Story and Photos courtesy of Graham Potter and www.horseracingonly.com.auBy Robert Heathcote | Thursday, November 4, 2010
Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.Derby day at Flemington is one of the best days racing on the Australian turf calendar. A day to remember … that's for bloody sure as I will never forget the one I have just attended.The weather forecast always suggested things might get a bit grim and that's exactly what did happen!I had a couple of runners on the day and with both being genuine chances in their respective races, I wasn't going to miss the day for all the tea in China. Our flight down from Brisbane arrived at Tullamarine at about 10am so with Buffering's race scheduled for about 1.40 pm, that left plenty of time to take a taxi to the track and enjoy the atmosphere before the excitement of our Group 1 race!Things were flowing smoothly until we exited the freeway and got onto Racecourse road and … traffic GRIDLOCK!With little forward movement for the next hour we listened to the first two races over the radio as the sky slowly got darker and darker!
Halfway up racecourse road we decided to leg it to the track, so I would get there in time to throw the saddle on Buffering.“Is it far”, my wife asked? No. just up the road I said, knowing full well that it was at least the length of the straight six and we were at least that far again from the 1200 start … so maybe 2.5 kms to the front gate.As I was passing a copper, I asked him WHY and he said he had never seen anything like it in the many years he had been doing traffic duty on Derby day! They had clearly miscalculated the numbers attending!
Thank God we have both been on a fitness/health regime this past eight weeks as we managed it without any serious health issues!Mind you, the odd request to slow down was met with, 'I told you to wear comfortable clothing and footwear'!Anyway, we got to the front gate with about an hour before my race and just as the showers started so it could have been worse. In fact … it did get worse as the day got longer!With steady showers most of the 90,000 odd patrons had headed inside. You basically could not move, so we were content to hang around the stalls until it was time to get the saddle. By this stage the rain had got to be quite steady, so getting wet was not very difficult.On the way back to the members enclosure, after saddling up, I then encountered an overzealous gate attendant who wouldn't let me through to the members enclosure on my way to the mounting yard, even with my VRC issued trainers pass.She said she couldn't tell if it was a class A or a B licence and I had to go a different route to the mounting yard. I suggested she have a nice day whilst wediscussed things in the rain! Her colleague then allowed me through!She must have gone to the same gate attendant school that the Gold Coast attendants go to.Anyway, things brightened up for me when Eureka made it three wins from his last three runs when he won the first in Brisbane!Buffering ran a real gutsy race to finish fourth in the Group 1 Coolmore which brought his campaign to an end.The amount of travel had finally caught up with him and he raced a little tired, but his courage still took him a long way.He has done us proud and he will now enjoy a well earned spell!He took his winnings to over $600 000 as a mid three-year-old. That’s not too shabby for a $22k purchase!He is now back at Washpool Lodge and he will enjoy a good spell to ready for the winter carnival.To watch the Group 1 Coolmore most of us squeezed under an awning in the mounting yard to escape the rain and we watched it on the big trackside screen.After the race it was a matter of 'fend' for yourself and find a place to spend the rest of the day as comfortable as possible. Even upstairs it was packed so it was standing room only … everywhere. It was still a huge thrill to have a runner in the Coolmore and to race well. Even if I was a drowned rat at this stage of the day.The following race had Shoot Out in it so I had Vicky stay in the owners 'losers' bar, which is a room set aside for the non winning owners to watch a replay of their race, have a sandwich and a drink courtesy of the club and then vacate the room for the next race.I spent some time with my horse after his race to monitor his post race recovery and chat to a couple of the owners who were also escaping the crowds. I watched So You Think’s demolition of the Mackinnon field in the 'losers' bar as it was one of the few places to escape the rain, which by now was belting down, and not feel like a sardine!It was not long after this that the door attendant suggested to us and big Johnny Wallace that we would have to leave the bar.John then advised him that they had just paid up $35 000 to run in the Melbourne Cup and we would not be leaving the relative comfort of the bar and joining thecongestion in every other part of the racetrack!John used a tone in his voice and vernacular that suggested to the attendant that we would be staying and stay we did. He didn't bother us again which was nice of him to treat the interstate visitors so well. I made a couple of trips back to the stalls to check up on Woorim over the next couple of hours who we knew would not handle the heavy track but we decided to run him as he would need a good hit out to sharpen him up for the Emirates the following week.He ran accordingly in the conditions, so we are praying for a break in the weather so the track can maybe come back to a dead track by Saturday.I had previously arranged with a cab driver to meet us outside the front gate to take me back to the airport for the return flight to Brisbane straight after the last race.No problems until I got outside and yes, total gridlock again … and yes, it was still raining heavily.The cab driver was at the wrong gate anyway so my wife and I starting walking back up the straight.Why not, 20,000 others were doing the same thing and, looking back now, I realised I saw some sights I have never seen before and maybe never will again.Elegantly dressed women and gentlemen who had basically just given up as they ploughed through the mud on their way home or to their cars.There were VRC tractors trying to drag 40 foot buses out of the mud, cars bogged everywhere one looked, so I have no doubt that the 'mud' fight would have gone on for hours.Thousands of people simple standing in the rain with most oblivious to what was going on. One couple were having a doozy of a domestic dispute and there were more than a couple having trouble making forward progress. Vicky and I finally legged it back up to Epsom Road. By this time, whilst totally wet through, we had to be still mindful of the time as we had a plane to catch.We finally linked up with our pre-arranged cabbie whose name was Ibrahim and he has just finished chapter one of how to speak English in the three weeks he has been here from Afghanistan. Fortunately he learned to drive from Alain Prost and he knew the back way to the airport so he got us there in time. We passed security with a few minutes to spare and on the way to the gate, I checked the departure flight monitor and guess what, the flight back to Brisbane was delayed for 2 hours due to technical problems.Derby Day … I can't wait for next year!And what Melbourne Cup day when we got to do it all over again.I am very pleased to say that the authorities, the traffic police and the club must have learned from the gridlock if Derby day as the traffic was perfect on Cup day.They had designated routes for cabs and separate public ways into the track.The car park was closed out the front, no doubt as it was a mud heap at that stage, so getting in and out of the course went much more smoothly.Even though the weather was a typical Melbourne day with literally four seasons in one day, Cup day went enormous and it was a real thrill to be there.Unfortunately the wet tracks have claimed us as a victim once again when Our Lukas was all at sea in the going, so he's heading home with the rest of the team!We have surrendered to the elements so Our Lukas and Woorim etc will come back to the SUNSHINE STATE.Hang on, what's that noise outside?Its belting down with rain again !Yes, it's been a tough month or two battling the elements.
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