FIVE MINUTES WITH ... JOE MCGRATH

(@flemingtonvrc

17 August 2020


Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour Manager, Joe Mcgrath holding the Lexus Melbourne Cup on tour.

For Joe McGrath his role as Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour Ambassador at Large is a dream job, growing up in a racing family and being a self-confessed racing 'tragic.' As a result, he has a breadth of knowledge and passion for the sport of racing that he shares on every stop of the annual Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour.

My role at the VRC is … Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour Manager and VRC Ambassador At Large.

The best part of my job is … working in a sport which is my passion. Has been since I can ever remember. I thought about other industries but racing is a global sport that captivates so many interesting people. It is good getting paid for something you love doing.

A challenging part of my job is … continually coming up with new ideas but that is part of the fun of the job. Facing a Melbourne Cup Carnival impacted by COVID-19 has forced many people to think laterally. In a marketing sense, there are many things that have come out as a result of the pandemic. Catering to the at-home user is currently where it is at. The ideas across the business have been inspiring. Online racebooks, VRC at Home, and In Conversation are three that come to mind.

I love my job because … I get to meet many interesting people across the community – both racing and non-racing. I have travelled far and wide which I feel very fortunate to have done over the years. If you told me at the age of 15 I would be working daily in promoting the Melbourne Cup and racing, I would have signed up then and there. I have been fortunate to see how other racing jurisdictions promote racing across the globe. I think we are very fortunate at Flemington and the VRC team does a great job in putting on arguably the greatest racing Carnival in the world.

My favourite moment in my career … have been numerous, but to work with the Melbourne Cup has been an absolute privilege. Meeting and then working with my childhood heroes in Roy Higgins and Bart Cummings, has been a real joy. Too many stories to mention with the both of them but they were always entertaining. Meeting Bart on the Gold Coast in his hotel foyer and relaying to him that I just started to read his book on the plane. He said, would you like me to sign the book? ... Very special. I have had quite a bit to do with Harry White in recent years through the Harry White Foundation. He is one of the greats of the sport and one of the most generous as I have seen through the charter of the trust.

My career background is … in business management. I have studied extensively in this area but while studying business in a classroom is one thing, growing up in a racing family is another. My father, Brian was a Victorian Rails Bookmaker; my mother, Kath a racehorse owner and horse breeder; my brother Jim, a BBC Broadcaster and journalist in the UK and Patrick, a thoroughbred race photographer. My nephew Brian is a horse trainer (and married to VRC’s Meagan McGrath) and other brother Naish helps in the racing requirements of the stable. Another brother Martin was the Director of Photography on Rachel Griffiths’ and Richard Keddie’s Ride Like a Girl. Let’s say it’s in the blood. There are other extended family members involved in racing – the list is long!

Racing is one of those sports which has a constant flow of new information coming in. A new race, a new horse, an emerging stallion, a new jockey or trainer. There is plenty to take in on a daily basis. You need to make it your business to find out what that new information is.

I am setting my sights on … continuing to work in racing and add value to the VRC where I can. I feel I have plenty of experience and knowledge to share with others within the organisation. Having said that, you have to set new goals, new targets and be looking for where opportunities are unfolding.

My favourite racing moment is … when we get to Lexus Melbourne Cup Day and the Cup is handed over to the winning connections. The Cup is then their responsibility. Cup Day is something special and I have always appreciated that ever since I can remember my parents getting ready for Cup week. You knew it was game on; a bit like grand final week.

A horse I have loved or admired … is Kingston Town. Maybe it was because he was the big thing when I first started to get interested in racing but I suggest if you have a spare 15 minutes that you search for Kingston Town on YouTube, in the autumn of 1980. He won the Canterbury Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, Ranvet, AJC Derby and BMW is a matter of about six to eight weeks. They queried if he could stay and so Tommy pushed on to run him in the Sydney Cup over two miles. It was the easiest of all his wins. Never seen a horse like him, but there have been a few others who have more than raised my interest. Black Caviar, Winx, and Makybe Diva being a few. As a story in racing, there is none other than Phar Lap. 

I like the sport of racing because … it ignites my interest in the thoroughbred and what racing is all about. People in racing love the horse and those who work with them daily, probably look after them better than they do themselves. There is a lot that goes into racing away from the track. Race day is front-of-house for an operation that has a deep back-end starting with the birth of a foal in a breeding barn. I am fascinated with the breeding side of the game as well as the historical perspectives, which I gained a new appreciation when I worked at the Australian Racing Museum in Caulfield way back in the early 2000s.

My job was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic because … there has been a delay to the Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour. We would normally be on the road in the first week of July. That has been delayed considerably this year. The Cup Tour, which is in its 18th year, is likely will be scheduled to focus on a virtual component this year.