Warrnambool Racing Club chief Peter Downs is looking to make every post a winner

BIGGER, BETTER: Warrnambool Racing Club chief executive Peter Downs says things are on the up and up at the racecourse. Picture: Rob Gunstone
BIGGER, BETTER: Warrnambool Racing Club chief executive Peter Downs says things are on the up and up at the racecourse. Picture: Rob Gunstone

What can you remember about the two cricket premiership victories?

To be honest I can’t remember much about them. I was pretty young when they happened. I remember we defeated Grampians on both occasions.

I would say the highlight for me was playing with legends of the club like Shane Franklin, Locky Brown and Robert Heywood.

I would rate myself as just a handy cricketer who was fortunate to have played in sides that contained some top players.

I made just over 100 runs in a lower grade of cricket and got six wickets in a game.

They were definitely my best performances with the bat and ball during my cricket career.

Peter, did you play much footy?

I played a fair bit of footy.

I started out playing juniors with a side in Hamilton called Kokoda. Western Bulldogs premiership player Liam Picken played junior footy at the club with me, so did Michael Jamison who went on to play with Carlton.

My footy career progressed to play with College in Hamilton and then the under 18s at the Hamilton Football Netball Club before playing senior footy with Hamilton.

I injured my left knee in a under 18 game against Casterton one day.

I’ve had two operations on the knee but it still gives me a bit of grief.

I played a few seasons in the seniors with Hamilton before I was approached to be captain-coach at Branxholme-Wallacedale for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

How did Branxholme-Wallacedale perform under your leadership?

We won a few games in each season.

It was a great learning curve for me to be a coach as it taught me a lot about communication.

My career finished with Dennington in 2016.

I played a handful of senior games, but played more in the reserves.

What’s your spin on the merger between Hamilton and Hamilton Imperials, which took place for the 2013 season?

I was not involved with the club at that time.

Hamilton had some top under 18 players playing for the club.

I can understand the reasons for the merger, but many fans from both sides were not happy.

I don’t follow the footy much now in Hamilton as we live in Warrnambool, but I still have an occasional glimpse at the scores.

Peter, you’re the CEO at the Warrnambool Racing Club, can you give us an insight into your working history before you landed the job in October 2015?

I was the regional manager for on-course wagering in the Western District for Tabcorp for two years.

I commenced the job in 2012. 

The role included harness, greyhounds and thoroughbred racing and it meant that I worked at the Warrnambool May Racing Carnival in those two years for Tabcorp.

It gave me an amazing insight into how big the carnival is.

I then was appointed the general manager for the South Australia Harness Racing Club.

They race at Globe Derby Park and were holding about 110 meetings a year.

I was there for 18 months before I got the job at Warrnambool.

Has the job been bigger than you anticipated?

I knew it would be pretty big, but it’s bigger than I thought.

The job has thrown up challenges which are sometimes very interesting, but I’m really enjoying the job.

Warrnambool is lucky because we’ve received great support from Racing Victoria, Country Racing Victoria, the state and federal governments regarding prizemoney and funding for works at the track.

This year’s May Carnival was one of the most successful in the club’s history. What do you put that down to?

Five years ago the club had just over 24,000 patrons for the three days; this year we had 32,000 people.

All our benchmark figures were up for the 2018 carnival, which is a wonderful result for the club and staff.

Thoroughbred racing in the south-west region brings enormous benefit to the local economy, generating more than $97 million and employing more than 950 people as well as 4500 volunteers and participants.

The May Racing Carnival alone injects $7.3 million directly into Warrnambool. We’re continually looking at ways to improve amenities and facilities for the patrons.

We’re looking at putting in more toilet facilities and opening up new areas for the 2019 carnival.

We’ve got to keep on moving with the times and introducing new initiatives like attracting young patrons to the carnival.

We’re all about offering a better experience for the racegoer.

One of the changes the club implemented that was met with a positive response from the public was to change the direction of traffic on Grafton Road.

The move improved safety for pedestrians and car drivers.

The federal government has announced $1.25 million to revamp the Matilda Room at the racecourse. How are things progressing with that project?

We’re heading in the right direction, it’s a big job, but once finished it should be great not only for the racing club but for Warrnambool.

We’ve got a lot of balls up in the air with various things ... like getting designs done and seeking more funding for the project.

It’s all coming together well.

When should it be finished?

We haven’t set any date at this stage.

We just want to make sure we’ve got everything put in place like funding, and get all the planning sorted out.

The new facility will open many new doors for not only the racing club but for the community.

We are confident once the multi-purpose project is compete we’ll be able to hold bigger functions in a unique setting, whether that be best and fairest counts for football and netball, weddings or conferences.

We’ll be offering an amazing entertainment package for Warrnambool.