The Glorious Nineteenth (at Murtoa)

With the Murtoa Cup coming up this Saturday, October 6, it’s timely to consider the place of the Murtoa Racing Club in horse-racing history.

September 19 is known in the Harms household (and in SAMRA circles) as The Glorious Nineteenth. SAMRA is the Salvador Allende Memorial Racing Alliance(to show how socialism can work in horse racing). It was the syndicate that raced the wonderful mare Courting Pleasure (or The Dog as she was known).

Here’s why September 19 is The Glorious Nineteenth:

 

This is an extract from John Harms’s book Memoirs of a Mug Punter which, these days, is available as one of the books in the omnibus Play On:

 

 

In the Know.

It was just another September morning around Australia. Most wage slaves trudged off to work thinking it was Thursday, and that after they shopped that night, they’d only have a day to go. The faces in the street looked grim. Rivers of people drifted by in the current of banality (partly self-imposed). Buses were full of slumped shoulders.

For all those who had a horse running that day it was a special day. And that included us. SAMRAns sang in the shower. They looked into the mirror and decided that a sagging body was a good thing: it was the measure of a happy and cavalier life. They took that little extra time to sit and have breakfast. Angina was only heartburn. And that little fart that Greeners popped out while making coffee was actually under control. The bills under the Fidel Castro fridge magnets were nothing. The breakfast announcer was even amusing. There was energy and expectation. And hope. There were even some nerves.

I raced off to get a copy of the Courier-Mail. And there she was, listed in the form guide. Murtoa. Race 3. No. 7. Barrier 5.

This was just sensational. All those years of looking through the fields and now I was connected to one of the names. Actual people raced actual racehorses. The fact that I was looking at Courting Pleasure’s name in the field was a clear demonstration that at least some of them were ordinary, everyday people with fridges and magnets.

I pottered around at uni for a while not doing a lot except studying the form. It was hard to tell much from the limited information: reference to the previous start or two, an editorial comment, and little else. Most of them had things like: ‘Well back 12th Warracknabeal 1200m Mdn Aug 26 before plodding 6 len 7th Casterton Sep 14. Later.’ It was a field of delinquent racehorses.

If The Dog [as we called Courting Pleasure] had the slightest amount of ability she would beat this mob. And no-one knew. No-one except us. This was our day – our sting. I was, at once, excited and burdened by this wonderful secret. I was in the know. I was party to the cogs which were driving reality. I was doing it. And I was nervous about getting it right. If everything went to plan we’d get at least 20/1. At least. Maybe 33s. She was, after all, an unraced four-year-old mare with injury problems, from the edge of the desert.

I could wait no longer. I drove to the Toowong TAB, and walked in just as Sky Channel crossed to Murtoa for Race 2. I was struck by the beauty of the course. Beyond the 1200m start there stood a number of gums, wish-bone in shape, not big enough to be your standard eucalypts, but not small enough to be struggling mallee scrub either. In my state of heightened awareness I thought, life can be a bit like that sometimes. And it was raining at Murtoa. Race 2 was run and won and, as the connections celebrated, the procedure started again for Race 3.

A racetrack is like the registry of marriages: every ceremony is the same except for the one that is your own. Racing might appear to be the same every day – every racetrack, every race meeting, every event, a mindless rotation of nothingness. But when you are part of it, it’s not. It’s just not. Whether The Dog won or not, Race 3 at Murtoa was not going to be nothing for SAMRA and for Ade and the Sheahan clan.

As Big Dazza put the polish on The Dog in Murtoa, I steadied my nerves in the Toowong TAB and concentrated on the opening tote prices. The opening pool was a tiny $763. Courting Pleasure $34.10 the win, $9.80 the place.

Excellent. It just had to hold on. I checked and rechecked the time of the race, comparing newspapers with TAB information, with Sky information. And then I checked it all again. I wrote out the tickets and I checked them. I checked them again.

Some minutes later: pool $1,441, $48.00 the win, $12.30 the place. Even better. She hadn’t been tipped by any of the experts. Only a select few knew to back her and that money was going on at the death. Magnificent. All to plan. I checked the tickets.

The first call came through from the Victorian TAB, a service provided by Sky Channel so punters can see whether anything has been supported in the market elsewhere: NSW Tab $50.00; Qld TAB $48.00; SuperTab $2.20. I couldn’t believe it: $2.20. What was happening? Who stuffed it up? Who’d put the money on too early?

The punters noticed. Consider the scenario. You are a wage slave. You punctuate the monotony of every day with lunch at the TAB. You drip kebab juice on your quinella tickets, while clutching a can of Coke in your armpit and studying the form for the next at Port Lincoln. You have a couple of minutes to swallow the pita bread while digesting the information. The boss pisses you off because he is relaxing at the local Italian place. He really pisses you off because he can afford a $9.50 puttenesca, a $4 Crownie and a $5 glass of house red. Yet you have no qualms turning your $4.70 worth of kebab and Coke into a $24.70 lunch with a few quick nibbles on the Murtoa races. Of course you’re looking for any advantage that will compensate for your ill fortune in the natural lottery. A nag showing 50/1 in Queensland and 5/4 in Victoria is the exact sort of compensation you’re looking for. When the punters spotted the discrepancy, eyes lit up everywhere. Some even abandoned their kebabs in the rush to get on.

The Dog attracted all the kebab money that lunchtime. She came in so quickly I couldn’t get the figures down. Suddenly she was $6.90 and $2.40. I shook my head.

This was the pits. Why did it always happen to me? I had had visions of calling Brambles to accompany me and the winnings back to the Camira, of wiping the slate clean of all debts, of starting from zero on 20 September with a savings plan so disciplined that people would be worried about me. I was starting to think superannuation. Maybe even income insurance. (How could a self-respecting punter take income insurance? Any insurance had to be kept quiet.)

Thankfully the start was delayed and there was some late money for number 4. As the last horses moved in, I moved to the window. I put SAMRA’s money on. Marie nearly choked. For years I’d handed over a few coins and a few notes on Saturdays but this was huge. ‘We’ve got a horse,’ I explained. I think it was my conscience speaking. It was the biggest bet (by a factor of many) that I had ever put on. As they jumped the tote showed $7.80 and $3.25.

It was happening. We had a runner. A sound runner. A well-prepared runner. A quick runner. Please win. Please win. Or just run a place. Please. I had no idea to whom I was appealing or whether the mantra in my head constituted prayer as we knew it in the late twentieth century. Then I remembered my roots and thought, please, at least just run a good race, give your best. Give your very best. And then I thought, no, fuck it, win. Just win. Win, you bastard.

I stood at the back. Brian Blackmore called the race. The field, which collectively had had the grand total of eighty-two memorable starts for twelve placings and a total prizemoney of $8,970, settled in the stalls. There was a pause.

Racing. The Dog got away with the rest of the field which gave cause for some relief. She looked like she could run. In fact, she was on fire. The jockey, Heath Keighley, had been instructed to lead and let her clear out with all of her natural speed if she wanted to, but he chose to restrain her and take a trail. I was concerned by the presence of cerise in the colours. The other thing I noticed was how much kebab money The Dog was carrying. It seemed every wage slave in the TAB was on her.

Mid-race, Heath Keighley made another mistake. He let Paul (the number 4), get up on The Dog’s inside and, when the leader drifted off the track, Paul shot through to take the lead. The Dog had never really settled, but when Keighley called for an effort she lifted and found her stride as she balanced up for the run home.

As the bedraggled bunch of equine cretins wobbled around the home turn The Dog got to second and went out after the leader, but he had skipped away (the late money was right again). She continued to run on and was looking pretty capable when the judge put a halt to proceedings. Second.

On face value it looked like a solid second but, if the truth be known, it was actually a glorious second; a revolutionary second. I wanted to ring the Kremlin and the KGB and the CIA and the White House or, had Graham Greene been alive, I could have saved myself a few phone calls and just rung him. As the kebab-munchers collected and reinvested on the Yarra Glen trots, I counted the winnings. It wasn’t quite a sting – more the sound of one mosquito buzzing. But we’d won – sort of. All of the emotion we had invested had been returned. She was our star.

We’d won on the punt but we’d also picked up $1,100 prizemoney for running second. With 25 per cent going to the owner, 10 per cent to the trainer, and the normal fee plus 5 per cent going to the jockey, we were left with 1/12th of  1/13th of the remaining purse. This came to $4.17 for each SAMRAn.

More importantly than that, we had a horse that could run. Big Dazza was impressed. Ade called. ‘Ya gotta be happy with that.’

‘It was brilliant,’ I said, with all the enthusiasm of someone whose horse had just run second in the Maiden Plate in Murtoa. It was my first time. ‘But what happened with the betting? With twenty minutes to go we had 50s up here. And then the call comes through from down there: $2.20.’

Ade started laughing. ‘Bloody Jules,’ he explained. ‘The stupid bastard put his bet on last night. It opened $2 down here. The bookies spotted it and went all soft.’

Julian Michael Sheahan is Ade’s brother. He’s a wild Ned Kelly-looking character who has the Sheahan quality of having a real go. He does things – stacks of things – with rare energy and fervour. Horse owner, fruit-picker, schoolteacher, beer-drinker, traveller, chef, horticulturalist, artist and yarn-spinner, Jules is the sort of bloke who’d drive forever to play in a game of cricket. He met his wife at the camel races at Underbool where he was satisfying one of his many passions – riding camels. He got married in a safari suit and slippers, with his ninety-year-old grandpa as his best man. He’s a hard man to keep up with.

Jules was having problems with the logistics of getting set. He wasn’t going to miss out on the Courting Pleasure plunge. He had to put the money on when he could. He was working 400 km north of Kalgoorlie having managed to convince some huge mining company that he was an environmentalist and landscape architect (which meant he’d once had a vegie patch). Despite a thorough understanding of the totalisator process, Jules put his bet on the night before ‘to be safe’. As betting opened, his money constituted the majority of the pool. There is an argument, popular in SAMRA circles, which suggests that he spoiled the party by a factor of five and maybe even six. We considered sending him a bill. He was to become known as Jules (the plunge thwarter).

I felt I had the high moral ground. ‘Well, what’s all this panic about SAMRA getting it right? It was clockwork up here in Brisbane.’

Ade changed the subject. ‘Courting Pleasure runs like clockwork. Darryl reckons she’ll win in the country, and with that sort of early speed, once she gets a bit race-hardened and knows what to do, she could win in town.’

‘Adelaide?’ I asked. ‘They’d sit up and look if we went there?’

‘It’s bloody good prizemoney. About twelve grand a race.’ Ade was counting the pennies. He had about a third of the shares. ‘She started equal favourite today.’

‘Thanks to Jules.’ It was important SAMRA be seen as anything but a pushover. Ade ignored the comment. ‘And they ran 1:12.4 on a slow track. That’s good goin’. Real good goin’. And the jockey stuffed it up. Darryl was spewin’. When Keighley jumped off, Darryl was into him. “Why’d you let the winner get up on your inside? Why didn’t you make him go round you?” But he was pretty happy. She finished better than anything. She might even get a bit of distance. She might even be good enough to start in Melbourne.’

My mind turned to Flemington. I thought of one of the big Spring Carnival meetings. I would have even been happy if she’d started there in a mid-week sprint down the straight and beaten home a resuming stayer of Kerry Packer’s.

Things were looking good. I wanted to employ a sculptor to chisel out a marble statue of The Dog. And I sent out a directive: this day was to be referred to as ‘The Glorious Nineteenth’.

 

Read Courting Pleasure’s career record.

 

Read the whole story of the syndicate, the people, the horse and the place of racing in Australian life. Order a copy  of Play On from the Almanac Shop or email us at sales@footyalmanac.com.au

Play On front cover final

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many 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 on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Good onya John i’ve just finished reading ‘memoirs of a mug punter’. Donald i know very well, but not yet en to Murtoa. However, we’re off to the Donald Cup in November than we plan to drive down the Minyip murtoa road to spend the nigh in Murtoa. Friends have moved from the big smoke to Murtoa,so we’ll catch up with them.

    Sorry to be a pedant but what was “the Dog’s’ career stats? Win sin Murtoa, donald, Stawell, a few placings but i couldn’t tally up her stats. Interested to know; And where is Stain Tsaikos ?

    Glen!

  2. Glen, I have added a link to Courting Pleasure’s record to the piece. She won five races and pretty much paid for herself. Her final start was at Morphettville in 1999.

  3. Ta John. i was reading about the mighty mare i the wee small hours this morning. Symmetry.

    I’ll follow the link.

    Glen!

  4. I always relive Puramaka on days like this.

    Great yarn!

  5. The second most lunatic, fantastical ramble I’ve read today. Barry Dickins “From the Footy Almanac Vault” on the Guardian website (is that where old Almanackers go to die?) about the Fitzroy and Collingwood mud just pipped you by a neck. Much like the dog really.
    PW – Puramaka. I saw it win a Hamilton Cup sometime in the 70’s. Reckon it won about 3 in a row of Hamilton Cups. Used to drop out last, gather them up on the turn and swoosh home down the centre of the track. Poor man’s Super Impose. Will save the story of why I was at Hamilton midweeks for a late night beer. Puramaka ate mud for breakfast – which is another link to the Barry Dickins story. I reckon the last metro race of the racing season was always the Sunset Welter at Flemington. Crio – is my fading memory sound or another imagining? Puramaka was always a good last race get out with 62kgs in the Sunset Welter.
    There should be a Sunset Welter Retirement Home for Old Puntdrunks.

  6. Thanks Peter B great memories. He won 3 or 4 of everything I think – Colac? Horsham?

    We had Prince Tone from the Freyer stable in the early-mid 80s, won the big race on Black Opal day a couple of times, best horse to come from Corowa ever (other than Sir Knight, Barrakee, Sir Talaq, Leica Falcon etc).

  7. Peter i heard Barry Dickens speak recently at the launch of his new book: The mouthless murderer. I asked him if he had written anything about the 20th anniversary of the demise of the Roy Boys. He said he’ have something in the Guardian soon. Thus i was quite excite to see the post today only to find it was from 2013 !

    Hopefully, maybe,more to come.

    Glen!

  8. Play On is a great ensemble. The classic book for all seasons – spring carnival, cricket and footy. I’m still very much in the “Loose Men Everywhere” mode.

  9. Gee whiz Peter W; there’s a few familiar names there. There have been some other great horse from Corowa like Glowhirl In the Field, Lady Peregrine. It’s a sad picture nowadays with the Freyer stable almost non existent.

    Not good.

    Glen!

  10. I am wondering whether I made the right decision around that time: finish my PhD or set up a racing syndicate?

    It’s a question I don’t present to The Handicapper.

    Thanks for all your comments. Looking forward to the Murtoa Cup.

    JTH

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    The registry racetrack, the wishbone eucalyptus … the race!
    So, this was one of the test runs for the fab race write in Life As I Know It.

    The glorious September nineteenth is also my birthday JTH and I’ll be attempting to build something like this story/memory next year.

  12. John, i’m having an IT glitch. Every time i click on , Read courting Pleasure’s career record, i get a Racing Australai page for a gee-gee called Boydie’s Shout. I’m perplexed.

    Glen!

  13. That’s a nice coincidence MdeH. I reckon you told me that – it rings a bell. We may have to organise a combined celebration.

  14. Or Glen, you can go to Racing Australia home page and do a horse search for Courting Pleasure

    http://www.racingaustralia.horse/home.aspx

  15. No probs John io’ll follow up.

    Glen!

  16. I am a non punter but loved reading the mug punter,great stuff,JTH

  17. Good onya John. My nag is running @ Wang this arvo. Last time there he ran a second, then went back to Corowa where he ran a ‘Barry Crocker’. Goodness knows what he’ll produce today.

    I went to Murtoa races back in July. Nice track. Spent the night @ the pub; interesting

    As well as Murtoa Cup this Saturday, they’re running up on the Murray @ Gunbower. The day before they’re over the border racing in the ‘city of verandahs’; Lockhart. It’s a picnic meeting, that always pulls a big crowd.

    Country Racing, it’s a great day out!

    Glen!

  18. This story never gets old

  19. Race abandoned !

    I had $ on Barry the Baptist in the Murtoa Cup. Watching the races on TV, but Murtoa didn’t come up. I text a mate who lives in Murtoa. He texted back saying there were rabbits on the track.

    I recall Hanging Rock races being abandoned because of kangaroos on the track, but rabbits !?!

    Glen!

  20. Glen

    It was a massive disappointment for the club.

    I’m told a rabbit hole was found on the turn out of the straight. I believe it caused a horse to fall after Race 2. There was a long delay before the races were called off.

    The people I spoke to were shattered, but philosophical. “These things happen,” was the prevailing comment.

    The tent I was in carried on regardless as Jacko (local), Matt and I frittered away the Punters’ Club cash at Flemington and Randwick.

    The weather was stunning. The evening stillness and cool after a warm day was jsut beautiful. The track looked great – green and healthy (and attractive to rabbits unfortunately). The facilities had scrubbed up and there was nothing more you could ask for.

    This is a proud club of determined members and a hard-working committee. It must remain alive. So must Gunbower. I hope those at Melbourne HQ understand. I hope officials with a centralised metropolitan mindset can empathise with all country communities.

  21. Ta John. Yep a pesky rabbit had dug into the track. Universal Thief, ridden by J Lyon almost had a bad fall after the second. The race was then called off.

    Not a great Saturday for the smaller clubs, with Gunbower being moved to Echuca.

    Country racing is so important in the racing world. We can have our Everest’s, Spring Carnivals, etc but it all starts back at the grassroots ; Lockhart, Murtoa, etc.

    Happy punting. (PS. Keep Sal’s quaddies being posted. I was happy with yesterdays collect.)

    Glen!

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