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?

Words of wisdom from my favourite racing journos. The scribes to find you winners.

October 13, 2012

As a young racing fan, I grew up reading Bill Casey and Max Presnell.

While other young kiddies were brushing up on Macbeth and Mark Twain, I was learning about life from two great men of the track.

Casey made journalism look so easy. He was able to take us on his own remarkable journey. From the races to his local pub, we felt like we were at the bar with him.

He loved a laugh. Nothing was taken too seriously. Except when some bumbling administrator ran out of pies, or forgot the racebooks. Then the paint would come off the walls.

He seemed to know everyone. A bulging contact book. And not all the names were above-board. That’s what made his stories so fascinating.

His love of the racing caper jumped off the page. There was a passion, especially when someone had done the wrong thing. And he stressed the importance of history in the art of finding a winner.

Max Presnell does it to this day. Constantly reminding us that everything old is new again. That winning training methods and jockey techniques have been around since Banjo Patterson was leaning on the outer rail.

Speaking of the great Banjo, dig up some of his stuff, if you want to see how racing journalism helped portray our earliest days. Wonderful accounts of hard luck stories and dodgy characters.

It’s those characters that turn a good racing yarn into a cracking one. Because the racetrack, and the agencies involved in the punt, are full of them.

If you haven’t read anything by Les Carlyon, you are missing out big time. No-one writes better accounts of all things Australian. From Gallipoli to Bart Cummings, and all photo-finishes in between.

He can describe a thoroughbred like no other. Reminding us that these amazing animals are more than just horses.

Les understands how trainers think, and why jockeys wait until the 200 metre pole to let loose. He’s able to put us in the thick of an early morning trackwork session, because he’s stood there frozen so many times himself.

Again, the passion shines through. A writer’s love of the industry.

Read Kenny Callander’s book, and you’ll take a trip with a man who has spent a life mixing in circles your mum might not have approved of. If you’re like me, you’ll be jealous. So many adventures, involving so many interesting people.

Like Presnell, Ken has been around since they ran the first Cup. Or so it seems.

His columns today pull no punches. He’ll take jockeys to task for questionable rides. Trainers will be asked how last week’s losing favourite was able to turn things around yesterday. The punter’s pal.

You don’t have to agree with him. That’s the beauty of it. Opinions are like bums. Everyone has one.

I love knowing that my favourite racing journos are mad punters. I want them putting their folding stuff on the things they’re spruiking. Winning and losing like the rest of us.

It pains me to see that Bart Sinclair is about to leave our racing pages. Another master of the game. And such a wonderful, decent man. In a time when hype can take over from fact, Bart gives us information over crap every time. Praise in measured doses, and gentle jibes when needed.

When racing administrators stuffed things up so badly in his home state, no-one was in their ribs more than Bart. He wouldn’t let up. Articles so powerful they ended up running on the front pages instead of the back. It took a while, but Bart won the day.

I like the work of plenty of today’s younger journos too. Nathan Exelby is a fine form analyst, who tells us stories that matter when it comes to making a dollar.

My mate Ben Dorries gets some ripper tales from jockeys and trainers. Stories from real people. An insight into the characters, that most punters don’t get to meet.

Sometimes I wonder if those in the industry’s shiny offices fully appreciate the work of these blokes, and my heroes before them.

More than just tips and results. That rare ability to dig under the surface, and make us love racing even more.

Enjoy their articles today. Share them, so others can too. Our industry has so many great yarns to tell. I reckon old Bill would be nodding from the Upstairs Bar.