RACING Queensland CEO Dr Eliot Forbes has resigned in the wake of savage criticism by Racing Minister Stirling Hinchliffe on how Queensland’s peak racing body has been handling Eagle Farm track restoration.
Formerly CEO of Tasracing, Queensland-born Dr Forbes has headed racing in Queensland since August 2016. Since then, country and regional centres have been major beneficiaries – especially non-TAB thoroughbred racing through a $70 million, four-year commitment to the sector as a Community Service Obligation.
Current RQ general manager of racing Simon Stout has been appointed as interim CEO. Stout joined Racing Queensland in January 2017 after previously working as the code manager of Thoroughbred racing at Tasracing.
Announcing the sudden resignation on Wednesday, Racing Queensland chairman Steve Wilson said a national recruitment process was now under way to find the best person to lead Racing Queensland forward from its much-improved base and that Dr Forbes would provide ongoing support and advice to assist with the transition to a new CEO.
While no official reason was given for Dr Forbes’ departure, media reports indicate that it has been an open secret in Queensland racing circles that Forbes has been at loggerheads with some other racing officials about the Eagle Farm track reconstruction.
Dr Forbes was an absentee from the marquee QTIS Jewel meeting at the Gold Coast on Saturday and also did not attend the record-breaking Magic Millions March Sale on Monday and Tuesday.
Indeed, Dr Forbes’ resignation comes the same day Racing Minister Stirling Hinchliffe blasted the state's racing body over lengthy delays in upgrading one of Brisbane's major tracks.
Eagle Farm racecourse has been out of service since last May due to restoration work, and has been closed for all but one year in the last four.
Mr Hinchliffe told State Parliament during Question Time on Wednesday, March 21, that the track had been out of action for far too long and called on RQ to fix the track as soon as possible.
"There have been too many excuses from Racing Queensland and others, too little clarity about what exactly are the impediments to finishing the job," Mr Hinchliffe told parliament.
"And quite frankly too little clarity on what it will take to ensure that the track at Eagle Farm is once again ready for racing."
In a media release issued soon after Dr Forbes’ resignation, the Racing Minister said Dr Forbes delivered a much-needed turn-around in RQ’s finances, which laid the foundations for a more resilient racing industry.
“He also oversaw significant prizemoney increases, which have put the industry on a stronger footing and made Queensland more competitive. His is a positive legacy for Queensland’s racing industry, and I wish him well for the future,” he said.
Dr Forbes said he had enjoyed working with the current and former Ministers for Racing, the RQ Board and all of the passionate and committed Queensland racing industry participants across the state.
“I would like to thank all of the team at Racing Queensland for their tremendous efforts in helping drive and enhance benefits for the racing participants of Queensland,” he said.
RQ Chair Steve Wilson thanked Dr Forbes for his dedicated service and acknowledged his role in the substantial progress made at Racing Queensland during the past two years.
“Dr Forbes led a significant $20 million turnaround for racing in this state which provides a base for further growth. Further we negotiated improved arrangements with Tabcorp as a consequence of their merger with Tatts,” Mr Wilson said.
“One of our key strategic objectives is to increase returns to participants and the improved financials allowed us to increase prize-money by $15 million per annum. That money is now making a difference to all stakeholders,” he said.