Magazine article The Spectator

Cruising Along

Magazine article The Spectator

Cruising Along

Article excerpt

Taxi touts outside greeted me with a hopeful 'Bula'. Mynah birds squabbled in the jacarandas and teenagers on the nearby parkland were throwing long passes with a rugby ball. Not quite your average UK betting-shop setting, but this was the Fiji branch of Grants Waterhouse. I had stepped in seeking a little inspiration for the talk I was to deliver the next day to the Cunard liner Queen Victoria's passengers on the joys of horse-racing. (It's a tough assignment, but somebody has to do it. ) And, given Mrs Oakley's developing taste on board for Pina Coladas and White Ladies, a little profit would have done no harm.

The heavy-duty grilles separating the staff from customers could have had a previous life housing inmates at Alcatraz and the fittings were on the economical side of sparse.

Warning notices admonished patrons 'Don't borrow to bet. Don't chase losses'. But with race listings from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide on the walls, there was no shortage of betting opportunities.

One local sought my opinion - rashly since I know little more about Australian racing than the names of a few Melbourne Cup winners and top jockeys like Hugh Bowman, Blake Shinn and Nash Rawiller. He persisted, so I tossed up between suggesting cross doubles on the mounts of Kerrin McEvoy, who rode so well in Britain when he was No. 2 to Frankie Dettori at Godolphin, and Corey Brown.

I went for Corey Brown not because, like our own inimitable Kieren Fallon, he tends to get himself in the headlines (heavy type greeted his six-month suspension for testing positive for cocaine in Hong Kong and there was a fuss over him posing nude on a mechanical horse for a charity calendar) but because I had noted he was leading the Sydney jockeys' championship.

When I checked the results on arrival in New Zealand three days later, I was pleased to see that at Randwick-Kensington that day C.W. Brown was credited with three winners. We had sailed out of Lautoka uplifted by a gloriously uninhibited toe-tapping musical send-off from the Fiji Police Band - old traditions linger - and it was nice to feel that I left one Fijian citizen a little richer than when we landed.

To aid my researches I have with me en route to Sydney details of the latest effort from 'Racing For Change' to smarten up the sport's image at home. …

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