Racing: Mad Dog Morgan, Lord Lucan, Jack Styring … it’s a great cast at Hanging Rock

It’s Australia Day. We’re at the the foot of Mt Diogenes aka Hanging Rock. It was coined Mt. Diogenes in 1836 by Major Mitchell. In geological terms, Hanging Rock is a volcanic feature known as a mamelon, which, of course, is French for nipple. I’d love for eccentric Frenchman Henri Leconte to slip in a reference to a mamelon in his madcap and highly entertaining tennis commentary. Put him in the booth next to inane Mogadon JA, I say.

We are largely here to enjoy legendary picnic race caller Jack Styring call the latest renewal of the iconic Hanging Rock Cup. More about Jack’s form later.

Hanging Rock was thought to be a haven for notorious bushranger Mad Dan Morgan. This explains the labelling of the rock’s geographical features such as Morgan’s Lookout and Morgan’s Blood Waterfall. If I end the day cast, I might need to seek solace through an inward punting summit up at the lookout.

Joining Annie and I for a day on the Hanging Rock punt are old chinas Ando and Paul Simon accompanied by their better halves, Therese and Joanne. The well-behaved Anderson tin lids Olivia, William and Lochie round up the party.

We set up camp just after the first race has been decided. It’s a seven-race card and we are nicely pozzied in the shade about a furlong from the winning post. The racing surface resembles fake grass such is its greenness. It reminds me of Ando’s early forays into growing lawns. He took so much pride in his first lush (and weedless) lawn that I reckon he cut it with scissors nightly. Such was his lawn growing prowess he could easily have presided over the Augusta National fairways.

True to form, Therese excels in the catering stakes. The girl has new cooking whiz Poh covered.

The Anderson picnic rug is the second biggest rug I’ve ever seen. Get Smart fans will know that means I’ve never seen a bigger rug. Ando looks the part in his Aussie flag floppy hat. Such is its newness and crispness it was obviously purchased on January 25.

We are shocked to hear another caller by the name of Edward call the second. We worry about the whereabouts of Jack. Why haven’t we heard his dulcet tones?

For those who are unaware, Jack Styring is a legendary stalwart of country racing. He has been calling races around Victoria since before television started here. He is renowned for his distinctive and instantly recognisable voice, his amusing sayings and the fastidious attention he gives to various gear and weight changes prior to the horses arriving at the ‘contraption’. The contraption is Styring-speak for the starting stalls.

Jack’s vernacular has become part of racecourse lexicon. Over the years, I’ve heard him utter the following gems in his colourful calls:

“They’ve come out of the contraption like a mob of scalded cats.”

“Such-and-such is showing his considerable molars to the breeze.”

“Such-and-such is going as straight as a gun barrel.”

“Get in the queue brother.”

“Such-and-such will win by as far as I can kick a jam tin.”

We are comforted when we hear Jack back on deck providing minutiae relating to the horses entered for the third on the card.

Recently, Ando bought a 5% share in a two-year-old General Nediym nag trained by Sheila Laxon. Sheila has a nag in the third called Remember November. Ando saunters over to Sheila (having never met her) to seek the good oil on the chances of Remember November and to obtain an update on the 2010 Slipper winner. Sheila reckons Remember November is a flea and on its last chance. Last chances usually involve motivating tactics such as deploying a fishing rod with a can of Pal attached and waving it metronomically in front of the horse’s face. In true Ando fashion, his discussion with Sheila ends before he is able to get an update on his 5% ‘investment’.

In the third, I back Strauchnie and Me Tarzan You Jane. Both plonks are on the nose. Strauchnie is unders for obvious reasons. Both are pipped by Darren Weir’s Flying Joker. Remember November runs down the track. We worry about its future. Jack reckons the favourite, Big Dapper, gave up like a pricked balloon. I reckon he is talking through his kick. According to Jack, jockey Jack Hill (not the blind miner) had considerable hold of the ribbons for most of the race.

Jack hands over the ‘ribbons’ to Edward for the fourth. The next is the Hanging Rock Cup, first run in 1909.

In the Cup, Jack fancies Al Wafi as it has ‘drawn the paint’. I do too. I also have a saver on Lord Lucan. Paul remarks they’ve found him. Strange things happen at the Rock.

Jack starts his Cup remarks with his yearly reminder that smart galloper Silver Sharp won three straight Hanging Rock Cups. Al Wafi settles well, sits just off the speed and is ready pounce as we pick them up through the timber approaching the home turn. He pulls away in the straight and streets them by 3 lengths. I wait for Jack to order me to ‘get in the queue brother’. Sadly, he plays the straight man. His Cup call contains no pearlers.

In the last we decide to have a lash at the well-fancied, Laxon-trained Racine. We guess (or imagine, as it turns out) that Laxon’s pre-race body language while talking to Racine’s connections exudes confidence. We also have a reckless refreshment-influenced saver on Hatchette Harry. Poor old Harry has a paltry rating of 45. That’s not good. In the call, Jack enunciates that Hatchette Harry is in a hurry. He’s not really, and finishes a conspicuous last. Racine is still racing. Our pun is funny at the time.

While we boys torch some cash, the girls enjoy extended conversations without interruption in the refreshing breeze. The kids kick the footy, pat horses and gormandise ice-cream. They love the kangaroos jumping through the middle of the course just prior to the last.

The only downside, and it pains me to say it, is that I was a little disappointed with Jack this year. He seems to have forsaken his humour in order to retain accuracy and the need to keep up with the tempo of the race. I wish that Jack would not worry too much about accuracy and continue to pepper his calls with the sayings and the vernacular that have made him a legend.

Maybe Henri Leconte could be Jack’s understudy caller next year.



  1. Does anyone know the origin of “Jack Hill the Blind Miner”??
    Perhaps we can consult with Mike Williamson!
    According to Wikipedia there is a “Jack Hills” in WA which is the site of an iron ore mine – so perhaps Mike has mangled this in some way?

  2. I have also heard the phrase, Freddy Hill the blind miner, often shortened to Blind Freddy. I suspect both names relate to the tendency of underground Coal miners to go blind from years of coaldust getting in their eyes. (Nineteenth Century miners didn’t wear goggles)

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks for all that Flynny. I have also enjoyed Jack Styring’s efforts – particularly at the Avoca Cup on Caulfield Cup Day. Some years ago regretfully. I note your comment on Ando’s hat. I trust your head garb has not been upgraded since the Spring Carnival. I also note your positive comment about the catering by the female attendees, particularly Therese. Now please don’t don’t take this the wrong way – maybe you could invite one or two along to Oaks Day this year? Although whether anyone could possibly improve on our combined efforts from 2009 is questionable.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Dave and Mark,

    I’m wondering whether any Almanackers know M Williamson well enough to find out. I’d be interested to know the origin of the phrase.


    I wore the usual hat. You’re right. I need to reconsider the invite list. Stella A will still be present.

  5. Flynnie – fancy forsaking humour for accuracy !! He should bear his molars to the breeze.

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