Nup to the cup: Yep to new traditions
Horse racing was a hugely important part of my childhood, particularly the gambling side of things. I ran the book at school for four years (and nearly lost a lot of money in the process when Rogan Josh got up in 2019 Hamish Dixon). I had a TAB account from the age of 15 (thanks mum and dad) and used various gambling systems to try and reliably pick winners — often successful, but addiction to the adrenal experience was my undoing. I’d sneak out of school at Friday lunch time and run 10km down the street to buy a Best Bets which would make me 20mins late for maths class every week in the first period after lunch and the enemy no.1 of our teacher, but the joy I got from analysing that little paper booklet was worth it every time. I remember heading out to Warrick Farm in my trackie-daks and putting five bucks worth of coins in the payphone to dial up one of the betting services listed in Best Bets to see who they recommended betting on for the day and the sense of purpose that gave me in some not very happy adolescent years. More importantly, horse racing was one of the ways I connected with my granddad, who also liked a punt. The races were kind of like an initiation ceremony for me: going to Rosehill to have a bet with Noel and Des and Peter was a cherished experience that represented one of my first entry points into the adult world. I still remember having a pre-mix cola and the occasional shandy with the fellas in the bar and Noel getting up on a handily priced winner in the last of the day back in….when was it, 1997? In the years gone by I’d always have a look at the Melbourne Cup, the last vestige of my connection with those times. I’m increasingly vexed every year with regard to how I should feel about what I now know about the racing industry, on the one hand, and the meaningful place it has in my life on the other. It binds together different important characters and emotions. I feel that having a bet is a way for me to connect with those now departed souls and those childhood years when mum always would place a bet on the Cup for my siblings and I. But this year the dream is dead, for whatever reason, whether it’s the 4 Corners program, the gross marketing that is splashed across the city every year for the carnival, bloody Tom Waterhouse popping up on my newsfeed, or something unaccountable in me that’s changed. I think I also like the challenge of change. But I’m not going to give up renewing my memories of the past, I’d be more emotionally impoverished if I gave that up. So, instead, I’m going to take a leaf out of Gerald Murnane’s book and write down all the cup runners I can remember from the past on bits of paper, see if I can find a record of their jockey silks online and colour little icons on each. Then I’m going to flick each piece of paper/horse across the top of a table, see who ends up first past the post and make a record of the trifecta. Then I’ll try find a little box to put them all away till next year when the race is run again. It won’t be the same spectacle but it’s the beginning of a new tradition and I reckon granddad would see the merit in that.