Caulfield Guineas: Down down at The Heath

Saturday morning. For the first time in a couple of years, Clare and I are heading off to the track at the same time. (She called heads and got to attend the Derby Day car park last year and I spent my first eight hours straight as a single father, changing seven nappies, feeding four bottles and praying that, through some act or omission I wouldn’t maim our son Harry).

The sun is shining as we enter the Centre car park and walk towards the Heath enclosure where our hosts for the day, some very reputable Melbourne solicitors, await us in a stylish marquee. I do love the corporate event. Especially when one is a handbag. Today, I am Clare’s handbag, so I am warned to be on my best behaviour. But I’m not feeling the pressure. No worries at all, I say, polishing off my second glass of chardonnay inside the first ten minutes.

The crowd is a convivial one and I notice several other blokes I know whom are also handbags for the day. They don’t look under pressure either. It’s setting up nicely, I think to myself. People have made an effort. I am glad I shined my shoes.

The intro remarks for the day are provided by a partner of the hosting firm, Derek Humphrey-Smith, who was also, at one time, a half reasonable AFL umpire (if, indeed, there is such a species). If my memory serves, it was not contentious decision making that ultimately forced him to leave the most unpopular vocation in the Victorian job market to concentrate more fully on, arguably, the second most unpopular) but, rather, an at first creeping, but later, chronic, inability to bounce the ball properly. (I felt sorry for him, being a strong advocate of the ball-up myself).

Our specialist tipsters are a bloke from Sydney (another partner of the hosting firm, a bald-headed fellow called Sullivan, who knows a bit about the caper) and another bloke called Harms (who gives the impression of knowing a bit about the caper, spoke much more loudly than Sullivan, and seemed, at least early on, to have unhealthy obsessions with the link between the number 10 and Chinese history, a bold front-runner (whom I thought wouldn’t run a jot over 1200m) called Starspangledbanner and the need for electricity to power the Betfair operation on his computer (which would become vitally important to him later in the day).

I don’t get the chance to lay a wager until the third (which is most unfortunate given the two circles in my formguide to date have been around King Pulse in the first and Maxisun in the second). In the third, I have yet another go at a filly that has burnt a hole in my wallet several times: Rostova. Today, I’m reasonably confident that she can turn the tables. Alas, the MLB (mad leader’s bias) that I’d been fearing after the first and second races persisted and the classy, Peter Moody trained, Avenue gets up. I need a drink. Fortunately, on a day like today, one is never far away.

In the fourth, the Sullivan/Harms combination have put 60 years of punting experience together and come up with the Whobegotyou/Heart of Dreams quinella. These blokes are sages, I think to myself. My queries about the track persisting, I seek out Harms, and inform him that HOD is a steal at around $4 on Betfair given the MLB. He’s interested in the argument (but its the sort of interest shown by a bloke who’s already made up his mind). The gates open and I wait for Froggy to steer the Show a Heart gelding safely toward the box set, just off the speed. After the first two furlongs, he’s just off the speed alright. About 10 lengths off it. At the 400, he trails Whobe. This cannot be happening, I mutter to myself. But it is. A withering dash in the last furlong gets HOD to within a length but it’s not enough. The Kavanagh cavalcade rolls on towards the Cox Plate with a new quote of inside $3. (Don’t back it: you’ll get better on the day).

I return to the tent and have a yarn to another handbag, Jim. He’s a good and interesting bloke and, because we don’t have much time between races, we only canvass the Geelong Football Club (Jim played a couple of U19 games there in the late 70s), writing, politics, trifectas, Point Lonsdale and the need to rid the world of asbestos.  I ponder the Toorak. Stung by the poor HOD, I need to recover. And fast. I back two. The first, Raffaello, I’ve worked out myself (although I’m very concerned about the no.1 marble). The second, All American, is the result of the spruik of fellow Knacker Mark Freeman (a good judge and, following the All Silent mail last week, in good touch).  Unfortunately, neither salutes but I have a smile on my face as Michelle Payne nabs her first Group 1 and, in an ironic touch, does it for a bloke who has plenty.

Apart from the sunshine, the brilliant food, wine and conversation, things are not going well. I am significantly down for the day. And I’m very worried about the Guineas. I have, earlier in the week (and, importantly, pre MLB) backed both Trusting and So You Think to take out a hot edition of this three year old classic. However, the state of the track has me pensive. Whilst I’m keen on Denman, I figure that I’ll sit back, listen intently to our resident experts and, if their views are put in a quiet, calculated, analytical, dispassionate way, I’ll back whatever they are on. Unfortunately, Harms does not fulfill any of these criteria. He launches, uninvited, into a phantom call of the final 200 (or was that 600?) metres of the race with a gusto and length that Jack Styring would be proud of. At one point, I’m expecting him to bear his molars to the breeze. He is all over Starspangledbanner. But, clearly, he is mad and I dismiss backing the Leon Corstens entire immediately. I continue to think about Denman (the box seater I trust) but stick to my backmarkers and head out with Clare to watch the race.

Nikolic gets SSB to jump well at he strides out to a several length lead. Beautiful, I ponder. Surely, with this tempo, MLB or no MLB, my quality swoopers have a chance. But Nikolic is clever. He gets SSB out to a four length lead, drops anchor, then then runs them along at a moderate tempo before picking up the speed again. Not to worry, my two have sizzling final sectionals ready to peel off.

But the Banner runs. And runs. And runs. And wins. The tent (well, the portion of it that has got on) is jumping. Harms is flying. For a moment, he might as well have been at Delphi than Caulfield. His computer has steam coming off it. And he has, he informs me, Allez Wonder and SSB into field and three in the last two legs of a very promising quaddie.

At least he is happy. And I am happy for him. It is not easy to impress 200 lawyers. I am, however, not happy and I look towards the Herbert Power handicap, and the pride of the “Bool (and Mark Freeman), Hissing Sid, to bring me back from the brink of fiscal collapse. (If any of the assembled lawyers had been in my position, they’d have to delay their retirements until they were at least 55). I have two fears in the race, the lightly raced Croweater, Alcopop, and the Kavanagh trained Shocking. The Sid runs well for Froggy but, ultimately, Alcopop has a mortgage (or should that be a tax?) on the race and heads towards the larger of the two Cups.

Defeated, but nicely refreshed after a fabulous day, Clare and I thank our hosts, I congratulate Harms on his vision (and wish him luck for the final leg of his quaddie) and we head for home.

As we drive, I muse that one of the great things about racing is that it is like bowling in cricket: whilst you might get smacked for 20 during a given over, you can, if you know your captain well enough, procure another over.

I smile, head bowed, as I ponder my return to the Heath on Wednesday (a second corporate shindig) for the Thousand Guineas.  With four days to recover, I’ll be pushing off the fence.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    Really enjoyed the article.
    Keep the Styring references coming.
    Can’t wait for Hanging Rock.

  2. Mark Freeman says

    Very interesting Craig, Harmsy has certainly given those lawyers value with his phantom call – I can’t ever remember hearing a phantom call that actually calls the winner, let alone the method of victory, so it’s good to hear Harmsy’s pub yarn corroborated!

    And I had to dwell a moment over the final Caulfield Cup field today and spare a thought for the tens of thousands I was going to collect on Sid. But he’ll keep for either the Geelong or Moonee Valley cups, that was a good run Saturday as he was badly held up on the turn.

    Arch though is not going well at all – his run day after grand final was ordinary and Saturday’s effort poor.

  3. Craig Down says


    J T Harms was indeed rolling on Saturday. I see he continued to roll on into the evening too!

    I cheered as hard as I could for the Pride of Warrnambool in the last on Saturday but to no avail. I was even, today, hoping for about 8 of the top order to fall over and the Sid to squeak into about 2nd emergency: that would almost have been enough. The past 24 hours have taught we mugs a lesson about “all in” betting: perhaps better to wait for acceptances in the big ones at times methinks. We’ll have to have a go at the Sid in one of the country cups.

    Off to the Heath again tomorrow. Probably wearing ug-boots. Pondering, given the current rain, Jolie Brise in the Guineas (about $11) and Purple in the second last ($7)?

    Good luck if you’re having a wager tomorrow.


  4. Craig,
    Try gumboots rather than ugg boots!
    I heard Dr Turf once argue (something like) he’d rather take $4 a horse that has a start, a good gate and he has seen parade healthily than big odds speculatively. Doubles bookies whinge like Bombers fans, but they win more than the rest of us.
    Interesting card tomorrow. Small field early and more scratchings likely, though the deluge seems to have abated.
    Still NO BET for me. Can be swayed with a good tip though!

  5. Mark Freeman says

    Yes I’m sure that’d be right Crio. When you think that they start with up to a hundred or so in each race when they open and only one wins each race – often not one of the first hundred listed – then we long-range punters are up against it.

    But I love having the long range speculation at odds. The value you get out of it is that winter dreaming of the big spring collect. The key is to not take it too seriously, just a bit of a long-range shy at the stumps.

    On the topic – I didn’t have anything going around today other than one little double I whacked on early last month – a fiver on today’s 1000 guineas winner at 12s into Cima De Triomphe at $81 for the Melbourne Cup – $4860 for my fiver – but since it’s the first live double I’ve had in years, I won’t be counting it just yet.

    At the very least, it means I’ll get to… as the yanks say… root for Francesca Cumani this spring!

  6. Peter Flynn says


    I went to Royal Ascot a couple of years ago and saw young Francesca live.
    She is a true Group 1 performer.

  7. Makybe,

    On the subject of your double, I was at the Heath yesterday and, 5 minutes before the 1000 Guineas, I dashed out of the tent and into the Tabaret to have an interest in the Irish Lights/Cima De Triomphe double. The fact that I did so yesterday, and got $23 (which I’ll concede is a bit better than the mugs will get on Saturday), shows exactly how much more insight you have into this caper than I.

    Well done. I reckon CMT is a great chance from the no.9 barrier on Saturday.


  8. Peter,
    My English pal rates Francesca’s Mum as top drawer and clearly the strong genes.
    Not surprised she’d rate highly at Royal Ascot against the Queen Mum, Anne and Fergie!

  9. What do you learned punters expect from the Caulfield track this week? I’m doing some form tonight. Its pouring today and they are barking GOOD3. Onpacers again yesterday.

  10. Peter Flynn says

    CMT is my top Cup selection and its in my Cups Doubles.


    Your English pal is spot on.

    I had to get my Gregory Peck checked out after my visit to Royal Ascot in 2007. I saw Takeover Target finish 4th in the Golden Jubilee Stakes.

    In the new Ascot grandstand, they have a heap of bars named after past greats e.g. the Nijinsky Bar, the Mill Reef Bar etc.

    I was very impressed to stumble upon and refresh at the Choisir Bar. Photos, career record etc. Really well done.

    There has been a big debate in the UK about whether Sea The Stars should race in the Breeder’s Cup or be retired to stud.
    After 9 starts(?) and a Timeform rating of 140 (almost off the scale), it’s been retired to stud. Most devotees seem to embrace the retirement decision.

  11. There would be no upside going to Breeders Cup and possibly losing. Even a win there wouldn’t increase his value. His dam won the Arc as well and has thrown something ridiculous like 8 Group winners inc Galileo (sire of last year’s Derby winner and selected as the first stallion for Makybe Diva).
    Sea The Stars will go down in the books with the true champions like Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave, etc.

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