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Vale John Russell

It is with sadness that Racing Victoria (RV) acknowledges distinguished racecaller John ‘JR’ Russell on the news of his passing at the age of 93.

Russell’s career in racing spanned more than 50 years and included the calling of 20 Melbourne Cups between 1977 and 1997, as well as being a long-standing racecaller on both 3UZ (now RSN) and Sky Channel (now Sky Racing).

Born in Warrnambool in 1931, Russell was the youngest of six children by 22 years. His love of racing formed as a child by regularly attending the Warrnambool Racing Club, where he took a keen interest in remembering the different coloured silks. He admired the racecallers of the time including Eric Welch and Jim Carroll.

Russell began his radio career at Warrnambool’s 3YB calling the local Hampden Football League and in 1951 he called his first race meeting at Birregurra.

A move to Melbourne in 1953 saw Russell become assistant to well-known racecaller Bert Bryant at 3UZ. In 1977, upon Bryant’s retirement, Russell called his first Melbourne Cup which saw Gold And Black win the race for trainer Bart Cummings.  

After 30 years of service, Russell left 3UZ in 1983 and, after a short stint calling Melbourne races on Sydney’s 2UE, he began a career with the newly launched Sky Channel in 1987.

Russell was the voice of Melbourne racing on Sky Channel and it was during this time that he called the final of his Melbourne Cups in 1997 when Might And Power was victorious.

Russell continued to work for Sky Channel until 2003, when he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease and as such, decided to call time on his career.

Away from the track, Russell worked with his daughter Sue to develop travel company Phar Lap Tours. The group took racing tours to all parts of the world, along with creating the inaugural tours to the Darwin Cup from the early 1970s.

RV Chief Executive, Andrew Jones, said: “On behalf of the Victorian racing industry, I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to John’s family and friends following the news of his passing.

“The racecaller is central to people’s love of racing, fostering great emotions and lifelong memories. John Russell was a wonderful exponent of the craft and an integral part of the rich history of Victorian racing.

“He was renowned by racing fans for his exceptional judgement and by those who knew him personally as a loyal friend, giving mentor and personable human.

“JR, as he was known to many, dedicated his life to Victorian racing and our sport is greater for his exceptional contribution. His was a racing life well lived.”
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