One for the battlers. The knockabouts you should be cheering at Doomben.

May 28, 2016

While Damian Browne was taking on the world in Dubai with Buffering, his best mate was knocking around the NSW provincials.

Their pay cheques would have been very different that weekend. No so their skills in the saddle.

Not that Chris O’Brien would have begrudged his Kiwi buddy. Far from it. He would have been cheering like the rest of us.

Browne and O’Brien were young stars across the ditch, long before they were spotted by Aussie eyes.

Like so many other episodes in life, fortunes differed as careers progressed.

Browne is rightly regarded as one of Australia’s best hoops. His association with the Buff made sure of that. He’s in great demand from the top trainers, and the richest owners.

O’Brien gets a handful of city rides every year. Injuries and weight problems made sure of that. He’s had more problems on the scales than Oprah.

Today, he gets one of those rare opportunities, on a Group One day. And in the sweetest of ironies, it’s thanks to a fellow bush battler.

Fred Cowell has been training at Gosford since the bullock teams went through to build the Pacific Highway. Or so it seems.

He’s a genuine horseman. No backing from an overseas sheikh here. Just some loyal owners, most of whom enjoy a cold drink with him at day’s end.

So the trainer who I’m pretty sure doesn’t own a mobile phone, and the jockey with a body held together through pins and tape, will take on the best that Waller and co can give.

Mighty Lucky is one of those horses the punters love. Gives his all. Wins at odds. If he could talk, I’m tipping he’d explain that he’s just fine with the current arrangement.

Just as Takeover Target didn’t know his trainer was really a taxi driver, Mighty Lucky wouldn’t give two hoots that Freddy would much rather be in the public bar.

It won’t be hard to recognise O’Brien as he walks into the enclosure. Let’s just say he doesn’t have the gait of a male model. But don’t let that fool you.

Horses run for him. Soft hands, that can urge in an instant. The right spot at the right time. And best of all, he knows how to find the line.

I hope Mighty Lucky wins the Lord Mayor’s Cup. And that’s not just my wallet talking. The after-race banter between the jockey, and the trainer, and the Lord Mayor, would be worth the price of admission.

Damian Browne will be doing his best to spoil the party. If his old mate salutes, watch for the pat on the back. Maybe it’s not Dubai. But for the battlers, Doomben will do just fine.




Introducing a Kiwi who won’t choke this Spring. A jockey you should be backing.

September 10, 2011

Punters are a funny lot.

We don’t stray too far from what we know.

Routine is everything. We’re loyal to trainers that do the right thing by us. Those who let us down? Welcome to the Never Again club.

We’ll ban courses that we don’t like. And complain about track bias. I have weeds the size of palm trees at home, but I pretend to know exactly how short the grass should be at Randwick.

And of course, we have our favourite jockeys. They’d be the ones who regularly fill our pockets with folding stuff.

For every hoop we worship, there’s another we wouldn’t support with free fifties. A bit like dentists. Once you find one that doesn’t inflict too much pain, you don’t need to visit another.

I know blokes who won’t back female jockeys. No matter how good they are. Others can’t cop apprentices. The old story; claim 3 kilos, put 4 back on.

You could be aiming a gun at me and I still wouldn’t back a European rider during carnival time. I’ll tell you this much. They lose more than they win.

So we stick to Nolen, and Oliver, and Rawiller, and Brown, and Munce.

Well, here’s another. If you’re not backing him, you should be.

Damian Browne is no spring chicken. He’s been around the block more than once. But he’s good. Bloody good.

Bart Sinclair gave him a wrap this week. And Rob Heathcote has been singing his praises to anyone who’ll listen.

If Brisbane’s top trainer finally cracks it for an overdue Group One this Spring, you can bet it will be Browne doing the steering.

Plenty of keen punters are awake to him now. But others still leave him out, when the discussion moves to our best jockeys. That puzzles me.

A good judge and I started backing him a few years back. We’d found ourselves in a pub on a Sunday afternoon. That was unusual for both of us, so we celebrated with cool drinks and a flutter.

My mate had been told good things by another jockey. Both Kiwis. We decided not to hold that against them. It was a wise decision.

That Sunday meeting wasn’t the best ever held at the Sunshine Coast. But Damian kept riding winners. Four of them. And we were on the lot.

We followed him in the weeks ahead, and his amazing strike rate continued. Often at odds.

There have been problems along the way. He’s no lightweight. And lady luck has been anything but kind.

He shouldn’t be walking. The same leg, broken twice in two years. They patched him up with plates and screws, and told him to find another hobby.

Browne ignored them. Typical Kiwi. It took an age, but he came back.

For a while he was restricted to 4 rides a meeting. He was in pain too. Didn’t complain though. He’d convinced himself there were better times ahead.

How right he was. The jockey formerly known as DJ in the form guide, is riding winners all over the place.

There is a coolness under pressure, that you see with the greats. He doesn’t panic. Ever. I can’t remember seeing him go early.

Horses just travel for him. Soft hands. And he stays out of trouble. Very rare to see a horse where it shouldn’t be. You won’t hear hard luck tales from him, because he makes his own luck.

Today he’s on show at Mooney Valley. On the top Heathcote chances, Buffering and Woorim. He’ll stay with them through the carnival, and a few others too.

Buffering is the bulldog. Heathcote loves this horse. They’ll need to be at their best to grab him today.

And Woorim? My favourite horse. Just watch what Browne does with him as they approach the corner. It will be pretty.

I hope you find room to include the little Kiwi from Queensland in your racing routine. He’ll get you a dollar or two. If not today, in the weeks ahead.

Unless, of course, the curse of the World’s Worst Punter strikes. They have to be good to carry my support. Wish him luck. He’s been through enough already.

The thrill of the chase. From Lang Park to the track, why we love a swooper.

July 1, 2011

There’s nothing like a big finish. A barnstorming end. Victory in the last seconds. Winning in the final bound.

A Warne wicket on the last ball. Steve Waugh smacking a boundary at day’s end to reach his ton and put the Poms in their place.

How many origins have we seen go down to the wire? Games won and lost in a final set of six. Coyne’s miracle try in ’94. Billy the Kid stealing it from Ricky Stuart’s mob in Game One this year.

Premiership deciders too. What about Andrew Johns in the ’97 grand final? I know, he’s a Blue, but credit where credit’s due.

Last throw of the dice, and he darts down a crowded blind side. No-one else would have done that. Joey finds Darren Albert, and with six seconds left, the Knights win their first premiership. Now that’s a finish.

Roar fans were crying into their plastic beers in this year’s A-League decider. Red hot favourites, and they were on the way out. Big time.

Two goals down in extra time, the Orange army members were heading for the exits. But as George Michael so elegantly put it – ‘ya gotta have faith’.

Not only did they level the score with seconds left, the Brisbane boys won the penalty shoot out. It doesn’t get much closer than that.

In racing, it’s a tight finish that gets the blood pumping. Especially when a crowd favourite is flashing home. We generally spot it late, back in the field. And then hope like hell that it’s ours.

There are some famous ones. Like the Golden Slipper in 2000. You don’t win Slippers by missing the start. Belle du Jour didn’t just miss the kick. She nibbled on carrots and applied lipstick before leaving the gates. Singo owned her. Naughty words were uttered.

Last into the straight, the filly couldn’t win. No way. Then Lenny Beasley started weaving a path. In and out, back and forward. Whoosh. She got there in the last stride.

It happened last year too. Not quite the Slipper. On the beautiful big track at Caloundra. The Sunshine Coast Turf club’s biggest Saturday of the year. The Glasshouse Handicap.

It was a ride I’ll never forget. Because the bloke who performed the miracle is no longer with us.

Woorim was way back. Last, cluttered up behind the big field. But then Stathi Katsidis got to work.

He waited. And waited. Then he weaved. We held our breath. In a flash, he had Woorim back on the inside, charging. Horse and jockey hadn’t missed a beat. What a ride. You won’t see many better.

In an age of great jockeys, only a handful could have done what Stathi did that day. As I’ve said on these pages before, we’re all so much poorer for his passing.

Rob Heathcote’s gelding returns to Caloundra tomorrow. And he has plenty against him to win again. A whopping five and a half extra kilos. He’ll get way back. And if it’s wet, forget it.

But all is not lost. The bloke up top, Damian Browne, is one of the few who could match Stathi as his best. Trust me, he’s a genius. No longer under the radar. For a long while the boys and I were getting over the odds every time he went around.

There are other threats. The McLachlan family has Phelan Ready primed. The local hope. They’d love to do it for dad, the late Big Bruce.

On his day, the other Heathcote horse, Gundy Son, can do anything. And Gerald Ryan is supremely confident with his last start Ipswich winner Adnocon.

Looking for a long shot? Keep an eye on Viking Legend. The bloke riding him, Chris O’Brien, is one of the most under-rated hoops in the game. He’s making the trip from Gosford, and he’s not coming for the pies. Trust me, this bloke’s as good as any of them.

As long as the rain stays away, I’ll be sticking with Woorim. Very unlucky in the Stradbroke. If you join me, be brave. Hold your nerve. If he gets up, it will be late. Maybe in the last stride. Like Warney, and Coyney, and Joey.

Remember, there’s nothing like a close finish. Unless we get beat. That falls into the category of “oh so bloody close”. You won’t be surprised to know I have plenty of those tales. Sad, painful, unfair stories. For another day.