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.


One for the night owls – the day Black Caviar came to town.

May 14, 2011

The woman on the fence was in her best dress. She’d been waiting a while. It was the perfect spot to see the winner return. The lady was waving a flag. And shedding a tear.

She’d just seen something special. Like the rest of us. The fastest racehorse in the world, gobbling up the second fastest racehorse in the world.

Her friends were cheering too. They’d also been there a while. It was such a good spot. A bloke a few rows back kept yelling out to us. “She’s the best in the world, mate.” Just in case we hadn’t noticed.

Everyone knew Black Caviar would win. Everyone knew it would be exciting. What we didn’t know, was just HOW exciting.

You know the cheer they make when the field leaves the barriers in the Melbourne Cup? The Doomben crowd did a pretty fair imitation. And then, as this magnificent mare rounded the bend, and took over from poor old Hay List, the cheer turned into something else.

I’ve been bumming around racecourses since I was 16. I’ve sat in State of Origin cauldrons. Even Wembley once. I’ve heard passionate crowds, in top voice.

But this was something else. This was one, furious, magnificent roar. The stands shook. Form guides quivered. Chills multiplied. Just before 4 o’clock, on Saturday May 14, sporting history wasn’t made. It was amplified.

When all was done, they left her out there alone. It was her time, after all. The other horses and jockeys were ushered off the Grand Dame’s stage.

Luke Nolan was in no hurry. He took her all the way back up the straight she’d just scorched. When he came back a second time, it was at a leisurely stroll. So everyone could get a look. Cue more cheering.

Peter Moody was covered in kisses. From owners, and journos, and committee men. We all owe him big time. Forget winning a Group One race. He could do that anywhere. This was about showing off his girl to Queensland. Making us feel good. Getting people of all ages back to the track.

It wasn’t just the biggest crowd since we were doing the ‘Crocodile Rock’ and blushing while watching ‘Alvin Purple’. It was the happiest. Smiles everywhere. We would have stayed all night if they hadn’t kicked us out.

Hours earlier, before the champ even had her saddle on, I shared the end of a bench with two good ol’ boys. I munched on my hot dog; they sipped on cool drinks.

The bloke next to me started talking, as men of his vintage do. Told me he hadn’t been to a racetrack since the late seventies. Until today.

He’d decided to come out, with his thirsty mate, to be part of sporting history. They’d been planning it for weeks. Now, could I recommend a nice bar until race time?

The boys might have to make another trip in two weeks. Every chance the Champ will return for the Doomben 10,000. We’ll all be back. Every one of us.

Can it get any bigger? She’s capable of anything, this mare. Fans will be booking tickets tomorrow. That roar, however, is another thing. That was one for the ages.

 


My secret friendship with Black Caviar, and what she wants to hear tomorrow.

May 13, 2011

I’m friends with Black Caviar on Facebook. We’ve been tight for weeks now. Celebrating each other’s success. Ok, mostly her success.

She’s probably my most exciting friend online. No offence to the rest of you. But really, it’s not much of a contest. Some of my closest acquaintances would need a cab to cover the 1200 metres.

You must know by now that the world’s greatest racehorse is in Brisbane. And she’s the hottest ticket in town. Just a few weeks into the Winter carnival, and they’re about to put the ‘House Full’ sign up at Doomben. Twenty thousand people, coming to see one mighty mare.

She’s running in the BTC Cup. Hardly one of the classics. Remember who won it last year? Probably not. It was Albert the Fat, at 20 to 1. Decent horse, but not Facebook worthy.

Traditionally, it’s a stepping stone to bigger days ahead. The 10,000 and Stradbroke. Not any more. After tomorrow, it might just be the most memorable race ever run here.

People are flying in from around the country, to watch a horse race. Can you believe that? From Cairns, and Townsville, and Sydney, and beyond. And not just racing nuts. Sports fans. Ready to be part of something we might never experience again.

There are very few horses that can hold the interest of non-racing types. Punters are used to our nearest and dearest tuning out the minute we start babbling about odds and weights. How unlucky we were in the last.

Phar Lap could do it. I wasn’t around at the time, even though it might look like I was. Big Red gave hope to thousands during those grim Depression years.

More recently, Makybe Diva had that pulling power. Winning three Melbourne Cups will do that. But would she have sold out Doomben racecourse in early May? Maybe. Maybe not.

Someone asked me this week why Black Caviar is so special. A bloke who loves his sport, but wouldn’t know a hoof from a hat rack. There are some easy answers. Winning 12 consecutive metropolitan races is a start. And doing it with ease. Officially rated the best in the world. Making potential superstars look second-rate.

But it’s more than statistics. It goes deeper. I reckon those playing the bit roles around this mighty mare have plenty to do with the whirlwind romance we’re all caught up in.

Trainer Peter Moody is a bloke you just want to have a beer with. He’s a Queenslander, of course. A bush boy, from out Charleville way. He’d rather have his champion in Brisbane, than mixing with the toffs at Royal Ascot. It’s a huge call to ignore those wolf whistles from overseas.

Jockey Luke Nolan seems a humble guy. Make no mistake, he’s one of the best in the land. But he plays down his role in this show. Reckons she does all the work. He takes her out, she wins, he brings her back.

She’s not owned by a Sheik. Just a bunch of friends who got together, to race a horse. Living the dream. And giving hope to thousands of others, that our own minimal shares might one day turn to gold.

Dare I say, as much as she’s a superstar, there’s a touch of the ordinary about the Black Caviar camp. How good is that. Nothing appeals to the Aussie sports lover more than to think one of us could have been in that group photo with them.

It’s a rare thing for a modern racecourse to hoist the House Full sign. Numbers have been dwindling for years. Too easy to punt on the internet at home, wearing your pyjamas and not walking the length of the straight to find a toilet.

We constantly hear about race clubs trying to attract crowds. Marketing gurus are sometimes involved. Slick slogans and shiny campaigns. Bands and fashion parades and giveaways.

They don’t always work. So what does? What makes 20-thousand people want to catch trains and buses and taxis, to stand shoulder to shoulder on a Saturday afternoon?

A horse. The best horse. They’ll come from far and wide, if they get to see a living legend. So they can tell the grandkids they were there the day Black Caviar made thirteen a lucky number.

She’ll be as short as it gets. No one will care. Watch how many have a dollar bet, and keep the ticket, just so they can frame it for Dad’s wall of fame.

Back on Facebook, we’re both trying to stay relaxed ahead of the big day. I can’t give too much away about our private conversations, except to say, she’ll be winning. No boasting there, and no great surprise. Just fact.

The champ wants to hear the cheers. From the top of the straight, as she unleashes that breathtaking sprint. She wants the flags waved, and the banners hoisted high. And when Luke brings her back to scale, she wants to hear the passion that Queenslanders are famous for.

What a day it will be. If you’re heading to Doomben, soak up every last bit. If not, don’t despair. She’ll have all the details on Facebook. For her friends anyway.