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NJC backs a winner in new chief executive

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He’s only been in the role a week but Duane Dowell is off and racing at the Newcastle Jockey Club (NJC).

One of the most respected administrators in the thoroughbred industry, the former Muswellbrook Race Club (MRC) CEO was recently named chief executive of the NJC following the sudden resignation of Matt Benson.

It’s a meteoric rise to the top for Dowell, who only joined the Broadmeadow organisation in August after more than a decade in the Upper Hunter.

During his time in the valley, he oversaw significant progress and, with the assistance of the directors, established MRC as a leading light in the state, winning the NSW Country Race Club of the Year in 2018.

However, he always had his eye on a bigger prize.

“Newcastle was definitely the goal for me,” Dowell said.

“I even held back possible advancements at other provincial race clubs waiting for the opportunity.

“I’ve lived in the Hunter Valley all my life, so it’s natural that I was keen to pursue the Newcastle job as a priority.”

He bid Skellatar Park farewell a couple of months ago, originally keen to tackle the general manager of racing and operations duties at NJC.

And, he’s been impressed with the set-up ever since.

“I must admit, I haven’t seen the best of the NJC yet due to COVID-19 restrictions,” Dowell told the Newcastle Weekly.

“But, I’m excited to have big crowds back and showcase what we can do.

“It’s an amazing facility and I have a great team around me, which is fantastic.

“The staff are fantastic.

“We have some really talented people at the club and the recent recruitment of our new track manager (Chris Nation) was just what the NJC needed.

“The future is really exciting.”

Which made it easier for Dowell to accept the latest gig as chief executive.

“I was very humbled and privilege [by the appointment],” he said.

“However, I never doubted I could do a great job here at the NJC.

“I’m comfortable and confident in the role and excited for what I can bring the club.

“I am not feeling any pressure in maintaining the NJC’s excellent reputation either.

“In fact, I’m keen to work with and improve our trainers at Newcastle – and the club has a part to play with achieving that.”

NJC chairman Geoff Barnett said Dowell’s previous experience made him a strong contender to replace Benson.

“We had discussed succession planning with Matt and Duane during recruitment, so the board brought that plan forward with Matt deciding to move on,” he explained.

“I know we’re in good hands.”

As for the man himself, Dowell is wasting no time in making his mark, with a big schedule ahead for NJC over the coming months.

“The Hunter Race Day is now embedded as Newcastle’s most prominent event on 13 November,” he said.

“This year’s edition will boast more than $2 million in prizemoney and genuine Group class horses racing.  

“Now that COVID restrictions are easing, we’re going to be extremely busy right up to Boxing Day.

“I expect to be at full capacity for every Saturday meeting.

“Early 2022 will see some further improvements to our race day facilities for patrons, including the members’ grandstand upgrades.

“The 500-horse stable complex is going to be a prominent project moving forward, creating hundreds of jobs in the process.

“The DA (development application) was recently submitted with the hope of securing funding in the short-to-medium term.

“I’ve also made it well-known that I’d like Newcastle to host another stand-alone Saturday race meeting in the Autumn – likely in May.

“This will further increase the prominence of racing in town and come off the back of the Sydney Autumn Carnival.”

Although looking ahead at the big picture, Dowell was also quick to step back into the past for a moment, praising his predecessor Benson.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity to lead the NJC into what is going to be a very exhilarating future,” he said.

“And, I look forward to meeting and connecting with plenty of Novocastrians.

“But, I’d like to thank Matt [Benson] for his contribution over the last six years, too.

“He has left the club in very good shape to allow me to continue the momentum and then lift it to even greater heights.

“Everyone at the NJC wishes Matt and his family every success moving forward.”

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