Introduction

This book is a social history of, and companion to,  horseracing in Sydney in the nineteen-seventies, the last hurrah of the great post-war racing boom. A time when the racecourse betting-ring remained the one dominant market-place for wagering on sporting contests, and red-faced punters in pork-pie hats still lined the saddling paddock post-race to heckle bad rides and form reversals. When the still extant Saturday afternoon newspapers gave race results in the back-page ‘stop-press’ to gamblers absent at the football or the cricket. The decade was a hiatus between the introduction of licensed off-course betting agencies in 1964—which tipped off an evolution of the nation’s gambling habits—and the coming of pub and club TABs in the eighties, which brought a massive acceleration in the erosion of race-day attendances.

My focus is on-course: the racecourses of Sydney as they were in the 1970s: the racegoers that went to them, how they got there, what they found, and what they did in those four or five crowded hours of a Saturday afternoon. The book will note the epoch-defining developments and the evolving morphology of the racecourses, new technologies and betting options, and headline-making events on the track. It will also provide a traditional companion—alphabetical, potted ‘form guides’ to horses, jockeys, trainers, bookmakers and the media.

But in addition to the companion there shall be 'pin-ups': longer articles devoted to my personal favourites and interests:

  • An extraordinarily charismatic racehorse (Tails)
  • A jockey that struggled as second or even third fiddle in a leading stable through most of the 1970s, before heading overseas then returning to become the leading rider in Sydney in the early 1990s (Kevin Moses)
  • The track located in western Sydney that nevertheless had the bucolic charms of a picnic racecourse (Warwick Farm)
  • A racecaller whose career just extended into the 70s who had the unique ability to make the hairs stand up on listeners' necks  and was a dominant sound-track of Australian popular culture (Ken Howard)
  • A racing writer who out-scooped all of his colleagues and at the same time made an enormous contribution to Australian horseracing historiography (Bert Lillye) 
  • A racing theorist said to resemble post-impressionist Touluse Letrec who adapted the maxims of Pittsburgh Phil to become the hammer of the bookmakers (Don Scott).

Unlike almost every other racing book, it is written by a racegoer who frequented not the official stands and the inner sanctums, nor the press box, but the public enclosures, and often the cheapest of them. If there had been ‘outers’ in the 1970s, like there had been in the sand-hills behind Victoria Park racecourse Sydney in the 1920s, there’s a good chance you would have found me there. I was a schoolboy for most of the decade.

 


Ming Dynasty wins  1977 Tulloch Stakes Rosehill. Attendance: 32,174.

Tails about to leave Pat Murray's stable for stud, 1972 (Fairfax)

1975: I become a Fair-dinkum Racegoer

On Saturday 7 June 1975, at about 9.30am I walked from my parents’ home in Milford Avenue Panania. I was heading for the Rosehill races—the first time I had gone to the Saturday races, alone, and with the intention of betting, although I was four years shy of the legal betting age of eighteen.  I had possession of six dollars. Also in my pocket was my birth certificate; the Sydney Turf Club, which ran Rosehill, let children of sixteen and under onto the course free. You did not even need to be accompanied by an adult. (The Australian Jockey Club, which ran Randwick and Warwick Farm, was a lot meaner. By its reckoning childhood ended at the pre-pubescent age of twelve; and even then you had to part with 65 cents at the Paddock turnstile. There were days to come when that would constitute 33 percent of my bank.)

At Panania station, I bought a ‘child’s excursion’ ticket for thirty cents and waited for the all-stations train to Central station. Once on board I lit a smoke—you could still smoke on trains back then. If there were no unscheduled stops between stations (a rare circumstance, in fact) the run to town took about 40 minutes. I produced Friday’s form guide and studied again the entries the jockeys and the betting market for the first race, due to be run at 1.05pm.  The jockeys given in the Friday papers could generally be relied upon—unlike those given in The Sportsman, published on Thursday as soon as acceptances were available, which seemed to be drawn at random from a hat.

My favourite jockey, Kevin Moses, had a ride in the first on Chelsea Lady, a real chance, third favourite in the morning paper. She was owned by ‘The ARABS’—not Middle-Eastern sheiks; they had not yet discovered Australian racing—but rather the recently formed Australian Racing and Breeding Stables. The ARABS also had the fillies Cinch and Debbie Jo in the race. Moses had won on Cinch at her previous run at Canterbury, in mid-May. I had been there—that was my very first day alone at the races, on a Wednesday during the school holidays. But I had not bet, just watched,

When I got to Central I asked a station assistant from whence did the ‘Rosehill Racecourse Special’ leave. Platform 18, I was told, so I quickly walked there, as a train was pulling in. Now, I was new to train-hopping in 1975 and did not realise that trains leaving from a particular platform might have more than one destination. So I jumped on the train, expecting it would deliver me directly to the Rosehill racecourse platform. I knew there was a Rosehill racecourse platform, and that it was somewhere near Parramatta, but that was the limit of my knowledge. Meanwhile the train I had joined stopped at Redfern, then Newtown and then Stanmore. Two weeks later I would have realised that I was on the wrong train, as the Rosehill special did not stop between Redfern and Strathfield. Instead it streaked through the stations between at about sixty-miles-an-hour and seemed in danger of leaving the tracks as it flew over crossings. Also I would have noticed the absence of men in pork-pie hats smoking cigars and reading form guides in the carriage of my train. But such worldliness had to be gained by experience. So I stuck to my form guide and looked up each time the train stopped at a station.

When the train left Auburn station I sensed the departure from the main line could not be far off, but the train reached Parramatta and still there had been no sign of Rosehill racecourse. So I kept my seat as Westmead and Wentworthville came and went. The view out the window was becoming increasingly ‘wild-western’ in appearance, so as the train trundled into Seven Hills, when I spotted another railway employee I asked him if was on the right train for the racecourse. He spat and told me I was on the right train for Hawkesbury racecourse (which was near Windsor), but if I wanted to attend the races today I had better get off here and take the train the back to Clyde station, on the other side of Parramatta, and wait there to join the Rosehill Special. Rosehill was one stop past Clyde, on the Carlingford spur line.

Feeling ridiculous, I got off. Wishing no further chat from my smart-arse railways friend, I consulted the timetable on the wall and found to my consternation that the next train in the opposite direction would not arrive for twenty minutes. Would I miss the first race and Moses on Chelsea Lady?

Fortunately I had left home so early that when I eventually walked onto Rosehill racecourse I still had almost an hour to kill until the first. The bookmakers were just starting to set up their boards and betting would not start for half an hour or so. Ultimately there would be some 17,000 people in attendance but the crowd was only trickling in at that point. I took a tour of the track: to the horse-stalls along the north-western boundary of the course, up to the fast food quarter behind the Sydney ring, past the bookmakers who would be betting on the Brisbane races, and then on to the main interstate ring. I had a covert look in at the drinkers in the main bar under the Paddock public grandstand; I would not be game to venture in there for another couple of years. On past the steps and up to the grandstand I went, into another tote lounge in which were stationed the new colour television monitors which had just recently started to show the Melbourne races, though not yet the Brisbane. I walked down to the second public stand, which had a long ramp at the rear for those who did not fancy the stairs, and the disabled – though I never once saw a wheelchair on it.

I had already decided on my bet, which was to be a dollar straight on Chelsea Lady. Now it was just a matter of getting it on. Was it to be with a tote clerk or a bookmaker’s bagman? I didn’t like the glares of some of the women stationed behind the tote windows; they seemed disapproving and Methodist, and reminded me of Nan. I thought I had more chance of striking a sympathetic bagman; one of somewhat advanced years, who, in all probability, had had to cross a similar punting Rubicon of his own back in the 1930s or forties.

I walked down the Sydney ring looking for a specimen who met my description, and paused before the stand of one Joe Jacobs. Joe, possessor of a magnificent hook nose and heavily-framed black spectacles, looked like he might have produced the odd Old Testament Hollywood epic in his time. I said to myself, ‘Joe is evidently a “four-be-two”’ and thus unlikely to refuse even a one-dollar bet from a 14-year-old. Moreover, I thought Joe’s bagman looked promising. He was, I guess, in his mid-sixties, wore a cardigan, which made him look avuncular, and had a face that reminded me of my Pop’s.

I steeled myself, stepped up and said to him, ‘Chelsea Lady a dollar please.’ Without the merest hint of a raised eyebrow, the bagman informed his principal out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Seven dollars to a dollar Chelsea Lady.’ He took my note, and in return his boss gave me a green inked rectangle of cardboard with ‘CL’ and a figure ‘8’ rubbed into it with thick black crayon. ‘Thank you’, the bagman said as the exchange took place, again without the slightest hint of irony or condescension. However, not wishing to press my luck, I quickly turned and plunged back into the crowd of punters that had by this stage gathered in the betting ring.

I hurried up the stairs and took a seat on the upper deck of the public stand, then once more admired that wondrous betting ticket. I was not to know that I had taken way under the odds on Chelsea Lady, which blew to twelve-to-one. What I did know was that I had been accepted unreservedly into the great fraternity of racegoers, and that I could never now imagine myself voluntarily leaving its ranks. Never was there such a collection of like-minded individuals as the crowds that came together in the stands and betting rings of racecourses, particularly the latter. The ultimate community of practice.

I looked out over the Rosehill racecourse. From my position high in the stand it looked enormous, and the turn into the straight was a distant point. The first race was of 1200 metres, off a chute in the middle of the course; the Golden Slipper start. I had no binoculars, and this was long before the days of the giant infield screen, and the horses were no more than colourful little blobs in the distance—exactly as they had been for Banjo Paterson’s fictional racegoer, ‘The Oracle’, 70 years earlier.[1] The course commentator was the urbane Geoff Mahoney. As the field left the barrier gates. Chelsea Lady and Amatrice contested the lead, with Cinch, ridden by the apprentice David Furner, not far behind them. Early in the straight Chelsea Lady took the lead and momentarily appeared the likely winner, but Cinch, in the ARABS first set of colours, emerged and quickly settled the issue. The filly went on to win by almost three lengths.

So my first racecourse bet had resulted in a second: an outcome that was to be repeated many times in ensuing years! I was not particularly downcast: on the contrary I had found the experience exhilarating, particularly when for a few seconds I had glimpsed the prospect of an eight-dollar collect. Once the horses had been unsaddled and correct weight declared I descended the steps and re-entered the ring, taking up my post in front of Joe Jacobs, who was to remain my bespoke bookmaker for several months to come.

Although I have consulted the newspaper archive I cannot recall what I backed in the second race. I doubt it was Moses’s ride, Sundari, which was 200/1, as Jacobs did not bet each way. But I have no problems remembering what horse I backed in the third. It was Skirnir the second favourite at 3/1, trained by Dr Geoff Chapman. Its colours were orange, blue ‘vee’ and armbands. As this wealth of retained information might suggest, it won—by a half-length, having got to the lead at the top of the straight and defying several challenges over the final three hundred metres. I think I expended more energy in that run to the line than the successful jockey, Allan Denham, did. I had had two dollars on Skirnir; one for me and one for Mum’s punters’ club.

I went down to the ring and joined the line of successful punters at the rear of Joe Jacobs’s stand.[2] As I neared the top of the queue I had fears that Jacobs’s bagman would treacherously refuse to honour my bet, on account of my age, but he paid up like a gentleman. I moved off to one side and examined the contents of my hand; a crisp five dollar note and three one dollar notes. Quickly I stowed the money in my wallet, then produced my form guide and resumed my spot in the ring in front of my friend Joe’s stand.

In the next race, which was the staying event of the day, I picked a horse called Ragham, which Peter Cuddihy was to ride. It carried the pink and white colours of the Warwick Farm trainer Syd Brown. The race was over 2000 metres, and in those days the northern end of the members’ stand precluded most people from seeing the start. Consequently an STC official positioned himself on the turn out of the home straight with a raised flag which was lowered once the field left the barriers.

Ragham went to the post as 13/2 third favourite. Again I got ‘unders’ from Joe—my fault for betting too early. When the horses appeared from behind the stand he was running fourth in the box seat trail. He remained there until above the furlong, when Cuddihy peeled him to the outside and edged to the front. He held a comfortable margin on the line. Once more I had bet $2: one for me, one for the punters’ club. My personal profit now stood at about eight dollars. I again joined the collect queue awaiting correct weight, still with a little trepidation, but without cause. This time the clerk acknowledged me with a wry smile.

The next race was the open sprint—the 1100m ‘flying’ handicap. The second favourite was Purple Patch, resuming after a short spell following a Brisbane winter campaign. He was one of Sydney’s favourite racehorses, one that could run splits for the final 400 metres that would leave clockers shaking their heads. He trotted out in the grey and purple seam colours of Sydney’s biggest owner, Stan Fox. His gear included white cheekers, as horses trained by Jack Denham invariably did. I went into the ring to see what the bookmakers were offering—around 3/1. I had one on for me and two for the punters’ club.

The field left the barrier evenly but soon I saw a white cap bobbing along several lengths in debt to the rest of the field. The gap between it and the second last horse, despite being sans binocs, I could see, was widening alarmingly. I did not need Geoff Mahoney to tell me the horse was Purple Patch. Coming to the corner the Patch was at least six lengths from the second last horse. Worse still, the favourite, Tivoli Prince, was travelling comfortably at the quarters of the leader. However at that moment Mahoney announced that Purple Patch had pulled to the outside and was running on powerfully.

I looked up and saw something like a grey and brown meteor hurtling down the outside of the track. I’d never seen a horse finish so fast relative to the rest of the field, either live or on television—Bernborough and Chautauqua were probably the closest, I would say now. The Patch had raced to the lead well before the post and Allan Denham, who was steering, sat up and allowed him to make his own speed to the finish.

This time I jumped to the head of the ‘collect’ queue behind Joe Jacobs like I were Perc Galea.  This punting is an easy game, I told myself—like golf. Wait until I tell Mum about my racecourse heroics, and my mates at school on Monday. If I went to school that is. Who needed an education? I could live off the punt.

As I was waiting for correct weight, fantasising about being offered a cadetship with the ‘Legal Eagles’, I gradually became aware of a large presence immediately behind me in the queue. In fact, it seemed to be right up my rear end. I turned and found myself looking into the chest of a policeman of about six-six. With a sick feeling I gave him a wan smile and turned back to look in the other direction. What, I wondered, was the penalty for underage racecourse betting? Even worse, I could imagine the looks of disappointment from Joe Jacobs and his crew as I was hauled off in handcuffs. ‘What! You’re not eighteen?’ the bookie would say. ‘You misled us?’

Damn, would they never call correct weight on this race? I was sweating up a funk inside my martin jacket despite the chill winter air. Finally, I received the poke between my shoulder-blades I had been dreading for minutes. It felt like it had been powered by Purple Patch’s hindquarters. Slowly I turned again to face the instrument of the law. It raised its sunglasses above its eyes and bent down and delivered a stage whisper that must have been heard by everyone in that collect queue and those alongside us as well.

‘Thought we were no hope at the top of the straight.’
‘Sorry, officer?’ I responded dumbly.
He pointed at the pasteboard ticket in his hand that bore the shorthand ‘PP’ and a three figure amount below it. I worked it out at last. This cop was no agent of retribution, but a brother of the punt. The commonality of our acumen in backing Purple Patch established that immediate fraternity that racetrack winners share fleetingly. He looked at my ticket.
‘You took threes?’
I admitted it.
‘Got seven-to-two myself. Still, threes was a good price for a horse like him in this field’, he observed generously.
‘He must have run the last two furlongs in under 22 seconds,’ continued my new-found and erudite colleague.
‘He’s got the biggest finish of any horse in Sydney, I reckon’, I responded, glad to finally be able to contribute to the conversation, and the remark found favour, for the policeman grunted in a way that could only mean approbation.
I collected my winnings from the clerk, who asked me—and I am sure he wasn’t taking the mickey—what I fancied in the next. I mumbled something as I fled.
That night I returned home to Panania in triumph after the long return rail trip, only to find that Mum and Dad had gone for dinner and dancing at St George Leagues Club. A little annoyed at their absence, I took my winnings from my pocket, separating the portion belonging to her punters’ club, and bunkered down in my dressing gown and slippers to await their return, which occurred at around midnight. Mum sleepily asked me how I’d gone, and I gestured at the small pile of notes on the coffee table with all the pride of a Neolithic hunter waving his spear at a kill on the hearth. Mum made the hoped-for fuss of me. Dad grunted and sent me off to bed.

[1] AB Paterson, ‘The Oracle at the Races’, (first published 1904).  Off Down the Track (full bib details).

[2] Most bookmakers, except rails book still paid out to the rear of their stands; the rails who operated on both sides, had separate payout areas around the corner in the concourse area leading through to the Paddock lawn and the terraced area above the birdcage enclosure.


 

Warwick Farm railway siding on a summer's day (photo by Graeme Skeet)

1970s schoolboy punter

Kevin Moses in the 'ARABS' colours

Kevin Moses: an Inexplicable Fascination

When I was a boy, for reasons not easily explained, I would pick out one exponent in a particular sporting or artistic field to be my champion – and quickly come to despise the opposition. I picked up a book about Mozart in the school library, adopted him, and barred Salieri. I became mesmerised by the haircut of David Bowie, and subsequently his music, and wrote Elton John off as a welter-class performer (well, flying-welter class, at best).

Even more implausible was my overnight and absolutely steadfast adherence to the burly Waverley club cricketer, Bruce Francis, who was selected as the opening partner of Keith Stackpole for the 1972 Ashes tour of England. Bruce would be the first to admit that his full range of strokes lay in an arc somewhere between mid-wicket and backward square leg. When he was replaced by West Australian Ross Edwards (who was not even a fair-dinkum opening bat) for the Third Test, I made a flaxen haired voodoo effigy of Edwards from a Ken doll and stuck pins in it. When that did not work (the blasted Edwards scored 170 not out on debut), I threw his effigy into Mum’s incinerator in the chook-yard.

Thus, when I selected the young Randwick apprentice, Kevin Moses, as my (imagined) stable jockey in the early 1970s, though I did not know it at the time, the mere mention of the name of rival jockey Ron Quinton would one day cause the bile to rise in my throat: through no fault of Quinton, who was stable rider for Moses’s master Neville Begg, I must add. 

Moses first came to my notice on 6 June 1970, the day the English rugby League team was winning the first test of the Ashes series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I heard Ken Howard call him run third on Queen of Babylon at fifty-to-one. It may have been the similarity of his surname to Mozart’s, that first caught my attention—but it was just a name heard on the radio; I knew nothing about him (subsequent research has filled in the gaps and allowed this biographical sketch). Yet soon I found myself looking out for his name in the Sunday results, and not long after that, the Friday form guide.  

Kevin Moses was born on 30 August 1952. He spent his early years living in the southern Sydney suburb of Kingsgrove, though his family subsequently moved to Hillsdale. His father, Albert, was a plumber, and Kevin aspired to a trade in the building industry, but after three week’s trial as a carpenter his master judged him too weak to wield a hammer. He also had an abortive go at painting, with his uncle. He had more success with the ‘sweet science’. He began to box at the age of nine and was runner-up in the NSW Police Boys Clubs championships. This boxing experience was to serve him well in bouts fought at the AJC Apprentices School against hard-heads such as the Lee brothers (one stoush with Jim long recalled by witnesses to it).   His first experience of riding, on Shetland ponies, came at a farm near Bundarra, where his father took him while Moses senior was working on the property.

Peter Miers, later to gain notoriety as the pilot of 200/1 winner of the notorious 1983 Missile Stakes ‘flag start’ Plus Vite, provided Moses’s entree to the stable of Neville Begg. Evidently it was a slightly and round chubby version of the later trim Moses figure that arrived that first day. During his riding career he evolved into a natural lightweight, able to ride comfortably at around 48kgs, though he has ‘let down’ well since taking up training.

Moses got off to shaky start. Once Begg had his new apprentice’s bags packed and their owner out the front awaiting transport home. Only the intervention of stable foreman Frank Williams kept him in the Begg team—albeit up the road at the second stable. he had demonstrated an aversion to undertaking the mundane chores routinely assigned new arrivals, such as mowing. According to Max Presnell, Moses took to hiding out in the kitchen whenever the grass got long. He came to find playing the horseracing board game ‘Totopoly’ and surfing at the nearby beaches (though no ‘Midget’ Farrelly as a board rider, he says), more to his liking. He became good friends with Jim Quill when he also joined Begg as an apprentice and this helped him to ultimately settle in.

Moses had been taken along steadily by Begg. He spent two years as a stable-hand before riding for his ticket in 1969, and then had just 34 rides, mainly on provincial tracks, up to June 1970. Most of his tuition was undertaken on a horse called El Feugo, who had a kindly disposition. The young apprentice was encouraged by a number of established riders based at Randwick. Chris Gwilliam and Peter Miers helped him gain balance when riding; he received some good advice on whip riding from Bill Burnett, and on ‘picking up horses’ from Ron Quinton.

After earning his ticket at the Warwick Farm barrier trials, Moses had his first rides at Randwick on El Feugo and Engrave, and while both finished unplaced, he was privately satisfied he had not fallen off. He had had his first metropolitan win on Singing Sands at Rosehill on 20 June 1970 at his thirty-seventh ride; he had already ridden a number of winners at the provincials, in particular at Newcastle Saturday meetings. On the same day another of my favourite horses, Special Girl, who was also trained by Neville Begg, ran second in the Booralong Handicap in Brisbane.

I was by then a committed listener to the Saturday afternoon races and, if my favourite horse Tails was not running, Moses gradually became the focus of my attention. He received a reasonable supply of rides from Begg, but had some difficulty securing rides outside the stable. Once more he considered giving up on riding.  However, in 1971 he won four races in a row on the filly Babalina for the Randwick trainer Jack Green. Babalina was owned by the Australian Racing and Breeding Stables (the ‘ARABS’). The ARABS had been established by STC director George Ryder with the purpose of giving ‘battlers’ access to horse ownership. Within a few years Moses became the stable (or rather, syndicate) jockey for the ARABS and won a good number of races in the syndicate’s black-and-yellow-diamonds colours (now those of Arrowfield Stud) on the fillies that they primarily raced, including Cappricio, Dancelot, Misty Ville, Chelsea Lady, Cinch and Schemer. The biggest win enjoyed by the partnership came in the 1974 Sires Produce Stakes—won by Gretel, ridden by Moses.

Moses won the 1972 City Tattersalls’ Cup and 1973 Winter Cup on the Neville Begg-trained Little Gum Nut in the green and blue McLaren tartan colours of breeder Murray Bain, the same colours he was to wear to the greatest victory of this first phase of his career, in 1980 on the Golden Slipper winner, Dark Eclipse. He won the 1972 Wollongong Cup on the nine-year-old Magic Sails at 14/1, defeating a strong field. His first city treble came the same year on Major Vet, Gentle Scope and Singing Sands at Canterbury on 19 April 1972.


(Like to read more? Watch for the book at Xmas 2021!)


Sydney Racing in the 1970s: a Racegoers' Companion

This book is in pre-production with an anticipated release for Christmas 2021.

On this page are extracts from the introduction and three 'Pin-up' pieces: on the mighty chestnut iron-horse, Tails, and the  journeyman jockey, Kevin Moses, who overcame the hard times of his post-apprenticeship years to become an international hit and Sydney premier in the nineties, and Ken Howard, the greatest racec-caller there ever was, who retired in nineteen seventy-three. There will also be a Pin-up of  Warwick Farm racecourse in the book: an extract is provided on aanother page on this website.

Handsome Tails: Queensland’s Favourite Son

Who was the biggest Queenslander ever to run on at Brisbane's Lang Park, home of State of Origin football?  Many rugby league followers would nominate Artie Beetson, but they'd be wrong. Stumped? Fair enough—this is a trick question, but the answer is not Russ Hinze, either. It was in fact a racehorse.

The year was 1972, and the horse, a magnificent stallion, cantered several times between the try-lines, accompanied by marching girls and bands. The crowd cheered mightily. It was a fitting tribute, as the horse was undoubtedly Queensland's favourite son. The horse then did a lap around the field and responded to renewed cheering by bowing and nodding his head.









And no, the horse was not the ‘Goondiwindi Grey’, Gunsynd. It was mighty Tails—the horse that besotted racing writer Pat Farrell described as ‘the most beautiful horse in Australia’ and a ‘handsome bronze giant’—as though he were writing about a hero of classical Greece, or a Gold Coast lifesaver.

That night organisers of the tribute gave Tails a commemorative sash. It read: ‘With love to Tails from 35,000 Rugby League fans NSW V Queensland July 2 1972’.

In Queensland and NSW Tails was the established pop star. It was Tails who started this curious matter of responding to a crowd’s applause with a bow. Like all true pop stars Tails held a particular fascination for the girls.  If his owner, Queensland federal parliamentarian ‘Ceb’ Barnes, had granted every request he received for a lock of Tails’ chestnut hair from female admirers, the horse would have been as bald as Yul Brenner.

Gunsynd's great days of public adulation, when he became the subject of a top-forty hit by former yodeller Tex Morton, still lay ahead.  And Gunsynd's popularity was a nation-wide media sensation.  Tails was a great favourite everywhere as well, but somehow he was the local-boy-makes-good success story who never lost his roots. There was a special feeling for him north of the Tweed.

Tails was in the Errol Flynn class in the looks department, and he knew it.  His forelock was worn in a raffish long fringe, much in the manner of an earlier Queensland star, Bernborough.  He was tall and distinguished, and his coat a beautiful burnished gold. He was a real stud; the original Mr Personality, and more than a bit of a character.

In the 1971 Metropolitan Handicap the Tommy-Smith-trained Oncidon beat Tails, trying for his third straight Metropolitan Handicap, into second by three lengths.  When the gate was opened for horses to return to scale Tails came charging up like a big front rower and knocked Oncidon—who was only a little bloke—out of the way to come back first.  Speculation was that Oncidon had won by so far Tails hadn't seen him, and thought that he had won the race himself!  Oncidon, incidentally, a very handy horse who later also won a Villiers, was in receipt of 14.5 kilos from Tails.

In 1970 Tails started in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, run in the presence of Her Majesty at Randwick.  Tails was involved in a scrimmage and lost jockey Neville Voigt.  The race was won by the 80/1 roughie, Panvale, providing apprentice Peter Cook his first big race win. Yet after the race Tails was still the star.  Riderless, on the way back to the enclosure he tried to mount the clerk of the course's grey pony.  Greys really turned Tails on.  No wonder his stable name was ‘Bull’.

Mention the name Tails and sooner or later someone will bring up the ‘two miles’ business. Tails, they'll say, didn't ‘get’ two miles. He did not win in seven tries at the trip.

If Tails truly didn't get two miles, his breeding would make you wonder why.  He was by Dalray, winner of a Melbourne Cup and a Metropolitan Hcp, and one of the best horses of the 1950s. Tails' darn Dolled Up was a 1953 product of top stayer Katanga.  Katanga's sire was The Buzzard, who also produced the Melbourne Cup winners Old Rowley and Rainbird.

There is plenty of quality in Tails' family tree, like Refulgent, winner of the 1960 QTC Sires Produce. Refulgent was by Dalray out of a half-sister to Dolled Up.  So impressive was the win in the Sires Refulgent was promoted to nominal favourite for all the big spring races that year. However a stable accident prevented Refulgent from reaching his full potential.

Tails older brother, Man about Town, was also a good horse, who was trained by Tommy Smith in the mid-sixties.  He easily won a Wagga Cup, as well as winter and Parramatta Cups at Rosehill. He was also second to Bore Head in a Doomben Cup.

Tails was a headline horse much loved by racing journos praying for copy. Pat Farrell in particular seemed obsessed by him.  Farrell was loyal too- he tipped Tails in each of his three tries at the Melbourne Cup.

Writers liked to run the gag that Tails was half human. One discovered he fancied trains. A track ran close by Eagle Farm racecourse, and Tails would watch the trains go by.  Pat Murray was quoted: ‘He looks at them, the train drivers blow their whistles at him, and he thoroughly enjoys it.’

Another ran a piece on Tails' personalised float, which sounds like the equine equivalent of James Bond's Aston-Martin. The float was wired for sound so that Tails' favourite cassettes like South Pacific could be played.

Tails filled more newspaper columns than shark stories in the summer. However, his record shows that he was not just a ‘newspaper’ champion.

(Like to read more? Watch for the book at Xmas 2021!)

Ken Howard: World's Greatest Ever Racecaller

'He could turn a maiden handicap of hacks into a Homeric struggle’






For me, the great watershed of Sydney racing in the 1970s, the event that clearly demarcated the start of the decade from its end, was the retirement of the game-changing race-caller, Ken Howard. Though he rarely provided the commentaries heard over the course public address systems (his last day being an exception), Howard was the voice of Sydney racing. He may have had, or chose to use, a limited vocabulary (as Jack Pollard suggested) and relied heavily on a small collection of clichés, but replays of his calls are the most affective evocations of Saturday afternoons in post-war Sydney. For me they bring back cherished memories of sitting in the beer garden of the Padstow Park Hotel with my Dad and Pop, both keen racing men, sucking on a paper straw, simultaneously absorbing ‘Blue Bow’ lemonade and Howard’s descriptions of horses like Time and Tide and The Snow Burner winning.

In the 1950s and 1960s in his home state of New South Wales, Howard’s voice was as familiar as that of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. In that era he was as synonymous with the world of horseracing as ‘Chips’ Rafferty was with Australian cinema. And indeed, whenever producers wanted to conjure the excitement of horseracing, or the ambience of a Saturday afternoon in a tiled Australian pub with an island bar—in films like Into the Straight, The Sundowners, They’re a Weird Mob and Sunstruck, and television programs like ‘My Name’s McGooley’—they turned to Ken Percival Frederick Howard. He literally was a household name.

Howard had the unique ability to imbue even the most mundane of races with hair-raising excitement and uncertainty—as Cliff Cary put it, he could ‘turn a maiden handicap of hacks into a Homeric struggle’.[1] The quotidian became the monumental.  At the same time, he was incredibly accurate and as loquacious and sure of tongue as Rossini’s Figaro, able to rip through a field of 24 horses in a big Randwick ‘mile’ race two or three times before the home turn was reached.  For his ability to correctly predict the outcome of photo-finishes he was given the nickname ‘Magic Eye’ by the 2UE manager Alan Toohey.

That he could rattle off names like a machine gun and call ‘nose’ winners from miles away outside the racecourse, in race after race, astounded Australian racegoers. However, the reaction of overseas racing fans when exposed to him was more disbelief than admiration. When his call of the 1968 Epsom Derby was replayed for English radio audiences, listeners called in insisting that it was a trick recording of some sort. An article that appeared in the Daily Mirror historical feature two months before his death claimed that in 1968 during a trip to call at the Yonkers Paceway New York he had been offered the extraordinary sum of $150,000 a year to remain in the United States. Howard estimated that he knew 125,000 of the roughly 132,000 sets of registered owners’ colours extant when he retired in December 1973. And yet he called most human interlocutors ‘Sport’ or ‘Brother’ because he had extreme difficulty in remembering people’s names. It wasn’t just Howard’s vocabulary that set him apart. His diction was also most distinctive. He had the ability to insert sibilants and double-us where they had no business being, and yet the outcome was somehow appealing. He referred to the whip as ‘the persuader’, which was a nice euphemism in its own right—but he pronounced it ‘persh-swuader’.


Howard was not quite everyone’s favourite caller. A small number of more puritanical horse players, if I can be allowed that oxymoronic phrase, disliked what they regarded as his histrionics and excessive use of a relatively limited pool of clichés, such as ‘straight as a gun barrel’ and ‘tooth and nail struggle’, as well as the celebrated ‘London to a brick on’. Nor did they appreciate him referring to George Moore as ‘Georgey-Porgy’. Don Scott, though he did not denigrate Howard, preferred the calls of Des Hoysted—less theatrical and providing a more nuanced account of what had happened during a race, in terms of tactics and luck in running. Naturally this was of greater benefit to a professional form analyst than the prickles down the back of the neck that Howard provided. But, as the radio ratings emphasised, for the man betting SP in the pub, and the housewife ditto at home doing the ironing, Howard was the natural choice.

Geoff Mahoney, Howard’s one-time deputy, but an extremely measured and conservative race-caller himself, when asked by Turf Monthly to nominate Australia’s best race-caller, shot back ‘Ken Howard: and I don’t just say that out of loyalty’. It goes without saying that Howard had enormous influence on all race-callers that came after him, but few were game to mimic him too closely, as they were sure of suffering in the comparison. One who dared however was the Riverina caller Jack Styring. He perfected the imitation to the degree that the first time I heard him I thought that the dead Howard had ‘come again’ like Light Fingers to win the 1965 Melbourne Cup (Howard was alone in correctly calling the mare the winner over Ziema). Styring even developed a range of similar clichés. While he was a fully functional race-caller, Stryring sounded so much like Howard that when listening to him I tended to become distracted from the race itself.

Howard’s natural habitat was radio and his expert craft the creation of word pictures. His calls were literally hair racing. Even so, he was extremely effective in other mediums including the cinema news services, where he would call over the film of recent major races. When Howard was working for Ken G Hall at Cinesound in the early 1950s he would catch a flight to Sydney after the Melbourne Cup meeting in order to record the voice over call of the big race. For the most part he would call these like he was calling a live race, and he could even make these exciting, an ability I think that was unique to him. In the introduction to the actual replay Jack Davey would throw to Howard, clean shaven and immaculate in fresh linen, suit and a pearl-grey Stetson despite the long and arduous day behind him. Howard would smile exposing those famous dentures, raise his binoculars and turn, as though to the course proper. Then the voice over would commence. Often the calls would be accompanied by a nineteenth-century orchestral ‘gallop[1]’ by Strauss or one of his contemporaries, and they too seemed to contribute to the excitement. In the early years of his Sunday racing review programme with Keith Robbins the replays were similarly accompanied.


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