A right Royal celebration. How I helped the Queen party after Royal Ascot.

June 22, 2013

My phone rang seconds after they crossed the line.

I knew who it would be. The Royal Britannia call alert confirmed it. Her Majesty just can’t help Herself.

“Did you see, did you see?”, the Queen asked, going close to losing that dignified tone we know so well.

Indeed I did Ma’am. I had watched her flying filly Estimate cross the line to win the Gold Cup.

The cameras told it all. High in the Royal box, they captured the smile of a successful owner. It doesn’t matter who you are, that thrill of victory is impossible to hide.

Those around the Queen forgot about protocol. There was jumping, and yelling. Like any winning camp.

I reminded Her Majesty she was supposed to present the cup. Was there a Plan B?  Of course there was. One of the children was down there somewhere. There was no way she was missing out on this. The first Monarch to win her own race.

Mid-sentence, the call ended. That happens often between us. More than likely a security issue. Some bloke from MI5 cutting the line to Brisbane yet again.

You might not be aware, but the Queen loves racing in Australia. And I happen to be her main contact. There are frequent calls and texts.

When Beartracker won at Eagle Farm a few years back, the Royal congratulations were swift. ‘We are happy for you. Wish we’d taken the 10s last night.’

The messages weren’t so positive during Pintuck’s well-publicised battle with wet tracks last year. Apparently Prince Charles had taken a liking to the giant gelding, and was losing plenty of the Royal inheritance. ‘We are not amused. Find a dry track or you might be visiting the Tower. Permanently.’

Try telling that to the trainer. Rob Heathcote just shook his head, and made mention of the evils of rum.

As I pondered that strange conversation, the phone rang again. The presentation was finished, and Her Majesty wanted a chat. It’s what winning owners do.

I asked if she was going to have a tipple in the committee room? “One would love to, but these pesky cameras are still following me. It will have to be a cup of tea. Tell me, what did you do after the Bear’s great victory at headquarters?”

“Well Ma’am, funny you ask. They were serving the beer in seven-ounce glasses. So we had seven. Then they told us we had to go, because race two was about to start.”

“So you won the first race? One can imagine how that day ended up.”

As usual in such conversations, I played down our shenanigans. It’s not the done thing to let the Queen know you were singing The Gambler as they were coming back to scale after the last.

“Your Majesty, make sure you enjoy the moment. Soak it in. Remember us after Pintuck’s one and only win. We thought there would be plenty more. Now he’s a prancing showjumper. And we haven’t been back in the committee room.”

Security were obviously worried, because the line went dead once more. It was time for bed. I was happy for a fellow owner.

It showed that racing is not about the money. Last time I looked, the Queen wasn’t short of a quid. But nothing could buy the excitement of that victory.

The joy of racehorse ownership, on show for all to see. If only Her Majesty had been allowed to break into a bit of Kenny Rogers at the end of the day. I’ll explain it to her on our next call.

Every owner’s worst nightmare. Our horse is as slow as a wet week.

March 30, 2013

As racehorse owners, we have a list of excuses.

Actually, make that a folder. Or a large book. A shelf full of them.

As I have said on these pages before, we are eternal optimists. Better days are always just around the bend.

On the darkest days, when we tail off, a furlong behind the second last horse, there is still light.

This is because we pay money to experience these joyful times. Cash, to experience crushing lows. So there has to be a reason.

Track too hard. Track too soft. Poor ride. Ride was too clever. Track bias. Goat track. Needs more distance. Can’t get the distance. Missed a crucial workout. Worked too hard. Lost a plate. Dropped the whip. Too hot. Too cold. Get the picture?

Our horse has been something of a riddle. Beautifully bred, he promised so much.

But there were problems. He was struck down by colic as a youngster. Had to have surgery. We ignored all the well-read scribblings, that they never come back the same.

He went shin sore. Twice. Lengthy stints in the paddock. Came back, and struck wet tracks. Did I mention he can’t run in the wet? And by that I mean, he is barely able to lift his wonderfully conformed legs, if there is so much as a spit on the ground.

It goes without saying that all but one of his starts have been on wet tracks. Hopeless. Guess how he went on a good surface? The most exciting win I’ve been involved with.

And there is our dilemma. He showed us something that day. Enough to make us think that we had a special one. All we needed was a dry track, and the race clubs would be lining up to woo us, ala the Mighty Mare.

That was the thinking, up until last weekend. A run so bad I find it hard to re-visit.

He jumped in front. Was placed to perfection by Ryan Wiggins. We hit the straight, and looked every inch the winner. Until, our bloke stopped as if shot, by a sniper in the stand wearing gumboots.

We ran last. Passed by horses that will do nothing in their uneventful careers.

Finally, there were no excuses. Nothing more could be said. He wasn’t a star after all.

He’s on his way to a new trainer now. No hard feelings there. We have no idea what the future holds. We don’t even know what state he’ll be running slowly in.

There could be a miracle around the corner, but I doubt it. We own a slow horse.

That lumps us in with the great majority of racehorse owners. We all dream of owning Black Caviar. But the reality is, we don’t. We own horses that struggle.

A new chapter awaits. We love this game so much, we’ll keep plugging away. Maybe with a new excuse or two. I just hope that sniper doesn’t find out where we’ve gone.

Awful conduct by a winning racehorse owner. And I’d do it again tomorrow.

January 19, 2013

Quite simply, it was appalling behaviour.

Screaming like a One Direction fan. Banging tables. Foot stomping. A jig was performed, badly. And that was before he crossed the line.

I was in the public bar of a delightful little coastal pub. A midweek race had just been run, and won. By our horse.

To be fair, I had given due warning to the handful of punters present. As a part-owner, there was the remote possibility that I might get a tad excited, if things went our way.

I even tipped them in. Told them that our bloke would run way better than his odds suggested. Suggested that they have a dollar or two each way.

Two elderly locals in faded Hawaiian shirts offered little more than rude sniffs my way. I guessed they sat in those same chairs every day. They didn’t need tips from an unshaven bum with a bad case of sunburn.

Not so two young blokes in the bar. They were excited. Took my advice, and settled in as my new syndicate cheer squad.

Let us pause, because I hear you all asking the same question. Why was I not at the track, if the horse was such a decent chance?

Fair point. The original plan was very different. A drive back to Brisbane from our beachside holiday was on the cards. Until we put it to the vote.

The girls had lodged their verdict before I’d finished the question. No way were they going to endure a few hours in the car, when they could be enjoying the glorious sun and surf. Especially for a dumb horse race.

In the end, I had to agree with them. I couldn’t bring myself to put a shirt on, let alone long pants and shoes. And I’m pretty sure the good folk at Doomben wouldn’t have wanted me in the Members wearing my board shorts.

So that’s how I ended up in the pub. With strict instructions from the girls, that I had to be back for our afternoon surf session.

In running, he looked the best of things. I may have mentioned this, loudly, to no-one in particular.

Jeff Lloyd angled for a run, and the big chestnut surged. I brought the whip out in the bar, to lend a helping hand.

The finish was tight, but no-one could hear the caller. Because I had found a volume I wasn’t aware existed. The windows rattled, and glasses shook, as I urged him home.

It was then that I banged my hand on the table. Several times. And screamed Yes. Several times. It was something like Meg Ryan’s famous restaurant scene with Billy Crystal, in a Pub Tab. I’m sure someone in the adjoining bar whispered “I’ll have what he’s having.”

It was everything I hate seeing in others while trying to watch a race. But I couldn’t help it. After colic, and shin soreness, and wet tracks, and outside barriers, and sheer bloody bad luck, we’d done it. Our boy was a winner.

The young blokes were yelling too. And slapping me on the back. The old blokes were gathering their belongings to leave. Dirty, no doubt, that they’d ignored the tip.

When I came to my senses, I apologised, and asked if I could buy them a beer as a peace-offering. Too late. They’d be writing their complaint letter to the publican right about now.

My young friends had no hesitation in accepting a free drink. They were genuinely excited. That’s what racing does.

The mobile phone was in meltdown, with mates messaging from all over. They all knew how long we’d waited. Another wonderful part of the industry we love.

On any other race day, I would have been the last to leave the track. But not this one. An hour after correct weight, I was back in the surf. The girls were excited too. They were on promises of new bikinis if the photo-finish went our way.

If you were in the bar on Wednesday, or happen to live in surrounding streets, please accept my apologies. To the publican, thanks for erasing those security videos.

Part of being an owner, however small, is the fact that you can go crazy every now and then. It’s in the handbook.

Now that I think of it, me being off-track might be our lucky charm. It could be the secret to his success. I still reckon we can win the Cox Plate. Does anyone know a little pub near Mooney Valley?

A man needs a hobby. Why not buy a racehorse?

July 28, 2012

A mate of mine is looking for something new.

Been a sportsman all his life. Played footy, and tennis, but his great love is cricket.

He was still involved up until a few months ago. When they won the local competition. At 45 years old. He celebrated like they’d won the World Cup.

After such a triumph, he’s decided to hang up the whites. Which means he needs something else to do.

As we chatted about the path ahead, he threw up the possibility of buying into a racehorse. He loves a punt, and reckons ownership could become his new interest.

My advice was simple. Get in immediately.

It’s such a wonderful, exciting, frustrating, painful, excruciating, yet thrilling ride. What more could a sports fan ask for?

Our horse is spelling. Again. Cruelled by an incredible run of wet tracks. Like his part-owner, he can’t lift his feet when called on to run in the mud.

So he’ll enjoy life in the paddock for a while. Again. This, after an early bout of colic, two rounds of shin soreness, and a cut from the bloody walking machine.

I did mention this ownership caper is fun, didn’t I? Well, as crazy as it sounds after detailing our present woes, it is.

Patience is the key. So they keep telling us. Wait for him to mature, to grow into his giant frame, and get on to a dry track sometime before 2020.

And wait we will. Because we love the involvement. It IS exciting, every time we hear that’s he’s going around.

A few weeks back, he stormed home at  Doomben mid-week, to just miss a place at odds. It was like we’d seen the Second Coming. That one run was enough for us to make plans for next year’s Cox Plate. Hope, however faint, keeps the owner alive.

We’ve seen precisely nothing since. Nought. Bloody rain is to blame. It will all be different after his spell.

I have other friends bitten by the ownership bug. Another great mate has two on the go. He’s driving all over New South Wales, as they progress through the grades. And he’s loving every single minute.

We see ourselves sharing favouritism in a Group One event in the not too distant future. Fighting out the photo finish. Winner’s shout that night. If you want to be a decent owner, you have to dream big.

He sent me a text yesterday. They were running at Newcastle today. Right up until the horse picked up a cold. Scratched with a sneeze. It’s enough to make a bloke sick.

I haven’t told my other mate about all these problems. He’ll learn, soon enough. The list of things that can wrong as an owner runs many pages. But none of it matters on the day they salute. The beer never tastes so good.

I hope he goes ahead with it. We might have to plan for a three-way photo in that big race. As long as he’s happy to shout.  Owners need all the help we can get.

Track too wet. Race too short. He finished second last. So why are the owners still smiling?

April 21, 2012

Do a headcount at a city meeting midweek. Any week. If you’ve counted above three figures, you’re obviously including trainers and jockeys.

This week, it didn’t matter. Our horse was running. Finally, his first start.

Want to meet an optimist? Let me introduce you to a racehorse owner. We’re a special breed. We only think positives. Tell us we can’t win, and we’ll cover our ears.

It’s taken forever to get our bloke to this stage. He’s a giant of a thing. We had to be patient, and let him develop. He got bigger, as our wallets got smaller. Growing in the paddock. Day after day. But we’re a happy bunch.

He had colic as a youngster. Nearly died. They told us his recovery was ‘remarkable’. And some other medical stuff. But that’s the word we remembered.

After what seemed like an eternity, he made it into Rob Heathcote’s stable. Queensland’s top trainer liked him. ‘Could be anything’, he said. And some other training stuff. But they’re the words we remembered.

The strappers raved about him. Trackwork riders gave glowing reports. ‘Does it easy’, they’d say. And some other jockey stuff. But that’s the phrase we remembered.

Then he got shin sore. Off to the paddock. I felt his pain. He returned, and gradually got back into work. The wraps continued. Then he went shin sore again. I couldn’t walk for a week.

Good owners ooze patience. We have to. We look forward, and dream, and ignore negatives. We live for any signs of hope.

He came back into work again. We told each other the time away was actually a good thing. Just what he needed. Fully grown now, and no damage done. Positives.

And so here we were, on a Wednesday at Eagle Farm, men and women, chattering away like schoolkids getting ready for camp.

Like so many others, we’re part of a syndicate. People from all walks of life, joined by a love of the game. Some, we met for the first time. Just like that, we’re brothers and sisters.

He was led out by the strapper, and looked amazing. Bigger than the rest. Majestic. Our pre-race talk was all professional, but deep down, we just wanted to hug him.

Damian Browne came out with our colours on. I wanted to hug him too. One of Australia’s best, a Group One winner, riding our horse. What a thrill.

The trainer gathered us around. We felt important. Rob told us his plan for the race. A gentle jibe at his mate, the jockey. We laughed on cue. Nervously.

There was a warning about how hard it is for a horse to win on debut. Especially on a wet track. But he’d shown plenty on the training track, this bloke. That was enough for us. Bets on please.

We took our seats in the stand. Owners from other syndicates were all around. Only one of us could win, but everyone had that feeling. Positive. Optimistic. THIS will be our day.

The race was a blur. Over in a flash. We jumped awkwardly. Floundered in the going. Bloody wet track. Our giant lad was never a hope. He needs more distance. Just as we thought.

We listened to Damian and Rob post-race. Don’t despair, they said. Doesn’t handle the wet. And then, what we’d been hanging out for. “He needs it dry. He’ll be so much better for the run”. And some other soothing stuff. But that’s the message we remembered.

There’s no feeling like it. Whether it’s Race 4 on a Wednesday, or the Doncaster at Randwick, owners feel the same. Positive, and full of hope. That’s how we are.

They’ve promised we’ll have a dry track in a few weeks. And a bit more distance. Our plan is coming together beautifully. We’re owners, and we’re optimists. And there’s always next time.