Every owner’s worst nightmare. Our horse is as slow as a wet week.

March 30, 2013

As racehorse owners, we have a list of excuses.

Actually, make that a folder. Or a large book. A shelf full of them.

As I have said on these pages before, we are eternal optimists. Better days are always just around the bend.

On the darkest days, when we tail off, a furlong behind the second last horse, there is still light.

This is because we pay money to experience these joyful times. Cash, to experience crushing lows. So there has to be a reason.

Track too hard. Track too soft. Poor ride. Ride was too clever. Track bias. Goat track. Needs more distance. Can’t get the distance. Missed a crucial workout. Worked too hard. Lost a plate. Dropped the whip. Too hot. Too cold. Get the picture?

Our horse has been something of a riddle. Beautifully bred, he promised so much.

But there were problems. He was struck down by colic as a youngster. Had to have surgery. We ignored all the well-read scribblings, that they never come back the same.

He went shin sore. Twice. Lengthy stints in the paddock. Came back, and struck wet tracks. Did I mention he can’t run in the wet? And by that I mean, he is barely able to lift his wonderfully conformed legs, if there is so much as a spit on the ground.

It goes without saying that all but one of his starts have been on wet tracks. Hopeless. Guess how he went on a good surface? The most exciting win I’ve been involved with.

And there is our dilemma. He showed us something that day. Enough to make us think that we had a special one. All we needed was a dry track, and the race clubs would be lining up to woo us, ala the Mighty Mare.

That was the thinking, up until last weekend. A run so bad I find it hard to re-visit.

He jumped in front. Was placed to perfection by Ryan Wiggins. We hit the straight, and looked every inch the winner. Until, our bloke stopped as if shot, by a sniper in the stand wearing gumboots.

We ran last. Passed by horses that will do nothing in their uneventful careers.

Finally, there were no excuses. Nothing more could be said. He wasn’t a star after all.

He’s on his way to a new trainer now. No hard feelings there. We have no idea what the future holds. We don’t even know what state he’ll be running slowly in.

There could be a miracle around the corner, but I doubt it. We own a slow horse.

That lumps us in with the great majority of racehorse owners. We all dream of owning Black Caviar. But the reality is, we don’t. We own horses that struggle.

A new chapter awaits. We love this game so much, we’ll keep plugging away. Maybe with a new excuse or two. I just hope that sniper doesn’t find out where we’ve gone.

And on the Seventh Day, someone decided we’d have race meetings..

March 23, 2013

I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t race on a Sunday.

Some of you will find that hard to believe. No races anywhere. Nothing.

Horses would stay at home. Trainers and jockeys would do other things. Like go to church. Or the pub. Or they’d go to church, and then the pub.

I can remember Mum and Dad sitting at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning, going over the Saturday results. There’d usually be a hard-luck story somewhere. But never the chance to have another bet.

I have a fair idea how they would have reacted to Sunday racing. The old man would have shook his head. Bloody madness, he’d mutter. Mum would be working out where she could have a sneaky double.

It’s all so different now. We’re in action every day. Sometimes night and day. I’m torn about whether that’s a good thing.

I know plenty of industry participants who hate Sunday racing. Trainers who don’t get a day off. Jockeys who have to travel hours, for a few more rides. If they don’t go, they risk losing favour with the boss.

I know where they’re coming from. Few other sports compete every single day. Maybe with the exception of darts. And they’re allowed refreshments.

Another part of me enjoys the Sunday action. It lacks the intensity of a busy Saturday. A few late flutters over a cool drink can be fun.

I’m frequently drawn to the action in the West. Late in the day, listening to an old-time band at my favourite pub.

Of course, we can go further afield with ease. They’ll be going their hardest in Hong Kong and Singapore. I can hear Dad muttering again.

It’s all about revenue. The more meetings, the more turnover, the more cash coming back. And it doesn’t matter how much anyone complains, it won’t be changing anytime soon.

We have our bloke running around tomorrow, an hour away from the city. Of course, that means it will rain tonight, and the track will be a bog. Regular readers will understand.

I won’t be there. Too bloody hard to get organised late on a Sunday arvo. I’ll be in that pub instead, with some country classics being belted out. I’ll find a screen, and cheer the house down if we can turn things around.

So here’s the deal. If we win, I’ll be a great supporter of Sunday racing. If we get rolled once more, the industry needs to have a long hard look at itself. Yep, Dad is shaking his head again.

Going through life, hand in hand with my girls. As long as no-one is looking.

March 19, 2013

Daughter Two has had enough of hand-holding.

There’s been no official edict. No declaration. It’s just not cool.

Her hand is no longer available. She’ll show affection in her own, 12-year-old way. Usually via a quick hug.

She has gone down the same path as The Teenager. Although it must be said, the older sister was less definite about it all. She would forget sometimes, and grab Dad’s hand. Until she remembered that it’s not the done thing.

Daughter Two was one of the great hand-holders. Her tiny hand would be in mine wherever we went.

It’s one of the special things about being a Dad. Trying to make those around you feel safe. Little girls know all is fine in the world, when Dad is clutched close by.

From parks to shopping centres, and everywhere in between. Crossing the road. On the way to school, and on the way home. ‘Hold my hand Daddy.’ Music to a father’s ears.

We were at the movies on the weekend. Just the two of us. Another thing I love about being a Dad. To giggle through a flick, munching on too much popcorn and slurping iceless coke, is indeed a treat.

On the way to the cinema, I made a grab for those delicate fingers. I knew what the result would be. But I did it anyway. That’s another special thing about being a Dad. The ability to annoy.

She pulled her hand away, and laughed. We were both in on the joke. I pointed out that it used to be the other way around. That she used to grab MY hand. Another laugh.

‘Dad, I was, like, 6. All little kids do that. I’m older now.’ And so she is.

I explained to her that there is a cycle in this hand-holding business. Sure, a ban was in place right now. But things would change.

She would again want the same feeling of comfort that little girl had, a few years back. During boyfriend problems. And marriage. When she had her own children. Our hands would be back together. As far as lower-level carpark speeches go, it was a pretty good one.

She laughed again. ‘First of all, I don’t have a boyfriend. And I’m not getting married. I’m DEFINITELY not having kids.’

So there.

Deep down, she knows I’m right. It’s just that when you’re going on 13, an admission that a parent might know something about growing up is forbidden.

We had great fun in our movie. Sharing the same drink, demolishing the popcorn, and guessing the plot early.

As we walked back to the car, I put my arm around her. Briefly, and in part, to protect her from traffic. Old habits die hard.

She shrugged it off after a few seconds. With a laugh. Just long enough to say how much we mean to each other.

One of the tricks about being a Dad, is keeping up. Something that was fun yesterday, can be lame today. And then fun again. It’s all about listening. And getting instructions off their Facebook page.

I’ll keep trying the hand grab every now and then, just to annoy her. I don’t care how old they get. A Dad still has to have some fun.

The never-ending search for apprentices with old heads on young shoulders.

March 16, 2013

We all have to start out somewhere. And make some mistakes along the way.

Michael Clarke lost his off stump more than once as a kid.

Billy Slater didn’t break every tackle. Believe it or not, he wasn’t always the first picked in those early teams.

Someone had to teach Dawn Fraser to swim. Way back, when someone encouraged her to do another lap.

In racing, the stars of the future begin as apprentices. It’s anything but glamorous.

Few other sports have their best young prospects start work at 3am. Not many footy young guns deal with buckets of animal poo throughout their working day.

Apprentices will muck out stables, and ride as many horses as they can. Gruelling hours, for little return.

The lucky ones will get a few mounts for a leading stable. Most of their winnings will be kept from them, until their apprenticeship is complete.

Can you imagine the next Broncos superstar having his cash withheld for the first years of his contract? You’d hear the whingeing from your back yard.

There’s no reserve grade for young jockeys. They’re out there for all to see. Risking their lives, just like the seniors. At the mercy of punters like us, complaining through our pockets.

More than once, I’ve been guided by the old punting adage. Take off 3 kilos for an apprentice, then add 4 kilos for an apprentice. Harsh, but often true.

Some are outstanding, from the first time they jump on. Dig out a video of Darren Beadman winning the Golden Slipper as an apprentice in 1984. Or Wayne Harris when he kicked off. Class, with pimples and a mullet. Hugh Bowman too. Was always destined for greatness.

Look hard today, and you’ll see some amazing talent. I might be biased, but I don’t see any better than young Tegan Harrison in Brisbane. She gets horses to win for her. Soft hands. Great balance. Wonderful judgement.

Watch her in action this afternoon. She gives them every chance, every time. Tegan is a worker. That old story. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

I saw her win at Doomben last weekend, in a driving finish. Cost me the cash. Even so, it was mighty impressive. She’s riding beyond her years.

Not every kid gets it right. Some get sick of the hours. And the crap. From animals and humans.

Others get caught in the lifestyle. Too many parties makes it mighty difficult to start work before dawn.

They will fall by the wayside. End up doing something much easier. While the chosen few ride their way into greatness, and riches.

An apprentice rode our horse during the week. He was a visitor from interstate, and I didn’t know him from Adam.

To say he butchered our bloke would be an insult to those who wear white aprons and cut up rumps. We cornered around 12 wide. He was so close to the cars he almost got charged for parking.

It didn’t cost us the race, but it sure didn’t help. Would Beadman or Bowman have been out there? I doubt it.

That’s the thing with apprentices. They have to learn the trade. Even if it costs us along the way.

Clarkey ended up Australian skipper. Billy is an Origin hero. And Dawn? Well, she went alright too.

I hope we’ll be singing Tegan’s praises in twenty years time. And plenty of other kids starting out now too. Just one tip. Stay away from the bloody outside fence.

Smile, Dad, and bite your tongue. Daughters who want to be the life of the party.

March 12, 2013

It’s party time. Every weekend, it seems. Day and night. And anywhere in between.

The girls have hit the fun stage of their young lives. The Teenager has been leading the way. Daughter Two is keen to make up for lost time.

Parties are springing up like post-monsoon weeds. Both ladies seem to be firmly on the major invite lists.

As difficult as it is for me to set aside the terror that such activity brings all Dads, I must admit that I’m happy for them. They’re finding new friends, and celebrating their youth.

Think hard, and you’ll remember doing the same thing. The excitement of a group invite, to the biggest bash in town.

There’s nothing like getting your best buds together for a kick-arse party. But with impeccable behavior, of course. We never know who might be reading.

There are a few things that seem to be different these days. One relates to attire.

It would seem that a rule was introduced recently, that forbids young women from wearing the same outfit to consecutive functions. New clothes are essential.

I hear this constantly. Forget looking into that bulging cupboard. The latest top and skirt combo is an absolute must.

The reaction to denial in such situations, borders on hysterical. It’s like they’re being deprived of oxygen.

I remember no such urgency as a young man. In the words of the great J. Cash, I would find my ‘cleanest dirty shirt’. The pile on the floor to choose from was large.

There was nothing else to wear but the favourite pair of jeans, and we were away. Not complicated, or expensive.

The other great difference I notice today is that the sexes seem to have no trouble talking to each other. The interaction appears to be very natural.

I get to see photos of the girls having fun, plastered over numerous social media sites. There is usually a muscle-bound young man lurking nearby. With a flashy smile. An easy manner. And a clean shirt.

Back in the day, it took us years to work up the courage to talk to the opposite sex. When we did, it was typical male gibber, usually related to how we fared at footy earlier that day. Looking back, it’s a miracle that any girl uttered a kind word in our direction before the age of 20.

Returning back to the world of extended credit cards, things will only get worse, of course. I’m ready for what’s ahead. So I tell myself.

As long as the girls are happy and safe, then I’ll be fine. Until the next batch of photos. It’s going to be a long decade.

Just putting it out there. What jockeys really mean on Twitter.

March 9, 2013

I enjoy reading what jockeys think on Facebook and Twitter.

It makes us mug punters feel like we’re part of the family. Even if we’re at the table set aside for the kids.

They’re not allowed to tip, but every now and then we get pointed in the right direction.

I love how they support each other. For all the ribbing (and there’s plenty of that), they look after their mates. Especially when the going gets tough.

The likes of Nash Rawiller, Josh Parr, Ryan Wiggins and Luke Nolen are great value. The Pumper has a huge following too. You can hear them cheering when he pinches another one from out front.

Blokes who’ve been around a bit know how to keep the youngsters on track. Chris Munce is forever praising and encouraging. It must mean the world to an apprentice just starting out, to get praise from a legend.

It hasn’t always been like this. Not too many years ago, the only way we’d be able to connect with the little guys and girls would be through the Sunday papers. And even then, there’d be plenty of the same old stories.

“The favourite was just a bit too good on the day”.

“He’ll be tough to beat when he gets up to a mile”.

“He didn’t handle the going. Forget the run”. Blah blah blah.

That’s the beauty of social media. Follow the right people, and you’ll get to hear what they really think.

Imagine if Jim Pike had been on Twitter. Would he have given much away? Or would he have been working on getting a price for Big Red?

@JimPike1 .. Riding Phar Lap again today. The weight is a worry. And the boss has been working him hard. Sure, we won by 10 lengths last start. But he’s vulnerable. Just don’t tell the bookies. #cansomeonegetonforme?

Some of racing’s most famous moments may have been recorded differently. Bill Collins would have loved to be tweeting after the ’82 Cox Plate.

@BillTheAccurateOne .. Just to clarify, when I said Kingston Town couldn’t win, I was talking about the Melbourne Cup. He was ALWAYS going to win the Plate. #cansomeoneerasethetape?

The boys involved in the Fine Cotton debacle would have gone straight to twitter. And stuffed that up too.

@HaydentheGoose .. Bit of a mix up today guys. No harm done. Weren’t we silly billys! #cansomeonecharteracheapflight

If you’re a racing fan and you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out. Get your kids to explain what to do, and be part of the fun.

You’ll be amazed at what you discover, from the biggest names in the industry. And you’ll have a laugh along the way.

Just don’t trust Jim Pike. I’m sure that Big Red horse goes better than he’s telling us.

Mates for 45 years. A bloke who’ll always be our Captain. Even if he falls asleep mid-sentence.

March 5, 2013

We’ve known each other since we were 4 years old.

Kindergarten buddies. First day, with Miss Thorburn.

I don’t remember the finer details, but I’m sure he would have been organising us. Who could sit where. What we’d do at the lunch break.

We were together in primary school. Played footy and cricket all the way through.

He was the Captain. That went without saying. A natural leader. Even back then, he was defending his mates.

His other nickname was ‘Weird Harold’. From the character in the Fat Albert cartoon. They looked nothing alike, but by actions alone could have been twins.

As kids, a bunch of us would get up to wonderful fun each afternoon. Whatever was going, we’d be into. He was always leading the way.

It was the same in high school. If we were in a team together, he was the Skipper. By then, we were also playing league on the weekend. Of course, he had the ‘C’ next to his name in the program.

He was fearless on the field. Always looking out for his friends. He loved the battle, and the mateship. He knew how lucky we all were, forging friendships that would last a lifetime.

I remember The Captain in a dressing room, before a final. He was receiving a pain-killing injection from the club doctor. His knee was a mess, but he refused to leave us short. He climbed the wall as the needle went in. All the way up. Excruciating pain.

I thought about that episode, when I saw him limping last weekend. A visit we’d both been looking forward to. He’s already had major surgery on that leg. It’s playing up again.

He’s paying the price for not wanting to let us down, all those years ago. It just wasn’t in his nature. Old school.

There was no complaining this time around, of course. He was too busy telling me a thousand stories. And listening to mine. Over numerous cool drinks.

We still laugh at tales we’ve heard a thousand times. That’s what old mates do. We get faster, and stronger, and funnier, as time goes by.

He’s another one who graduated from the University of Life. With an opinion on everything. And you’ll hear what it is, whether you like it or not.

Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s one of the smartest people I know. An answer for everything.

We talked for hours, until he fell asleep. Mid-sentence, sitting up, on the lounge. Granted, the hour was late. But I didn’t think I’d been that boring.

He explained it later as a ‘micro nap’. Part of his army training. Yes, he’s also incredibly full of it. He forgets that I’ve been watching him nod off since Hawkie was PM.

We made time to remember a great mate, who’s no longer with us. A cancer victim, who was taken far too early. We both miss him dearly. He was another from those carefree early days. Glasses were raised. The joy of shared memories.

Mateship, in all forms, is a wonderful thing. I feel for those who miss out on it. Life-forming, and life-lasting.

We’ll catch up again soon. There’ll be more laughs. More drinks. And The Captain will fall asleep. That’s the beauty of true friends. You know exactly what you’ll get.

Blame the floods on Pintuck. Owners who dream of having a mudlark.

March 2, 2013

From the outset, an apology.

All this rain of late is our fault. The floods are not an act of God. They can be blamed on a horse. Our horse.

The second he even looks like heading onto the track, dark clouds appear from nowhere. Blue skies turn to grey.

We learnt early on in the piece that he had precisely zero ability on a wet track. His giant hooves can’t handle the slush. You could throw a saddle on me, with pie in hand,  and I’d get through the going better.

He’s had five starts on rain-affected tracks. It was like we’d tied two of his legs together.

One run on top of the ground, he wins, like the good thing we know he is. I may have made a brief mention of it on these pages.

It was enough to make us dream again. Big things ahead. As long as the sun stays out.

But that didn’t happen. Because this bloke attracts rain, like Black Caviar attracts First Place Ribbons.

It was uncanny. And incredibly frustrating. Queensland’s big wet of 2013, can be traced back to our horse coming back into work. Almost to the day.

For an owner, the ability to run in the wet is one of the great unknowns. Sure, a pedigree that shows a family of mudlarks helps. But even then it’s no sure thing.

It causes so many bloody disruptions. And being such a large lump of a thing, any missed races set us back a furlong or three.

We drool over the thought of owning a wet tracker. Especially in a state where it rains on the hour.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to own Van Der Hum, or Subzero, or Doriemus? They grew a leg when someone left a tap running. The owners woke on a cold and wet Saturday morning, and danced a money jig.

Not us. We get scratched, again. He stands in his stall, and gets a little fatter.

Bring back the drought, I say. We’ve had enough of the rain. Spare all those hard hit cities and towns. And those owners who aren’t allowed to play in the wet.