Thursday, 28 June 2012

Tales Of A 1980's Man Down Under - The Country Races

This is a horse called Danish. He was having some attention from the farrier before running in a handicap at Warrnambool Racecourse in Victoria. He was a dead cert, or so we thought. The money was down. A lot of money was riding on him. He had a great trainer, Rhoda Handyside, who had enjoyed much success at the course. Her horse Thackeray had just won the Grand Annual Steeplechase, Australia's longest race, for the second time.

The omens were positive.

As always, it never panned out in the way it should have done. Danish, who was hot favourite struggled up the straight but somehow under the vigorous urgings of his jockey managed to force a photo finish. After twenty nervous minutes the judge announced a dead heat. We were saved.


That is the joys of country racing. Expect the unexpected. Before the days of cameras, strange things happened at the Hanging Rock Picnic Races. The favourite be seven lengths clear as the field went behind the rock. When they emerged the outsider would be seven lengths clear and the favourite last.

You forget that Australia has 360 registered racecourses.

It is the thrird largest spectator sport behind Aussie Rules Football and Rugby League. Yet to the English, many people would be hard pressed to name any racecourse other than Flemington.

Take Birdsville for example. a once a year trip to a remote part of Queensland. It is so remote that most people take their small planes and clog up the town's small airstrip. It is always sweltering hot and the drink flows.

In those days it was an event for an English horse to attempt to run in the Melbourne Cup. That was until Beldale Ball won it in 1980. Warmington was around there the same time. He must have got a pleasant surprise to be on Newmarket gallops one day and swimming in the Brisbane River.

Those were the good times in the river, because it is now thought that 500 bull sharks come upstream to breed, so swimming is unadvisable.

When I returned from Down Under, I missed the Country Racing. It was much more relaxed than it was here, and warm too. But the races were more honest. There were no horses with chalked white diamonds who had encountered a thunderstorm whilst in the winner's enclosure No1 spot, and the white chalk started running, alerting people that he probably wasn't the horse he purported to be.

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