Since starting university, I’ve spent a lot of time in the suburb that gave this paper its name. I love it for its cafes, its bookshops, its pubs and its diverse, frequently bizarrely-dressed inhabitants. Just ducking my head in the door of Badde Manors to catch a whiff of freshly-ground coffee and noxious armpits takes me back to a better time. A time when the only things that mattered were essays, girls, the latest insignificant student political crisis and whether you had enough money in your pocket to pay for your cappucino.
But in all the years I’ve been hanging around in Glebe like the sad parody of soft-left university graduate I am, I had never visited its most nationally renowned attraction: the home of the NSW National Coursing Association, at Wentworth Park racetrack.
Even though it’s just a stone’s throw from the dilapidated student terrace where I spent my fifth year of university, somehow I’d always done things on Saturday night other than watching incredibly skinny dogs run at breathtaking speeds for a very short period of time. That was until last weekend, when my friend Dave nominated a night at the dogs as his preferred farewell venue to the life of a single man. A night with the boys, the beers and the bookies – it’s what the ANZACs were fighting for.
Greyhound racing is a predominantly male pursuit, and in fact I’d say the majority of the females at the track that night had four legs. But we soon realised, with disappointment, that this was largely because most of the other punters at the track that night were also on bucks’ nights. And worse still, of all the soon-to-be grooms who were boozing away their bachelorhood, our posse was clearly the softest.
One set of rivals, the redoubtable Ezza’s Bucks boys, had printed up a special t-shirt with all their names on it. Another group had forced the buck to don a dress – making him just about the only person there wearing one. Whereas we had just kind of turned up. We hadn’t even shackled our buddy to a novelty ball and chain as a witty comment on his approaching matrimony. It was a disappointingly un-blokey effort.
Then there was the betting. My friends made a valiant attempt to interpret the form guide, and one of them had even worked out what all the letters stood for by the last race. But apart from one bloke who made a motza on Tuscan Sun because he had Italian heritage, we all got absolutely clobbered.
I tried everything – backing the favourite, choosing by name even going up to the marshalling area and trying to guess which dog most looked like it wanted to tear a fast-moving piece of fluff to pieces. But I only won on one race all night, the “Everythinggreyhounds.Com Gr4/5 Stk”, whatever that means. I backed Powerful Lee on the strength of its witty adverbial pun, and was stoked when it romped home. But its comedic stablemates Outrageous Lee and Curious Lee were no good at all, costing me more than their Powerful sibling earned me.
All in all, I bet extremely Bad Lee, as a certain greyhound owner would have put it. The experience left with my finances and manhood in tatters. Why had I forsaken my poncey cafes for this den of gambling and canine anorexia?
At one point, after a particularly narrow loss, I was bitterly criticising the dogs’ intelligence, arguing they should realise that they could never catch the fake bunny, and they should just lie languidly down when the race starts and refuse to move. Then I realised I’d spent the night continuing to bet in every race even though it was blatantly clear I’d only lose more money every time. So by comparison, the dogs were much more intelligent than me – at least their repetitive pastime didn’t lose them money. And it kept them in shape.
Wentworth Park’s a great place for a night out, though – especially if, like me, you’re too much of a tosser to have been before. The racing’s exciting, and each event takes less than a minute out of your drinking schedule. What’s more, I’ve got a surefire way you can win. Just ask me for some hot tips – and then back another dog.