IN our third and last look at ELC “Pat” Wright’s 1974 book, From Start To Finish, we extract a piece from Chapter 10 “A Fateful Year”, and return to 1970, Johannesburg, where Pat is now in his last years as a trainer, based in stables near Turffontein and training for, among others, property tycoon and renowned punter, Hymie Tucker.
“It was spring now and our young horses, put on the grass for experience, were showing extraordinary potential. At this spring quarterly meeting I planned to give my new patron Mr Hymie Tucker, his first winner.
“Our association turned out to be a prosperous and happy one for me and I often thought how I would have liked to have trained for him years earlier. As a gambler he was the best I ever trained for. He was not a “moaner” and I’ve never known anyone else who took a beating like he did.
“So I decided that the first horse of his I would back was going to be the unraced colt Steel Ring. Unfortunately Steel Ring had a shocking draw in the race I selected for him – right on the inside of the sprint track at Turffontein – and the field was the maximum 18 runners. But I had tried Steel Ring so well that I was confident he could win this 1000m race, even if he had to give then start due to inexperience.
“As yet I had never asked Hymie to back horses, so I did not know that it would be almost impossible to convince him that a horse could win from this bad draw, providing it was good enough. I tried for nearly a week to persuade him. I thought that as a betting man, he would see that with everything looking as though it was against his horse, this would ensure a long price so that he could have a very big win.
“But Hymie wouldn’t budge and ridiculed the idea of winning from such a draw. I was desperate. It was too late to scratch the horse and for Steel Ring to win without him having a good bet, I felt would break my heart. It would be such a waste of opportunity against the bookmakers, which so seldom came one’s way.
“Hymie had a queer policy in that he insisted that a long-priced horse could never be made a certainty. But when the bookmakers had a horse odds-on, or even money, he reasoned that horse would win. He was sure the bookmakers would not have a horse that was that price, unless they thought that horse could win.
“There was also a belief that a first-timer with an apprentice up could never win. I had engaged my stable apprentice Patrick Zurcher, a product of the Jockey Academy, a credit to the Jockey Club and particularly to the tutors employed there. I had been hiding Steel Ring from the touts and the shrewdies just so that Hymie could get a big price and have the win of his life.”
“I had almost given up hope of hope of being able to convince Hymie Tucker that he had a horse that was a racing certainty. In desperation I appealed to his friend, Len Oates, and asked him to try to explain that it was possible to have such a certainty in racing once in a while. And because this was the first horse I had asked Hymie to back, he should realise that I did not want to make a mistake and had been most careful that nothing should go wrong. Other than guarantee him the horse could not lose, what more could I do?
“Eventually, Hymie listened to Mr Oates and all was set. Steel Ring opened in the betting at 10-1, but started much shorter. It was no race – he walked it!”
Source: From Start To Finish by ELC Wright. Macmillan South Africa, 1974.
ISBN 0 N86954 016 5.
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