The best and worst in racing 2012. Or, can someone please find me a winner next year?

December 29, 2012

Just a few days to go, and we’ll be watching fireworks and downing the last cool drinks of the year.

That means it’s time for the racing industry’s most sought after list. The annual Hold All Tickets awards for 2012.

The biggest names in the game will be waking up even earlier, to see if they made a mention. Some will wear it like a badge of honour at the track today. Others will be on the phone to their lawyer.

As usual, send all angry responses to the complaints department. With the 1-hundred dollar fee. Cash or cheque taken.

So here we go. Good luck one and all.

*Greatest Racing Moment.

A host of contenders. But nothing beats Black Caviar at Royal Ascot, notching up win number 22. Just.

What golden theatre. Luke Nolen’s ride, and later, his honesty. Peter Moody’s love of the horse. The fact that she beat the best the Poms could throw up, firing at about 80%.

We were texting and tweeting in the middle of the night. Everyone had an opinion. Sporting gold, and we all felt a part of it.

*The ‘Stick With Me And You’ll Wear Diamonds’ Award.

Green Moon. Good judges knew he would win something big. Bad judges too. Like me. But we all dropped off, just in time for him to stride away with the Melbourne Cup. What were we thinking?

*Trainer Of The Year.

You’ll accuse me of favouring old Queensland boys, but it has to be Peter Moody. His handling of the Mighty Mare has been perfect again. Black Caviar aside, he’s been training winners all over the place. Back a Moody horse, and you know everything has been done to get the nag across the line.

Honourable mentions to Chris Waller, who will keep breaking records in Sydney, and Rob Heathcote. The Group Races will keep coming for Brisbane’s top conditioner. Hopefully a Stradbroke, with a lightly raced maiden coming back from a spell in the coming weeks. No pressure Rob.

And if you’re not backing Desleigh Forster horses, you should be. She’s winning everything. I’d love to be in with her for a Gold Lotto ticket tonight.

*Jockey Of The Year.

Tough. Glen Boss gets the nod, through weight of winners at the top-level. Few enjoy that winning moment better than Bossy. Just ahead of Hugh Bowman. No-one seems to be riding with more confidence at the minute. Nash and Damian have had their problems.

A few to follow for the New Year. Josh Parr will ride a heap of winners in Sydney, now that he’s linked with Moody. A perfect fit. Same for Ryan Wiggins in Brisbane. A highly talented horseman with a fierce competitive streak. It’s no fluke Heathcote is putting him on more and more top chances. And don’t be afraid of whacking your cash on young Tegan Harrison. An apprentice with a superb attitude, on the way up.

*Greatest Annoyance in Racing.

For me, the number of times totes and betting agencies fall down. On-line computer crashes, and phone systems that can’t take a bet. Especially on big days. Tote machines that freeze, the second a bloke is trying to get a bet on. Yes, it happened to me last week.

Is it too much to ask to have reliability, all year round? One crash is one too many. Use some of the millions we punters fork over to you, and get the system fixed.

*Tipster To Follow in 2013

With social media now abuzz with racing, there have never been more tips on offer. Most of them will empty your wallet. One bloke who gets it right more often that not is Nathan Exelby. The Courier Mail’s new head racing journo does all his own form, and is rarely far from the money. Bet on his Brisbane tips with confidence.

*The 2012 Twitter Media Guru

So many to choose from. Richie #richieplz Callander always provides a laugh. Young Andrew Hawkins has an opinion on everything, and does the research  to back those opinions up. The Queensland trio of Ben Dorries, Gerard Daffy and Peter Psaltis are great fun. But we’ll declare joint winners. Andrew Bensley and Ron Dufficy make us feel like old mates. Highly entertaining, and true experts in their field.

*The ‘All Our Support’ award.

Chris Munce. One tough little bugger. His battle with throat cancer begins within weeks. He has all of those in racing in his corner. So, too, does Kristy Banks. Such courage, after a terrible fall. An inspiration to us all.

And finally, ‘The Horse To Surprise You All in 2013’.

Pintuck. But don’t tell anyone. Not until we get a price for him, anyway.

So there you have it. A few hundred pointless words to fill my final racing blog of the year.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these scribblings. Thanks for the feedback, good and bad. It’s nice to know the handful of you out there are still on board.

To you and your family, have a wonderful New Year. Here’s to a year of backing more winners than our pockets can hold.

Answering the big questions this Christmas. How a baby gave a message of hope. And made a fool of me.

December 25, 2012

My first memory of church is not Christmas, but cake.

A mate at school had a very religious upbringing. Every Sunday, he’d be dragged to the house of worship.

His picture of church was one where every table had a bowl of chips. Chocolates at every turn. And more cake than a skinny school kid could dream of.

It was with this glowing appraisal in mind that I ventured off for a morning with him. Mum was delighted. Dad shook his head, and said nothing.

When I arrived, it became clear that his feast of faith had been a cruel ploy. In fact, there was nothing to eat. Just a few hours of fire and brimstone from the pulpit. I had been conned. I didn’t hang around to ask if that was a sin.

Dad was fixing the car when I got home. I told him my tale of woe, and he laughed. Mum shook her head, and said nothing.

Since then, my trips to Holy Houses have been few and far between. Mainly weddings and funerals. Of late, sadly, more of the latter.

Two years back, we went to a wonderful church in New York on Christmas Eve. Old and majestic, with the first dusting of winter snow.

It was midnight mass, and the place was packed. As seems to be the case in most churches, there were several loud singers in the congregation. When I say loud, I mean Aretha Franklin in robes. The girls thought it was hilarious.

It was a modern service. The priest was most impressive. He gave an inspired sermon, about the need to look after each other. On every level. And that it’s never too late. Simple messages. For such a complex time.

Like so many others at this time of year, I’ve been searching for answers. To questions big and small. A helping hand , to chart the path ahead.

Guidance comes from many directions. Much loved family members. Great mates and colleagues. In kitchens and down the phone line. At the front bar and in racetrack grandstands.

It’s this long-term quest for direction that prompted me to pay church another visit.  A magnificent old building, next to The Teenager’s school.

I drive past it every day, and have often wondered what it’s like inside. It LOOKS like a place to soothe the soul. What better time than Christmas to find out.

I swapped my regular Sunday afternoon appointment with the old pub jazz band, for a session of a different kind. I know many of you just fell off various bar stools. And no, there wasn’t a lightning bolt when I walked through the door. Although I thought I heard the faintest clap of thunder.

It wasn’t a big crowd. In fact, for a pre-Christmas sermon, I was a little disappointed. The Big Apple had obviously spoiled me.

The man conducting proceedings was in shorts. There was music, led by an enthusiastic young bloke with long hair and a guitar. A few carols that I’d never heard of.

As time went on, I found myself having a closer look at that beautiful structure. Rich wooden beams, and stained glass windows.

It got me thinking. How many people had come here before me, looking for answers? Had they been helped, and given a clearer sense of what it’s really all about?

Those around me were happy. They were enjoying each others company, and the words of wisdom on offer. I was happy for them.

All the while, a baby in the front row was staring at me. He had blue eyes and a mass of blonde hair. With the most delightful giggle. I had seen that look somewhere before. But where?

Then it hit me. This little fellow was a mirror image of me.

It was one of mum’s favourite old photos. Me on a rug, with the most ridiculous baby smile. And here I was, looking at that picture once again.

Was it a message from above? Maybe the ultimate answer, to go back to where it all began?

I pondered this Christmas miracle in the making, and considered making a donation to the money bag doing the rounds. Even jumping to my feet. Right up until the man in shorts introduced the baby. His beautiful child. Named Lydia.

The smiling baby boy, was in fact a girl. Had been all along apparently. Everyone knew, but me.

It just shows, the answers we seek are never easy. Even when the question seems so simple.

We’ll get there, with love and support from those who matter. Someone way smarter than me said every worthwhile journey begins with one small step.

Merry Christmas Lydia. May your smile continue to light up those around you. And Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Good teachers making a difference. How one man has improved hundreds of young lives.

December 18, 2012

One of the best teachers I’ve been involved with is a bloke who has been known to wear a skirt.

Not always, mind you. Just special occasions. And no one dares to snigger.

He’s a Pacific Islander. One of those Samoans built as wide as he is tall. With a neck ready to serve as a tree trunk if needed.

His passion, outside family and footy, is teaching. He has a gift. The ability to educate. And to get through, where others fail.

Visit him at school, and you’ll find a classroom that’s alive. There is learning in every corner. And fun in the air.

We met him a few years back, when The Teenager was lucky enough to be put in his class. It remains her favourite year of schooling. And her most productive.

He encourages students to achieve, in whatever field they can. Not great at maths? Have a go at music. Do your best, and you’ll be on the end of a High Five.

There would always be songs played in his room at lunchtime. Someone would get a guitar out. The boys would be dancing. No time for bullying or bitching.

They had a pact, the students and their teacher. One in, all in. If someone was doing the wrong thing, they’d all suffer the consequences. The power of teamwork, on show in Grade 6.

Away from the classroom, his influence was even greater. If there was a game of touch football happening during the day, he’d be part of it. The footy coach, of course. He was a leader of the cultural group, so important in a school full of kids with so many different backgrounds.

Lots of them do it tough at home. So he would give them hope. And something to do. Keep them busy.

I know of so many youngsters who’ve been given a path to succeed, thanks to his perseverance. Making them believe. Walking out of that school gate, feeling good about themselves.

It’s crucial. Even when parents are on the job too. Together, it gives the kids every possible chance. They enjoy their schooling.

Daughter Two was crushed when she was allocated a different teacher this year. So were we. She would have done so well under him. But even in another class, he helped her. A wisecrack in the playground. An encouraging word. Sometimes that’s enough to make the day a little brighter.

We said our goodbyes to him, at last week’s Year 7 graduation. The end of an era. The school has been home to a daughter for the best part of a decade. Next year, the girls will be back together, in high school.

I shook his hand, and thanked him for all that he’d done. Not just for our children, but all the others. It didn’t seem enough. His giant hand crushed mine, and he smiled. Sadly.

It was his last week too. He’s been moved on. The Education chiefs, in their wisdom, have decided he needs to move in a different direction. To a small school, many hours away. I wonder if the parents there have any idea how lucky they are.

He was wearing a necklace made with lollies, carefully constructed by his class. It was straining around that giant neck. I got the feeling that he won’t be eating them any time soon. Like us, he’ll want to hang on to the memories.

Thanks Mr T, for believing in so many young people. We’ll never forget the bloke in the skirt.

‘Tis the season to go to the track. The punter’s guide to enjoying Christmas.

December 15, 2012

Any punter worth his rum balls knows the festive season is a special time.

Sure, the Group Ones are over, and most of our champions are chomping on hay in paddocks with tinsel hanging over fences.

Don’t let it bother you. There’s no better time than the next few weeks to organise a trip to your favourite racetrack.

It’s a four-week window, give or take a few days. From now up to Magic Millions day, in the summer heat on the Gold Coast.

There’s something special about heading to the races over the holidays. Everyone’s a little more relaxed. Even more fun to be had than usual.

Groups get together to enjoy some festive cheer. Sometimes it’s a once a year thing.

Permission is granted to have a few extra cool drinks. The holidays will do that to you.

You will see some racegoers in funny hats. Santa shirts. No one will mind.

We had a Christmas race day last year, and a mate of mine couldn’t stop winning. He was collecting trifectas like lucky dips. He told me he hadn’t had a bet in months. I forced a festive smile.

Friends will give us tips at the most unlikely meetings in the weeks ahead. Most will do nothing. We won’t mind, because we’ll be full of Christmas cheer.

We get to have a flutter on Boxing Day, between overs in the Test, and on New Year’s Day, before we head for a recovery swim.

There’ll be Christmas Cups, and Yuletide Handicaps, and Santa Sprints. Late in the day, we might even look for some omen bets. Anything with Rudolph in the title is worth throwing into the quaddie.

The quality of holiday racing has improved in recent years. Brisbane’s summer series is great fun. Randwick is famous for those late December races. January in Perth is always a hoot. And of course, Magic Millions.

A few of us will be trackside next weekend. Spirits will be high, even if we won’t be wearing flashing ties.

Come and say g’day if you see us. We may or may not be singing Christmas carols after the last. Depending on how many winners we’ve found. If we’re in silence, don’t tell me about your successful trifectas. I only have so many festive smiles.

Christmas shopping, Dad-style. Making a daughter blush earns extra credits.

December 11, 2012

It was like Daughter Two had found a priceless artifact, right there in the surf shop.

She held it aloft, as one would present a rare Egyptian print.

It was a one-piece thingy, with the print of a tiger on it. Something like an extended singlet. Part costume, part underwear. Sister and friend both cooed approval. Even I could see it was pretty fancy.

She told me how she HAD to have it. Explained how she’d wear her new black skirt over the top. And right there, on the busy shop floor, father saw an opportunity.

“Why don’t you wear it without anything else, just like that?” I made sure my question was loud enough for the surrounding tweens and teens to hear. There was a gasp from the major players.

She looked at me as if I had just cursed the family name. There were no words. Just a wide-eyed stare. Followed by uncontrollable giggles. Sister too. They fell in a heap. With the one-piece thingy still held high.

It’s one of the joys of fatherhood. Being able to make a 12-year-old red-faced with utter embarrassment. Only a Dad knows the feeling.

It was all part of our weekend Christmas shopping expedition. Bags were piling high. And I have to admit, we were having loads of fun.

It had taken several hours to find a parking spot. We ended up on the roof in a nearby suburb. Or so it seemed. I’m sure some of our fellow shoppers are still doing laps.

For once, we had given ourselves plenty of time. This allowed us to stroll from shop to shop. The girls had been given a budget, and to my great surprise, they were sticking to it.

I have been shopping with these young women many times before. But on this particular day, I noticed something I hadn’t been aware of.

They are expert shoppers. I mean, they are REALLY good. I watched them in action, and was struck by how they go about spending my money.

The Teenager knows exactly what she wants. She will go straight to the dress that suits her best, from the dozens on offer.

She is cool and calm, flicking through those racks. At fourteen, she has found her style, and sticks with it. For a shopping novice like me, it was impressive stuff.

Daughter Two takes an almost forensic approach. She’ll look, and touch, and match. And look some more. When she likes something, she smiles.

Each time she made a purchase, she’d thank me, and give me a hug. Another joy of fatherhood.

We celebrated our good work by munching on as much fast-food as we could carry. That’s how Dads roll in big shopping centres. We aren’t capable of packing lunch, and the kids know it.

I’m pretty sure we’re all done now. A boot full of gifts will do the job. With a few weeks to spare.

Someone should write a book on the secrets of a male shopping day. What a help it would be for all those ladies still to venture out. Tips for everything, except embarrassing daughters. That’s the role of a Dad.

Another battle for one of my favourite little blokes. Why Chris Munce will win this too.

December 8, 2012

At first I thought the saddle was moving itself down the path. Bobbing along, with no-one holding it.

Then I realised Chris Munce was with it. I just couldn’t see him. The pigskin was nearly bigger than the soon-to-be-famous jockey.

It was outside the gates of the Gold Coast Turf club, many years ago. The jockey was walking in, ready to ride more winners. He made the other hoops look like Harlem Globetrotters.

I couldn’t believe his size. I’d never seen a suit so small. But there was something else. Strength. In body and mind.

Munce is again preparing to draw on that power. This time, it’s not to drive one to the line in a head-bobbing photo. He wins most of those, by the way. No, this is a far more important battle.

He told us last week that he has cancer. There was no circus or sideshow for the announcement, as so many sports stars now seem to enjoy. Just the message to his army of supporters, that he was up for the fight.

This awful, filthy disease is in his throat. They found it after a problem surfaced with a tonsil. He’ll undergo radiation therapy, and it will be tough.

There was one thing he wanted to stress, when the story came out. It wasn’t that he was putting his life in God’s hands. He made it clear that he was still available for rides. Old racing fans topped up their glasses on the strength of that.

We’ve seen Chris do some amazing things on the track. My favourite is still his effort on Savabeel in the 2004 Cox Plate. Talking through my hip pocket, of course. It was one of those rides where the jockey made the horse look a little better than it actually was.

He survived prison in Hong Kong. It would have killed the spirit of most other men. Munce didn’t give them that satisfaction. He came back even tougher. And was thankful for every extra day in the saddle.

I’m no doctor, but I reckon it’s that attitude that will get him through this latest challenge. Few jockeys smile as much at the track. Like a bloke who has a genuine love of what he does.

It goes without saying that every sports fan wishes him well. Sometimes, we need to remember that this racing caper, for all the millions that go with it, is still just a bit of fun.

Health and family are the things that really matter. Chris will keep riding winners until his treatment begins. And when it does, he’ll have our prayers with him.

He doesn’t have a choice really. I want more of that saddle walking into the course with no-one holding it. Let’s see the young blokes do that.

Getting the new tree just right. A Dad’s way of embracing the Christmas spirit.

December 4, 2012

Rule number one. You can never have enough tinsel. When it comes to Christmas trees, bare is bad.

I have a new tree this year. First time I can remember actually buying one.

The girls suggested I wade into a nearby pine forest, and cut one down. Strap it to the roof of the Honda. Show it off to the neighbours. Yes, they watch too many movies.

Instead, my new symbol of the festive season came in a box, from a busy department store. There were so many to pick from. Different heights, bases, and thickness. Who knew?

I can’t recall buying our last one. And I have no idea where mum and dad found theirs, all those years ago. Pretty sure it didn’t come in a box.

In fact, I have no memory of our Christmas tree as a kid. We had one, of course. I just can’t picture it. Maybe too focused on the goodies underneath.

Those who sell these trees are very clever. Next to the stacks of boxes, are decorations. Every single festive item you could imagine.

They assume, quite rightly, that those of us in need of a new tree, are likely to purchase stuff to cover it.

I started with the tinsel. Three bucks a strand. The more you buy the more you save. All the colours of the rainbow. I bought a few extra, just in case.

There were boxes of baubles. Bargains on every shelf. How many coloured balls does one need? Of course, men have no idea. So we buy lots.

Two dollars for little hanging Santas. Sparkling signs, that say WISH and JOY. Gold coins for each.

The girls and their mother sped past, with their bulging trolleys. They were in a Christmas frenzy of their own. The Teenager nodded approval at my purchases. Daughter Two pointed out a wonderful gold star, to sit on top. Sold.

I turned left, and found an entire section for the Christmas feast. Plates and mugs and tablecloths and hats and oven mitts and trays. All featuring Santa. I showed restraint, and passed on the oven mitts.

Those special items are now tucked away in a cupboard, waiting for the big day. But the tree is there for all to see.

The Teenager played Lead Hand in the assembly process. She’s extremely patient with such things. Daughter Two, struggling with a head cold from Canberra, gave advice from the sideline.

My instructions were clear. Everything I’d purchased had to find a place. The less order the better. This was the shotgun approach to tree decorating.

I’m happy to say that in the end, every member of the family had a hand in the process. The tree now lights up my room.

The girls have two Christmas trees this year. Both adorned with love. That’s the festive spirit.