The cup and a mug

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - OPENERS -

Thirty years ago to­day, Caulfield Cup Day, a kid in his first year of high school fell in lust with the idea of win­ning easy money be­cause a horse ran fast. He fell for the in­tox­i­cat­ing rush of the punt. It didn’t seem like gam­bling back then; not when my first-ever bet was on Ming Dy­nasty in the 1980 Caulfield Cup. I knew noth­ing about form but I knew that I liked the look of the big grey horse. Not only that, but he’d won the same race three years be­fore and at 50/1, I thought the price was right.

And so a few dol­lars re­turned many and a mug was born. I was a nat­u­ral, I thought, and con­ceived of ways to get bets placed de­spite my age and, when that proved too dif­fi­cult, I started a footy pool at school. Where my friends prayed for a cure for acne, I prayed for up­sets in the SANFL. Up­sets were good for busi­ness. I re­mem­ber jump­ing up and down with such un­bri­dled joy one cold, rainy Satur­day af­ter­noon in my bed­room while lis­ten­ing to my old tran­sis­tor ra­dio as West Ade­laide beat Sturt, know­ing that no one had picked the Bloods.

Un­for­tu­nately, word got out about the pool and I soon found my­self in the head­mas­ter’s of­fice; turns out that even though a mad-keen punter like Bob Hawke could later be prime min­is­ter, my en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit wasn’t ap­pre­ci­ated. It didn’t help my fond­ness for a wa­ger that my first (poorly paid) job in jour­nal­ism in­volved col­lect­ing rac­ing data at Mor­phettville. And it re­ally didn’t help that I was also sent to cover the An­gle Park grey­hounds on Mon­day and Thurs­day nights. I re­call be­ing paid $50 a night and los­ing at least $70 to the book­ies.

Af­ter a while I be­gan to think I was the only mug in the place who didn’t know which dog was go­ing to win a race. Upon closer ex­am­i­na­tion of the hap­less faces and empty wal­lets of the des­per­a­dos try­ing to re­coup their losses from the Fri­day night Globe Derby trots and week­end ned­dies at Mor­phettville, that prob­a­bly wasn’t true. Prob­a­bly.

The An­gle Park dogs – along with a hor­ren­dous re­sult in a race in Bendigo when I was on the surest of sure things – did cure me, though. I re­alised that in gam­bling if you look around and can’t fig­ure out who the mug is, then it’s you. Once I lost in­ter­est in punt­ing, my in­ter­est in rac­ing waned, too.

There were ex­cep­tions, such as the day in Can­berra when I watched Beau Zam edge out the great Bonecrushe­r or, in San Diego, when I saw the le­gendary Cigar lose in go­ing for his 17th straight win at the most beau­ti­ful race­course in the world, Del Mar. But over the years, I’ve felt horse rac­ing has gone the way of boxing. Just as the bru­tal Mixed Mar­tial Arts has over­taken boxing with the re­al­ity TV gen­er­a­tion, other forms of gam­bling seem to have turned rac­ing into a relic.

I’ve al­ways felt what the ned­dies needed most was a gen­uine star. In Amer­ica, there’s Zeny­atta, named af­ter The Po­lice al­bum, by her owner, Hollywood mu­sic im­pre­sario Jerry Moss. She’s won 19 straight races and will be go­ing for a record-smash­ing 20 next month in the pres­ti­gious Breed­ers Cup. And if you’re look­ing for omens,

was re­leased 30 years ago, in Oc­to­ber 1980, right around the time Ming Dy­nasty won the Caulfield Cup.

Ah, how I’ve missed the twisted logic of a mug punter.

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