By Hayley Wildes
There is no doubt that Simon Conn has been involved in some of the most important moments and projects in Pakenham Racing Club (PRC) history.
Because of that, it would come as no surprise to anyone that he was recently awarded PRC life membership. Conn’s involvement with the PRC has helped the club grow and prosper into the world-class facility that it is today.
“I was the Westpac bank manager – I looked after the racing club and they needed someone who could count,” Conn said with a laugh of how his involvement began.
“There were plenty of people there who knew a lot about horses and gambling, whereas my expertise was financially and business-based.
“I was bought onto the committee in 1999 by David Bourke, who was a past chairman of Victorian Racing Club.”
Conn was appointed as treasurer in 2000 and served as vice chairman of the club for a decade prior to his election as chairman in 2018.
Over that time, Conn has helped the PRC achieve major milestones – highlighted by the relocation of the club.
“I was involved in the relocation of the racetrack and a number of sub committees were involved there, with hundreds of hours of meetings,” Conn said.
“Every time I drive out there I shake my head – I can’t believe that a couple of years ago it was just open paddocks.
“We’re always talking about having a world-class facility and we basically left no stone unturned to make sure that was the case.
“We’ve spent about $100 million out there and projects like that don’t come along every day, so it’s been exciting from a financing viewpoint to be involved in a $100 million project.”
Conn was also instrumental in the planning and development of Club Officer and the expansion of the club’s hospitality and gaming businesses which now underpin the club’s continued racecourse development.
“I’ve been very ably supported by CEO Michael Hodge and COO Paul Scanlon – everyone works as a team and it’s a sensational committee that I’m involved in,” he said.
“The fact that we’ve achieved so much can only be done by having a really good team. We’ve had a few people retire off the committee – they served beautifully – and the new people have fitted in seamlessly.”
Conn was delighted to be recognised with life membership, but his focus remains on continuing to improve and grow the racing club.
“It’s a great honour to be bestowed with life membership as well as just recently being appointed chairman, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.
“With the announcement of Caulfield’s training base closing, the main aim for us is to get a horse training pool and up-hill training track – they’re our top priorities now.
“Those will be the big attractions for trainers to relocate from Caulfield to Pakenham.”
With the club’s biggest event of the year – the Pakenham Cup – taking place on Saturday, Conn is excited for the racing, festivities and he hopes his betting fortunes turn around, although he isn’t confident.
“It’s our major day for the year – it’s very, very social and I really enjoy it, but I’m a very unsuccessful gambler,” he said with a laugh.
When asked who his tip for the big race is, Conn couldn’t go past the Gai Waterhourse and Adrian Bott-trained horse Runaway, which took out the Geelong Cup in October. Take that tip for what it’s worth!
Simon Conn’s life membership is recognition of his tireless work and dedication to the Pakenham Racing Club – his legacy has been cemented, but far from completed.