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.

The beauty of loud voices in the racing game. At least we’re never boring.

May 11, 2013

Imagine being part of an industry that puts people to sleep. Where participants are comfortable in beige. No thanks.

We racing folk, we’re nothing if not vibrant. Everyone has a voice. Usually raised.

It seems everyone has been yelling this week. Major spats in two states.

The Singo and Gai show will be a mini-series one day. Scribes better than me have documented every juicy bit. You don’t need that again today.

What I will say, is that there was passion at every turn. It’s what racing does to us.

Whether it’s at the bar, or in front of the Stewards, nothing is held back. No punches pulled.

In Brisbane, it was Rob Heathcote v Larry Cassidy. My mate the trainer, against the Group One jockey.

I’m still scratching my head over that one. We all know they don’t like each other. So what? Could it not have been sorted out before an official inquiry?

The fact that Brisbane’s leading trainer was fined for speaking his mind on a private blog, puzzles me. If things were that bad, take it to court. If not, move on.

No-one does more to promote the sport in Queensland. He doesn’t mind letting people know what he’s thinking. There should be more of it. It’s easy to stay out of strife, if you don’t open your mouth.

The beauty of these spats, is that we all get over it. Racing types are great at moving on. With or without grudges. We have to. There’s a race about to start any minute.

Listen to the old blokes this arvo at your local. Best of mates, will go toe to toe over the merits of the ride on the topweight.

No thoughts for feelings. Because we have hides like rhinos. Throw your best insult. Then pass the peanuts.

In our game, strong opinions aren’t confined to millionaires. The strength of your argument isn’t measured by the thickness of your wallet.

Don’t get too concerned the next time you hear about a racing blow up. As long as it’s not about cheats ripping us off, then laugh if off. Worse things happen at sea.

And one more thing. If you’re off to the track today, don’t wear beige. It’s just not our colour.

Forget the barrier draw – Gai’s about to win the Cox Plate. Why Pierro will get her smiling again.

October 27, 2012

When it comes to the Cox Plate, you’re either a fan of the babies, or you’re not.

There’s no middle ground. Some will sing the praises of the best youngsters in the land. Others will smirk when they finish down the track.

Ok, strictly, they’re not really babies. The three-year olds have been around a bit. But compared to the best weight for age horses in the land, babies they are.

No other race gives them such a fighting chance. Yet no other race is so gruelling.

It’s every owners dream to win the Cox Plate. To do it with a three-year old, carrying a tad over 49 kilos, is something again.

They have to be extra-special. Hype horses need not apply. The tiniest chink will be exposed out there. With the older stars grinning as they fly by.

Two months ago, I tipped Pierro. Back then, I thought he was on the way to being our next superstar. The first horse to complete the Golden Slipper/Cox Plate double in the same year.

I’m still tipping Gai’s young champion. But with a little less confidence.

His loss last start wasn’t part of the plan. When the regally bred All Too Hard went past, we gasped as one.

Gai refused to make excuses, but I will. It was a ride that Nash would love to have again. Too bad to be true. Pierro did amazingly well to finish where he did. He was gassed early, and still had the audacity to nearly pinch it.

I’m sticking with him. As others drop off by the minute. And in the ultimate vote of support for youth, I’m tipping a three-year old quinella.

Yep, I reckon the first two from the Caulfield Guineas will fight it out again. Pierro and All Too Hard, neck and neck. With Gai’s favourite just getting there.

That sound you now hear is the roar of disapproval from those who can’t cop such madness. And they may well be laughing at me this afternoon.

The more I look at the field, the more I think it’s lacking in genuine superstars. No Kingston Town in this lot.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re a hugely talented bunch. I’d love to have any one of them in the backyard. I just don’t think they’re unbeatable.

Ocean Park is a genuine threat. Bossy will make sure of that. And my old favourite Shoot Out is a knockout hope at big odds. I reckon they might be fighting over the minor placings.

These three-year olds could be on their way to rare air. With plenty more gripping battles ahead. It might just be a Cox Plate we’ll be talking to our grandkids about.

If I’m right, Gai will forget her troubled week, and hold the Plate aloft. Sadly, without Singo. If I’m wrong, I’m sure you’ll let me know.

Stepping out of the giant shadow of Black Caviar. Get ready for a two horse war.

April 14, 2012

There’s no tougher gig in the sporting arena than living up to the family name.

Dawn Fraser’s daughter would have needed fins at birth to match her famous mum.

Bob Fulton’s sons were all handy first graders. But better than one of league’s Immortals? No chance.

The Ablett boys have made a fair fist of it. I’m no expert in their game, but I hear people say Gary Jnr goes close. And doesn’t seem to get into as much strife as Dad.

In the racing game, perfect families are few and far between. For a start, some of our greatest males are left, shall we say, less than manly. Makes it a little difficult to keep the bloodline going.

There’s no guarantee either, for those in the breeding barn still firing live ammo. Champion sons and daughters are rare.

One of the great father/son combinations was Octagonal and his boy Lonhro. Both champions. Trained by the Hawkes family.

They know something winning the big ones, this lot. So who better to be handling Black Caviar’s half-brother?

All Too Hard might just be a superstar. We’ll know more later today, when he goes around as the short-priced favourite in the Sires.

When someone like John Hawkes gets excited, you take notice. He’s been around the block a few times. The bloke would play down a Lotto win as just a nice pick up.

Make no mistake, behind closed doors, he’s doing the old trainer’s version of cartwheels about this youngster.

They’ve been cautious with him. Even side-stepped the millions on offer in the Slipper. How tough would have that been?

It’s all about the horse. That’s how they are. Looking ahead. There is huge money to be made, if he keeps winning, and remains intact.

It sets up a dream encounter this afternoon. All Too Hard v Pierro. Gai’s Slipper winner from last weekend. Tough as old boots. Racing on the pace, with a genius in the saddle.

If we’re lucky, we might get a once-in-a-generation finish. Those clashes that feature in showreels, and trivia nights.

Think back to Bonecrusher, ever so slowly grinding Our Waverley Star into the Mooney Valley turf, in that soul-stirring Cox Plate of 1986.

Get the kids to log you onto YouTube, and dig out the 2002 Yalumba Stakes. You’ll remember it when you see it. Sunline flying up front, only to be reeled in by Lonhro in the shadows of the post. A ride for the ages from a fellow called Beadman. And a call from Greg Miles that still prompts tingles.

We love a two-horse war. And we just might get another one. Don’t stress too much about the result. Just enjoy two young stars, showing us what’s great about the racing game. They’ll both do the family name proud.

I’m raising a glass to Gai. Her winning Slipper performance, before they even jump.

April 7, 2012

Imagine three members of the same family lining up at the Olympics, to contest the final of the 100 metres dash.

Picture four brothers wearing the green and gold for Australia in a Davis Cup battle.

How hard would the applause be poolside, if you saw half the field in the classic 1500 metres final bearing the same surname?

Impossible, right? Unless your name happens to be Waterhouse.

Check the form guide today, and run your eyes over the Golden Slipper field. The world’s richest race for two-year olds. A highlight of the Australian turf.

It’s no mis-print. You’ll see Gai Waterhouse mentioned five times. Five runners, in a field of sixteen flying juveniles.

It’s a phenomenal training performance. And four of them are genuine chances.

Unbelievably, it’s not the first time. She pulled the same trick in 2001. The year she produced the trifecta, with Ha Ha having the last laugh.

Anyone who’s ever raced a horse knows what an incredible training feat this is. It verges on the ridiculous.

Most of us battle just to get one to the track. I have friends who’ve won big races. And others who haven’t. Lots of them.

We have a three-year old, who is still to hear the thrill of a race day crowd. He’s had enough health problems to make the local vet seriously wealthy.

Don’t feel sorry for us. He’ll be winning next year’s Cox Plate. Get your bets on now. But my point here, and I do have one, is that it’s so bloody hard just to get them to the races.

It makes Gai’s effort so much more amazing. The niggles and varied dramas that strike young horses, all over the land. And the First Lady of racing manages to get five of them ready for Sydney’s biggest day.

Sometimes I wonder whether she gets the credit she deserves. Such an easy target. Her own blood lines, and that theatrical bent. All these years on, all those Group Ones, and a few clowns still manage to find fault with her. Behind her back, of course.

I’ve written about the grand dame before on these pages. I barely know her, and she wouldn’t have a clue who I am.

I interviewed her at Magic Millions many years ago. On the run. She was happy to talk. Just not standing still. Too much to do, you see.

There we were, chatting away into the camera, at a pace that would have done one of her stayers proud. Her giving me detailed answers, and me wondering how her hat wasn’t falling off.

I’m like all punters who’ve won a quid from her over the years. By backing horses that are the fittest they can be. With the best jockeys on top.

She knows how important owners are, and treats them like friends. Not fools. A walking promotion for our great sport, even if it’s at a quicker clip than everyone around her.

So today, this wonderful trainer will have the job of cheering all five in running.

And here’s a tip. As impartial as she is, I reckon she’ll be watching out for one in particular. The strapping colt with the number one saddlecloth, Pierro.

Such a typical Gai horse. Trained to the minute. Set for this six months ago. With Australia’s top hoop doing the steering.

I’ll take the Gai factor over Blue Diamond form every time. Today will be her day, again. Actually, it already is. Applaud her this afternoon, regardless of the result. We might never see such dominance again.

Step aside for some famous faces. The rules on how to deal with big names at the track.

January 21, 2012

They put down their race books, and parted as if Royalty had arrived.

And she had. Racing Royalty. Gai had joined us.

No second name required. Like Madonna. Except the famous trainer is ageing better.

She’d just finished one-two in the Gold Coast Magic Millions. Lost the protest, and won the protest.

Dressed like the stage star she once was, Gai swept into the room, and we all stopped talking.

She has this ability to silence a crowd. With those quick steps, and a golden smile.

My mate, a giant of a man who was fearless on the footy field, was giggling like a schoolgirl. He may have even brushed his hair.

“I just had my photo taken with Gai!”, he announced breathlessly. Best win of the day.

It takes plenty to make punters look up from their form guides. A bunch not easily impressed. Only the special need apply.

Singo fits the bill. They actually follow him around. Everyone wants a chat. He usually obliges.

It’s what happens when you are known for shouting a racecourse. Thirsty racegoers have long memories.

We see plenty of sporting stars at the track. And not just the youngsters.

I’ve mentioned before how Richie Benaud had the members cheering a few years ago. Everyone wanted to shake the great man’s hand.

Leigh Matthews is another. With the AFL legend, they tend to admire from a distance. You hear the whispers before you see him. He doesn’t seem to mind.

I remember finding Gus Gould at Wyong races years ago. When he was club coaching, not commentating. Shorts and thongs. Pie and a beer. A happier man you would never have seen.

A mate of mine invited former Manly league hard man Terry Randall to a big Gold Coast race day a while back. For those too young, or following the wrong sporting code, let’s just say he was one of the game’s true tough guys.

But not this day. The bloke they called Igor had a kind word for everyone. I mean, EVERYONE. They were lined up at our table all day. No one missed out on a chat.

He shared a cool drink with them too. Memorable for the fact that each of those beers looked like thimbles in his giant paw.

Not everyone is so humble. I had the pleasure of visiting Hollywood Park last year. Only so the girls could go star-spotting without me grumbling in the back seat.

I talked my way into the club’s ‘special’ area, after explaining that I was a part-owner of a famous Australian horse named Beartracker.

Using my best Bazza Mackenzie accent, I explained to the gateman that this superstar stayer that would soon start favourite in the time-honoured Melbourne Cup. Still can’t believe that worked.

Anyway, sitting a few rows up from me was Mel Brooks. Sadly, the famous comedian was in no mood for laughs. In fact, the Blazing Saddles genius may have been having the worst day ever experienced at a punting venue.

He ended up with a face like thunder. No chatting. No beers. Don’t you dare take a photo.

A few months later, I discovered that you don’t have to be a famous actor or a football star to be mobbed at the races. Far from it. Actually, you can be a trainer from the Queensland bush, in a big hat.

It helps if you’re in charge of the world’s best sprinter. And you don’t mind saying g’day to a few thousand people.

That’s what Peter Moody did at Doomben, the day Black Caviar blew us all away. He stood there for what seemed like an hour, meeting all those fans. More Charleville than Caulfield.

Fawned over like a rock star. And the sentimental bushie loved every minute of it.

The scenes that day will take some topping. Unless the great mare returns this year. Remind me to invite Mel Brooks if she does. He might finally get to back a winner.

Words of wisdom from a 10 year old girl .. (and what the critics think..)

March 29, 2011

“Daddy, what happens if people think your blog is stupid?”

Once again, my daughter had raised a valid question.

I attempted to come up with a reasoned and mature response. One that a proper author would use.

“Well darling, it’s important to remember that opinions are like bums. Everyone has one.”

Wrong answer. Ten year old girls don’t like hearing fathers talking about bums. Especially in vast numbers. She departed for i-pod therapy, leaving me pondering.

How would I react to negative comments? To those in cyberspace laughing at me, not with me?

The masters of my blog universe have been quick to point out that there was a high chance no-one would give my scribblings a sideways glance, especially in the first few months. Or years. But that didn’t matter, because I was having FUN. As long as I was enjoying the experience, numbers didn’t matter.

Well, nuts to that. If I want to be laughed at I’ll take my shirt off at the beach. Or start salsa dancing. In this blog caper one needs to be loved. And the best way to monitor such affection is through the blog comments section, that you’ve all so heartily embraced.

I thought it might be helpful if I highlighted a few of the more interesting remarks sent my way these past few weeks. And I’m not making any of this up in a cheap stunt to make the piece run longer.

A bloke named Bart from Flemington sent the following. “This is the best bit of racing writing since Banjo Paterson knocked up yarns on beer coasters when I was a lad. Keep up the good work. P.S .. I have something for the Cup this year. Will drop you a note in private.”

And this, from Gai in Sydney. “When it comes to race writing, style is everything. You have none, but I feel very sorry for your wife and daughters, so I will continue to read whatever it is you’re trying to do.”

Good positive feedback. However not everyone has been so kind.

Mr Murdoch from the USA sent the following. “This pile of crap you call writing makes my journalists all over the world look like modern day Shakespeares. You could be the sole reason newspapers survive another decade.”

Pat W, from a TAB somewhere near Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane, says, “You are giving racing journalists, commentators and presenters an ever worse name than they have now. Get back to your real job, if you actually have one.”

A woman who only identifies herself as JK, from a castle in England, says, “I’ve been searching for some far fetched make believe to help with a series of books I’m writing. Sadly, what you’re serving up here is beyond even the wildest of imaginations for teenagers who think flying wizards are normal.”

And finally, this, from blogging giants WordPress.Com. “This stuff stinks. Who let this bloke join our team?”

Actually I made that last one up. They would never say “stinks” on a family blog.

So there we have it. Nothing to worry about. Lots of love out there. Keep those comments coming. Positive, negative and indifferent. Except if you think I’m REALLY stupid. Just because your bum is THAT different, doesn’t mean I have to see it.