I was at the footy yesterday and a bloke mentioned the Sporting Globe. It brought up memories of getting the Globe at the cafe up the south end of Heathcote after Mass on Sunday. I would read all the footy scores, wondering where all those places were. Dad would scan the racing pages.
Racing is a game that has always attracted characters, spivs and the downright dishonest, but the old-fashioned country racetracks were run by volunteers like my Dad. He was the Secretary of the Heathcote Race Club for years. Jack Farley, our neighbour, was usually President (two Hills married two Farleys and a Hill and a Farley married a Collins). It was the typical country Catholic story.
As well as being secretary, Dad would clean the toilets, repair what needed to be repaired before the race day and co-ordinate the volunteers who kept the Heathcote Racing club going. I don’t want to give the impression that Dad was the colossus at Heathcote. There were plenty of people who devoted as much time as Dad did and I have stories about quite a few of them.
A watch-maker came to Heathcote and it got about he’d been a time-keeper at a race track before the Second World War. Dad went to see the bloke and asked him if he wanted a gig at Heathcote. The bloke was pleased to be asked and agreed straight away to take on the job. Great, thought Dad, another bloke who would lend a hand.
The next race day at Heathcote started off with the sprint. I think it was a five furlong race but Harmsie may correct this bit. Dad was assistant starter (all amateur clubs rely on multi-skilling) and so took the starter down to the starting line in our Holden ute. No barriers at Heathcote, the starter would just drop the string to start the race. Dad thought that for this first race he would charge back to the Grandstand and keep his eye on the timekeeper. Dad just wanted to make sure the guy was competent.
The field of eight contained one very good horse from Melbourne that was first up after a spell, and was coming to Heathcote for an easy run. The bookies were only taking place bets. The Melbourne horse was going to win in a canter. It was a beautiful day, with the track in wonderful condition, and the horses were going to love the tail wind.
The good horse duly saluted, going hard all the way, by about the length of the straight, but my Dad only had eyes for the time-keeper sitting next to him. He seemed to have started at the right time and he hit the stop button as the winner crossed the line. But the time was about 52 seconds. Bugger, thought Dad, the new bloke has a dud stopwatch…but then he noticed several trainers pointing to their watches, obviously stunned by the recorded time.
Just for a second Dad thought “Here we go. A record time at Heathcote. Could it be possible? Remember that long jumper who had added two feet to the long jump record at the Mexico Olympics?”
Everything was right for a good time: fast track, tailwind, and first up, where anything might happen.
Dad had visions, just for a second, of Heathcote on the front page of Saturday night’s Sporting Globe: “World record at Heathcote”.
Imagine the publicity!
Then, with a sinking stomach, he realised what had happened. The horses had started from the four furlong mark, not the five. Dad, being anxious to get back to the stand had placed the starter on the wrong post.
Oops, but no real harm done.
The other placings were well spaced out and Dad, when phoning the results down to Melbourne, made sure that no time was published from the first at Heathcote.