No jacket required. Lessons from a 12 year old, on how to pack a suitcase.

November 27, 2012

The stand-off showed no sign of ending. Daughter Two, not for the first time, was refusing to budge.

She was getting ready for her school trip to Canberra. Like thousands have before her. A rite of passage for primary school kids.

The problem was her bright pink bag. More to the point, what was in it. And what was missing.

She had organised the packing herself. Which meant there was a steady supply of cut-off shorts and crop tops.

We had been silly enough to suggest that she may need a jacket, to combat the icy chill of the nation’s capital.

Two, in fact. And a decent coat. And long pants. All of which were absent from her hand-picked collection.

In the voice that is unique to a 12-year-old, she informed us that no such items would be needed. No one else was wearing them. We’ll be FINE.

We reasoned, in the manner of Middle East negotiators, that it couldn’t hurt to be prepared. Still plenty of space in the bag. After all, tiny denim shorts don’t take up too much room.

Progress was being made. A concession was on the table. Her dance jumper. MAYBE. We smiled and shook hands, and prepared to issue a statement to the waiting media. Until The Teenager joined the discussion.

She declared that her sister would freeze her butt off. She knew, because she had been there, and frozen her own butt off. ‘Take a jacket, and stop trying to be cool’, she kindly volunteered.

From a negotiator’s stance, this was not helpful. Far from it. In typical fashion, Daughter Two removed the recently added jumper, and replaced it with a brightly coloured singlet.

She had lost earlier battles. The beloved hair straightener would be going no-where. Surgeons were called in to remove the mobile phone from her hand. Also on the banned list.

We broke for dinner, and called a temporary truce. I asked what she was looking forward to most, in this week of cultural and historical exploration. Ten pin bowling, she said, without blinking.

Pressed, she admitted she was excited about visiting the War Memorial. To learn more about what her grandfather endured in World War 2. I liked hearing that.

One final pitch for the jacket. Her mother suggested we get Canberra’s temperatures for the week online, to shock her into submission. Brilliant. 

It would have worked too, if we hadn’t struck a forecast for the city’s warmest Spring week in a century. Every day over 30 degrees. Parliament could be sitting in Cairns.

Daughter Two smiled, in the knowledge that she would be hoisting the victory flag. Out of pity, she threw a cardigan in. I doubt it will be used.

They make mistakes along the way. So do we. They can’t be told. Just like we couldn’t, all those years ago.

When she boarded the bus in the early hours, it was positively balmy. She might even get a tan down there. I just hope she packed the sunscreen.

Finding late winners on a golden day in the West. The new punter’s playground.

November 24, 2012

Racing in WA has become a new toy in the punter’s playpen.

It wasn’t that long ago that we wouldn’t have known where to find the form for Perth. Go back a little further, and we would have struggled to see a race from the West.

Now, it’s a compulsory part of Saturday, for a growing band of racing enthusiasts.

There’s something special about having a crack at them late in the day. When the dust has settled at Eagle Farm and Rosehill.

Only if we’ve made a few bob, of course. A chance to turn winnings into a bigger dinner.

Every now and then, it might also allow us to have an extra cool drink. No harm in that.

They seem to be smart cookies, those running racing over there. Prizemoney is constantly on the rise. Big pots of cash means better quality runners. And high-profile visitors.

Have a look at Ascot today. Ten races. Big fields. Two Group Ones. Gai and Snowden have starters. The likes of Boss, Rawiller, McEvoy, Rodd and Corey Brown taking on the local stars.

Top class racing, with the nation’s biggest names, all in action after 5 o’clock.

There’s great interest in the Winterbottom Stakes, with the unbeaten Barakey all the rage. The smarties think he might be the next big thing.

I watched him win his last start, and yes, he was mighty impressive. But this is a different affair today.

I’ll be willing to take a chance, and find something to knock him off. It might even be the Queenslander Spirit of Boom. He’s been unlucky of late. And Bossy’s mount is a decent chance too.

The Railway Stakes is a ripper. Local hopes like Luckygray taking on the visitors. How does a bloke line them up?

The more I look, the more I come back to Fat Al. Group One form out of the Spring carnival is mighty hard to ignore.

Gai had hoped for better returns in Melbourne. This might be a nice consolation prize. Worth a million bucks.

There’s another thing I like about Perth racing. The giant saddlecloths. I can see those numbers wherever they’re running. Very handy at the end of the day. Just in case we’ve found one of those extra drinks.

Secrets to happy flying. Slip the crying baby strong drink, and have your flu shots.

November 20, 2012

I am writing this from the very front of the plane. 1A.

My own special pillow. Chilled champagne. Well-dressed ladies in sensible shoes are feeding me strawberries dipped in warm chocolate. The captain is playing The Best of The Eagles. The screen in front of me is showing the latest TAB odds.

Then I woke up.

I am, in fact, a fair way from the front. Closer to the rear toilets. I had gambled on my seat allocation, in the hope that the middle seat next to me would remain vacant. Every economy traveller’s dream.

Things were looking good, until the very last passenger made his way up the aisle. He was, of course, my man.

The bloke behind me has a severe dose of Spanish Flu. His cough is something they include in medical training videos. Sneezing every sixty seconds, at the back of my head.

The small child next to me is finally asleep. After crying for nearly an hour. I had been doing my best to slip one of those small Scotch bottles into her sippy cup, but to no avail. Probably just as well. I will need strong drink soon to fight off these germs.

Don’t get the wrong idea here. I enjoy flying. It’s just that I prefer to have empty seats all around. And medical clearances for those on board.

Mum hated air travel. It made no sense to her, how these giant machines could stay up there. She preferred the train, or the bus, when she would come to visit.

I only remember flying once with Dad. We flew to England together, when I was fourteen. How that came about is a story for another day. But it’s fair to say that he was a nervous flyer.

We took our seats. I was excited. He was sweating. Things picked up when they told him he was eligible for free beer. Dad took them up on their kind offer. Those nerves were washed away in no-time.

Hold the sick bag. Another cough/sneeze of enormous proportions from 21C. It would seem fairly certain that he is not going to make our destination. I hope we’re allowed off before they collect the body.

There was a time when there was little else to do but eat, drink and sleep on flights. Now, it’s an entertainment arcade at 30,000 feet.

Most are on laptops. Some working, others punching out dribble. There are i-pads and i-pods in action at almost every row. Others are watching Mr Bean on the mini-screens.

I should go now, before the seat belt sign is turned on. I would hate to be responsible for mucking up the pilot’s electronics. Especially after he was so good to me earlier.

One final splutter and spray from the patient behind me. RIP 21C. Thank you for making my flight so enjoyable. I think I’m getting a cough now. And a sore throat. Where’s that little bottle of Scotch?

The perils of big-race tipping. Cashing in on my Spring carnival selections. Almost.

November 17, 2012

As Judith Durham and the bloke in the big glasses told us years ago, the Carnival is Over.

Such great racing. So few wins. No-one seems surprised.

Lucky for us, I recorded my big tips for all to see, in a bold piece on these pages more than two months ago. The idea was to be boasting right about now. With pockets full of folding stuff.

Sadly, that’s not the case. In a bid to learn lessons for next year, I thought it would be wise to go back over those selections, to establish what the hell I was thinking. Or drinking.

First tip was for the Caulfield Cup. I dismissed the visitors, and stuck with a local. Lights of Heaven was the one. I suggested you get on at big odds.

History tells us that I was wrong about the internationals. Dunaden won with a leg in the air. But Lights of Heaven returned to form, and grabbed third. At the each-way price, we were up.

For the Cox Plate, I plumped for a three-year old star. Pierro was my good thing. Another third, behind the outstanding Ocean Park.

Skinny odds this time, so we did our dough. But my tips filled the first three placings, so if you had a trifecta, like I did, you were eating Chinese that night.

In the big one at Flemington, I admitted I had no idea, other than to say that a foreigner would win our great race yet again.

I kindly offered this bit of advice. I hope you ignored it.

“Although I will say one thing. Forget this business about local trainers picking up foreign horses….It might work in a few years, when they get their systems right. But not yet.”

Unless, of course, we’re talking about Green Moon. The former international, now trained here. That streeted them on the first Tuesday in November.


In my wildly popular Cup form guide, put out the day before the race, I changed tack a little. My tips were Red Cadeaux and Mount Athos.

Can I say here and now, that if the jockeys and horses hadn’t stopped after the first mile, sat in a circle together and enjoyed tea and hay, before embarking on the second part of the race, they would have figured in the bloody finish.

The slow pace killed them, and any hope I had of making a dollar out of the race.

We can’t complain. It’s a tough gig, this tipping. Luckily, the majority of you put the red pen through anything I suggest. I might start doing the same.

Although I will say this. In that original crystal-ball piece all those weeks ago, I made special mention of one horse. Of course, I ignored my own advice. You’d expect nothing less.

“I should add here, that I also like Green Moon. He’ll also be vastly improved this Spring. He’ll win something, for sure.”

He did. Paid a heap. And I didn’t have a dollar on him. I hope you did. Unless you couldn’t see him through all that red ink.

Strike up the band. These oldies can dance. Just don’t be late for dinner.

November 13, 2012

My favourite pub allows old people to dance.

Amazing, I know. Right there in front of everyone. Ancient moves for all to see.

There would be publicans in doof-doof establishments who would hand in their trading licence, before they’d allow a measured twirl on the floor. If only they knew what they were missing.

This elderly fun and frivolity occurs every Sunday afternoon. They pack the dance floor. Men and women who remember how to have a good time. There’s much laughter. And some fancy moves.

It’s no community dance hall. The drinks flow freely. This mob was having a good time before colour tv. Yep, THAT long ago.

One bloke seems to be the star. He’s a regular. Must be in his eighties. Always immaculately dressed. And a smile that might be painted on.

I believe there’s a rule that he can dance with any woman he wants. And he does.

The band plays jazz music. Now, I’m not usually a jazz fan. But in the pub, with this crew, the vibe is magical. A basic, raw sound.

It should be said that the band members have been doing these gigs for a very long time. I believe the piano player performed for Churchill the night before his first big wartime speech. No wonder he was pumped.

At some stage in the afternoon, each gets to do a solo. Trumpet, trombone, drums. Always to rousing applause.

At six o’clock, on the dot, the music stops. Everyone goes home. The first time I saw it I thought there’d been a bomb threat, so quickly did the floor empty. Early dinner waits for no-one. And it’s a tiring job, this dancing caper.

What makes these sessions even more appealing, is that these groovy grannies and grandpas share their Sunday with a whole heap of others.

In another part of the pub, the young hipsters are doing their thing, to a driving beat. Head in the other direction, and the punters are at work. And the pool players. Such an Aussie mix.

I know who has the most fun. And it pains me to say that in this instance, it’s not those having a flutter.

Long live the high-stepping, thigh-slapping seniors. Where the ladies keep their shoes on, and the gents tuck their shirts in. Except those wearing delightful Hawaiian numbers.

They remind us that there’s no age limit on having a good time. And that the retiree in front of you in the supermarket aisle, was partying before most of us were born.

Just don’t expect to see them in action after six. Even the wildest jazz dancers have to get their beauty sleep.

The trifecta that changed lives. How a lucky mum did a dance and won a fortune.

November 10, 2012

We groaned as they crossed the line.

Despised outsiders, all three of them. An impossible result. No-one could have gone close to selecting the placegetters in the nation’s greatest race.

So why was the lady in black jumping up and down?

At first I thought I’d mis-heard her. Then she said it again. In a voice that was trembling. ‘They’re my numbers.’

Hubby was next to her, with a look of disbelief. Their friends were stunned. They wanted more information, but she couldn’t speak. The jumping was taking it out of her.

We’d become friends for the day a little earlier, as we shared the only available space left. The end of the bar. Just enough room to spread the form guides. And Melbourne Cup cheer.

A normal couple. Dressed up for a day out, like millions of others. Enjoying the fun.

She checked again. Then, confirmation. Words we all dream of uttering. ‘I’ve won the trifecta!’

And not any trifecta. The biggest betting race in the land, where the first three in order were nag, donkey and camel.

The group began guessing how much it had paid. Wild estimates, covering all ends of the scale. The lucky winner had no idea. She looked from one to the other, waiting for word.

I was watching the screen as they debated. The magic figure came up. There almost wasn’t room on the monitor.

I told them what I’d seen. Forty-Eight Thousand Dollars. Give or take a few fancy shouts.

They didn’t believe me. It couldn’t be. I looked again. Nothing had changed.

My mate chipped in. We had seen enough TAB screens over the decades to get it right. 48 grand. 48 large. 48 big ones. A win for the ages.

She gasped. Hubby went weak at the knees. They hugged. They twirled. They danced the jig of big winners. Really big winners. Yep, they had 100% of it.

She explained to us how she did it. Four horses. They jumped out at her, off the form guide that morning. She marked all four. Showed us the crumpled up guide in her bag. Just amazing.

We told her we didn’t want a drink, but she bought us one anyway. She wanted to celebrate with anyone who was close by. It could only happen on Cup day.

Hubby told us what a huge help the cash would be. They had kids, and the usual financial dramas families face. Now, relief, thanks to three horses that no-one else wanted.

They stayed for the rest of the afternoon, soaking up the magic. When they left, they gave hugs, and shook hands. Instead of a cab, they’d be going home in a limousine.

There was something special about sharing in their success, even from afar. We’re used to seeing the rich get richer on racetracks. It was so much sweeter, watching ordinary folk fill their bank account.

Here’s to Charlotte. The Cup’s most deserving winner. We’ll see you next year. And maybe get your tips BEFORE the race.

It’s back! The ultimate Cup guide. Who won’t win, and is Warwick Capper really a jockey?

November 5, 2012

So here we go again. Last year’s guide to our greatest race was such a hit, you’ve demanded a repeat. You really need a hobby.

Remember my tip last year? No? Good. Surely we can’t have such bad luck again.

Our team of researchers went through a box of cool drinks to help you sound like an expert on Cup day.

If you’re named below, apologies. If you’re my lawyer, stay close to the phone.

Dunaden – Craig Williams. Has won everything bar Big Brother. That run of luck is about to end. The French horse will think Williams has been replaced by Santa Claus he’s carrying so much weight.

Americain – Damien Oliver – Won’t win. This French favourite isn’t getting better with age. The booking of Oliver is a plus, as opposed to last year’s jockey, Mister Magoo.

Jakkalberry – a bloke named Colm you’ve never heard of. One of those international types with no chance. Couldn’t beat me up the straight. Aren’t you glad we invite them here?

Red Cadeaux – Michael Rodd. The winner. Do you have a tin of cash hidden in the backyard? Dig it up, shake the dirt off, and head straight to the TAB. You can pass on my ten per cent later.

Winchester – Jamie Mott. A slow American horse who’ll still be running when they start the presentation. Out of a mare called Rum Charger. What a shame.

Voila Ici – Vlad Duric. A visitor from Italy now trained here, who couldn’t win if they gave him a lap head start.

Cavalryman – Frankie Dettori. Why did they bother bringing him? Frankie obviously wanted a holiday. He’ll have plenty of time to check out the sights before, during and after the race.

Mount Athos – Ryan Moore. A big danger. Plenty of good judges have already backed this bloke. A prolific winner in Europe, still on the improve. If you’re running the sweep, slip this one into your back pocket.

Sanagas – Nick Hall. Another American, now trained by Bart. Cummings, not Simpson. Unless the great man is permitted to strap NASA-style rockets to his tail, there’ll be no 13th Cup win.

Ethiopia – Rhys McLeod. A decent run in the Cox Plate. Which is lucky for connections, because it will be the only thrill they’ll receive this carnival.

Fiorente – James McDonald. An English horse now with Gai. I’m sure I heard her say he could be the greatest horse ever to be saddled. Or something similar. Actually, that could have been any one of her horses. Will over-achieve if he finishes top twenty.

Galileo’s Choice – Pat Smullen. My best roughie. Dermot Weld has been aiming at the Cup for twelve months. The canny Irishman and his camp have been playing their chances down since they arrived. That should set alarm bells ringing. Big chance at even bigger odds.

Glencadam Gold – Tommy Berry. Another one from Gai. Likely leader. If they give a ribbon for the horse in front after 1600 metres, he might be successful. That also makes him a distinct chance of running last.

Green Moon – Brett Prebble. Failed in the Cox Plate. Injured, and blowing out with the bookies. Nothing like confidence.

Maluckyday – Jim Cassidy. Runner up two years ago. Not many ride the two miles better than the Pumper. A chance to be the top Aussie home. There should be a prize for that.

Mourayan – Hugh Bowman. Terrible luck last year, because some idiot who writes smart-arse Cup guides tipped him. Of course, he was scratched hours later. I’ll never live that down. Good luck to all concerned this year.

My Quest for Peace – Corey Brown. The only horse to sing before the Queen. And did a tap dance at the opening ceremony for the London Olympics. In horse-shoes. Only has to repeat that here and could figure in the finish.

Niwot – Warwick Capper. Interesting choice of jockey. Keep an eye out for what he’s wearing during the National Anthem.

Tac de Boistron – who cares. The name means ‘French Arrogance’ in English. As in, let’s send any old plodder to take on those bums down under.

Lights of Heaven – Luke Nolen. My Caulfield Cup tip, and what a race she ran. I’d be happy for her to win this, so I could see Peter Moody drinking XXXX Gold during the Cup handover.

Precedence – Jim Pike. Not many people know that Bart actually ran this horse in the 1958 Melbourne Cup. Great that’s he’s still with us, and has all his original teeth.

Unusual Suspect – one of the scientists from Beauty and the Geek. If you get this one in a sweep, rip it up on the spot. At least those around you will think you know something about racing.

Zabeelionaire – Donald Trump. Are we finished yet? I’m running out of paper.

Kelinni – Glen Boss. The best jockey in the field. Sadly, he’s not on a horse to match. No Makybe Diva moments coming this year for Bossy.

So there we have it. Feel free to share this with friends, and people you want to annoy.

Remember, gamble responsibly. Meaning, if my tips win, you have a responsibility to give me money. Good luck to us all.

Ten reasons why you’re not fair dinkum if you don’t go to Cup week once in your life.

November 3, 2012

There are some things you have to do before turning your toes up.

Sing a John Cash song in public. Go to an Eagles concert. Swim on the Barrier Reef. Have a beer in an outback pub. And go to Melbourne Cup week.

I consider myself blessed. All five boxes ticked. Those who have had to listen to the singing bit might suggest other holy terms.

At the top of the list, is the Cup carnival. Not just the first Tuesday in November. It’s much more than a day.

It’s been a decade since we soaked up the Melbourne magic. But I remember as if it was yesterday.

Six of us, having an absolute ball.

Do I hear doubt on the other end of the line? Are you not convinced? Let me give you some examples of why there is no better fun to be had standing up.

The locals are happy. Even with all of us there. They love Cup week. For the most part, they don’t mind sharing.

The build up starts days earlier. You get to go to Derby Day to warm up. The best racing all year. With 100-thousand others.

You can go to that Chinese restaurant we found that has karaoke upstairs. Around the corner from that pub. If you’re a little rowdy, like we were, they’ll let you have the room to yourself. And the fridge.

It’s ok to be a little dusty the next morning, because everyone else is. Breakfasts are big and tasty. Recovery comes easier on a full stomach.

You’ll attend the best sporting lunch in the land. Any one of five. Sunday after Derby Day. You’ll hear Simon Marshall, or Miracle Mal, or Shane Dye, or one of the Freedmans, or Mighty Mick Dittman. There’ll be a phantom call, and you’ll cheer. I bet you win some racing gear in the raffle.

Monday is a rest day, of sorts. Watch the magnificent parade. All the old winners. Horses, jockeys and trainers. Keep an eye out for the joy on the faces all around you. Melbourne does a parade like no other city.

Cup Day. Early start. You’ll be crammed into a train, and get a tip in the first minute. Don’t forget it.

You’ll have your first drink at 9am. Like everyone else. If the beer isn’t cold enough, you might have to have one Bundy and coke. Just the one. And no-body will think any less of you.

You will win, at some stage in the day. Enough to get back to that Chinese restaurant. We’ll take the upstairs room again thanks.

Tuesday night, there’ll be a nice little pub with a band playing. Some of the old stuff. People will tell you hard luck stories. For the only time all year, you’ll offer genuine sympathy.

Every chance you’ll fly out on Wednesday. Battered, but triumphant. Unless you’re one of the truly lucky ones, who gets to stay all week. My heroes.

Need any more convincing? Of course you don’t. I can hear you booking your trip now. If not for tomorrow, next year. What fun we’ll have.

All that’s left now is to sip that beer in the dust, do some reef swimming, and join in an Eagles sing-a-long. I’m assuming you’ve already belted out Ring of Fire in front of your mates.

Happy Cup week. And don’t forget – there’s a special edition of Hold All Tickets this Monday morning.

A truly unique look at the race that stops the nation. Detailed form for every runner. Some made up. Essential reading for anyone who needs to pretend they’re an expert on Cup Day. Don’t miss it.