A bit like batting after Bradman. Can Hay List become the star of the show?

May 27, 2011

The mighty mare cocked her regal head in the float. Was that cheering she could hear? Not the roar she was used to. More relieved, sustained hooting.

Black Caviar’s driver, too, pricked his ears. He’d only just begun the long journey back to Peter Moody’s Victorian palace. And here they were on Nudgee Road, just up from Eagle Farm, being whistled at.

If they’d looked closely, they would have spotted a bloke and his horse, celebrating roadside. Trainer John McNair pulling party poppers, and Australia’s second best sprinter stomping those hulking hooves.

Who could blame them? Finally, Hay List gets his chance to shine.

Punters know how game McNair’s gelding has been. All those seconds, behind the great One. Lesser types would be crushed. But not these two.

While She was treated like royalty in her custom-built Brisbane stable, Hay List was left to bunk with the rest. When they came out for the BTC Cup, it was like 20,000 fans saw right through him. But not McNair.

All along, he’s been up for the fight. Giving his bloke every possible chance. Refusing to believe that She couldn’t be beaten.

He was still thinking that, right up to the time they hit the bend two weeks back. Then Luke Nolen pressed the go button. Whoosh. Game over. Second again.

The Gosford trainer was generous in his praise of the winner. Yes, She’s too good. For everyone.

But now, She’s gone. And there’s a new hot-pot in town. Except he’s been here all along.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the path ahead is easy. It’s a bit like coming in to bat after Bradman‘s just made another 200. Not a heap of upside. Plenty of potential downside.

Hay List is a deserving short-priced favourite for the Doomben 10,000. The form line says it all. And not just in the contests against Her.

In Brisbane’s winter carnival last year, Hay List blitzed a handy field in the Healy Stakes. Five lengths easing up. It was one of the most impressive wins we’d seen.

It was just expected that he’d come back and sweep all before him. Didn’t quite work out that way.

He should win. Easily. Clearly the best horse in the race. But unlike Her, he’s not foolproof. Those taking the skinny odds could face an anxious few minutes.

Again, Buffering is the knockout chance. The Heathcote team is flying. Queensland’s top trainer calls this bloke the stable bulldog. The battle could be another carnival highlight.

But for the sake of John McNair’s health, let’s hope it’s Hay List’s day. Another second just wouldn’t be fair. They deserve some time in the sun. Much easier to shine without pesky world champions in the mix.

Exciting times with strangers and friends (and how I nearly killed a trainer..)

April 12, 2011

For a split second, Queensland’s leading trainer thought he was a goner.

What a way to go. Train a winner, and seconds later be knocked over the grandstand balcony.

Luckily Rob Heathcote saw me coming. At a frenzied pace, from a few rows behind. He braced just in time to hold my weight, as I grabbed him like a small boy latches onto Santa Claus. Not that Rob was built like Santa. Although I will say it was before the diet kicked in.

Anyway, it was a close thing. In my excitement I almost sent us both toppling over the rail, where we would have taken out a squadron of strappers.

That’s what owners do. Even part-owners. Even part-owners who own roughly a section of the tail.

The thrill of winning a Saturday race. It’s a sensation that some might find a little difficult to comprehend. After all, we’re not talking Melbourne Cup here. Just an Open Class event, the kind run on metropolitan tracks across Australia every weekend.

The horse in question was the mighty Beartracker. Honest as the day is long.

Small in stature but with a huge heart.

That day, he loomed up to the leaders in that long Eagle Farm straight. He went past them. And kept going.

As he approached the winning post, I realised I was screaming like a young girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Screaming and jumping. Then I thought I would have a heart attack. Right there in the Owners’ section. Then I screamed again. And headed to lay kisses on our trainer.

As Larry Cassidy brought the Bear back to scale, to the cheers of a small section of the crowd, I realised I had to behave like a responsible owner, in the company of mature and experienced racing people. So I screamed again. And hugged anyone within reach.

Winning connections get to go into the committee room. This is a time-honoured practice. Winners of Stradbrokes have stood at that bar.  We were offered beers to celebrate. They were in tiny glasses, so we had several.

Someone important made a very nice speech, and we clapped, and had several more tiny beers. I knew screaming Bieber-like was frowned upon in such company, so I made do with more hugs.

Apparently, the idea is to move out of the room soon after the speech, so that the committee members can prepare for the next batch of lucky owners. No-one told us that. We had another tray of mini ales, before being politely tossed out. Next stop – trainers’ bar.

I love that bar. It’s small and old and can’t fit everyone. But only a select few get invited in, and we were that day. Rob was kind enough not to mention my clumsy display of affection in the stands. Then he was off to saddle up more winners, and we made our way to embark on more celebrations.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like winning a race is in any way linked to the abuse of alcohol. There are strict guidelines for such activities. Apparently.

I believe the day ended with a very nice dinner at a fancy restaurant nearby. I’m told one of our party attempted to call the final 200 metres of the big win, while standing on a chair. His tie may or may not been undone. And his voice was hoarse from all that screaming.

In some countries, only the rich and famous get to experience such fun. Lords and their lucky lasses. Here, we all get to have a crack. And that’s primarily through syndication. A bunch of people from all walks of life, thrown together with a dream. To win a race. Any race.

There are some great syndicators out there. Gathering people who love the racing game, but can’t afford a horse themselves. Or even a large chunk of a horse. A small share is enough to get you jumping up and down in grandstands, and slobbering on jockeys, without spending a fortune. Go in with some friends, and it’s the same as shelling out on a carton of fancy grog a month.

Imagine if someone had invited you to race a yearling, a filly with a big bum, that they’d eventually name Black Caviar? Even scarier, imagine if you knocked them back?

We all hope that somehow, we’ll stumble into the next champion. Yes, it’s long odds. Most of them struggle to run faster than me. Some don’t make it onto the track.

We’re no longer with the Bear. He had a lengthy spell, but is now back, trying his heart out. His photo hangs proudly on the wall.

Our new syndicate is now ready to race a 2 year old. Very, very exciting. And he doesn’t even have a name yet. Horse owners are the supreme optimists. Someone prepare those tiny beers. And Rob Heathcote, be warned. Stay away from that railing.