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Vale Mr John Digby

NOTE: A committal service will be held at Macquarie Park Crematorium (Ryde), Magnolia Chapel on Tuesday, 11th July 2017 at 1pm.

Mr John Digby, former Keeper of the Australian Stud Book, has passed away aged 84 years.

A veterinarian, John Digby was appointed Keeper of ASB in 1988 and made many significant changes during his tenure including establishing the stud book records on a website in 1997, the first stud book authority to do this. On Mr Digby’s retirement in 2004 Michael Ford was appointed.

Mr Digby brought modern management practices to the organisation combining this with regular communication with industry stakeholders such as the professional breeders and veterinary associations, commercial breeding associations, race club officials, stewards, and any professional whose advice would be useful.

This enabled Mr Digby to bring about significant change to the age-old identification system for thoroughbreds, the benefits of which will be felt many years down the track.

Fairfax journalist, Mr Max Presnell, once wrote: "John Digby protects his fiefdom with all the diligence of a medieval knight, but where they once warded off invaders with the lance and battle-axe, Digby uses commonsense - and the odd expletive. 'I think if thoroughbreds were trained and fed as they were in the past and had the same conditions, they would be just as good.

'It is the way we have selected them that has made changes. They are going faster than they did before. I know tracks have improved, but people are saying there is a narrowing of the genetic base and the breed is getting weaker. All the genetic evidence indicates that's codswallop.'

Yet in his position with the Stud Book, Digby has had a canny eye for the bottom line. One of his major successes was the recent decision to introduce microchip identification.

'The Fine Cotton ring-in wouldn't have occurred if we had microchips,' he said, listing its other advantages over horse certificates as efficiency and cost-saving. Shifting horses on trucks and dropping them off in the dark at studs will be far more specific than ever before with no way a problem can occur.'

Thus, instances of stallion prospects being gelded by mistake, which has happened, will be eliminated. Has there been much chicanery?

'Not deliberate attempts but accidents did occur,' Digby said. 'We use the vet ID with the brand as part, and blood typing to back it up. Now we have the DNA. They all have their place. Any of the three will allow you to identify the horse.' Digby predicts the microchip could save up to $70,000 a year in indirect costs."

Under John Digby, major developments at the Stud Book, started in 1878 by W. Yuill and Co and purchased in 1910 by the Australian Jockey Club and Victoria Racing Club, have been the introduction of DNA testing and a website on the internet.

"Breeders now feel the Stud Book is doing something for them," he said. "It has reduced the number of phone calls and queries. Importantly, we don't get complaints. When I came here in late 1988, we had a correspondence backlog of four months. Now it doesn't occur."

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