Almanac Horseracing (Yarns): The Sport of Kings and Paupers


Racing at Birchip. (Photo:



Caulfield Cup Day, 2018 reminds The Muse of happy days with the characters of Mallee racing.



Well, the footy is finished and Carringbush, as brave as they were, couldn’t deliver a flag for our fair city .


So we now turn our attention to the Sport of Kings.


After a couple of Abbotts Longknecks [nothing better than an Abbotts on a beautiful Spring day]  I commenced to muse on Racing and my involvement .


I guess it would be fair to say I had no say in at all. Around 1961 at the age of seven, I achieved my first gainful employment when I was engaged as a purveyor of race books for the Mount Wycheproof Race Club. The Club held two meetings a year in May and November. For the May meeting the main race was the Phil Allen Handicap and for the November meeting the main race was the time-honoured Mount Wycheproof Cup supported by the Harry Forest Flying Handicap. I only told you that to dispel the rumour I am in the early stages of dementia. Now selling racebooks was a good earn for a seven year old. My flat fee was 5 shillings and the books were 2 shillings each. Five bob was good money in those days and there were plenty of sixpenny and thruppence tips from punters on the way in.


I digress, racing was a little less structured in those days. While there was a governing body barrier draws were left up to ‘honest’ club officials. Those empowered with barrier draw at Wycheproof were .


JN [Jack Neal] Hommeloff, the local butcher and a man always looking for an angle


Ian [Tex] Allen local farmer World War II veteran and good bloke who, given he served in Europe and New Guinea, probably wasn’t fussed about slightly bending the rules. Tex actually bred an Oakleigh Plate winner Kentland.

My father Mick Kelly the world’s worst punter who wasn’t looking for an edge, he was demanding and needed an edge.


I do recall being privy to a barrier draw in the butcher shop. The three scallywags perused entries and JN made phone calls to three trainers Arthur Smerdon, JV [Curly] Burns and EJ [Ducky] Smith. They were all good bush trainers. In fact, they were better than that. Arthur [Robert the Drencher’s uncle] trained a wonderful horse Yootha. Curly had Dark Satin who ran second in an Australian Cup and my favourite punting horse Tudor Peak who won 27 races, and lots in the city usually at good odds, Ducky won a Toorak Handicap with Manaroa. The conversation went something like:


“Curly are you bringing Shock to Wyche on Saturday?”




“OK. That’s good. Can it win?”




“Goodo. What barrier do you want?”


Done. The phone was put down. JN looks at his companions.


“Shock: barrier 2,” he declared.  “And added, if we give his main opposition the outside gate he will be much obliged.”


So the danger was given the outside gate and the rest of the barrier draw would proceed in a fair and honest manner. I suspect not many of the committeemen of the club lost on the punt at the Wycheproof Races.


They now race once a year on Derby Day.


Before I came to Melbourne, aside from Wycheproof, I can remember going to race meetings at places like Watchem, Sheep Hills and Quambatook, all now confined to history. At Watchem one day a good bush horse called Granite unfortunately hit the running rail and one of the rail support posts sprung loose and impaled the poor bugger. He was as dead as a maggot in the middle of the track just after the home turn. I suspect the RSPCA wasn’t in attendance as in full view of the public they put a bullet in his head to be sure, hooked him up to a tractor dragged him under the running rail, left him there and proceeded to run the last few races. It was a particularly warm day and as the public were leaving the course poor old Granite was starting to become fly blown. Ah, the Sport of Kings!


The staple food at a sporting event in the Mallee was a saveloy or a sav for short. A sav was a real hot dog, thick and tasty and brimming with not much goodness, which is distinct from a modern day hot dog, thin and tasteless and brimming with absolutely no goodness. At Watchem football or races the vendor of savs was David Rivett and he cooked them in a copper of boiling water heated on a woodfire in a tin shed. Davey took them out of the copper with a pair of tongs, placed them in a bread roll and then slit the sav with a finger nail especially kept long and sharp for the task. The sav would burst open with goodness upon incision of the finger nail and then he would smother it in Cohns tomato sauce. Jeez they were the best. As a matter of interest Davy worked as the local shit carter during the week and carried cans of over flowing sewerage every day. I assume he washed his hands occasionally but then again the food handling people weren’t around then and nobody ever died from Davey’s culinary delights – as far as I am aware. Ah Davey’s kitchen ruled!


Oh, how I loved the races. Rows of bookmakers with florid faces, who looked like they had eaten two of their clerks and their penciller for lunch washed down with a couple of bottles of red, shouting the odds and challenging you to bet.


“7/2 the field. I should be a registered charity.”


“Don’t be shy, give it a name and I will set you for whatever you want.”


“Board odds I will lay!” [Really? What else would you be laying?]


When the bet was made you got a cardboard ticket scribbled by crayon in a mystical language which only the bookie and an emu could decipher. Now for the uneducated an emu in racing parlance is not a flightless bird. In days gone by the emus were blokes who scanned the discarded tickets in the betting ring and more often than not found winning tickets thrown away by punters. Next week they would go to the track and cash them in.


Fast forward 45 years, and on Saturday I ventured to the Heath to watch the time-honoured Caulfield Cup which in certain circles is considered more time-honoured than the Gunbower Cup. I digress but I did for the first time see a champion in the flesh at Caulfield many years ago. The beautiful grey filly Surround made a one act affair of the Caulfield Guineas and emasculated the colts in the process.  I got 11/2 and the bloke in front of me in the payout line turned and asked me in a slightly squeaky voice “what price did you get I took 9/2.” It was Leigh Mathews and in a manner totally devoid [well maybe] of arrogance I replied: “The astute punters got 11/2 mate.” I knew from that moment Leigh would amount to not much in life.


Now on Saturday I must confess I availed myself of some Corporate Hospitality with one of my cultural advisors Macca in tow. I must say it was an eye opener.


Nubile maidens everywhere dressing to look their most nubile, in fact some of them looked far too young to be attempting look nubile. But then again every policewoman I see looks far too young to be a policewoman.


Skinny young blokes from the planet Metrosexual attired in Royal Blue suits, pants too short to cover their ankles and, don’t you just love it, no socks under their $500 shoes. Well boys, you look like you have woken up in a fog, put your little brother’s school pants on by mistake and, when you realised your mother hadn’t darned your socks, wore none to school as a protest. The last time the youth of Australia wore no socks under leather shoes or boots was on the Kokoda track and I suspect those boys didn’t think they were the height of fashion. Anyway it was bloody cold on Saturday and I hope the sockless developed chilblains. Seriously boys you look ridiculous.


It was a wonderful day’s racing and for me it reinforced that everyone is equal in racing. Jeez if you need proof let’s have a look at the Cup.


The winner Best Solution is owned by the Sheikh Mohammed who desperately needed the money as one of his oil wells stopped pumping for 30 minutes last week. In fact I have it on good authority he rode his camel to the ATM in Dubai on Saturday night and checked the ATM to ensure the $3.5m prizemoney was in his account.

Homesman ran second – owned by the quintessential Aussie Battler Lloyd Williams.

Cliffs of Moher ran third, also in the Williams colours



Ah well, that’s racing. It has come a long way. Some things are for the good and some for the bad. As Macca and myself packed our belongings back into our Gladstone bags and headed for the train I did reflect on a wonderful day but my mind wandered to even better days. How good would it be to be sitting on a log bench at Watchem with Macca and Griggy after the last on a hot Mallee day, sipping on an Abbotts Longkneck, devouring a specially split David Rivett saveloy smothered in Cohns tomato sauce and gazing at the flyblown corpse of poor old Granite, who would be effectively keeping the flies off our savs.



Ah, the Sport of Kings and Paupers.



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  1. Peter Fuller says

    Well that’s it, time to hang up my keyboard. Drizzle makes my feeble efforts pointless.

  2. Hayden Kelly says

    Too kind Peter especially given your piece on Chilla Porter this week which i enjoyed immensely .

  3. A great yarn, Hayden.
    Horse-racing lends itself to great yarn-telling, and this is certainly no exception.

  4. I love the phone call.

    Like something out of a Jimmy Stewart movie.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    This is why I think I’m reluctant to contribute, but happy to comment. There is a lot of gold here. The butcher shop draw, Leigh wouldn’t amount to much, Every police woman looks too young to be a police woman, skinny young blokes you look ridiculous! Very entertaining yarn.

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