The reaction to John Cornell’s appointment as Thoroughbred Racing South Australia’s (TRSA) inaugural equine welfare officer says plenty about the man himself.
The recent announcement has been greeted with universal praise from across the industry – even from his former boss, Tony McEvoy, who lamented the stable’s loss, but conceded John would be a major asset in his new role.
John is the current stable operations manager for McEvoy Mitchell Racing, but will start his TRSA position on April 20. The role will see him work alongside TRSA stewards and be responsible for the tracking and traceability of thoroughbreds from birth, throughout their racing career and beyond.
John’s 30-plus years of industry experience have him ideally placed to tackle the new role, created with the support of the State Government and the assistance of its previously announced industry stimulus package.
Throughout his career, John says he has learned from some of the industry’s greatest trainers.
“I’ve been around for quite a while,” he said. “I’ve worked for the Hayes family and then McEvoy Mitchell, and it’s always been the leading stable in the state.
“You learn best practice and it’s a good thing to carry with you.”
John’s love affair with race horses started out when he was a toddler and remains as strong today as ever.
“I’ve been with horses since I can basically walk,” he said.
“I’ve never know anything other than the racing industry and being around thoroughbred horses.
“My father was always a bit of a hobby trainer and always had a couple of horses in training. I grew up mainly with country racing, back in the days when there was a bit more of it than there is now.
“So I always had a love of horses and races, right from a young kid.”
John became an apprentice jockey, starting with the late Ron Morgan, of Murray Bridge, and finishing with Colin Hayes at Angaston.
He enjoyed a lengthy stay at Angaston, eventually riding – successfully – in jumps racing when his weight started to increase. He rode his final race in 2000.
“When I retired from race riding I was at Lindsay Park, obviously, and the late Peter Hayes was the trainer in those days, when David was in Hong Kong,” John recalled.
“I was stable foreman by then anyway, while I was still riding.
“Then Peter was tragically killed in an aircraft accident in 2001, and Tony McEvoy – who was assistant trainer at the time – became head trainer.
“I became Tony’s assistant.”
John was assistant trainer through Tony’s years under the Lindsay Park banner.
“Then when David Hayes returned from Hong Kong, I stayed on as David’s South Australian assistant trainer, until he relocated to Euroa,” he said.
John branched out as a private trainer for owners Ken and Helen Smith from 2012 to 2014, before reuniting with Tony.
John has been associated with some outstanding horses during his career.
“In recent times, obviously you think of Miss Finland, Fields of Omagh, Tawqeet, who won a Caulfield Cup…and Istidaad in the Hayes days,” he said.
“In Tony’s days there’s been Sunlight, Despatch and Alpine Eagle. I’m lucky that I’ve always been around good horses.”
Despite his impending departure, John said he remained excited about the McEvoy Mitchell stable’s prospects at TRSA’s upcoming 2020 Autumn Racing Carnival.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Sunlight here,” he said.
“And as a stable we’re really looking forward to the carnival.”
TRSA CEO Nick Redin said the industry body was “thrilled” to have someone of John’s calibre on board, describing him as a “perfect fit”.
“He has firsthand experience across all aspects of the industry, as well as a genuine love of horses and racing,” Nick said.
In addition to working with stewards, John will also respond to welfare concerns, provide proactive industry education on welfare best practice, and help to improve the transition of thoroughbreds into retirement and careers after racing.
“I never envisaged I would step away from McEvoy Mitchell, but I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” John said.
“While I am confident that the vast majority of this industry does the right thing, those remaining few need to be better educated.”
McEvoy Mitchell head trainer Tony McEvoy said although John would be “difficult to replace” he was a smart appointment.
“I honestly can’t think of anyone better to be taking on this role,” Tony said.
“I am proud to say that equine welfare in this state is in very capable hands – our loss is the wider industry’s gain.”