A Well Oiled Oaks Day

Have you ever looked really closely at a well oiled machine? When you were younger did you ever take the head off a Holden 186 motor and marvel at the shiny mechanical thingies, all oiled up and tuned to perfection, ready to propel the Kingswood along?

No? Me neither.

But when I arrived at the Nursery car park on Oaks Day at Flemington last week I saw what I thought a well oiled machine might look like in full flight. There were Andrew and Helen Fithall with shade awning erected, eskies full of beer and ice, munchies laid out on the side serving table, and the rear of the car open in the time honoured Flemington-day-at-the-races fashion. And it was only 10.20am! I didn’t attend the Oaks Day function last year when the much maligned Peter Flynn was in control, but even by his own admission this was a huge step up in organization and efficiency.

It was a chilly but not unpleasant start to the day. The breeze was brisk but the sun promised to break through. Helen Fithall boldly declared that the sun would be shinning in all its glory by 2pm. She was wrong. It didn’t come out for any consistently long period until 2.09pm. Never mind.

I decided that I would take it easy. I wanted the Oaks Day to be an enjoyable and relaxing affair, maybe few beers after lunch, a bet or two later in the day, and some mingling with those present. After about two minutes I revised my plans because I already had a beer in my hands (thanks to AF’s powers of persuasion) and found myself gravitating towards the bookies like a fly to an egg sandwich. They took my money in the first but I got back in the second with an each way nag called Zinaling getting up into third. There were already signs that this was going to be a tough day on the punt (if you call my $5 or $10 bets punting) as the track condition was changing by the hour; firming for the better.

At about 11.15 the sushi came out; perfect time of the day to eat sushi. However we discovered a logistical problem in that the containers of soy sauce and wasabi provided by the sushi shop (you didn’t really think I made the sushi did you?) were too small to dunk the sushi rolls in. It was agreed that one could use ones little finger to scoop the wasabi out and apply it so long as one didn’t double dip. This worked well though it was noted that the application of wasabi got thicker as the morning wore on resulting in several exclamations of “whoooohhh” when the thicker wasabi made contact with an unsuspecting tongue.

A bet on Ain’tnofallenstar in the third went unrewarded, my tongue was numb from wasabi, the sun had yet to appear in any meaningful way, and race four looked a complete mystery to me. But out of this darkness came light in the form of a P. Flynn announcement:

“If you drink Coronas all day with a slice of lemon or lime in them you WILL NOT get a hangover. I repeat you WILL NOT get a hangover.”

I decided to test the theory.

Those who know things about horses (P Flynn, D Downer, C Down) had several tips for race four. I followed their lead feeling like a lamb to the slaughter and backed Curtana. It came home. All of a sudden this punting thing was easy again. I looked at these knowledgeable gentlemen in a new light. Maybe they did know something?

The conversations between races were wild in their variation and certainly affected by those testing the Corona theory and those not testing the Corona theory who just stayed on the Stellas. Some of the topics up for discussion were, well, weird.

Firstly P Flynn wondered whether there was anyone in the Almanac community who carried the surname Downest, and that if there were we should invite them to attend next year, that way we would have a Down, Downer and Downest all in the same place at the same time.  We discussed in great detail and at great length whether this may have ever happened before in the history of mankind.

We then moved on to discuss what we might say to our god and maker when we finally turned up our toes and went to the great race track in the sky. I am firmly of the view that whoever is up there running this whole show would love to get some feedback as to what he (or she) has got right and what they may have got wrong.

The right things are plentiful; water, sun, animals, fish (yes I think we did break off momentarily into the great lines out of The Life Of Brian – education, sewerage, sanitation, and the aqueduct), but the wrong things were harder to find. Essentially we concluded that we would criticize two important failures in the manufacture of the universe:

1 – the growing of and ongoing maintenance of teeth. Surely a better design could be created around teeth. They are a pain from the moment they arrive to the moment they fall out.

2 – why tomato bushes grow with the little rogue storks that emerge from between the main part of the tomato bush and the branches. These rogue storks simply sap the bush of its strength and never flower or fruit. Totally pointless.

My punting went off the rails in race five. I went for value and found none. Gandalf The White is probably still running as we speak. So it was onto race six. The Oaks. C Down liked Sasa, so did I, so did everyone I think. Precious Lorraine was also fancied. We all lost. Hopeless. More Corona please!

Race seven came and went. I have no recollection of it, like I have no recollection of my twenty first birthday. Three minutes of my life gone. But race eight was a joy. Not because I had a win but because P Flynn had a win and roared his horse (Temple of Boom) over the line with immense enthusiasm. I’ve never heard a horse called so many different names in one sentence.

“Go the Boom, go you little beauty, go the Boomster, bring it home Temple, Boom, Boom , Boom. Yesssssssssssss.” He was very happy.

Fortunately I won enough in the last to buy a train ticket home and was able to yell my own horse home – the mighty Niblick.

“Go the Blick, yes Nibbles, you’re a star Blikster, yeesssssssssss.”

What a fabulous day. Great fun, great company, the sun shone, most of us had a win (though C Down seemed somewhat quiet), food was beautiful (we stopped eating the sushi after about 3pm when the sun had turned it a bit sort of brown and murky), and the organization of the day went off like the Dehli Games – without a hitch.

If only Andrew and Helen Fithall had organized the trains I might have got home inside two hours. Apparently a nasty accident at Flinders Street railway station brought the whole system to a standstill. We stood on the train just outside North Melbourne station for 45 minutes, packed in like Collingwood supporters on their new bandwagon. People got restless and bored; so restless and bored that after stamping their feet and banging the walls of the train they burst into “Oh we’re from Tiger land, a fighting fury…….etc etc”. Hard to believe but true. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t convince my lovely and ever patient wife that I hadn’t been to the Skinny Dog for a few pots on the way home. The train excuse always sounds entirely lame even when it’s true.

On the stationery train I was lucky enough to be squashed up against a young female thief who had stolen a handful of roses (the powerfully perfumed Mr Lincoln red roses) whilst leaving the Flemington track, and therefore I didn’t have to put up with the glorious aromas of about 400 people who had been standing in the sun all day, who had gone to the toilet without washing their hands, and who were now not in total control of all their bodily functions – I had roses to smell.

Just as the train got moving an agitated woman burst into a political diatribe.

“This crappy public transport is all the ALP’s fault. Don’t vote Labor at the next election. They’re hopeless. This should never happen. I’m rREALLY pissed off…………………..” On and on she went. Eventually she exited the train and continued her speech to all who would listen on the platform.

C Down and I exited the train at Spencer Street and began a search for a taxi. It was a bit like trying to catch a gold fish in a pond but eventually we cornered one.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Dips great read
    Im going to have to move to Melbourne as folks have too much fun down there

  2. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks Dips,

    A great day and a great read.


  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks Dips. It really was a very pleasant day. It is interesting that Oaks crowds have been trending downwards over past few years. Weather is a factor. Maybe with the (other) GFC, employed people are a little less inclined to take a day off to go to the races. For me, as a person there for the social rather than the punting aspects, it is the pick of the days to spend in the carpark.

    The only ommission from your article I need to highlight, was the considerable contribution made by Mrs Downer (apologies to wife of DD if you are not a Downer) with the catering brought along by David. Superb. And very good sushi by-the-way.

  4. AF – you are quite right. Three cheers for Mrs DD!!

    PF – did I leave any names out when you cheered home Temple Of Boom?

  5. Peter Flynn says

    There could have been a bit of boom, boom, boom let’s go back to my room caper uttered post-race.

  6. #1 – TR hope to see you at the track one year. The Spring Carnival and AFL Grand Final is about all Melbourne has left – manufacturing is knackered, the education industry is eating itself alive, all the service industries are heading over seas, and tourists are getting sick of the bloody penguins.

  7. Nice to see you went to Oaks day.
    What colour was your fascinator?
    Hope it matched your frock ;)

  8. Danni – ask anyone who was there. I looked sensational.

  9. 9- ofcorse! :P

  10. Dips
    You wouldn’t be suggesting that the Grand Prix is not on the social calender for every Melbournian. How could one not attend such a glamorous heamoraging of taxpayers money. I’d love to come down to the Oakes one day as it a god day by all accounts and has less of the yobbo factor. We will be having our yearly mid season review in April next year (read a trip to Melbourne to get on the drink and punt and watch the footie)and it would be great if it coincided with an Almanac lunch so I could catch with a few Almanacers.

  11. You could have used some of your winnings to buy some paper and pens on the ‘stationery’ train!

  12. good poynt Mark

  13. Andrew Fithall says

    The reasoning behind the “teeth” failing as discussed. The full article can be found at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Top-Ten-Daily-Consequences-of-Having-Evolved.html?c=y&page=1


    8. Our brains squeeze our teeth
    A genetic mutation in our recent ancestors caused their descendants to have roomy skulls that accommodated larger brains. This may seem like pure success—brilliance, or its antecedent anyway. But the gene that made way for a larger brain did so by diverting bone away from our jaws, which caused them to become thinner and smaller. With smaller jaws, we could not eat tough food as easily as our thicker-jawed ancestors, but we could think our way out of that problem with the use of fire and stone tools. Yet because our teeth are roughly the same size as they have long been, our shrinking jaws don’t leave enough room for them in our mouths. Our wisdom teeth need to be pulled because our brains are too big.

    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Top-Ten-Daily-Consequences-of-Having-Evolved.html#ixzz16pqYA9U5

  14. Liam O'Donnell says

    Dad, Damian, O’Donnell

    Good recount. Although i do believe there are some spelling mistakes. Was Oaks day wasabi as hot as kew wasabi? I hope not. Anyway an excellent read Dad.

    Liam O’Donnell

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