JUMPS racing has fascinated former Colac Turf Club secretary Clarrie Steffen since childhood.
Steffen would follow his father to Flemington and Warrnambool in his early teens to soak up the thrill of watching stayers undertake some of racing’s ultimate tests.
The horses would start their campaigns in Adelaide before venturing to Warrnambool.
They would then head to the Grand National at Flemington, where Steffen would be trackside.
“I came from Ballarat and I don’t think we had much money, things were tough in those days, but my father always had enough money for petrol to go to the Grand National,” he said.
“From the time I was 14 I don’t reckon I’ve missed many Grand Nationals.”
Jumps racing was a boyhood passion which became a lifelong passion for Steffen.
The 88-year-old grew up in the Goldfields city but moved to Colac in 1966 to work at the Corangamite electoral office.
He joined the turf club committee upon retiring in the 1980s and rose to secretary, a job he had for more than two decades.
His first years in the role coincided with changes to the distribution of turnover, which handed Colac Turf Club a handsome windfall.
“The first year I was out there our share from the TAB was $18,000, which was big money in those days. That made all the difference between having good years and bad years,” he said.
“It was just at the time when everything changed. The percentage coming back from the tote changed. We had a good committee.
“To be able to hold our head up, financially, was a big thing. Just prior to that all racing clubs were battling.
“From then on it was pretty easy, but you had to work. You really had to have the public happy with the conditions and know they’re going to have a good time.
“Today the younger people have come on and they appear to be doing a good job.”
Colac Racecourse might not provide the same thrill as hearing hooves pound the home straight at Flemington, but Steffen will be at the Elliminyt course for the 150th Colac Gold Cup on February 26.
He said watching Buckley trainer Tom Retallick go back-to-back in 1984-85 with Rare Decision was his cup highlight.
“The local fellas always had a good following. If you had a local trainer going well, the whole town would get behind them,” he said.