Jenny - Clean


THE transition from punting tragic to doting dad might be a culture shock for most of us but we wouldn’t swap it for all the winners in the world.

It was something that snuck up and caught me by surprise. There was plenty of time for settling down – or so I believed – in my early working years when going to the races, meeting my mates at the pub and watching the footy were highest on my list of priorities.

Chasing women was fun but like a lot of guys I had limited success and let selfishness dictate my priorities. To my mates and I the ‘perfect date’ would be there when we wanted her – you know the rest – and not there when we wanted a day on the punt and the drink.

I stumbled down that lonesome road for several years working as a sportswriter which got me to the races every Saturday and the football on a Sunday. It was – I thought back then – the perfect lifestyle. Why would I ever want it to end?

My colleagues in combat on the punt were a crew that I called racing’s answer to Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’. Every Saturday – rain, hail or shine – we would rendezvous at the track. There was Ginger, Stretch, Waldo, Yogi and his sister, ‘Butch,’ who was anything but. They were great times.

We would get the best of inside info from ‘Butch’ who was dating two jockeys at the same time. She had ‘Battery Bill’ at her beckon call alternating with ‘Handbrake Harold’ every other night. Her timing was precise. Her information spot-on – at least until she dumped both for an SP called ‘Shifty.’

Such was the success of our strike rate on the punt that we financed several overseas trips to major race meetings. The highlights were visits to America for a Kentucky Derby, Japan for their Cup and to England for Royal Ascot.

But my whole life was to change one fateful evening when the marketing manager at the newspaper where I worked talked me into a ‘blind date’ at the theatre restaurant that he and his partner operated.

Lyle and Mal were great guys – the talk of the town back then – and their Back Door Theatre was a colossal success. Patrons would dine and enjoy an evening show of singing and dancing performed by the boys with the help of a chorus line. Afterwards they would party into the small hours of the morning.

That was where they set me up with Sheila. She was a cute little blond who worked in the chorus line. She had wanted to be a classic ballerina (at least that is what her parents paid for her to become) but wound up singing and dancing. It was a story of opposites attract. We hit it off amazingly well and that proved to be the beginning of the end of my days as a punting tragic.

Instead of meeting the team for a drink after work I was heading off to the Theatre. The same was happening after working at the races and football of a weekend. Before long Sheila and Godfrey became an item and the rest is history.

We married some months later and had two beautiful kids – Oscar and Chelsea. All of a sudden life had changed and my punting days were limited. I never stopped working at the races nor did I end my love affair with the horses. But my days on the punt were put on the back-burner.

When the kids started school Sheila went back to work as a dancer. She was very talented at what she did and secured chorus line jobs with some major shows which took us interstate and eventually overseas.


I found newspaper work while she danced. I got to live in Melbourne and work covering the Cup carnival and in Sydney when the Golden Slipper and all the big races were on. It was the perfect relationship. We were happy at work and still got to spend every spare minute with the kids. A doting dad was born. I wouldn’t have swapped that for backing all the winners in the world.

If there was a drawback to our relationship from my point of view it occurred every time we went to a party or a wedding – wherever there was a band. Sheila would be called on to sing and I would be asked to get up and dance with her. There we were – at centre stage – Sheila singing: “Can I have this dance for the rest of my life.” Sounds romantic but she danced and sang like Olivia Newton-John and I waltzed more like John Candy than John Travolta.

When the kids were nearing their teens an opportunity arose for Sheila to run a dance studio in Hong Kong. I knew there was plenty of work for journalists in the then British-run colony and thought it was a great chance for the family to experience living in a different culture.

We spent several good years in Hong Kong before the changing lifestyle saw us grow apart which eventually led to the breakdown of our relationship. The dance school totally dominated Sheila’s life. In the newspaper business over there when the work is over you drink hard, party long and punt on anything that moves.

Racing and gambling is a big part of the lifestyle in Honkers and I found the punting tragic was becoming more part of my life than it had been since we were married. Sheila was immersed in her world of dance, the kids had their own friends and were growing up quickly. I had my mates from the newspaper and horse racing fraternities.

But that world came crumbling down for me when my two best mates – both racing writers – were killed in tragic circumstances. The events of that day will keep for another column but Hong Kong was never quite the same for me. In the words of the song ‘you may still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.’

With the kids ready to start work or go to university, I convinced Sheila that we should return home to OZ. In an effort to try and relax for a few days and perhaps rekindle our relationship I suggested we should take a cruise back. It seemed a great idea at the time.

But when we reached Sydney the kids and I went in one direction and Sheila sailed off into the sunset. I should have realized she was spending more time with the cruise ship’s singer than she was with me.

It worked out for the best in the end. We are still great friends. She continues to sail the seven seas and do her thing. I brought the kids up until they went their own way in life. Both are now married and we are looking forward to becoming proud grand-parents.


I was a bit lost when I first got home so I returned to my old stamping ground at the races of a Saturday and attempted to touch base with members of the ‘Famous Five’ but times change and prove near impossible to re-invent.

Ginger was the only one still living what he called the ‘life of Riley’ – punting from one meeting to the next but joining a new group of mates at the local rather than going to the races. He epitomizes the battling punter and will do so, I believe, for the rest of his life.

Waldo had inherited a fortune in mining shares when his parents died and was now in a high profile position with a thoroughbred organization. More the pity really, because he doesn’t know shit from clay when it comes to the running of horse racing.

Stretch had made it big in real estate and was now the King of his own little castle on the Gold Coast where the punt was still very much part of his lifestyle. He retires to the local at lunch-time most days and lives by the theory that as long as the beer is cold and the pies are hot, the punt is fine.

Yogi had fulfilled a lifelong dream of training racehorses – and proved very good at it in fact. He was a lot more cashed up than I had expected. His stable of horses and owners was high profile and strong. In turned out his sister, ‘Butch’, always the brains of the family, was financing his operation. She now ran a successful ‘call girl’ business and the majority of her clientele were – you guessed it – high profile members of the horse racing fraternity.

I tried going back to the races but times had changed. It wasn’t like the good old days when you and your mates took along your binoculars and fought your way through the crowd to have a bet, watched the runners parade and then lined the fence or found a grandstand seat to cheer home a winner.

There was a new breed of punter at the races who these days crowded around television sets to watch the coverage on SKY. On what they called ‘big days’ – when the crowd swelled to about two-thirds of what we used to encounter on any normal Saturday – there were young men and women falling over drunk. It wasn’t long before I retreated to the local pub or club (and therein lies the topic of my next column and why many of us refuse to go the racetrack any more).

Well that’s the end of my second helping of Horsing Around. Again please forgive the self indulgence but I think it is important that you know the background of Godfrey Smith before we take a light-hearted look at the current topics that make us happy and sad in this wonderful world of horse racing and punting.



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