Product and Trip Down Memory Lane: When Did Racing Lose Its Heart And Soul?

6
Jan

Lou LucianiBy Lou Luciani – written April 2014

The following article (to use the words of someone famous) has no basis more reliable than my own meandering thoughts and experiences and has no scientific evidence to back it up! It is not intended to offend anyone nor give weight to a liable suit!!!!

The article is sure to ask more questions than it answers. What more, I don’t profess to have all or any of the answers.

What I do have is a genuine love for the racing industry and an ingrained dislike for what those in charge have turned our industry into. Whilst I have been involved in the industry for some forty three years, I accept that there are some who have been involved for much longer and have seen or achieved much more than I ever will. I also accept the inevitability of change. Habits, society, ideals, in fact most things change.

As we wander down the many twists and turns of memory lane, I would dearly love to know…

WHEN DID RACING LOSE ITS HEART AND SOUL????

Was it when we allowed legal casinos?

Was it when Sky Channel became the “controlling body?”

Was it when we last had a “Sir” on the committee?

Was it when it was decided that racing was best run by an organisation called RWWA instead of the old Committee system?  Or

Was it when those in charge decided that racing no longer needed CHARACTERS and instead we needed to sanitise the whole industry? You know, make it squeaky clean and politically correct.

Maybe it was a combination of all of the above but one thing is sure (the way that I see it) and that is that racing has lost its human and equine touch or what I call its heart and soul and now it is about one thing and one thing only.

PRODUCT!!!

PEOPLE versus PRODUCT

At the time of writing, I don’t have a dictionary handy however I did look up the meaning of the word PRODUCT on Google. The information I found there only confused me even more. If you listen to the highly paid executives in charge of our industry today, they will openly tell you that racing is simply a product used to generate TURNOVER (another one of my favourite words) and turnover is what is important to generate income for the racing industry so that we can race for the stake money we do today. Simple really! I can’t understand why I am so confused.

Today, those in charge tell us that we have to have a certain number of horses in each race. We have to have a minimum top weight in handicaps, of 59.0kg and we have to have a “spread” of at least 4.0kg between top weight and bottom weight.  Marvellous thing this new ratings based handicapping system!!

But then again,…. I’m sure THEY know what is best for us? Silly old buggers of my vintage have got no idea!!!

So once again I ask the question. When did racing lose its heart and soul?

When did racing become all about PRODUCT and no longer about the Horse. After all it is called Horse racing not Product racing. When did we stop idolising the greats of our industry whether they be horse, rider, trainer or breeder?

Remember when horses gained a following. Good horses gained a reputation. Top class horses were revered. Champions became household names.

It makes me sad to think that Aquanita Northerly, Placid Ark etc should be referred to as Product. Nor should Paul Harvey or Willie Pike, Neville Parnham or Adam Durant be referred to as Product. No more than the trainer, the jockey or the horse which ran last, in a maiden at the Mingenew races last week. They are all part of the identities and characters (sorry, product) which make up this wonderful sport we are involved in and love so much. It also makes me sad to see the Easter races at Ascot run without the Easter Stakes or the Easter Cup. But I guess that went out with Boxing Day races at Ascot. Or the 3200m Perth Cup!!!

Why does SKY CHANNEL now dictate to the industry? Everything from how long between races to when we will race? After all there is nothing like hanging out at Northam on a cold wet afternoon with, at times, 45minutes between races. Why does the almighty conglomerate of the TAB or News Papers tell us what day we will have acceptances for Saturday races or any race day for that matter. With access to all the modern technology available today, surely the punter can do form in much faster time than the punter of yesteryear. And heaven forbid that as a trainer, we should double accept with a horse so as to make up our mind on race morning which race suits best. That would really throw the punter into a spin and ruin all the pre post betting. And don’t think for one minute that the jockey is anything more than simply PRODUCT either. How would we survive without being able to bet on which jockey wins most races on a particular day??? Fair dinkum. No wonder I’m frustrated!

Perhaps if those well paid leaders of our industry had spent time picking up the droppings left behind by one of our equine friends on a cold wintry morning or better still, paid up for the training of the horse which ran unplaced in that Mingenew maiden, they would stop referring to then as PRODUCTS.

I for one have had a gut full of the term, used almost, as if we should accept it as a term of endearment. Maybe it’s time for our leaders to get away from their projections and spread sheets and mingle with those from whom they derive their income. Get out amongst it guys and you might just experience a whole new world that you didn’t know existed.

Now for that trip down MEMORY LANE…………..

Hands up, those who can remember some or any of the following. It’s ok. It just means you are as old if not older than me.

Attending Helena Vale Racecourse! I did my trials to get my licence to ride in races at Helena Vale. The course closed as a race course a couple of years before I started.

The Top Shop (as it was affectionately referred to by all stable staff.) and the Eastway Drive-in.

The Ascot Inn and the various owners. The Wright family, Wally Hannah, Peter Foreman, Stuart Dyke. Now those guys knew how to run a pub!! The Ascot Inn has its own very special piece of history amongst racing people.

It was before my time but does anyone remember when there was a railway line which ran along Mathieson Rd, down past Little Sandown and over the river. The line was built back in the 1890’s to (wait for it) bring people to the races!

The refined and dulcet tones of on course race caller Max Simmonds. The nights spent having a drink with him after the last only for him to leave in a big hurry to head to the studios of the ABC where he would do a commentary and replay on the main race of the day and the last race of the day, invariably a Welter. I can’t remember the last one of those ever run!

Ascot before it had the Tonkin Hwy Bridge, Hungry Jacks, Kentucky Fried Chicken or MacDonalds. Remember when Mathieson Rd continued through to the Airport lights?

Ascot before we had a horse swimming pool. Back then we used to swim our horses in the Swan River right underneath where the bridge now crosses the river. Today we need permission from Swan River Trust to even walk by the river with a horse.

The old McLarty floats and travelling to the races in the back of them. Definitely frowned upon now days by OH&S.

Regular winter racing at tracks like Beverley York and Toodyay. There were actual crowds which would attend those meetings back then.

Epsom Ave before it had traffic lights.

Perth before we had the Casino.

Illegal gambling clubs in Northbridge like Gingers and  Il Trovatore.

Settling at Tatts Club after the weekend racing and pacing followed by a night at Gingers.

Trots at Gloucester Park when they were on Saturday night.

The Bookies ring out under the trees. (That was before Wilson decided that they were better off under the comfort of the roof). Back then there were actually enough bookies to form a ring!!

The eastern States ring out the back under the “Rotunda”

The Leger area and Leger bookies.

The old Steak House under the grandstand at Ascot.

The old Jockey’s Room which became a bar area but is now no longer used.

The “Lake” out the back near the members car park.

The days when most stable staff lived at the stables.

The days when Trainers and Jockeys actually went to the races dressed in a suit and tie!!Without being disrespectful, most jockeys today wouldn’t be dressed well enough to get a lift in a car with guys like Frank Treen and most of the riders of that era. Many trainers are just as bad!

The days when jockeys/trainers/employees actually respected Stewards and officialdom.

How did we survive without mobile phones? At least it made it easier to keep an upcoming winner quiet!

Back then it was almost an ongoing battle for the trainer to keep close to his chest, information about the progress of an upcoming winner. At least that was the case in most punting stables. It was a constant game of cloak and dagger between trainer and the clockers. Remember PHILLOCK and the days when Journo’s actually went to the track? Now they simply get on the net and “cut and paste” to do a story.

Yes there were rogues and vagabonds around back then and those who rorted the system deserved to be punished in the way which they invariably were. But there were also genuine characters. Punters, tipsters, trainers, owners, jockey’s, commission agents, touts and urgers, There were punting stables and jockeys who grew a leg “when the money was on.” It was not unusual for a jockey to visit the stables after a “result” and “sling” the stable staff! Can’t remember the last time that happened either!!

There were trainers who operated (slightly) outside the rules on race day. Most got caught and “copped a lagging.” There were staff who would look after a horse as if their life depended on it. All in the hope of getting something when the horse won a race!

There were trainers who could only settle with the feed merchant, the floating company or the blacksmith when they “got a result.”  Most trainers back then would order a “Pony” when drinking beer at the bar.

Punters were quick to voice their displeasure, throw race books and hurl abuse over the fence if something which looked like a good thing got beaten or one which was not entitled to win on form, got the money. Heaven forbid that would happen today. They would probably be removed by an army of security staff.

There was something quite romantic about the aura on race day. Women would be dressed to impress however they weren’t asked to sit down in the trainers stand on race day with seats which were so old they would leave smudge marks on their outfit when they stood up. Nor were they asked to sit on seats that pigeons had just left a deposit on overnight or some yobbo had just spilt their beer on. Back in those days which appear so long ago, the gate attendant at the trainers stand knew who was and who wasn’t a trainer. Back then, the race club actually cared enough about owners and trainers to put on a gate attendant!

I know I am getting old but you have to admit that the atmosphere has definitely changed at the races today. No longer do we have bookies calling out the odds. Every hardened punter knew exactly the difference between 6/4 and 11/8 etc. Not only that, they also knew how much they stood to win no matter what they invested and at what price.

Every punter knew what a “Score” was or what a “Monkey” was.

What is it today that makes apparently sane guys want to get dressed up in women’s clothes and go out in public with their mates to celebrate a birthday or an upcoming wedding? Some even go to the trouble of putting on make-up! There is no doubt the race track has attracted all types over the years. Call me a dinosaur but I can’t quite get my head around this new generation.

I guess that is part of the problem. When people of my generation and those of a similar vintage, sit around to discuss racing, it appears as though we have seen and lived through the best years. The years when racing had a HEART and SOUL!