The man who played a big part into bringing live racing into lounge rooms and pubs throughout Australasia, is thriving in his role at the helm of all three racing codes in the Sunshine State.
On May 14, 2018 Brendan Parnell, a former Tattersalls Group executive, was appointed the CEO of Racing Queensland. He replaced Eliot Forbes.
Fast forward 29 months and the 52-year-old has excelled in what has been a difficult year world-wide for racing.
“It’s been a testing year all right, but we are very proud to say that racing didn’t stop in Queensland. We had the livelihoods of the industry participants at heart, and as a result, people have still been able to work and earn a living.
“There’s also been some amazing racing in all three codes as a result of our priority to keep the industry ticking over in a Covid-safe environment,” Parnell, a former wagering boss and ex-Sky Channel executive, said.
At the time of his appointment Queensland Racing Minister, Stirling Hinchliffe, was delighted with Parnell’s move to Racing Queensland.
"The racing industry has a bright future in Queensland, and with new leadership the industry is set for a new era of growth," he said.
"Under the Palaszczuk Government, Racing Queensland has become more financially resilient and the organisation now has a stronger commercial focus," he added.
Sydney-born Parnell, who moved to the Sunshine Coast when he was just four, has kept achieving since leaving Brisbane Boys Grammar in the mid-1980s.
He has a long experience in racing and wagering and was most recently the Chief Operating Officer, Wagering, of Tatts Group, which operated UBET prior to Tatts Group’s merger with Tabcorp in December 2017.
Parnell assisted in the merger handover, and has also held senior roles at Tabcorp and Sky Channel.
“Racing in Queensland is a massive sport and business which impacts almost every town and community across the Sunshine State,” said Parnell, who completed a senior executive program at Stanford University.
"How we connect and enhance racing is critical for our more than 40,000 participants. I'm excited by that challenge and the many opportunities in coming years,” he added.
He said he loved all three codes but had grown up with horses.
“Horses are in my blood. I didn’t really know a great deal about greyhounds until I got to Sky Channel. I’ve always loved the trots too. Our Q-Bred scheme is really thriving. Last year harness racing pumped $160 million back into in the Queensland economy.
“Harness racing provides so many jobs in Queensland. The industry participants are also great people, who work tireless hours doing a great job.
“You never stop learning in this job. I thank the people for their communication and commitment in tough times. Our ultimate goal in this job is to improve code sustainability,” Parnell said.
The New South Wales native was educated at Maleny State School and also boarded at Brisbane Boys Grammar.
“I remember when I was at Maleny, I had horses, including a fast quarter horse. My earliest racing event was the Conondale picnic races in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
“Horses have played a big part in my life from a very early age. We used to muster cattle, show them, and breed from them. Then I really got swept away by racehorses in my teens.
“We bred Palominos and I remember going to Eagle Farm in about 1984 and I got to see some of the country’s top sprinters of the time like Watney, Grey Receiver, and Yir Tiz, to name a few.
“I was still at boarding school at the time. Then after school I got hooked on other topliners like Beau Zama, Shaftesbury Avenue and many others,” Parnell said.
On leaving University, Parnell got a media job working for WIN TV in Toowoomba.
“I was fortunate enough to work under Pat O’Shea. He was an early mentor. It was an honour working alongside Pat so early in my career,” Parnell said.
Parnell later worked for Channel 7 Queensland where there were five regional news bulletins each night, and then became state sports editor where he chased and produced sports and racing stories.
He then worked for the Sky Channel (2004-2010), Tabcorp International, UBET, and then became the Racing QLD Chief Executive after working for Tattersalls Group.
His achievements have been numerous and they include:
• Worked for the Sky Channel before assisting with the launching into homes in 1998 and then Sky Racing Two (blue channel) and Sky Racing World in 2010.
• Was responsible for new UBET technology roll-out including self-service terminals.
• Initiated live racing from Australia into several countries throughout the world including the USA and Europe.
• Helped deliver record prizemoney of $170m for Queensland racing in 2020.
After almost two-and-a-half years, Parnell, has achieved quite a bit in that time. He also has several major goals and missions he’s currently working on.
“Growing the industry and making it more sustainable is what drives the RQ team. Bidding for the Inter Dominion and growing our carnivals are a key part of that. But there is still much more to be delivered for Queensland racing and its thousands of participants.”
Parnell is married to Camille and they have three children – two teenagers and one in in her 20s. He is also a keen rugby union fan and likes most sports.
But you don’t have to be Einstein to work out what Parnell’s favourite sport is.
“Horses are in my blood and have been for almost all of my life. I think I was always destined for a career in racing. I absolutely love it,” he said.
Footnote: Parnell is the seventh person to fill the chief executive role at Racing Queensland on a full-time or interim basis since he was appointed in early 2018.