IN HIND SIGHT: MAX PRES­NELL

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - – Matt Cleary

MAX PRES­NELL was born in 1939 and grew up in the Don­caster Ho­tel in Kens­ing­ton along­side Rand­wick Race­course. His father was the pub­li­can and his ear­li­est rec­ol­lec­tions are the sound of horses “clip­pity-clop­ping along to the track in the morn­ing be­fore dawn, which is still the sweet­est sound I’ve ever heard”. His was a child­hood sur­rounded by rac­ing and rac­ing peo­ple, by stings and punter and mug lairs, and the lan­guage of it. He be­came a copy boy for The Sun and went on to chron­i­cle the great and not-so-great moments in Aus­tralian thor­ough­bred horse rac­ing. Some of those that couldn’t make the pages of the pa­per (for var­i­ous rea­sons) he’s now col­lated into a book, Good Losers Die Broke.

How was it, as a kid, grow­ing up in a pub?

The Don­caster had a seedy, shall we say, area for ba ling race­horse train­ers, des­per­a­dos, brokes, drunks, pick-pock­ets in the bar. Up­stairs we had 25 rooms for guests which in­cluded about ten per­ma­nents, and they were all knock­about peo­ple. The beauty in the Don­caster and my child­hood there, was a lot of vis­it­ing train­ers would stay at the Don­caster, a lot of big jock­eys. Bart Cum­mings’ father, he stayed there.There was a com­mu­nal break­fast and din­ing room, and the sub­ject of the morn­ing was al­ways the races, the fights, the rugby league, the cricket. It was a great sport­ing time, and I al­ways had a pas­sion for news­pa­pers. I’d go and get the pa­pers at the front door, that was my job as a kid. My par­ents would read the comics and I’d read the sport­ing pages.

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What was it like, horse rac­ing and sport in post­war Australia?

It was a very vi­brant era in rac­ing and in Australia in gen­eral. Characters abounded. In fact it pro­duced bril­liant men. Aƒer the Great De­pres­sion and also World War II, peo­ple lived more on their wits than ed­u­ca­tion. One of them was “Two BobTommy”. My father knew him well, said he was the pub­li­can’s great­est night­mare. He wasn’t vi­o­lent and he wasn’t a drunk, but he was just a pest. He would run raf­fles with no prizes. He’d run for SP book­mak­ers. He got the nameTwo BobTommy be­cause he’d al­ways be ask­ing, “Have you got two bob for my din­ner?”

Well, he be­cameTommy “TJ” Smith, per­haps the great­est trainer in Aus­tralian rac­ing his­tory. He started from noth­ing. My father said he had ab­so­lutely noth­ing to rec­om­mend him, a li le man with a squeaky voice. He did have drive, which is what made him a pest. But my father held him in the high­est es­teem. He said you couldn’t be­lieve a man that had so li le go­ing for him went so far. He was awarded an OAM. He ended up with a har­bour frontage of Syd­ney Har­bour. Lloyd Wil­liams once said he could have been the CEO of BHP.

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How did it come about that you got the gig as a copy boy at the Sun?

School was no good to me be­cause they tried to make me a trades­man at South Syd­ney Ju­niorTech where they spe­cialised in wood­work, met­al­work and tech­ni­cal draw­ing. Aƒer three years' intensive train­ing, I couldn’t whi le an edge, use a file, draw a straight line. I turned 15 on a Fri­day and started work as a copy boy at the Sun on the Mon­day. I went to night school and learned short­hand and typ­ing. You couldn’t get an ed­u­ca­tion from univer­sity that I got from work­ing at news­pa­pers.

The Sun was an aƒer­noon news­pa­per run­ning against the Daily Mir­ror and the striv­ing for cir­cu­la­tion was in­tense. Even as a copy boy run­ning mes­sages, you got mixed up in the flow of it. You’re lis­ten­ing, watch­ing, be­ing in­volved with great re­porters. You’d hear the news edi­tor, how he ad­dressed peo­ple. You’d hear sub-ed­i­tors talk­ing to jour­nal­ists, telling them you’ve done this wrong, done that wrong. It was in­valu­able.

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Do you re­mem­ber your first big story?

I do – and it’s still prob­a­bly the big­gest story I’ve ever done: the 1961 AJC Derby when Mel Schu­macher pulled Tommy Hill’s leg. It was cer­tainly not a lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece but where I’ve got some

pride about it was with the speed of it. As a cadet I was do­ing the stew­ards’ en­quiries and sud­denly I heard this mas­sive noise – protest in the Derby. Well I’d gone in there, the cadet, one of the low­est jobs in the pa­per, and of course Tommy Hill, the rider of Sum­mer Fair, was al­leg­ing that Mel Schu­macher, on Blue Era, had grabbed his leg. And the stew­ards didn’t be­lieve him. And I re­mem­ber the quote to this day: Jack Burke, the chief stew­ard, said, “Are you sure?” And Tommy Hill said, “Mr Burke, I’d know if a snake bit me.”

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Great quote.

It was. Any­way they lis­tened to the ev­i­dence, and of course Schu­macher said it’s pre­pos­ter­ous. I told Ernie Chris­tensen, a great sport­ing writer of the time, who said that Hill wouldn’t say that. I said, “Ernie, he did say it.” I dashed up­stairs to the phones and told the sports edi­tor that Tommy Hill said bang, bang, bang. Then I ran down­stairs and of course I got the story, which oth­ers got too. But run­ning up and telling them what was com­ing gave the

Sun the edge. It was a cir­cu­la­tion ba‰le. We were on the street half an hour be­fore the story broke; sold thou­sands' more pa­pers.

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The protest was up­held?

They’d just start­ing us­ing film to watch re­plays; they were black and white like Char­lie Chap­lin movies. Side-on it showed a li‰le bit of scrim­mage near the post.The head-on view showed dis­tinctly Schu­macher, lean­ing across and grab­bing Tommy Hill’s leg. So, that’s what sunk Mel Schu­macher. It also sunk me be­cause I’d backed Blue Era. In those days you could have ducked out and had a bet

“Ire­mem­berthe quote to this day: Tom­myHill­said, ‘Mr Burke, I’d know if as­nakebitme.'”

with the book­mak­ers that the protest would be dis­missed. It was about 5/1. There was plenty of time. But be­cause of the enor­mity of the story and be­cause I prob­a­bly just still didn’t be­lieve he could do it, I didn’t go out to save.

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Let me throw some names at you. First, Dar­ren Bead­man ...

Dar­ren Bead­man was an ap­pren­tice ofTheo Green’s, who I’ve got a chap­ter on. A won­der­ful

man, he’s the Bart Cum­mings of ap­pren­tice jock­eys. What Bart Cum­mings did for Mel­bourne Cups, Theo Green did for ap­pren­tice jock­eys. He devel­oped Ron Quin­ton, Malcolm John­son. I was at the track one morn­ing, early, and Theo said, “Max, have a look at that kid there”, point­ing to Bead­man. He said “He’s gonna be the best of all my boys”. Now, Malcolm John­son had just changed the face of ap­pren­tice jock­eys. Ron Quin­ton was a cham­pion. Theo said:…“Mark my words, that kid will be the best.”

An­other one: Jimmy Cas­sidy.

Jimmy was one of the con­tro­ver­sial ones and a cham­pion in my book. He was go­ing to sue me once, I said that in the sad­dle he “looks like a dog shag­ging a boot”. But Cas­sidy was in­volved in so many visions splen­did. None more so than the Mel­bourne Cup with Might and Power [in 1997] where he took it to the front and raided it. You don’t win Mel­bourne Cups in front, you don’t do that. And there was Cas­sidy, the last 100m, pump­ing away, “shag­ging the boot”, pump­ing, pump­ing in his unique style, ge“ing the best out of that horse. Greg Hall thought he’d won it on Doriemus. But Cas­sidy pre­vailed.

He’s a re­mark­able char­ac­ter. Never a dull moment. Even in his later years he was still a great jockey. I saw Sco­bie Breasley when I was in Eng­land in the ’60s and he was an old man with hair as white as snow. A master. As an old man he beat Lester Piggo“, who most would say was the world’s great­est jockey. I never thought I’d see a jockey as good as old Sco­bie. But Cas­sidy was.

Kerry Packer. Have much to do with him?

I might have got a few grunts and looks of con­tempt. You talk about sto­ries, I had a great one about his be“ing with [book­maker] Bruce McHugh, who was a mate of mine, and this is when Packer was be“ing huge money, mil­lions. John Be­naud was our sport­ing edi­tor and I said, "John, here we are, this is a lovely story, this is front page [of] the Sun;

this isn’t back page." He said, yes, very in­ter­est­ing. I went away very con­tented with my front-page scoop. But it didn’t go in the pa­per.

I stormed around there full of high dud­geon, foul lan­guage omit­ting from my mouth. And John said sit down. I sat down. He said, “Kerry’s got us by the short and curlies and I’ve had in­struc­tions from up­stairs not to up­set Kerry.” The thing that up­set Kerry most was his bets be­ing made pub­lic. John said that if the piece went in you might be out of a job, I’ll be out of a job. So that was Kerry Packer. Kerry and his father Frank were only too happy to glory in the bet­ting deeds of other big pun­ters. But Kerry did not want his bets in the pa­per. In some in­stances I got them in, and it was a sen­sa­tional story.

They wouldn’t be more sen­sa­tional than Fine Cot­ton. Where were you in that?

I was at War­wick Farm on the day and wait­ing for the cor­rect weight, which wasn’t an­nounced. And I would say ev­ery­body at War­wick Farm knew that Fine Cot­ton was a ring-in for Bold Per­son­al­ity. I knew who was be­hind it and I would say I was among 1500 peo­ple in the know. It was a mas­sive balls-up.

Super Im­pose was the first horse that I sort of took a lik­ing to and I’ve had a few fa­vorites since. How about your­self?

I of­ten say that I haven’t got Super Im­pose as a “cham­pion” though he was a great horse. My cham­pi­ons were Tod­man, Tul­loch, Vain, Kingston Town, Sun­line, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx. I had to be dragged yelling and scream­ing that Black Caviar was a cham­pion, be­cause the dis­tance was so re­stricted [to sprint races]. But then again when you saw her win the New­mar­ket, when you saw her win that TJ Smith at Rand­wick, when a top-class race­horse, Hay List, bounded out in front and there was Black Caviar on her wrong leg, four lengths be­hind, and you say, "Oh no, she can’t pick this horse up." She picked him up, on the wrong leg she picked him up and beat him easy.

Winx will be aim­ing for three straight Cox Plates on Oc­to­ber 28th. She’d slot in eas­ily to the “cham­pion” cat­e­gory?

In last year’s race, Hart­nell had come off one of the most im­pres­sive Turn­bull stakes we’ve seen. Makybe Diva had won the Turn­bull Stakes. Northerly won the Turn­bull Stakes. It’s a great mea­sur­ing ground. Winx cruised up to Hart­nell at the 600 – and I’d tipped Hart­nell, he was fly­ing – and just breezed past him.

I once tried to seek the def­i­ni­tion of a cham­pion and I went to ev­ery­body with the ques­tion: how do you de­fine a cham­pion? And the best de­scrip­tion I got was from ArthurWard who was a jockey and a trainer. He said a cham­pion is a horse that doesn’t just beat an­other top-class horse, but don­key-licks them. And that’s some­thing I ap­ply to­day. You’ve got to do it over a pe­riod and do it more than once. On his day, no horse would have beaten Lonhro, but he had his share of off days. KingstonTown didn’t have any off days.

“A cham­pion is a horse that doesn’ t just beat an­other top-class horse, but don­key-licks them .”

TwoBobTommy with­his­daugh­ter, who­di­dokay­out ofrac­ingher­self. Pres­nell's roy­alplay­ground atRand­wick.

Asanap­pren­tice,Dar­ren Bead­man­wasthe­mas­ter. † ‡ˆMigh­tandPow­er­pips fel­low­greatDoriemusinthe 1997Mel­bourneCup.

Black Caviar: a great horse, no ar­gu­ments. But Winx [  ] sits com­fort­ably in the "cham­pion" class.

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