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HORSE RACING IDYLLIC GAMBLING DAYS

As summer rapidly approaches for 2011, and things become a bit more relaxed and laid back, my mind keeps wandering back to the most idyllic days of youth - you know - those best days of my life stuff when problems were non existent and it all seemed so easy.

Every school holidays were spent at Nanna's place in the poorer Brisbane bayside suburb of Cribb Island - not as toffy as Wynumn or Manly or Brighton or Redcliffe, but, hey, who knew in those days? More importantly, who cared? Cribb Island doesn't exist any more. It was all resumed to make Brisbane Airport bigger. In fact if you fly in to Brisbane these days and land coming in over the bay, you fly right over the top of where the "bathing sheds" used to be. The bathing sheds marked the border between Cribb Island and the less affluent Jackson's Estate.

The bathing sheds really stank. They had urinals that just dropped down through a hole at the end of the all concrete structure and in to the water. No one cared in those days. You did care however if it was low tide. You learned never to walk under the bathing sheds at low tide.

Those were days when the days had no names - they didn't need them because it didn't matter. You got up when the sun came up and went fishing or swimming or digging for sand worms and went to bed after dinner after maybe a card game with cousins who also stayed at Nanna's seaside "palace".

My nanna taught me about playing poker, gambling on horse races and doing the drawback on Craven A Cork Tipped cigarettes. They were in a red flattish packet and had the "lucky black cat" on the outside. Thanks nanna. Took me 39 years to get rid if that lesson! She spent her days looking after grand kids, smoking cigarettes and watching the tide come in and go out in its endless cycle, reading the form guide in the Courier Mail and having an afternoon ale (Bulimba beer, not XXXX) and having an occasional bet on the TAB - seemingly always looking for horses trained by Jim Atkins or ridden by Tony Earhart.

The TAB was almost next door to her place so it was quite handy. Maybe too handy. In those days they used to write out the tickets by hand, in triplicate, and then there was someone else out the back of the "cage" who used to put all the tickets in separate boxes, according to which race they were for, total them up very quickly and then phone the TAB headquarters with a tally for each race. It was why it took up to 15 minutes for TAB divvies to be announced on the radio. These days of course we find it painful if they take more than 30 seconds after they've crossed the line for the in studio coordinator to tell us how much they've paid or, we get really annoyed, by the micro-second delays online and the seeming inability to be exactly correct one second before they jump.

So nanna painstakingly explained why she liked Jim Atkins as a trainer and Tony Earhart as a jockey, and what the differences were between betting for a win and betting for a place and what these exotic things called quinellas were. Interesting name - quinella - never made any sense to me at all. The quinella and the daily double were as exotic as things got in those early days. Then came "extra doubles" and trebles and later trifectas and first fours - but they were a long way down the road in 1961!

In Brisbane in those days there was the sand track at Albion Park (where the trots track is today) and nanna spent time explaining to me why horses that liked the heavy track at Doomben seemed to go really well at the "Creek" and why it didn't seem to favour horses that handled the heavy at Eagle Farm. Why horses that could win at Esk and Kilcoy and Gatton could win races at Bundamba (now boringly called Ipswich) but probably not win at a Saturday meeting at Doomben or Eagle Farm. Leaders. Fast finishers. Sprinters. Stayers. She knowledgeably spoke about all of it.

I used to get 30 shillings a week pocket money when I stayed at nanna's place. The minimum bet on the TAB was 5 shillings. I quickly learned why it wasn't a great idea to be punting using 16% of your bank as a staking level.

My cousin, who was also being educated in the way of horse race gambling, and I used to spend hours and hours on a Friday looking at the form guide for the next day's races trying to work out just one sure place bet for our very serious investment. We'd select one race at a time and talk it through about every horse in order and why we thought it could run well and or not run well. We were generally looking for a place bet at about 10s or 12s because if you cracked one they'd generally pay over a pound for a place which, in those days, set you up for a terrific week with ice creams costing a shilling.

Horses that finished close up at Doomben over 7 furlongs and were moving up to 8 furlongs at Eagle Farm always tended to take our fancy because of the longer straight at Eagle Farm, as I recall. It was here that I also learned the hard lesson about "playing with their money" and why it was sadly not true or indicative of further success. Why just because you'd had two losing 5 shilling bets in a row, it didn't make the next bet more likely to win.

All this knowledge was never to be spoken about away from nanna's as my mother's Presbyterian upbringing would have been left in tatters and I would obviously never have been allowed to go to nanna's ever again. So it became a little secretive. Instead of the usual "boy" hiding places for things like Man Magazine or, more daringly, "Squire" Magazines, I used to have scrap books full of "at the turn and finish" photos painstakingly clipped and kept from the Sunday papers or the pink Sporting Globe, all sorted and pasted and put in date order so I could refer to them and identify that "smoky" that no else, of course, would have seen.

This then morphed in to hundreds and hundreds of filing cards, alphabetically ordered of course, with my own dated notations and observations about horses and their performances looking again for that "edge". How computers have changed it all. That edge is now harder to find and the percentages for those with the edge are skinnier than ever. Thankfully though, the seven day a week opportunities have leveled things out.

The principle though is exactly the same. Those that put in the effort do sometimes end up with an edge that the lazier amongst us don't.

The question then is this: if today you are only able to have one bet that accounted for 16% of your bank, how particular would you want to be in its selection? Would you put in the hours and hours to make that one selection knowing you might only get 2's on for your investment? No? Why not?

Days without names. How I wish they could be again.

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