At the races with Dad

By Paul Baines

My father always had superstitions with numbers. He always told me to take quinellas, 5 and 7 always. For what reasons, no one really knows, yet there are times now when I’m at the track when I hear his voice, ” 5 and 7″. I just say,” yeah, yeah, 5 and 7 dad, I know”. People around must think I’m crazy, talking to nobody, but I don’t mind. He also had a favorite doubles combination, 5 and 1. Why, I’ll never know. It could be that his first child was born in 1951, but I’m just guessing.

He also followed tipsters. One day he told me very solemnly and quietly, “I have a new system”. He immediately got my attention. “What is it?” I ventured. “No, I can’t tell you, it’s a secret”.  ” What, I pestered.”  “Alright” he said, “but I have to look at the form guide.” I gave him ‘The Age’ , but he said, “No, I need the Herald Sun guide.” Then, I gave him the guide and asked what he liked in several races. “It’s Brian Meldrums’s tips”, I declared. “Shh”! he said as he put his finger to his lips. “It’s  a secret system.”

Another time, my father and I were Flemington, fot the Newmarket Hcp. It was March, 1983. I liked Razor Sharp. It was 25-1 , so I put on $2 . I can still remember the number 4 flash to the lead near the winning post. I  jumped 50 feet in the air. Calmly, my father collected the 52 dollars from the bookie, with undoubted satisfaction that his son was beating the bookies. My father always told me to be a bookie. They were the ones driving around in the Mercedes, while the poor punters got into their 1967 HR Holdens. I aways thought about this, but I didn’t have the nerve to pursue this unreachable dream. Anyway, I was content to knock a few dollars off them, as a punter.

A few weeks later, the dynamic duo were in action again at Moonee Valley. Father 60, returned soldier, son, 16, keen punter. It was the Rosehill Guineas in Sydney. Both of us looked at the board odds. I said confidently to Dad, ” I like Strawberry Road”. He shot back abruptly, “So do I”.  It was fixed. We backed him at 16-1 and he duly saluted. I can still hear my father shouting over a large group of almost soundless punters, “Go Strawberry, Go Strawberry,” almost at the same time rubbing it in to the punters that didn’t back him. We both collected handsomely. He bought a beer to celebrate and I, ever the conservative punter, had a lemon squash.  What a day, we had won!

Dad was in hospital later that year with heart trouble. Later that year, I failed year 11. My brother joked that when I had a maths question on my exam, I had written Gurner’s Lane, 9-2. It wasn’t that great a stretch of the imagination. I was really in love with the sport: the colours, the jockeys, the bookie boards, the fluctuating odds, the uncertainty , the speculation. It was a fascinating, alluring world. I  loved every part of  it.  Maybe it was my father who made me love it. I don’t know. My mother partly blamed Dad for me not passing year 11, as she said he was continually in my room interrupting me when I was trying to study. But I loved our chats, I just lament that I can’t recall any of them.

Dad’s health wasn’t great throughout 1984, but he had one ace left to play. He backed Black Knight in the Melbourne Cup. It won very easily. During the presentation on television, I thought he might be smiling, but he was crying.  Tears were streaming down his face. It was all very strange. Maybe he knew he didn’t have long to live. The fact that he picked the winner was like his last hurrah.

During 1985, his health wasn’t good and I had started work. We had drifted apart as I was becoming more interested in women than racehorses. My mother told me that he had complained to her that I wasn’t talking to him any more. It may have been true, I don’t know, but I had work commitments and career in mind. I had all the cares of a young man trying to make it in the world. His world was less lively and maybe I thought, less interesting. When he died, as I knew he would, in August 1985, I felt I had lost not just a father, but my best friend. ‘Bud’, he used to call me. His buddy. No one else in the world has ever called me that name since. I wish I could sit and chat about horses , just one more time. God, I miss him!


  1. Lovely piece Paul. Hard to beat punting and racing talk as a father / son bonding experience.

  2. John Harms says

    Ripper piece Paul. Great memories. And very sad.

    (I also backed Razor Sharp – both years).

  3. I read this piece and thought “Ive been there.” My late father a WW2 Vet took me to the Renmark Races in the early 60s (by the way he often called me “bud “too). In the first race (a 2 horse race) the leader covered the other with dust and bolted in. The crowd cheered and drifted off to the “bush bar” waiting for the next with a “huge field” of 4
    I was hooked on country races and whenever we could we would attend “bush meets” in SA

  4. Shared experiences with a parent are most treasured.
    Look at the references on this site and in the book to families going generationally to the footy.
    Go back and read Sasha Lennon’s tribute to his Da –

    I read hundreds of NAPLAN essays this year with kids recalling baking biscuits or cakes with their Mums. A team of two!
    But the races with your Dad…almost “Secret Men’s Business” with its own language and agonies.
    The dynamic duo!….great reading. Thanks Paul.

  5. Carringbush says

    Nice memories mate and you’ll always remember 5 & 7 when you’re at the races. Mine is a 1/2/7 trifecta but increasingly I’m plonking it on the horse that has come 7th and 2nd at it’s last two starts – amazing how many salute.

  6. Terrific article, Paul. Welcome to the almanac mate. Hope our attendance at today’s rally will make some difference. Touching story.

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