RACING has always been in the blood of the Bendigo Jockey Club's newest life member Rod Caldow.
But it's harness racing and not thoroughbreds which has been the focus of much of the extended Caldow clan's interest throughout the years.
His father Brian was a bookmaker, his late uncle Jack Caldow a respected trainer-driver, while his cousin John is continuing to enjoy plenty of success in his own right as a trainer-driver, based near Melton.
"I spent my whole childhood at harness meetings and maybe a little bit at the Mildura races and the occasional Manangatang race meeting," he said.
"But when I came to Bendigo back in the late 90s-early 2000s, I decided I wanted to get involved in the gallopers."
That choice has been thoroughbred racing's gain, particularly in Bendigo, where until recently he served 13 years on the BJC committee, including two as chairman and four as vice-chairman.
In racing parlance, Caldow's tireless and dedicated service made him 'a sure thing' as an eventual life member in the eyes of his fellow committee members.
That's not to say it wasn't 'a complete shock' to the 51-year-old, when the announcement was made last Sunday by the man who has followed him as chairman Jack Lyons during lunch in the Silks Dining Room.
"I feel quite humbled and honoured to be made a life member, it's something I've never thought about," Caldow said.
"It was a bit of a shock when Jack announced it. I'm very proud."
The committee had sought to present the life membership on no fewer than six occasions throughout the year, only to be denied by COVID's impact on race day crowds and events.
Caldow - originally from Ouyen - joined the committee in October 2008, replacing long-serving committee member Max Meade.
"Pat McEvoy was also elected to the committee at that time," he said.
"The businesses I worked for previously had been sponsors and I was also a member of the club since first coming to the town and was always interested.
"I used to go to the AGMs and the like and I was just keen to get involved, so when there was an opportunity to get involved, I threw my hand up."
During his time on the committee and as chairman, Caldow has either been involved in or overseen an impressive list of major projects.
They have included upgrades to all areas of the racetrack and facilities, including the Watson and Gallic bars, the Sailor's Guide Room in 2014, on-course judges box and broadcast facilities, the entry turnstiles precinct and horse stalls, and the concreting of the betting ring in 2018.
He was a key behind-the-scenes contributor in the rebuild of the course proper and its irrigation system and also served as the club's honourable treasurer for five years.
Describing the honour as 'well-earned', BJC chairman Jack Lyons paid credit to Caldow's long record of committee service.
"A few things members should also know is that Rod was on the board when the BJC introduced the Golden Mile, which in its early time was country Victoria's first million-dollar race meeting, and Bendigo led the way," he said.
"He also helped change the date of our cup day and improve it to a Group 3 race, which also includes our standalone public holiday."
Equally as satisfying, if not more, for Caldow than his involvement in the many major projects that have been competed in recent years, have been the club's efforts in making the race-day experience a more relaxed and friendly one.
"It was, at times, seen as a bit of an 'old school' set up, but I think in the last 10 or 12 years that has really changed," he said.
"That's helped to get a younger demographic here - kids too - and it's really evolved into an enjoyable day for everyone at the races.
"I know these are different times with COVID, but even coming in (last Sunday), it was great to see the crowds queuing up to get in.
"But along the way, there have been a lot of major projects go ahead that have all contributed to making this great racecourse facility that it is.
"Obviously the next thing the club is focusing on is building new stable complexes for the trainers, which is going to be a great thing.
"We do need to cater for our trainers as best we can and keep that interest here."
Caldow continues to be encouraged by the number of winners being produced from Bendigo and is optimistic the winning strike rate will only continue to get better going forward.
"Success breeds success and we have a really good group of young trainers here now with Josh Julius, Kym Hann, Jarrod Robinson and Brent Stanley, and then you have our local diehards like Shane Fliedner, Rod Symons and Brendon Hearps," he said.
"It's a good mix and they are really focused on growing opportunities.
"That's going to hold Bendigo in good stead for the future I'm sure."
Sadly, Caldow, who is battling bowel cancer, decided to retire as chairman late last year to focus his energies on his health battle and fortnightly chemotherapy treatment.
He remains forever indebted to the support of his wife Andrea and children Alex, 22, Olivia, 16, and Piper, 10.
"They have been an amazing support for me in my role with the jockey club and in life," he said.
"The chemo has shrunk it, but it's not going to cure me. From that perspective, it's giving me more time.
"But, hopefully, there are many more great days at the races."
He also plans on advocating for bowel cancer awareness and is imploring those eligible for free bowel scan testing, and even those who aren't, to get tested
"If you are turning 50 you get the free bowel scan kit in the mail - unfortunately I was already diagnosed before I got my kit," he said.
"But all I can do is to stress to everybody to make sure you do the test regularly and see your GP.
"It's amazing how many people, mates of mine and work colleagues, that once they turn 40 don't have regular health tests."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.