NSW will farewell racing luminary John Clift on Friday.
Mr Clift, who died aged 91 on Thursday, was the breeder of legendary horse Gunsynd.
Both Mr Clift and Gunsynd were born and raised on the family farm The Dip at Breeza.
Legend has it Mr Clift called into a pub at Goondiwindi when he was on his way to the Brisbane yearling sales with the horse in 1969. He talked up the horse so successfully that a Goondiwindi syndicate (hence the name “Gunsynd”) bought it at the sale for $1300.
Gunsynd went on to win 29 races and A$280,455 in prize money, and is in the Australian Hall of Fame, but he was only one of the strings to Mr Clift’s racing bow.
Mr Clift was born on September 5, 1924, into a pioneering family on the Liverpool Plains. The Dip was a well-known sheep, cattle and wheat farm.
At 20, Mr Clift began breeding racehorses, with his horses carrying the JC brand.
At this time, he also joined the Gunnedah Jockey Club committee, embarking on what was to become one of the longest ever stints in racing administration – more than 65 years.
Mr Clift was a member of the Gunnedah Jockey Club from 1944 to 1966 and the Gunnedah Picnic Race Club from 1944 to 1950.
From 1959 on his racing administration career was largely with the West Tamworth Jockey Club and the Tamworth Jockey Club and was president of both clubs over the years.
It was in 1967 that a grey foal was sired by Sunset Hue that would go on to win the WS Cox Plate, Doncaster, Epsom, Caulfield Stakes and the Futurity Stakes.
The horse was one of three top horses by Sunset Hue out of Woodie Wonder – the others were Sunset Red and Sunset Sue.
Mr Clift’s favourite horse is said to have been Royal Report, and he remained involved in racehorse ownership, most recently with Chrysolaus.
Mr Clift owned the famous Kia-Ora stud near Scone between 1977 and 1986. One of the horses in residence was the retired Gunsynd, who died in 1983.
He had nine children with his wife Patricia, who died in a car accident while the family was at Kia-Ora.
Mr Clift was a member of the Muswellbrook Race Club Committee during that time.
He was also a member of the Country Racing Council, the Hunter and North West Racing Council, and the NSW Bloodhorse Breeders Committee.
His lifetime of achievements included 15 years as a Liverpool Plains Shire councillor, and a life member of the Tamworth Show Society.
Mr Clift was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contribution to thoroughbred racing in 2000, and the Simon Nivison Special Achievement Award for his contribution to NSW racing in 2004.
In 2013, the Tamworth Jockey Club named its new multi-million dollar stand after John Clift.
Mr Clift was humble in his thanks.
“Whatever I’ve done, I’ve done to help racing,” he said.
Racing NSW released a statement following Mr Clift’s death last week.
“Country racing in NSW has lost a great contributor and a wonderful character with an unsurpassed involvement in racing,” Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said.
Racing NSW chairman John Messara said Mr Clift was a “veritable institution in country racing”.
“The racing industry will miss him sorely as will his countless friends within it,” Mr Messara said.
Racing NSW country chairman Bob Pavitt also paid tribute.
“John had one of the longest ever lives in racing administration, starting on race club committees at just 20 years of age and remaining involved with the Tamworth Jockey Club until only a few years ago,” Mr Pavitt said.
“It was appropriate that the function centre at Tamworth Racecourse was named in celebration of his contribution to racing in 2013.”
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson said Mr Clift was synonymous with country racing.
“His fight for a better deal and support for country racing was legendry and he always kept the industry at the heart of everything he did,” Mr Anderson said yesterday.
“The racing industry is poorer for his departure but eternally thankful for his efforts. Vale John Clift.”
Mr Clift is survived by seven children, 19 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
His funeral mass will be held at 11am on Friday, February 12 at St Nicholas Catholic Church, White Street, Tamworth followed by a private family cremation.