Tips for Queensland’s new Racing Minister, on how to make friends. It will help him save an industry.

March 31, 2012

It’s a fair bet that not one Queensland racing supporter voted Labor last weekend.

What a turnaround. Surely that’s never happened before.

It’s hard to remember an industry and its players being so against a sitting Government.

Trust me, I have no love of politicians on either side. But I experienced the difference between the parties first hand at this year’s Magic Millions.

Campbell Newman’s table was overflowing. Party people with a genuine love of racing. I’m pretty sure he didn’t know who the favourite was, but the leader surrounded himself with those who did.

The Government of the day was represented by just one bloke. Not the Minister. He wasn’t interested in attending. Instead, he sent an advisor. Impeccably dressed, as they all seem to be. I was lucky enough to sit next to him.

He’d never been to the races before. Didn’t understand it, and had no intention of learning that day. He ate the meal, finished his water, and left before the Gold Coast’s biggest event.

I’m guessing he now has plenty of time to catch up on the form.

Racing people are famous for having strident views. Raised voices are as common as wet tracks. The usual position is that no-one agrees on anything.

But in this case, it seemed that everyone was on the same page. The multi-million dollar industry, one of the state’s largest, was heading in the wrong direction. And people were hurting.

Not just owners and trainers. The tote worker, and the beer-pourer, and the stablehand.

Not just in the city. In the regions, and the country towns, where racing is sometimes a once-a-year affair.

The lesson would seem to be – ignore such folk at your electoral peril.

So now, we have a new Government, and a new Racing Minister. A bloke by the name of Steve Dickson. Not one of their big guns, it must be said. He lists martial arts as one of his interests. Could be the perfect preparation for this job.

An audit has been ordered of the Racing Queensland books. That might tell us where the money was going, and more importantly, where it wasn’t.

There’ll be immediate action on an election promise, to re-instate slashed country race meetings. Bravo.

Those behind the decision to scrap meetings in the bush, have obviously never been to one. Might have been that joker I sat next to.

Some small towns have their biggest day of the year on Cup day. An event that brings people together from miles around. A glimmer of hope, in tough times for so many.

They don’t just drink and punt. They dress up, and talk business, and support each other. And that’s worth every cent of funding.

As important as all that is, let’s hope Campbell and his new Minister don’t think that it stops there. Because there is so much to do, right here in Brisbane.

Prizemoney must be raised for city racing. Quickly. Owners and trainers have been carrying the can for too long. The comparison with other states is a giant embarrassment.

More cash keeps all those players in the game. It attracts better horses and jockeys. Better racing leads to bigger crowds.

The racing surface at Eagle Farm needs urgent work. Everyone knows it. It should be our showpiece. Instead, we now have punters refusing to bet on it.

As soon as the Winter Carnival is done, do it. Properly. Make the old girl a track to match the great courses of the world.

Those at the Brisbane Racing club know all this. They’ve been taking great strides in improving facilities at both Eagle Farm and Doomben. There have been decent improvements in a short time. They’re racing lovers. They want their sport to shine.

Problem is, they’ve been operating with hands tied behind backs. Racing Queensland, in its infinite wisdom, cut grants, and created obstacles at every turn. Let’s hope that’s a thing of the past.

New Minister Dickson needs to get people involved from the top down, who have a passion for racing. They must want to be there. It’s more than a job. Just ask all those who get up at 3am every day, to keep the industry alive.

That’s what the advisor in the expensive suit didn’t understand. Those in the racing game are different. They live and breathe their industry. And they refuse to be treated as fools.

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Her grandpa would have been proud. My daughter the woodworker, now the family handyman.

March 27, 2012

There are some things a father accepts offspring will be good at.

In my case, these are usually tasks I perform poorly at. Dancing comes to mind. Selecting clothes. Understanding mobile phone functions.

Every now and then, the girls surprise me. One or the other will throw up a new success story, that I didn’t see coming.

It’s a wonderful part of being a parent. But still a shock.

The Teenager does some groovy subjects at high school. Media studies. Dance and drama, where they actually get marks. And something called ITD.

It sounds like the method one would use to call friends overseas. Instead, it stands for Industrial Technology and Design.

From what I can make out, this is something similar to our old woodwork class. In her precise teenage terminology, “we make stuff.”

She was able to show me this “stuff’, by using her smart phone. Lots of photos and video, of the various stages of her work.

The current project is a paper towel holder. Very handy for a household that goes through bundles of the stuff. Mainly for mopping up Coco’s frequent floor puddles.

She saws the wood. Shaves it. Drills holes in it. Hammers nails. All the while humming Taylor Swift songs.

From what I could make out, everything was where it should be. Not that I’m an expert. Far from it.

I don’t own a drill. Never have. Wouldn’t know how to turn one on. My hammer is rusted. There is a court order somewhere banning me from using any kind of saw.

Dad had the most amazing set of tools. All hanging neatly on hooks, carefully arranged on his garage wall. He could make anything.

He seemed to understand early on that I didn’t possess his love of craft. It never worried him. We shared so much else together. No great problem if I couldn’t hit a nail in ten goes.

Classmates at school excelled in woodwork and metalwork class. Most were naturals on the tools. Not me.

My measurements were always out. Bits never stuck. Teachers counted my fingers at the end of each lesson.

A few years later, a mate talked me into doing Industrial Arts with him. Wood, metal and technical drawing, all rolled into one. Actual alarms went off as I walked into the room.

He was a whiz at it, and promised to help me out. He would live to regret that decision.

My friend had to draw everything for me. Then bring the image to life. Every single assignment. All done with a smile. I believe he now does wonderful things in a senior role at BHP. After carrying me for two years, the world of international mining would be a walk in the park.

In the years since, I’ve assumed my rightful place. Tools are for others. The workshop is not for me. We keep a wary, respectful distance.

But it would seem Dad’s expertise has not been lost after all. It just skipped a generation. His love of building things is safely in the carefully manicured hands of his grand-daughter.

I can’t wait to use the new paper towel holder. And even better, if it breaks, I now know someone who can fix it.


Finally the campaign is over. Your expert form guide to the Great Queensland Election race.

March 24, 2012

They’ve been trained to the minute for this day. Coats are shining. These candidates are ready to run.

They’ve been put through their paces morning and night for six weeks. The backroom boys will tell you they’ve done their bit. Nothing has been left to chance.

If you’re north of the border, you couldn’t have missed the lead up to the big event. Every training gallop has been scrutinised time and again.

As you head to the ballot box, ready to have a punt on the finish, feel free to ignore those infuriating party people standing on the fence, thrusting meaningless bits of paper into your hand. All the help you need is right here.

The Hold All Tickets team has been hovering in the shadows, getting the lowdown on the favoured chances. So here it is. Your official guide to the main hopes in the Great Queensland Election race 2012.

1/ Last Chance Anna. Trained by the ALP.

Responsible for a memorable victory at this track before. Hit peak form more than twelve months ago on an extremely heavy Brisbane track. Has suffered numerous setbacks of late. Smart money abandoned the stable weeks ago, which is always a bad sign in this class of race. Bookies happy to offer huge odds, and already packing for Pacific cruises. Late betting moves unlikely.

2/ The Cando Man. Trained by the LNP.

Blue blood pedigree for an event like this. Impressive record performing on a neighbouring track in recent years. Stable cleared after being involved in inquiries by stewards relating to betting irregularities. Has been a star performer in traditional lead up events. The only one they want in the betting ring. Into Black Caviar-type odds. Expect female owner to plant big kiss on him at the finish line.

3/ Home Town Kate. Trained by the ALP.

Hand-picked for this race, although doesn’t usually compete in this class. Impressed in early barrier trials, but has struggled of late. Stable has enlisted plenty of support to fine tune for today. Popular local filly, but might find the visitor too nippy.

4/ Mad Katter. Trained by the Katter family.

Distinctive grey who’s a star performer in the bush. Prolific winner of Country Cups. Stable known for betting plunges, usually hit and run missions. Connections very confident, even though City judges have been dismissive. Could be an each-way chance. Track officials warn that trainer’s speech could go till midnight if they spring an upset.

5/ Going Green. Trained by Mother Nature.

Another outsider capable of causing a surprise. Needs plenty of luck from an outside barrier, and only performs on inner-city tracks. Popular with young racegoers. Connections have advised there’ll be group hugs if they snare a placing.

Good luck with your investment. Remember, every ticket counts. They won’t go to these starting gates for another three years.

If your friends are struggling to find a winner, feel free to send our exclusive form guide to them. Just make sure they sign the legal disclaimer on the back.

Finally, look away if the favourite is declared the winner, and the kissing and hugging begins. And if you see a country trainer in a big hat start heading to the microphone, make sure you find a comfy seat. Trust me, it will take a while.


The family tradition continues. Daughters dressing up to accept a schoolyard badge of honour.

March 20, 2012

Daughter Two had that look about her. The one that says those over the age of 15 have no idea how the world works.

Her big day had arrived. The presentation of School Leadership badges. And as such, dress code would be hotly contested.

A crazy suggestion had been made, that she might want to wear her school dress to mark the occasion. It was like someone had told her to turn up in the local garbo’s uniform.

The Dress, she informed us, was not needed. As the new House Captain, she reckoned she had a duty to attend in the official sports uniform of blue shirt and tight shorts. And anyway, none of her friends would even THINK of frocking up.

It appears that The Dress became uncool sometime last year. The sporty look had become the preferred option. With approval from teachers, apparently.

It was explained to her that while such attire was fine for strutting around the oval with the boys at lunchtime, it didn’t quite do when one was receiving her badge from the a bored local politician.

There is family history in these badge ceremonies. The Teenager picked up the same title in her final year of primary school. Funny, but I don’t remember her wanting to ditch The Dress.

My nieces and nephews have captained everything bar the Queen Mary. And the boys would have a crack at that too if they were allowed on the bridge.

Going back a few centuries, my peers voted me in as school captain. Several probably still wake in a cold sweat at the thought of passing such responsibility my way.

I would never tell the girls, but I found the leadership role a great way to get out of schoolwork. The perfect excuse. There was always something to do outside of the classroom. Usually involving sport.

One teacher was a wake up to me. She would have none of my ‘The Touch Footy team needs me NOW’ plea. This woman had the nerve to make me do entire lessons, which was unheard of in other departments. Annoys me to this very day.

Anyway, Daughter Two finally agreed to wear The Dress. For one day only. Which was just as well. Because all her friends did exactly the same. No shorts to be seen.

The kids all clapped her, and the other young leaders. The family was out in force, proud as punch. There’s something about seeing a loved one on stage, being rewarded for effort, and potential.

My daughter would never admit it, of course, but she got a kick out of the whole thing. That shy smile gave the game away. I promise I won’t tell her buddies.

When the grandkids check out my photos in years to come, they’ll see their mum as a Year Seven girl, taking great strides in becoming a young lady.

They’ll spot the badge. And the dress. She’ll thank us for that one day.


Want decent prizemoney? Take your horse to country Victoria, or Perth. Anywhere but Brisbane.

March 17, 2012

From all accounts, Bendigo is a pleasant enough place. A gold rush town in country Victoria.

I’ve never been there, but I’m guessing there are no great delays at traffic lights. Population is a tick over 100,000.

Today, plenty of those locals will head to the races. A stand alone Saturday meeting if you don’t mind. Good luck to them.

A few thousand kilometres to the north, they’ll be racing too. At Brisbane’s majestic Eagle Farm. Queensland’s premier racetrack. Headquarters for an industry that’s one of the state’s biggest employers.

Two race meetings. One, at a regional track in a country town. The other, in the nation’s third largest city.

Your question this morning dear reader, is this. Which of the two is offering the most prize money?

On the surface, the answer should be simple. Logic would dictate that it would be the meeting in a city of a few million people, featuring some of the country’s most talented jockeys and most successful trainers.

Wrong. Sadly, when it comes to prize money in Queensland, logic runs a distance last, under the whip a long way from home.

Yes, the good folk of Bendigo leave Brisbane in the shade today. What an embarrassment.

If you’re an owner trying to make a quid with your horse at Eagle Farm, the best you can do is a $50,000 dollar race. Four events on the card are worth $45,000 dollars, where the winner will pick up a bit under 29 grand.

Down Bendigo way, on their big day, there’s a feature race worth $125,000 dollars. Two big races worth $90,000, and another worth $75,000.

The rest of the card, another five races, are all worth $50,000 dollars.

Not convinced something stinks in the River City? Let’s board the red-eye to Perth, to compare figures with our Western cousins.

At Ascot today, they’ll be competing in a few early races worth a lazy $45,000 bucks. After that, they’re counting the cash. Five races, all worth $80,000 dollars. Yep, in Perth.

I won’t even mention Sydney. Fair enough, they have Group One racing today. But take a look any other weekend in the Harbour City and Melbourne. If you’re involved in the industry in Brisbane, it makes for grim reading.

The crazy thing is, everyone seems to agree. Anyone who sets foot on course, or who has a flutter in the TAB, knows it’s the biggest issue facing the industry.

Trainers are now eyeing off southern stables. Owners are doing their sums, and accepting that they may have to take their beloved horses elsewhere.

Costs are skyrocketing, but the cash in the winners lounge isn’t keeping up. The industry is tough enough as it is. They can’t run around for the fun of it.

So who do we blame? Who is dragging the chain here?

Brisbane Racing Club is in an impossible position. The club has done plenty to improve the racing experience at Eagle Farm and Doomben. But the state’s controlling body, Racing Queensland, has stripped thousands from the budget.

With subsidies reduced by so much, prize money can’t be increased. Help is badly needed.

The big bosses will scoff, and dismiss such criticism, as they always do whenever someone dares to examine the problem.

Here in Queensland, we’re in the 66th week of an election campaign. Or so it seems. Everyone else has their hand out in the lead up to the poll. We can only hope those running the industry we love are doing the same.

Good luck if you have one running today. Unless you’re in Bendigo. You don’t need luck. You’ve already had a win there, and they haven’t even left the gates.


Stalking with a smile. The day the girls finally got to meet Taylor Swift.

March 13, 2012

It had been two years in the making. Planned with military precision. Operation Meet Music Superstar.

From Brisbane to Los Angeles to Nashville and back to Brisbane.

The Teenager was unwavering in her confidence. She was going to meet Taylor Swift.

For those who don’t have daughters, Ms Swift is the biggest thing going in country/pop music. Young, and sweet, and incredibly talented. With 11-million Twitter followers. That’s 11-million more than me, give or take a few hundred.

She sings songs from the heart. About boys, and bullies, and mum and dad. Positive messages, from a home town girl in a flowing dress.

We’ve been to see her once before. You may remember me telling you about it. Dads were lined up on chairs outside, plotting secret routes to escape the midnight madness of the concert car park.

I struggled that night. The girls had a ball. But, like the great majority of those who attended, they didn’t get to meet her.

The next day, the plan was hatched. The Teenager would write letters, and cards, and tweets, to convince one of the world’s biggest stars that they should get together. Steely confidence with a pink flouro pen.

Weeks turned to months. No reply.

She was sure that would change when we set foot in the USA. Our dream family holiday. Designed, in her mind, to meet a pop star.

And it nearly did, in our first week there. Incredibly, the girls spotted her in a Los Angeles hotel. Their first day of star-stalking looked like paying off. There she was, lunching with a friend at a swish hotel.

But it wasn’t easy. They were a few tables away. Security was hovering. And deep down, the girls knew that it would be wrong to disturb her in such a private moment. So, they didn’t. She left soon after. Golden opportunity lost.

That night, back at our hotel, The Teenager was distraught. No photo. No autograph. And no meeting.

Even after such disappointment, she refused to give up. We agreed that there’d be another chance. Only one of us truly believed.

A few weeks later, I found myself standing outside an impressive apartment building in Nashville. The memory is clear, because I’d lost all feeling in fingers and toes. An icy Tennessee wind will do that to you.

The Teenager had found Taylor Swift’s address. Here we were, delivering a carefully worded card, a necklace, and a fluffy toy lobster. And before you ask, I have no idea why she chose a lobster.

The Treasurer accompanied her into the lobby, while Daughter Two and I considered setting fire to cars to get warm.

It turned out that the security guard on duty took his job very seriously. So seriously, that he refused to accept the assembled gifts from a young Australian girl. What a guy. But The Teenager wasn’t done.

She directed our taxi to the nearest post office, and posted her goodies. With a note, advising Taylor where we were staying. We didn’t hear from her.

Others might have ended their mission there. But not The Teenager. There was one more chance.

And that brings us to a special night in Brisbane last week. The Taylor Swift concert.

The girls did the usual stalking activity that day. Checked the hotel. Arrived at the concert early, to stake out the back entrance. Nothing.

A select few hard-core fans received passes to get to the front of the crowd. The Teenager missed out, again. And at that minute, watching her face, I thought the dream might finally be over.

I told her to enjoy the concert, like everyone else. She smiled, and said she would. And that she’d get as close as she could to Taylor, just in case. God love her.

As the concert progressed, she was lost in her admiration of the singer. As well as the screaming and jumping. She didn’t notice Taylor’s minders working the room.

They were looking for fans with something different, to meet the star after her concert. Qualities that set them apart from the rest. Like a girl who spent part of her family holiday standing in the freezing cold, delivering gifts for the artist she adored.

After all her efforts, it was her good-natured perseverance in Nashville that did the trick. They were moved by her passion. And thankful that she hadn’t been a pest that day in LA.

So it was that The Teenager, Daughter Two and The Treasurer met Taylor Swift. They laughed, and chatted, and had a photo taken. The dream came true.

The Teenager was right all along. She refused to accept that she wouldn’t meet Taylor Swift. Even if no-one else had faith.

Good things happen to good people. I’m so happy for her. And there’s a lesson here. Never underestimate the power of a fluffy toy lobster.


No Black Caviar today. Finally, Hay List is ready to shine. They won’t deny him this time. Will they?

March 10, 2012

They’ve been teasing Hay List all week.

His mates in the McNair stable. Pluggers, most of them. Couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night. But they haven’t missed him.

“Hey Hay, have you heard the news? Black Caviar’s running in the Newmarket!”

“List, looks like you’re running for second again old son. Moody’s changed his mind. The Mare’s headed for Flemington!”

“Don’t worry HL, we’re still proud of you. Nothing to be ashamed of, running a few lengths behind HER.”

Then they’d let out the high-pitched whinny that horses do when they’re actually having a laugh, and head for the sand roll.

Hay List would just glare at his so-called chums. Nothing like stable humour.

They were joking, of course, these provincial plodders. Australia’s other flying machine won’t have to deal with the Great One today. What a relief.

How hard it must be to be second banana, when you still qualify as one of the greats yourself. And he is, make no bones about it. Think what might have been. An extra five or six Group One trophies on the mantlepiece.

Even more importantly, we’d be talking about him. Comparing him to champions of the past. Instead of feeling sorry for him.

Today, Hay List gets to step out of the shadows. In one of the great races of the Australian turf. The time-honoured Newmarket down the gut-busting Flemington straight.

This afternoon, McNair’s gelding is firmly in the spotlight. With the pressure that goes with it.

Of course, they haven’t made it easy for him. Nothing unusual there. A near-capacity field. And the six-year-old will be lugging top-weight. A crushing fifty-eight and half kilos. Don’t discount that over the last furlong.

With no Black Caviar, they’re lining up to beat him.

Over in barrier one, the horse being spruiked as the Next Big Thing is ready to prolong Hay List’s pain.

Rain Affair just keeps winning. Ten of eleven. Nine in a row. Sound familiar?

Trainer Jo Pride thinks he has one of those once in a lifetime gallopers. Reckons greatness beckons. They have no fear of the favourite.

Bel Sprinter had awful luck last time out. Another one they reckon could be a superstar.

Rob Heathcote’s not afraid either. Not with the Mare missing. His two, the bulldog Buffering and the swooper Woorim, are primed.

Then go right down to the bottom of your form guide. The three-year old, carrying a postage stamp. Foxwedge is being tipped by the smarties. And Craig Williams could win on a rocking horse at the minute.

All brimming with confidence. But they’re forgetting one thing.

Hay List might just be the best male sprinter in the world. Glyn Schofield thinks so, and it’s hard to argue with him.

Some might miss his courage, when all eyes are on Black Caviar striding away. Not once has he turned it up. He gives everything, every time. And on so many occasions, it’s almost been enough against the best ever. Almost.

Today, they’ll have to match him. When he lets down, they’ll have to keep up. We’ll all be watching him instead.

I think he wins, even with the weight. I hope he wins. He deserves to hear the roar of the crowd, cheering his name alone. Just this once.

Victory would be sweet. And so deserving. I reckon even Black Caviar would be applauding.

It might keep the critics quiet too. Especially his mates back in the stable. Nothing like a Group One to put a plodder back in his box.