Wednesday, November 07, 2007


You will rarely find us at a Racetrack, or at the TAB, but there is no doubt that horses and horseracing have played a reasonably significant part in our family's lives over the years.

Growing up on Norfolk Island, Bernie probably came into much closer contact with horses than most people of his generation on the mainland. Not only were they an important way of getting around, but Agricultural Shows, Gymkhanas and the like installed an appreciation of a well-bred and well trained horse. Bernie actually became a fine rider, with what they call a "good seat", something that our daughter Miriam inherited. It may be that the boys did too, but in their teenage years, motorbikes began to present more instant gratification!!
It was when Miriam came home to Norfolk back in December1992/January 93, to celebrate her 21st birthday that she caught Trevor's eye. Trevor, a Trainer and ex-hurdle jockey, had been invited as a guest of the R.S.L. Race Club to add some interest to the event. Now our New Years' Day Races used to be held on our Golf Course, and Miriam loved to take part, as did Bernie in earlier days. We had a beautiful ex-racehorse from New Zealand that Miriam loved to ride.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, they fell head over heels, helped no doubt by the mutual interest in horses, and Miriam soon moved off to New Zealand. Eventually Miriam and Trevor, who is nicknamed "Gripper" established their own breaking in and pre-training business on their property that they called "Devon Lodge".

Down in Matamata where they live, you are right in the heart of the New Zealand Racing scene. When we were visiting them about five years ago, we happened to be passing the Town Hall in their neighbouring town of Cambridge, when we saw that they were about to hold a Civic Reception for Sheila Laxon, whose Horse Ethereal won both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups that year. So we went in.

What a photo opportunity! Both Bernie and Emily took the opportunity to pose with Sheila - and the famous mugs!!!I should point out that the larger and more ostentatious of the cups is actually the Caulfield Cup.

How many little girls can actually boast that they have handled the famous cups?

Miriam and Trevor("Gripper") are no longer together, and the business has been sold. Trevor, who used to work with the starting barriers for the race meetings in that part of New Zealand, now acts as official starter for all the Auckland area Race meetings. He and Miriam still hold a joint share in a very successful horse currently in Lee Freedman's Stables in Melbourne.

This particular horse was born on their place, and was a "Dummy Foal", which means that he had a whole range of physical and neurological problems, probably caused by lack of oxygen during birth. He had to be handfed, and his walking was so wonky that he was nicknamed "Gripper" - after Trevor, whose car accident had left him somewhat wonky and wobbly on his feet.

Their hard work and perseverance with him certainly paid off! This same horse will be racing tomorrow,8th November, in the Spring Racing Carnival, just one of a series of big races where he has had a good deal of success. His racing name is "Itstheone."

Now for my part, I only observed horses from a safe distance (still do) especially since the time I was holidaying on a farm in my late teen. They sat me on a horse, told me how to make it go, but unfortunately I did not wait around to find out how to make it stop. All I can say is I am glad this horse did not want to leap fences!

However, I grew up in Todman Avenue, Kensington, which was not far from the Randwick Race Course. In the streets around us there were several stables. It was a common sight in the late afternoons to see the apprentices leading groups of horses around the block for gentle walking exercise. My girlfriend and I fell in love with one particular young apprentice jockey called Norman- well, he may have been just a stablehand - and looked out for him each afternoon.

The lady in the flat upstairs ran an SP bookie shop, and each Saturday afternoon, there would be trails of people going up and down the back stairs with money and slips of paper in their hands, with all the "business" being done through the servery used by the milkman and baker. It was years before I found out what was going on, because my parents would not discuss it with me. After all, it was highly illegal! A couple of doors along there was a man living who was described as a "professional Punter". His bets were no doubt with bigger players, and there were always juicy rumours about his latest winnings or losses!

My primary school was right over the road from one of the sets of gates into Randwick Racecourse. On "Ladies"Days"- usually a Wednesday afternoon - we loved to look out of the classroom window at the ladies in their glamorous outfits.

I never went into that racecourse. But some weekends, Mum and Dad would pack a picnic, and we would go up onto a hill which actually overlooked the course from a distance. We would listen to the race commentaries on Dad's new transistor radio, and place penny bets among ourselves while we watched the races from a distance.

I have been to a number of race meetings in New Zealand in more recent years, as well as horse sales and other activities associated with the racing industry. I can well understand how the atmosphere and camaraderie becomes a part of one's life. Meanwhile I was very happy to win the princely sum of $8 yesterday, when I drew Mahler in a sweep. He ran third.

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