Written by Brad Elson; Image Bronwen Healy Photography
Horse Racing; not just the sport of kings but the passion of so many Australians!
Growing as a kid in rural South Australia, no one in my family was a punter. No one ever laid a bet except on the Melbourne Cup. Every year we would get a dollar from Dad and he would go put it on for us. Needless to say we never won! So how has this become such a passion of mine?
Firstly there is the love of the animal itself, I mean seriously, sit back and take a look at the wonder of them. They are a majestic beast. To see these animals in full flight moving so powerfully across the turf is a site to see. When I meet the horses I’m intimidated. They are big, strong and could could do some serious damage with one kick, yet they are generally so kind and loving and have some great personality quirks.
Then there is the actual race day, even the small town race meets like the Hawker Cup! Where did you say…? Look it up, go there and see what horse racing does for a small community. A town grows from 250 people to 1000 for a weekend and it becomes quite an experience. To go to the great Flemington race course and see it, it’s beautiful, the manicured roses, the facility as a whole just looks and screams elite and high class, yet its so inviting to your average bloke like me who just loves his horse racing.
The wins and the ever so many losses! If I had a dollar for every time I said “I bloody knew it! I knew I should have backed the 8.” and “Had a dog named Sparky, I should have known the omen bet would win!”
The names of the horses. They catch our ear and we fall in love. For me, it was Doriemus and Whobegotyou that I followed no matter what, because I loved the name. Lucky for me, they where very handy horses and I did well from betting on them. We have the horses that catch the nations imagination, not too many of them but they will all go down as 5 of the greatest horses of all time. Carbine, Pharlap, Kingston Town, Lohnro, Sunline. More recently Black Caviar who did something unheard of in horse racing and won 25 races without a loss. Then we have Winx going around right now, she is something special the way she wins with ease its so great to see.
It took me a long time to fall in love with horse racing. One of my first bosses used to go down to the local TAB though the day and put a few sneaky bets on. A guy I went to school with used to be a jockey on trotters; my first bet ever $5 was on him and he won! He paid a massive $45-1, pretty handy for an 18 year old fresh out of school earning just $400 a week working full time. So my affair began, very very slowly maybe once every couple weeks after footy we would be at the pub and a name would pop up on the board. My mate would say “Bloody hell Tug there’s a bet for us!” The dog or horse would be called something like “Kelly’s Pop” referencing my girlfriend at the time, or it would be something else like “Boo-radley”, so we would chuck a few dollars on and would lose 7 times but then that one would hit and you get that warm fuzzy feeling!
I moved to a new area in the state through work and it took a few months to meet a few blokes. You play footy, play basketball, get a girlfriend, so I had pretty much stopped any sort of punting even the few dollars every couple weeks on the Saturday at the footy. Then it comes up again we go to the pub on a Thursday after basketball and have a couple beers and there is nothing but dogs running on the TV, 8 dogs per race we have 8 in our side well that’s no coincidence! Lets all chuck a dollar in a race, we all draw a number and if you number wins you win the pot! All good if you got box 1 and 8 it seemed, the rest of us just did our dough. But it was this that got me slowly into it again, watching the dogs go around. My mind started to tick. I know I can’t get every winner but surely if I look at what the dogs are doing, I can increase my chances.
For what ever reason though the dogs just didn’t do it for me, bloody things would flood out the gate, get checked, and tumble over with my money on it! So I looked elsewhere. Trots confused me, as they trot! It’s like they are making them go slow, I couldn’t understand it (sorry trots people) .
It then hit me, horses. I had always been in awe of them so I started to study. I didn’t have a computer back then (most people didn’t, or the internet) so it made it hard, I found the best way was to talk to other guys that were into the horses. I would go to the local on the odd Saturday and Sunday and try to talk while reading through the form guides and the bible back then, the “Best Bets” book. I learnt a hell of a lot, I was amazed at the depth some of these guys went to, to find a winner. This was before the different racing shows, and the internet, so they were not watching replays and jump outs. They didn’t have mobile phones and Facebook groups to share ideas or be able to quickly shoot a text to a stable hand and find some inside goss. They were the true grinders that still used pen and paper to make notes, to be at the pub as much as they could, to find the diamond in the rough in midweek meets that may impress in a bigger race at bigger odds.
I made so many mistakes when I started, took too many shortcuts, did “quick form” – that horse is down in weight and grade it will go well, take my $10 – and it lost. I studied harder. It is almost an art form for me now, to list the things I need to take into account is damn near impossible sometimes. I watch replays every night, I watch or listen to as many races as I possibly can through out the day to try to find that edge. I take into account weight, distance of race, track condition, jockey form, trainer form, horse’s previous preparations; I look at speed maps and speed fluctuations from horses and try to match form lines from similar races and tracks and how horses went up against each other previously, just to name a few. I find so much satisfaction it in when it all comes together and a race goes exactly how I had planned it, from the early pace to the swoopers at the end down the straight.
A man once told me there is no better feeling than when you middle a cricket ball with the bat. The sound and the feeling when the ball springs off the bat and flies away is unparalleled. I would like to add a couple more things to this unparalleled feeling.
The perfect tee shot in golf when you hear that whack and you know you hit that sucker good!
The Swish in basketball.
The tight spiral punt in AFL.
For me though, that feeling and hard work that goes into picking a winner; when you hear the race caller call your horse threading its way through the field “…and here comes Lohnro! Look at him go!” The crowd cheers; “…go Lohnro go! The champ is coming, 100 to go! The champs won it!” – I get chills down my spine, every time.
That for me is why I love horse racing. It is much like my life, like the struggles to find a winner, but when you do… that feeling, that hard work you put in, there is nothing better!