Derby Day fills the rain gauge and the punting stash

I live in a wonderful neighbourhood. There may well be a few too many Pies supporters who have ostentatiously positioned Collingwood garden gnomes in their Westgarth yards. But I like how they have applied the black and white paint themselves. (Some probably got a grant to do it.) I don’t like that Theo said, “Go Pies” as we passed a house in Union Street.

Yes, The People’s Republic of Northcote, as that W.C. Fields wannabe calls it from his home in Hawthorn, is alive and well. We have committees. A bolshy group looks like revamping Cadeye Corner where toddlers learn to ride bikes, kids kick the footy and pisspots pee after hanging on the length of the Epping line (few midnight bladders are strong enough to survive the city loop).

Yes, it’s a great place to live and smart too. Where else but Northcote would you see in a bakery window WANTED: WOMEN CRICKETERS. Now that should get a kangaroo stamp on the Gruen Transfer.

But I especially know that this is a great place to live because the other day I noticed a a word which had been written (most likely with a stick) into the wet cement of the new pavement near Merri station. It just says ROOKE in unobtrusive 10 centimetre-high capitals. I have absolutely no doubt that it is a reference to Max. What else could it possibly be?

It’s the sort of discovery that brings a smile to your face. In fact I haven’t smiled while looking at the ground so much since I was watching my step while walking up the dusty peaks in Mycenae (which you may have learnt about in Grade 10 History). It’s very easy to turn an old basketballer’s ankle (one with no identifiable ligaments which is held together by scar tissue and the precipitates of alcohol supported arthritis). So one watches carefully for protruding pieces of History with the blood of invaders on them. There I was, looking down, when, in the dust made fine by the trampling of thousands of years of backpackers and the considerable weight of Kentucky Fried Tourists I spotted the unmistakable imprint of Dunlop Volleys tread. Well, I punched the air. And I caught up with the roof-tiler from Annerley not far along the track (green and gold ones).

While the ROOKE Square of Westgarth is unlikely to win the recognition of the Lions Gate of Mycenae, it should. Max was a wonder of this (football) world.

And as luck would have it, I saw him the other day. He was also invited to the Geelong Racing Club lunch on (their) Cup day. It was uplifting to see him. Max: the heart and soul of the Geelong footy club when things were awful in 2006. Max the fearless. Max who runs a Vesper and runs a T-shirt company, now that his knee has gone the way of my ankle. Max, with Tommy Harley, and Joel Selwood, the boys who led us from the wilderness. Max whose courage was ridiculous. Max, whose very presence on a footy field made it worth the ticket, and more. You don’t get lessons about life like the ones Max served up.

Which led to a very interesting discussion in the Gargan Room. Two years ago when Bauer had won the Geelong Cup Francesca Cumani appeared in the same room carrying the Geelong Cup itself and some other silverwear. In my efforts to make conversation I asked her whether she had been presented with a fondue set by which to remember Geelong. I didn’t realize such beautiful rosy cheeks could still carry the creases of such a blank stare.

But the question was: was the room better for having Max Rooke in it, or Francesca Cumani? Unanimously the view was that the light with which Max illuminated the room was brighter and purer, the light that appeared to the shepherds and the wise men.

That is a discussion for another time, because there is racing to talk about.

I had a bonzer day on Saturday having mentioned on the phone to G. Robb of Canberra that I didn’t really like anything. Well, they just kept jumping off the page at me. The money trail helped. Once it rained there were some real good goes at long odds: Response and Poor Judge were heavily backed, and when that happened I returned to the form guide to discover what I hadn’t discovered on the first couple of perusals.

So I started by laying Skilled at $2.20 I reckon, and that gave me a bank. I waited for the most-spruiked weather event of all time, so spruiked that our tree fern had produced half a dozen new fronds on the strength of the hype,

Early on I was round about. I kept a few safe, notably the champ and Lion Tamer. But once the gloom set in and The Handicapper made a batch of pikelets, the form guide became less of a mystery the winners came.

Somehow I snared The Paymaster at cricket score odds in Sydney, and a Linda Meech mount at Taralgon. I didn’t fall in to Typhoon Tracey. Had General Truce not been hampered and checked and knocked off her feet in the Ascot Vale we’d have had the port and the fairy bread out as well.

So we come to the Cup with plenty. There are many questions in any Cup as the 150-year history shows, and it is a silly man who makes definitive statements which is why I am about to make a few of them.

The beauty of this race is that you can make cases for and against each runner. A punting QC could have you backing all 24 horses, if you actually listened to him.

The question of course is whether So You Think will get the trip. But even then it’s hard to line up a lot of them. How good is Maluckyday? How good are the imports? Manighar’s only run once on a heavy track and that was at Caulfield. I’m going to sit on this for a day and get back to you tomorrow with a report from the Almanac lunch at the Clyde.

But my early inclination is to lay the champ. There are too many parameters in a Melbourne Cup for a horse to be $3.50.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. JTH – I love the Dunlop Volleys too. But we might need to revisit the wearing of them as my 15 year old and her mates have really taken to them. They’re cool (pronounced “coo-well”) shoes.

    There are not too many things worse than 40+ year old gentlemen wearing coo-well shoes. Well, perhaps lycra bike pants, but not much more.

    Melb Cup – 3,8,24. Harris Tweed the roughy.

    Sorry I can’t get to the lunch today.

  2. mark freeman says

    Only four winning chances – SYT, Americain, Holberg (if the hoof’s right) and Maluckyday. Everything else can run a place bar Master O’Reilly (just going shite, even when pushed over the sticks today), Red Ruler and Buccellati – my labradoodle Oscar looked better than he did parading before the Underwood Stakes.

    Geez it’s takes a freaking long time to put on the trifectas and first fours when you’re omitting three from the field legs.

    Good punting,


  3. boxed 3,8 and 24 see #1 – Christmas presents covered. You beauty.

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