Champions of the West
Last week's Warrnambool May Racing Carnival was another stellar edition for the history books with 3 days full of spectacular racing characters, fulfilled dreams and broken records.
*The crowds assemble on The 'Bool's hill. Image: Warrnambool Racing Club
In front of packed crowds, Jamie Mott lost his 'novice' jumps jockey claim, Darren Weir equaled his season record, Steven Pateman defied gravity to stay aboard a stumbling The Dominator and Irishman John Allen set a new 'Bool record with seven winners (4 of them over the jumps).
Despite being heavily outnumbered, it wasn't all about the boys - jockeys Nikita Beriman, Georgina Cartwright and local trainer Jane Baker all got a win on the board, and the mare Regina Coeli won her second Grand Annual Steeplechase for the local McKenna and Maher families - a race Col McKenna deemed 'Warrnambool's own Melbourne Cup".
I can't forget to mention race caller Ric McIntosh - with epic one-liners such as "Go Hard or Go Home", 'You drink beer when you back Weir" and this year's "How bloody good is the Bool?!", surely I'm not the only one wondering why we don't hear more of his passionate and entertaining calls! If you haven't heard him in action, click here.
*Jockey Ted Byrne in action. Image: The Age, 29.6.1970
Warrnambool and the surrounding Western Districts of Victoria have always been great breeding grounds for trainers and jockeys including Robert Smerdon, Ciaron Maher, Pat Cannon, Gerald Ryan, Bill & Symon Wilde, Patrick Ryan and Daniel Moor. And whilst Darren Weir was born a little further north, it wouldn't surprise me if he has the keys to the city. Galleywood remains one of the district's most loved horses.
I was recently lent a book called Silks & Saddles by George Stevens. Written in 1986, it provides a great insight into the 160 year old history of the Warrnambool Racing Club and the creation of the now world renowned Grand Annual Steeplechase.
The book also highlights a number of the industry's influential and colourful characters including local jumps jockey Ted Byrne. Ted, a successful jockey over both hurdles and fences, had a flair for excitement and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. This made him quite popular with the public but not so much with the stewards! He won more than 500 jumps races including three Grand Annuals and five Brierly Steeplechases. A fatal car crash in July 1972 near Sunbury cut short his successful career and left behind his wife and two children.
“Ted Byrne, a mighty horseman, the greatest in the land,
Who rode the horses over jumps to cheers from hill and stand.
The tricky course the fearsome fence was where he won his fame,
And proved himself the greatest and toughest in the game.
The Champion or the greenest horse he rode them hard and fast,
His mount was always near the lead when coming to the last.
And many a time when all seemed lost his vigor turned the tide,
It really was a privilege to see this horseman ride.
He rode his horse out in front, he rode them from behind,
And when the winning post was reached, some extra bit he’d find.
Many a wayward horse he rode who’d try to shirk each fence, But Teddy’s strength and flailing whip soon taught the brute some sense.
A legacy of broken bones was part of his career,
No broken bones could break his nerve, this rider knew no fear.
A rough and tough young diamond, with language sometimes ‘blue’,
But still he always played the game, his mates tell that to you.
‘Twas not a horse, ‘twas not a fence that claimed the life of Ted,
Two cars, a crash, and that was it, and Teddy Byrne was dead.
With all his rugged toughness he has a heart of gold,
Any many a story I could tell, that will be left untold.
Many a poor old lonely soul whose race is nearly run,
Will whisper a silent prayer for Ted for some good deed he’s done.
So let us hope this little man, has found his peace at last,
For now he’s joined that growing band, the champions of the past."