It seems just about everyone knows Flip Evans. Indeed, it’s hard to find a corner of the twin towns community where Flip hasn’t been involved in one way or another. Coach, sportsman, parent, publican, businessman, innovator, teacher, adviser and general all around good guy. Now he’s about to try something very new and very different. He’s taking the reins at Echuca Racing Club. He starts work today, the first meeting of the new season is less than a month away, and he told ANDREW MOLE he’s got a fair bit to get a handle on before then.
Don’t forget the name.
A mare trained by Gwenda Johnstone, the horse won her first race at her first start, way back in July of 2016.
Then she won another race in February 2017, crowning a purple patch of two wins and four places from six starts.
Her 1000-plus part breeders/owners were over the moon with FB – here was a horse going places.
And she would not win another race for more than two years (and is back in the paddock after finishing last at her last start).
One of the myriad owners (his share is about half a hoof) is the new general manager of Echuca Racing Club, and his Thoroughbred message is loud and clear.
Never take a tip from Flip Evans.
He’s a salt of the earth guy, for yonks he has been one of the high-profile faces of Vivid (aka Murray Human Services), a fixture on the local football scene, most recently a host of Echuca-Moama Sportstar and now, after all these years and all that success, he’s back with a love that began in childhood.
Almost by accident.
He was as happy as Larry in his role, but just happened to be flipping (as it were) through the Riverine Herald while on a bus full of junior footballers headed for Mildura, and read the story about outgoing chief executive Leigh Newton.
So he rang club president Troy Murphy to make some general enquiries about the job – if it was still open.
And got laughed at.
But only because Troy had just asked someone else to give Flip a call and make a few enquiries about his interest – as the job was still open.
So a date was arranged for the interested parties to sit down and thrash out a few details.
However for Flip Evans, circa 2019, it was not love at first sight.
He had, he recalled, two great men in his life who, amongst other social skills, taught him how to go to the TAB (reportedly as a pre-pubescent, pre-teen) and took him to the track.
His father was one, Victoria Racing Club steward Terry O’Brien, his father’s good mate, the other.
“We would go to the races – a lot,” Flip confessed.
“I really enjoyed the Thoroughbred industry, from the start,” he said.
“We would get to the races and Terry would ask me for my tip in the next race – I would say something like number seven and he would take out his pencil, run it across the page and reply ‘we might as well scratch that one’.”
Some things, it seemed, would never change.
“These days my only connection to racing has been owning little bits and pieces of horses here and there,” Flip explained.
“That and footy have been my two big sporting connections – I was too big for a jockey, not that I ever even thought about that, but there is something about racehorses that is really special.”
A lot of people would suggest there was something special about Flip.
Vivid’s enterprise and inclusion business manager works with a team of 15 support workers and 90 employees, with operations and contracts across Echuca-Moama and as far afield as Kerang and Swan Hill.
And Flip has been the point man, the one pounding the streets for business, the one doing everything he could to promote what the programs were all about and the one his team and work crews turned to for, well for just about everything.
He’s also the one for whom they all threw a fairly emotional farewell barbecue the other day so Flip could wrap things up and get started in his new job today.
His first official race meeting of the new season will be September 14 and his feet will have hardly hit the carpet under his new desk out at the track.
“For me to leave Vivid, well only two things could do that. The AFL or racing.”
The turf club won that race, making it somewhat ironic Flip should have learnt about the job while on a football trip.
He has been a coach at Echuca and most recently worked with Goulburn Murray academy, starting young players along the pathway to the Pioneers and Bushrangers, and the V/Line under 15s.
Plus he and wife Belinda have three children playing footy at Echuca – sons Jack, 17, and Tom, 13 and their sister Jayde, 15 (no jockeys in this lot either).
Now the born and bred local, who is committed to community, is about to go on the fastest learning curve of his colourful life.
“Leigh has done a great job in his years here, he has left the club in fantastic shape,” Flip said.
“Big shoes to fill but fortunately we haven’t lost him completely, he’s still in the racing industry and still directly involved with country tracks.
“And he will be very directly connected to me because I suspect I will be calling him for advice or explanations about what I am doing – a lot,” he warned.
“Leigh was a chief executive, but he came here from Moonee Valley so he knew what he was doing – and as I will be learning a fair bit as I go.
I think general manager sits better with me; I’ll be pretty hands-on so CEO sounds just a little too flash.
“I know there are things I will do well, just as I know I will need a bit of help, but I am also going to be part of a pretty good team so everything is fixable, or doable, it’s just a matter of how high we want to raise the bar.
“Either way it is going to be an interesting ride but for me the big focus is on community – theirs and mine.”
Flip is determined to get the community more involved in ERC, not just the track, and not just as punters.
He is convinced there is still a lot of potential in doing more with the complex than just horse racing.
There is so much room, there is the class act that is The Pavilion, there is parking for a fleet of cars and it is all so close to the heart of the twin towns.
“Racing has been a great interest for us, but I guess in this role I will be steering clear of horse (or hoof) ownership.
And I know most of the trainers and owners around town, and hope to meet the ones I don’t as soon as possible,” Flip added.
“And I will be working with a whole new group of people, from the committee to the staff on race days, so I get to make a lot of new friends.”
Back in the early days of Flip in the workforce he ran a sports store in Echuca and the Lockington Hotel.
But his love for his job at Vivid and his time there cannot be ignored.
“You know, it’s 10 years this October that we have been running One & All, something which broke down so many barriers and you know what else? A handful of people cannot achieve what that has, only a community can.
“I would urge anyone who is interested to have a go, I loved my time there and I learnt so much; got so much more from the people I worked with than they ever got from me, it was a community focused on living life and doing the very best they could.”
Flip is now shifting his considerable talents to this next major step in his life and while he will be responsible for everything being right on the day, for all the governance and paperwork, finding funding to make things bigger and better, he says no-one should be surprised to see him nipping past them on a race day with rubbish bins, or carting drinks from the cool room to the bar.
“I see myself as being in a position of the more hands that are hands on the easier the job will be for us all,” he added.
“I think that sort of thing is part of the essence of a country race club – we are all on the same page and we want people to come out and join us for an enjoyable and safe time.”
You can’t help but feel Echuca Racing Club itself is in a pretty safe pair of hands too.