Ian Baxter - photo courtesy of the Brisbane Turf Club
As you travel down the path of life, you find some people who will stick with you through thick and thin. Others will jump the fence to escape at the first sign of the tide turning. The latter aren’t worth knowing – you are better off without them around.
When Ian Baxter silently slipped away in hospital last Saturday morning, the Queensland racing industry lost, to my mind, a wonderful flag bearer. He always remained loyal to those close to him and had full confidence in the future of thoroughbred breeding and racing in Queensland.
In about 1997, I made an appointment to go and see Ian, whom I had never previously met and explained to him I was going to start a website that would be just about racing – nothing else. I told him I would go and see studs, race clubs and allied industry participants and try to get their business to be marketed more professionally through using this new technology called the Internet. Most publicly laughed at myself and my venture all citing the same argument “who the hell has or will have the Internet, that will never work”. Today we ponder how we’d get on without it!
Three people didn’t laugh. One was David Aldred, then CEO of the Sunshine Coast Turf Club, another was Phoebe Turkington of Wattle Brae Stud. They then became the first race club and stud respectively to go on the Internet in Australia. The other one who didn’t laugh was Ian Baxter from Queensland Bloodstock Breeders Sales Pty. Ltd. (Q.B.B.S.). Ian listened to my proposal in his office and said he’d give me every assistance possible to make my idea become a reality. To his word, he did. He expounded the virtues of my ideas to studs in particular, he had me to Radio TAB to talk on his one hourly weekly breeding show to help publicise the idea. He let me put up a big banner every sale Q.B.B.S. held to help promote the web address. He gave me a full page advertisement in every Q.B.B.S. yearling sale catalogue. Do you know how much money Ian Baxter charged me for his years of help? I’ll tell you – not a single dollar – he would never accept a dime.
In a wheelchair, through ill health, at the 2004 Magic Millions Yearling Sale at the Gold Coast, in a one on one conversation, I again thanked Ian for all his help in my website’s formative years. I told him that I owed him a favour or two and asked him what I could do to repay his faith in me. His response was to put his hand on mine and tell me “you owe me nothing”.
What Ian Baxter did for me was a trademark of his life.
Long time financial controller of Q.B.B.S. Bevan Harch, who joined Ian Baxter to help at a yearling sale in 1989 – then stayed on as a permanent employee for 14 years – recalls, “Ian was always on the side of the battler. If he saw a worthy cause – if someone from the racing industry was in need of help, he was always there for them. I remember one year there was a female jockey from Brisbane who’d had a fall in New South Wales. She came to see Ian before one of the yearling sales to see if he’d give her a job at those sales, to help her out financially. Ian was aghast that she couldn’t get compensation, so he got himself involved in that area and got on to the Distressed and Injured Licensees Fund committee. He would organize charity auctions to raise monies for people doing it tough. Might I also say, he wouldn’t suffer fools easily – he had an uncanny knack of picking people,” said Bevan.
Ian Baxter formed Q.B.B.S. and conducted his first yearling sale in 1987. The annual February event was conducted at the RNA (Royal National Association) Showgrounds in Brisbane. The last sale was held in 2003 and health problems saw the end of the concept.
As an outsider looking in, you had to admire the steely resolve of Ian Baxter. To be able to annually put together a catalogue of a couple of hundred yearlings with competition like Magic Millions and William Inglis in the market place was no mean feat. Apart from the annual yearling sale, Q.B.B.S. would also conduct a monthly “Tried Horse Sale” at Doomben and this popular idea went on for about 5 years.
Q.B.B.S. would also hold several “Mixed Thoroughbred” sales in Toowoomba annually where weanlings, yearlings, and tried stock, as well as broodmares, would be sold. It was at one of these Toowoomba sales that Ian Baxter himself would strike pay dirt. Watching an Alex Nureyev mare called Once More Cuddles go through the ring and carrying a positive test in foal to the good bread and butter stallion County, Ian decided she was not going to the glue factory on a “dogger” buyers bid. From my memory of events, Ian bought her for $500 – on impulse. His judgment proved correct and that mare rewarded his faith by subsequently foaling a bay colt on the 12th of September 1997. Marked as being bred by “Baxter Bloodstock” in official Stud Book records, that little colt would grow up and race as Undercover Brother. He won an early 2YO season Listed J.F. Meynink Stakes at Eagle Farm in 1999 and broke the hearts of his more fashionably bred opponents who had cost considerably more! Undercover Brother won a further race for trainer Bryan Guy and amassed $112,300 in his career. The fact that Once More Cuddles third dam was marked as “unidentified” in that catalogue – and remains that way to this day, in Stud Book records deterred most, but not Ian Baxter. He took another punt in life that worked out.
Unhappy at what he saw happening to the financial balance sheet at his beloved Doomben racecourse, where Q.B.B.S. was a major sponsor, Ian Baxter launched a concerted bid to get on to the Board of the Brisbane Turf Club. He was subsequently elected onto the Board of the B.T.C. on 28/9/2001. He received a high vote of endorsement from members and was immediately installed as Chairman of the B.T.C. Veteran racing commentators were astounded at how fast Ian Baxter and his new Board were able to get the B.T.C. back into the black financially. He relinquished the role of Chairman on 14/11/2003 for health reasons but remained on the Board until his passing on Saturday.
Ian Baxter even had a go at trying to rectify the long standing rift between the Eagle Farm (Q.T.C.) and Doomben (B.T.C.) clubs. It was always going to be “mission impossible,” but he nevertheless was sincere and determined in his desire to attempt to make the two clubs share resources to cut costs and enjoy a harmonious working relationship. He didn’t succeed in bringing the clubs together, but he at least tried when many others wouldn’t have even attempted such a miraculous feat! On that score, he would have probably said it’s better to have tried and failed - than never to have tried.
In the sales ring, he never sold a Danehill or a Zabeel, but he wasn’t frightened off by opposition like Magic Millions or Inglis’. He was happy with his niche market at the bottom end of the scale, when sometimes getting just $2000 for a yearling was a task.
He no doubt got a great deal of satisfaction watching a yearling he’d sold grow up to race as a top Group 1 galloper called Ravarda. Trained by Bryan Guy, Ravarda won A$1,072,945 in 7 wins racing across five consecutive seasons from 1994 – 1998. He could also smile at a chestnut colt he sold at the 1997 Q.B.B.S. sale for just $5,000. Racing as Mr. Innocent, he won 14 races and A$1,760,650. He would talk of the old pregnant mare he sold for a few hundred dollars in Toowoomba – that no one wanted. The unborn foal entered the world and raced as the top Sydney stayer Joss Sticks, winning 14 races and A$676,131 – and he could tell you of dozens more stories like those. His philosophy that you didn’t have to spend a fortune to buy a good horse, came true time and time again – and will continue to do so for time immemorial.
I also thought it incredible last Saturday that caller Alan Thomas announced Ian’s passing as the horses were being loaded into the barriers for Race 5 at Doomben – where Ian was a Board member. A nose separated two horses at the end of that race. The winner was Tellem and second was Messia(e)n. From those two horses names came back the memories of the Doomben club situation when Ian Baxter took over as Chairman. It was a Mess Ian was faced with and he did have to Tellem all in no uncertain terms that it needed fixing. That race result was quite eerie.
Ian Baxter passed away after a long illness last Saturday morning at the age of 58. He is survived by his wife Gay, daughter Kerry, son Kyle and grandchildren Chase and Harmonie. His funeral will be held at the Centenary Memorial Gardens Chapel, 353 Wacol Station Road, Sumner at 10 a.m. Friday 11/2/2005. In lieu of flowers at the service, the family request donations to Kidney Health Australia.
For my two bobs worth, I shall remember Ian Baxter as a kind and generous man, who was always prepared to listen and offer encouragement.
The Queensland racing and breeding industries each owe Ian Baxter an eternal debt of gratitude for his loyalty and dedication towards their betterment.