The model family. Except for Dad. He’s got a head like a smashed crab.

September 27, 2011

I accept that I won’t be mistaken for Brad Pitt anytime soon.

It’s never been an issue. Not everyone can be blessed with dashing Hollywood looks.

These days, it’s fair to say that I’m built more for comfort than speed. Maturity, at least in appearance.

It was never a problem when I worked on the wireless. I feature in the Wikipedia entry titled “Great head for radio.”

Don’t tell anyone in the TV world. They haven’t seemed to notice yet. Even behind the scenes I have the potential to frighten small kids and animals.

The reason I feel compelled to outline these cosmetic shortcomings, is that the women in my life are the complete opposite.

They are all good sorts. And it seems others are noticing.

The Teenager is tall, elegant, and gorgeous. That’s a Dad Description.

Daughter Two as well. Another rare beauty. Dad Description # 2. We’re told they have a young, natural look. This, apparently, is a good thing.

Both did a school holiday course a while back, on the basics of deportment. It was run by a leading model agency. They must have been professional, because it cost me a small fortune.

Over a week, the young ladies are shown such things as how to walk tall, and why it’s poor form to spit on the footpath.

It concluded with a formal evening, and as I munched on what must have been the world’s most expensive sausage roll, I had to admit that they both looked stunning.

I thought that would be the end of it. Wrong. There were photos planned for the following week. I pondered a second mortgage. And still more surprises were ahead.

When The Treasurer took them to the studio, a funny thing happened. The photographer decided the girls’ mother should be in the shoot too.

She does have past experience in the modelling world. One year, she was known as the Tuggerah Lakes Mardi Gras Queen. At a younger age. Not that she’s old now. Anyway, let’s move on..

It was decided in the studio, possibly by someone with a pony tail, that the three of them had Something. Together, they had The Look.

Advertisers are constantly searching for The Look. They want happy, smiling families, to show off cars, or cough medicines, or new homes.

After some snaps were taken of mother and daughters, it was suggested that they could be used in commercials. This excited them greatly.

There was, of course, a problem. The happy, smiling family was missing someone. Me.

Forget the fact that I would rather stick bamboo sticks under my toenails than sit in on a photo shoot. This family still needs a father.

The girls explained that the agency would use a replacement dad. It was noted that this didn’t seem to concern them greatly. I could tell by the laughter.

I’m not getting too worried yet. They’re still waiting for the phone call. When it comes, I’ve promised to support my model family. As long as I get a cut of the takings.

I’ve told them I want a say in who plays the part of me. And the ground rules are clear. First and foremost, he can’t be too good-looking.

My stand in needs to be believable. A little older. Maybe carrying a few pounds. A form guide in his pocket. Reading glasses. And bad dress sense. Now, where can we find someone like that?

The perils of change. And replacement jockeys. Another way for punters to do their dough.

September 24, 2011

I loathe change.

Call me a creature of habit. And proud of it. At home, and work, and on the punt.

Giggle if you like. I don’t mind. I’m old and I can take your barbs.

I just think there’s something to be said for routine. And nowhere is it more important than the sporting arena.

My heart sinks when a halfback pulls out of a footy team. There goes the game plan.

Watch a decent cricket side when a new wicket keeper comes in. Nothing is smooth, no matter how talented the gloveman might be.

In the racing game, I would suggest that change should be avoided whenever possible. Or you’ll end up with loose change.

Late switches? Disastrous. Avoid like the plague. If it involves a jockey, run from the room and wave your arms in the air.

You know where I’m heading here. Although we’ve gone around the block to get there. Smart Missile today at Caulfield. Minus an injured Glen Boss.

His replacement is one of the world’s best. Brett Prebble is a gun. I’d back him anywhere he’s riding. But not today.

Here’s my theory. Based on absolutely no scientific evidence. Horses get to know their jockeys. They relax just that little bit more with a buddy up top. Especially the good ones.

Think Greg Childs and Sunline. Nolen and Black Caviar. Boss and Makybe Diva. Cassidy and Might and Power. They go better for those they know.

I can hear you chortling. Yes, they were champions anyway. Yes, they had other jockeys ride them. But you’re missing my point. And yes, I have one.

Smart Missile, the 3-year-old with a mind of his own, will be looking for Bossy this afternoon. His voice, and his touch. Instead, he’ll get Prebble. A bloke who was in Hong Kong yesterday.

I can hear you screaming examples to prove what a fool I am. Well, save your breath. I have my own painful story.

Yes, this policy has brought me unstuck big time before. Guess who the jockey was? G Boss.

It was the 1995 Golden Slipper. In the weeks before, I’d been following an unpredictable Freedman colt at long odds. Flying Spur.

He drew the inside gate in the Slipper. Jim Cassidy had the ride. At the time, no-one was riding better than the Pumper.

I’d declared him to anyone silly enough to listen. A major collect was looming. Until disaster struck.

The Pumper was outed the day before the big race. The infamous Jockey Tapes affair. Replaced by a young bloke from Queensland.

It was too much for me. As much as I thought the horse was the best in the field, I couldn’t bring myself to embrace the late change.

You know the rest. Flying Spur, with Boss riding for his life, saluted at 25 to 1. Beat Octagonal. I watched the tragedy unfold in a Cairns pub. And cried.

Did I learn my lesson? No. And over time, despite that horrible mistake, I reckon results have averaged my way, whenever change has been in the wind.

So, no Smart Missile for me today. It will be Woorim’s day. With his trusted jockey, Damian Browne, up top. Snug as a pair of old boots. First Group 1 for Rob Heathcote. Start chilling stubbies at the stables now.

I’m happy for you to tell me how wrong I am. Just not right now. I’m reading the papers. And you can’t change routine.

A childhood spent outside. The beauty of having a big yard and a slobbering dog.

September 20, 2011

As a kid, I lived my life outside. Nothing much of interest happened inside. The backyard was my playground. It’s what we did.

Every minute of daylight was put to healthy use. And some moonlight. Mum would call more than once to get me inside for dinner.

People of my vintage tell these stories. The younger generation delivers a collective yawn and advises that we don’t ‘get it’. Which is often the truth.

Something beyond dispute, is the quality and importance of the backyard. The ancient times of my youth is a clear winner.

Blocks are shrinking. More and more places have no yard at all.

Our family moved a few times during my childhood. We lost our first house. Dad’s building business crashed. The bank made him sell the home that he’d built for us. It knocked him around.

For a sports-mad youngster, there was a bonus. Our new rental place, humble as it may have been, had a ripper yard. Complete with Hills hoist and outside dunny. It was long and spacious. The yard, not the outhouse.

During winter, Dad and I would spend hours throwing the footy around. Catching, and kicking, and commentating on future glory. Mum would call fulltime and drag us up the back steps.

But it was summer when our outside arena came to the fore. It was an ideal backyard cricket ground.

Over our fence was a dirt lane, and then a spare block of land, overgrown with grass and weeds. Just the sort of wide spaces that encouraged lusty on-side shots.

We positioned the stumps at the far end, so the batsman had to be careful in his decision-making. To the right, was the dunny, and Dad’s shed. If you hit in that direction, you had to make sure it was along the ground.

The value shot was to the left. Anything loose from the bowler would be dispatched over the fence, into that spare block.

Dad would bowl over after over, in fading light. He’d still be in his work clothes, after toiling on a building site somewhere. But he would send them down, without complaint.

I think back, and wonder how I ended up such a crap batsman in adult years. It was certainly not through a lack of practice. Possibly a lack of talent.

Someone else loved that yard, and those endless summer arvos with bat and ball. Our dog, Tess.

She was a beautiful black border collie. I can’t remember where we got her, or how we paid for her, given money was so tight. But we adored her.

She lived for our cricket games. Our best fieldsman by far. She could catch. And importantly for the weary bowler, she could chase.

Whenever I’d whack one deep into the spare block, she’d be galloping after it. Thanks to her efforts, it was rare for us to ever lose a ball. It would come back covered in dribble, but that was a small price to pay.

After Dad’s death, we moved a few more times. Nowhere was quite like that backyard.

Now, I have a yard that is tiny by comparison. There is a rusting swing set, and a trampoline that doesn’t get used much anymore.

Our dog Coco is only a little bigger than the tennis balls Tess used to chase. I get home after dark, so there’s no bowling to be done. The girls hate cricket anyway.

There is hope, however. Daughter Two is now playing touch football. Finally, a reason for our family to own a footy. And to get outside.

This weekend, we’re going to spend some time in our yard. A short break from laptops, phones, and i-pods.

If we had been given access to so many gadgets all those years ago, maybe we would have stayed inside too. Or maybe not. Tess would never have forgiven me.

Tips on how to survive a day trackside with a bunch of thirsty non-punters.

September 17, 2011

There’s nothing like a day at the track with mates who wouldn’t know a favourite from a frog.

Non-punters. I actually know a few. It’s my life mission to corrupt them.

For starters, they never have their own form guide. Which means they want to borrow mine. And as we all know, that’s awful luck.

They aren’t interested in Perth. They want to get a cab after the last, instead of seeking out the final get-out stakes somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

They get bored easily. Unless you find them a winner. So the key is to secure decent tips, and keep their fluids up.

I’ll be doing just that today. With three great old mates. Our annual get together. We’re all very excited.

One is a reformed punter. Much more responsible these days. Or so he tells us.

The other two bet on Melbourne Cup Day, and whenever they get stuck with me.

Where I grew up, we all played footy and punted. And enjoyed cool drinks on hot days.

Sadly, not everyone had such a privileged upbringing.

There are folk out there who haven’t embraced our love of the punt. Such a shame.

The things they must be forced to do instead on a Saturday arvo. Golf. Triathlons. Gardening. Computer games. What a waste.

I first met this lot in Cairns many years ago, on the coaching staff of a footy club.

After fun and successful times, we moved on, and elsewhere.

After a few years apart, a pact was made to get together every year, for a few giggles. And so we have.

Our weekend always includes a trip to the track. That was my idea. They agreed, only because I told them how easy it was to make money while drinking cold beer. Yep, they believed me.

Over the years I’ve dragged them to Randwick, the Gold Coast, the Cairns Cup, and a few places in between.

For some reason, we never win. Ever. I keep them interested with group trifectas, and doubles, and tips from the most reliable of sources. For absolutely no return.

Of course, they blame me. And declare how lucky they are to only go through these torture sessions once a year. Unlike their host.

It takes a steady flow of refreshments to ease the pain. Until the next morning.

This year will be different. Mark us down as good things at Doomben today.

We’ll pool some money, because that’s what happens when blokes with no idea want to back things.

Stewards have been advised of a change of tactics. A monster quaddie is on the cards. And yes, I’ll have to explain what that means.

Keep an eye out for us. Four old blokes looking uncomfortable in ties. One putting the bets on. Three others shaking heads.

Feel free to offer us tips. Just be prepared to spend some time explaining what they have to do if I’m not with them.

Like me, you should be doing your bit to educate a non-punter. Get them out to the track. Text them some tips. Make them think you win plenty of cash every weekend.

Just one rule. Don’t let them touch the form guide. It’s hard enough to find a winner, without that sort of cruel luck.

So, my daughter’s not good enough? Round two between Father and the Boy.

September 13, 2011

After weeks of planning, Daughter Two was having her eleventh birthday party.

A house full of school friends. Games and loud music. Enough sugar to send a Bundy farmer on a Pacific cruise.

Oh, and one other thing. There were boys.

Two in particular. The object of my precious daughter’s affections, and his mate.

You may remember me mentioning the lad in question a few weeks back. From memory, I was calm and laid back about it all. Despite suggestions to the contrary.

At least he had his shirt on this time. Unlike in that ridiculous dancing video. He had a mop of shaggy blonde hair, that was in need of a date with a brush.

He had a go at the hula hoop competition, but was no match for the girls. I almost felt sorry for him.

Defeated, he sat down to watch the others. The opportunity was too good to ignore.

In a classic military move, I came in unsighted from the right flank. No escape path.

We shook hands. He seemed tiny, and uncomfortable. I asked him about footy. He went a shade of red.

All the while, I could feel a pair of eyes burning deep into my back.

Daughter Two was watching my every move. The potential for embarrassment here was deep into the red zone.

I was trying to be cool. No boring dad stories. I didn’t even break into song. But there was a problem.

The last time I’d checked, they were about to be the Year 6 version of boyfriend and girlfriend. Everyone seemed happy. Not counting me.

I’d heard nothing more, and assumed that they were, indeed, an item. Apparently, this is something one needs to check before engaging in conversation.

The girls, all ten of them, were sleeping over. Madness, I know. But the boys were being picked up. Departure time prompted a flurry of activity from the young ladies present.

There was a rush for the door, with a squeal common at sleepovers. They were screaming things like “Don’t you have something to ask the birthday girl?”, and “You still have time!”

I was confused. Nothing unusual for a Friday evening. Until the Treasurer took me aside.

She explained that there’d been a hitch. He hadn’t asked her out yet. The girls thought he would muster enough courage by the end of the party. They were wrong.

It then dawned on me. This kid who I’d been interrogating, was only Boyfriend (pending).

The girls ran inside laughing. It was Pass the Parcel time. For just a second though, I thought I detected a hint of sadness in the eye of my beautiful daughter.

This was an outrage. What was this pint-sized cad thinking? Standing up the most eligible eleven year old in the school?

Because one of the young gum-chewing party guests had taken my comfy black chair, I pondered the situation briefly from the deck. My life till now has been about keeping boys away. Now I wanted one to come back.

I decided the best thing I could do was to go to another room and watch the footy. A sacrifice that fathers make on such nights. I hope you understand.

The rest of the party seemed to go well, apparently. Except for the girl with the allergic reaction to the guinea pigs.

I’ve been told that such matters take time. The boyfriend thing, not the allergy. Although I have given thought to training up the little critters  to attack him during his next dance performance.

Daughter Two just laughed when I asked for details the following day. She said all was ok, and that I should ‘chill’. It seems the family is getting some perverse satisfaction from my suffering.

I hope he realises that this isn’t over. Fathers have long memories. He’ll have to answer my questions again one day. Just as soon as the game  is over.

Introducing a Kiwi who won’t choke this Spring. A jockey you should be backing.

September 10, 2011

Punters are a funny lot.

We don’t stray too far from what we know.

Routine is everything. We’re loyal to trainers that do the right thing by us. Those who let us down? Welcome to the Never Again club.

We’ll ban courses that we don’t like. And complain about track bias. I have weeds the size of palm trees at home, but I pretend to know exactly how short the grass should be at Randwick.

And of course, we have our favourite jockeys. They’d be the ones who regularly fill our pockets with folding stuff.

For every hoop we worship, there’s another we wouldn’t support with free fifties. A bit like dentists. Once you find one that doesn’t inflict too much pain, you don’t need to visit another.

I know blokes who won’t back female jockeys. No matter how good they are. Others can’t cop apprentices. The old story; claim 3 kilos, put 4 back on.

You could be aiming a gun at me and I still wouldn’t back a European rider during carnival time. I’ll tell you this much. They lose more than they win.

So we stick to Nolen, and Oliver, and Rawiller, and Brown, and Munce.

Well, here’s another. If you’re not backing him, you should be.

Damian Browne is no spring chicken. He’s been around the block more than once. But he’s good. Bloody good.

Bart Sinclair gave him a wrap this week. And Rob Heathcote has been singing his praises to anyone who’ll listen.

If Brisbane’s top trainer finally cracks it for an overdue Group One this Spring, you can bet it will be Browne doing the steering.

Plenty of keen punters are awake to him now. But others still leave him out, when the discussion moves to our best jockeys. That puzzles me.

A good judge and I started backing him a few years back. We’d found ourselves in a pub on a Sunday afternoon. That was unusual for both of us, so we celebrated with cool drinks and a flutter.

My mate had been told good things by another jockey. Both Kiwis. We decided not to hold that against them. It was a wise decision.

That Sunday meeting wasn’t the best ever held at the Sunshine Coast. But Damian kept riding winners. Four of them. And we were on the lot.

We followed him in the weeks ahead, and his amazing strike rate continued. Often at odds.

There have been problems along the way. He’s no lightweight. And lady luck has been anything but kind.

He shouldn’t be walking. The same leg, broken twice in two years. They patched him up with plates and screws, and told him to find another hobby.

Browne ignored them. Typical Kiwi. It took an age, but he came back.

For a while he was restricted to 4 rides a meeting. He was in pain too. Didn’t complain though. He’d convinced himself there were better times ahead.

How right he was. The jockey formerly known as DJ in the form guide, is riding winners all over the place.

There is a coolness under pressure, that you see with the greats. He doesn’t panic. Ever. I can’t remember seeing him go early.

Horses just travel for him. Soft hands. And he stays out of trouble. Very rare to see a horse where it shouldn’t be. You won’t hear hard luck tales from him, because he makes his own luck.

Today he’s on show at Mooney Valley. On the top Heathcote chances, Buffering and Woorim. He’ll stay with them through the carnival, and a few others too.

Buffering is the bulldog. Heathcote loves this horse. They’ll need to be at their best to grab him today.

And Woorim? My favourite horse. Just watch what Browne does with him as they approach the corner. It will be pretty.

I hope you find room to include the little Kiwi from Queensland in your racing routine. He’ll get you a dollar or two. If not today, in the weeks ahead.

Unless, of course, the curse of the World’s Worst Punter strikes. They have to be good to carry my support. Wish him luck. He’s been through enough already.

Driving Dad crazy. Daughter Two gets promoted up front.

September 6, 2011

Daughter Two usually gets stuck in the back seat.

Rarely does she get the chance to travel up front. One of the many burdens of being the youngest.

Age means she’s third in line to the Honda throne, behind mother and sister.

So there’s something of a celebration, on the rare occasion that just the two of us get to travel together side by side.

It happened on the weekend, and like everything else she does, I reckon it’s worth sharing.

She starts by adjusting the passenger seat controls. Every single one of them. This one forward. Tilt up. Cushion raised.

Of course, she won’t return those settings at trip’s end. Few things infuriate The Treasurer more. She’ll later be forced to impersonate a pretzel on entering the vehicle.

Sitting position set, she then takes down our directions, to remind me later.  We’re heading into the city for a function. The Treasurer and The Teenager are already there. We’re the naughty latecomers.

The father/daughter conversation will begin as we leave our street. And it’s the same question every time.

“Dad, why do you always take so long to put your seat belt on?”

It’s true. Another bad habit. I wait until we’ve left our street, before I buckle up. At the same spot up the road every time.

If you happen to be an officer of the law who has strayed onto these pages, the above was totally made up. No need to be waiting for me tomorrow morning.

This thing that I made up angers Daughter Two. She is very safety conscious, and chastises me for my foolishness. “What if we crash, and you die?”

Fair point. I joke that at least she’d be able to walk home while they put the sheet over me. But she’s on a roll.

“Have you ever had a crash? Did you get any cuts and get taken to hospital?” I pause, and decide to invoke Father’s prerogative to make this answer a selective one.

There’ll be no mention of the rear-ender they blamed me for on the Gold Coast. Depending on the availability of court papers, I may or may not have been responsible.

I try to answer cheerily. “Just the one. And it wasn’t my fault. Some idiot ran into me when I was very young. He wrecked my first ever car, and I had to catch the bus for two weeks while they fixed it.”

That was true enough. But she wasn’t finished.

“What happens if the airbags go off? You told me once that kids aren’t allowed in the front seat because they could get hurt.”

The girl can’t remember to take a lunchbox out of her bag on any given day, but recalls some half-assed speech I made years ago. Typical.

I re-assured her that she was older now, and taller. She would be fine. There would be no crash. No airbags.

There’s silence for a while. I imagine she’s compiling a version of my recklessness to tell the family later in the day. She can be quite harsh in such forums. I’m about to issue a new line of defence, when I realise she’s nodded off.

Another of the girl’s remarkable traits. She can fall asleep in an instant, pretty much anywhere. Especially in the car.

It made me think of all the times I’ve carried her to bed at night, slung over a shoulder, from all parts of the house. One of the perks of being a Dad. You get to do the carrying.

This siesta, however, would be a brief one. A song stirred her. On the station she’d changed my radio to. Something else she’s famous for.

“Did you know that Nicki Minaj is the world’s best female rapper? Do you remember this song? You were dancing to it at home last weekend.”

Before I can answer, she starts singing, and dancing. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of the singer, or the song. And your guess is as good as my memory about the quality of my dancing. I respond with polite nodding.

We’re nearly at our destination. Two will soon become four again.

Time for one final question. “Are we staying in a fancy hotel?” For her, fancy means free internet.

I tell her it’s where our function is, so it doesn’t need to be fancy. But I’m pretty sure it has wi-fi.

She’s happy with that. Our trip is done. She will soon boast to The Teenager about getting that front seat.

Dads are easily pleased. We love it when our daughters look after us, and ask questions, and fall asleep, and sing songs we’ve never heard of.

When she was little, I’d pull faces at her in the rear view mirror. She’d laugh, every time. That was when she was in the back seat. Now she’s by my side, I’m the one that’s smiling.

Trust me on this. We’re backing the Cox Plate winner two months early.

September 3, 2011

I think I’ve found a winner.

If you just fell from your chair, dust yourself off. This may never happen again.

It’s not this afternoon, mind you. I’m talking seven weeks away. Our weight-for-age pinnacle. The Cox Plate.

The idea is that we can snap up some juicy fixed odds early. Get ourselves cashed up for the Cup carnival the week after.

Before I tell you this golden tip, some history. My record in this race is abysmal.

I have awful luck at Mooney Valley. On any normal Saturday. Come Cox Plate day, the form guide looks like it’s printed in Egyptian.

It’s unique, this time-honoured event. They take off so bloody early. Forget the luxury of a sweeping straight like Flemington or Eagle Farm.

Our best horses, getting stoked up way before the home bend. Look up gut-buster in your racing dictionary, and you’ll see Cox Plate next to it.

The experts reckon it’s easy. Just pick the best horse. Sounds simple.

And history backs them. Check the honour roll. Phar Lap. Kingston Town. Tulloch. Gunsynd. And just lately, Makybe Diva and So You Think.

Pretty handy, that lot.

But this year is different. Have a look at those entered. With the greatest of respect to connections, it’s not quite a top-notch field.

The great So You Think won’t be back. Forget the other overseas raiders. They’ll be aimed at the Cups.

Whobegotyou is at the top of the market. He’s an old favourite of mine. But a potential Cox Plate winner? I don’t think so.

More Joyous is a wonderful mare. But she’s not Sunline.

The Stradbroke winner Sincero is another that I wrap to anyone who’ll listen. Maybe he could improve enough by late October. Maybe.

So where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where. The three-year olds.

I keep hearing judges way better than me mentioning the youngsters. That this might be a year where they dominate. And I think these wise folk are spot on.

In 2004, the three-year old colt Salvabeel was too good for them. My last Cox Plate winner. At big odds. On a day where the field was anything but classic.

Three years before, I was on Viscount, when he ran third to Northerly. A cracking field that day. He was desperately unlucky.

I backed Samantha Miss too a few years back. Another third.

The weight pull for the three-year olds is always so damn attractive. Gets me time and again.

Which brings us to this year. A field devoid of superstars. And a pair of three-year olds, with the racing world at their flying hooves.

Peter Snowden’s colt Helmet is hulking. Like an overgrown teenager. With manners to match.

He has problems between the ears that must keep the trainer awake well into the night. But boy, can he gallop.

I heard Snowden say on 4TAB a few weeks back that of all the stable performers, it was this bloke he was most excited about.

Anthony Cummings is also excited. Glen Boss too. About another three-year old colt, who could just be our next superstar. Smart Missile.

Cummings reckons the son of Fastnet Rock could be his best ever. Bossy is making comparisons with Lonhro.

His win last weekend was breathtaking. A turn of foot that only the best possess.

True, his barrier habits are a worry. I backed him on Slipper Day, and shed tears via my hip pocket when he was scratched at the start. What might have been.

So, we’ve established that both can go like last week’s pay. And that both have their problems. The question is, who’ll be ready come October 22?

This is where the tip comes in. Yes, it’s taken a while to get here. Is anyone still awake?  If you are snoozing, you’ll be losing.

Because I’m here to declare that Smart Missile can win the Cox Plate. In the weeks ahead, he’ll prove to be one out of the box.

You can back him at 16 to 1, right now. I’m tipping you’ll get half that in a few weeks time, maybe less.

So there it is. Your Cox Plate winner. Nearly two months early. From a bloke who has collected on the race once in the last two decades.

Remember, you read it here first. Except if you’ve been reading all those experts who are also tipping it.

The only certainty, is that if he can carry the weight of my tip, he is a genuine superstar.