In the lead-up to last years inaugural The Everest, Peter Vlandys had a quirky way of answering the phone if someone he knew called.
“Hello, Edmund Hillary,” hed joke, pretending to be the New Zealand mountaineer who was the first to climb the worlds tallest mountain.
Vlandys is the dag in the $200 suit that doesnt properly fit him, in an inexpensive shirt thats too big, and even cheaper tie that doesnt match either.
When he was branded “elitist” last week over the Opera House kerfuffle for wanting to project lights onto its sails for The Everest barrier draw, it jarred with those who know him and regularly deal with him. A son of hard-working Greek migrants, Vlandys wears “working class” as a badge of honour.
Hes also one of the most connected operators in the city. He has the ear of Alan Jones, as we saw earlier this week. He's close to News Corp because of the huge amounts of advertising dollars he spends with them. (It should be pointed out that Racing NSW also advertises with Fairfax Media). And Premier Gladys Berejiklian would be silly to underestimate him.
He moves the world even if sometimes he comes across like he should be moving used cars on Parramatta Road. Despite the inclement weather on Saturday, The Everest was another raging success in just its second year.
Vlandys has faced the blowtorch in the past week for his 2GB interview with Jones, who got him back on air so they could gang up on Opera House chief executive Louise Herron.
He usually plays the media quite well. But in his rampant attempt to give The Everest more exposure than the sun, hes made a few errors.
Last month, The Daily Telegraph splashed on their front page a story in which Vlandys bagged “NSW bureaucrats” for having a “cant do” and “apathetic” attitude when it comes to major Sydney events.
“Melbourne has the smelly Yarra River, its got the most dreary city on Earth with the worst weather, yet NSW bows and scrapes to it all the time,” he said. “We consume the Melbourne Cup, the AFL grand final, the Australian tennis open. In stark contrast, Sydney has the most beautiful city in the world and without any doubt the best harbour in the world and we do nothing to drive our own assets.”
He's actually right. This city and state often actively work against headline sport. Melbourne plays us off a break.
But V'landys went on the attack because he didn't get his own way: he wanted the jockeys racing colours draped off the Harbour Bridge to promote the Everest and "the bureaucrats" were having none of it.
It was an old-school, tongue-in-cheek tactic of using the press to make a point but, in reality, it was vague and lacked class.
So, too, were his comments about the “publicity” created by the Opera House controversy, saying it had given The Everest worldwide exposure. It actually created a shitfight that gave reason for racings detractors to trot out repetitive lines about the scourge of gambling and animal cruelty.
Good for racing? Not at all.
Privately, Vlandys has admitted to others that going back on air as Jones verbally mugged Herron was a mistake. Others say hes been rattled and worn down by the controversy.
Vlandys is belligerent and single-minded in his attempt to do whats best for his sport. It is often mistaken as a power trip. He just takes his job very seriously.
He took on the Pope when the Catholic Church wanted to hold World Youth Day at Randwick. He took on federal and state governments as the industry battled the equine influenza epidemic and he also took on the corporate bookmakers, wanting a slice of their wagering turnover.
But, as weve seen this week, sometimes his passion can miss the mark.
Those in rugby league are starting to understand the Cult of Vlandys, too.
He was appointed to the Australian Rugby League Commission in March, having been convinced by cranky Sydney clubs to take on the role. Vlandys is fiercely loyal and theres a fear hes beholden to those powerbrokers who helped him get there.
Others also believe its just a matter of time before he unseats former Queensland premier Peter Beattie as chairman.
Last month, Vlandys addressed a meeting of club chairmen and chief executives about wagering turnover on rugby league and how the game can dramatically increase their cut from it.
Naturally, the eyes of the club bosses lit up. More money for them. But the way Vlandys captivated the room prompted even his most ardent critics to suggest Beattie was a dead man walking.
Vlandys has been zipping about like a pinball to promote The Everest, but hes not one for taking the stage like Beattie, or his predecessor John Grant. Hes a “can do” kind of operator.
More than once, people in racing – and now rugby league – have suggested he prefers a fight than a feed and thats fair enough.
Of course, The Everest still has a long way to go. Only time will tell if it's a success. As a race, despite the massive prizemoney, its no better than the autumns TJ Smith.
What is certain is that Edmund Hillary will be taking no prisoners to promote it, regardless of what people say or write about him.
Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald