DAMIEN OLIVER: IN A DIFFERENT CLASS. MAY WE HAVE MORE, PLEASE?
There is absolutely no doubt that Damien Oliver is better than at any time in his celebrated career. The real question is how much better and how does he match up with his rivals across Australia.
The answer to both questions is as easy as all of Black Caviar’s wins combined.
How much better? Watching Damien in action last weekend at Flemington, and then on Monday over a couple of beers with our mates in Melbourne while watching the Adelaide Cup, Damien Oliver is better than ever – no ifs, buts or maybe’s.
If his exquisite timing and balance, vigour and strength on Fiorente in the Australian Cup was not enough, his front running, on-pace ride on Sistine Demon in the last was a master class.
If that was not enough, his amazing patient ride on Stereosonic in the last race on Adelaide Cup day was breathtaking.
Since his return to the saddle after his well-documented and unfortunate riding ban for having a punt, Damien is riding like a man possessed.
Like Darren Beadman when he returned to the saddle after his lengthy private audience with God, the break from the rigors of race riding has rekindled the hunger for success in Damien Oliver. The Trainers and Owners are in furious agreement.
The rush to book Damien is not unlike the conga line of Hong Kong trainers and owners queuing up to book Joao Moreira.
What makes Damien’s inspiring resurgence as Australia’s premier jockey even more remarkable is his steely resilience and ability to bounce back from race falls, broken bones and serious injuries over the past decade or so, which, at times, threatened to call time on his riding career.
With the Sydney carnival looming over the next six weeks or so and then Adelaide and Brisbane, Damien Oliver’s name is poised to be hoisted as the rider of many black type winners of some of Australia’s key feature races.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY- AND THE THE NAME-RAY.
There’s just gotta be something about the name Ray in racing. Not Ray Murrihy this time though. Uh uh.
To some, the Daily Telegraph’s Chief racing writer Ray “Squeaky Fromme” Thomas takes this week’s award for the most unadulterated piece of sycophantic writing that they say they have come across in a long, long time.
But when a loyal follower of Lord Peter V’Lundies, who can blame him for coming across like a love-struck flower child on acid? Not us.
Under the heading, “Buzz builds for racing’s grand finals” and “Championships a winner for NSW”, Squeaky waxed lyrical: “Sydney racing’s week-long The Championships is set to become one of the premier sporting events in the world and will pour $200 million a year into the NSW economy within five years”.
Sure, sure, there are those who’ll talk of a premature ejaculation after way too much Kool-Aid about an event which hasn’t even been consummated, but we put it down to almost icky excitement.
Frankly, we’ll put our agnosticism aside and take up lighting candles at Churches, praying to Allah, visiting the synagogue each Sabbath Saturday, adopting the lotus position at the nearest Buddhist temple and even get contortionist tuition to visit a Hindu temple and seek help from their combined deities for the Championships to succeed.
Heaven help racing in Oz if the Championships don’t bring in the crowds and have the wagering tills ticking over.
The downside is not even worth contemplating.
Our great fear for “Squeaky” and other followers running after The Great V’Lundies is that we know what the end game is –and even Racing Minister George Souris is awake to it and is part of the “Followers” campaign.
Commenting on the anticipated $50 million boost to the NSW economy from this year’s Championship, Souris is quoted thus: “That is conservative because of the way it is calculated. This is the reason the State is investing in racing, it is a flagship economic activity”.
Easy to see where this is going, isn’t it, children?
In a nutshell, Souris, Racing NSW and their pom pom boys and rah rah squads face a huge challenge convincing both the Premier, Cabinet and the backbench to keep pouring tens of millions to underwrite an untested event where credible measuring options to determine success- or otherwise- are as rare as the sighting of a lyrebird.
Tellingly, Premier O’Farrell and his cabinet colleagues will be closely monitoring public opinion at a time when the State’s finances are not exactly in Triple A rating shape and health, education and infrastructure priorities – you know, the stuff that WINS elections- are commanding the attention of the voting public.
And speaking of the voting public reminds us of that great line: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”
FLEMINGTON SHINES, BUT IS SHAMUS A SHAM?
Super Saturday at Flemington last Saturday was well worth the airfare and accommodation. The Victorians and the VRC do it so well and, for once, Bleak city turned it on – right on and from attendance figures it was up around 8000 from last year.
Using a successful Hong Kong marketing approach, the VRC put on a food and wine event on the lawns with some of Bleak city’s biggest names in the world of culinary excellence partnered with some serious names in the world of wine.
It worked and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the hugely successful “Music at the Valley” nights Wednesday at Happy Valley.
Flemington had a buzz, and the pretty young things’ skirts just seemed a tad shorter while the guys were appropriately well attired with none of this “relaxed racing” bullshit that the citizens down south have had shoved down their throats over the past month or two – and at great expense, with little in the way of real benefit to the bottom line.
On the racing side, good judges were puzzled pre-race at the decision by trainer Danny O’Brien to back up his three year old colt Shamus Award in the Australian Cup to take on Fiorente and co after beating an even bunch of his age group in the Australian Guineas just seven days earlier.
One in particular who knows more than O’Brien is ever likely to as a racehorse trainers thought it “unbelievable”, expletives deleted.He was right.
After a tough run, Shamus was beaten out of a place with questions asked about just how good Shamus Award is and the doubts, despite the Cox Plate and Guineas wins, continue to re-surface.
From a stud perspective, the deal could have already been done.
Why else would you risk devaluing the horse by running him in a Group One against an out and out champion in Fiorente. And winning the Cox Plate as a maiden, didn’t exactly have the Moonee Valley people doing cartwheels across the floor.
The day didn’t get any better for our Danny Boy as those bloody pipes kept on-calling.
The strongly-fancied Shamexpress finishing out of a placing in the Group One Newmarket- the race he won last year with a featherweight- and then, ingloriously failed in several races in the UK over the Ascot and Newmarket carnivals.
It would not have done Shamexpress’ stud value any favours as some of the Hunter studmasters have serious doubts about the pedigrees of both “Shams”.
Saturday’s flip flops won’t help dispel these doubts. Nor will they help dear Danny’s lofty ambitions to be seen as a premier stallion maker.
LORD V’LUNDIES: WHAT A CRACKUP.
That wonderful humorist, the Punters Pal and The Artful Dodger of Australian racing- Lord Peter V’lundies- is in almost manic overdrive these days selling the virtues of the Championships to the NSW State Government.
And who can begrudge the Big Poohbah’s rabid passion to make believers of those who might eye him as, well, a wanker? Even Jesus had his critics.
As is his calling, the good Lord will go to any lengths to spread his message and, as always, dutifully quoted by his greatest follower in Ray “Squeaky Fromme” Thomas in the Racing NSW cheering squad that is the Daily Telegraph.
According to Flower child Ray, “Racing NSW Chief Executive Peter V’Landys maintains it is a misconception to suggest the $18 million prize money on offer during The Championships next month has only been made possible by a substantial State Government grant”.
Continued the much-revered Spinmeister, Wizard of Oz and Shane Warne of Oz racing, “All the State Government is doing is releasing $10 million from the money invested by punters on NSW racing”.
All??? He then boomed to his favorite Flower Child,“This is a partnership between the State Government and the NSW racing industry and it is exactly the same as what happens in Victoria and their Melbourne Cup carnival. The Melbourne Cup would not be such a big event if the Victorian Government didn’t release some of the money it collects from punters”.
We love you, Lord V’Lundies, but there are those days when even we put down the pipe. It can make us wanna disappear down the rabbit hole with Alice- and, gawd knows, we can’t live in Alice’s hole forever.
No, the Victorian Government never has and does not “release some of the money it collects from punters in Victoria” to fund the Melbourne Cup carnival prize money or the event itself.
It is funded entirely from revenue that the VRC makes out of every little money spinning fund raising component of the Spring racing carnival – sponsorships, corporate hospitality, ticketing and general admission, members and public hospitality packages and a host of other activities.
It also gets a truckload of wagering revenue which flows from it’s hugely successful and iconic world class racing carnival.
To some, it is fucking devious, wrong and bloody misleading to even suggest that the State Government has contributed the hundreds of millions of dollars, which the VRC, with some marketing support from Racing Victoria, has spent on making the Spring Racing Carnival the success that it has been for Victorian racing and the Victorian economy.
While it must piss off Lord V’Lundies in a Tony Montana-kinda way that the arch enemy of Racing NSW has actually succeeded without subsidies or handouts from their Victorian State Government to run and manage a successful racing carnival, let’s give credit- and a huge amount of it- to the VRC for what it has achieved with their spring racing carnival.
Often, we worry for Lord V’Lundies, and all we can say, there comes a time to cut out the Bolivian marching powder and, tough as it might be, face the facts: It is not “exactly the same as what happens in Victoria”, no matter what Lord V’Lundies might have been mumbling to “Squeaky” while sitting there in his Jockey underwear and making wooh wooh sounds in his basso sotto voice like Chauncey Gardener on crack.
Imagine how Premier Barry O’Farrell and his cabinet colleagues would have felt when they read this?
Did we hear Deep Throat-like gagging noises?
If anything, it would do sweet fuck-all to convince the Premier and his cabinet to keep writing cheques to Racing NSW- particularly when his Federal colleagues have declared a “fatwa” on subsidies and handouts to inefficient industries and, have rightly, proclaimed an end to “the age of entitlement”.
As for Ray “Squeaky Fromme” Thomas, we like him and because we do, we must advise him that these Gary Glitter Leader Of The Gang Glam-pop puff pieces disguised as “serious journalism” must cease as even The Spiders From Mars can see right through them.
We hardly expect “Squeaky” to be Woodward and Bernstein, but these Glamarama’s are embarrassing shit, man- even more embarrassing than The Glitter Man’s platform shoes.
GOODBYE, ROY, AND THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.
There’s not much more that can be said about the late great Roy Higgins. He was a champion jockey who always let his racetrack deeds speak for themselves.
Roy was racing’s poster boy through an amazing era, which produced jockeys of the calibre of the great George Moore, Athol Mulley, Jim Johnson, Harry White and numerous others.
They were horsemen par excellence and their legacy has spawned so many of our elite jockeys of the modern era who based their styles on Roy “the professor” Higgins.
Watching Roy Higgins was poetry in motion. He got to and stayed at the top of the tree in an era where the weight scale was completely different to today and when it was a battle for a heavyweight jockey such as Roy Higgins to get more than a handful of rides each metropolitan race meeting.
Not much more to say, except RIP Champ, and thanks for the wonderful memories of a great jockey and very humble human being.