The Boss Man does it again. Why you must follow him in the big races this Spring.

September 29, 2012

Bossy got me out of strife again. I’ve lost count of how many times that is now.

It was at Caulfield. On one for Peter Snowden, as the shadows were lengthening, and my pocket was emptying.

He’d ridden a Group One winner a few hours earlier. And no-one was the least bit surprised.

There are some footballers who love finals time. It brings out the best in them. Glen Boss comes alive in the Spring.

We all have our favourite racing memories. Mostly, it’s about the horses.

I have a heap of them. Black and white vision of Gunsynd saluting in the 1972 Doncaster. Kiwi and the Pumper storming home in the 1983 Melbourne Cup. Super Impose doing the impossible in the 1991 Epsom. Black Caviar raising the roof at Doomben.

Stirring efforts from wonderful animals. But tucked away in my treasure trove, is a memory of an amazing performance from a jockey.

The day Bossy drove Makybe Diva down that long Flemington straight to win her third consecutive Melbourne Cup, was special for so many reasons.

The obvious, of course. The mighty mare setting a record that will never be conquered.

But it was the effort of the jockey that stays in my mind. Surely we’ve never expected so much from a single ride. Pressure most will never come close to experiencing.

Lee Freedman called it the perfect performance. Said it should be dusted off in years to come, and shown to every young hoop.

Boss left nothing to chance. Zero trouble. No hard luck stories, on the biggest of stages.

He’d done it many times before. None of that mattered on this day. Perfection was all that could be accepted.

He delivered. She won. A nation cheered. They deliberately took their time coming back to scale, this pair of champions. The cheering got louder.

The mare nodded her magnificent head to the frenzied crowd. And Bossy did a jig. Right there in the saddle. He waved his skinny arms, and smiled the smile of a man who had given his all.

How easy it would have been to take the foot off the pedal after that remarkable day. So many others would have. Not G. Boss.

He’s incredibly driven, this proud Queenslander. You only need to watch him before a race to see that. And the bigger the event, the steelier the resolve.

Don’t call him a veteran. That’s what we label old fellas. Experienced is a far better term.

The leading trainers will battle for his attentions over the coming weeks. Take note when he jumps on one. There are more big winners ahead.

One of them might just be Southern Speed in the Caulfield Cup. Bossy’s taken the ride, as the South Australian looks to win the race two years running. I hadn’t given her much hope. Now I do.

None of that will worry the jockey. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care too much what others think. He’s ready to create more memories for a new generation of racegoers. And get me out of strife yet again.

Idiots on the road who spoil the day. My special punishment for stupidity behind the wheel.

September 25, 2012

I sat there, going nowhere fast.

A motorway, designed for three lanes of fast flowing traffic, stopped still. Because of an idiot.

Somewhere in the distance, many suburbs away, there had been an accident. Yet another one. We were stuck. Thousands of us. All with somewhere to go.

I was on the way to meet an old mate. Holidaying on the Gold Coast, my friend was keen for a punt and a chat. He was in for a long wait.

I looked around me. Everyone with their own stories. Mum taking kids to footy finals. Others heading to dance concerts.

Trips to the beach. Tradies on their way to weekend jobs. Giving up time with the family, to make a few extra bob. Not at this rate.

The hi-tech flashing sign at the side of the road had no sympathy for us. Only the facts. ACCIDENT AHEAD. TWO LANES CLOSED. EXPECT LONG DELAYS

We all let out a collective groan. In the world of Traffic Management, LONG DELAYS is about as bad as it gets.

I fiddled the radio, hoping to find a traffic report. Races, footy, music. Not the information I needed.

Finally, a young man on a groovy FM station came to the party. Traffic and surf at the top of the hour. No doubt carefully prepared, in full knowledge that we were hanging on his every word.

Or not. His report lasted all of 14 seconds. ‘A nightmare on the M1. Avoid it if you can.’

Thanks so much Sherlock. Although it must be said his wide-ranging report on what Burleigh Point was doing was most helpful.

We started moving, ever so slowly. That one open lane was having an impact. But with movement, came impatience.

The lane-changers got to work. From left, to right, and back again. Looking for the fast track. The better going. As we crawled.

What’s the point? Do they really think they’re going to find an opening we haven’t spotted?

We pass a woman who’s having worse luck that the rest of us. Smoke billowing from her engine. Her old beast, off the road, has had enough. She has a face like thunder.

It takes close to fifty minutes, from start to end of the traffic jam. So long, the offending vehicles have already been moved on. Not even a tow truck. Somehow, it makes it all the more annoying. We want someone to glare at.

How do people crash on straight, well-built motorways? There are no obstacles to dodge. No sharp bends. Not a dangerous intersection to be found.

Let me answer my own question. They crash, because they’re stupid. Driving too fast. Tailgating. Swerving through traffic. Texting at 100 ks.

Someone is at fault. And I want them to pay.

Maybe put their picture up on one of those annoying roadside signs. Large as life, for all to see. Instead of LONG DELAYS, they could use the caption BLOODY IDIOT. That would make us all feel better.

I’ll even turn up to take the photos. Once I get through this bloody traffic.

There’s nothing wrong with being Gai. Especially in Melbourne this Spring.

September 22, 2012

If you’re in a pub with Gai Waterhouse over the weekend, don’t buy tickets in the raffle.

You’ll stand no chance. She’s winning everything at the minute. You could buy the lot and she’d still walk out with the T-Bone tray.

Something has happened at Tulloch Lodge. It was just a few seasons back that the wheels had fallen off. Winners were hard to find.

The dazzling smile was there, but only just. What hadn’t disappeared though, was her work ethic.

It’s now clear that those in the stable put heads down and bums up. Hard yakka got them back. And some pretty handy horses.

The trainer with racing’s best hats ventured up the highway for the big Newcastle carnival during the week. Day one they knocked off the Spring Stakes, with the highly impressive Proisir.

How good is this bloke? He left them for dead in the long Broadmeadow straight. Even Gai was surprised at the ease of the victory. Not speechless, just surprised.

Twenty-four hours later, the Waterhouse colours claimed the Newcastle Cup with Glencadam Gold. An imported stayer, of course. Found by husband Rob in the UK.

Even Nash Rawiller was impressed. It’s always exciting seeing a distance horse bowling along in front, and still being there at the post.

Both winners will eventually head to Melbourne. Part of Gai’s strongest team to venture south in many years. Maybe ever.

And that prompts the question we usually hear in September. Why can’t Gai dominate over the border?

History tells us that for such a successful trainer, her returns in Melbourne have been slim.

She’s won a Caulfield Cup. No luck in the Cox Plate. Nothing from the Melbourne Cup either, although Nothin’ Leica Dane was unlucky in 1995.

Compare that to what racing’s First Lady has achieved elsewhere, especially in her home town, and it makes no sense.

There are narks out there who seem to get a kick out of it. She’s such an easy target. Always willing to put herself out there. Promoting the sport day in, day out.

This year, those smarties might be out of pocket. Because the Waterhouse team is on fire.

She has a stranglehold on the Caulfield Guineas. The winner will come from her trio of Pierro, Proisir or Kabayan.

What about the Cox Plate? The top two in the market are Gai’s favourite, More Joyous, and the superstar three-year-old Pierro.

Finally, she has some decent Cup contenders. Glencadam Gold will be well supported. Fat Al, Julienas and Strawberry Boy are being talked up.

There is confidence in the camp. The team is flying. It would be a brave punter to leave any of her top hopes out in the coming weeks.

Winning form is good form. Whether it’s Group Ones, or pub raffles. Don’t be surprised if Gai is celebrating with those T-bones by the end of the carnival.

Hey ref, make a decision. Any decision. The simple way to make our game great again.

September 18, 2012

As young blokes, we didn’t really care who our referee was.

They were all pretty much the same. Except for old Charlie.

I reckon he’d been around when Clive Churchill was a boy. It’s probably being unfair to say that others his vintage were getting around on walkers. But he knew plenty of short cuts. And he loved the game.

When I was 13, he told me something that I remembered for the rest of my highly uneventful career. I’d scored a try, and threw the ball away to celebrate.

The old boy, when he’d caught up with us, pointed to the spot. And then took me aside.

‘Son, always pick the ball up. You might never score another one’. That was the last time I threw a ball away.

I thought of Charlie, and others like him, as I watched the NRL horror show unfold last Friday night.

My beloved Cowboys bundled out of the comp, thanks to incompetence on a grand level.

Two breath-taking decisions by officials, that were simply wrong. Everyone else knew it.

Forget the jokers fumbling their way through 80 minutes in the video replay room. As hopeless as they all are, there’s a bigger problem here.

Referees have lost the ability to make decisions.

They are now trained to ask someone else. Constantly. Don’t take the chance of making a mistake.

I’ve had dealings with dozens of whistle-blowers over three decades. Some better than others. All with a few key qualities.

They enjoyed being part of the game. They had no desire to be loved. And they had the utmost confidence in their ability to make a call.

Out there on their own. No second referee. No video replays. Just one man, two eyes, and a whistle.

They would rule on what was in front of them. Most of the time they’d get it right. When they didn’t, we’d blow up for a bit, and then move on.

A good mate in Bundaberg became one of Queensland’s best referees. Rob was cool as a cucumber, fit, with an amazing knowledge of the rules.

He cost me a grand final one year. Penalised us for an obstruction on the try line. I could have killed him. I still disagree with him. But I respect him for having the courage to make the decision.

Rob also played his part in the funniest game I was ever involved in. The day one of our players went into battle without his eyebrows.

They’d been hacked from him the night before by a teammate with a rusty razor. Part of his 21st birthday celebrations.

For reasons still unknown, he took to the field with fake eyebrows, drawn on with thick black texta in the dressing room. I’m not making this up.

For the entire game, trainers from both teams aimed their water bottles at the now running black markings.

Late in the game, with our boys up by a cricket score, referee Rob penalised the birthday boy, who happened to be one of his friends.

We could detect no breach of the rules. The skipper asked what had been done wrong. With a straight face, Rob explained. ‘Those painted eyebrows have officially become dangerous. Straighten them up or next time you’re off.’

Both teams collapsed in fits of laughter. Except the smudged 21-year-old.

The problems facing the game’s administrators today are no laughing matter. And while others are baying for blood, I actually feel for the refs.

They’re being taken in the wrong direction. Urged not to use a referee’s number one asset. Instinct.

Remember, these blokes have all come through the ranks. From juniors and bush leagues, where there’s no one else to make the call. No help. No videos.

They achieve their dream of making it into the big time, and suddenly they’re trained NOT to make a decision. If it’s important, ask someone else. It’s a behaviour that’s habit-forming. The less big calls you make, the less big calls you make.

If the ruling that killed off the Cowboys had been made in Cairns, or Ipswich, or Campbelltown, or Dapto, the ref would have dealt with it on the spot. Guided by years of involvement in the game.

And you know what? I reckon any of those part-time decision makers would have got it right. They make those calls every weekend. Bread and butter stuff.

The refs I’ve known over the years always had plenty of confidence in their own ability. They actually enjoyed being involved in the key plays.

As a fan, I’d accept them getting one wrong every now and then, if it meant they went back to making decisions themselves.

It would also speed up the game. End those mind-numbing breaks, where two blokes with coloured wigs and big red noses look at 20 replays. Slowly.

Let’s go back to the future. One referee. Touch judges that actually contribute. Video replays used sparingly. Decisions, from the bloke with the whistle.

It couldn’t make things any worse than they are now. They could even bring old Charlie back. He’d make the big calls. Just as soon as he caught up.

Saluting Shane Scriven. Why we’ll miss a true heavyweight on and off the track.

September 15, 2012

Can you imagine not eating for the last 30 years? Bar the odd grain of rice and teaspoon of fish.

Every kilo counted, every day. Where a big meal could actually stop you doing the job you love.

Ask Shane Scriven. Group One winner. Career jockey. Heavyweight.

You might have to wait a bit to get an answer. I’m guessing Shane is spending every waking hour shoving carbs into his mouth. Making up for lost time.

He retired this week. One of Queensland’s most successful hoops. Punter’s pal. An inspiration to hundreds of young jockeys, who’ve picked up tips from one of the best.

For over three decades, he did a job that his body wasn’t suited to. Too damn big. Yet he forged ahead, because that’s what you do when you’re a natural horseman.

I feel for our racing heavyweights. The blokes who more often than not ride with the number one saddlecloth.

There are times when the planets align, and the fridge is locked, and they drop a few kilos. But it never lasts. That constant battle with the scales.

Think of the great Roy Higgins. Amazing that he rode as many winners as he did, given his size.

Steven Arnold has ridden more topweights than anyone. My mate Chris O’Brien, who does as many bike rides as Anna Meares to keep his weight down. And then there’s Scrivo.

I don’t know him. But I feel like we’ve been friends for years. A jockey who did the right thing by owners and punters alike. He was always trying. Knew no other way.

Those of us with heads stuck in the formguide are always wondering if a topweight can carry the load. Especially in big races. There’s an art to cuddling horses carrying the grandstand. Get it wrong, and they’re no chance.

Time and again, Shane Scriven got them home. Somehow convinced them that it wasn’t REALLY that much weight. Just a bit further. Beautiful balance. Old fashioned strength.

He’s famous for his association with another old marvel, Scenic Shot. I can’t  remember ever backing them in their many victories. More fool me.

But I backed plenty of others with Scrivo up top. Those bread and butter Saturday events, that keep the game ticking over. Just when the experts had decided something couldn’t possibly win with so much lead in the saddle, away he’d go.

Then there were the comebacks. After becoming the size of a small house, that fighting instinct would kick in. A punishing few months, breaking his body down, and he’d be back.

He pinched a whip at Ipswich one day. In the straight, not the jockeys’ room. The stewards suspended him. I would have given him a medal. Winners grab whips. Losers let them go.

There was a lovely tribute to Shane this week from our top racing journo, Bart Sinclair. Look it up and have a read. His piece in the Courier-Mail let slip that they’ve been mates since the jockey was a gangling teenager. Fair to say that was many moons ago.

It’s a mark of both men that the relationship is as strong as ever. Both doing their job with expertise. Not taking things personally. Something that doesn’t always happen today.

I hope Scrivo isn’t lost to racing. He’d be great out on the track doing the post-race interviews, as the horses come back to scale. It would be done with a grin and a cheeky line or two.

Just make sure his mount has a padded saddle. The little bloke won’t be little for much longer. He has three decades of meals to catch up on.

My sleeping beauty. The latest lessons in life from a September 11 girl.

September 11, 2012

She came into the world with a coo and a gurgle. No extreme crying.

It was almost peaceful, compared to her sister a few years earlier.

The Teenager’s first scream could be heard in nearby suburbs. A noisy sign of things to come.

I can still picture the look on Daughter Two’s face, in those first few minutes. It’s like a photo in my mind. More than a beautiful baby. There was a presence, that remains to this day.

Her Mum felt it too. Like this tiny one was letting us know early on, that she was something special.

It didn’t take long to discover that these two much loved little girls were very much their own ladies. So similar is some respects, but so different in others.

Older sister loved hearing bedtime stories. One book after the other, night after night. She refused to go to sleep, even then. Nothing’s changed.

Younger sister would last about five pages. Sleep came so naturally. Try as she might, those gorgeous eyes would close swiftly. Nothing’s changed there either.

She can still call it a night, hours earlier than her sibling. Like both Mum and Dad, she appreciates a long sleep.

She went to bed early, on this day eleven years ago. Hard to argue with that, when you’ve just turned one.

We’d had a first birthday party for her, a few hours before the unthinkable happened in New York. The day her birth date became synonymous with terror.

There are mixed emotions for us at this time every year. So many families feel such awful pain, on the same day we celebrate our amazing gift.

She loves special occasions more than anyone I know. Birthdays, and Christmas, and Easter. Weeks out, plans are always very much in place.

So it was this weekend just gone. We held the party a few days early. Lots of fun. But very different from those early celebrations.

Back then, she couldn’t get enough of us. Didn’t matter who else attended, the biggest hugs would always be for Mum and Dad.

When you turn 12, you realise how ridiculous those same parents actually are. This time, we were warned about talking to the party guests. There would be no need for such idle chat. And don’t organise any games. Leave it to us, she said. She wasn’t being mean. Just being 12.

We behaved ourselves, and the party was a success. Not that she told us as much. But we could tell. There were even cuddles at day’s end.

As parents, we see wonderful things ahead for our daughters. Most Mums and Dads do. That they can do anything they turn their delicate hands to.

It’s not easy though. So many distractions. This girl who still falls asleep in the car, could be anything. Once she decides what it is that she actually wants to do.

She can sing, and act, and make people laugh. But it’s all confined to the lounge room. Too shy, she tells us.

Modelling agencies have snapped her up. Why wouldn’t they. Those same traits of beauty that afflict all the women in her family.

She has a flair for sport, especially athletics. Won relay gold at the regional carnival just yesterday. But doesn’t have time to compete on weekends. Far too busy with social activities.

Her love of dance continues. She’s great at that too. But only on her terms. Push her to do more, and be prepared for a battle.

Maybe this is all just a proud Dad boasting about the little girl he adores. Guilty as charged, your honour.

I know she’ll work it out. Big things are ahead. And we’ll be with her every step of the way.

She will change the world, you mark my words. For the better. Along with her sister. We’re so lucky to have them both in our lives.

In the meantime, she will give us those looks that only a Grade Seven girl can. And let us know how we have most things wrong. In the nicest possible way. Great practice for when she becomes Teenager Two. Twelve glorious months to go. Happy birthday beautiful girl.

Going mad for Mango. A tribute to a champion Cowboy who’s inspired a generation.

September 8, 2012

A change of pace this Saturday.

Yes, it’s a massive afternoon of racing ahead. A super card at Flemington with the Makybe Diva Stakes. And glorious weather for fun at Doomben.

But it’s all just marking time. Before the REALLY big event of the weekend. The Cowboys and the Broncos going head to head tonight in Townsville.

If you’re not a league fan, stay with me here. Because today’s offering is not about a game. It’s about a man. An amazing bloke, who has overcome obstacles that kill off sporting careers every other day.

Matty Bowen is North Queensland’s favourite son. Most games for the Cowboys. Origin and Test star. Indigenous hero. And so much more.

He plays his 250th game tonight. A career in the big time that began in 2001. It could have been so different.

Bowen comes from a tiny dot on the map called Hope Vale, deep in Cape York. Leave Brisbane now, and you’ll get there in a few days, after covering roughly 1500 kilometres. Melbourne is closer.

Like so many towns in the Cape, the road to success is so much tougher to negotiate. And sadly, less travelled.

I’ve been to plenty of them over the years. Some beautiful. Others heartbreaking. All with something in common. Energetic, athletic, carefree, fun-loving kids.

Matty Bowen was one. Playing footy on dusty streets from dawn to dusk. No restrictions. No shackles. Just a pure love of the game.

So many players have that youthful enthusiasm knocked out of them. Over-coached. Mistake-free. Play the percentages.

Not Matty. Watch him now, all these years later, and his mindset is still in the backyard. A loose ball is a try opportunity. Even on his own line. Go down to your local park after school, and you’ll see youngsters doing that exact same thing.

For a small man, his bravery is astounding. On those rare occasions that defenders catch him, they don’t miss. He gets up, with a shake of that curly mop. And looks for the next try.

More than that, his comeback from severe injury has been remarkable. Major knee surgery. Not once, but twice. Cartilage grown externally, then implanted. Awful times, enough to end careers. But not the bloke they call Mango (as in Bowen mangoes.)

Other flying machines get slower as they get older. Those injuries take their toll. Have you watched this bloke lately? He’s breaking low flying speed records.

Townsville has been good for Matty. Just the right fit. I doubt he would have survived with a Sydney club. Not because of ability. He just wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.

There are so many more kids out there, with the same passion. In small towns where the game is an escape. So many have been given hope, by the bloke from Hope Vale.

He’s spent much of his career doing school talks, and community visits. They love him. A humble hero. Who runs like the wind.

Many years ago, one of the club’s development officers drove Matty to one such function in the north. A school where league was the number one subject, and young Cowboys were regarded as rock stars.

This guy told me later that the trip there took place in silence. Not a word. The shy young fullback was immersed in his own thoughts. Maybe thinking back to those street games back home.

The coach was a little worried. The visit required the diminutive champion to speak at some length to the youngsters, pointing out the pitfalls ahead, and the value of hard work and fair play. At this rate, they’d be back in class quickly.

On arrival, they found the kids in the middle of a typical playground encounter. No shoes and few rules. Before he’d taken the witches hats out of the boot, the coach had lost his special guest.

With panic not far off, the coach scanned the playground. And there, in the middle of the chaos that is lunchtime footy, was Matty Bowen.

The rep star of the future had joined in, to the delight of the kids. Running, and dodging, and scoring tries. And laughing.

There would be no speech. No need. Those boys would learn more that day than they would in fifty classroom lectures. From the champion right next to them. Inspiring in a way few others are able to.

I’ll be cheering him again tonight. Not just because I’m a Cowboys fan, and I think this is our time. I want to celebrate the deeds of a special sportsman, who has done more for indigenous relations and well-being than a room full of politicians. Without even trying.

The never-ending games in Hope Vale, and in other tiny towns, will take a rare break tonight. Just in time to see Matty weave his magic. Like he’s always done.

Those kids will then go to bed, with the footy at their bedroom door, and dream of making it in the big time. Thanks to Matty Bowen, there’s no reason why they can’t.

My video stars. The beauty of memories, when big girls weren’t so big.

September 4, 2012

Our home videos are carefully stored. In a box, somewhere. With labels that make little sense.

Golden memories, of less complicated times. Before young ladies knew how to text.

All gorgeous in their own way. Some funny, others emotional. Especially when my Mum bobs up, trying to avoid the camera.

Photos, too. Lots of albums. For too long, I didn’t appreciate the importance of recording the journey we’re all on. Now, every image reminds me of something magical.

I thought about those memories over the weekend. On the day Dads get to reflect about the things most important to them.

The girls were playing with some old photos. When they were younger, and I was lighter. The sort of snaps families take most weekends.

They ended up on one of those websites that I don’t understand. Where photos are shared, and friends make comment. I tried to have a look last night, but it wouldn’t let me in. Too old, probably.

There’s a video of the girls, taken a decade ago. It doesn’t go long, and my camerawork is anything but fancy.

I find myself thinking about those few minutes more and more. Such an insight into how the girls would develop. Enough to brighten the saddest hour.

It was at a park, across the road from where we were living. The Teenager was all of four. Daughter Two had only just started to walk.

It was chilly, and both were rugged up. Cute clothes made by their Mum. The Teenager in a groovy jacket. Her sister in warm tights, straining over her nappy.

As was her way at the time, The Teenager was in charge. From the swing, to the slippery dip, to the climbing castle. With a frenzied commentary to match. The chat was non-stop. I can hear that little voice in my head right now, and it makes my heart sing.

Her sister, still mastering this walking caper, followed her every step. If The Teenager went on something, she’d have a go too. A desire to get it right, way back then.

The afternoon was pain-free, until Daughter Two changed the script. Instead of following, she decided to lead the way. While The Teenager was busy getting tangled in the rope ladder, her younger sibling decided she would have another crack at their park favourite.

The camera joined in, as she toddled towards the smaller seat of the swing set.

I helped her up, and there she sat, proud as punch, despite doing very little swinging.

That lack of movement would be changed soon enough. Courtesy of her sister, charging into the shot from right of screen.

This would not do. Baby sisters did not set the agenda. Especially when the camera was involved.

Daughter Two had no idea the push was coming. There was no time to brace. Down she went, exchanging her comfy seat for a mouthful of bark and dust.

This was all done to the sound of The Teenager explaining to the cameraman what his next shot should be, as she took her rightful place on the swing. “Video camera me Daddy! Video camera me!”

It remains one of my favourite items on tape. My oldest daughter, refusing to allow the spotlight to be shifted. And Daughter Two’s cry. Not from pain or injury. A squeal of defiance. With the added note, that she wouldn’t always be a pushover.

I stopped the camera and brushed her off. The urgings of The Teenager continued. I fought back giggles, and explained that there would be no more video camera-ing, while family members were getting knocked down.

They made their peace, and moved on to the next activity. From memory, Daughter Two was sent down the slide head first by her loving sister not long after. To laughter, thankfully.

A tiny snippet of life, that says so much about us. A few wonderful, fun minutes. Things a Dad never forgets.

Confidence, laughter, determination, resilience and love of family. All on show, right there in that park. And the sweet, innocent voice of a four-year old, that I don’t get to hear anymore.

I bet you have similar memories tucked away, in boxes somewhere. Cherish them like I do now. Take more photos and videos. You never know when you might need cheering up.

All the Cup winners, two months early. Remember me when you cash in.

September 1, 2012

The dark days of winter are a mere memory. Spring and all her delights are in the air. When a young punter’s fancy turns to the Cups.

And the Plate, of course. The Cox Plate. The Caulfield Cup. And the big one. The race the rest of the world now pinches.

Today, the first of the Cup contenders show their stuff. Early days, on the way to bigger spoils.

The rules have changed, of course. Races that were once vital, now matter little. And country cups that were good for a beer and a cheer, now host Cup favourites.

I’m telling you nothing special when I say an overseas horse will win the Melbourne Cup. That’s just how it is now. They are deadly serious about breeding two-mile specialists, and we’re not.

Our money is for sprinters, and the milers. No use protesting about it any more. Someone, somewhere, decided we didn’t need to be in the staying game. And so, a foreign raider will again pinch the cup that connections of Phar Lap sipped out of.

Of course, that makes it bloody difficult to pick the winner this far out. Because we have no idea how good any of the foreigners really are. Or if they’ll even make it here.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. There are winners coming further down the page. Just not for the Cup we love the most.

Only the brave or the foolhardy would be plonking money down for the first Tuesday in November just yet. Another few weeks needed. Although I will say one thing. Forget this business about local trainers picking up foreign horses.

It’s all the rage at the minute. Anyone with a fat wallet and a dream is buying half-decent foreign stayers, and throwing them at an Australian stable. We’ve been caught out, and we’re playing catch up. It might work in a few years, when they get their systems right. But not yet.

The winner will be trained by an international. He’s been sitting in his barn, on the other side of the world, for months now. Maybe Cumani, or Dermot again, or the Sheik. Or some other bloke we’ve never heard of.

I know what you’re saying. You paid good money to read this stuff, and so far it’s still totally devoid of any decent tips. (Hang on, you PAID to read this? Seriously? You obviously have far too much spare cash. I’ll give you my TAB account details later.)

Ok, so we’ve established that together, we have no idea who’ll win the Melbourne Cup. Brilliant. But what if I told you that this year’s Cox Plate winner is running around today?

Have a look at Rosehill this afternoon, just after 3 o’clock, and you’ll see something special. Pierro. Triple Crown winner. Unbeaten as a two-year-old. One right out of the box.

I was on when he won the Golden Slipper. Bless him. Normally, that would force me to rule him out for the Spring Carnival the following year. But not this guy.

He just keeps getting better. Gai Waterhouse can’t say enough about him. Even in Gai talk. The wraps are twice as big as those she puts on all her other neddies. God love her.

But I reckon she’s spot on. He strikes me as one of those rare beasts, who will actually thrive over the torturous Cox Plate trip as a three-year-old. Tough as old boots. With an enormous desire to win.

The downside is that plenty of others agree. He’s ridiculously short for a baby in the nation’s premier weight-for age race. Seven dollars at the minute, second favourite behind stablemate More Joyous. And as much as I love Singo’s mare, I don’t think she can beat him.

Right, there’s our first winner, for a race that’s still weeks away. Write it down, put it in your early doubles, and remember me when you collect.

Winner number two comes up the week before. The Caulfield Cup can still be taken out by a local. Even with the foreign interest.

Lights of Heaven couldn’t have been more impressive earlier this year, culminating with victory in the Brisbane Cup. I love that Peter Moody has given her all the time she needed, after struggling a touch the season before.

Granted, she’ll have to keep improving. And I think she can.

Get on right now, and you’ll nab the Zabeel mare at twenty-one dollars. Money for jam.

I should add here, that I also like Green Moon. He’ll also be vastly improved this Spring. He’ll win something, for sure. But I can’t back one that is Caulfield Cup favourite this early. They just never, ever, get up.

Two winners, a special, and a game plan for the Big One. And there’s still two months to go.

We’ll re-assess our strategy in a few weeks. And the normal rules apply. Donations from all winners gratefully accepted.

In the rare case that someone might lose from this information, contact our Complaints Department. I’ll get back to you with that address.