Memories are made of this
RETIRED Coffs Jetty businessman Bob Mackay won’t pay much attention to this week’s Grafton racing carnival, but in his youth, the “Sport Of Kings” featured heavily in everyday life.
Family patriarch, Robert “Red Bob” Mackay, was a prominent racehorse trainer last century and while “young Bobby” never felt the inclination to follow in his father’s footsteps, he did spend time as a bookmaker’s clerk.
“As a young bloke I worked for a bookie named Piccone and it helped me make up my mind never to bet up big,” he recalled.
“The bookmakers all went to the races in big, flash American cars built like aircraft carriers while the punters walked or caught a lift.
“Came to my senses very early that you never get rich quick on the punt and while I’d have the occasional bet, it was never more than a couple of quid.”
One of the better horses trained by Red Bob during the 1920s was Denman, which won many races on local tracks between Kempsey and Grafton.
The trainer didn’t own the horse and his son is interested to know if any descendants of the original owners are still out there.
Memories have been stirred by the exploits of the modern day racehorse named Denman – described by former trainer Peter Snowden as the best he’s handled – now in Europe with the Godolphin racing empire.
“Our old bloke Denman wasn’t a patch on the modern Denman, but he was still a very good galloper,” Bob said.
“They took a picture of him and it’s been in my possession since 1937 and I’d love to catch up with any surviving members of the original family that owned him.
“He won a lot of races at Bowraville and Coffs Harbour so I’d say they would have lived fairly close to these parts.”
Bob remembers another of his father’s horses who was set for one of the big Grafton feature races, en route to a Queensland campaign.
“I don’t remember the name, but Dad entered the horse in three races at Coffs Harbour this particular day and he won the lot,” he said.
“It was nothing unusual to do that, but sometimes led to all sorts of funny things going on among some of the real characters in the game, if you know what I mean ... not that we were involved in any- thing of course.
“The plan was to walk him up to Brisbane to run in one of their big races, but along the way, stop off at all the local Northern Rivers tracks and try to win a race or two at each one.”
First stop was Grafton, where the horse was entered for two races at the one meeting and everything went like clockwork with the horse saluting the judge early in the day.
“The horse wasn’t due to start again until the last race, but in the meantime, jockey Mickey Medowcroft received a telegram delivered to the course telling him that his father was dying in Newcastle and he had to take off straight away to catch a train.
“So Dad was forced to engage another jockey who had never ridden the horse before and this led to disaster.”
During the running, Red Bob’s horse was injured so badly in a fall the animal had to be put down.
“As soon as the track was cleared a hole was dug just infield from the winning post and they tried to bury the horse, but instead, struck oil,” Bob laughed.
“I’m not kidding ... there was a deposit of sedimentary oil under the track ... so the poor horse had to be dragged away and buried in another part of the course.
“If they ever get short of a few shillings in the Grafton racing fraternity, maybe they should start drilling.”
Bob intends to follow the exploits of the modern Denman despite suggestions the horse will head to stud without another start.
“Good luck to him, he’s brought back a lot of fond memories,” he said.