Fond memories a sure bet

Back in the day, before getting into journalism, a different sort of story-telling took my fancy.

It was race calling. The art of painting pictures with words, lasting anywhere from a minute to a lifetime.

As a kid in the 70s, before Sky Channel and TVN and – with the odd exception of race meetings covered by Channels 7, 9 and 10 – if you weren’t at the track you had to listen to the races on the wireless.

Being a Victorian, I grew up on a diet of Bill Collins and Bert Bryant – though it was doughnuts, fresh bread and soft drink that put the weight on.

Bill Collins Credit News

Legendary race caller the late Bill Collins. IMAGE: News Limited

Bryant was part of personality radio, injected a lot of humour and entertained. His call of the race between Big Philou and Rain Lover is legendary, filling a couple of minutes in a two-horse race with what he thought jockeys Pat Hyland and Roy Higgins were thinking on the way around. It was magic.

Only thing better was Bryant’s interview with jumps jockey Les “Autumn Leaves” Boots. He had 41 rides for 42 falls. The only jockey whose wife packed his pyjamas with his riding gear, he fell off the stretcher on the way to the ambulance.

Collins was an entertainer, could do anything in the electronic media and was “The Accurate One”.

If he said your horse was travelling like a winner, the ticket in your pocket was money in the bank. In a photo-finish, he was as good as the developed print. And the language, some of it jargon and the rest the King’s English was merged in a way that it became spellbinding to the listener.

Collins was my idol. Close your eyes and you could see the mental pictures form in a manner that would have made Michelangelo proud.

There were one-off calling gigs, but my first regular broadcasting commitment was at Bendigo greyhounds. Pulling the 6pm to midnight shift at local radio station 3CV in my late teens, I spent many memorable nights calling the dogs.

There are many fond memories. Calling a champion named Eaglehawk Star before he went to town and around Australia was special.

Rain Lover Credit News

The race between Big Philou and Rain Lover in the 1970 Queen Elizabeth Stakes was an epic tussle. IMAGE: News Limited

It is nearly 30 years ago and I forget his name, but I called a greyhound that landed a plunge one night. What made the episode memorable was that the bookies, who congregated on their stands next to their betting boards in a shed, pushed the odds out to 2-1 before a young bloke put his head around the corner and blew a referee’s whistle.

Bert Bryant Credit News

Melbourne race caller Bert Bryant. IMAGE: News Limited

Within 90 seconds, the pup was a 2-1 on chance and won like a good thing. It took 90 minutes for an old dear to get the colour back into her cheeks after the shock of being caught unawares by the signal man.

There was a night that I made it up the ladder to the broadcast box late, having run from the betting shed while the dogs were starting to be loaded into the starting boxes. My aerobic conditioning was not good and it was apparent as words only came out in painful pairs as I gasped for air.

At least I only had myself to blame, unlike a predecessor who was padlocked in the public toilet. By the time he was set free from his less than sanitary prison, he got up to his lofty perch, switched on the microphone and said, “I’ll get you bloody kids”. London to a brick he never did get square with them.

After a brief stint at 6PR in Perth, I returned to Melbourne and joined a long list of fine turf scribes to cut their teeth at the Sporting Globe in 1985. A change of stables took place in 1989.

Trained privately by the doyen of racing editors, the Melbourne Herald’s Jack Elliott, and hard ridden by sports editors such as Kevin Jones, Stan Wright and more recently Wally Mason, moving to The Australian proved to be a good call.

Brendan Cormick worked as a messenger and then a racing form clerk at the Herald and Weekly Times between 1981 and 1983. He joined 3CV and was based in Bendigo until taking on a race-calling position at 6PR in Perth. In 1985, Cormick returned to the HWT, working for the Sporting Globe and Sunday Press until 1989. He has been at The Australian for 23 years. Cormick also did hosting and form analysis on Channel 31 and TVN’s racing coverage.

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