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Moonee Valley

November 20th, 2010

The carnival is over and at last, a beautiful spring day in Melbourne, sunny skies, and a dry track. A day to be savoured. Warm bones, spring in my step, beautiful horses to look at, things back to normal. I get there an hour early to allow plenty of time to wander around the stalls. Immediately my attention is drawn to a three-year-old colt braying in his stall. Restless, pawing, neighing, clearly full of testosterone. Typeface, the favourite in the first. I cross him out and he’s not even saddled up yet! His manner doesn’t improve much in the mounting yard, mouth wide open, head twisted, gaping and lolling his tongue in resentment at the tongue tie, two strappers to control him. I decide to lay him on Betfair although they are jumping out of trees to back him with the books. To my mind, he’s too much of a risk. And sure enough that’s how he runs. Misses the kick, gets caught up in traffic, can’t win at the 400 mark, and then suddenly just bursts through to blitz them on the line. I suppose I’ve relearnt a life lesson. A lesson I’ve learnt many times before – three-year-old males are the class of horse I have most trouble with. If Typeface had been a mare he would have been history. 3YO colts! Danger! Their testosterone-fuelled behaviour, as well as being their downfall, can often be their saviour!

My day didn’t improve much after that. I liked Straveen in the mares race with a nice positive strapper, but she was blocked on the inside and didn’t get a run at them. I got some back with Tio Rossa in the seventh, but then gave it back on Netra, who ran out of puff after leading them up in the last. So one out of four for a pretty ordinary day.

But I did have a nice conversation with Peter Strafford, the race day farrier, who has spent forty years working in the danger zone. He’s not allowed to bet on the horses unlike others in the industry. Trainers can bet and apparently some jockeys like Blake Shinn can have a go too. But not farriers working at the pointy end. I got to tell him my favourite horse anecdote. It’s a definition of the horse by Ian Fleming, the author of the James bond books: “Dangerous at both ends, and uncomfortable in the middle”. I’m preparing a list of questions for him. Do I need to look at a horse’s feet and record all that stuff: shock-shod shoes, glue-on shoes, bar plates and tips? We’ll see.

Barry at the horse gate noticed my slumped posture and enquired after my well-being. I told him I was down and he said “You can’t expect to win every day, Doc”. The trouble is – I do.

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Sandown Classic Day

November 13th, 2010

The forecast is not good. Rain, rain and more rain. And the train line is down with a replacement bus between Oakleigh and Springvale. And the track is deteriorating from a Slow 7 to Heavy 8 and finally, Heavy 9. Help!

I suppose I could moan on about how miserable a spring it has been, but really, Zipping has been the standout. My favourite horse and I didn’t have a penny on him. The $1.10 for the place on the tote today was a bit tight, but three late scratchings meant there were still three place dividends, despite the five horse field.

Nine years old and four Sandown Classics. What odds on next year? Another Australian Cup? Another Cox Plate placing, another Cup fourth, and a fifth Classic? Who knows. What a horse!


Stakes Day

November 6th, 2010

At last, a decent day and a dry track. Stakes Day, Family Day, Kids Day, Final Day. The frozen cocktail bar has gone and in its place is a lolly shop! I don’t mind all the rugrats for one day in the year. We need to train the next generation of punters and fashionistas and initiate them when they are young. I even tripped over some slurping on my old favourite, the Slippery Sam.

It’s been a miserable carnival and I finish it off in a miserable way. I tried to photograph Hay List’s leg wound, but failed dismally when it was obscured by shadows. And I thought Drumbeats looked very solid in the main race, but he never looked likely and finished sixth. And I was quite taken with the appearance of the Godolphin horse in the Queen’s Cup, nearly asleep in her stall. And some special treatment with wood shavings for bedding. Her mane had been plaited, which I normally deduct marks for, as it suggests a show pony and a strapper’s horse rather than a racehorse. But because it was a mare I was forgiving. Eastern Aria finished an average seventh.

So two bets for two losses to round out a very average week, and a modest profit over the carnival.

Overheard in the Island Bar: “I only backed it because it looked at me. It was one of those Let It Ride moments.”


Oaks Day

November 4th, 2010

There’s an icy-cold southeasterly blowing, so not much business at the frozen cocktail stall. We’re already frozen. In fact, we’re all a bit tired of the cold and wet. The most common fashion accessory? Not hats or tatts – goosebumps. The track is rated a Heavy 8, but I would describe it as a Shifty Slow 6. Too shifty to bet.

 The Oaks winner, Brazilian Pulse, was the most relaxed looking horse in the race, just lobbing around in the parade ring and mounting yard, interested, nicely pricked ears. It’s frustrating. I’m saving my money for Stakes Day. The weather must pick up soon, mustn’t it?


The Melbourne Cup

November 2nd, 2010

I take up my position on the mounting yard rail at 2.15 pm. A 45 minute wait. Shocking looks good, but still not as fine as last year, and The Champ is relaxed. Zipping is the same old Zipping, but I don’t much fancy nose rolls so I put the pen through Campanologist, Illustrious Blue, Buccellati and Profound Beauty. And I don’t like Monaco Consul’s combination of crossover noseband and pacifiers. Linton was kicking back in his stall, and Tokai Trick has three strappers, probably one more than necessary. Shoot Out has his head up. Descarado looks terrific, Americain is a striking horse, with what we horse watchers call “presence”, Harris Tweed looks snaky. The rain interrupts and ruins my note taking. I puzzle long and hard over Manighar and Holberg and finally decide that Holberg is too small and light to stand up to the rigours of a rough Cup. My final six in racebook order are Shocking, The Champ, Americain, Descarado, Manighar and Maluckyday.

Into the tote hall, which is deserted as usual – two minutes before the jump. I back The Champ for a place. Everyone criticizes me for being boring and conservative, but $2.00 the place seems exceptional value to me about a 2/1 chance. I never have exotic bets, but in a rush of blood I box six in the trifecta.

The rest is history. The Champ gets third and the trifecta pays a miserable $300 instead of $3000. But two bets for two wins on the Cup? Who would ever complain about that?


Derby Day

October 30th, 2010

I tossed and turned all night. Derby Day – the greatest day’s racing on earth – and the forecast is for Armageddon. It’s dry, mild and warm when I get there early. Horses are even sweating up.You Know Who is walking around in the parade ring already, untroubled, and unnoticed by the teeming throng. The rain sets in quickly and by time of the Mackinnon you would describe it as soggy. The champ streets them. We’re all starting to think that he’s a freak and that he’ll have no problem with the distance and the wet on Tuesday.

Two early bets before the rain for a winner and a loser. I’m just exercising my money. And I’m glad I didn’t drive to the track or I’d still be there. This is my fifth anorak day for the spring. Someone even offered to buy it off me after the last! I’d give it away if only the weather would improve.


Tabcorp AGM

October 25th, 2010

I’m sitting in a tram full of punters, the number 70, rattling along Flinders Street towards the Tennis Centre. It’s Derby Week and this is our Spring Ritual. We’re off to the Tabcorp AGM at the Melbourne Park Function Centre. We’re a bit gloomy. It’s not like the good old days when our shares were rattling along like You Know Who. We’re only worth half of what we were before the GFC. And now they’re going to split the company in two and throw away $150 million refurbishing Randwick. We need some answers!

In the olden days when Ross (The Boss) Wilson was the CEO we loved coming to these meetings. We all fondly remember the year the Tabcorp logo collapsed dramatically on the stage, and the year when the projector jammed and Ross The Boss did his block, and the year when there was a power strike and a lack of heating. But Ross used to make us feel warm and fuzzy with profit increases and juicy dividends. The punters rarely had a question and if they did it mainly related to the quality of the refreshments on offer outside. No one complained a bit about the 100,000 shares that were to be added to Ross’s stockpile of 3.7 million. We were happy punters.

This year there is only half the usual number of punters. They are mostly your retired or unemployed, geriatric type punter, much like myself. I suppose that’s why the numbers are down, with many now unable to afford the tram fare or falling off the perch. Our new CEO, Elmer Funke Kupper, is spitting the dummy after the demerger and taking a swag of cash with him. This time there is some discussion, and Stephen Mayne, the shareholder activist, is brilliant in taking the board to task over remuneration and long term incentive payments. He succeeds in making the chairman angry and even a few shareholders ask him to sit down. They must be the ones who are only here for the feed.

After the stampede for food has settled down I manage to talk to one of the executives who explains the Randwick deal to me. It seems that in return for the refurbishment Tabcorp will be allowed to put Trackside, their racing game, in NSW TABs. Apparently it is a real money spinner. It’s hard to believe that a video game with fake races can be the saviour of Tabcorp! I always thought that it was just a novelty. But there you go.

And oh! The refreshments were most excellent. They even had lamb cutlets!


Cox Plate

October 23rd, 2010

 The media have gone wild over You Know Who, with gushing descriptions of the horse: “Handsome – a classic-dished Arabian head, with a picture book white star”. And “deep through the girth and long in the rein”. And “a big loose sort of horse with the right superstructure and a lovely head”. A few words are even extracted from Bart himself: “He’s a big powerful horse. A great constitution. Good action, and he’s got a great will to win”. And “His coat’s got dapples on it. He’s very healthy. There’s plenty of him.” And heard on TVN: “he looks good in the skin”.

I’ve never paid much attention to skin, or coat condition, although I know some horse watchers place great store by it. No doubt they are an indication of good health, but dapples are also a function of coat colour, and you only see them on bays and greys. I’ve yet to see a dappled chestnut. You Know Who’s dapples are mostly visible on his underside and barrel, whereas usually they are more prominent on the thigh, buttock and neck. Stanzout has outstanding dapples, but he still finished tailed off ten lengths last in the sprint, and they didn’t help Zantelagh much in the last race. The TV news showed Gai toasting More Joyous under heat lamps to keep her happy in her skin, but the tactics probably let her down, not the dapples.

The track is rated Dead (4) but they are running Good (3) times so I’m allowed to bet. My best for the day was Hot Danish in a six horse field. She paid $1.90 for coming second by 5.5 lengths to Black Caviar, whereas the winner only paid $1.40 the win and $1.20 for the place. I boasted to all and sundry about how clever I was. In the babies race I backed Elite Falls who was totally relaxed in the yard and had the benefit of a previous run in Sydney. And I liked Absolutely in the second race and managed to secure $2.50 with the bookmakers for a solid second placing, compared with a miserly $1.90 on the tote. So three out of three.

I only had my anorak on for half the day so my frustration with the weather is improving. And no bet on the Cox Plate. 5.35 pm? I should be home and tucked up. It’s too late in the day for gambling. And the mares race at 6.20 pm? I’m with Bart on this. The sooner the VRC takes over the Valley the better.


Caulfield Cup

October 16th, 2010

I’m in full winter gear. Long johns, jumper, anorak, gloves and beanie. This is not a day for horse watchers. Horses can look terrific in the yard, but it doesn’t help them if they can’t pick up their feet in the wet. A day for mudlarks.

The track is Heavy 10, but is upgraded before the Cup to Heavy 9, except for a 200 metre section out the back, which is still Heavy 10. Why would the stewards bother? Maybe so that Monaco Consul can wear his pacifiers?


I watch the horses in the parade ring with that fine judge of horse flesh, Les Carlyon. We both agree that the horse which is trained to the minute is Alcopop. And I like a couple of others. Shocking is very relaxed, but still hasn’t fined down (see blog archives: September 4), and Harris Tweed is jumping out of his skin. My final selections are Alcopop, Harris Tweed, Shocking and Herculian Prince. Faint Perfume is sweating up and Monaco Consul has too much gear – a crossover noseband and pacifiers. I’m hoping to lay Faint Perfume, but it’s way over my $2 limit place threshold. So I back Alcopop for a place. It drops out last and runs on around the corner before floundering in the ground. Descarado is a good winner for Gai. The horse had no faults.

Remind me to remind myself: never bet in the wet.


Thousand Guineas Reparation

October 14th, 2010

I don’t know why I’m going, really, as the forecast is for rain and more rain. The track is rated a Dead 5 but downgraded to Slow 6 for the first and then Slow 7 for the third, and then finally a Heavy 8 for the last. The jockeys rated it a Heavy immediately after riding in the first. Stewards are much slower to respond.

 But I had a nice phone call from Alasdair Robertson, the Melbourne Racing Club CEO, promising to put things right for today, so I’m keen to check it out. And sure enough a workman is removing the blockade on my first pass along the stalls. More power to the punter! Maybe the club will now consider putting the name cards back on the horse stalls at Betfair Park, or even, God forbid, putting race numbers on the cards.


It didn’t stop raining on my racebook all day. Too wet to bet. Still no word from John Brumby about the replacement buses.