The cup and a mug
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.