Racing fan and philanthropist Father Joe Giacobbe.
Racing fan and philanthropist Father Joe Giacobbe. Leigh Jensen

Father Joe loves a punt

RACING: Melbourne's punting priest Father Joe Giacobbe was an interested spectator at Coffs Harbour races on Saturday and it’s not the first time he’s been found lingering in turf circles.

Famous in the southern state for his passionate love of horse sports and as founder of the Doxa Youth Foundation, Father Joe has raised millions of dollars to assist disadvantaged youth, assisted by countless friends and acquaintances in the racing and sporting community.

He and Takeover Target’s owner-trainer Joe Janiak met by chance on July 14, 2004 – the day ‘Archie’ won the Ramornie Handicap in Grafton – with the bond strengthening and the priest becoming an integral part of Team Target.

“Joe is a great humanitarian and it’s rubbed off on the horse,” he said.

“That’s why he’s become so successful as he really cares about people.”

Father Joe laid the foundations of what was to become Doxa in 1972 while working in Fitzroy parish, the home of many disadvantaged children.

He began taking kids away on camping adventures but costs limited his original vision.

“At one stage we had 150 kids off to camp and as most of the money was coming out of my own salary and limited funds, keeping it going became a problem,” he recalled.

They say ‘the Lord will provide’ and blessed relief came in the guise of legendary jockey Roy Higgins, who harnessed support from an enormous network of contacts and $300,000 was raised at that first 1973 sportsmen’s dinner to put Doxa on its way.

Later, in a true stroke of genius, Father Joe founded racing newspaper Winning Post but for a while it struggled to break even.

“There was a time I had to sell my car to pay the printers,” he laughed.

“Some people said I was mad to keep going but I kept the faith and just knew there was a niche for a free form guide.

“Once the idea finally caught on, at its height it was making half a million dollars a year for Doxa.

“Then came an offer I couldn’t refuse and with the $2.7 million dollars from the sale of the paper, we were able to buy our headquarters near Flinders Street Station and expand the work of the Foundation.”

True to form, the premises were once the site of a gaming club.

The sale was followed by another dabble into turf journalism with bestseller The Spirit Of Racing written in conjunction with famous racing writer Ron Taylor published in 2008.

Today, Father Joe still takes the kids on camping holidays and the two branches of Doxa still work hard to create opportunities for disadvantaged young people.

The Youth Foundation is the business side, delivering recreational and education programs through two schools, while encouraging young people who find staying at school difficult to persist and aim for university.

Meanwhile, the Doxa Social Club leads the fundraising and ‘fun-raising’ side of the venture and this is where Joe Janiak and Takeover Target come in.

Trainer Joe may be seen as a man of few words but he’s helped Father Joe by speaking at celebrity dinners while Archie helps give kids a future by donating proceeds from the sale of memorabilia from his brilliant career.

“I love the racing up here and Coffs is a great place,” Father Joe remarked. “Hope I can find a winner while I’m in town.”

To discover more about Doxa Youth Foundation or to offer assistance, visit www.doxa.org.au



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