Gulgong pub punters pull off major Kosi ticket coup

In race for $300,000, Gulgong punters' pick goes out of town

Horses
Some of the lucky Gulgong Centennial Hotel punters' club back row: Bill Egan, Shane Ellis, Andrew Honeysett, Ray Pitt, publican Victoria Tapp (not part of the syndicate), bottom row: Rob O'Connor, Steve Haney, Graham Hillis. Photo courtesy of Ben Palmer, Mudgee Guardian.

Some of the lucky Gulgong Centennial Hotel punters' club back row: Bill Egan, Shane Ellis, Andrew Honeysett, Ray Pitt, publican Victoria Tapp (not part of the syndicate), bottom row: Rob O'Connor, Steve Haney, Graham Hillis. Photo courtesy of Ben Palmer, Mudgee Guardian.

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Punters overlook their town's horse for hot Scone racehorse

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It's what happens in a lot of country towns come a Saturday afternoon.

A loose collection of mainly blokes sitting down with a beer pouring through the horse form, resigned to the only real hope of maybe winning a prize from the losing ticket barrel draw.

Then one afternoon at the Centennial Hotel in Gulgong, someone in the 48 member punter's club has a bright idea while slurping on a schooner (well the following might have gone like this).

"How about we stick a ticket in that Kosciuszko sweepstakes and try and win a slot ?" He's hardly heard over the blare of the Saturday races and shouts.

"You're mad we'd never win that," is the consensus cry. "You're throwing money away - again."

But anyway, 26 of the punters' club members on hand think at least it's money invested forward and they chuck in a wet old $20 note and a few $10 ones with their own town hero Henry Lawson 's (also a keen pub goer) face printed on one side, and enter a syndicate ticket at the TAB at the bar.

They have to wait ages for the TAB machine to spurt out 104 tickets. The syndicate was a wide collection of people from different professions, coalminers, real estate agents, retirees, farmers and electricians and council workers. The brains was actually someone from the Central Coast visiting town who had only just entered the punters' club, a six week based punting tip schedule at the Centennial.

After a Saturday with mates a few them loyal to the pub walked home, many forgetting they had a chance to have a runner in a $1.3 million race and scoop up to $300,000 in prizemoney.

But maybe Henry's luck will get them through the impossible odds - about 100,000 to 1, with nearly 250,000 tickets sold, but many in bulk such as those bought by the William Farrer Hotel in Wagga Wagga.

Then one of them about a week-and-a-half later, Ray Pitt, no fool on the punt nor horse ownership having won Group races in town, is watching the live draw on Sky last Wednesday. He sees the winning 14 ticket numbers displayed. He looks at one of the tickets, the sixth one pulled out, it says 040881502820870901. "Gee," he thinks "that's close to what we had''. He checks again. It is the one they had ! It is the pussycat ! And next to the ticket on the screen it's confirmed: sold at 'Centennial Hotel, Gulgong'.

He can't believe it. A quick ring around and it's confirmed they've won a slot in the Kosciuszko race at Randwick on October 17, the same day as the richest race in the world, The Everest, and they may be on their way to one of the biggest racedays on the Australian calendar - even in COVID !

Gulgong's population is about 2500, so it didn't take long for the word to get out later on Wednesday. According to syndicate spokesman Billy Egan, the phones ran hot for four hours non-stop."It just went crazy," he said.

Gulgong with the expansion of wineries and horse studs is a bit like a satellite suburb of Mudgee, but it fiercely protects its own long heritage and history and has its own race meeting.

But then the tricky part started for the punters at the Centennial. Not only were some unsure if they'd put in the $20 for a ticket (although a list of entrants was kept), but what horse were they going to select to run in the Kosciuszko?

Surely, most thought, they'd pick a horse from their local large stable run by Gulgong born and bred Brett Thompson, a former shearer turned horse trainer, a former country trainer of the year, a five times central districts trainer of the year, who has won big races at Flemington, and has won races in Sydney. Even his dad Percy, a former mayor and also a former trainer, was a patron at the Centennial.

A Thompson horse would be a shoe-in!

Gulgong's Brett Thompson had his horse overlooked by the Gulgong syndicate after a lot of debate and a difficult decision on what runner to have in the $1.3m Kosciuszko.

Gulgong's Brett Thompson had his horse overlooked by the Gulgong syndicate after a lot of debate and a difficult decision on what runner to have in the $1.3m Kosciuszko.

Brett Thompson quickly heard of his townsfolk's great turn of luck and got on to the syndicate leaders and made an offer he thought they wouldn't reject. When a slot holder wins a ticket they then negotiate with the trainer and owners of a horse over the division of the prize money - usually its between a 40-46 per cent split. The only main rule is that the horse has to be trained in the country, as the Kosciuszko is seen as like the country championship.

Thompson had his horse Kookabaa, a city winning horse (beating a recent city winner Zakat) lined up for the race. It wasn't in the pre-nominations or in the market for the Kosciuszko, and handn't run since May. But it was starting its preparation at Rosehill, it had Open class form, and if the syndicate wanted it, Kookabaa was there for the taking.

The unbeaten Fender is the Gulgong punter syndicate's choice for the Kosciuszko at Randwick.

The unbeaten Fender is the Gulgong punter syndicate's choice for the Kosciuszko at Randwick.

But the punters club had other horses on their minds. Two of them wanted in with Kookabaa but others thought they had one chance in a lifetime to pick a horse right up in the market. Eventually after a long meeting with papers flying around they decided on a Scone horse, Fender, trained by Brett Cavanough. It'd won all its four starts from heavy to good, including at Randwick and Rosehill and apeared to have 'unlimited potential' and was at 15-1 in the market, while Kookabaa wasn't even listed. And Fender had beaten Kookabaa fair and square by four lengths in a TAB Highway at Randwick back in April.

So the local winning horse that had won its last two races was passed over. The contract hasn't been signed yet, but Fender is the choice. And someone in the syndicate had horses with Cavanough before.

Brett Thompson couldn't believe it. "I thought locals supported locals," he said. "We've been Gulgong all our lives." Even when the Thompsons went to Mudgee for a while they returned to ... Gulgong. "I do my bit, I employ 15 Gulgong people full-time at my stables and my kids play in the Gulgong football team." He said he offered the syndicate 40 per cent of the prizemoney.

(If the Gulgong syndicate's horse wins they will get about $300,000 from the $680,000 prize money for first place.)

But Bill Egan a real estate agent in town, said it was a very hard decision to make and although there had been some questions in town, he says "we'll see how it pans out", hoping Gulgong will respect the syndicate's final decision.

"We considered one of the local horses," he said. "It was a difficult decision, everyone wanted to have the best chance to win the race, and there were 26 votes in it. Overall there was strong consensus we go with Fender. It had beaten Kookabaa quite convincingly. It certainly wasn't an easy decision."

Brett Thompson said he didn't want to cause any upset in town and "was just disappointed more than anything". He reckons Kookabaa could still make the Kosciuszko if some of the selections fall away, and Kookabaa runs a good race at Rosehill on Saturday (September 12, race 4, 70-1). He says he's flummoxed that so many good horses in the country were overlooked by various winning ticket holders in the sweepstake, including for Tamworth-trainer Sue Grills' Burning Crown for the big race. "She didn't even get a call. I don't understand how three Class Two horses have been selected," he says.

But things don't get easier for the Centennial Hotel punters ! Now they may have to make another big choice. They are only allowed a certain number to go to Randwick racecourse to watch the race and that means some people may have to drop out ! The word is just 25 can go out of the 26.

Anyway, the town is generally ecstatic that it has a runner in one of the biggest race days in Australia.

"We really think Fender is a winning chance," Bill Egan says.

And so will the William Farrer Hotel punters in Wagga Wagga be ecstatic. They've won another Kosciuszko slot !

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