My Stradbroke punting disaster. Breaking the golden rule in picking our big winner.

June 9, 2012

It was a modern-day racing tragedy.

Two men, who should have backed a big winner, but didn’t. And took turns at kicking themselves.

We were only ever going to back one horse on Stradbroke Day last year. For months, we’d spruiked Sincero. Told our mates, and colleagues, and long-suffering families.

We giggled to each other about how clever we were. About the odds we’d pinch early. How we’d be ordering the specials at Chinese that night.

You see, we had secret info. My Great Mate was on the inside. He knows Sincero’s regular jockey, Chris O’Brien. They’re good buddies. The hoop rides for him down south.

The camp was supremely confident in the weeks before. This would be a raid that the Queenslanders wouldn’t see coming. Except we knew.

Then, two things occurred. Two shattering, confidence-sapping events.

Sincero flopped in his lead up run to the big race. Thrashed. The bookies wound his price out. We got nervous.

Then there was a change of jockey. O’Brien was no chance of making the weight. Our man was no longer in the saddle. Replaced for the grand final.

What happened next still haunts me. Some blamed it on our big Friday night. Too many brain cells lost.

Others thought we were just plain dills. Unable to follow a punting plan through. Not worthy of winning.

Hard to argue with any of that. Because on that Saturday, we stood in the Eagle Farm stand, and changed our minds. Just like that. Put our cash on something else. I can’t even remember what it was.

You know the rest. The black colours swept to the front. Two hearts sank. We both knew .. three hundred metres out. Home in a canter.

Those around us expressed shock at the ease of the win. “Who would have backed that?”, they asked. If only they knew.

It pains me to admit that I have form for going off the Stradbroke winner. In 2004, I had walked onto the track ready to launch into Bob Thompson’s colt, Thorn Park.

Similar circumstances. Declared it weeks before. Tipped it to all and sundry. And then, minutes out, changed my mind.

I can still see where I was standing. A tote line, in a fancy corporate tent. With too much time to think.

I had just been given a tip. For a donkey that would jump from a barrier so wide it was positioned in Racecourse Road.

I looked at the blinking odds on the TV above me, and got greedy. A juicy price, for a galloper being tipped by a judge way smarter than me.

And so I changed my mind. Just like that. You know the rest. The yellow colours swept to the front. Daylight second. For a punter, there’s no lower feeling.

I forgot that bitter lesson last year. Never again.

So, here it is. The golden rule for backing the Stradbroke winner. Stay solid. Stick with what you’ve liked for weeks. Don’t be swayed by others.

So what have I liked for weeks? The Snowden flying machine, Mental. An absolute special. Except for one tiny detail. It hasn’t made the field.

Instead, it will win a race earlier in the day at ridiculous odds. And leave me guessing again in the big one.

There’s no hope for me today, but it’s not too late for you. Back your own judgement. And if you a spot a bloke in a tote line, staring blankly at the TV above, throw him a tip. I need all the help I can get.

Telling old blokes where to go this weekend. Please, tell us. We need to know.

June 5, 2012

It’s our big weekend.

My great mate and I are counting the days to our annual celebration of all things Blokey.

If you were reading my ramblings at this time last year, you know what’s ahead. And to both of you, thanks for sticking around.

For everyone else, here’s a brief rundown of what we do.

He’ll fly in on Friday morning, with a thirst you could photograph. We’ll gather with some wonderful lads later in the day, and head to Brisbane’s annual Bernborough Club lunch.

It’s the traditional warm up for Saturday’s Stradbroke Day. One of the great racing gatherings. Cool drinks will settle the dust.

When the tables are cleared, we’ll bid farewell to some of the industry’s finest, and make our way to one of the nation’s most famous pubs.

He loves the Caxton. He gets it. The history of the place, just a decent drop kick from the wonderful stadium up the road.

We’ll watch Friday night footy there. Remind each other how good we were all those years ago. And tell anyone within earshot that the game’s just not the same.

Nothing too late, mind you. We have to preserve our ageing bodies. Because the highlight of the weekend is still ahead.

Eagle Farm on Stradbroke Day is something to behold. The highlight of the Winter Carnival. A few bets. More cool drinks. We’ll celebrate by telling stories we’ve heard a thousand times before. And there’ll be laughter yet again. True mates.

When the races are done, we’ll do what we’ve always done. A Saturday night feast of Chinese.

Same place, year after year. You may laugh, and call us predictable and boring. The staff probably do too. We’ll change when you can find me a better Crispy Beef dish.

I know what you’re thinking. This is all too perfect. There must be an obstacle ahead. Well, you guessed right. Help is needed. We have no idea what to do next.

When blokes are just a trifecta away from turning 50, where do they go to listen to ‘our’ music? You’re laughing at us again.

It’s a legitimate concern. Who is catering for the old blokes out there? Doof Doof and DJs who go by just a single name are useless.

Pubs where the techno beat drones on until sunrise will never host us. Clubs where rap artists spit venom across the dance floor are another world away.

We want a place where we can rest our beer on the table, and listen to some good ol’ boys belting out The Eagles, Credence Clearwater Revival, Fleetwood Mac, the Steve Miller Band and Joe Cocker.

Later on they can throw in a bit of Powderfinger, and The Doors. Maybe Dragon, The Angels and Mental as Anything. And of course, the hits of the great J.R. Cash are welcome at any time.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Old farts need to be entertained too. We won’t cause any trouble. Just some foot-tapping, and off-key warbling.

Your suggestions are welcome. Unless you’re a DJ rapper who wears gold chains, and goes by the name of Slide. For everyone else, take pleasure in telling us where to go.

How a couple of old blokes will have too much fun on Stradbroke weekend.

June 10, 2011

I’m excited. Like a kid who’s peeked downstairs on Christmas night and spotted a Malvern Star under the tree. It’s Stradbroke weekend.

Queensland’s favourite race day. At our best racetrack. Eagle Farm. Since 1890. What a tradition.

The great sporting venues are rich with history. Around every corner. Especially on a racecourse.

When I first visited Flemington, I imagined Phar Lap steaming up that giant straight. Listen hard, and you can hear the whoosh as Big Red surges to the post.

Go to Randwick, and feel the spirit of Tommy Smith bustling past. On his way to saddle up another winner. Maybe chip a jockey who ignored the gospel.

Eagle Farm is different. When I sit in the stands, I think about the punters of winter carnivals gone by. Cheering. Cursing. Offering a tale of woe to anyone who might be listening. Yep, some things don’t change.

There are spots on course, that help tell a state’s history. I like that. Something old. Something new.

Memories away from the track too. I remember watching in awe from Bundaberg when Rough Habit won his second Stradbroke in 1992. I groaned in Cairns back in ’95 when my favourite sprinter Schillaci could only finish second.

Since then, I’ve worked on some tradition of my own. And that’s why I’m so excited.

My mate and I plan it every year. Our favourite weekend, that revolves around the big race. He flies up, I take time off. A racing holiday for old farts.

It all starts today. We’re off to the Bernborough Club lunch. Honouring a champ, with a few hundred other like-minded fans. They’ll be excited too. I’ll check this for you, but I suspect cool drinks could be on offer.

We’ve been told that Mick Dittman might be speaking. I hope they don’t mind two blokes squealing like schoolgirls on table seven.

At day’s end, we’ll devour a steak at the Caxton. Then watch the footy. Not too late, though. That’s the plan anyway. A bloke needs to be reasonably tidy for the main event.

Come Saturday, we actually get nervous walking through those big gates at the end of Racecourse road. The huge crowd walks as one. Form guide in one pocket. Hope in another.

The day flies past. Brisbane Cup. The TJ Smith. The Derby. And the Stradbroke. What a program.

For what it’s worth, we both like Woorim in the big one. Go the local boy.

At day’s end, we’ll catch the bus to the pub down the road for a few cleansing ales. Like they did fifty years ago. Hopefully we’ll have enough left to actually buy one.

Then it’s off for post-races Chinese. The same restaurant every year, of course. They should remember our order by now.

Once, when the Brisbane Cup was still run on the holiday Monday, we bumped into Paul Perry and the owners of Newport there.

They were celebrating their win in the Cup, and counting cash. With that beautiful cup in the middle of the table. We promised each other, over a mountain of fried rice and cups of cheap wine, that we’d do the same one day.

If we’re not under the whip by this stage, we venture out for a final sip. It’s a never-ending search for somewhere playing eighties music. Sad, isn’t it.

Last year we took a wrong turn, and ended up in a karaoke bar with some very loud American students. Not quite what we were looking for.

Anyway, that’s our weekend. Wish us luck. If you happen to see us along the way, some words of encouragement would be good. Maybe even a tip or two. Another chapter will be written. On and off the track. Tradition. You can’t beat it.