The venerable Australian Jockey Club (AJC) has only been half-saved by the cabal calling itself Save Our AJC.

The SOA group attempted to oust the entire board of directors — with the sole exception of Jim Mathers who was one of their keenest supporters — but it failed.

In the final wash-up, six members of the current board survived: John Ingham, son of chicken king Bob Ingham, film-maker Julie Ritchie, Saatchi & Saatchi director Sharon Skeggs, hotelier Richard Kelly, company director Tom Ford and businessman Ron Finemore.

The biggest casualty was chairman Ross Smyth-Kirk who lost his place in a members’ backlash against his style of management.

The other incumbent who wasn’t returned, was popular eastern suburbs real estate agent Bob Guth, a part-time owner. He lost by only two votes and is calling for a recount.

The SOA team has four members on the 10-strong board: Mathers, solicitor Alan Osburg, 62, accountant Bill Sweeney, 58, and John Cornish, the 64-year-old owner of Torryburn Stud.

In the SOA’s pre-poll literature, Sweeney was listed as “partner PKF, accountant specializing in strategic and business planning/mergers and acquisitions”.

Unfortunately, by the time the members’ voted last Thursday, Sweeney was no longer a partner at PKF. His decision to leave the leading accountancy firm was generally regarded as a diplomatic move prior to the NSW Supreme Court judgment into his role in wresting control of the Australian Institute of Music from its founder, 72-year-old Peter Calvo who has accused Sweeney of “misleading and deceptive conduct”.

During the hearing, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, a former chairman of AIM, emerged as a supporter of Calvo by supplying him with a sworn affidavit relating to Sweeney’s financial links with the inner-city music school.

Publication of the judgment is likely to add to Sweeney’s woes and provide more ammunition for his critics in the racing industry.

SOA candidates who failed to win board position were solicitor Benedict Chan, marketing executive Alison Steinmetz and mechanical engineer Ken Shepherd.

The new board was due to meet last Saturday but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute and it will now be held this week.

Finemore, who once ran his own transport company and is now overseeing the infrastructure developments at Randwick and Warwick Farm, is firming in the betting to become the next chairman and Ingham is likely to remain deputy chairman.

The board is almost unanimous in its view that the CEO Norman Gillespie should be replaced. The former CEO of the Sydney Opera House, Gillespie has little or no thoroughbred racing experience and is paying the price for advocating the corporatisation of the club and turning it into a business unit.

Meanwhile, Gaming and Racing Minister Kevin Greene is awaiting the results of a far-reaching review of racing, particularly in the metropolitan area. He is under riding instructions from the Cabinet and Treasury to merge the AJC and the Sydney Turf Club (STC), sell Canterbury racecourse to developers and create a new Sydney racing authority with an updated constitution and corporate structure.

It is an ironclad certainty that the new body will not allow 100 disgruntled members to call expensive general meetings to overthrow the governing body.

When the SOA coupists ran up the flag of members’ democracy to sack the board of directors they inadvertently gave the State Government the opportunity to dismiss members’ democracy and put a tightfisted business model in place. Instead of saving the AJC they may have hastened its demise.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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