Champagne taste on a beer budget. And no madam, we are not Old Queens.

December 10, 2013

It could not have been any more romantic.

The sun, blazing a fiery orange, sinking into the Top End sea before us. On the table, a bucket, holding an icy bottle of champers, and two chilled glasses.

A woman of advanced years walked past us, and gave us a look. It wasn’t quite a smile. Just a look.

I was sitting with Big Nose. The two of us have been mates for years. Old coaching buddies. But this was a first. Normally, we would have shared a cold brew. Or eight. Not this time.

It took some explaining that I was now enjoying a champagne. He may have had one once, at a wedding a long time ago. Probably not his own.

This is a bloke more at home in the raucous front bar of a pub. It is fair to say he’s built for comfort rather than speed. Yes, he’s been in a decent paddock.

We would have looked .. different. Not that we cared. There is a reason for the shift to bubbles.

I had my first beer at the kitchen table, many moons ago. Dad shared a sip of his precious bottle. A brew from the time known as KB. It may or may not have been made in a vat of his old work socks.

Over the years, I developed a taste for the amber fluid. I have helped make shareholders in big breweries very rich indeed. A beer would be had most nights. Maybe two, on a warm weekend. But the Spanish Dancer changed all that.

After surgery, I found that my love affair with it had changed. These things happen. Those remaining organs expressed concern that they were not happy with the arrangement. So a replacement needed to be found.

As it would happen, I strayed into the world of champagne. And, to my great surprise, loved it. Who would have thought?

When the need for a cool drink beckons, I now more often than not head that way. And everyone is happy. Everyone, except Big Nose.

Back to our table for two in Darwin. As a great mate, he understands the change. A small price to pay, he reckons, for still being around. But such noble thoughts didn’t help much, when one of his workmates spied us.

At first, I’m sure he was just coming over to say g’day. A big bugger too. Covered in tough stickers. He was mid-greeting, when he saw the champers.

He looked at Big Nose, and at me, and at Big Nose again. The wheels were turning slowly. Surely not, he was thinking.

I believe it was our ordinary looks and complete lack of fashion sense that saved the day. Even old footy coaches, it seems, can enjoy a fizz together.

Don’t be put off if I knock back a stubby for a flute glass over Chrissy. It’s all about embracing change. Whether we like it or not. The Old Man would be shaking his head. If only his work socks had been a little sweeter.

An empty glass on raceday. Could this be the secret to successful punting?

June 15, 2013

In times gone by, it’s fair to say I’ve enjoyed a cool drink on a warm day. Sometimes, even on a cooler afternoon.

Those who’ve been following closely will know a medical hiccup has slowed me down in that regard of late. The big dry continues.

Several of my favourite activities would usually be carried out with an icy cold one. Or two.

There is no way a BBQ can be cooked without a beer. I believe it’s actually law. Here in Queensland anyway. Those in other states should make their own checks.

A day on the punt is no different. It’s what we do. At the track, brews will be had. The girls will find a decent chilled bottle. A win late in the day will send us to the top shelf.

At home, there are few finer things to do on a Saturday arvo than to raid the grog fridge while watching them run around. Break out the Smith chips and gherkin dip and you have the dictionary definition of Relax.

But professionals in the ranks will tell you there’s a downside to all this. That such consumption can lead to impaired judgement. And empty pockets.

It’s a theory I’ve always dismissed. Usually loudly. After the third shout.

Now, I’m not so sure. The last few weeks have shown me a very different way to approach the art of finding a winner.

I’ve been punting while sipping water. At one stage, there was even a cup of tea involved. Like one of those cardigan-wearing gents who arrives at the track at 8am to get the best table.

On each day, I’ve won late. Last race winners. Even a few trifectas. And not a hard luck story to have the most basic whinge about.

Can it be a co-incidence? For the first time since the great Bart was a silver-haired boy, I have cash at the end of the day.

I’m not missing races I have good things in. No ridiculous late changes from texting tipsters with less idea than me.

Because I’m stuck on the lounge, the winnings are staying in my account. Not being splashed over the bar somewhere. Or re-invested on the 1 dog later in the night.

Of course, it could all come crashing down today. In a perverse sort of way, I hope it does. I need an excuse to get back to normal in the weeks ahead. There’s a beer in the fridge with my name on it. I’m counting the days. Winning just isn’t as much fun, when you’re celebrating with Bushells.

Tips on how to survive a day trackside with a bunch of thirsty non-punters.

September 17, 2011

There’s nothing like a day at the track with mates who wouldn’t know a favourite from a frog.

Non-punters. I actually know a few. It’s my life mission to corrupt them.

For starters, they never have their own form guide. Which means they want to borrow mine. And as we all know, that’s awful luck.

They aren’t interested in Perth. They want to get a cab after the last, instead of seeking out the final get-out stakes somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

They get bored easily. Unless you find them a winner. So the key is to secure decent tips, and keep their fluids up.

I’ll be doing just that today. With three great old mates. Our annual get together. We’re all very excited.

One is a reformed punter. Much more responsible these days. Or so he tells us.

The other two bet on Melbourne Cup Day, and whenever they get stuck with me.

Where I grew up, we all played footy and punted. And enjoyed cool drinks on hot days.

Sadly, not everyone had such a privileged upbringing.

There are folk out there who haven’t embraced our love of the punt. Such a shame.

The things they must be forced to do instead on a Saturday arvo. Golf. Triathlons. Gardening. Computer games. What a waste.

I first met this lot in Cairns many years ago, on the coaching staff of a footy club.

After fun and successful times, we moved on, and elsewhere.

After a few years apart, a pact was made to get together every year, for a few giggles. And so we have.

Our weekend always includes a trip to the track. That was my idea. They agreed, only because I told them how easy it was to make money while drinking cold beer. Yep, they believed me.

Over the years I’ve dragged them to Randwick, the Gold Coast, the Cairns Cup, and a few places in between.

For some reason, we never win. Ever. I keep them interested with group trifectas, and doubles, and tips from the most reliable of sources. For absolutely no return.

Of course, they blame me. And declare how lucky they are to only go through these torture sessions once a year. Unlike their host.

It takes a steady flow of refreshments to ease the pain. Until the next morning.

This year will be different. Mark us down as good things at Doomben today.

We’ll pool some money, because that’s what happens when blokes with no idea want to back things.

Stewards have been advised of a change of tactics. A monster quaddie is on the cards. And yes, I’ll have to explain what that means.

Keep an eye out for us. Four old blokes looking uncomfortable in ties. One putting the bets on. Three others shaking heads.

Feel free to offer us tips. Just be prepared to spend some time explaining what they have to do if I’m not with them.

Like me, you should be doing your bit to educate a non-punter. Get them out to the track. Text them some tips. Make them think you win plenty of cash every weekend.

Just one rule. Don’t let them touch the form guide. It’s hard enough to find a winner, without that sort of cruel luck.

Singo on the warpath, and ready to win a Doncaster.

April 15, 2011

Singo wasn’t happy.

That trademark grin was missing. He was gunning for someone. Whoever was responsible for the goodies sitting on the Gold Coast Turf club bar.

A committeeman had decided that scones, bikkies and tea would do just fine for the launch of the new look Magic Millions company. Big mistake.

Singo wanted a beer. The clock had struck midday after all. And he wanted everyone else to have a beer with him.

The dispute was only ever going to end one way. The teapot was removed. The committeeman disappeared, ears ringing. Some icy beverages arrived. And so began the most fun racing enterprise in the land.

It was a highly entertaining press conference. There’d be dozens more laughs over the years, as Singo and buddies Gerry Harvey and Rob Ferguson set about revolutionising the crusty business of selling horses. That era ended when Harvey bought out his partners earlier this year.

On that first day, as the rest of the media chaps departed, Singo asked if I wanted another. I must have looked thirsty. With my work for the day done (yes, times have certainly changed) I decided it couldn’t hurt to get to know a multi-millionaire a little better. My cameraman took our tape back to the station, and I buckled in for a memorable afternoon.

Still seething at the Turf Club’s handling of his big day, we retreated to the Magic Millions office across the road. Perhaps not surprisingly, the fridge was full of cold tins. We took some chairs out of the boardroom, and plonked ourselves onto a small patch of grass outside.

Singo was excited about taking over the sales and race event with his good buddies. He outlined their grand plan. A sale to rival Inglis. A race day worth a fortune to owners and trainers. With a crowd dressed in shorts.

He oozed passion for racing. He re-told the story of chasing glory in France with Strawberry Road. His unique call of the race for 2KY, where he mentioned only one horse. And how he tried to strangle the Pommy jockey who slaughtered Australia’s big hope.

The pile of empties mounted. The early sectionals were deadly. We talked footy. His beloved Newtown. He was impressed when I told him of my dealings with the great Jack Gibson years before. He spoke in awe of mates like Johnny Raper and the late Peter Gallagher.

Staff would peer out through the sliding office doors, wondering who Singo’s latest victim was. We got louder. It was getting dark. I was under the whip a long way from home. It was a match race between a maiden hack and a Group 1 champion.

His (now ex) wife Julie arrived. Singo was running late. She had his shirt for the official function at the Turf club that night. It was still in the plastic packet from the store. To this day I remember one of Australia’s richest men complaining about the pins sticking into his back, as he got dressed in our now tense courtyard.

Mrs Singleton could see that I’d had enough, and was badly in need of a spell. Not so her husband. He demanded I accompany them across the road. Julie was delighted.

So, under-dressed and over-done, I joined the elite of the racing industry, with my new best mate. For about ten minutes. Until I could make a stumbling dash to a waiting cab.

He’s been the same ever since. A knockabout with a genuine love of the racing game. Up for a beer with anyone who shares his outlook. I missed Magic Millions raceday a few years back because our horse was a false favourite at Ipswich. I rang in advance to apologise. He was quick to point out the difference in our racing operations.

Singo’s involvement with some of the nation’s greatest equine performers is no fluke. He’s an outstanding breeder. I’m talking horses here. Everything is done for a reason. He has a keen sense of racing history. And he loves a champion for the masses.

That’s why I hope he takes the Doncaster at Royal Randwick tomorrow with More Joyous. She’s a true champion. They deserve victory.

Yep, she’ll have to lug some weight. Don’t let it worry you. It won’t worry her. Chris Waller’s good horse Triple Elegance has nothing on his back, but the gelding will need to bring his ‘A’ game. The mare is flying. She’ll be winning.

Don’t be fooled by Singo’s bank balance and trackside jokes. He loves nothing better than claiming our classic races. Even better if the rest of us are on with him. Who knows, he might shout the public bar again. But a warning if you’re close by. Look out for the pins if you’re patting him on the back.