions.

“We will always get factors that will contribute to track bias, but modern methods mean that buckets of soil once used to replace divots are no longer required.”

Fortunately, Murphy won’t be lost to the industry. He is moving  to Gerringong and will become a director at the Illawarra Turf Club, which is putting in new tracks.

Recently, former big-spending STC directors, headed by colleague John Holloway, took Murphy to a  farewell lunch, washed down with Grange Hermitage – vintage 1977, a very good year.