My mate the racecaller. The bravest bloke I know.

August 3, 2013

We hear lots about bravery. Too often when talk turns to highly paid footballers doing what they’re paid to do.

I usually keep such terms for discussions about our troops. Or cops. People putting their lives on the line for the rest of us.

But I’m making an exception today. I want to give you an update on a bloke most of you already regard as an old friend.

Wayne Wilson was the voice of racing up here. For me, and thousands of others.

As I travelled around Queensland over many years, he was the one who told me whether I’d won or lost. Long before I was lucky enough to meet him, he dictated how my weekends would pan out.

It was not long after we got to know each other, that he became crook. You wouldn’t have known at the time. He didn’t miss a beat on the track. Bringing a Class One alive, and nailing another photo finish.

Bloody cancer. For a while, it didn’t look good. But Wayne had other ideas. He fought it, like a tiger. Explored other treatment options. And eventually came good.

When he decided it was time to retire from the caller’s box, he hatched a plan to do other things on course. Interviews and analysis of each race, beamed around the track.

I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more passion for the racing industry. Watch him on race day, and he can’t walk two steps without being collared by someone. A trainer, or a punter, or an official. All friends.

It was his young bloke who told me he’d become sick again. We’re workmates, and great mates. I admire how tight father and son are. They laugh, constantly.

But this was no laughing matter. The dreaded disease had come back.

Can you believe, Wayne and I had surgery on the same day? The racecaller and the punter, both under the knife within hours of each other.

Compared to what he’s gone through, my surgery was like having a band-aid removed. It’s fair to say he’s lost count of the bits they’ve taken out and shifted around.

I spoke to him the other day, and he sounded as if nothing had happened. Was more interested in how I was going. And that voice, was the same as I’d heard on my radio a thousand times.

He’s doing well. That positive attitude continues to shine through.

We promised that we’d both get out to the track again soon. A little celebration of what we’ve overcome.

The problem, of course, will be that I won’t get near him. He’ll be swamped by well-wishers. And he’ll talk to every single one of them.

He’ll be tipping me winners for a long time to come. My brave friend, who refuses to give in. Wayne, thanks for being such an inspiration.

Voices I’ve shared my Saturdays with. London to a Brick, we all have a favourite racecaller.

February 4, 2012

I spent more Saturdays with John Tapp than any girlfriend. We had a date, once a week, without fail. Him at the track. Me having a cool drink somewhere.

He was the voice I grew up with. Sure, there were others. Ian Craig, Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren, Bill Collins and Greg Miles. But they were just good friends. Tappy was my man.

My first memory of a racecaller goes back to the great Ken Howard. But only just. I was very young. Sitting around our mustard coloured kitchen table with Mum and Dad.

They would be listening to the daily double. Mum loved him. Dad would get annoyed. Especially when the famous phrase ‘London to a Brick’ came out. Even more so if he was losing.

The memories of Tappy are much stronger. Every Saturday, in the licensed establishment of our choice. We never doubted him. If he called the photo, we’d accept his decision. Can’t recall him getting too many wrong.

He made our rare wins so much more enjoyable. The bloke had a passion for every race he called. Genuine excitement when a good thing saluted. And he seemed to love Mick Dittman as much as we did.

Punters need a bond with their callers. Our job is tough enough as it is. No room for someone who leaves a horse out, or fails to share our optimism.

When I moved north all those years ago, the game changed. Tappy and I began a long distance relationship. He was still number one. But I found others.

Over time, the Queenslanders entered my heart. Especially sweating it out in Cairns.

No Sky Channel at home back then. So it was Wayne Wilson who painted the pictures for me at Eagle Farm and Doomben.

Again, that passion. It would jump out of my radio speaker. Every winner was special. Not that I was on many of them. Wayne made them all sound like champions.

It’s an art, the ability to make people far away feel like they’re trackside. Allow them to share in the joy of victory. I always had the feeling that Wayne was very aware of that in his calls.

I’m now honoured to call him a friend. Funny how this game works. That passion is still there, even though he’s retired. He loves the game, and all those in it.

With so much racing these days, getting such great coverage far and wide, we get to hear more callers than ever. Some reporting in from places that are dots on the map.

Most love what they do. But every now and then, I catch one less than enthusiastic with the task at hand. The class of horse they’re calling. Or the merit in the performance of the winner.

That irks me. Tappy and Wayne never did that. They knew that every race, no matter what it was, was important to someone. Maybe an owner. Maybe a bloke sweating on the trifecta numbers. Somewhere, there would be excitement at what was unfolding.

As long as the new breed of caller remembers that, we’ll get along just fine. Maybe even grow old together. Just like me and Tappy and Wayne.