And on the Seventh Day, someone decided we’d have race meetings..

March 23, 2013

I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t race on a Sunday.

Some of you will find that hard to believe. No races anywhere. Nothing.

Horses would stay at home. Trainers and jockeys would do other things. Like go to church. Or the pub. Or they’d go to church, and then the pub.

I can remember Mum and Dad sitting at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning, going over the Saturday results. There’d usually be a hard-luck story somewhere. But never the chance to have another bet.

I have a fair idea how they would have reacted to Sunday racing. The old man would have shook his head. Bloody madness, he’d mutter. Mum would be working out where she could have a sneaky double.

It’s all so different now. We’re in action every day. Sometimes night and day. I’m torn about whether that’s a good thing.

I know plenty of industry participants who hate Sunday racing. Trainers who don’t get a day off. Jockeys who have to travel hours, for a few more rides. If they don’t go, they risk losing favour with the boss.

I know where they’re coming from. Few other sports compete every single day. Maybe with the exception of darts. And they’re allowed refreshments.

Another part of me enjoys the Sunday action. It lacks the intensity of a busy Saturday. A few late flutters over a cool drink can be fun.

I’m frequently drawn to the action in the West. Late in the day, listening to an old-time band at my favourite pub.

Of course, we can go further afield with ease. They’ll be going their hardest in Hong Kong and Singapore. I can hear Dad muttering again.

It’s all about revenue. The more meetings, the more turnover, the more cash coming back. And it doesn’t matter how much anyone complains, it won’t be changing anytime soon.

We have our bloke running around tomorrow, an hour away from the city. Of course, that means it will rain tonight, and the track will be a bog. Regular readers will understand.

I won’t be there. Too bloody hard to get organised late on a Sunday arvo. I’ll be in that pub instead, with some country classics being belted out. I’ll find a screen, and cheer the house down if we can turn things around.

So here’s the deal. If we win, I’ll be a great supporter of Sunday racing. If we get rolled once more, the industry needs to have a long hard look at itself. Yep, Dad is shaking his head again.

Just putting it out there. What jockeys really mean on Twitter.

March 9, 2013

I enjoy reading what jockeys think on Facebook and Twitter.

It makes us mug punters feel like we’re part of the family. Even if we’re at the table set aside for the kids.

They’re not allowed to tip, but every now and then we get pointed in the right direction.

I love how they support each other. For all the ribbing (and there’s plenty of that), they look after their mates. Especially when the going gets tough.

The likes of Nash Rawiller, Josh Parr, Ryan Wiggins and Luke Nolen are great value. The Pumper has a huge following too. You can hear them cheering when he pinches another one from out front.

Blokes who’ve been around a bit know how to keep the youngsters on track. Chris Munce is forever praising and encouraging. It must mean the world to an apprentice just starting out, to get praise from a legend.

It hasn’t always been like this. Not too many years ago, the only way we’d be able to connect with the little guys and girls would be through the Sunday papers. And even then, there’d be plenty of the same old stories.

“The favourite was just a bit too good on the day”.

“He’ll be tough to beat when he gets up to a mile”.

“He didn’t handle the going. Forget the run”. Blah blah blah.

That’s the beauty of social media. Follow the right people, and you’ll get to hear what they really think.

Imagine if Jim Pike had been on Twitter. Would he have given much away? Or would he have been working on getting a price for Big Red?

@JimPike1 .. Riding Phar Lap again today. The weight is a worry. And the boss has been working him hard. Sure, we won by 10 lengths last start. But he’s vulnerable. Just don’t tell the bookies. #cansomeonegetonforme?

Some of racing’s most famous moments may have been recorded differently. Bill Collins would have loved to be tweeting after the ’82 Cox Plate.

@BillTheAccurateOne .. Just to clarify, when I said Kingston Town couldn’t win, I was talking about the Melbourne Cup. He was ALWAYS going to win the Plate. #cansomeoneerasethetape?

The boys involved in the Fine Cotton debacle would have gone straight to twitter. And stuffed that up too.

@HaydentheGoose .. Bit of a mix up today guys. No harm done. Weren’t we silly billys! #cansomeonecharteracheapflight

If you’re a racing fan and you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out. Get your kids to explain what to do, and be part of the fun.

You’ll be amazed at what you discover, from the biggest names in the industry. And you’ll have a laugh along the way.

Just don’t trust Jim Pike. I’m sure that Big Red horse goes better than he’s telling us.

Little people who are big targets. Give our jockeys a break.

August 11, 2012

The jockeys copped another bagging this week. Only a handful, mind you. But as usual, others get dragged down too.

Like any profession, there are those who qualify as good and decent. As well as a few who are more than happy to darken the reputation of their colleagues.

From doctors and lawyers, to plumbers, publicans and priests. Journos even. So it has always been.

There are thousands of blog writers. Some are brilliant. Others pedal rubbish and crud. Then there are the rest of us, compiling pages of harmless dribble every other day for our family and close friends.

My point here, and I do have one, is that it’s unfair to lump everyone into the same basket. And I fear that’s what happens when the spotlight is put on racing.

To those folk outside the industry, who wouldn’t know a saddle cloth from a soap dish, claims of wrongdoing equals everyone being a cheat. I hear it often.

As a punter, I can reach rare levels of fury when a jockey steers one in the wrong direction. Taking my cash with him or her. But I never stop admiring the skills and courage of the hoops every time they go around.

Few other professions pose such dangers. Certainly not six or seven times a day. And that’s not counting trackwork, and barrier trials. Huge, heavy, flying machines, that don’t always do as they’re told.

It’s easy to forget the dangers. They risk life and skinny limbs every time they take one out. A bit different to those of us who park large bums at desks, where the day’s biggest danger is burning a tongue on hot coffee.

I’m friends with plenty of hoops, mainly through social media. They impress me time and again, with their humour, and dedication, and support for colleagues.

Yes, there are some narks. But they’re in the minority. Look around your own workplace. Good luck if you don’t have any.

Most are young, working and playing hard. Unlike others of their age, this lot get up at 3am every day. And quite often eat similar portions to a sparrow.

It’s a sport of individuals, but the jockeys remind me of how a football team operates. They stir each other, and tease, and love nothing more than a decent prank. Watch them go at it if a mate gets a ride wrong.

But in times of trouble, they stick solid. Just like a team. There for each other, with more solidarity than most other groups. In those dark days when a jockey is seriously hurt, or worse, the bond is rock solid.

Here in Queensland, the riding ranks have never been so strong. And it’s no co-incidence that the form of the younger riders is on the up. Just like a footy club, the senior players set the tone.

Blokes like Chris Munce and Larry Cassidy have won more Group Ones than I’ve cooked lamb roasts. Those on the rise have role models right next to them. And blokes who know them, tell me they are well aware of doing their bit.

My humble view is that the game is cleaner than it’s ever been. The stings and shonks of days gone by are much harder to get away with. Listen to an old-timer explain the way things used to be, and tell me I’m wrong.

I’m not silly enough to think the game will ever be totally clean. When such big money is involved, there’ll always be someone wanting to get a piece of the action by means that aren’t allowed.

When they catch the crook ones, I’m all for throwing the book at them. Set an example, so others don’t go down that path.

But it doesn’t mean everyone sitting in a saddle is wearing a black hat. Without them, the industry we love would grind to a halt. Sure, let them know if their ride wasn’t up to scratch. As long as you cheer the good ones too.

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.

Little blokes with big hearts – a toast to jockeys and halfbacks.

May 6, 2011

Jockeys and halfbacks have a lot in common.

They’re usually on the smallish side. We know that. Those that get too big end up changing roles. Jockeys who get heavy and can’t sleep late become trainers. Halfbacks who slow down and bulk up become hookers. In scrums.

Best of all, hoops and number sevens are a cheeky bunch. In my experience, the cheekier they are, the better they usually perform. It’s all about attitude. In the stable and on the paddock.

League lovers have always celebrated a good little man. Think of Allan Langer, and Sterlo, and the great Tommy Raudonikis. Snapping the legs from under lumbering Pommy forwards. Sniping around the dressing room. Always with a cheeky grin. Loving nothing more than stirring up someone a few divisions heavier.

No one did it better than Alf. He gave hope to anyone who was too small to be picked first at lunchtime. Every time he donned those tiny boots, he had a small army cheering him on. No thought of self-preservation. Size didn’t matter. Bravery in a kids size jumper.

Check out a tape from the seventies of Tom Terrific in action. There’d always be a bit extra for the biggest bloke on the ground. The older he got, the crankier he became. In an era when the Magpies were the toughest birds around, Tommy was the bloke the opposition’s big fellas didn’t want to tangle with.

Our best jockeys carry that same fighting spirit. The self belief. Same brand of courage. Watch them in action on the Gold Coast tomorrow. Negotiating those tight turns in packed fields, race after race. If you get the chance, head out early one morning and listen to the banter at trackwork. No-one is spared. Especially trainers and yawning journos.

We might be onto another reality tv series here. How good would it be to see the hoops and the halfbacks change roles. Our best jockeys slipping into the number seven. It might stretch some salary caps, but here goes.

Imagine Chrissy Munce firing up that struggling Canberra pack? They wouldn’t dare take a backward step. His kicking game might be a concern though. Not sure how much distance would come from that little right leg.

I could see Jimmy Byrne leading the Broncos out. Proud Queenslander. He’d grow a few inches on Suncorp Stadium.

Gai would have a fight on her hands to keep Nash Rawiller away from Wayne Bennett. He’d fit right in with the Dragons. Benny would probably make him skipper. And then take him to the Knights.

I’d love the Cowboys to snap Bossy up. Move Thurston to five-eighth if we had to. Nothing like some Group One mentality.

The Gladiator would want someone special for the Bunnies. Money would be no object. Probably Beadman back from Hong Kong.

The Roosters would also open the cheque book and buy Corey Brown.

There’d be a queue to join the Titans. Only the best behaved for John Cartwright and Gilly. Glen Colless would be perfect.

Kiwis Larry Cassidy and Damian Brown would head home and fight out the gig for the Warriors. Don’t worry. They’d be back in Brisbane within three months.

While all that was going on, we could get the old halfbacks to mount up at Eagle Farm as part of the winter carnival. Alf might be restricted to riding topweights these days. And Tommy would be charged with leg pulling. You’d still want to have a dollar on them though.

It’s all about attitude. Little blokes who can do anything they put their mind to. Find the best, and back them every Saturday. Even if they are cheeky buggers.