Sharp calls: Yabba was a legend on the SCG Hill. Photo: Fairfax archiveThree Blind Mice greeted Australian Jockey Club stewards in a booming chant from racegoers as they walked back into the mounting enclosure after a savage form reversal.
In those days horse players took punting seriously. Alas by comparison, their modern-day counterparts, the few left trackside, wouldn’t know a dead’un if it bit them on the backside.
But it has always been the Australian and democratic way to demonstrate, heckle and boo, even if, at times, it is misplaced.
”You’d hold a red-hot stove,” often greeted a jockey beaten on a favourite.
Going back to the good old days a session on the Hill at the SCG for the humour was more than worthwhile even if you were a member.
The immortal ”Yabba”, Stephen Gascoigne (1878-1942), on his home ground, had a following due to his chiacking of cricketers. ”I wish you were a statue and I were a pigeon,” Yabba would boom.
Still his epic line was directed at the fly-swatting English cricket captain Douglas Jardine, architect of Bodyline.
”Leave our flies alone,” he called in a tone developed as a rabbitoh, his line of work. ”They’re the only friends you’ve got.”
And for a batsman adjusting his protector: ”Those are the only balls you’ve touched all day.”
Of course, Yabba’s comments were laced with judgment and humour, unlike the booing for the injured tennis champion Rafa Nadal in the recent Australian Open final in Melbourne.
Perhaps he was entitled to the benefit of the doubt, often the case when a rugby league player took a dive in a delicate situation, more to stem the flow of the game than because of pain. As the zambuk (St John’s first-aid applicator) ran on to the field to assist he would be advised: ”Give his heart a massage.”
Personal attacks, too, came from the stands, on one occasion upsetting Michael Cleary, the outstanding South Sydney and Kangaroos winger. Subsequently The Sun ran a headline: ”Don’t call me Michelle.”
However, racing brought out the best and worst in hecklers, and, in many instances, there were mistakes in identifying the guilty party.
Like the 1946 Epsom featuring Shannon and Darby Munro in one of the great saddle performances equalled by hostility from the crowd. Munro had just been responsible for probably the best ride of his illustrious career but Shannon went down in a photo finish after a slow start from the open barrier.
”The scene turned ugly,” Turf Monthly reported. ”Racegoers near the fence called to stewards to ‘rub out’ Munro. One irate spectator clashed so violently with police that he was arrested and charged with indecent language. Another was apprehended when he jumped the fence and attempted to get to the jockeys’ room”.
Later, starter Jack Gaxieu accepted the blame: he didn’t see Shannon standing out of line.
Maurice Logue, now the driving force behind apprentice jockeys in NSW, was a target at Canterbury after a defeat. Verbal abuse was followed by a beer can chaser that struck his mount returning following the defeat.
Tommy Smith often had to dodge a mouthful from punters as well as his stable jockey George Moore.
A female in the Rosehill members’ stand once unleashed language unbecoming to the degree he took cover under an awning in case something stronger followed.
Moore, beaten by a Smith stablemate handled by Athol Mulley, jibed at the champion trainer, pointing his whip on dismounting: ”You’ve done it again, Tommy.”
To which the master of Tulloch Lodge quipped: ”Don’t be a bad sport, George.” Moore fumed back to the jockeys’ room, giving the impression more than a winning ride fee was involved.
John Singleton came closest to an old-fashioned demonstration over the More Joyous debacle around the All Aged Stakes at Randwick last year. No doubt if he had a re-run Singo would have been more diplomatic rather than going live over the media, probably to a bigger audience than Yabba.
Outbursts are brought on by the feeling of being assaulted in a vital spot, bringing about a spontaneous reaction.
Maybe racegoers of yesteryear didn’t have the advantage of modern aids, such as video replays, to take the fire out of anger. But the racecourse was a happier place for Wolfie Grunthal, the turf’s answer to Yabba for enthusiasm if not wit.
Wolfie would cheer home every winner coming back to be unsaddled without a zac being involved but was particularly joyful when it concerned a Moore, George or his son Gary.
After Gary returned home from Hong Kong and won the 1985 Silver Slipper at Rosehill on Pre Catelan he presented the whip to Wolfie.
They built a statue for Yabba at the SCG. Even a picture of Wolfie, exuding his special brand of pleasure, inspiring the tune Don’t Worry, Be Happy, hung with prominence, would do wonders for Royal Randwick.
It sure beats Three Blind Mice.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.