Parents who cheer the cheerleaders. How we’re all caught up in the sport of the future.

June 19, 2012

It takes a special woman to get away with wearing a huge pink hair bow.

If the lady in question is, shall we say, of an age, then it’s an even greater challenge.

Our compere at the World Cup Cheer tournament cared nought about such observations.

She was the happiest hostess I’ve seen in many a day. Or, more to the point, heard.

No-one else got near that microphone. Mother Pink Bow was everything cheerleading is. Loud, colourful, and vibrant.

Her helpers had them too. More pink bows than Mardi Gras.

Until recently, I didn’t even know cheerleading was a sport. Sure, I’d seen colourful routines at half time in the footy. But this is something else.

My first taste of the cheer world came through Hollywood. If you’re the mum or dad of a dancing teenage girl, you’ve seen one of the ‘Bring it On’ movies.

The franchise has spawned flick after flick. I think they’re up to number nine. And I’ve sat through every single one. Several times over.

For those who prefer Clint Eastwood on the big screen, let me explain. The films are about high school cheerleaders. Usually from a disadvantaged school, on the wrong side of town.

After some early cat fighting, they unite as one, and do incredible cheer routines, to overwhelm the rich kids with two left feet.

They’ve been going forever. The next installment will be based in a nursing home. A bunch of purple rinsers will throw away zimmer frames and do a routine in the common room, infuriating the old blokes who won’t be able to see the soapies on tv. ‘Bring it On – But Not Until After My Afternoon Nap.’

Anyway, I digress. It IS indeed a sport. One of the fastest growing in the land. And The Teenager loves it.

She’s been training like a demon. Some of the sessions go three hours. Our little girl has never been fitter.

The routines are part dance, part gymnastics, part pep-rally. Incredibly fast, choreographed to the second, set to a mash-up of modern music. Which is sometimes drowned out by the screaming crowd.

There are 30 members in her team. One of the bigger groups. Uniforms are bright, to match the spirits of those taking part. Smiles are compulsory.

In this section, there were more than 60 different teams competing. Even accounting for my bad maths, that’s over 15-hundred girls in action.

Some run, some jump, and others are thrown into the air. They’re caught, most of the time. It’s dangerous, high-flying stuff. Even more so, when you consider some of those doing the flying were watching the Wiggles just a few years ago.

As an old footy-head, I’ve been yearning for the girls to be in a team sport. You can’t beat the spirit and bond that comes from accomplishing a goal with a bunch of mates.

One team even had a mascot. A dad, of course. Bouncing around in a hot, sweaty outfit, complete with giant head. The things we do.

The auditorium was packed. There must have been 2-thousand people there. More than some Sydney NRL games. And here they were, these high-kicking kids, showing nerves of steel.

As I watched the routines roll across the afternoon, interrupted only by Mother Pink Bow telling parents not to take photos (for the safety of the kids – how sad), I was also struck by how confident these kids were.

I’m tipping school bullies would be giving this lot a big miss. And that’s a wonderful thing. Skyrocketing self-esteem, from hard work and loud music.

There’s room for everyone, too. Girls large and small. Heavy and tiny. And a couple of lucky blokes, who get to do the lifting.

It’s not often you find a new sport. Now that I have, I’m hooked. Just like The Teenager. You’ll find us at the next competition. I wonder if they have those pink bows for dads?

The perils of change. And replacement jockeys. Another way for punters to do their dough.

September 24, 2011

I loathe change.

Call me a creature of habit. And proud of it. At home, and work, and on the punt.

Giggle if you like. I don’t mind. I’m old and I can take your barbs.

I just think there’s something to be said for routine. And nowhere is it more important than the sporting arena.

My heart sinks when a halfback pulls out of a footy team. There goes the game plan.

Watch a decent cricket side when a new wicket keeper comes in. Nothing is smooth, no matter how talented the gloveman might be.

In the racing game, I would suggest that change should be avoided whenever possible. Or you’ll end up with loose change.

Late switches? Disastrous. Avoid like the plague. If it involves a jockey, run from the room and wave your arms in the air.

You know where I’m heading here. Although we’ve gone around the block to get there. Smart Missile today at Caulfield. Minus an injured Glen Boss.

His replacement is one of the world’s best. Brett Prebble is a gun. I’d back him anywhere he’s riding. But not today.

Here’s my theory. Based on absolutely no scientific evidence. Horses get to know their jockeys. They relax just that little bit more with a buddy up top. Especially the good ones.

Think Greg Childs and Sunline. Nolen and Black Caviar. Boss and Makybe Diva. Cassidy and Might and Power. They go better for those they know.

I can hear you chortling. Yes, they were champions anyway. Yes, they had other jockeys ride them. But you’re missing my point. And yes, I have one.

Smart Missile, the 3-year-old with a mind of his own, will be looking for Bossy this afternoon. His voice, and his touch. Instead, he’ll get Prebble. A bloke who was in Hong Kong yesterday.

I can hear you screaming examples to prove what a fool I am. Well, save your breath. I have my own painful story.

Yes, this policy has brought me unstuck big time before. Guess who the jockey was? G Boss.

It was the 1995 Golden Slipper. In the weeks before, I’d been following an unpredictable Freedman colt at long odds. Flying Spur.

He drew the inside gate in the Slipper. Jim Cassidy had the ride. At the time, no-one was riding better than the Pumper.

I’d declared him to anyone silly enough to listen. A major collect was looming. Until disaster struck.

The Pumper was outed the day before the big race. The infamous Jockey Tapes affair. Replaced by a young bloke from Queensland.

It was too much for me. As much as I thought the horse was the best in the field, I couldn’t bring myself to embrace the late change.

You know the rest. Flying Spur, with Boss riding for his life, saluted at 25 to 1. Beat Octagonal. I watched the tragedy unfold in a Cairns pub. And cried.

Did I learn my lesson? No. And over time, despite that horrible mistake, I reckon results have averaged my way, whenever change has been in the wind.

So, no Smart Missile for me today. It will be Woorim’s day. With his trusted jockey, Damian Browne, up top. Snug as a pair of old boots. First Group 1 for Rob Heathcote. Start chilling stubbies at the stables now.

I’m happy for you to tell me how wrong I am. Just not right now. I’m reading the papers. And you can’t change routine.

Introducing a Kiwi who won’t choke this Spring. A jockey you should be backing.

September 10, 2011

Punters are a funny lot.

We don’t stray too far from what we know.

Routine is everything. We’re loyal to trainers that do the right thing by us. Those who let us down? Welcome to the Never Again club.

We’ll ban courses that we don’t like. And complain about track bias. I have weeds the size of palm trees at home, but I pretend to know exactly how short the grass should be at Randwick.

And of course, we have our favourite jockeys. They’d be the ones who regularly fill our pockets with folding stuff.

For every hoop we worship, there’s another we wouldn’t support with free fifties. A bit like dentists. Once you find one that doesn’t inflict too much pain, you don’t need to visit another.

I know blokes who won’t back female jockeys. No matter how good they are. Others can’t cop apprentices. The old story; claim 3 kilos, put 4 back on.

You could be aiming a gun at me and I still wouldn’t back a European rider during carnival time. I’ll tell you this much. They lose more than they win.

So we stick to Nolen, and Oliver, and Rawiller, and Brown, and Munce.

Well, here’s another. If you’re not backing him, you should be.

Damian Browne is no spring chicken. He’s been around the block more than once. But he’s good. Bloody good.

Bart Sinclair gave him a wrap this week. And Rob Heathcote has been singing his praises to anyone who’ll listen.

If Brisbane’s top trainer finally cracks it for an overdue Group One this Spring, you can bet it will be Browne doing the steering.

Plenty of keen punters are awake to him now. But others still leave him out, when the discussion moves to our best jockeys. That puzzles me.

A good judge and I started backing him a few years back. We’d found ourselves in a pub on a Sunday afternoon. That was unusual for both of us, so we celebrated with cool drinks and a flutter.

My mate had been told good things by another jockey. Both Kiwis. We decided not to hold that against them. It was a wise decision.

That Sunday meeting wasn’t the best ever held at the Sunshine Coast. But Damian kept riding winners. Four of them. And we were on the lot.

We followed him in the weeks ahead, and his amazing strike rate continued. Often at odds.

There have been problems along the way. He’s no lightweight. And lady luck has been anything but kind.

He shouldn’t be walking. The same leg, broken twice in two years. They patched him up with plates and screws, and told him to find another hobby.

Browne ignored them. Typical Kiwi. It took an age, but he came back.

For a while he was restricted to 4 rides a meeting. He was in pain too. Didn’t complain though. He’d convinced himself there were better times ahead.

How right he was. The jockey formerly known as DJ in the form guide, is riding winners all over the place.

There is a coolness under pressure, that you see with the greats. He doesn’t panic. Ever. I can’t remember seeing him go early.

Horses just travel for him. Soft hands. And he stays out of trouble. Very rare to see a horse where it shouldn’t be. You won’t hear hard luck tales from him, because he makes his own luck.

Today he’s on show at Mooney Valley. On the top Heathcote chances, Buffering and Woorim. He’ll stay with them through the carnival, and a few others too.

Buffering is the bulldog. Heathcote loves this horse. They’ll need to be at their best to grab him today.

And Woorim? My favourite horse. Just watch what Browne does with him as they approach the corner. It will be pretty.

I hope you find room to include the little Kiwi from Queensland in your racing routine. He’ll get you a dollar or two. If not today, in the weeks ahead.

Unless, of course, the curse of the World’s Worst Punter strikes. They have to be good to carry my support. Wish him luck. He’s been through enough already.