Friday, October 29, 2010

Shiver me timbers…reading Treasure Island

Long John Silver - illustration by Mervyn Peake

I’m really not sure whether I actually read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was a child. Perhaps I didn’t as I got to know the story in audio form via an LP record we had in childhood. It had Robin Hood on one side and Treasure Island on the other and was narrated by Basil Rathbone. I can still vividly recall the words to the song “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest/yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” and the characters Captain Flint, Ben Gunn and Little Jimmy Hawkins, intoned in a spectral voice.

I have discovered, reading the book over the past week on my daily commute to and from work, that it is a ripper read.

I actually don’t possess a physical copy of the book, but it was the first book I downloaded to my Kindle, so I eventually got around to reading it after binging on Josephine Tey detective novels in ebook format.

As pirate novels go, it’s a classic. It is the one on which all pirate books and films were later modelled. It’s got the lot – bloodthirsty buccaneers, treasure maps, curses, ghosts and a one legged pirate with a parrot on his shoulder, ie Long John Silver.

Long John Silver is the most interesting character in the novel, a psychologically complex being, unusual for the time the book was written, in a children’s adventure story of the late 19th century. He’s a charmer, a villain, intelligent and cunning and really quite likeable despite his perfidy.

Treasure Island is written in a relaxed somewhat wry tone of voice, with wonderfully drawn characters – especially the wicked old pirates - with plenty of action and adventure.

It was in fact a revelation and has given me the inspiration to delve into The Alexander Classic Library, a relic from childhood which has been sitting on top of one of my bookcases, unopened for years.

alexander_classic_library (Small)
The Alexander Classic Library is a boxed set of faux leather bound, gold tipped, classic novels and consists of the following titles:

Poems of Tennyson by Alfred Tennyson
The Last Days of Pompeii by Lord Lytton
Tales from the Arabian Nights
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Quentin Durward by Sir Walter Scott
The Tower of London by Harrison Ainsworth
Masterman Ready by Captain Marryat
The Queen's Necklace by Alexandre Dumas
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Martin Rattler by R. M. Ballantyne
Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson
Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
Dombey & Son by Charles Dickens
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Good Wives by Louisa M. Alcott

My set is missing Dombey & Son, which I remember loaning to someone back in the 1960s. It was never returned.

Surprisingly the collection doesn’t include Treasure Island, but it does have Kidnapped, which perhaps I’ll read next.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010 Spring Racing Season – Week 14 – Derby Day

So You Think winning the 2010 Cox Plate - photo by Pat Scala "The Age"
There was a feeling last Saturday watching So You Think win the Cox Plate for the second time, that a grand moment in racing history was taking place before our eyes. It was indeed a sensational win on the part of So You Think and one could only feel sorry for the connections of the other horses in the field that they had the misfortune to meet a horse of such freakish ability. After all, the quality of the field was first class with the likes of More Joyous, Shoot Out, Whobegotyou and the evergreen Zipping participating. They would have fought out the finish in quite a different way had there been no So You Think stealing a march on the lot of them.

Shoot Out who ran fourth in the Cox Plate, powering home very well, will meet So You Think again this coming weekend in the MacKinnon Stakes and on the following Tuesday in the Melbourne Cup. Yeah, we know that So You Think has never won nor raced beyond 2040 metres, but other High Chaparrals, Monaco Consul & Shoot Out have won Derbies, and Descarado won the Caulfield Cup, so there is every possibility that So You Think can run the two miles of the Cup. If he wins it, there’s no denying that he’ll be a star of the turf of a calibre unseen for many years,

Black Caviar’s win in the Schweppes Stakes last weekend, her seventh in succession, was as spectacular as So You Think’s in the Cox Plate. Though it was only a small field she thrashed Hot Danish winning by 5½ lengths. Bring on Hay List! Based on her run last week, Black Caviar could very well beat him. We’ll hopefully witness a clash between these two in a week’s time when they’ll fight out the Patinack Farm Classic on Emirate Stakes day.

The feature race this Saturday is the Victoria Derby for three year olds run over 2500 metres. Always hard to predict, the Derby certainly sorts out the stayers from the middle distance runners. The current favourite is Rekindled Interest who won the AAMI Vase last Saturday. However, Retrieve who won the Norman Robinson the previous week is a genuine contender along with Digital Fortress, Praecido, Almindoro and Lion Tamer who have placed behind Retrieve and Rekindled Interest in recent contests. Still it wouldn’t be all that surprising if an outsider like Bart Cummings trained Cosmonaut or Kudalkulari stole the show.

Typhoon Tracy who did not compete in the Cox Plate will be taking on her own sex again in the Group One Myer Classic (1600 metres). She deserves a win after performing well in the lead up races to the Cox Plate. She won the Myer Classic last year and should do so again this time, despite a quality field that includes classy mares Hot Danish, Palacio De Cristal, Katie Lee, and very smart filly Yosei ,who has an enormous weight advantage and may well give Tracy a run for the money.

The Group One Coolmore Stud Stakes (aka the Ascot Vale Stakes), a sprint over 1200 metres for three year olds, is of interest due to the return of the very promising Pressday, who has not raced since winning the Group One T J Smith back in June this year. Blue Diamond winner, Star Witness, who by all reports is in fine form, is one of the challengers along with smart filly Solar Charged who was back in winning circles on 9th October where she won the Thoroughbred Club Stakes by 4½ lengths.

The Mackinnon Stakes (2000 metres) looks the pick of the card in terms of quality with class runners like Shocking, So You Think, Shoot Out, Metal Bender, Descarado and C’est La Guerre. It should be a wonderful race and another winning opportunity for So You Think.

Stayers hoping to beat the ballot for the Melbourne Cup and not entered in the Mackinnon have a chance in the Group Three Lexus Stakes (2500 metres). Linton, Mourayan, Herculian Prince, Maluckyday, Cedarberg and Alcopop are all vying for automatic entry into the big one. I’m hoping for a Linton victory as he reminds me of Efficient and represents a good lightweight chance in the Cup.

The weather on Saturday is predicted to be wet (yet again!). The condition of the track will naturally affect the outcome of many races especially if it is downgraded to slow or heavy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lurid Yellow Mist infiltrates a sunny Melbourne lunchtime.

As a complete contrast to last Friday, where it was cold windy and wet, Melbourne today put on a warm sunny face - sandals and t-shirts as opposed to boots and woolly coats.

Splendid weather in fact to wander the city streets all the way down to Basement Discs for
Dave Graney and The Lurid Yellow Mist , performing in store today.

It was an entertaining half hour or so, Dave Graney being his zany self and playing his eccentric music.

The in store was to support Dave Graney’s latest CD Supermodified which on paper appears to copy the current naming fashion for racehorses, eg Starspangledbanner, Absolutelyawesome etc etc.

Don’t know if Dave Graney would approve of having his album title compared to a racehorse, but that iswhat it reminds me of.

The Lurid Yellow Mist today comprised Clare Moore on drums, Stuart Perera on electric guitar and Stuart Thomas on electric bass, as well as Dave Graney on a 12 string guitar.

Supermodiified is a mix of old and new songs and is described on Dave Graney’s website as…

“…like a souped up hot rodded version of the original songs, with some extra tracks that got lost along the way. We put the songs up on the blocks and re-tuned them, re-sang them, re-strung them , put more drums and percussion and vocals and keys and remixed all of them. Inserted ,bussed , sent, returned, compressed , buzzed, eq’d and coloured all the reverbs and delays and remastered it at the end. It’s a new thing. “

The taste were given today of songs like The Brother Who Lived, Anchors Aweigh, All Our Friends Are Stars etc. was offbeat, eccentric and loud. The more you listened, the more you GOT it.

So all in all it was an interesting and amusing way to pass a lunch hour on a sunny day in Melbourne.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 Spring Racing Season – week 13 – The Cox Plate

Stathi Katsidis on Shoot Out
Vale Stathi - Rest in Peace

Goodness, the spring racing season seems to be progressing at the speed of light, as here we are now at one of the highlights of the carnival, the Cox Plate, the famous weight for age championship for middle distance runners.

It has always been an intriguing race, as the peculiarities of the Moonee Valley racecourse test both jockeys and horses to the best of their abilities. It has never been a foregone conclusion as to who will win this race, but this year it would be very surprising if any other horse than So You Think took the prize. As a three year old he won this race last year. In fact at the time he was two and is currently three, rising four in actual years, his birthday being 10th November.

Only nine other runners have accepted for the race this year, no doubt trainers thinking it pointless to run their precious thoroughbreds against the mighty So You Think. Typhoon Tracy who has been preparing for the Cox Plate all this spring, has been withdrawn from contention and will now contest the Myer Stakes at Flemington on Derby Day, a race she won last year. I must admit I was very doubtful of her chances of winning the Cox Plate, so will gladly cheer her on in the easier Myer Stakes.

More Joyous however is one of the acceptances for the Plate and with the 2 kg weight advantage might give So You Think a run for his money even though she has never run over the distance (2040 metres) or on the track. So too might Shoot Out, another High Chaparral boy, like So You Think. After the sudden, shocking and tragic death of his regular jockey Stathi Katsidis earlier this week, Shoot Out will now be ridden by Corey Brown. Stathi had every confidence in Shoot Out’s ability and expected him to win. I don’t dare speculate on the terrible irony if Shoot Out should beat So You Think, though the superstitious may surmise that Stathi’s ghost lent him wings.

Other contenders like the well credentialed New Zealand runner Wall Street and the indefatigable Zipping who has been placed in two Cox Plates (2008 & 2009) and recently won the Turnbull Stakes, are worthy of thought, though unlikely to beat So You Think. Whobegotyou, who was favourite for this race last year, is giving it another go, though there are those who doubt he can run the distance. He was thrashed by So You Think in the Yalumba Stakes. There’s also the Macau horse Luen Yat Forever who ran a good race behind More Joyous in the Toorak Handicap a couple of weeks ago.

The High Chaparral factor was in force last Saturday where two of his sons placed in the Caulfield Cup, Descarado winning, with Monaco Consul running third. These two ran second and third behind Shoot Out in the AJC Derby in the autumn. Descarado gave trainer Gai Waterhouse her first Caulfield Cup. Can More Joyous win her the Cox Plate?

Just as exciting as the Cox Plate next Saturday is the Group Two Schweppes Stakes, a sprint over 1200 metres. Alas, the highly anticipated clash between the super sprinter from the West, Hay List, and Black Caviar will not be staged this weekend, as Hay List, though nominated, was not among the acceptances due to displaying a high temperature over the last few days. Black Caviar is among the meagre five acceptances, but a decision on her participation will be delayed until Saturday morning. Even without Hay List it looks a fabulous race with super Sydney mares Hot Danish and Melito being part of the field.

Rain has been forecast for Friday evening and into Saturday; the track will probably be rated dead as the week has been fine and sunny - nothing like the heavy 10 rating last week at Caulfield.

I’ve noticed that the Cox Plate meeting lingers into twilight, the Cox Plate being scheduled for 5.35 pm. Just imagine if one attended the whole nine race program, which begins at 12.35pm – five hours of drunken antics by the party goers before the feature race is run! Glad I won’t be there.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Winter returns but Charles Jenkins brings a spot of sunshine to Basement Discs

In my preview of the Caulfield Cup below, I mentioned that the weather was expected to be nasty, cold and wet tomorrow. Well, it has already arrived, the weather in Melbourne today being all the above with torrential rain and wild winds causing a blooming of inside-out umbrellas on Melbourne streets. There is even a possibility that the races will be cancelled tomorrow, the track being rated too heavy to risk holding a meeting.

Despite the weather, I managed to make it downtown to see
Charles Jenkins perform an in store at Basement Discs, arriving only slightly damp.

It was worth the effort, Charles Jenkins delivering a heart warming mini concert, performing songs from his brand new CD Walk This Ocean, coincidently being released today.

From the taste we were given today, it’s a great album full of beautifully written songs that deal with love and loss and in the case of the song High Alone, desperation and heartbreak as narrated by a drug addict.

Charles was accompanied today by two members of his Zhivagos band, Davey Lane on guitar and Art Starr on electric bass.

As well High Alone (a magnificent sad song) Charles and band covered the title track, a lovely melodic tune, Swing Bridge, a tale of love and disillusion, and the dramatic Save! Save! Save! as well as one or two more.

Splendid stuff!

Check out Charles Jenkins and The Zhivagos on the link above.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010 Spring Racing Season – week 12 – Caulfield Cup

Metal Bender
In Melbourne as I write the rain is bucketing down, and is forecast to continue on and off for the rest of the week with Saturday being particularly nasty weather wise, so the track will be rated on the soggy side.

Caulfield will be featuring the Group One Caulfield Cup, the first of the big three staying races of the Melbourne Spring racing carnival.

Run over 2400 metres, it has attracted a full field of 18 contestants with three emergencies. A number of international stayers, here for the Melbourne Cup , are entered in the Caulfield Cup, the Luca Cumani trained Manighar, Japanese horse Tokai Trick and Mr Medici from Hong Kong, which certainly makes it interesting. British runner All The Good won the race in 2008, so it is wise to be wary of internationally trained horses and not write them off altogether.

The Aussie and New Zealand bred contenders cannot be dismissed out of hand, with class stayers of the calibre of last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Shocking despite being top weight will be out to emulate Viewed and win the CC the year following an MC win.

I’m hoping Metal Bender can win. Though he has not run over 2400 metres, his form up to 2000 metres is excellent, and he is very talented. His dashing fourth in the Turnbull Stakes elevated him to equal favouritism with Shocking earlier in the week, but he might have reasonable odds by the weekend. Alcopop demonstrated that he was back on track with his second to So You Think last Saturday though has drawn barrier 22 which stymies his chances somewhat. High Chapparal sired four year olds, Monaco Consul and Descarado are true stayers who are in with a chance.

With the track likely to be on the soft side Bart Cummings’ mares Dariana and especially Faint Perfume with their lightweight, may score for the female sex and Jessicabeel, though not recently showing the ability that won her the 2010 Sydney Cup, could fire over the longer distance. Gai Waterhouse is hoping for her first Caulfield Cup with Herculian Prince who can certainly run the trip and is currently equal favourite.

In the end it’s all a matter of luck in the running, and strategy on the part of jockies. It is certainly a quality field, so I won’t be surprised if the unexpected happens especially considering the likely slow track rating.

The Caulfield Cup is the only Group One race on Saturday, though there are other Group Two and Three races I’m interested in watching. Altius - a colt I follow - will be practicing for the Derby in the Group Three Norman Robinson Stakes (2000 metres). He has drawn wide, but in his case this is an advantage as his trainer Tony Vasil has discovered that he hates being boxed in and needs room to move. The rest of the field with the likes of Retrieve, Mackadoo and Rekindled Interest won’t make it easy for him to win.

Also of interest is the Group Two Tristarc Stakes (1400 metres) which last year was won by Typhoon Tracy who beat Hot Danish easily. Hot Danish is attempting this race again. With Typhoon Tracy being set for the Cox Plate this year and not part of this race, Hot Danish should continue her winning ways.
And I should mention the results of the Thousand Guineas, where Yosei won her second Group One along with her young female jockey Michelle Payne. A heartwarming result.

In other racing news Weekend Hussler has been retired. His last run was in the Gilgai Stakes, on 3 October where he finished in tenth place, but back in 2007/2008 he was the great white hope of the Australian turf after winning six Group One races in succession and was named Horse of the Year for that season. I’m glad he has been retired as it was sad watching him racing the last few times, lacking his former spark, always fearing a tragic end to his career.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Spring Racing Season - Midweek Group One – The Thousand Guineas

So You Think winning the Yalumba - photo credit - Nicole Garnston - News Limited

It was a superb day of racing at Caulfield last Saturday. I watched it on free to air television which finally has caught up with the spring racing carnival and is presenting it live from now on. Much better, despite the inane babble of the commentators, than trusting on getting a good video reception on the internet,

It seemed last Saturday to be one brilliant performance after another, firstly Linton winning the Herbert Power Stakes, which qualifies him for the Caulfield Cup, in which he will not run. He will be running in the Melbourne Cup, if he can get a run, and represents an excellent lightweight chance, like stable mate Efficient before him.

Black Caviar signalled that she was back with a vengeance, effortlessly blitzing the Schillaci Stakes field with a stunning win, making her tally six wins from six starts. I can hardly wait for her and Hay List to face off.

More Joyous despite carrying 58kg (a record weight for a mare in the race) and having a difficult time of it, being blocked and bumped through the race, prevailed in true champion fashion to storm to victory in the Toorak Handicap. No worries about her handling the Melbourne way of going (anticlockwise).

The race of the day however, was the Yalumba Stakes, where So You Think treated the rest of the field with contempt winning by several lengths and looking glorious in the process. Alcopop came second and Whobegotyou managed to puff into third spot.

The Caulfield Guineas, after all the above, could have been a bit of a let down, but wasn’t. Peter Moody’s Anacheeva brought home the bikkies with a decisive win over Winter King.

The fillies Thousand Guineas is to be run tomorrow at Caulfield and has attracted a classy field of fillies. Talented Sydney filly More Strawberries looks the one to beat, though one of the other fillies could deny her victory, Sistine Angel for instance, or Divorces, Yosei, Ringa Ringa Rosie not to mention Brazilian Pulse who has been running well of late.

The first of the big rich races, the Caulfield Cup, is to be run this Saturday. I will preview that later

Thursday, October 07, 2010

2010 Spring Racing Season – Week 11 – Caulfield Guineas, Toorak Handicap & Yalumba Stakes

More Joyous - is she the new Sunline?

Let The Carnival Begin!
As we head towards the BIG three features – Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup - the racing picture is becoming clearer, though surprises can still obscure the overall imagined outcome, and other than thinking that So You Think is a dead cert to take out the Cox Plate, who I will back in the Cups is still being pondered. Take last weekend for instance where nine year old Zipping took out the Turnbull Stakes, beating Shocking and Shoot Out into second and third place respectively in an exciting race down the Flemington straight, with Metal Bender and Typhoon Tracy finishing close behind. Zipping’s stable mate C’est La Guerre won his first race since 2008, the Group Three Craven Plate in Sydney – another surprise outcome. Last year, one must remember, another Lloyd Williams horse, Efficient, won the Turnbull, so it appears his stable of horses are beginning to shine at the right time. Linton is one of Williams’ horses who will have to win this coming weekend to get a start in the Caulfield Cup.

There are three Group One events to be run at Caulfield this coming Saturday, the feature race being the Caulfield Guineas.

The Caulfield Guineas is a race over 1600 metres for three year colts and geldings. A field of 16 smart young lads will be contesting. Top picks are Toorak Toff, Anacheeva, Ilovethiscity, Masquerader and Hollowlea, though one of the less fancied runners could take it out; Cosmonaut for instance who I rather fancy simply because he is sired by Starcraft and is trained by Bart Cummings.

The Group One Yalumba Stakes (2000 metres) has a mere five runners, many potential contestants obviously being scared off by the presence of So You Think who I can’t imagine not winning. Whobegotyou, who won this race last year, and ran second to So You Think in the Memsie Stakes as well as recently winning his second Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes, is one of the game contenders along with old timer Master O’Reilly and Melbourne Cup hopeful Alcopop.

The exciting Sydney mare More Joyous, on the Cox Plate trail, will be having her first start in Melbourne in the Group One Toorak Handicap (1600 metres). She contends with a much larger field (15 starters), Gai Waterhouse opting for the Toorak over the Yalumba as an easier race for her star. The other mares in the race appear to be her main opposition; Allez Wonder who won this race last year is one, and Response the winner of the Group One Dubai Racing Club Cup on 18 September is another. The in form Spacecraft and last start winner Drumbeats appear the best of the boys, though the mystery Macau horse, Luen Yat Forever, whose overseas form looks excellent, may be the surprise packet.

Black Caviar, unbeaten in all her starts and now a four year old mare, makes a welcome return to the racetrack in the Group Two Schillaci Stakes, a sprint over 1000 metres. Black Caviar has not raced since her scratching just before the William Reid Stakes back in February this year, after an injury forced a long layoff. She’s up against the very smart Mic Mac, Blue Diamond Stakes winner Star Witness, Winter King to name a few. She is lucky new sprinting super star Hay List is not in this race, though both she and Hay List will meet later in the spring – a mouth watering prospect for racing fans, reminiscent of clashes between Alinghi and Fastnet Rock in the past.

The Group Two Herbert Power Stakes (2400 metres) is the last chance for non qualified Caulfield Cup hopefuls to qualify for the big one. Among them are Linton and Moudre. The Bart Cummings trained Precedence is the major obstacle to both of them and the rest of the field. Linton ran third to Precedence in the JRA Cup in his last outing. The extra 320 metres may make all the difference to the result.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Paul Kelly plays Basement Discs

Basement Discs certainly scored a coup, securing Australian song writer and “National Treasure”, Paul Kelly to perform an in store today. Originally the in store was scheduled for Saturday 2nd October, but as with many other events in Melbourne being stymied by the unexpected result of the AFL Grand Final, it was changed to today.

A much larger than usual audience crammed the store to witness the free lunchtime performance by Paul Kelly, despite the late notice of the change of day and date, and even though I arrived earlier than usual all the good photo spots were taken, so I had to insinuate myself into a corner next to the stage. It was rather squashy but I managed to shoot a few good photos.

Paul Kelly has recently released a deluxe boxed set, comprising 8 CDs and 105 songs from his back catalogue called “The A-Z Recordings”. It is accompanied by Paul’s book of memoirs entitled “How To Make Gravy” whose “four sections mirror the four nights of the recent A-Z shows. Each chapter starts with a song lyric followed by a story. Some stories tell Kelly's personal and family history, some take you on a road trip with the band, some form an idiosyncratic history of popular music, others offer insights into the songwriter's art - from the point of inspiration to writing, honing, collaborating, performing, recording and reworking”

In today’s performance Paul interspersed songs with readings from the book. He'd read a chapter, then sing the song associated with the chapter, firstly Dumb Things, which was used in
Yahoo Serious film Young Einstein then his very moving Christmas song How To Make Gravy. He finished the mini show with If I Could Just Start Today Again.

He has an endearing and unaffected stage persona, and so it was today. It was a privilege to see the REAL Paul Kelly up close and personal in an intimate setting.