They are racing at Heathcote

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.

Comments

  1. Hi Phil, i’m quite familiar with Heathcote, but i need some guidance here. Please jog my memory when the last meeting was held there, as well as the proximity of the track to town.

    Glen!

  2. Great yarn Phil. We don’t have many country tracks left in South Oz but could the old-timers tell some stories about racing at them

  3. Glen, the race track was taken over by the Golf Club.

    What a tragedy, that golf , a sport that I abhor, has taken over the sport of kings.

    I don’t actually like horse racing or horses, for that matter. I have fallen off more horses than you have had dinners. It used to bug me that we had to get on the motor bike to get the horses in.

    When I finished HSC my Dad took me to see Sir Bernard Callinen, leader of Sparrow Force, the group of Australian soldiers that kept thousands of Japs on Timor rather then on the Kadoka Tract, because dad thought I Should think about being an engineer. A bloody horse, being broken in, had stood on my foot at 8.00 am on the morning on the day we drove down to Melbourne to meet the great man.

    By the time he could see Dad and I my foot was so swollen I could not wear a shoe and I was in so much pain I could hardly speak. Harmsie will not believe that bit, but a bloody horse ruined the one time I met a GREAT AUSTRALIAN.

    The Bendigo race Club refused to give Heathcote ant dates to run any meeting so the Heathcote Racing Club was no more. Imagine a race meeting allied with the wine show they run in early October in Heathcote??!!

    I reckon about 1970was the last meeting just about the time when picnic racing became popular

  4. Yes Phil, October racing with wine – and a game of golf.

  5. TA Phil, my family has a long link with Heathcote, with my forebears the Conricks first settling there in the 1850’s. Some are still there, though not in the world of the living.

    Heathcote has a great bakery, Gaffneys, there are also some nice new ‘crafty’ shops opening, to enhance it’s attraction, with the wonderful; Mount Ida, and the woodlands nearby adding to the ambience.

    Glen!

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