“A Passion for the Sport of Kings….” KB Hill

Another fab story from KB Hill’s “On Reflection” site.

 

It just came naturally, this passion for horses.

He can remember it as a kid. His mum would spread the ‘Sun’ Form Guide across the kitchen table of a Saturday morning, comb through the fields and scribble down a few 5 bob bets, which his Dad would dutifully plonk on.….just before the first race.

Then she’d twiddle the dials on the radio , and the dulcet tones of Joe Brown or Bert Bryant would permeate the air-waves throughout the afternoon……..

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He loved all sports, but when the opportunity presented itself to be an apprentice jockey, he was over the moon. After all, school didn’t excite him  that much and he’d already been floating around Jimmy Hoysted’s stables for a year or so.

Yes, it was tough yakka, but he was ‘Living the Dream’, he’d say……. He’d be up early, mucking out stables, riding trackwork, doing odd jobs…..and soaking up all the horse-talk on those foggy, chilly winter mornings.

Soon, Jimmy started to entrust him with a few race rides. The adrenalin rush, which came when he piloted a precious piece of horse-flesh out of a wide barrier, guided it to a handy spot on the fence and engaged in a gripping battle for the line, still gives him goose-bumps.

A few handy wins came, too, but on the horizon was the inevitable battle with rising weight, which he knew he wouldn’t surmount. It was to ultimately seal his fate as a hoop.

After three years, his career was over……IMG_3763

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His uncle had been a crafty footy legend of the thirties…. won the VFL’s goal-kicking one year, and finished with roughly 700-odd ‘snags’..…was even named full forward in his club’s Team of the Century.

So there were some handy genes there. Naturally, when the young bloke started moving through the ranks, they type-cast him as a spearhead, despite the fact that he stood just a touch over 5’6”.

He certainly possessed a good pair of hands. If he got himself in the front position he was rarely out-marked. And with a handy turn of pace, it enabled him to get on the end of some of those sizzling passes that came from mid-field.

They labelled him a ‘decoy’ in one Grand Final preview. And he played the role to perfection, as his side clinched a dramatic flag win. Someone claimed he was possibly the smallest full forward to play in an O & M flag.

Ability aside, though, his greatest attribute was his personality. They regarded him as one of those fellahs who helped mould the character of the club. You know the type…..happy-go-lucky…universally popular…..never a bad word about anyone.

His only beef – and he kept it to himself – was that the selectors wouldn’t give him a crack on a wing, or a back flank, where he believed he was more suited. He was sure he’d be better able to portray his skills there, than continually having to contend with taller, physically stronger brutes up forward.

But sport, to him, was about having fun. Train hard, yes, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying yourself. His team-mates recalled the year, he started inviting a few of them around after training of a Thursday night.IMG_3762

Newly-betrothed , and full of conviviality, he suggested bringing along two or three ‘Long Necks’ to these ‘ Unofficial Team Meetings’, which could sometimes stretch past midnight. “Great for fostering team spirit,” he’d joke….. And, by the way, park your car in a discreet spot, just in case the coach, or the selectors get wind of these gatherings…….

He’d been more than a handy player at the Club for nearly a decade, but eventually decided it was time to head out to the ‘bush’ for a kick. The youngsters, in particular, who looked up to him, were sorry to see him go, but he thought it’d help him rekindle his enthusiasm for the game.IMG_3761

Of course he relished the laid-back atmosphere out there, and became one of the stars of the comp; stretching his career by another half a dozen years……

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Footy, though, was just one string to his bow. He proved more than adept at Basketball, Tennis or Cricket – a true sporting all-rounder.

If you caught him in a weak moment, he could be coaxed into describing the proudest moment of his sporting life……

It was a cricket semi-final, and his team found itself in the precarious situation of being nine wickets down, and starting the final day still close to 120 runs in arrears. The match was expected to be decided within minutes….

He strode purposefully to the wicket with the number 11 batsman. Slowly they began to erode the deficit and, as the afternoon wore on, the impossible turned into the improbable……..then the target began to loom on the horizon…….

With dusk beginning to shroud the oval – and after close to four and a half hours- they hit the winning runs, amidst scenes of euphoria……

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That’s just another of his trove of sporting memories, but his racing highlights could fill a book.

Someone suggested that he missed his calling………. he could have been a panellist on RSN 927….nattering away like Michael Felgate, or a couple of the experts that he grew up listening to – Jack Elliott and Rollo Roylance, on ‘Three-Way-Turf Talk.’

These days you might find him helping out one of his mates at the stables ….. or chauffeuring a jockey to a country meeting.

That’s where he’ll be in his element . He likes the look of horses; is enthralled by the atmosphere and theatre of the race-course; is addicted to the culture, romance and danger of the racing game.

Old codgers and elegant, besuited gentlemen, tap him on the shoulder and seek his learned opinion on what might be a chance in the next……..

And when the horses jump, he’ll imagine for a moment that he’s back in the days of his youth……..perched on the outsider; seeking an opening to push through the tightly-bunched field; just pondering when to make his move……..

 

 

To read more wonderful stories by KB Hill visit his On Reflection website here.

 

Comments

  1. That is a really great read, KB. Thanks for sharing!

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