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  • Provincial Racing NSW


TUESDAY’S Kembla Grange race meeting is highly respected Michael Craig’s “last dance” as he hands over the reins to his successor Zane Campbel (pictured left).

After 25 and a half years’ outstanding service as racing manager to his beloved club, Craig will retire officially on Friday.

He will be farewelled then by Board members, life members, staff and trainers at a barbecue to celebrate his lengthy time at the ITC, but not before one final race meeting where many of the race names bear testimony to him.

Craig fittingly joined the ITC soon after Might and Power’s 1998 Cox Plate victory. As a former jockey, he had his first ride at Kembla Grange and also rode his first winner there.

He says it’s time to retire and enjoy more of his favorite pastime, smacking that little white ball around golf’s fairways.

And he has every confidence in his replacement, who is certainly no stranger to Kembla Grange.

“I’ve been judging here on racedays for 17 years, and loved every minute of it,” Zane Campbell said.

“For sure I’m following in very big footsteps, but have been fortunate to spend a few weeks with Mike learning the ropes.”

Campbell, 48, was born in Darwin at a time when his late father was helping rebuild the city after much of it had been decimated by Cyclone Tracy in the early hours of Christmas Day 1974, when 71 people lost their lives.

“I was only six months old when the family returned to Sydney and lived at Kirrawee,” Campbell told us.

“Mum and Dad used to take the family to race meetings at Randwick, especially on Easter Mondays, and I loved the sights and sounds.”

So much so that he quickly developed an “itch” to be involved in the industry in later years.

That itch came closer to reality when he started working at McDonalds Sylvania, where the boss happened to be prominent owner Frank Tagg.

“Frank had Eclipse Lodge at Warwick Farm trainer where Rod Craig was the trainer, and later Brian Smith,” Campbell said.

“Frank had great success with horses such as Circles Of Gold and her sons Elvstroem and Haradasun, and I was pleased to catch up with Rod at the last Kembla Grange meeting.

“Frank and I would often talk about racing at McDonalds, and Mum and Dad got involved in the ownership of some horses.

“Once I turned 18, I took a share in my first racehorse.”

Campbell followed in his father’s footsteps by launching his own insurance building business with a close friend in 2005, but when his own sporting involvement ended, he wanted to do something else on a Saturday afternoon and secured the judging position at Kembla Grange meetings.

“I have always wanted to further my interest in the racing industry, and when Mike told me about six months ago that he would be retiring, I jumped at the chance to put in an application when his position was advertised earlier this year.

“ITC chairman Barry Vandenbergh and vice-chairman Matt Howlin gave me an interview, and I was thrilled to be given the job.

“It’s a great club, and the timing is right for me to take a new direction in my life.

“I’m so looking forward to carrying on Mike’s work to the best of my ability. This is all I have ever really wanted.”

. HOOFNOTE: Craig won’t be lost to the racing industry. He has been called on to judge at Moruya race meetings and some Queanbeyan fixtures as well; in between playing golf, of course

Story John Curtis, May 27, 2024 - Pics supplied

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