It’s official. The three greatest days recorded on a racetrack. Were you there with me?

November 26, 2011

I’ve never had a bad day at the track.

Sure, there have been frustrating days. Costly too. Afternoons where common sense ran a distant last. And sessions that led to a long walk home.

But it’s always fun. Sometimes in a perverse sort of way. Non-punting friends are shaking their heads again.

To help those poor unfortunates who prefer golf or scrabble on their Saturdays, I thought I’d compile a list of some memorable days at the races.

Every chance you won’t remember them. No Phar Laps or Black Caviars here. Just some personal favourites. Special racecourse visits, that still make me smile.

So here we go. Counting down my all-time top three Ripper Days at the track. Not including the ones I can’t remember.

*Ripper Memory Number 3 – Magic Millions Day 2003 .. Regimental Gal.

I have always had a love of Gold Coast racing. And nothing says surf and turf better than Magic Millions.

Singo used to call it Melbourne Cup day in shorts and thongs. A unique party atmosphere. In the middle of summer.

Back then, Shaun Dwyer was training out of Toowoomba. A fine horseman, who’d been having great success. But without the profile of Bart, Gai, and the Freedman boys.

I convinced the boss that it would be fun to follow a Queenslander trying to win the big race. Just maybe, we’d link up with a bunch of locals who could  knock off the big guns.

Shaun was great. Incredibly generous with his time. He introduced me to the owners, and to a flying filly called Regimental Gal. More importantly, he confided in me that she was a huge chance.

On race day, the course was packed, as usual. We had a big crew, and no-one missed out on a cool drink.

Nothing unusual there. Except this year, I considered myself part of the team. Whether the team liked it or not.

She won, running away. One of Michael Rodd’s first big victories. When she saluted, I jumped in the air like she was mine. Possibly something to do with the 15 to 1.

After the race, I went down to congratulate Shaun and the rest of them. Hugged them, and possibly kissed someone. To their eternal credit, they didn’t have security drag me away. They even made me stay for an ale. I may or may not have sneaked into a photo.

The locals won the day. I was proud of them.

*Ripper Memory Number 2 – Melbourne Cup Day .. 2001

Going to the Cup for the first time is incredibly special. I’d been to Flemington, but not for Carnival week.

It’s like a cricket fan walking into Lords. Almost religious.

Derby Day was awesome. As I imagined it would be. Cup day? Simply spectacular.

We arrived early. Because everyone does. The big race was sponsored by Tooheys that year. What luck. It was decided that we should do the right thing, and support them straight away.

Hitting the bar, as the rest of the country was having breakfast, we encountered a snag. The sponsor’s product hadn’t been chilled. It was just sitting there, in cartons. What were they thinking? Hot beer was not the way we would be celebrating the great race.

So, our first drink of the day was that glorious product originating from the cane fields of Bundaberg. The Queenslanders were in town.

Somehow, I still remember the following hours. The colour and excitement of the day was more intoxicating than anything they served in glass.

Ethereal won the big one. She claimed a Caulfield/Melbourne Cup double. We cheered, and hugged, and laughed. And then caught a train home with 100,000 other people.

It should be compulsory for Australians to go to at least one Melbourne Cup in their lifetime. And if you’re a punter, you have to go to two. We’ll be back.

*Ripper Memory Number 1 – Beartracker wins at Eagle Farm – November 21, 2009

It wasn’t the biggest race of the year. Not even the feature of the day. In fact, it was Race One, on a pretty ordinary card at headquarters.

If you’d been there that day, you would have found a seat with ease. And there was no line up for drinks.

That humble Saturday, remains one of the greatest days in my life. The day a gritty gelding we had a part-share in, took the prize at Eagle Farm.

It was the mighty Beartracker’s main target. A 2400 metre Quality event. And so it was that a bunch of us gathered, to watch him go around.

Jason Holder rode like a man inspired. We stood and cheered in the stand, louder than anyone has ever cheered on a racecourse.

He won.

I doubt anyone could have been more excited. My face hurt from smiling. Jason may have been injured in the post-race hug. Rob Heathcote considered applying for a restraining order in the enclosure, to keep me away.

Members of our syndicate went into the Committee room, and drank tiny beers. The same place the greats had stood, and sipped. We gulped.

They finally kicked us out, to prepare for the next race. We found a nearby table, and continued the party. I can’t remember having more fun.

I can only imagine what the celebrations must be like after a Cup, or a Cox Plate. But for us, nothing could beat the feeling we had that afternoon at Eagle Farm.

So there you have it. Three golden moments. Just thinking about those great times makes me want to go straight to the track.

I’m sure you have your own memories. It’s the beauty of the racing game. We’re easily excited. And nothing beats a winner.

Exciting times with strangers and friends (and how I nearly killed a trainer..)

April 12, 2011

For a split second, Queensland’s leading trainer thought he was a goner.

What a way to go. Train a winner, and seconds later be knocked over the grandstand balcony.

Luckily Rob Heathcote saw me coming. At a frenzied pace, from a few rows behind. He braced just in time to hold my weight, as I grabbed him like a small boy latches onto Santa Claus. Not that Rob was built like Santa. Although I will say it was before the diet kicked in.

Anyway, it was a close thing. In my excitement I almost sent us both toppling over the rail, where we would have taken out a squadron of strappers.

That’s what owners do. Even part-owners. Even part-owners who own roughly a section of the tail.

The thrill of winning a Saturday race. It’s a sensation that some might find a little difficult to comprehend. After all, we’re not talking Melbourne Cup here. Just an Open Class event, the kind run on metropolitan tracks across Australia every weekend.

The horse in question was the mighty Beartracker. Honest as the day is long.

Small in stature but with a huge heart.

That day, he loomed up to the leaders in that long Eagle Farm straight. He went past them. And kept going.

As he approached the winning post, I realised I was screaming like a young girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Screaming and jumping. Then I thought I would have a heart attack. Right there in the Owners’ section. Then I screamed again. And headed to lay kisses on our trainer.

As Larry Cassidy brought the Bear back to scale, to the cheers of a small section of the crowd, I realised I had to behave like a responsible owner, in the company of mature and experienced racing people. So I screamed again. And hugged anyone within reach.

Winning connections get to go into the committee room. This is a time-honoured practice. Winners of Stradbrokes have stood at that bar.  We were offered beers to celebrate. They were in tiny glasses, so we had several.

Someone important made a very nice speech, and we clapped, and had several more tiny beers. I knew screaming Bieber-like was frowned upon in such company, so I made do with more hugs.

Apparently, the idea is to move out of the room soon after the speech, so that the committee members can prepare for the next batch of lucky owners. No-one told us that. We had another tray of mini ales, before being politely tossed out. Next stop – trainers’ bar.

I love that bar. It’s small and old and can’t fit everyone. But only a select few get invited in, and we were that day. Rob was kind enough not to mention my clumsy display of affection in the stands. Then he was off to saddle up more winners, and we made our way to embark on more celebrations.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like winning a race is in any way linked to the abuse of alcohol. There are strict guidelines for such activities. Apparently.

I believe the day ended with a very nice dinner at a fancy restaurant nearby. I’m told one of our party attempted to call the final 200 metres of the big win, while standing on a chair. His tie may or may not been undone. And his voice was hoarse from all that screaming.

In some countries, only the rich and famous get to experience such fun. Lords and their lucky lasses. Here, we all get to have a crack. And that’s primarily through syndication. A bunch of people from all walks of life, thrown together with a dream. To win a race. Any race.

There are some great syndicators out there. Gathering people who love the racing game, but can’t afford a horse themselves. Or even a large chunk of a horse. A small share is enough to get you jumping up and down in grandstands, and slobbering on jockeys, without spending a fortune. Go in with some friends, and it’s the same as shelling out on a carton of fancy grog a month.

Imagine if someone had invited you to race a yearling, a filly with a big bum, that they’d eventually name Black Caviar? Even scarier, imagine if you knocked them back?

We all hope that somehow, we’ll stumble into the next champion. Yes, it’s long odds. Most of them struggle to run faster than me. Some don’t make it onto the track.

We’re no longer with the Bear. He had a lengthy spell, but is now back, trying his heart out. His photo hangs proudly on the wall.

Our new syndicate is now ready to race a 2 year old. Very, very exciting. And he doesn’t even have a name yet. Horse owners are the supreme optimists. Someone prepare those tiny beers. And Rob Heathcote, be warned. Stay away from that railing.