WHEN the starter climbs the platform for the world’s richest horse race in Dubai on Saturday night, what happens next will be in the hands of a small company more than 10,000km away.
South Australian company Steriline Racing has become the dominant force in starting gates in the thoroughbred racing industry worldwide, designing and building gates in more than 50 countries including famous courses such as Royal Ascot in England, Meydan in Dubai, Hong Kong’s Sha Tin and Happy Valley circuits and Flemington in Australia.
The company’s gates will set the field on its way in the USD $10 million Dubai World Cup – the richest horse race on the planet – on Saturday.
“We supplied the gates for the first world cup 20 years ago – this will be the 21st running this year,” Steriline Racing Chief Executive Officer John Fargher said.
“Durability is one of the qualities we’ve worked very hard on because we are such a long way away people want to know that it’s going to work and it’s going to continue to work.”
The company has several sets of its gates in Dubai but also manufactures other products for the global industry such as running rails, greyhound starting boxes, winning posts and fencing for mounting yards. It designed and built the famous “Bird Cage” enclosure at Melbourne’s Flemington racecourse and fencing at the Hong Kong Jockey Club used for equestrian events for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Its 25-stall gate at Flemington in Australia – home of the world’s second richest race the Melbourne Cup – is the largest thoroughbred starting gate on earth.
Fargher said attention to detail, reliability, quality materials, a focus on safety, after sales service and a passion for the industry were keys to the company’s success.
“We spend a lot of time and effort travelling to these locations and watching the races with local staff so we can understand what they do, why they do it, how they do it and how we might be able to help them do it even better or safer or more reliably,” he said.
“We’ve got gates operating in Warsaw in Poland where we have to guarantee they would operate at -25C and we’ve got them in inland Australia, in Saudi Arabia and parts of the Middle East where it is very hot so we’re at both ends of the spectrum.
“Compliance is paramount and safety is driving the industry – we are not just talking about the safety of the jockeys, we’re talking about the safety of the handlers and also of course the safety of the animals because these are very expensive bloodstock.”
The company, based in the Adelaide Hills town of Mt Barker, started in the 1950s when it designed starting gates for Murray Bridge racetrack in rural South Australia.
“It’s taken off most specifically since the 1990s because we’ve put more effort into travelling and learning from our customers and developing new products,” Fargher said.
“We’re very proud of the fact we have been able to work out how to flat pack this equipment in a very space efficient and therefore very cost efficient way.
“We’ve got one arriving in the next few days in Stockholm in Sweden and we’ll send one of our people over after Easter to oversee the assembly of that gate. By the time he’s finished, they’ll know how to put it together, they’ll know how to repair it, they’ll know how to maintain it and they’ll know how to operate it.”
South Australia has a rich horse racing history and has produced many turf legends including “Cups King” Bart Cummings and champion jockeys such as Kerrin McEvoy, John Letts and Jim Johnson.
Steriline this year received a grant from the South Australian Government to help it grow its export markets and was the sole Australian exhibitor at the Asian Racing Conference in Mumbai, India in January.
“We were very busy during the conference and there were 650 delegates from about 35 countries so it’s a great way to get in front of a lot of people from a lot of different racing jurisdictions,” Fargher said.
“The company also holds 100 per cent of the British market and this funding will enable Steriline Racing to consider opportunities across Europe.”
Steriline has 13 direct employees but uses many specialised manufacturers to help build the products in areas such as electronics, hydraulics and painting.
Fargher said although the company was a major player in the industry it was working hard to constantly come up with new and better ways to use deliver reliability and safety.
“We act as a bit of conduit for the industry. We go and learn from everyone in all of those 50 countries and then pour all of that information back into the next generation of development,” he said.
Andrew Spence is a journalist at The Lead South Australia.