Icons of harness racing code bid farewell

An iconic team walked out of Albion Park for the final time together on Tuesday evening and officially hung up their red coats after almost four decades of service.

The Ross clan – and their trusted off-sider Dexter McLean – are regarded as institutions of the sport in the Sunshine State in their role as clerks of the course at harness racing tracks.

The Ross name dates back to holding the role in the state all the way back to 1986 and they have been there every step along the way since.

The group is led by ‘head red coat’ as he dubs himself – Don Ross Snr.

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

Granddaughter Stephanie has also been a helping hand, including working at the Redcliffe meeting on Sunday evening.

McLean is also a valued member of the operation, alongside their loyal white ponies.

The team worked their last meeting on Tuesday afternoon after the decades of service.

Ross Snr is nearing 90 years of age and worked his final meeting on Saturday night under the metropolitan spotlight while his son and grandson called the shots on Tuesday before handing the baton over.

Dexter McLean and Don Ross Snr on Saturday night.

“They have been an icon in the harness racing industry in Queensland for decades,” Racing Queensland’s Harness Operations Manager Brett Rail said.

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.

Ross Snr walks away from harness racing with a smile on his face.

He has no physical ailments holding him back despite his advanced age.

He has dialysis three times a week for four hours – which he says slightly slows him down – but other that, he is good to go.

“I am right as rain to ride,” he said when asked about being on horseback as he nears his 90th birthday.

The team have opted to walk away from the role as clerk of the course at Albion Park, Redcliffe and Marburg to pursue other interests.

Donny is likely to pick up work driving trucks while Donald has a clothing business he focuses on.

“The boys that I have got with me now, they are getting old, and some of the younger fellas are venturing out into other things to do,” Ross Snr said.

The year of 1986 is the official start date for the Ross’ but the eldest of the clan notes that he was helping out in a casual capacity before that.

“I have enjoyed everything I have done in my life,” he said.

“It has been great. It has been a privilege to be there together and do it with them.”

Stephanie Ross and Dexter McLean on Sunday night.

The news of the Ross family finishing up has slowly filtered through the industry in recent months.

Donny has been able to savour the opportunity to be able to speak to countless participants about the impact his father has had on their lives and the wider sport in the time before Tuesday rolled around.

“They are going to miss him, that is the main thing that I have got out of those conversations,” Donny said.

“They will miss him dearly. He has been a regular.

“He is a part of the lives of harness racing people and now they are no longer going to have him there any more.

“We will miss the conversations and working with your mates, that will be the worst part of not working here every day.”

The team have been a fabric of the sport for many participants and followers their entire lives.

“They have serviced all facets of the industry, not just being the clerks of the course,” Rail said.

“The efforts from the team in difficult circumstances at times has been outstanding.

“They have showed outstanding horsemanship catching loose horses and so forth in that time.”

Dexter McLean and Don Ross Snr on Saturday night.

Don Ross Sr was recently bestowed with Life Membership of the Albion Park Harness Racing Club for his dedication over many decades to the sport in Queensland.

He is universally admired in the sport as he was inducted into the Queensland Harness Racing Hall of Fame for outstanding contribution to the industry back in 2016.

He is an ornament to the code in Queensland.

He will no longer wear his red coat on race day but Ross Sr says he will not be lost to the sport.

“That is what I will do now, come up here and enjoy a day or a night here,” he said of his Life Membership.

“I will just poke along nice and steady.

“It was very good to be handed that honour as life member. I felt very privileged.”

Donny watched on with pride as his father was handed Life Membership of the premier harness track in Queensland.

Donny first worked as a clerk of the course alongside his old man when he was just 15 years of age and has been in the role permanently for the last 25 years.

By Jordan Gerrans