My old man was a great one for turning up late with the lame excuse that “he had to see a man about a horse.” This was usually the correct answer as indubitably the “man” he had to see was himself staring into the mirror at an SP (starting price) bookie.
I thought of the old man many times when I marched in his place, with his medals, on Anzac Day. He was an airman at Milne Bay in New Guinea all those moons ago. He was also a very, very good liar: Many a time he assured me he – with only minor assistance from the other stewards of the Milne Bay Turf Club – had single-handily turned back the might of the Imperial Japanese Forces for the first time in history of man walking upon the Earth.
Although his grandfather was a proud Tipperary-born man of the same doppelganger moniker of Owen Maher; my old man never got any further overseas than this particular muddy field of dreams at the Milne Bay Turf Club.
He would oft dream of the green fields of Ireland and England and the bluegrass of Kentucky but he only ever saw them during alien abductions brought on by the over-consumption of alcohol.
Now I march in his place and relive his alien abductions in the foreign fields.
OK, now where were we…that’s right Ascot racecourse (Berkshire) not to be confused with previous tracks of the same name in both Sydney and Melbourne, the one in Perth (WA) and the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale which lies next to the Flemington HQ.
Well last week the Poms at Royal Ascot decided it was time to have a bit of a go with the racing blokes at a trial of decimal odds: The betting ring is a notoriously conservative environment, and only five bookmakers agreed to the trial which went down like a lead balloon. Charles Barnett, the Ascot chief executive, proved less reluctant, eagerly striking one of the ring's first ever decimal bets on the favourite for the first race. Generally showing at 4-11, Zebedee was instead offered at 0.36p and Barnett duly made £3.60 on his tenner.
Next we have to teach them how to wash daily with soap. After that, presumably, we will have to teach them how to exchange five furlongs for 1000 metres.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Derby (1800m) is upon us once again. This meeting under the twin towers of the Churchill Downs track at Louisville has been “eventing” (as the Yanks would say) since 1875.
Churchill Downs—with the University of Louisville marching band (looking like roosters) in the foreground—during the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Do Americans have any idea how silly they look?
Eskendereya, the red-hot ante-post favourite for Saturday's event after effortless wide-margin victories in his two races this year, has been scratched. The colt, as short as 13-8 in some betting lists, has sustained an injury to his left foreleg and his enforced absence now throws America's most famous race wide open.
Your correspondent has an Irish penchant for Paddy O’Prado (25-1) in the classic but Sidney's Candy (7-1) and Lookin At Lucky (6-1) are now jostling for favouritism. Choose your poison on this dirt track.
The Sydney Cup (3200m) drew only 19,783 punters to Randwick on Saturday but that didn’t stop a dingbat called Craig Young in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday writing a stunning piece of hubris called “Super Saturday presages big things as AJC gets back on track” which still has me choking on its sycophantic feathers.
Here is but a small example of Mr Young’s enthusiastic praise prose to the AJC: “The final day of the carnival was an absolute ripper, with all class of thoroughbred catered for. The two-year-olds, the mares, the three-year-olds, the stayers, the middle-distances horses, the sprinters and those capable of performing at weight-for-age. It was probably the best day's racing the AJC produced. Next year, Sydney Cup day falls on Easter Saturday, and those driving the AJC will make sure it's something special. It is committed to the betterment of racing. How good is that?”
Well Mr Young, it’s not nearly as good as the AJC did 100 years ago when Randwick hosted 100,000 punters; and you really should get out more to smell the roses at Flemington.
The total prize money for the Sydney Cup was a paltry $400,000 and one wonders why it still has group 1 status?
Jessicabeel is a 4-year-old bay mare and yes, she is from Aotearoa and yes, she was sired by that great Kiwi stallion Zabeel – who seemed to have had a hand (if that’s the right word) in siring half the field. Tony Arnold tells me Jessica’s win in the Sydney Cup, was the 40th individual group 1 winner for Zabeel; and he only needs five more to equal his own legendary sire, Sir Tristram.
The Sydney Cup winner was bred in a partnership arrangement by Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud on the Waikato where Zabeel hangs out; and Australian trainer Peter Moody’s family. Jessica was purchased for NZ$220,000 ($170,000) by Randwick trainer John O’Shea at the 2007 Cambridge yearling sale.
Her dam was More Diamonds by the Mr Prospector horse Straight Strike. More Diamonds was raced and trained by Moody when he lived in Queensland a decade ago.
Jessicabeel will now be set for the race that stops the nation that is also over 3200m. We wish her well.
Jessicabeel was always well back in the field before jockey Craig Newitt secured a run at the top of the straight and he drove the mare through the opening and she mowed down Divine Rebel to score by three quarters of a length.
“She was a little bit slow out so I didn’t rush her,” Newitt said. “I got onto the back of Capecover and when he busted out into the open he gave me the run at the right time.”
Newitt has no doubts that Jessicabeel will be a genuine Melbourne Cup contender when the VRC conducts the 150th running of the race that stops the nation.
“She’s only had just over a dozen starts, she’s got a great temperament, a great attitude,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll be there.”
What a beautiful day it is when you wake up and can smell both the roses and the rosemary. Your correspondent is not normally given to forward thinking; but the previous weekend he plonked the entire contents ($20) of his conspicuous consumption discretionary account on a forward call option that said Jessicabeel would win the Sydney Cup at the fixed odds of 11/1 ($10).
And so it came to pass.
I would have warned you of my intentions, gentle readers, but TP Maher is not licensed to give investment advice under the Australian Financial Services Act; he is not an authorised representative of the Australian Securities Exchange; and he does not purport – in any way – to be a practitioner member of the Security Dealers Institute of Australia. He is but a humble scribe.
He is a very clever one though because by the time the 148th Sydney Cup field of 11 jumped at 3.35pm on Saturday, the price on offer for Jessica had halved to $5.
But your correspondent dips his lid to the ultimate punter who walked into a Melbourne TAB agency and plonked $200 down on Melbourne Storm to win the 2010 NRL wooden spoon at the heart-stopping odds of 200/1 ($40,000) moments before the miracle of the loaves and fishes was announced to flabbergasted bystanders.
I hope the ultimate punter lives happily ever after because if you tried that sort of capper on the ASX, ASIC would slam the cell door behind you tighter than the one that held Carl Williams.
I’m backing Pentacolo trained by my long-lost cousin Ciaron Maher at the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m and 33 fences) at Warrnambool next week. I have to back him because he is family. It doesn’t mean you have to do it: And I don’t take any responsibility if the horse falls down and doesn’t win. It’s all care and no responsibility here while we search for our professional indemnity insurance certificate.
* Horse and Jockey is the fair-dinkum name of a town in County Tipperary, Ireland. TP Maher comes from a long line of horse thieves and whisperers who once roamed its townlands – finally, they were warned-off by the stewards and moved to Australia.