Meet Rockhampton’s ‘Mr Beef City’ – Bernie Clifton

By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Redcliffe Paceway)

You can take harness racing out of Rockhampton, but you can never take the great sport out of Bernie Clifton.

More than 16 years after the Rockhampton Harness Racing Club closed its doors on August 20, 2007, Mr Clifton and his wife Carmel are not letting the harness racing wilderness curtail their lifetime passion.

In fact, the Rockhampton couple notched up another victory at Redcliffe Paceway last Wednesday evening (February 14) when they owned and bred Beef City Starzzz to win race five – a NR40-43 Pace. It’s one of hundreds of triumphs since Mr Clifton got involved in the sport almost 50 years ago.

Beef City Starzzz is a Four Starzzz Shark gelding, who is trained by Peter Greig at Peak Crossing and was driven by Nathan Dawson. It was the 8-year-old’s 24th win in 164 starts. He’s also placed 38 times and banked $103,754.

Carmel and Bernie Clifton, who will be married 50 years on April 26.

His half-neck, 1:59.4 mile-rate was 7.1 seconds slower than his best of 1:52.5, also recorded at ‘The Triangle’ in the 2020 Trot Rod Series over the 947m mobile.

“You never tire of winning, and it’s sad that we only get to see them race on TV these days. It’s a shame Rockhampton closed. Our eldest son, Joseph, served as treasurer on the committee and we loved going to the track. The place was really popular in its heyday.

“We watched Beef City Starzzz win on TV and got a great thrill. Nathan drove him very well. We did get down to watch the first heats of the Inter Dominions in December. We were going to come back for the Final, but then I got crook. Beef City Blaze did win a Country Final on Grand Final night at Albion Park (December 16). It was a shame we weren’t there,” Mr Clifton said.

Wow that’s some journey – (1,285km Rockhampton to Brisbane return) especially two years after being diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

Nathan Dawson-driven and Peter Greig-trained, Beef City Starzzz, comes from wide on the track to get up and win race five at Redcliffe Paceway last Wednesday evening (February 14). The 8-year-old Four Starzzz Shark gelding is owned and was bred by Bernie and Carmel Clifton of Rockhampton. DAN COSTELLO PHOTO.

“The cancer has slowed me down a bit. We are down to two horses now and both are trained by my friend, Peter (Greig). Beef City Blaze has won 25 races (also 59 placings from 220 starts – $151,122), including that last start victory. He was due to start at last Friday’s abandoned meeting at ‘The Creek’,” Mr Clifton said.

“We also closed down our bakery business at the end of last July. ‘Bernie’s Pie Shoppe’ operated in ‘Rocky’ for 35 years. I made the best pies with the best beef in Australia, but times change and you have to move on. It was sad to close, but I’m 73 now and just want to enjoy life with Carmel and my family.

“It seemed just like yesterday when they opened Callaghan Park Paceway on my 24th birthday. In the end if the Weidemann’s never brought a big team of horses up meetings here never got off the ground. Harness racing seems to be a city sport now sadly,” he added.

Bernie and Carmel Clifton surrounded by family at a recent gathering in Rockhampton.

Rockhampton is renown as Australia’s beef capital, and that is where Mr Clifton got his ‘Beef City’ prefix from.

Callaghan Park opened in front of 6,000-plus spectators on opening night – May 18, 1974, Just over 33 years later it was gone. The last meeting attracted 1,000 race-goers, many of which let go tears after the last race.

And of course, it is a ‘Beef City’ horse that obviously holds the mantel as the best standardbred that Mr Clifton and his wife have bred.

Bernie and Carmel Clifton have raced and bred standardbreds for almost 50 years. They are now down to two racehorses, both of which are based at the stables of Peaks Crossing trainer, Peter Greig.

Beef City Boy, a 1998 Keen Edge gelding, won 16 of his 34 starts and placed five times for $58,613.

“We knocked back some good offers from overseas for him. He was a very good horse. Beef City Boy won the Redcliffe Derby for the McCarthys before he twisted a bowel. That was our biggest win and the best horse that Carmel and I have bred. He was out of the seven-win Kawartha Robust mare, Exitus.

“His younger brother, Beef City Beau (2003 Chandon gelding) was a nice pacer as well, but pretty highly strung. He won 36 races and almost $200,000,” Mr Clifton said.

He explained that Wednesday’s winner – Beef City Starzzz – was the last of seven foals out of the 2001 maiden Albert Albert mare, Alberta Jewel. He was the last horse the Cliftons’ bred.

Bernie Clifton pictured at ‘Bernie’s Pie Shoppe’ in Rockhampton with a staff employee Keisha, on the last day of operation in July last year. Mr Clifton’s popular bakery ran for 35 years.

“I was looking for an Albert Albert mare in the ‘Trot Guide’, and I saw she was the same cross as Lenny The Shark so I snapped her up. With those bloodlines I thought how could I go wrong because she was a giveaway mare.”

Born in the Upper Hunter New South Wales town of Muswellbrook, and educated at the local High School, Mr Clifton is the sixth of nine children to former plumber Fred, and Barbara.

“My Grandfather (Mum’s Dad – Jim Maloney) used to have Clydesdales and they dredged out all the earth so the original Muswellbrook Swimming Pool could be laid. That was around the turn of last century, and horses had always been a part of my early life.

“Former Rockhampton trainers, Jimmy King and Phillip Burke, taught me everything I knew about standardbreds in Rocky. I got my trainers licence just in case they got injured or suspended. I learnt everything from them both. They were the two people that got me enthused about the game.

Photo Finish
Another perfectly-timed run from Nathan Dawson gets Beef City Starzzz home by a long-neck in race five at Redcliffe Paceway last Wednesday evening (February 14).

“I came to Queensland in 1972 after I met my wife, and we will have been married 50 years in April (26th). We have had many horses over the years, and all of our breeding has been done at Burwood Stud.

“We are happy to have our last two horses with Peter and Patrice. I always liked him as a trainer and driver and that’s why our horses are there. We still have a ‘gentleman’s agreement to this day. They are honest as the day is long, are great horse people, and don’t talk bulls**t,” Mr Clifton said.

The Cliftons have three adult sons, Joeseph, Paul and Pat, and eight grand-children (seven grandsons and the youngest little girl).

“We all love harness racing, except our middle son Paul who always wanted us to sell the horses and buy a really nice boat (which he got in the end),” Mr Clifton said.

Beef City Blaze, Brendan Barnes, and connections, pictured after winning the $31,000 Regional Championship Final on grand final night of the 2024 Inter Dominions at Albion Park (December 16). Sadly Mr Clifton was too ill to make the seven hour trip south from Rockhampton.

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