Runaway trainers. Why Moody and Heathcote will make us all filthy rich.

July 30, 2011

There’s no such thing as the perfect trainer.

Even the great ones get beat. TJ came up empty every now and then. Bart lost a Melbourne Cup one day.

There are horses involved. Sometimes they don’t do as they’re told. Jockeys too. Wet tracks. Bad barriers. Painful as it is, losses are part of the game.

They can’t win them all, but some go mighty close. Followers of Peter Moody and Rob Heathcote this season have been collecting more often than not.

Moody has trained more than 100 Melbourne winners in twelve months. Breathtaking stuff. Only been done twice before.

His premiership lead over Mark Kavanagh is more than 60. It’s difficult to fathom how one trainer could be so dominant in such a tough racing city.

All that, and still a strike rate of over 20%. I have to take my shoes off to count to 20, but even I know that’s impressive.

His mate north of the border has also been in rare form. Heathcote cracked the elusive 60 wins in Brisbane.

Don’t worry about comparing the figures. Nowhere near as many meetings up here.

It’s only the third time in 160 years that the milestone has been achieved. Some wonderful Queensland trainers haven’t been able to get close.

So how did they do it? Well, they’re two different blokes. With striking similarities.

Moody is the boy from the Queensland bush, who was born to make horses run fast. A life of refusing to take no for an answer.

Heathcote hails from Tasmania. In another life he was a tour guide in Europe. He’s travelled more than the Concorde.

Look at them now, and marvel at their success. The quest to be the best starts at 3am. Every day.

Both are incredibly hard workers. Great listeners. They surround themselves with the most talented staff. And engage the finest jockeys.

They know the importance of owners, and don’t treat them as fools. No hanging up when someone from the media rings. Most of the time.

The pressure involved in training the very best gallopers is enormous. How must it be when you’re the bloke saddling Black Caviar?

When Moody came north with the mighty mare, he could have locked himself away in an expensive city hotel, and rocked gently back and forward until race time.

Know where he was the day before she created history at Doomben? At the Brekky Creek hotel. Having a beer, and getting slapped on the back by half of Brisbane.

I’ve been lucky enough to know Rob Heathcote for a few years now. He trained the first winner our mob was involved in. We went nuts. And he was genuinely excited for us.

There’s nothing better than watching him in action at trackwork. Doesn’t miss a thing. Even though he’s barking orders, stirring strappers and patting the dog.

Others do the same, I know. But winning premierships and breaking records is no fluke. I’m sure Bart once said “..the harder I work, the luckier I get”. That’s Cummings, not Simpson.

These two deserve every bit of the success they’re achieving. At the top of their respective trees.

We can be guilty of not saluting our stars in the racing game. Maybe it’s because the meetings never end. There’s always another race, somewhere.

Mind you, Peter and Rob won’t complain. As long as horses are healthy, owners are happy, and the winners keep coming, they couldn’t give two hoots.

It’s not finished, of course. Watch them win the last races at Doomben and Caulfield today. More easy money for their followers. A perfect end to a season most only dream of.

The best tip of the day is that Peter Moody and Rob Heathcote are only going to get better. Blokes who chase perfection are like that.

An important message for Hold All Tickets racing readers. All four of you.

July 29, 2011

As a dedicated and valued reader of Hold All Tickets, you’ll be fully aware of how things work around here.

Tuesday is fun day. A laugh at life. Usually at my expense. Sometimes involving a bloke’s bumbling efforts at being a dad.

Up until now, Friday has been racing day. For punters, and those who share a love of the track. Hard luck stories. Maybe even a tip. Followed by the foolish and the brave.

Well, not any more. Friday, that is. Because Friday has become Saturday.

That’s right. You’ll now find the Hold All Tickets racing blurb ready to go each and every Saturday morning. Just in time to ignore when you sit down to do the form.

The shift comes after extensive research. If you call a drunken conversation at the Ipswich races research.

There’ll still be tales of woe, and ramblings from fun days at the track many moons ago. The odd colourful character. And a crook tip or too.

So, that’s the deal. Something to add to your reading list to start the weekend.

Tuesday is still Tuesday. Confused? Welcome to my life.

Of course, if this routine change has you worried that you’ll be missing out on what the cool kids are talking about, you can always subscribe, for FREE.

Have a look for the ‘Sign Me Up’ box on the Hold All Tickets home page. Whack your e-mail address in. And you’ll never miss these dribblings again. What a gift for that special someone.

You might also be reading via Facebook or Twitter. Even the Yahoo 7 website. That’s right. There’s no escape.

So, that’s the important message. OK, it wasn’t that important.

At least you have no excuse to miss tomorrow’s masterpiece. And I have one whole extra day to work out what it is.

The joys of an early morning walk. Unless you become road kill in the crazy lady’s driveway.

July 26, 2011

My physiotherapist dabbles in part-time work with the CIA.

Lovely girl. She specialises in soft tissue torture for terrorists and blokes recovering from dislocated ankles.

She’s indicated that she’d like me to resume my early morning walks. Actually, it was an order. Get active, or I’ll massage your achilles tendon into next week.

Only us oldies walk before dawn. Young people get their exercise in normal hours. They play footy and netball and Nintendo.

Yes, I know there are those of my vintage who wake up and decide to run marathons. Or ride bikes across continents. They give the rest of us a bad name. You know who you are.

Luckily, the sports clinic torturer has no such plans for me. A pre-sunrise stroll is enough to keep me in her good books.

It’s true that I don’t walk fast. More a leisurely half-hour wander, taking in the sights and sounds of the local neighborhood.

One reason for this lack of pace is my attire. I’m weighed down, for warmth. Footy jumpers, and jackets, and trackie pants, and a nice thick black beanie. As usual, no prizes for fashion.

Even in winter, there are others on the move before dawn. Members of a mobile community.

My first contact each morning is with The Working Lady. She carries a serious look. I assume she’s on her way to catch an early bus. I can set my watch by her.

For the first week, she averted my gaze. The girls reckon she thought I was heading to my next break and enter. That’s what the black beanie does to a man.

Slowly, however, I brought her around. Now we exchange quick pleasantries. No smile yet, but I’m working on it.

Around the first bend, I’ll be overtaken by The Silent Swooper.

At a guess, he’d be in his sixties. Not much hair, from the back. That’s the only view I get of him.

The Silent Swooper whooshes past. Scares me every time, because I never hear him coming.

He wears shorts, a cardigan, and old white Dunlop Volleys. No beanie. Fast, and oblivious to the icy air. I bet he laughs at me over breakfast.

A few minutes later, I’ll dodge The Mad Reverser.

I swear she’s waiting in the driveway every morning. Sitting in her car, engine running, ready to leave the garage. I can be early or late. No matter. She’ll still be gunning for me.

As I approach, she’ll thrust her Mazda into reverse, in the hope of claiming a scalp. Or beanie.

My theory is that she has breakfast and does her make-up in the driver’s seat, while a roadside camera monitors my imminent shuffling.

After I dodge the Mazda’s rear bumper, it’s plain sailing to the home straight, where I’ll find a highlight of the day. The Little Stretcher.

My Asian friend is elderly. I believe he may have put the finishing touches on  the Great Wall of China. Not that it affects his walking.

Sometimes I see him twice. This is because he’ll often lap me. With a big smile and cheery hello.

You can’t miss him, because he walks while doing arm stretches. Usually upwards. Like he’s reaching to grab an apple from a tall tree. Or, given his lack of height, a small shrub.

Our daily encounter is a brief one, but I sense The Little Stretcher is a happy man. Happy and healthy. He makes the rest of us smile.

I wonder what made him start walking? He may have suffered an injury too. Maybe a chunk of the Great Wall fell on him. And he’s been reaching for imaginary fruit ever since.

We’re all on our own journeys. And it’s nice to be inspired along the way. I’d thank him for that. If only I could keep up.

Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday. And back some winners at Ipswich.

July 22, 2011

There’s nothing like a Friday afternoon in Ipswich.

Not for the shopping, or the dining. Although I’m sure that would be enjoyable too.

No, I’m referring to racing. Surprise surprise.

The end of the week meeting at Bundamba. It’s become a regular event on the turf calender.

Of course, you need a day off to enjoy it. Or holidays. Or have a kindly boss.

There are plenty of advantages in heading to the track mid-week. You’ll always find a seat. Want a row to yourself? No problem.

If you’re chasing a cool drink, forget lining up. Every chance you’ll have your own barman. From experience, that can be dangerous.

What I’m trying to say, is that it’s not a hectic afternoon. Far from it. And that’s the beauty of these meetings. Relaxing. Without the push and shove of a Saturday.

I know a bit about the mid-weekers. Because in another life, I worked weekends.

Those who toil on a Saturday and Sunday enjoy a weekday or two off. Unless you’re employed in a Chinese salt mine. If that’s the case, and you’re reading this, welcome aboard. Now get back to work.

Generally, I enjoyed being off when everyone else was on duty. Easier to pay the bills. Empty cinemas. Fewer people at the shops. And mid-week races.

I had one of my biggest wins on a Wednesday.

Many years ago now. Bored, and with no playmates, I’d jumped on a train bound for Warwick Farm.

Late in the day, I jagged a trifecta. A decent one. It was more money than I’d seen for many a month. My solo jig in the public stand was the talk of the track.

The boys at home were filthy. Not only was I strutting around a racecourse while they were working, I was winning. That day anyway.

Since then, my mid-week visits have been few and far between. Gainful employment will do that to a man.

There are exceptions though. And today is such a day. The annual Crimestoppers Raceday at Royal Ipswich. It gets bigger every year. And it’s a ripper.

They do a great job, this bunch, helping police catch bad guys. Cops and community working together.

It will be the biggest Friday crowd all year. There’ll be a heap of them on track. Some might even get Full on Friday.

The racing? Don’t get too excited. Seven events. Four of them maidens. Tips welcome. Ok, it’s not Derby Day at Flemington. But there’ll be laughs and refreshments. Hard not to have fun.

When the sun goes down, the crowd will head to the local club, and have a few more. All in the name of charity, of course.

A word of warning if you’re thinking of coming along. Full Friday can lead to Sick Saturday. You might need another day off. Unless you’re in that salt mine.

Helpful tips for Dads when a teenager leaves home. Even if it’s to go shopping.

July 19, 2011

This day had been coming. Marked in Dad’s Diary, with all other painful looming milestones. The ‘Shopping with Friends Alone’ day.

It sounded innocent enough. A request had been made for her to spend a day roaming the city streets. No parents required.

A school buddy wanted help buying shoes to wear at a wedding. They had to be just right. The Teenager’s fashion sense was in demand. She was happy with that.

Smartly, she played it down to us. No big deal. We’ll walk around. Just the two of us. Eat. Shop. Only for a few hours. Like all the other kids do.

Emphasis was placed on that last bit. We hear lots about “all the other kids”. They’re having buckets of fun, you know. At all hours. With an endless flow of cash.

It’s true, we’ve taken a cautious approach to parenting. No apologies there. The girls accept it, through gritted teeth and rolling eyes.

Daughter Two urged us to refuse. Unless she was allowed to go too. Priceless. The way of the younger sister.

The whole thing made me nervous. Yes, she’s responsible. Yes, she’s careful. And yes, the time had come to extend some freedom. Damn it.

We agreed that I’d drop her to the friend’s house in the morning, from where they could make the short bus trip. Without us. The afternoon would be theirs. Sort of.

As luck would have it, Daughter Two and I had things we could do in the city too. That meant we could collect them at the end of the day.

She’s a smart one, The Teenager. I could see she was considering flying the protest flag. Too much parental involvement. But weighing things up, quickly, she realised that this was the best deal going. And we’d actually said yes.

Her friend lives with mum in a city unit. Nice girl. We dropped The Teenager at the front gate, and within a giggling nano-second they disappeared inside.

Daughter Two and I slowly returned to the car. She asked why the girls didn’t come with us instead. Who’d rather catch a stinky bus than drive in the car?

Good point. I tried to stay calm. What if there was a rave party going on in that unit block? With sound proof walls? Was The Teenager’s mobile phone charged, in case she needed me to rescue her?

You know, there was a time when she wouldn’t cross the road without holding my hand. If I forgot, perhaps distracted by an upcoming trifecta, she’d grab mine first. And smile.

Not any more. Sigh.

We drove off. I looked in vain for smoke and flashing lights inside the unit. Is that what they have inside rave parties? Curse my lack of research.

The phone didn’t ring. I gathered myself. TRUST her. Half the time the girl is more mature than me anyway. Don’t tell The Treasurer that.

A few hours passed. Her sister and I were having fun, doing lots of nothing. Over lunch, we told stories. She was chatting away, as she does. And, I suspect, enjoying the rare solo status.

She’s 10, still with a wonderful splash of silliness. I hope she never loses it. Makes me laugh, constantly.

The questions never end. All with a straight face. Do you know when Beauty and the Geek starts again? Can I have a kitten for my birthday? How can you be sure this is fresh apple juice? For the record, I answered no, no and I don’t know.

We walked back out into the mall, and I realised she was holding my hand. Happy to be seen with her dad. For now, at least. Sigh.

The bridal shopping was a success. They arrived at our organised meeting place on time. I scanned the surrounds for smirking boys. Nothing. Ice creams were bought to celebrate.

We survived the day, both of us. Nothing to worry about, after all.

Bigger challenges are ahead, of course. First dates. Mixed parties. Schoolies.  One small step at a time.

Deep down, I know she’ll be fine. And I will be too. Really I will. Just as long as there’s some hand holding along the way.

Too much fun on the Country Cup circuit. Just be wary of visitors hiding in bushes.

July 15, 2011

The racecaller was wondering what he’d done to deserve this. One of the greats of Australian broadcasting, being interviewed just after sunrise by a young bumbler with pimples.

Gosford Cup day .. 1986. Someone had convinced Ray Warren to leave his warm hotel bed, to be part of an early morning radio segment trackside. With me.

He was calling the local Cup that afternoon. It would be much more enjoyable than what I was putting him through.

I was no expert, but it looked as though the man they call Rabs hadn’t been in bed that long. His room happened to be next to the Gosford RSL club across the road. That may have explained it.

While he gulped a coffee, I was trying to convey to the audience my excitement. And failing miserably.

He could have walked away. Instead, the great man saved me. Struggling though he was, as dusty as the Sahara, he launched into a passionate portrayal of the hours ahead.

He explained what it meant to be part of Cup day. Any Cup day. And if it happened to be your local town, well, even better.

Exactly what I was trying to say.

I’d fallen in love with Gosford’s big racing event two years earlier. Because I backed the winner, a tough little Kiwi named Fountaincourt.

Can you believe I still remember his name? I forget what night to put the bins out, but I can recall a winner from 27 years ago.

He was topweight, after winning the Auckland Cup the year before.

The gutsy gelding charged up that short straight like Phar Lap. And I celebrated like I owned him.

I’ve loved Cup Days ever since. Wherever they’re run. And I’ve been to a few.

In the late eighties we took a bus to a tiny racecourse on the NSW North Coast. Corindi Beach, near Coffs Harbour.

Now, when I say racecourse, I mean a circular stretch of grass without an outside fence. I’m not sure if it’s still there.

The longest race was 600 metres. Getting a decent start was important.

Granted, this wasn’t Flemington. The rules of racing were fairly relaxed. Horses were allowed to run in more than one race.

We started backing the multiple starters, thinking any experience on the goat track had to be beneficial.

There were bookies there. From memory, they drove away smiling in expensive cars.

There was also a foot race. One full lap. We bet on that too.

Two of our boys were nominated. The preparation was hardly ideal. Pies, and a stubbie or three.

A local runner, who may well have trained with De Castella, looked the goods. And raced accordingly. Until our skipper stepped in.

He’d managed to position himself behind a bush in the back straight. The local, now way out in front, had no idea what hit him.

A low, copybook tackle. The captain managed to hold him down long enough for our boys, lungs bursting and heads spinning, to take the quinella.

There may well have been a protest. My memory is a little hazy from that point.

As wonderful as those days were, there’s nothing like a country cup in Queensland.

Tiny tracks, dotted around a giant state. You can’t help but have fun.

They come from all over, often travelling hours. All for a punt, a sip, and a chat.

I was back in Cairns for Cup Day a few years ago. Nothing had changed. Wonderful fun. After the last, The Angels were playing in a back paddock. Where else does that happen?

The circuit is now in full swing. Rockhampton last month. Mackay last week. Townsville next week. And then Cairns.

Look hard, and you’ll find a Cup happening on any given weekend. Tomorrow? Welcome to Ilfracombe, a dot on the map way out west. If you hit Longreach you’ve gone too far. Just.

It’s the Willowie Cup. Eight runners on a dirt track.

Sadly, I won’t make it, but I know they’ll have a ball. Tips? Some important ones.

Pace yourself. Think twice if you spot a horse backing up. And if they ask you to go in the foot race, don’t. You never know who could be lurking in the bushes.

Dad’s open window policy. How it might stop you shivering this winter.

July 12, 2011

Dad peered through the open window of the old EH Holden station wagon, and shook his head.

Across the carpark, one of my teammates was also in a car. With the windows up.

His father had air conditioning. We didn’t. Which meant he was warm.

It was under 10’s soccer, down south. Deep in winter. We had our usual ventilation. The old man swore by it.

One of my childhood memories is having the window open. At home and on the road. Dad was a believer in fresh air. At all times. Reckoned it kept the bugs away.

He had no time for cosy cars. It wasn’t healthy. So my dad, the local carpenter, told his dad, the local pharmacist, his fancy car with hot air was making their family sick.

He didn’t tell me what the reply was.

All those open windows, over all those years, and I can’t remember being cold.

Not now though. Sunny Queensland, and I’m freezing. Every morning. Old and cold. Windows shut tight. What happened to the kid who couldn’t sleep without a bedroom breeze?

I hear what you’re saying. He’s gone soft. Another casualty of the Age of Comforts. Guilty as charged.

The air conditioner is now a best friend. Cranked up. Extra blankets. Double doona.  And God bless the bathroom heater.

It’s costing us a fortune. I don’t care. I need to be warm.

It was all so different back then. We had a bar heater in the lounge room. That was it. Every chance the window was open above it.

My brother and I each slept with a decent blanket. Two if there was a frost. Didn’t need any more. And in the morning, it would be a barefoot stroll to the outside toilet.

In later years, I’d ride my bike to school, in shorts. Early too. I can’t remember ever complaining that it was too chilly to make the trip.

Now it’s all I do. Complain, that is. I’m cold going to bed. Shivering while shaving. I’d need to call a cab if I was still using that backyard dunny.

I put towels down over the bathroom tiles, to protect my tootsies. The Treasurer gets annoyed at this. She prefers bath mats. But they leave gaps. You understand, don’t you?

This won’t make much sense (nothing unusual for these pages), but I blame Cairns for my delicate thin skin. Yes, balmy North Queensland.

When we first went north, life was a constant heat wave. I’d sweat like Sir Les Patterson every other day.

Deep in a northern winter, the boys would be wearing tracksuits and beannies at footy training. They genuinely thought the nights were cold. I didn’t get it.

But just a few years later, I was rugged up too. In the tropics. It made no sense. My internal thermostat had gone haywire.

As soon as we ventured south, it was like I’d been robbed of any ability to handle the chill. And it’s still missing.

It’s true that people survive in locations that are genuinely icy. You might be reading this from such a place now. I bet you even walk barefoot on the bathroom floor. I’m impressed.

It would seem I need to toughen up. If the good folk of Hobart, and Melbourne, and the Blue Mountains can function in single digit temperatures, so can I.

The key could be to open those windows. A decent dose of fresh air. Become as one with the climate. Maybe Dad had it right after all. I’ll give it a try tomorrow night. Not tonight though. It’s freezing out there.

Know a good lawyer? Apparently State of Origin is no defence for silencing your mother-in-law.

July 8, 2011

Righto, let’s take a breath.

What a week. Can you remember a bigger build up to a footy game? And a better result? I doubt it.

Locky bowed out a winner. We shed a tear. The football Gods got it right. Queensland smiled.

Ricky was sad. He shed a tear. The football Gods got it right. Queensland smiled.

Now, I know Fridays are usually time for a racing story or two. A tall tale, or a bold prediction. Maybe some nonsense about a special that slipped through our unlucky paws.

Today, however, something different. A change of pace. The reason? There was a State of Origin incident. It was kept pretty quiet. Nothing in the papers. But the story should be told. I nearly killed a grandmother.

You think it was noisy at Suncorp Stadium? Nothing compared to our house. Because the Blues’ most vocal supporter was sitting on my lounge. My sweet mother-in-law.

Before I explain the two-hour verbal assault, I should tell you a little about the Treasurer’s mum.

She’s a sweetheart. The kindest, caring, most thoughtful old girl you could imagine. Even bakes cheesecakes. But put the footy on, and cross her at your peril.

It could be any game. Origin. Titans. Runaway Bay Under Tens. She will support her team like life depends on it. Loudly.

I have no idea where the voice comes from. It’s un-relenting. Play after play.

If we’re at the game together, I can usually organise an escape. Head to the end of the row. But in my own home, I was trapped.

Referees are particular targets. Opposing teams are always off side. Opposing players are always tackling around the head. I know this, because she yells such comments at a level on par with a jet engine. Constantly.

During a tense time in the first half, I swear Tony Archer looked our way. The Origin whistleblower must have heard her through the telly, thirty suburbs away.

Fighting back is futile. She’s in the zone. Anyway, it would be a brave man who argues the interpretations of the play the ball law with the woman who’ll be preparing his post-origin desert.

My only defence was to turn the TV volume up. Through the roof. For a while it worked. Until I realised I was swapping mum-in-law for Gus Gould. Volume down. The barrage continued.

I imagined my defence lawyer. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, the defendant had no choice. The noise became too much. Insanity by way of disrupting Locky’s farewell. Can you blame him?”

Ok, I’ve gone too far. No one took harm in the construction of this article. Except my ear drums.

As is always the case, the crazed footy fan departed on the stroke of full-time. Replaced in an instant by the Grandma we love so much. She even clapped Locky. Said kind words about Mal. Then gave me a hug and did the dishes.

I admire her passion. Even if it is deafening. She’s the same about her kids and  grandkids. Her son-in-law too, who wears the wrong colours. Loves us all. And doesn’t care who knows. Just ask Tony Archer.

Farewell Locky, and thanks. From the next generation of Maroons.

July 5, 2011

I like my champions humble. No loudmouths required. No need for tyres to be pumped up. Guys that leave the game in better shape than when they started. And they give back, constantly.

For mine, the best ones are those special characters who work their entire career, craving the respect of their teammates. Young men and women who more often than not become leaders, on and off the field.

Sure, some of the better ones have egos you couldn’t jump over with a decent run up. Good luck to them. Just not my type.

I’m not using the term hero here. Because the people I’m talking about, athletes who perform feats that dazzle us each weekend, know they’re not heroes. They get embarrassed by the comparison.

A hero is a bloke like Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. The Aussie soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross earlier this year. Remember him? A giant of a man. Wouldn’t he do some damage running off Thurston? You’d rather be feeding him for a day than a week.

Instead of performing on the paddock, he gets the job done on the battle field. With bullets whizzing past his ears. He single-handedly stormed a machine gun post in Afghanistan, to save the lives of his fellow Diggers. Yep, that’s a hero.

Which brings me to Darren Lockyer. A special type if ever there was one. A gifted footballer with a rare talent, who would cringe at being on the same page as a VC winner.

He’ll captain his beloved Queensland for the final time tomorrow night. You may have read about it. The Origin Decider. Pretty big deal. In front of a sell out crowd at the home of rugby league. With every lounge room and every pub in Queensland screaming his nickname.

A crowded desk of Hollywood scriptwriters with access to a full bar couldn’t have come up with this script. The perfect farewell. At the perfect stadium. Against the perfect enemy.

It’s difficult to line Locky up with the greats who’ve gone before him. Not that he’d want you to anyway.

The King is the natural comparison. But he’s not Wally, who was larger than life. Tallis was larger than everyone else. I swear he grew a few inches when he stepped over the chalk.

Alfie was smaller than everyone else. With a heart larger than everyone else. And Gilly was tougher than everyone else. Humble too. But different again.

No, he’s not any of those legends. Because he’s his own man. And he’s a champion.

It’s hard enough to be number one in the world in one position. It’s easy to forget, the skipper has been the best in two. With a bit more hair and a clearer voice, Locky was the ultimate fullback. He wasn’t running through those holes. He was gliding. Twinkling toes barely touching the turf.

It’s the way old timers describe the great Dragon Reg Gasnier slicing through defences. Yes, I’m talking about people who are older than me. They do exist.

Locky could have played out his time in the Number One jersey, breaking try scoring records, and at the same time adding a few years to his career. But he didn’t.

He was given a challenge, and he accepted. Play a new role. Wear the six. Become a true leader. And a greater player. Yet another reason why he’s a champion.

You’ll never hear the bloke give himself a wrap. He’ll praise the team, and the coach, and sometimes even his opponents. But not himself. It’s not his style.

Darren is not one for extravagance. No crazy PR stunts. The hospital visits, the chats to others down on their luck, are done in private. And there are plenty of them. Sound like a champion to you?

You’ve heard him say he doesn’t want the decider to be about him. And he means that. With all his might. Because he doesn’t see himself bigger than anyone else. Certainly not more important than the others. And most of all, not bigger than the game itself.

What he wants to do tomorrow night is run, and tackle, and lead. He wants to make the right choices in attack, every play. He wants to defend like his life depends on it.  He’ll drive the big blokes, and keep emotions in check when the going gets tough. And he won’t niggle anyone. Not once.

I want him to be holding the shield above his head after fulltime. Yes, the perfect farewell. I want Mal to produce that toothy smile. I want big Sam to give him a bear hug, and Thurston to do that groovy hand shake.

It means all of Queensland will smile on Thursday. An entire state will be happy. Poor Gus and Ricky will go home, and complain about something. Making our smile even bigger.

And I reckon it will happen. I do.

As great as that is, there’s something even better. Because of Darren Lockyer, there’ll be a spring in the step of kids from Coolangatta to Coen.

In backyards, and parks, and playgrounds, they’ll be running with the footy, and laughing. Playing with their mates, and their brothers, and their dads. Running, and stepping, and scoring.

It’s how all those great names started. Those same neighborhood games.

This week, and for the weeks and months ahead, youngsters will be inspired by a bloke who plays the game for all the right reasons. Loves everything it stands for. A humble man, who just happens to be the best there is. A true champion.

The thrill of the chase. From Lang Park to the track, why we love a swooper.

July 1, 2011

There’s nothing like a big finish. A barnstorming end. Victory in the last seconds. Winning in the final bound.

A Warne wicket on the last ball. Steve Waugh smacking a boundary at day’s end to reach his ton and put the Poms in their place.

How many origins have we seen go down to the wire? Games won and lost in a final set of six. Coyne’s miracle try in ’94. Billy the Kid stealing it from Ricky Stuart’s mob in Game One this year.

Premiership deciders too. What about Andrew Johns in the ’97 grand final? I know, he’s a Blue, but credit where credit’s due.

Last throw of the dice, and he darts down a crowded blind side. No-one else would have done that. Joey finds Darren Albert, and with six seconds left, the Knights win their first premiership. Now that’s a finish.

Roar fans were crying into their plastic beers in this year’s A-League decider. Red hot favourites, and they were on the way out. Big time.

Two goals down in extra time, the Orange army members were heading for the exits. But as George Michael so elegantly put it – ‘ya gotta have faith’.

Not only did they level the score with seconds left, the Brisbane boys won the penalty shoot out. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

In racing, it’s a tight finish that gets the blood pumping. Especially when a crowd favourite is flashing home. We generally spot it late, back in the field. And then hope like hell that it’s ours.

There are some famous ones. Like the Golden Slipper in 2000. You don’t win Slippers by missing the start. Belle du Jour didn’t just miss the kick. She nibbled on carrots and applied lipstick before leaving the gates. Singo owned her. Naughty words were uttered.

Last into the straight, the filly couldn’t win. No way. Then Lenny Beasley started weaving a path. In and out, back and forward. Whoosh. She got there in the last stride.

It happened last year too. Not quite the Slipper. On the beautiful big track at Caloundra. The Sunshine Coast Turf club’s biggest Saturday of the year. The Glasshouse Handicap.

It was a ride I’ll never forget. Because the bloke who performed the miracle is no longer with us.

Woorim was way back. Last, cluttered up behind the big field. But then Stathi Katsidis got to work.

He waited. And waited. Then he weaved. We held our breath. In a flash, he had Woorim back on the inside, charging. Horse and jockey hadn’t missed a beat. What a ride. You won’t see many better.

In an age of great jockeys, only a handful could have done what Stathi did that day. As I’ve said on these pages before, we’re all so much poorer for his passing.

Rob Heathcote’s gelding returns to Caloundra tomorrow. And he has plenty against him to win again. A whopping five and a half extra kilos. He’ll get way back. And if it’s wet, forget it.

But all is not lost. The bloke up top, Damian Browne, is one of the few who could match Stathi as his best. Trust me, he’s a genius. No longer under the radar. For a long while the boys and I were getting over the odds every time he went around.

There are other threats. The McLachlan family has Phelan Ready primed. The local hope. They’d love to do it for dad, the late Big Bruce.

On his day, the other Heathcote horse, Gundy Son, can do anything. And Gerald Ryan is supremely confident with his last start Ipswich winner Adnocon.

Looking for a long shot? Keep an eye on Viking Legend. The bloke riding him, Chris O’Brien, is one of the most under-rated hoops in the game. He’s making the trip from Gosford, and he’s not coming for the pies. Trust me, this bloke’s as good as any of them.

As long as the rain stays away, I’ll be sticking with Woorim. Very unlucky in the Stradbroke. If you join me, be brave. Hold your nerve. If he gets up, it will be late. Maybe in the last stride. Like Warney, and Coyney, and Joey.

Remember, there’s nothing like a close finish. Unless we get beat. That falls into the category of “oh so bloody close”. You won’t be surprised to know I have plenty of those tales. Sad, painful, unfair stories. For another day.