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.