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Vale Nick Columb 1945 - 2018

6 min read
Australia can appear to be the envy of the racehorse-owning world, with New South Wales and Victoria often seemingly competing against each other to see which can be the more owner-friendly state. Few, if any, figures can take more credit for this happy state of affairs than Nick Columb, the former long-term President of Victoria’s Thoroughbred Racehorse Owners’ Association who passed away last weekend, aged 72.

Columb arrived in Melbourne from Europe with his parents at the age of four, the family disembarking at Station Pier in 1950. They had had a torrid time, having escaped their native Romania after its occupation by Russia at the end of the war before making a tortuous journey across Europe to France and finally joining the tide of refugees heading for a new start Down Under in the Lucky Country.

The young Columb took to his adopted homeland like a duck to water, so much so that Melbourne’s twin sporting loves, racing and ‘footy’, soon had him under their spell, bewitching him with passions which would light up his whole life.

Nick Columb pictured with his star 2YO filly Courtza

Having started out as a cadet journalist on the old Herald, Columb soon found that his outgoing, confident and enterprising nature made him ideally suited to being his own boss. A string of entrepreneurial projects set him on the road to success, eventually seeing him build up a property empire which included a pub and some private hospitals. Once established financially, he could enjoy the luxury of giving his passions free rein.

Columb had been supporting Footscray Football Club from an early age. His commitment to his team reached its natural conclusion when he became the club’s President in 1989. By this time he was already one of the most prominent identities on Melbourne’s racecourses.

From the 'old school'

The Australian racing landscape in the 1980s was very different to today. In the pre-shuttle days there was nothing like the same breadth of international participation, while syndicate ownership was in its infancy. There was still scope for individual local investors to enjoy consistent top-level success, and few illustrated this better than Columb. Buying wisely at the yearling sales, often in New Zealand, he raced a succession of top-class horses, trained for him by Ross McDonald at Epsom.

In total, he owned the winners of 17 Group One races. The first of his stars was Magari (Aus) (Maybe Lad {Aus}), winner in the spring of 1982 of the VATC Marlboro Cup and the VRC George Adams Handicap.

Perhaps his greatest days came with the Blue Diamond / Golden Slipper double of Courtza (NZ) (Pompeii Court) in 1989 and the Caulfield Cup victories of Tristarc (NZ) (Sir Tristram) in 1985 and Imposera (NZ) (Imposing {Aus}) in 1988.

Courtza: winner of the G1 Blue Diamond S. & G1. Golden Slipper S., also the dam of Champion NZ sire O'Reilly

Other particularly special occasions came courtesy of Tristarc’s wins in 1985 in the AJC Derby, Underwood Stakes and Caulfield Stakes, and the South Australian Oaks triumphs of Centaurea (Aus) (Century {Aus}) in 1985 and Imposera in 1988.

Voice for the owners

The natural extension of Columb’s high-prolife ownership success and of his assertive, ‘can-do’ organizational skills was what became arguably his greatest contribution to the sport: his Chairmanship of TROA from 1987 to 2001. Australian racing underwent massive changes during this period. Expansion and rationalization both literally and metaphorically brought the sport into the 21st century, with Columb one of the key figures throughout.

His positive influence was not merely restricted to Victoria, but became national and international courtesy of his stints at the head of the National Racehorse Owners’ Association and the Asia Pacific Racehorse Owners’ Association. With Columb at the helm of the owners’ bodies, the principle was established and maintained that owners’ interests be kept to the fore at all times.

The Australian Trainers’ Federation has been among those to pay tribute to Columb’s contribution to the sport. “Vale Nick Columb, a passionate industry participant, owner and a driving force behind TROA for many years. Racing is in a better place as a result of Nick’s contribution and poorer for his passing.”

Former Australian Trainers’ Association Chief Executive John Alducci has reflected on Columb’s passing, “With Nick at the helm, he took TROA to another level. Anything he did, he threw everything into it and he was probably the most passionate person I’ve ever come across in racing. It’s a sad day for racing.”

“Anything he did, he threw everything into it and he was probably the most passionate person I’ve ever come across in racing. It’s a sad day for racing.” John Alducci

John Messara, another of the prime movers in ushering in the sport’s new era, has spoken particularly movingly of his friend and fellow industry-leader. “Nick Columb was the staunchest friend, always fearless, constantly innovative and deeply passionate about horse racing and so much else. He leaves an unfillable gap in Arrowfield’s world, and so many good memories and reasons to be grateful for his incomparable life.”

Nick Columb with close friend John Messara

“Nick Columb was the staunchest friend, always fearless, constantly innovative and deeply passionate about horse racing and so much else." - John Messara

Nick Columb’s business interests took a heavy hit in the crash of the early ‘90s (famously, he observed wryly, “I went to bed a rich man, woke up a poor one”) but, while that setback prompted a major reduction in his ownership interests, it did not affect his commitment to furthering the owners’ cause as he maintained his position at the head of TROA until 2001.

Nick Columb with Nick Nugent from Goffs & Tony Williams from Goffs UK

Subsequently, having previously been politically involved in both the Victorian Football League and racing, he further broadened his efforts to contribute to the community, throwing his hat into the city’s political arena by standing for Lord Mayor of Melbourne in the city elections of 2008 on the platform of ‘Passion for Melbourne’.

Nick Columb’s final role within racing was as Senior International Racing Consultant for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, his duties including heading the Club’s buying team at international sales. The final champion with whom he was associated was the current Hong Kong star Pakistan Star (Ger) (Shamardal) whom he and Mark Richards bought on behalf of the HKJC at the Arqana August Yearling Sale in France in 2014 for 180,000 euros.

Charismatic and hugely popular, Pakistan Star could fairly be described as one of the great characters of the racing world. One could say exactly the same about Nick Columb, a larger-than-life enthusiast who gave so much to the sport which he loved.

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