Finding the perfect PubTAB. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

July 27, 2013

On the surface, having a punt in a pub should not pose too many difficulties.

There’s not much to it. Make your selection, fill out a ticket, place you bet, assume the position and get ready to buy the beers.

I should declare here, that I do have some experience in this field. Over many years. If there was a University of Pub Punting, I would at least be a Professor.

There’s nothing better than relaxing with friends in a place that gets it right. And there’s nothing worse than getting stuck in an establishment where the TAB operator doubles as the footpath sweeper.

You’ve all been there. And it’s a proven fact that it’s all but impossible to win in such joints.

One of my pet hates is when there’s no volume on the monitors. The joyful sound of the racecaller is muted. We must rely on the memory of the colours our good thing is wearing. And hope that our ageing eyes will stay in focus.

Some pubs only have one tote machine. Inevitably, it will be manned by a lovely lady, who was around when Phar Lap was a two year old. She will take her time. Especially when you have four blokes standing in front of you with seconds to spare.

I have been in establishments where the genius in charge decides it’s a good idea to have poker machines on the edge of the TAB area. It’s all gambling, after all. Nothing like those reels spinning while you’re trying to hear Greg Miles. If the sound is turned up.

I place bets on my you-beaut phone these days, but there are still times when I want to fill out a ticket. Maybe a sneaky trifecta or a little saver.

So often, I cannot find a sharp pencil. There will be exactly 1000 identical writing sticks, with not a hint of lead. Ink in the pens ran out the day Kingston Town went back to back.

Why is this? Is it a private joke, that publicans talk about at their annual conference?

One final annoyance. And it’s not usually the fault of the pub. Those places where the resident loudmouth takes centre stage.

He has two modes of operation. The first is to talk extremely loudly, while you’re watching a race. The second is to scream as if stabbed, in support of something he’s had one dollar each way on.

If someone would let me run a pub, he would be the first bloke I’d ban. Jack The Ripper could be at work behind the pool table, and he’d be allowed to stay ahead of this goose.

For all my complaining, there are plenty of places that get it right. The little pub down the road from me has a great feel every Saturday arvo. Plenty of room. Plenty of volume. Plenty of pencils.

My favourite surf club on the Gold Coast has the biggest screen you’ll ever see. You can be parking the car and you’ll still see who missed the start. Somehow, a losing afternoon is made a little more bearable with a view of the ocean. Only just, mind you.

Feel free to let your own publican know what you want, and what you don’t like. We suffer enough as punters. Fom my experience, they take such advice in the best possible way. Just don’t expect to hear a race for the next twelve months. And start bringing your own pencil.

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?

Strike up the band. These oldies can dance. Just don’t be late for dinner.

November 13, 2012

My favourite pub allows old people to dance.

Amazing, I know. Right there in front of everyone. Ancient moves for all to see.

There would be publicans in doof-doof establishments who would hand in their trading licence, before they’d allow a measured twirl on the floor. If only they knew what they were missing.

This elderly fun and frivolity occurs every Sunday afternoon. They pack the dance floor. Men and women who remember how to have a good time. There’s much laughter. And some fancy moves.

It’s no community dance hall. The drinks flow freely. This mob was having a good time before colour tv. Yep, THAT long ago.

One bloke seems to be the star. He’s a regular. Must be in his eighties. Always immaculately dressed. And a smile that might be painted on.

I believe there’s a rule that he can dance with any woman he wants. And he does.

The band plays jazz music. Now, I’m not usually a jazz fan. But in the pub, with this crew, the vibe is magical. A basic, raw sound.

It should be said that the band members have been doing these gigs for a very long time. I believe the piano player performed for Churchill the night before his first big wartime speech. No wonder he was pumped.

At some stage in the afternoon, each gets to do a solo. Trumpet, trombone, drums. Always to rousing applause.

At six o’clock, on the dot, the music stops. Everyone goes home. The first time I saw it I thought there’d been a bomb threat, so quickly did the floor empty. Early dinner waits for no-one. And it’s a tiring job, this dancing caper.

What makes these sessions even more appealing, is that these groovy grannies and grandpas share their Sunday with a whole heap of others.

In another part of the pub, the young hipsters are doing their thing, to a driving beat. Head in the other direction, and the punters are at work. And the pool players. Such an Aussie mix.

I know who has the most fun. And it pains me to say that in this instance, it’s not those having a flutter.

Long live the high-stepping, thigh-slapping seniors. Where the ladies keep their shoes on, and the gents tuck their shirts in. Except those wearing delightful Hawaiian numbers.

They remind us that there’s no age limit on having a good time. And that the retiree in front of you in the supermarket aisle, was partying before most of us were born.

Just don’t expect to see them in action after six. Even the wildest jazz dancers have to get their beauty sleep.

The bus driver, the loudmouth and the veteran. And me. How we helped Black Caviar win again.

January 28, 2012

It was a scene repeated in pubs all over the land.

People from all walks of life. All shapes and sizes. Young and old. All finding a spot to watch a champion.

I ran out of time on the way home last night. Couldn’t risk missing the Mighty Mare continue her record-breaking run. So I made a detour to our friendly neighborhood tavern.

I’d cheered Black Caviar before at home. And at the track. But never at the pub.

It wasn’t crowded. In fact, there were just six of us in front of the big screen.

The Loudmouth was explaining to no-one in particular how they should be taking her on. The other trainers are crazy, he yelled. Have a go, and take the prizemoney for second. That’s what he’d do.

His business shirt was untucked, as he continued to tell us his version of The Black Caviar story. I was straining to hear Greg Miles as they headed to the barriers, just as The Loudmouth declared she would be beaten one day.

The Veteran was sitting. His shirt was flannelette. He wasn’t drinking, or betting. Just watching. He’d seen plenty before. And he knew this would be special.

The Bus Driver was still in uniform. Wide as he was tall. He may have left his glasses on board. Because he kept getting up, to check the tote odds. Then he’d sit down. And get up. And sit down. Did he think she would blow out late, so he could plonk the day’s fares on her?

The Young Blokes couldn’t stop smiling. Two of them. They wouldn’t have known Phar Lap. Or Kingston Town. They would still have been in school when Makybe Diva was winning Cups.

But they knew Black Caviar. Both were texting about her, and laughing. The Veteran gave them a look. They didn’t notice.

One minute to race time. I looked around the pub. A table of twenty-somethings with caps on backwards were facing the other way. Others, too, ignoring the moment. If only the Loudmouth had time to tell them what they were missing out on.

As she jumped from barrier one, someone behind the bar turned the volume up. No-one spoke. We watched, and waited.

No surprises. They went hard up front, in the hope today would be their day. It wouldn’t be.

She cruised up to the leaders. Luke was sitting with his feet on the dashboard. They were in overdrive. She was having a track gallop.

As she approached the finish line, the Bus Driver jumped to his feet. The Young Blokes laughed, and gave each other High-Fives. The Loudmouth was lost for words. For a few seconds. And the Veteran just nodded.

It was then that I realised I was clapping. Standing on the floor of the pub,  applauding this amazing champion, and everyone involved with her. No-one minded.

And that was it. The night Black Caviar won her 17th consecutive race. Some were at Mooney Valley. Other in their lounge room. I was with a motley crew, in a pub, where they had Aerosmith playing before Correct Weight was declared.

Champions do that. They give us moments we’ll never forget. Wherever we happen to be. They make us smile, and clap. And nod. What’s even more fun, is that we’re all on this amazing journey together.

No Black Caviar. No movie stars. And empty pockets. Sandown, you need to woo me.

November 12, 2011

Saturday at Sandown after the Flemington Spring carnival is a bit like visiting your second favourite pub.

You know they do things better down the road, but you’re still happy enough to drop in for a pie and a pint.

It’s the same scenario for State of Origin players, heading back to club footy after a Suncorp Stadium triumph. You have to do it. But it’s not quite the same.

I run into similar problems after Stradbroke Day in Brisbane. Just seven days later, we’re in the massive crowd for Ipswich Cup day. Trying to work out which weekend the favourite was actually set for.

I’ve never been to Sandown. I’m sure it’s pleasant, and that they put on a fine show, like every other big race day in the southern capital.

It should be said, however, that my instinct at this time of year is to spell myself, to recover from the flogging I endured over Cup week.

For the purposes of research only, and in the interest of you, dear reader, I shall ignore that instinct, and saddle up again.

So how do we find a winner, with only the sounds of coins jangling in our pockets? Good question.

In most races, we have to decide whether they were unlucky over the carnival, or just not good enough.

Would they rather be picking buffalo turf in the paddock, reminiscing about chasing a Group One rump, instead of trying for a Group 2 or 3 consolation?

The Sandown Classic provides an annual headache, for those of us still trying to work out how we did so badly in the Melbourne Cup.

Usually, we see a stack of horses backing up from the great race, and every year I forget how the form will stack up.

Stayers who’ve been trained to the minute for the great two-mile race, dropping back in distance at the tricky Sandown track.

No such problems this year. Only five runners will face the starter. How does that happen? Hardly makes for a memorable day.

And that’s a shame. For the first time, the race will be known as the Zipping Classic. Yes, another name change. That great old horse deserved better.

Americain will win easily, at no price. Connections must be giggling. Easy pickings for them, but not much fun for the punter.

I hate to be negative, but the rest of the card is hardly inspiring either. We’ll do our best to find a winner, as always. And it’s still better than fixing the bathroom tiles.

The problem, you see, is that we’ve been spoiled. It’s hard to move on, after the greatest week of racing on the planet. But accept it we must. Remember, there’s only one Cup week.

Yes, it would be nice if we were still at Flemington. No use complaining I suppose. After all, the beer is still cold at your second favourite pub.

Old blokes sing and young blokes dance. The perils of a night at the pub.

August 23, 2011

The loudest singing was coming from the two oldest blokes in the crowded pub.

Yes, it was well past our bedtimes. We just couldn’t help ourselves.

I’m tired of the city life. Summer’s on the run. People tell me I should stay. But I’ve got to get my fun.

It’s what happens when old mates catch up. No shock to many of you.

The Dragon theme song was given a rousing rendition. At our table. To the bemusement of those around us.

So don’t try and hold me back. Ain’t nothin’ you can say. Snakes eyes on a pair of dice. And we got to go today…

When order was restored, and the tunes returned to this century, we got to talking about serious life matters. Like how pubs, and those who frequent them, have changed.

Our reminiscing was taking place at my favourite Brisbane pub, The Caxton. You may have heard of it. Next door to the city’s most famous footy stadium, the old Lang Park.

If you’re from another land, don’t worry. It’s just like your favourite. Picture the place that makes you feel good as soon as you walk through the door.

Everyone should have a hotel like that. In any city, there’ll be one place that puts you totally at ease. The barmaid might even know your name. Cue the theme song from Cheers.

I should add here, management of the Caxton wouldn’t know me from Adam. So this isn’t about getting a free drink. Unless of course…

I’ve always been attracted to hotels with soul. Granted, in some places you had to look hard through the dust and the grime to see it, but it was there.

Gents of my vintage tend to talk at length over refreshments. Solving world issues. Re-writing footy history. We do this by sitting, or leaning. For hours.

Males of the younger generation seem to like dancing. Not so much sitting or leaning. How do they tell their stories?

The young fellows are also supremely confident. When not busting moves, they actually TALK to girls. Even if they don’t know them. And the females seem to like it.

Thirty years ago, that just didn’t happen. Not in our circle anyway. We were too busy sitting and leaning.

My first memory of a drinking establishment goes back to an age where those of the fairer sex weren’t welcome in the main bar.

On a Friday after work, Dad would drive us to the local. But he didn’t like drinking inside without mum.

He’d find a spot for our old Holden in the car park, disappear for a minute,  and return with a tray of drinks. A beer, a shandy, and a red lemonade.

Mum would open the glove box, and they’d balance their drinks on the lid. I’d gulp my soft drink in the back seat, trying hard not to spill any.

Dad stopped going a few years after that. The Friday ritual moved to our backyard, under the famous Orange Tree. Everyone was welcome.

After I turned eighteen, it’s fair to say that a great amount of time was spent on licensed premises. A few cool drinks, punting and playing pool. What a catch I was.

(If The Teenager and Daughter Two happen to be reading this, that last bit was a lie. I totally made it up. All I did as a young man was study hard and clean my room.)

Come to think of it, I might keep the rest of my pub stories for another day. When the young folk are in bed.

It was great to catch up with an old chum the other night. But it might be a while before I get back.

It’s hard for a veteran party boy to admit it, but home is as much fun these days. The deck with the comfy lounge has become my Orange Tree.

You won’t see much dancing. Possibly some singing before bedtime. And lots of talking to three fun ladies. Until they get forced inside by all that noise.

Take me to the April Sun In Cuba. Ohohoh. Take me where the April Sun gonna treat me so right. So Right.