Our Caller Jack

A day spent either at a racetrack or a TAB offers the short-term volatile investor a rich sensory experience. Races broadcast from venues far-flung constitute a constant and an essential background noise. It’s comforting because it’s always been this way.

Each race is a compelling short story. There are many elements for the punter to absorb and process. Plots can develop and twist quickly. A race invariably culminates in the punter urging their horse to finish before the others. This often manifests itself either by hissing (perfect when you have backed Hissing Sid at the ‘Bool), repetitive use of the word ‘go’ followed by a truncated variant of the horse’s name (e.g. urging Temple of Boom to victory at Flemington becomes “Go the Boom”) or by wildly brandishing a Best Bets.

Conclusions are personal.

And they are numerical.

The key player in the telling of the unfolding story is the race caller.

Punters a stone’s throw from the rich red sandstone cliffs of Gantheaume Point, Broome can hear Greg Miles call the get-out stakes at Caulfield while being soothed by the Indian Ocean breeze. In the baking January heat of the Dederang picnics, you can hear Alan “the favourite has missed the kick” Thomas put the wind up favourite backers in the first from Eagle Farm.

No matter what racetrack or TAB you frequent, Adelaide’s Hilton Donaldson is Group 1 class for lame ness and ordinaryness. When will Adelaide get a decent race caller?

Sayings from many famous Australian race callers form part of established racetrack vernacular. A couple of my favourites with explanation are:

“More tips than a can of asparagus.” This describes a race where many horses have been spruiked as winning chances. A punter who is keen to offer multiple tips in a particular race is consequently known as an asparagus.

“He couldn’t pull the skin off a bread-and-butter custard.” This describes a horse that has an infinitesimal chance of winning.

These sayings are attributed to Bert Bryant.

As far as peppering race calls with humour, spritely octogenarian Jack Styring OAM, with 60 years experience of calling gallops, trots and dishlickers under his rather highly-positioned belt, “has a lead as long as my vacuum cleaner” (a Styringism).

Last Saturday at picturesque Yea, Jack cast his peepers into the binoculars and bared his molars in front of the microphone for the final time. The adoring crowd included a daily double of Gregs in Messrs Carpenter and Hall.

Jack’s curriculum vitae includes surviving the flies and often searing heat to call 60 Gunbower Cups, 30-odd Hanging Rock Cups and several Melbourne Cups (including the Centenary Cup of 1960 that included the mighty Tulloch).

He reckons Bernborough was the greatest horse he’s ever seen. I find this hilarious given his speech patterns and his tendency to converse in the same manner in which he broadcasts.

Graduating with honours from the Ken Howard school of enunciation, Jack has an endearing propensity to add –ah to certain words.

A selection of favourite Styringisms include:

“Get in the queue now-ah brother.”

“With its-ah mouth open like-ah mother cod fish-ah calling for its-ah young-ah.”

“Jumped-ah out of the contraption-ah like a scalded-ah cat-ah.”

“Showing its-ah considerable-ah molars to the breeze-ah.”

“What’s this-ah coming at a thousand-miles-an-hour-ah? I don’t-ah know but you’re a bit too late-ah brother.”

“He’s won-ah by as-ah far as you can-ah kick a jam tin-ah.”

“They’re strung out like-ah Monday’s-ah washing-ah.”

Pesky kangaroos unfortunately put paid to Jack’s Hanging Rock Cup swansong on Australia Day. Prior to the running of a Hanging Rock Cup, I always wished for Jack to offer something along the lines of the following:

“The-ah candidates-ah are on the track-ah for the running of the Hanging Rock-ah Ghup. In-ah geological-ah terms-ah, Hanging-ah Rock-ah is a volcanic-ah feature known as a mamelon-ah which-ah, of course-ah, is French-ah for nipple-ah.”

No other race caller has ever pronounced the word ‘candidate’ or the word ‘stylishly’ for that matter as well as Jack. I reckon astrobiologists looking to communicate with alien life forms could do no worse than beam one of Jack’s race calls into deep outer space. It may contain more meaning to potential alien suitors than a decimal representation of pi.

Jack commenced his calling career at Napier Park dogs in Strathmore. About fifty turf accountants used to field in what must have been a most lively betting ring. In an interview with Radio Murrindindi, Jack described the difficulties in moving through the gathered throng as “you needed to be Jack Dempsey to fight your way through the ring”.

While calling at Mooroopna one day, Jack sensed the punters were bored and needed some entertainment. This became the genesis for developing his numerous and colourful sayings. For years, Jack called the Cranbourne trials. Jack treated each trial like a Cox Plate. Horses involved in the trials generally galloped under a tight rein. Jack, however, always went flat chat.

Just after the start in the first at Yea, a jockey is unceremoniously dumped from his mount. Soon after the riderless horse passes the winning post, Jack completes his call with an alliterative gem that went something like:

“I’m-ah trying-ah to pick up-ah the one-ah who parted with the postilion-ah.”

Jack’s apprentice calls the next two races rather competently. Not surprisingly he sounds a lot like Jack.

Jack takes over the reins for the fourth race and for the Cup. In the prelude to the Cup, the leader at particular stages of the race “adopts the-ah vanguard-ah position-ah”, “bares his-ah molars-ah to the breeze-ah” and “breezes-ah along the-ah steel-ah”. Jack loses the field momentarily as they travel behind the trees down the side of the course.

A spokesperson for the winning connections of Uncle Ed concludes their victory speech with the confession that they couldn’t stop laughing at Jack’s call. Winners are indeed grinners.

Now to the time-honoured Yea Cup. With his racebook firmly attached to a blue clipboard (the numero uno colour of choice for clipboards and eskys), Jack begins casting his eyes over the horses parading in the birdcage. Now off-microphone but still audible to nearby racegoers, he undertakes the memorisation process required to call the big one.

“Number one-ah is-ah Royal Orders-ah.”

“Number two-ah is Music-ah Lover-ah.”

And so on.

Jack goes out hard in the Cup. It’s a 2100 metres staying test for jockey, horse, caller and punter. He nails the call.

“Down to the judge-ah the first time-ah and this leader is pulling like a Collins Street-ah dentist-ah.”

In the straight, every horse seemingly charges down the outside with a rattling run. For the record, Sugar Daad takes out the 2011 Yea Cup.

Afterwards, Jack signs autographs, poses for photographs and conducts himself like the perfect gentleman that he is. He is awarded life membership of the VRC.

On his final day at Yea, each one of Jack’s calls contained a rolled-gold gem or two. He could still convince the punter that the horse they backed possessed the sniff of victory in their nostrils. His bedrock was to convey a great sense of theatre.

Thanks for all the entertainment and hilarity, Jack.

Thanks for displaying your molars in many a racetrack’s breeze.

You were our caller.

We salute you brother.

Comments

  1. PJF,

    Outstanding. You’ve got him. And how he talks. Will add some Styring colour at a later date.

    Cheers
    JTH

  2. Flynnie – magnificent, especially the “ah” bits. Still laughing at this end.

  3. PJF

    Had just finished posting your piece when the phone rang: W. K. Trewick (Brisbane), winner of the 1950 Stawell Gift in one of the great punting stings of all time.

    He was in Melbourne on the weekend, down to back a horse he has a one fourth share in, and to see his niece’s horse run at Yea. Yes, he heard Jack’s last calls. And, yes, taht horse won the Yea Cup.

    Agree entirely with the addition of the definite article to the dimunitive of the name. Although I think you could produce a short work (“Guidelines in the Abbreviating of Horse Names over the Closing Stages of Time-Honoured Events”) to straighten a few out. “Go The Hussler”: tick. “Go The Better” (as in Maybe): cross.

    You obviously don’t rate Ronny Papps? I liked when he’d made a last-minute decision to back one at places like Mildura. Down the stairs Ronny would go, get on, talk to a couple of back-slappers, then race back up the steps. I can recall races where he had no breath for the first 800 and little breath for the duration.

    Jack called home one we owned once, at Donald. I’ll find the extract in memoirs of a Mug Punter and post it. I also noticed the use of ‘ah’ in his calls. very distinctive.

  4. Flynnie, I put the RVL tribute on comments to the weekend’s racing preview. A distinctive caller, was Jack. You got ‘im. Great piece. Glad he never called on radio…accuracy in the run was never a strong point. Sayings (relentlessly) were.
    Adelaide’s had a chequered history of callers. Bert Day, John O’Neill and Alf Gard were a boring triumvirate in my childhood…no wonder Bert Bryant, Bill Collins and Johnny Tapp seemed larger than life.
    The trots had better callers over there. A young Bruce McAvaney was very good. Ray Fewings knew his stuff, but was pretty keen on the punt and had to be good to mates. Ron “Perhaps” was not much chop. He has bigger issues these days. Mind you, in Bryan Martin, we’ve suffered long term mediocrity here in Vic. Must say I enjoy the Brisbane caller. Maybe never betting there helps my tolerance?

  5. David Downer says

    That is-ah, a-ah spectacul-ah piece of-ah writing-ah…

    A WFA special there Flynnie, very very funny.

    DD

    P.S: Craig Down’s J.Styring impersonation is a cracker. He’s not Jack’s apprentice is he?

  6. Crio
    who was the SA caller who called a close one at the Trots as a “real bob of the head job”?

  7. Chalk,
    I remember the silence, then laughter, after that call. I was at Globe Derby but I think it may have been a Melbourne call closely followed in the tin shed betting ring. Nevertheless the infamous Ronnie Perhaps remains a suspect. Who called the MV thieves in the early 80s?

  8. Prof. Flynn,

    A wonderful homage to a wonderful man. Styring captured flawlessly.

    I’ve had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with ol’ Tungsten Tonsils just once personally, on an expedition to central Victoria for racing folk in recent years.

    Needless to say, I’d heard, and heard of, the legend. And he was everything I’d hoped he’d be in person.

    I could ask him to talk about the most stodgy of subjects – the features and benefits of Tupperware’s new range, for argument’s sake – and be utterly swept away as those dulcet tones drifted toward the heavens.

    Now at the risk of denigrating or embarrassing our cavalier caller, that night, after enjoying a sizeable dose of country hospitality whilst floating along the Goulburn River, Jack unfortunately misplaced some of his prized possessions. Even more unfortunate that was these possessions included his faculties and his false teeth. Use your imagination as to where the latter were misplaced and subsequently fished to safety from. Clue: it wasn’t the mighty Goulbourn.

    At any rate, with falsies recovered (faculties still unaccounted for), the steamer docked and Jack was carried to shore and tucked into the cot.

    That story, whilst perhaps a smidgen sensitive, is necessary to tell for its outcome. That is, next morning, Sir Styring emerged, spring in the step (well, more of a hobble, but a springish one) and twinkle in the eye (may have been corneal inflammation, can’t be sure), laughing along with all and sundry. Whether he could recall what had transpired just hours earlier was anyone’s guess, but it didn’t matter: Jack was back.

    We’d had the pleasure of spending an evening with the great Jack Styring, and it was a joy.

    Congratulations on a stellar career, ol’ boy. I dips me lid.

  9. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks Punters,

    The funny thing about forming a piece about Jack is that you have to impersonate him. C. Down (of Down, Downer and Downest) would have been a great help.

    Pappslotto gave cause to giggle on occasion. And curse often. I reckon he called the MV Red Hots in the early 80’s.

    “Guidelines in the Abbreviating of Horse Names over the Closing Stages of Time-Honoured Events” is a ripper idea.
    I might try and put something together down the track. Don’t mind if Crio takes it up as a Crio Question.

    Jake, fantastic tale about the false molars.

    Cheers all.

    PF

  10. Jake

    What is the vessel which chugs up and down the Goulburn, and are there wharfs with train-station-style names on them (like ‘Mannum’) as exist on the Murray and Darling. Is there a wharf at Nagambie?

  11. Flynnie – you’re exactly right about impersonating Jack whilst writing about him. I was doing that just reading it-ah !!

  12. JTH

    From memory – unreliable, admittedly – the Goulburn’s very own luxury liner is the nobly named M.V. Major Mitchell.

    Also from memory, the wharves along the Goulburn are sadly bereft of those wonderful train-station-style-named berths you mentioned.

    However, your question has inspired me to write to the Nagambie Lakes Leisure Park petitioning that is have its berth (whose career zenith surely was facilitating the aforesaid rescue of the hog-tied Styring) named, or renamed, in our caller’s honour.

    I’m thinking “Jack Jetty” (bam-ba-lam). Thoughts?

    JGN

  13. Paul Daffey says

    Superb, Flynny.

    I remember hearing Jack for the first time at an Avoca Cup meeting.

    I said, ‘Who is this bloke?’

  14. mark freeman says

    I know this is “come in with the late news Eric Pearce” Flynny, but lovely tribute to the great man. I know what you mean by his impassioned calling of the Cranny trials – very amusing. I interviewed him out there in 1999 and was surprised to learn of Jack’s great career in breeding, telling me that he’d brought Star Kingdom to Australia.

    MF

  15. Fantastic stuff.
    In my younger days (Pre sky/tab meetings) Port Lincoln racing was blessed with a caller named Max Glenn ( day job_wharfie) who could embellish with the best of them.
    Small fields allowed for and probably made this a necessity .
    Max also owned /trained and bred horses and had a bit of success in the big smoke with horses like Quantrell, San Juan Amigo and Big Rio Grande.
    Larry and Stretch style paperback westerns were his preferred reading and probably inspired the naming of the nags.
    The “Contempler blood fizzing in their veins ” became a trademark saying of his as that remarkable horse sired winners galore on the west coast.

  16. I am laughing all over again as I reminisce.
    Years ago I was at a sportsman night at the Williamstown Town Hall. Jack Styring & Mick Mallyon were amongst the assmembled panel up on the stage. But by the time they were asked to say a few words they had lost the ability to communicate coherently. The crowd was stunned.

  17. Excellent stuff Pete.. an icon.. in regard to Pappslotto, every time there was anything remotely close it was…..’Dunno’.
    Crio/Chalk bloke who used to do the thieves when they were rotating between the Showies and the Valley was Brucie Skeggs, who swallowed a moth when he had the window open in an early meeting at the valley, reckons it was so big it had a beak !

  18. I wonder ever discovered a different brand of pipe tobacco….Anybody know ????

Leave a Comment

*