Peter Richardson.
Peter Richardson.

Once I was a mad keen punter

WITH only a few days to go until the race that stops the nation, I find myself surprisingly free of a seasonal complaint.

Perhaps this is because I suffered severely from Melbourne Cup fever in my teens, and to a lesser extent, in the ensuing years, and have therefore developed a degree of immunity, my only symptom so far this year being a $5 plunge on the Buderim Bowls Club sweep.

My current low level of cup fever is a long way from my days as a mug punter trying to select the winner of a handicap race widely acknowledged as one of the world's hardest to pick.

Let me take you back to my brief rise and long fall as a punter. As a 17-year-old cadet reporter at the Toowoomba Chronicle, I was assigned to cover the weekly race meetings at Clifford Park, which was then home to one of the premier race clubs in Queensland.

This required me to attend not just the Saturday meetings, but the Tuesday morning barrier trials, which began at dawn, necessitating a long bike ride across town. Even in Toowoomba's chilly winter, I was happy to do this as, having owned a pony and a knockabout hack or two, I fancied myself as a judge of horseflesh. Ah! the impudence of youth.

I welcomed the chance not only to see the lordly thoroughbreds in action but to record their trial times and pick the brains of their trainers and other connections for the Chronicle's weekly tips.

I have no doubt that they enjoyed giving bum steers to someone so wet behind the ears, and I took me a while to distinguish between genuine good oil and the advice of the spivs and urgers, but as things turned out, I did have some early success in picking winners.

This phase lasted just long enough for me to start punting on my own behalf. With a classic run of beginner's luck, my wins sometimes doubled or even tripled my weekly wage, which was then about three pounds ($6) a week.

Then, when I had a much more substantial win on Hiraji in the 1947 Melbourne Cup, I was hooked, and I fantasised about a lucrative betting career.

My mug punter's pride, however, did indeed go before a fall, and after a depressing run of outs, I came to my senses and gave such thoughts away.

Instead, I just took a modest punt every year on the Melbourne Cup, always sentimentally favouring any shade of grey in memory of Hiraji, the New Zealand-bred four-year-old gelding that was one of only six greys that have won the big one, the most recent being Efficient in 2007.

Lately I have let even this involvement slide, and at time of writing, have not even scanned this year's cup field, but should I find a grey among the starters, I may invest a bit of the housekeeping money, just for old time's sake.

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