Red faced after a big game blunder. Luke’s close call. Bradman’s duck. And Salmon’s no-try.

June 30, 2012

Luke Nolen can rest easy. He’s in good company.

Black Caviar’s jockey admits his ride last weekend wasn’t up there with his best. Actually, he described it as one of his worst.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t race one at Bendigo. He was centre stage at Royal Ascot, with the eyes of the world on him. Everyone got to have a say. Even the Queen.

The popular hoop put his hand up straight away. He knew. The good ones always do.

The result of his big blue? Victory. And a million dollar pay-day. The great sprinter, injured and out of sorts, remained unbeaten. Just. As Moody reminded us all, a nose is enough.

The beauty of sport is that it’s not an exact science. It’s unpredictable. Anything can happen. Even to the best of us.

It might make Luke feel better to know that I, too, have had moments to forget in the heat of battle. Several, in fact. And I was nowhere near as prompt to admit the error of my ways.

Several centuries ago, I was playing rugby league in my usual dashing style. Early in the day, it should be said. With nimble footwork and blinding pace, I took off, leaving a trail of defenders in my wake. That’s how I remember it anyway.

The cover defence pushed me out wide, but they were too late. With the breeze blowing through my long blonde locks, all that was left was to put the ball down. Which I did.

It would have been a triumph, except for one tiny error of judgement. I had dived over in the corner, a full ten metres short of the tryline. Somehow, I had mixed up my lines.

It was difficult to tell where the laughter was loudest. From the opposing players, who by now were having difficulty standing up, or from the handful of spectators on the hill, who had obviously never seen such stupidity in public.

From memory, I blamed the local groundsman for his shoddy line marking. And I threw in the glare of the sun, just in case. They all kept laughing.

There was also an embarrassing display on the cricket pitch some years earlier. It’s still spoken about in hushed, giggling tones.

I was a schoolboy bowler; reasonably quick, without the ability to swing the ball one inch.

I had modelled myself on the great Dennis Lillee. Which meant that I ran in as fast as I could, and tried to take the batsman’s head off. With little success.

Still, I shared the opening spell for a while. But there was trouble ahead.

When Lillee’s mate Thommo came along, everything changed. I watched him in awe. A low slung action, that either skittled wickets or broke toes. I had found a new role model. And I decided to copy him.

For the next week, I spent every afternoon honing Thommo’s way. To my amazement, I was knocking over the steel bin across the road every second delivery. And with more pace than I’d even been able to muster.

Come game day, I decided to surprise my team-mates with this new bowling action. And surprise I did.

The first clue that something was different was my shortened run-up. I no longer needed to push off the fence. It was all about the sling.

My first ball missed the pitch. And the keeper. But gee, it was quick. All the way to the boundary. Untouched by bat.

Our coach, a legend of country cricket, was standing at square leg. He had guided the early careers of thousands of young players. It was fair to say he wasn’t prepared for what was unfolding in front of him.

Delivery two was taken by our gully fieldsman. Boy, it was quick. I realised that my radar was a touch out.

Balls 3 and 4 followed similar paths. That being nowhere near the actual wicket we were playing on. Laughter was now ringing around the ground. Except from the coach. He was speechless.

I finished one of the quickest overs ever to be bowled at that ground, with the batsman unable to get anywhere near the ball. To say it was inaccurate is like declaring that Pavarotti was a decent pub singer. It was awful.

I didn’t get another over that day. In fact, it was the beginning of the end of my career as a bowler.

It should be pointed out that Luke and I aren’t alone in this caper of getting it slightly wrong on the big day. It happened to a pretty decent cricketer going back a bit. You may have heard of him. Bloke by the name of Don Bradman.

In his final test, he needed just 4 runs at The Oval to finish with an average of 100. For the greatest of all time, it was a certainty.

Except it didn’t work out that way. The Don was bowled second ball by a Pommy pie-chucker you’ve never heard of. Proving yet again that there are no certainties in sport.

I didn’t get to hear Sir Don’s interview after that game. He may have done it a week later. But I know one thing. He wouldn’t have handled it any better than Luke Nolen did last weekend.

That’s the thing about making a blue in the spotlight. Admit you stuffed up, and we’ll all move on. Except when those field markings are covered up. Bloody groundsman.


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

March 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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