Don Ross senior working towards Inter Dominion swansong

For most involved in the harness racing game in the Sunshine State, the Inter Dominion Championship coming to Brisbane in 2023 is a carrot dangling to work towards.

That goes for drivers, trainers, owners and everyone else in between.

And, one person who is looking forward to Australasia’s premier harness racing event coming to Queensland a little more than the rest is Don Ross senior.

The ornament to the code in Queensland is set to tick over to 88 years of age next month.

And, while the respected clerk of the course at track’s around the state is not slowing up any time soon, he does think the Inter Dominion might be one last show-piece event to experience before he eventually calls time.

Ross senior is a renowned horseman and a popular figure at club’s, working alongside his son Donny as a clerk of the course, as well as his grandson Donald.

Clerk of the courses are often referred to as “red coats” for their attire on race day, which they wear over their all white kits.

The family was this week branded “legends of the sport” by a long-time participant.

Still going strong at 87 years of age, the oldest of the Ross’ still has goals to achieve in the sport.

“I want to get to 90 years old,” Ross senior said on Tuesday before working at an Albion Park race day.

“I am 88 in a couple of weeks and I want to get there – to the Inter Dominion.

“I might give it away when I get to 90 years of age.

“It would be a privilege for the three of us to work at the Inter Dominion, there is always three for a big one like that.”

Queensland last hosted the time-honoured series on the Gold Coast in 2009, which Donny and Don were on hand for.

Ross senior is universally admired in the sport and was inducted into the Queensland Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2016 for outstanding contribution to the industry.

He has been around tracks in Queensland for 36 years working as the clerk of the course, alongside his family and friends.

Veteran trainer Denis Smith has been around just as long as Ross senior and says the family provide a level of safety to drivers on race day that he has not ever seen in his lifetime involved in the code.

“They are the best of the best,” Smith said.

“They make all the drivers safe and that has been handed down from all three generations of the Ross’.

“They are legends of the sport in Queensland.”

The voice of Queensland harness racing Chris Barsby describes the oldest Ross as a “legendary figure within the business”.

“I am certain he would be the oldest active red coat across the harness and thoroughbred codes,” Barsby said.

The family also extends into the driving ranks away from the trio of clerk of courses, with reinswoman Isobel Ross a sister to Donald and daughter to Donny.

The clerk of the course role is vital to a race day’s success and while it is key for the industry, many viewers or punters on the code would have no understanding of the job.

As the oldest Ross explains, you often are not involved in much as a clerk of the course, but when you are called upon, you need to act swiftly.

A clerk of course provides high quality horsemanship to assist with the punctual, orderly and safe running of races as the position helps race day officials and industry participants.

“You come to the race day not expecting anything to happen but sometimes things do happen that we need to be alert to what is happening in the race,” Ross senior said.

“You have to try and pick out what is going to happen before it actually happens, so you can be ready for it.

“You can pick the horses out, one that might be a bolter or one that can play up at the start, you have to be ahead of them.”

After almost four decades in the job at numerous clubs around the Sunshine State, Ross senior never lets his guard down when he is at the races.

“You have to be thinking at all times, don’t take your mind off the job at any time,” he said.

“It is about care.

“It is a privilege to do it.”

Ross senior was introduced to harness horses by his parents and recalled being involved with chariot racing in the early 1950s.

“He lives and breathes it, his horses are his whole life and are like his children pretty much,” Donny said of his father.

“He is there through thick and thin for the industry, he never lets them down.”

And, while the Ross’ work with their family as clerk of courses, they have also developed a close bond with countless participants during the decades.

“Sometimes we joke down at the stables that we see each other there more so than we actually see our family members,” Donny said.

“We are in a unique situation here in Queensland having three tracks so close to each other and you see the same people at most race days.

“We are a tight knit family group and everyone sticks together.

“You get to talk to some interesting people and meet some really nice people.”

Like his father, Donald started in the “family business” straight out of high school and has been around the sport for around a decade now.

“It is an enjoyable time to be working at the track together as a family,” Donny said.

They live and breathe horses.

The family also runs the Don Ross Show Entertainment which supplies horses for theatre, shows, promotions, film industry and special events.

“We have been involved in harness horses all our lives,” Don said.

“It has been nothing but horses.”

Smith summed up the Ross trio’s contribution to the code well.

“It likes buying the same brand of car every time you get a new one, you expect a certain level of quality,” Smith said.

“And, they all deliver, like a good car, they are super safe and their record speaks for itself.

“It is a tough job with no room for mistakes.”

The Ross family are also aided on race day by close friend Dexter McLean, while there have been others over the years who have also helped.

By Jordan Gerrans