Michael Ford

published: 31 Jan 2014 in Q&A

The Australian Stud Book is respected as one of the foremost publications in the world of the thoroughbred.

This has been due, to a very significant degree, by the capabilities and knowledge of the Keepers of the Stud Book.

Only seven men have filled the role of Keeper over the last 103 years. Now the most recent of them – Michael Ford – has stood down and in a history-making move the reins have been handed over to Jacqueline Stewart.

As he was going into semi-retirement Stallions questioned Michael about various aspects of his career, Jacqueline’s preparation for her distinguished role and other matters.


Q.: How long were you associated with the ASB

A.: I commenced with the Australian Stud Book in 1984 as the assistant Deputy Keeper to Jim McFadden, who was retiring in 1985 after keeping the stud book since 1949. Roderick Page was the fifth Keeper from 1985 to 1988 when John Digby took over as sixth Keeper. He held the position until the end of 2003, when I was appointed.


Q.: Will leaving after so many years be a wrench

A.: Certainly. There could not have been a better job for me and I appreciate the confidence that the joint proprietors (being the Australian Turf Club and the Victoria Racing Club), and breeders had in me. I am an inveterate record-keeper, I love family history genealogy, and more than that, I love following the exploits of thoroughbreds on the track and at stud. These elements will still be there but more as a hobby.


Q.: What do you feel has been the highlight as your time as Keeper

A.: A function in April of 2010 at the Asian Racing Conference in Sydney to celebrate the 100 years of ownership by the then Australian Jockey Club and the Victoria Racing Club. The function brought together international racing and breeding officials as well as previous Keepers Jim McFadden and John Digby.


Q.: What other high points have there been

A.: Successfully defending the legal challenge against our rules on artificial insemination was another high point. Because the defence involved years of work for me and my deputy Jacqueline Stewart, it was pleasing to see that we had done all we could. Although the decision is subject to an appeal in February, this will involve the legal fraternity rather than our selves. Other achievements included rolling out the online return systems, and recently establishing Certification of Paternity to improve the integrity of thoroughbred identification.


Q.: Have there been disappointments

A.: The main disappointment was spending four years having to prepare our legal defence against the challenge to our rules. The time and resources spent meant that many projects in the pipeline could not be commenced, including the re-engineering of our website.


Q.: Is there anything else you would like to have achieved

A.: I would liked to have seen our website modernized because although the functionality is efficient and would not be changed, there are many design elements that need upgrading, and new features to be added.


Q.: Are you leaving any unfinished business

A.: Having planned my retirement and succession plan over the last 18 months, I ensured that any business that I could do, I completed. Having accepted that the modernizing of the website and other projects would not commence under my watch, I focused on what we could achieve. This included the Certificate of Paternity and assisting the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in determining whether a statutory levy ought to be introduced in the thoroughbred breeding industry.


Q.: You obviously have complete confidence in your succession plan

A.: The current deputy Keeper Jacqueline Stewart has been with the stud book since 1998, and has spent the last eight years “apprenticed” as Deputy Keeper. She was, in fact, the last person we employed. After several years as Deputy Keeper I could see she had what it takes to become Keeper of the Stud Book. I ensured, over the last two years, that Jacqueline was not only across every issue, but also could deal with them at every level. The handover is now complete and I rest easy.


Q.: Will you be having any further contact with the stud book

A.: Jacqueline intends retaining me in a consultative capacity for 12 months to work on specialist projects and to provide her with advice, should it be needed. This will be no more than two days a week.


Q.: What are your feelings about the future of the stud book

A.: While ever the Australian Stud Book remains under the ownership of the Victoria Racing Club and the Australian Turf Club with Jacqueline as Keeper, I would be confident that it will continue to develop and maintain its position as one of the best stud book authorities in the world.


Q.: What are your plans for retirement

A.: Besides being involved with the stud book’s project work, I also intend to continue to write breeding articles using information contained within the stud book date base that may be of interest or use to breeding and racing enthusiasts. The rest of the time will be divided between playing golf, and re-composing and recording songs I wrote 40 years ago with my friend and brother-in-law Barry.


Q.: Do you have a “Bucket List”.

A.: I will continue with this loose program until my wife Kathy reties in about two years. Then we hope, in no particular order, to travel to Vietnam and the United States; stay on Kangaroo Island, do the Ghan trip to Darwin, and visit the natural features in the Northern Territory; do the Victorian Country Cups circuit, including the Kyneton Cup meeting on the Wednesday after the Melbourne Cup; attend as many country and provincial race meetings as we can in New South Wales; and hopefully fulfill grand parenting duties when the little ones come along.