Home' Breeding and Racing : Issue 115 March-April Contents 26 FOR DAILY INDUSTRY NEWS UPDATES VISIT WWW.BREEDINGRACING.COM
in North Western New South Wales.
Obviously for us in those days television
did not exist, and to have a bet my father
used one of the local SPs. Then, to follow the
race, we all had to listen on the radio.
In my early days I dreamt of being a race
broadcaster. To practise, I raced pieces of
willow tree down the Warialda Creek which
was right at our back fence. Unfortunately my
calling skills were not good enough or I was
not in the right place at the right time – maybe
in the next life!
Somehow I had to stay around horses
and race tracks and therefore, working as a
Stipendiary Steward for over 40 years achieved
this for me and provided a good compromise.
But back to race calling.
I do know the job of calling races requires
at least some special skill. A good memory,
maybe over just a short period of time,
is essential. Sometimes a race caller can
recognise a horse by its appearance or maybe
by the gear it carries. But, usually, he has
to associate the name of the horse with the
coloured jacket worn by the rider. And this
has to be done whilst the horses are travelling
in a bunch and at about 60 kilometres an
hour. In the past, fields were larger, often with
15 or more runners, with 8 or more races run
during the afternoon.
That’s not an easy task, and hence the need
for a good memory. After every race the caller
has to pull the chain on the last one to make
room in his head for the next lot of Prince
This’s and Dancing That’s or Something or
other of Kingston’s.
I say he, because the job remains very much
one of Australia’s last bastions of all-male
bastion . Women today are involved in all sorts
of sports broadcasting. But as yet, not race
calling, despite their increasing involvement in
many other aspects of the industry.
Irrespective, race calling really is not a job
for everybody. Which is good because, as
I discovered years ago, there are not many
openings. These days, on any Saturday, just
about every meeting run is covered on the
TAB and at each of these meetings there has
to be a caller. The Sky people have done an
outstanding job sourcing and training the
CALL OF THE CARD
Former chief steward of Sydney and Hong Kong, John Schreck, looks back fondly
at some of the expressions that have given Australian race callers a reputation
as among the best in the world.
“There is evidence in our
racing press... of a fierce
national pride in our
p26-27_Call of the card.indd 26
13/03/14 10:25 AM
FOR DAILY INDUSTRY NEWS UPDATES VISIT WWW.BREEDINGRACING.COM 27
young callers to call at all the meetings run
these days which have off-track coverage, not
just at thoroughbred meetings but at trots and
dog meetings too.
Years ago, those hoping to become race
callers could practise at places like Warialda or
Talwood, make a mistake and just momentarily
upset the on-track crowd!
Probably the mistake best remembered
by race fans was that made by the late Bill
Collins who many say was the best race caller
of all time. He certainly was the best punter
amongst callers. The win of Kingston Town in
the Cox Plate of 1982, when ridden by Peter
Cook, was marked by Bill’s famously incorrect
prognostication that “Kingston Town can’t
win...”; this was hastily revised to “He might
yet win, the Champ,” then “Kingston Town is
According to Glen Lester of the Melbourne
Age, “The call is so intricately woven into the
King’s history that it is difficult to decide which
was the most memorable element of the race:
the broadcast or the victory itself.”
Elsewhere, however, it is described as a
gaffe. Probably the replay supports this view
in that Kingston Town was within a few
lengths of the leaders at the time. Greg Miles,
a longstanding and well respected race caller,
who was also broadcasting the Cox Plate of
1982 states he made the same claim as Bill
Collins and at almost the same time.
In days past, the better known callers
broadcast over radio networks and into TAB
agencies. Some were promoted by the station
as personalities. Some sadly misconceived
themselves as entertainers. Former race callers
like Geoff Mahoney, Joe Brown, Bert Bryant,
Ken Howard and Bill Collins are revered by
many of us who are officially on the back nine
of life. Good things are to be cherished because
they always leave too soon. But unless you are
over 60 and have misspent a great portion of
your youth, you may not have heard of any of
these wonderful callers.
Race calling has not changed much since
the radio stations began to broadcast races
in the 1930s. Originally the broadcasting was
done from outside the course. Broadcasters
were simply not allowed on track. Television,
however, has made it infinitely more difficult
for callers to hide any unintentional fluffs.
The influence of Ken Howard, who called
races in Sydney between the 1940s and 1960,s
on John Tapp, who called races during my time
in Sydney, has always been acknowledged by
Tappie. It was Ken Howard who introduced
the unusual expression “London to a brick on”
into the local thoroughbred jargon. He would
express an opinion about the result of a close
finish before the photo print was developed
and offer to bet London to a brick on about the
correctness of his opinion, even though he did
on occasion get it wrong.
Race callers all have their own unique styles,
with some of the expressions adding to the
reputation of Australia’s broadcasters as among
the best in the world, although the colloquial
flavour would fall on deaf ears abroad.
Typically in Australia, before the start, the
information imparted can include that X
trainer ”Puts the polish” on a particular runner.
And everyone on course and those watching
on TV – these days the majority – are usually
told that the starter has “Mounted his rostrum”,
an elevated stand from which the starter climbs
to get a better view of the runners. Then we
get ”The amber light is on”. The starter hits the
button and “They’re off and running...”
Among the colourful expressions, some of
which are used less frequently these days, are:
”Began like a rocket”; ”Hit the ground in
front”; ”Pinged into the box seat”; ”No one
is desperate to lead”; ”These two are fairly
flying”, ”With a wing on every foot”; ”Showing
blistering speed”; ”Out the back”; ”Allowed
to cruise over”; ”Out in no man’s land”; “This
one is going to lead on its ear”(often used by
Tappie); ”Into a good possie”; and “Taking up a
Then in running, it is “Spearing onto the
course proper”; ”Like a Kamikaze pilot”, “The
pace is a cracker” (not often enough these
days!); “Ripping and tearing”; ”At the head of
the pack”; and “Taking closer order”.
Among the descriptions we don’t often
hear these days are: “Improving its position”;
”A mile back”; ”As they corner”; ”Heads are
turned for home”; ”Close enough if good
enough”; ”Flat to the boards”; ”Pratted wide”;
or ”You can throw a blanket over these”.
Once into in the straight, we do often hear:
”The bird has flown”; ”This will trot in”; ”By
panels of fencing”; ”Jumped out of the ground”
(usually this is one the caller has missed); ”Got
knocked down”; ”Knocked down half the field”
(often an exaggeration); ”In the shadows of
the post”; ”Inch by inch”; ”A ding dong finish”;
”Has run them off their feet”; ”A mile in front”;
”A needle eye opening”; ”Waltzing home”;
”Under the arches”; ”As they greet the judge”;
”As the judge calls a halt”; ”A copy book ride”
and ”The raps were right about this one”.
Maybe you could also add, ”Throwing down
the gauntlet”; ”Taking fairy-like footsteps”;
”Giving a bit of cheek” and ”Run ‘em ragged”.
There is evidence in our racing press from
time to time, of a fierce national pride in our
race callers. Australians are asserted by some to
be the best race callers in the world and many
are and have been truly excellent. But have a
listen sometimes to a caller from New Zealand,
Ascot in the UK or Saratoga in the US. We have
the same blinkered view about our jockeys
and horses but this comes about through our
isolation. Don’t forget we are just a small place
at the end of the world, as a former Prime
Minister once said.
Nonetheless many Australians are
employed to call races at overseas race tracks
and, thank heavens, they seem to lose their
Aussie phrase book as it’s unlikely that locals
overseas would have a clue what message
they’re attempting to convey.
You can “Bet London to a brick” on that
when describing one of England’s Classic
races, no one “Pings into the box seat, before
absolutely motoring home as straight as a gun
barrel in a ding dong finish as the judge calls a
halt in the shadows of the post.” That wouldn’t
happen either in good races at Longchamp in
France, and certainly not in Hong Kong where
the fans are fortunate to told the sectionals
during the running in every race. Just why that
isn’t done here I do not know.
I don’t know a lot about plagiarism, but I do
know a lot of what I have written in this piece
was given to me years ago by a Sydney QC who
was a raging race fan. I am simply unable to
remember who he was, so please forgive the
lack of an acknowledgement.
Maybe it’s plagiarism of the involuntary
kind when the memory forces itself
miraculously upon the creative faculty.
A little like race calling, perhaps!
“TV has made it infinitely
more difficult for
callers to hide any
The Melbourne Cup
has 24 sets of colours
p26-27_Call of the card.indd 27
13/03/14 10:25 AM
Links Archive Issue 114 February - March 2014 Issue 116 May - June 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page