A photo of Rowan, from Chicago, is paired with a picture of
a Melbourne Cup Day booklet. Photos by Roy Colbert.
The grandchildren are here from Chicago, one at school
already, oy vey. And as the wise grandfather who has bobbed and
weaved successfully through all of life's arrows and nunchukas,
so far, it has naturally behoven me to educate them
It is not easy taking in a completely new culture, and it is
vital I choose only wheat. No chaff. So I have begun with
"What is THIS?" ejaculated Rowan (6) as we read a newspaper
over a Vegemite and avocado sandwich. It was a whole page of
words and numbers with pictures of funny little men wearing
David Bain jerseys and pixie caps.
"It is The Melbourne Cup," I replied, my memory already
racing as I recalled this mighty and very occasionally
fiscally fortuitous race. Belldale Bill! I won $145 that day.
1980. I could tell what I did with the money if this was a
complete different media publication.
There was a lot of stuff on the page, a jaffered Baldwin
Street of statistics, couched in impenetrable code. It took
me a few years to learn how to decipher a racing page as a
teenager, but Rowan is gifted, so he understood the whole
caboodle after about seven minutes.
"I'm going to bet on THIS one!" he announced.
Unusual Suspect. "It is paying the most money, $301."
Rowan had clearly fallen for the same wretched
fraux-luciferous logic that has destroyed Kiwi punters for
centuries, although to be fair, the Government takes 17c in
every dollar, which they have sensibly used to make this
country into the teeming lifestyle mecca it is today. Thank
you for this, losing punters.
I explained to him that the chances of Unusual Suspect
winning were about as good as that of his great-grandmother,
who is in a rest-home in Christchurch and would probably be
asleep when the horses lurched out of the starting stalls on
Tuesday afternoon. I suggested to him instead he might bet on
a name that meant something to him, or even a favourite
number. Without meaning to introduce sexism to Rowan's life
at this woefully early stage, I still felt there was merit in
pointing out this was how New Zealand women have made money
out of horse racing since Te Raupraha's horses thundered
along Kapiti Island in the late 18th century.
His mother joined us and immediately began squealing at the
knit and pearl of the jockeys' jerseys. I quietly moved Rowan
into the next room.
"This is man's work, Ra," I said to him.
"We must not be lured down false paths."
So I told him how to win at horse racing. Without meaning to
introduce racism to Rowan's life at this woefully early
stage, I nevertheless had to tell him about the Chinese.
"Chinese people never lose at gambling," I said to him
My winning horse racing theory happened at the Forbury
Raceway nearly 40 years ago. I had been losing hundreds of
dollars in every race, trying to impress my then girlfriend.
She was Chinese, and she finally decided to take pity on me.
She explained if you accidentally see a Chinese stranger at
the racetrack, you run through the names of the horses in the
next race alphabetically, one letter for each horse. On the
SECOND time through, when the letter you say matches the
first letter of the horse, you bet on that horse. It came up
Quiet Native, a horse with no form at all, and bred from a
chance encounter its mum had with a wombat during a visit to
Australia. Quiet Native led from the start, as bad horses
often do, only it stayed there, and won going away by five
lengths. Paid a fortune. They took the horse north and it
never won again.
True story, ask Tayler Strong.
I walked with Rowan to the TAB but we never saw any Chinese
people. His horse finished fourth. Mine, 22nd favourite and
perhaps a little old at 8 for this searing test of stamina,
is finishing about now.
• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.