Racing: Spartan Oaks operation suits me fine

I hadn’t been to the Oaks for a few years. 2009 seemed like a good year to reacquaint myself.

My wife Helen many years ago introduced me to racing. Her father Bill Holmes had been a President of the Ballarat Turf Club. Helen still regrets that when Bill offered to nominate me for the VRC she didn’t insist that she be the nominee. The shackles rise every time I show my membership card at the turnstiles and Helen proffers the guest pass. I can’t understand it. It is not as if I offer the guest pass to anyone else!

I accepted Almanacker Peter Flynn’s invitation to the Nursery. Peter had come to our carpark for a couple of early races on Derby Day so I was already familiar with his very stylish hat. He had also forewarned me that theirs was a Spartan operation. I wrote down the site number – 166 and submitted my drinks order. I had also organised a carpark and pedestrian passes for an old friend Prue and her girlfriends. It was theirs for the day but I promised I would drop by. Checked their site number – 165. You are kidding. Separated by a bare patch of dirt, it wasn’t far to travel between the sites.

Having caught the charter bus from Williamstown, I arrived on-site ten minutes before the first. The girls were all set-up. As I accepted the kiss of gratitude from each of the eight, I regretted that host Peter wasn’t there to witness my popularity, I looked across to 166. Unoccupied. I took the opportunity to visit another site where my mother-in-law and various others were picnicking.

Since Peter Flynn travels sans mobile, I phoned Prue to check on any activity at 166. People had arrived and were setting up, so I ventured back. I was greeted by a slightly dishevelled and also slightly puffed host. Peter, who doesn’t drive, and his mate Nolsey, who does, had arrived at the Nursery gate at 11.10. I think the security had given the once-over to the 1999 Volvo, decided that it wasn’t flash enough for the Nursery carpark and decided to enforce the “cars must be in place by 10.00” rule found in the small print. The two occupants had to go and find a spot in the normal members’ carpark and then lug all their picnic paraphernalia back into the Nursery. At least with a Spartan set-up there wasn’t too much to carry. That is from my point of view, but I hadn’t been the one doing the carrying.

After the early hiccough, and a second one when we had no bottle-opener for the “they will get colder eventually” Stella, we settled into the rhythm of the day. And a very pleasant day it was. As befitting the blokishness of the site, sandwiches were served directly from the bread-bag. I had prepared my salmon sandwiches in the morning, which was probably a little inappropriate. However,  fore-telling the theme of the day, I had cut them in half only, and left the crust intact. I did apologise that the bread was sour-dough rather than plain white. And I was very impressed that fellow-visiting-Almanacker Craig Down was able to identify the “touch of dill”.

Our quaddie lasted until the third leg. A few unsuccessful bets and some successful ones, which for me is a bit unusual. I am not a good punter and therefore not a big one. With the assistance of the form analysis from Mark Hunter I snared 80 per cent of the Oaks trifecta. By the end of the day, group consumption meant there was not nearly as much to be transported back to the car. I bid my farewells to the host and headed over to the Rails to join the Williamstown group for the bus trip home. Maybe if the bus had gone home, I might have been feeling a bit better today.

Any Almanacker in the vicinity if 228 to 230 in the Nursery on Emirates Stakes, drop by and introduce yourself. I will be the one taking it very easy. And maybe even drinking water.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.


  1. Peter Flynn says

    An accurate description of our ramshackle show.

  2. Andrew – I wish I could have attended. Sounded very refreshing – perhaps over refreshing.

    Flynnie – I surmised from Andrew’s presence that “she who shall remain nameless and whom you admire from afar” could not attend? (Hope you don’t get in trouble at home).

  3. Peter Flynn says

    Annie adds class and organisation to any of our carpark soirees.
    Andrew substituted well for Annie on Thursday.
    There is always next year.

  4. Andrew Fithall says

    Dips / Peter

    Despite my foreboding, and perhaps because of the heat, I stayed right away from the water on Saturday. We had about 50 guests for the day. With our “Ladies and Gentlemen may bring a plate” policy, we had ample food. And with soaring tempartures, still managed to keep the fluids to an appropriate level.

    After 4 race days over a week and a bit, I am now ready for a rest. Bring on the music festival season.

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