Spring may mean hayfever and endless equinoxial winds but the upside is the Spring Racing Carnival. This post was written a couple of years ago when one of Australia’s best thoroughbreds graced our tracks and we experienced it all from one of Australia’s best country pubs.
13th November 2010
One of the perks of living at Coolatai is a trio of people who share my passion for the thoroughbred.
Firstly there is Graham, the publican at the Wallaroo Hotel, whom his mother says learnt to read by studying the form guide. He has introduced a Punters Club to the pub, will place a bet over the internet if required (actually let’s be honest here, Graham would run a book on anything), has a “Millers Guide” amongst the spirit bottles and when not serving customers or smoking like a chimney can be found on the couch watching the races.
Then there is Slim who has a special interest in pedigrees and breeding and who even owns a thoroughbred mare who has just had her second well-credentialed foal. She lives on a stud near Wagga and Slim hopes she does not send him broke in agistment and foaling fees.
Next member of the trio is Carole who, like me, rarely bets. Her forte is watching nearly every race meeting in the country, whether city or provincial and challenging herself to pick winners from the form guide. She also follows the jockeys.
And then of course there is me. I have been interested in horse-racing for as long as I can remember. Dad used to tell me that it was an affliction of every second generation – apparently his father had the same disorder. I love the pedigrees, the history and the trivia. I love following a horse from early in its career and watching a good thoroughbred strive to win. There is a photo from the 1956 Caulfield Cup that sums up how I feel. In the photo Better Boy is a length clear, ears pinned back, neck outstretched, tail flying, wanting to win, wanting to keep the fast-finishing Redcraze at bay. He does it. He is first past the post. Unfortunately the men who make the rules disqualify him. Better Boy had dumped his rider at the start.
Regardless of our different approaches to the sport the four of us all appreciate a good horse. It unites us. Others may discuss how much money they won or lost or how the jockey butchered the ride, but we also love the equine. We differ, however, when it comes to betting. Carole and I are very much part time punters, Slim would bet the house and as I said Graham is the publican. This was best illustrated at last year’s Melbourne Cup Calcutta at the Wallaroo where Slim and Graham outbidded everyone for all the favourites. Carole and I were left feeling fairly flat at missing out on all the action.
And so the 2010 Spring Carnival rolled around. I fell impossibly in love with a near-black stallion with a white star on his forehead and a fashionably long forelock which he would flick around as he tossed his head, pranced and danced and seemed to say “I’m the boy, I’m the boy”. I staked my claim on So You Think long before he won the Group One Races – the Underwood Stakes, the Yalumba Stakes, his second Cox Plate and the Mackinnon Stakes in only eleven starts; and told anyone who would stand still that he was “my” horse.
Which brings us to this years Calcutta. A Calcutta is run in this way: firstly you buy tickets in a raffle and all money raised is put into the “pool”. Then on the Monday night before the Melbourne Cup, 24 tickets are drawn and each is assigned a Cup runner. Next all 24 horses are auctioned. If you happened to draw a horse in the raffle then you have the option of either buying him for half the auctioned price, or selling him for half the auction price. All auction monies are added to the “pool” and then first, second, third and last in the Melbourne Cup share the cash. See, clear as mud.
Carole and I did not want a repeat of the 2009 Calcutta and so with the help of Kerry, who has an uncanny knack of picking a winner from those we have consigned to the scrapheap, and under a cloak of secrecy, we masterminded the Divas Syndicate. We enlisted another four ladies; some of whom just wanted to be part of the fun, some who we tempted with the prospect of stinging the boys. We all bought tickets in the raffle and on Monday night one of our members drew a horse so we got that one half price and a few other cheapies to add to our stable.
As the night wore on So You Think had not yet been drawn and I was starting to sweat. Then my name was drawn from the raffle and I had to choose a glass, skull the bitter champagne and reveal the name of the horse at the bottom. It was my boy! Most of you will have some idea of how I crowed. I was merciless. Graham and Slim looked grim; not only had the Divas beat them at their own game but we had the raging favourite for the Melbourne Cup as well. The coup at the Wallaroo was a raging success.
The adrenalin continued until 3pm on Tuesday. I would tell you who won the 2010 Melbourne Cup but I don’t care. All through the race I only watched one animal. So You Think looked the winner with 200m to go but faded into third place. The Divas were happy though. We got all our money back and made a grand total of $2.15 profit each.
The following day my hangover was compounded by the news that So You Think had been sold to overseas interests and was unlikely to run in Australia again.
I have recovered from the hangover only.