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.

Group One glory for a Group One bloke. Why a trainer’s first big win is always the sweetest.

March 3, 2012

We all have our favourite sporting moments. Those spine-tingling events that the grandchildren will hear about one day.

Remember those times that made you punch the air. Special feats that gave you goose bumps.

If they really mean something, you shouldn’t have to think too hard. The memories will be locked away, in a place easy to access.

The Shane Warne ball that Mike Gatting still has nightmares about. Steve Waugh’s ton against the Poms at the SCG, against all the odds, and the experts.

I can remember cheering Jeff Fenech twenty-five years ago. Like it was yesterday. He battered Thai champ Samart Payakarun to win a world title. The leagues club erupted.

Big Mal Meninga’s try for the Kangaroos in 1980 at Old Trafford. An SAS unit wouldn’t have stopped him that day. A wrecking machine in green and gold.

We racing folk have so many great memories. The sport is littered with golden moments.

Kingston Town’s Cox plate. Any one of them. Makybe Diva’s Melbourne Cup. Any one of them.

How did Belle de Jour win the 2000 Golden Slipper? Even now, I can’t work out how she made that run. But I still love watching it.

Now, I have another. A memory that I’ll keep forever, and bore people with whenever they get stuck in a corner with me.

Last weekend, Rob Heathcote claimed his first Group One victory. The 2012 Oakleigh Plate. When the mighty Woorim swooped from a seemingly impossible position, it seemed all of Queensland cheered.

Even better, Damian Browne was in the saddle. The jockey has so much metal in his crook leg he sets off airport alarms just getting out of the car.

Such a reward, for Brisbane’s Premier trainer. Years of ridiculous alarm clocks and early morning cold, now don’t seem too bad.

It’s easy for punters to forget just how hard these people work. The trainers, and the jockeys. Stablehands and strappers. Sure, you might hear them complain every now and then. But they love the game.

Heathcote trains hundreds of winners every year. On tracks all over the land. You’d think such a successful operator would have nothing to prove.

But champions need to climb the highest peaks. Grand Finals, and Grand Slams. Gold medals and world records.

Trainers, rightly or wrongly, are judged on Group Ones. And not just because such a win attracts more business, and extra publicity. They’re just so hard to win. Unless your first name is Bart.

Blokes like Rob want to beat the best. It’s taken a while. And now he has.

For those who know him, it’s even more satisfying, because he’s such a bloody good bloke. Hard, and demanding, and ultra competitive. But just a great fella.

He’s part of the new breed of trainers. Communication is the key. Owners big and small feel like they’re part of the stable. It’s a genuine connection. Go out early on any given day, and you won’t want to leave. Everyone involved in the team lives and breathes racing.

Now that he has his first, the Group Ones will keep coming. It’s funny how these things happen. No excuse not to be on.

He’ll end up with plenty more. Trust me on that.

But nothing will compare to Woorim’s breathtaking victory last weekend. A lucky few will never forget that orange cap flashing home. Another favourite sporting moment. I can’t wait to tell the grandkids.

Winners and Losers from a memorable year. The racing industry awards you’ve been waiting for.

December 17, 2011

Dust off your best jacket. Straighten that tie. It’s show time.

Yes, here they are. The first annual Hold All Tickets racing gongs.

The awards all decent racing folk are desperate to win. Even if they won’t admit it. Or don’t know they exist.

So here we go. Dim the lights. Save applause to the end. Any whingeing can be directed to our Complaints Department. End of the hall, turn right.

***The ‘Getting Bums on Seats’ award – Peter Moody.***

How good is this bloke? He’s a Queenslander, which is a fair start. But I don’t know anyone who’s done more this year to get people back to racetracks.

He’s more than a champion trainer. He gets it. The fact that people want to see his magnificent mare.

Moody wants Australians to experience the thrill of Black Caviar in action, so he takes her all over our great land. It means so much to him. Much more than an overseas jaunt.

Take the tip. Very few other trainers would be doing the same thing.

***The ‘Jockey to win my Bus Fare Home’ award’ – Nash Rawiller.***

Tough to overlook my Queensland boys. But Rawiller could end up one of the greats. Gives them every chance, every time. A thinking hoop. Stays out of trouble. And you want to be on him in a photo.

Honourable mentions for D. Browne and C. Munce. Super competitors, showing the young blokes how it’s done. Munce would win on a broomstick at the minute.

Watch out for Jason Holder back in Adelaide. He’ll win a heap. And how good is young Chad Schofield going to be? Back him, any day, without hesitation.

***The ‘Trainer Making room on the Mantlepiece’ award – Rob Heathcote.***

He can smell that Group One. Taste it. It’s so close. And no one is more deserving.

Few work harder. Turns out his horses in immaculate fashion, each and every time.

He won’t want to wait this long, but I’d love to see the great moment unfold at next year’s Brisbane Winter carnival. So we can all gather at the stable and make him shout us expensive drinks.

Even better, let’s make it with an as-yet unraced 3-year-old, part owned by some rough heads, who’s ready to light up the track. Stradbroke would be nice. Over to you Rob!

***The ‘Someone make it a Decent Race Again’ award – Caulfield Cup.***

It was one of our great events. Not any more. Most punters didn’t know more than a handful of runners this year. The experts dispute that, but they don’t ask blokes sitting in the TAB. Believe me, it’s in trouble.

Where the overseas runners are now considered sexy in the Melbourne Cup, they’ve done the opposite to the great Caulfield race.

It’s become a giant yawn. And it needs fixing. When the Geelong Cup becomes a better form guide for our great race, something is badly out of whack.

***The ‘Duracell Non-stop Media Man’ award – Andrew Bensley.***

He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere. The perfect example of a modern racing media man.

No one is better connected. The big man understands the importance of getting decent information to punters, as soon as it’s available.

His work on Twitter is truly amazing. If you don’t follow him, you’re missing out. Bensley is leading the way in this new age of punting.

Honourable mentions to Ron Dufficy, who tells it like it is (so bloody refreshing), and the Brisbane duo of Steve Hewlett and Tony Clements on 4TAB. Two blokes who love their racing, and put listeners first. A radio show that’s not ego-driven. Try and find one elsewhere.

And keep an eye on a young journo, who lives and breathes racing. Find Andrew Hawkins on Twitter, and follow him. He’ll be running the industry in five years.

So there we have it. Congratulations to all. Prizes are in the mail, and can be redeemed at any Night Owl store where the slushie machine is working.