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Postcard from Coburg

September 8th, 2016

It’s not exactly the Gold Coast but the weather today in Coburg is a balmy 23 degrees! I’m here at the John Fawkner Hospital for a bit of a poke around in my colon. It’s a quick procedure but I’m last on a long list and suffer an interminable wait. But it’s worth waiting to find out that there are no nasties lurking about in there. Home after five hours to three lawn mowers attacking the nature strips in our street. Oh! The smell of cut grass! Spring! It can’t be long now, can it?

And oh! I’ve just read about the common side effects following day surgery, including impaired ability to concentrate. And the guidelines following an anaesthetic. Do not consume alcohol! And do not sign legal documents or make important decisions! Is a blog a legal document? I am having a lot of trouble concentrating!

Hope to be back for the Turnbull Stakes.



Sandown Park

May 28th, 2016

Did you see Professor Paul McGreevy on the ABC News the other day, getting stuck into the use of restrictive nosebands on equestrian horses at this year’s Rio Olympics? The crank noseband has a leveraged buckle design that can be tightly adjusted to clamp the jaws together. It is mainly used on dressage horses that refuse to keep their mouths shut. In a new study at Sydney University Paul and his team found that a tight noseband elicited an elevated heart rate and increased eye temperature, indicators of a physiological stress response. And the tight noseband also prevented the expression of various oral behaviours, such as chewing, licking and swallowing. The study has been published online in Plos One.

I have long been averse to gear on a horse’s head, including noserolls and nosebands. Crank nosebands aren’t used on racehorses, but the cross-over noseband is relatively common. There were nine cross-over nosebands at Sandown today and one Kineton noseband. None of the ten horses were placed!

The Kineton noseband on Stand To Gain is easily distinguished from a conventional noseband by the half rings on each side, their J-like shape, and the low position of the band on the nose. You can find more discussion about them in Watching More. They are petty rare and I haven’t seen enough to give them a behavioural handicap, although of course I think they are worth opposing in the betting. The cross-over noseband however has a definite negative effect on performance with a current behavioural handicap of 18. This simply means that horses win 18 per cent less than expected by chance.

If you look carefully at the six horses in the photographs you will notice a lot of variation in design (Tip: click on the photo then click again to enlarge it). Some bands seem more benign than other, such as the rolled leather on Mr Individual and Tan Tat Charger. Others seem more heavy duty such as the one on Temps Voleur and others attempt to mitigate the impact of the band on the bridge of the nose with a woollen or plastic pad such as on Caprese and Four Carat. I oppose horses with a cross-over noseband, with one notable exception. I backed the champion horse So You Think when he showed me that it was just an irrelevant piece of gear!

The change in weather at Sandown today, from Indian summer to winter, has reminded me that it is time for a break. Time to fly north to Queensland and warm up my body. Look out for a postcard from the spelling paddock. See you in the spring!




Flemington Mother’s Day

May 7th, 2016

Did you see where champion jockey Damien Oliver was rubbed out for a month for failing a breath test at 11.41 am on the last day of the Warrnambool jumps carnival? He blew 0.038. Fifteen minutes later this had dropped to 0.035. The limit is 0.02. He must have had a pretty good night on the tiles! But I agree with the stewards. It is risking life and limb to be riding a horse half-cut. Just remember my great-great grandfather, Caleb Crompton!

Caleb arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on the Branken Moor on 4 April 1843. He was a mere 22 years old. He took up farming in the Lake River district and married Fanny Lombe one year later on 14 July 1844. The family moved to Miners Rest in 1851, no doubt lured by the discovery of gold. Caleb and Fanny’s fourth child, my great-grandmother Frances Emily Crompton, was born in 1853. Tragedy struck the family one year later when Caleb was found dead on 30 December 1854 at Dowling Forest, not far from the racecourse. A hastily organised inquest into Caleb’s death, with several witnesses, quickly established the cause of death.

Charles Paine on his oath said as follows: I am at work at this house. I and another left the house at about nine this morning in the direction of the race course, and shortly before getting there we saw deceased lying on the ground on his right side with his head twisted on his shoulder. I thought at first he was asleep but on examination found he was dead. I went to the race course and gave information and enquired for a medical man. I then returned and assisted in removing the body home. I found the hat flattened in at the crown about a yard from the body.

Thomas Fletcher on his oath said as follows: I am a store keeper. I have seen deceased (sic) once or twice. He left my store on the race course about half past seven last night. He was on horse back and leading another horse belonging to me. He set off in the direction for home. He appeared a little elevated (Victorian word for slightly intoxicated) but not drunk. I heard nothing more of him until this morning when I heard of his death. Deceased was alone when he left my tent.

Alexander Sangster on his oath said as follows: I am deceased partner. He left home yesterday about twelve o’clock for the purpose of proceeding to the races. I saw no more of him until after he was found dead in the bush. He intended to return in the evening. Deceased horse was caught in the bush and brought home about nine this morning. Shortly afterwards I received information that deceased had been found dead in the bush. I at once went there and found the deceased lying on his back. I was told the body had been turned over in order to search the pockets. I saw two pounds and some papers that had been taken out of his pocket. The police arrived shortly after me. The body was conveyed here in a cart “by a ferryman”. Deceased was rather given to drinking. Deceased could not have had much money as I lent him some before he started. I was not concerned at the deceased not returning. I thought he might have gone to the race dinner at Ballarat.

The coroner’s conclusion: Accidental death by a fall from a horse – deceased at the time being intoxicated. Caleb was just 33 years old.

There are several morals to this story. If you are a jockey – don’t drink and ride! And if you are a punter, borrowing money to attend the races is rarely a good idea. And if you have a drink at the racecourse – take extreme care on the way home.

My source for this story is Richard Crompton’s stunning website  –




Caulfield Thoroughbred Cup Day

April 30th, 2016

Do you think the world is heating up? Here we are on the last day of April and Caulfield is a balmy 24 with a blustery northerly. Zandarral is in a muck lather. I rarely see this, even in the height of summer.

My views on sweating are quite well-known and normally sweating up is not a problem if the ambient temperature is greater than 20 degrees. But there are exceptions, especially if the horse shows other signs of anxiety or fear. Zandarral had the nose roll, which rules him out straight away in my book, but also had his head up and was changing stride, forcing the strapper to use two hands. And I noticed the horse dumping and head-shaking. A pretty obvious lay. It was showing $1.50 the place on the tote which raised my heartbeat, but on firing up Betfair it was $2.78 the lay! Way above my $1.80 limit. Too bad! Everyone has seen him! The horse faded in the straight to finish eighth. And yes, I do think the world is warming.



Flemington Anzac Day

April 25th, 2016

My eye was taken by a striking filly in the first race, Miss Vista. An Apache Cat clone, but even more so with a touch of albinism and a walleye. There is a buzz about this horse since she won her maiden in good style. The filly ran up to her good looks and after only two starts is now regarded as something of a cult horse. The trouble with being a cult horse is that it will always run under the odds, carrying  the weight of popular money.

But the best-looking horse I saw on the day was the Freedmans’ Cool Chap, who had that indefinable “presence” and looked like he owned the mounting yard. He won the time-honoured St Leger in a most convincing fashion.



Caulfield VOBIS Day

April 16th, 2016

Nothing to report, unless you count Red Bomber! You can tell things are pretty desperate when all I could find to photograph was a disadvantaged person scrabbling under the vending machine while I was waiting at Southern Cross station.

He must have been under there for some five minutes before emerging triumphant with a $2 coin in hand. I congratulated him heartily! He gave me the bottoms up sign. A drink! That’s what you need to be a winner. Determination and discipline! Especially with such a miserable implement! Where do you find a piece of tree on the platform at Southern Cross?



Sandown Hillside

April 9th, 2016

I like Sandown! There’s room to move and less hugger-mugger. And at this time of year the weather is perfect, not too hot, not too cold. And then there’s the lovely autumn light out at the pre-parade ring.

And every horse has a chance as long as you keep away from the inside. When I’m waxing lyrical like this you know I’ve had a very good day! But it didn’t start off so well. My poor run with two-year-olds continued with the nice and relaxed River Goddess getting nutted for third right on the line. How I hate kicking off with a loser! That must be my third or fourth fourth with the babies in the last few weeks? However, things soon improved with Kav’s Tears of Joy coming to the rescue and then Hard Romp snatching third. I saved the best for last with Bengal Cat steaming home in the three-year-old fillies. Thank goodness John Sadler had walked the track and instructed his son to go wide!

I found the time to add to my video library of bad behaviour with that old rogue Fab Fevola circling in the yard and showing some nice heels. This horse is the fastest horse in Australia, if not the whole wide world, over 900 metres. He is always super-aroused and sports plenty of gear – today just the tongue tie, nasal strip and hoof pads.  The horse went like a bat out of hell and led them up until punctured, as all the wise old lags predicted, at the 880 metre mark, and faded to finish last.

The train ride home is always interesting. I overheard a new line in begging: “Excuse me mate, could you ring my brother? I’ve run out of credit!” Usually it’s just “Could you spare a few coins?” I quickly hid my phone!

And a housekeeping matter. I’ve been wondering for some time why there were no comments on the blog and just assumed that nobody bothered reading it. I asked my webmaster who looks after the site and he found over 5000 comments pending! I thought he checked them and he thought I checked them! So I trawled through and found a few legit ones, which I have reinstated, amongst all the spam. So feel free to comment again so long as you are not trying to sell me Ugg boots, Viagra or an iPhone6!




Caulfield Easter Cup

March 26th, 2016

There is a great line and a great tip in the new book, Watching More Racehorses. If you see a horse displaying a certain behaviour pattern it is “well worth while getting down on hands and knees and crawling across broken glass in order to back it”. It doesn’t happen very often. But there was an example today in the Easter Cup. It was an interesting race with five main chances, all pretty much equal favourites around the $4.00 or $5.00 mark. It was easy enough to rule out Manndawi and Transfer Allowance with boots, with the fetlock boot even featuring in the book chapter on Rare Stuff!  Doumarin and Rather Heroic were also easy to toss out as unsettled, changing stride and tossing their heads up. Good Value was circling in the yard, a definite no-no. That left five chances: Leebaz, Extra Zero, Guardini, Puccini and Observational. Leebaz had the barrier blanket which is a nice positive and the stallion chain a serious negative, and also had a tongue tie, was gaping and salivating, all quite OK, especially the salivating which is very OK. Extra Zero, the old stager, showed me some teeth, but that’s pretty benign. Guardini had the arched neck, and was prancing and neighing, well roaring really, like a stallion. Do you like your bull stallions roaring? And the two hands of the strapper were a negative! I tried to video it, but the horse had pretty much calmed down by the time it got into the yard and I pretty much failed!

Puccini was a clean sheet, and trained by the trainer of the moment, DK Weir. I love clean sheets! Observational had the tongue tie and was gaping, which is also pretty benign.

Who would you back if you had to crawl across broken glass on hands and knees? Leebaz took the lead and looked beaten in the straight until Guardini peaked on its run and Leebaz kicked back and nutted it on the line. Observational got third. Puccini finished fourth and Extra Zero fifth.  I backed ….?



Super Saturday

March 12th, 2016

I spent a couple of hours looking at the ten horses in the Newmarket. My interview with Neil Kearney was going to be shown on Channel 7 before the race and then the plan was to do a live cross to me in the mounting yard ruling out horses with bad behaviour. I’ve been down this track before and seem to remember that once you get into the mounting yard it is all bedlam and the opportunity to look at the horses is quite limited. So I decided to base my comments solely on what I saw in the birdcage stalls. Here they are:
1. Chautauqua: Hand held +3
2. Delectation: Ear muffs, pacifiers, nose roll -21
4. Black Heart Bart: Yawning -30 or +30? Fearful or relaxed?
5. Charmed Harmony: Pawing -12
6. Japonisme: Relaxed 0
7. Churchill Dancer: Brushing, one-eyed blinker -22
8. The Quarterback: Positive strapper +3
9. Keen Array: Nibbling tie-up, winkers -18
10. Counterattack: Pawing, winkers -29. Later – Airborne jockey!
11. Secret Agenda: Tongue tie, nibbling tie-up -5

My final selections: 1,8,6,4. The trifecta in four!

Too bad there was too much chaos in the yard to get to air!

And I noticed that someone had spilled some vegetables around Makybe Diva. And the cutlery was all there, but no kitchen sink!



Flemington Australian Guineas Day

March 5th, 2016

I am often asked to name the best horse I have ever seen. My off the cuff reply is usually “my last winner”, but after some thought there are several contenders. Commands third to Redoute’s Choice and Testa Rossa in the Caulfield Guineas is a favourite memory. And Persian Punch, the tough English stayer with two thirds in The Cup to his credit, is another favourite. And then you have to admire Red Cadeaux, with three placings out of five attempts. The VRC have recognised his popularity and stuck a plaque on the bench opposite his usual birdcage stall, number 78. Apparently his ashes are underneath. I felt a bit uneasy about sitting on top of him, so I just paid my respects.

The Kiwi three-year-old colt Xtravagant is all the rage for the Guineas. But out the back he’s just about uncontrollable. Head up, changing gait, cross-over noseband, stallion chain, salivating and letting the old feller hang out. Not my sort of horse. In the yard he doesn’t participate in the parade and does tight circles on the grass. A lay! I get $1.60 the place. The horse rockets out of the barrier but quickly compounds at the business end of the race. I must say, it is immensely satisfying when such a hyped horse goes under after showing such poor pre-race behaviour.

And oh, another unusual gear combination. A one-eyed winker and noseroll on Zebrinz. The horse finished fourth.

And the best horse I have ever seen? So You Think. And if he had stayed here he could have been anything!