A changing of the guard within the horse racing fraternity in the Upper Hunter is set to take place following the news that both Muswellbrook and Scone race clubs are losing their CEOs.
Muswellbrook is farewelling its highly respected race club administrator Duane Dowell next month after more than a decade's service as board member and chief executive officer.
Mr Dowell tended his resignation as CEO of the Muswellbrook Race Club last week after accepting a role as general manager of racing and operations at Newcastle Jockey Club, effective from August 16.
The 46-year-old father of two said that while he was sad to be leaving the Muswellbrook organisation, he was excited about the new challenges being presented in his new role at Newcastle.
"Muswellbrook Race Club presented me with an amazing opportunity several years ago and I'm most thankful to have led a great country race club," he said.
"While there are a number of exciting projects coming up at Muswellbrook Race Club, I am encouraged by the fact that I am leaving the club in great hands. The club is led by an amazing group of directors that have embedded a great culture which is revered by other clubs."
Meanwhile, After four-and-a-half years of service to the Scone Race Club (SRC), Heath Courtney attended his last race meeting as CEO of the Club on Sunday (July 18).
The SRC Chairman Alastair Pulford formally thanked Heath for his contribution as CEO of the Club.
"Heath is leaving the club to pursue his own endeavors but is remaining in the district. He has had an immensely positive impact on racing in Scone, setting the club up for an exciting future," Mr Pulford said.
"The board sincerely thank Heath for his significant contribution and wish he and his family all the very best in the future."
Mr Courtney and his family moved from Toowoomba Turf Club to take on the CEO role in January 2017.
During his tenure the number of horses trained at the center has increased by 75 per cent and annual race meetings conducted increased by 25 per cent, according to the club.
He played a pivotal role working with the SRC Board and friends of the Club to have the Scone Race Club identified as the confirmed site for the Racing NSW Centre of Excellence.
Mr Courtney said the recent announcement that the NSW State Government had committed $20 million to upgrading the facilities to include a poly all-weather training track and additional stabling, along with the acquisition of the TAFE site to undertake jockey and industry training is a vote of confidence in the Race Club and what he has achieved.
"I am proud to leave this great club in a strong position with a terrific team in place who will no doubt be of tremendous assistance to my successor," Mr Courtney said.
"Having worked alongside the board over these past four years to have the Scone Race Club identified and now confirmed as the site for the Racing NSW Centre of Excellence is truly fulfilling and I look forward to observing what will be an ongoing asset for the Scone community".
Muswellbrook Race Club has also been earmarked for a massive upgrade, following a recent announcement by the state government with funding to the tune of $4.2 million in improvements and expansion of both the racing facility and multi-purpose function centre.
Club chairman John Sunderland said he was delighted for Duane Dowell's future and recognised his tremendous contribution over many years at the club.
"Since Duane has taken over, the club has flourished under his leadership, enthusiasm and professionalism.
"He is now widely regarded as one of the leading administrators within NSW thoroughbred racing," Mr Sunderland said.
"Although Duane will be greatly missed, we are comforted by the fact that over the years we have developed a great team.
"The club has an exciting future with the upgrade providing a great facility for the community to use in the years to come."
Having grown up and resided in Dungog, Muswellbrook and Scone, Duane Dowell - married with two children aged 18 and 15 - says he has always loved being around horses.
"I have had an interest in racing since I was very young. My grandfather worked with a bookie at Wyong and Gosford races in the 1970s and '80s so I guess my interest started with him," he said.
"My direct involvement came as a horse owner which started before 2000 with a few slow horses.
"I still enjoy racing a couple of horses with a few mates."
Mr Dowell, who joined the Muswellbrook Race Club committee in 2010 and moved to the GM's role in 2015, said that he was proud of his achievements and the great support he had received from directors and staff over 11 years.
"The club has spent close to $1 million in improvements in my time at the club, including a big screen and improved mounting yard.
Mr Dowell's last day at Muswellbrook Race Club will be on Friday, August 13.