Music to a mug punter’s ear. The perfect way to end Doomben Cup day.

May 21, 2016

There was a time when entertainment after the last came from your cashed-up mate.

He’d be the one tap dancing, cash in hand, while the rest of us looked for dropped coins and winning tickets discarded in haste.

Times have changed.

It’s not a feature day now without a superstar belting out his or her favourite tunes, minutes after the stragglers have been sent back to their stables.

What a treat last weekend. The legendary Daryl Braithwaite, in full voice at the Doomben 200 metre mark.

They tell me he went over a treat. I was busy near a monitor trying to get out in Perth so couldn’t join the great man on stage, but I could hear him in the distance.

“That’s the way it’s gonna be, little darlin’…’

Yep, the most famous ‘Horses’ since Phap Lap and crew were parading at Flemington.

One of the best racecourse concerts I’ve seen, through bleary eyes, was in Cairns, a few furlongs ago.

It was Cairns Cup day. Quite possibly the greatest consumption of Bundy rum over a 24 hour period in the southern hemisphere.

We were at a footy reunion, dressed sharply, and receiving golden tips from a mate working for a local bookie.

Our deal was that the mail would continue, as long as we loaded up on his counterparts.

It was in this winning environment, that someone mentioned the after-race entertainment.

In the best bit of scheduling since Nikki Webster was sent dangling over the Olympic stadium, local organisers had enticed The Angels to head north.

It’s doubtful if Doc and his mates would have had more loyal fans than those who’d trekked across the state’s far north, many of whom would be sleeping in swags that night.

It’s also doubtful that organisers had painted a true picture of where the ageing Aussie rockers would be strutting their stuff.

The stage was plonked in a swampy paddock, near the top of the straight. This proved difficult for many of the raceday patrons, who by now were without shoes.

It was loud enough to keep the crocs at bay, but not the mozzies, who created a new blood-borne disease based entirely on rum.

We’ve come a long way since then. Race day entertainment is a vital part of getting young people to the track.  What better place to boogie, than the wonderful spaces stretched across our top tracks.

After Our Ivanhowe wins the Doomben Cup this afternoon, a performer by the name of Mashd Kutcher will be doing his thing. The teenagers at home tell me he’s top shelf. Actually, they used a term I didn’t understand, but they seemed excited.

There’s a whisper Elvis has been booked for Stradbroke Day. I may or may not be making that up. Either way, it will be better than your tap dancing mate.



In memory of Bart. The horse we’ll all be cheering at Flemington.

October 31, 2015

So here we are. Our favourite time of the year. But the star of the show is missing.

Cup week without Bart. It’s like Christmas without Santa. Sure, we’ll open the presents. But it’s not as much fun.

Those words of wisdom in the days prior. A subtle tip, for those truly listening.

What would he add to the groaning mantlepiece? A feature mile? Another Derby? Dare we dream .. another Cup?

Those more interested in hats than horses would throw a dollar or two on. The rest of us would have a safety bet. Just in case.

And now .. he’s gone. But not forgotten. There will be tributes every day. Words from the heart. We’ll think about bushy eyebrows and thoroughbreds trained to the minute.

So what would the Great Man be thinking, sipping tea at the Head Table upstairs?

I reckon he would be telling us to get on with it. He always believed that the horses were the stars. He’d be happy with the quality on show today.

Surely he’d be impressed with the raw power of Exosphere. There’d be a nod towards Mick Price, as he chases the Derby with Tarzino. But that wonderful gaze, honed over the decades, would be saved for one horse.

Check the form guide for the Group 3 Lexus, and you’ll find the famous Cummings name. Not son Anthony. Grandson James.

He’s training Ruling Dynasty. The way Bart taught him. It’s a big chance, with Tommy Berry up.

A win this afternoon, means an automatic place in the Melbourne Cup. Yep, our most famous name, could be running on Tuesday.

It’s fairytale stuff. And there’s a twist, that only racing could throw up.

It could be the other famous name, that spoils the script. Gai has Excess Knowledge humming. Those using head over heart won’t hear of him being beaten. So here we go again. Cummings V Waterhouse.

The beauty of all this? Bart would be smiling. He loved the twists and turns leading into the Cup. And if young James is successful, the roar might be bigger than we hear for the Derby.

Hold on to your hats folks. That Cummings name might be heading to Cup Day again. Maybe things haven’t changed too much after all.

Celebrating the Cup any way you can. Important tips on how to have a winning day.

November 5, 2013

My mate declares Melbourne Cup Day a religious holiday.

He worships Flemington. Has the day off very year. Wednesday too. For as long as I can remember.

We have had some of our most enjoyable days on the first Tuesday in November. The laughs never end. And yes, cool drinks are had.

Sometimes we’re at the track. Or at lunch. That turns into dinner.

We’ve been to so many places over the years I’ve lost count. Wonderful fun, each and every time.

It’s also a day that produces stories that even I find hard to believe. Success, and hardship, and sheer bloody bad luck.

We drew Viewed in the Cup calcutta one year. Actually had it in our hands. And gave it back. How could Bart’s wet tracker win?

I stood and watched that day, in ever increasing horror. I couldn’t hear Greg Miles, but I knew those colours. Closing in with every bound.

He won, of course. It cost us thousands. We just looked at each other, shook our heads, and eventually, laughed. Once we got to the bar.

Another year, my mate declared Efficient as his bet of the day. Reckoned it couldn’t be beaten. I thought he was mad.

He won, of course. His celebration involved spilling a bucket of red wine on anyone within cooee. They took it in good humour. I think.

That same day, we jagged a trifecta in the last. It was worth a heap. And we lost the ticket.

There was a mad scramble, checking tables far and wide. Staff at the track were inspecting bins for us. Nothing.

I had to go to an office, and fill out a form, saying we were the dumbest people on track. It meant we would get paid, after 3 months. Not that we needed the cash at that minute. Much.

I came out, to find my mate laughing. He does that lots. The ticket was in his pocket. The one he hadn’t checked. It was the longest 3 months of my life.

It’s the beauty of Cup Day. Everyone will have a story to tell. Whether you’re at Flemington, or Doomben, or the local surf club, or the staff canteen. There’ll be winners, and losers, and hard luck stories.

Make sure you celebrate it. Even for just half an hour. If the best you can do is have a plastic cup of champers, so be it.

It’s an afternoon that is so uniquely Australian. No other country comes close. That roar we make when the gates open, is truly something to savour.

Good luck with your bet. For what it’s worth, I think Mount Athos will make up for last year, and get the prize. With Dear Demi as a big threat. But you’ll remember, I haven’t had a decent win on the Cup since Kiwi. When half of you were in nappies.

Enjoy the day. Watch out for flying reds. And don’t lose your ticket.

Why the rules have to change, so Bart gets to Flemington on Tuesday.

November 2, 2013

So here we are. Australia’s greatest day of racing.

But there’s a more pressing issue than finding the winner of the Derby. Which, by the way, will be Savvy Nature. Money for jam.

Unless we do something, the one and only Bart Cummings might be missing on Cup Day.

Mike Colman has been fighting this all week in the Courier Mail. And I’m with him.

Have you seen the great man lately? Bart, not Mike. Father time is within a length of him. In our mind, we still see him as he once was, tall and proud in the winner’s circle. It’s no longer the case.

It could be, that there won’t be too many more visits to Flemington on the first Tuesday of the month. So we need to act now.

His one and only hope is Precedence. He’s decided not to run him today, even though he could have qualified with a win. No, Bart won’t do that. He wants the committee to help him. And they should.

If they don’t, there’s every chance our great race will go around without the living legend. And that’s simply not acceptable.

Punters, it’s time for us to act. We need to band together, across the nation, and take things into our own hands.

The campaign must start right now, to have the rules changed. Just this once. There’s still time. Precedence must run. Sacrifices can be made.

Yes, it means connections of another horse will miss out. If they are genuine racing lovers, they’ll cop that.

It might be one of the lesser internationals. Boo hoo. Who would you rather see, a Canadian camel, or the famous Cummings colours?

Can you imagine the roar, when Bart shuffles out to the mounting yard? It will be deafening. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

I can’t begin to think what would happen if the horse actually won. Cup chaos. The only thing guaranteed is that The Master would deliver one of the great one-liners.

Racing has a long and proud history of bending rules. Never has there been a more important time to do it.

It will send a message, that the Cup is about more than money. It’s bigger than that. It’s a part of who we are.

We owe it to Bart. It’s our race, and we want him there.

Start sending messages now. Hit Facebook and Twitter. Ring your radio station. We have until the last race this afternoon.

If they listen to us, it could be the most memorable Cup ever. The day Bart stole the show. Again.

Why the world’s slowest tote operator owes me the Caulfield Cup winner.

October 19, 2013

It was like I was speaking Mandarin.

The woman at the tote machine looked down, then up, then down again.

She was confused, as if I’d just asked her to tell me the ignition sequence for the Space Shuttle.

In fact, I was after something far less complicated. Or so I thought. A simple bet.

The racecourse was Randwick. I had hoped that through her position in the racing industry, she had heard of it. Apparently not.

She shook her head. Where is it again? Sydney racing, I replied. Randwick. They’ve run a few decent races there over the years.

Precious seconds were ticking away. I could see the field moving in. Punters smarter than me were jumping into other queues.

Again, the shake of the head. I was sweating. They were about to jump, and I wasn’t on.

The horse I was trying to back was Hawkspur. I walked away, betless, mindful of the sign on her counter, warning customers that abuse would not be tolerated. I was obviously not the first sucker to get stuck at that window.

I watched on the screen, with no sound, and spotted the colours early in the straight. It made it that much more painful, to see the Waller horse fly home to collect the prize. Not that I needed a winner at that stage of the day. Much.

I so wanted my abuse to be tolerated. But I thought better of it. And because of that, the world’s slowest tote operator owes me big time.

This afternoon, I want her to take time out from botching other tickets, and cheer the Pumper home. It’s the least she can do.

This isn’t the finest Caulfield Cup field I’ve seen. As usual, I’m struggling to line up the genuine imports. A few others don’t seem to have lived up to their early promise.

If there’s one horse I’m worried about, it’s the Kiwi, Silent Achiever. Roger James has her cherry-ripe for this. One target all along. Perfect barrier. And a bloke by the name of G. Boss doing the steering.

I’d back both of them, but there’s no chance she’d get so many bets on. Tell me, where’s Caulfield again?

The trifecta that changed lives. How a lucky mum did a dance and won a fortune.

November 10, 2012

We groaned as they crossed the line.

Despised outsiders, all three of them. An impossible result. No-one could have gone close to selecting the placegetters in the nation’s greatest race.

So why was the lady in black jumping up and down?

At first I thought I’d mis-heard her. Then she said it again. In a voice that was trembling. ‘They’re my numbers.’

Hubby was next to her, with a look of disbelief. Their friends were stunned. They wanted more information, but she couldn’t speak. The jumping was taking it out of her.

We’d become friends for the day a little earlier, as we shared the only available space left. The end of the bar. Just enough room to spread the form guides. And Melbourne Cup cheer.

A normal couple. Dressed up for a day out, like millions of others. Enjoying the fun.

She checked again. Then, confirmation. Words we all dream of uttering. ‘I’ve won the trifecta!’

And not any trifecta. The biggest betting race in the land, where the first three in order were nag, donkey and camel.

The group began guessing how much it had paid. Wild estimates, covering all ends of the scale. The lucky winner had no idea. She looked from one to the other, waiting for word.

I was watching the screen as they debated. The magic figure came up. There almost wasn’t room on the monitor.

I told them what I’d seen. Forty-Eight Thousand Dollars. Give or take a few fancy shouts.

They didn’t believe me. It couldn’t be. I looked again. Nothing had changed.

My mate chipped in. We had seen enough TAB screens over the decades to get it right. 48 grand. 48 large. 48 big ones. A win for the ages.

She gasped. Hubby went weak at the knees. They hugged. They twirled. They danced the jig of big winners. Really big winners. Yep, they had 100% of it.

She explained to us how she did it. Four horses. They jumped out at her, off the form guide that morning. She marked all four. Showed us the crumpled up guide in her bag. Just amazing.

We told her we didn’t want a drink, but she bought us one anyway. She wanted to celebrate with anyone who was close by. It could only happen on Cup day.

Hubby told us what a huge help the cash would be. They had kids, and the usual financial dramas families face. Now, relief, thanks to three horses that no-one else wanted.

They stayed for the rest of the afternoon, soaking up the magic. When they left, they gave hugs, and shook hands. Instead of a cab, they’d be going home in a limousine.

There was something special about sharing in their success, even from afar. We’re used to seeing the rich get richer on racetracks. It was so much sweeter, watching ordinary folk fill their bank account.

Here’s to Charlotte. The Cup’s most deserving winner. We’ll see you next year. And maybe get your tips BEFORE the race.

The spirit of a city to shine on Ipswich Cup day.

June 17, 2011

I’ll be heading up the Ipswich Motorway tomorrow, to attend Queensland’s biggest race meeting.

Seriously. I am not sipping hard liquor as I write this. Completely sober. But given the event in question is the Ipswich Cup, that will change soon enough.

I know what you’re thinking. He’s finally lost it. No surprise really. Call the men in white who talk in hushed tones.

Before you send me to my calm, happy place, let me explain. Ipswich’s grand day of racing attracts more racegoers than my beloved Stradbroke Saturday. Magic Millions Day on the Gold Coast? Not in the same ballpark.

Think Black Caviar Day at Doomben, with more rum. The only other arvo that comes close is Eagle Farm’s Ekka holiday race day. But that doesn’t count, because the entire crowd there is aged eighteen and one month.

There’s nothing like an Ipswich Cup day. And I mean that in a good way. Think of all the great racing events. The Cup. Cox Plate. Doncaster Day. This isn’t one of them.

Instead, it’s an amazing celebration of a city’s spirit. When twenty thousand people cram into a racecourse designed to hold half that amount.

I have no idea where they put them. There are tents on the infield, that become small cities. I’m guessing they see little racing over there. You need a lift in a Hercules to get to some of them. But they love it.

The grandstands are full before the gates open. I’ve always suspected the crowd begins arriving last Tuesday. They’re probably in there now, doing the form, chuckling to one another about getting a seat.

On the way in, it’s the happiest racing crowd I know. Everyone is having a laugh. That says something about Ipswich. They stick together. Forget the barbs from the snobs and the toffs. They don’t get it.

The girls are frocked up. Outfits weeks in the making. They come from all over. For some, it’s their most exciting outing of the year.

The boys arrive in various forms. They show their appreciation that the girls are frocked up. You know how it goes.

There are also blokes dressed as animals. I’m not sure why. Costumes are very popular. I saw a bloke dressed in a bear suit last year. He seemed to be having a good time.

It’s as much a giant party as a race meeting. Believe me, no-one goes short of a cool drink. The bar staff have been training like Olympians just to keep up the pace.

For all the social stuff, there are some decent races too. Every year you’ll find a sprinkling of visiting horses and trainers, looking to pick up some carnival prize money.

This year’s Cup is no different. Kiwi stayer The Hombre will start favourite. Rightly so. He’s been running in much stronger company than this. If the track dries out, double your bet.

The punters will be cheering for Our Lucas. He won the Cup last year. And the year before. Can you imagine what they’ll do if Rob Heathcote’s tough gelding makes it three from three? No-one will leave.

The meeting will be a little different this time. Something special. Early this year, Ipswich was underwater. Swamped by the worst flooding in decades. The racecourse wasn’t spared.

In those grim few days, families lost homes. Lives and businesses were destroyed. Locals needed every bit of the city’s famous spirit.

It’s been a struggle since. But they’ve worked together. We’d expect nothing less. And now, finally, Ipswich is getting back on top.

So there’s extra reason to celebrate. A time for people to say thanks. Even shed a tear. It could be the most emotional race meeting of the year.

If you haven’t been before, make the trip. Join the party. Shout the bloke next to you a drink. Unless he’s in a bear suit.