New chief for Scone Race Club as former Muswellbrook boss welcomes fresh challenge at Newcastle

Steve Keene. Picture: The Daily Advertiser
Steve Keene. Picture: The Daily Advertiser

Murrumbidgee Turf Club chief executive Steve Keene will become the new boss at Scone Race Club after resigning last month, The Daily Advertiser reported on Monday.

Keene, who was chief at Murrumbidgee for two and a half years, will replace Heath Courtney.

"Over the last two and a half years the MTC has been very good to myself," Keene told The Daily Advertiser.

"I wasn't looking to leave but an opportunity has come elsewhere that I couldn't really say no to."

Keene said it was a difficult decision to leave Murrumbidgee.

"I had to weigh up a few factors and things like that. In the end I think I've made the right decision," he said.

"Time will only tell, but on my career path this was a good opportunity to work with some new faces that are very influential in the racing industry.

"It's an exciting time with what's been announced at Scone to really come in and work with them on the upcoming projects."

The news follows an announcement last week that Muswellbrook CEO Duane Dowell will take up a newly created senior executive role at the Newcastle Jockey Club.

NEW CHALLENGE: Incoming Newcastle Jockey Club general manager of racing and operations Duane Dowell. Picture: Muswellbrook Chronicle

NEW CHALLENGE: Incoming Newcastle Jockey Club general manager of racing and operations Duane Dowell. Picture: Muswellbrook Chronicle

Dowell will become the NJC's general manager of racing and operations from August 16. The job is a merging of vacated positions, including that of former industry liaison and racing supervisor Michael Buckley. who is now the general manager at Tamworth Jockey Club.

Dowell served as Muswellbrook chief for more than six years, after serving on the club's board for five.

NJC chief Matt Benson said Dowell's appointment was a big win for the club.

"A couple of our staff moved on to to different opportunities, so we thought there was an opportunity to rethink and restructure our set up," Benson said.

"This reflects where we think the priorities need to be and we're delighted to have Duane on board

"He's a quality person and he's obviously had a huge impact at Muswellbrook."

Dowell will finish at Muswellbrook after their Queen of the Valley Matchmaker meeting on Friday, August 13 and start at Newcastle three days later at their scheduled Beaumont program.

Dowell, a former coalmine electrician who has lived in the Hunter all his life, said it was a difficult decision to leave Muswellbrook "but now I've made it, it's an exciting opportunity for me and I'm looking forward to it".

"I'm really looking forward to working with [NJC director] Brian Judd in particular. I've known Brian for about 11 years and first met him when I came into racing and he was at Racing NSW.

"He's the one who reached out to me a few weeks ago. I'm at the stage now where if I'm going to learn more, it will probably be off him.

"I guess operationally, I'm ready for a change and Newcastle certainly have some big plans, which is exciting."

Dowell was confident he could bring more sponsorship to the club and he was keen to improve engagement with the community with a focus on inclusion.

"We need to keep increasing our footprint in the community otherwise we will fade away, so it's really important we keep engaging with the younger demographic," he said.

"It's about promotion and marketing the product right and Newcastle has got an amazing facility."

Building the profile of The Hunter standalone raceday, held in November, was another goal for Dowell.

Racing NSW announced last week that the program would be bolstered by a new $300,000 2300-metre handicap.

"It's a quality race day so anything that adds to the day is a bonus for all stakeholders," Benson said.

Benson also welcomed the elevation of the September 17 Newcastle Cup program to provincial showcase status.

It means support races will carry a minimum $50,000 prizemoney, up from $35,000, and the Newcastle Cup will rise from $200,000 to $250,000. The group 3 Tibbie Stakes and Cameron Handicap remain at $160,000.