The toffs who have controlled the Australian Jockey Club for most of its 167 years are facing a challenge of history-making proportions at a general members’ meeting to be held on Thursday.

It has been summoned by a group of enraged social climbers who have formed the Save Our AJC to oust the AJC’s board of directors.

Eight directors face the chop, including chairman Ross Smyth-Kirk, a respected company director, deputy chairman John Ingham, son of leading thoroughbred owner-breeder and chicken tycoon Bob Ingham, prominent hotelier Richard Kelly, filmmaker Julia Ritchie, and real estate agent Bob Guth.

Only one incumbent director is receiving Save Our AJC support, accountant Jim Mathers.

Another accountant on the SOA ticket, Bill Sweeney, has stumbled in the saddling enclosure even before the start of Thursday’s race.

Sweeney, a business associate of Rodney Adler, has just stepped down as a senior partner with the leading accountancy firm PKF.

His resignation comes on the eve of a Supreme Court judgment in a long-running case over Sweeney’s involvement in wresting control of the Australian Institute of Music from its founder, 72-year-old Peter Calvo.

The SOA team is holding its nose and pretending the release of methane in the stalls hasn’t happened. The group’s spokesman, solicitor Alan Osburg, said he was well aware of the court case and its forthcoming judgment because his firm, Hicksons, had acted for Sweeney.

“All the circumstances of the court case in which he (Sweeney) was involved were fully disclosed from the outset to all other members of the team without reservation,” Osburg told the Herald’s Craig Young.

Obviously, none of them, including candidates Benedict Chan, a solicitor, and Ken Shepherd, a company director, were disturbed in any way by the Calvo proceedings.

The SOA took the AJC to the NSW Supreme Court last week seeking a court declaration over the hundreds of proxies collected before Thursday’s meeting.

The Daily Telegraph’s premier racing writer Ken Callander reported today that “the Save Our AJC group won the first round on Friday when it gained a court ruling to allow its proxy votes to be accepted”.

Callander should sack his tipster: no such ruling was delivered by Justice Reginald Barrett.

Indeed, SOA proxies collected and stockpiled before the meeting was called and before the motions were approved will not be accepted at the meeting as they are invalid.

At stake on Thursday is control of the prestigious club and its billion-dollar stake in gaming, racing and Randwick and Warwick Farm real estate and its possible merger later this year with the Sydney Turf Club (STC), owners of Rosehill and Canterbury.

To placate owners, trainers and jockeys, the AJC board last month accepted the resignation of the deeply unpopular director of racing operations Richard Freedman and if the board survives it won’t be long before they take CEO Norman Gillespie, former boss of the Sydney Opera House, to the knacker’s yard.

For the moment, however, they are concentrated on repelling the non-entities from nowhere who are on a mission to take charge.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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