Judging books and horses by their covers


Appearances can be deceptive. Take me for example. I am a mild-mannered, respectable fellow, who is accustomed to wearing a collar and tie in the workplace. During the Covid lockdown in Sydney, however, I have been unable to get a haircut and have gone to seed.

When I waltz out the house to get my daily Oporto burger and chips on the Bondi beachfront, I look like a hobo with my wild white hair, shaggy beard, torn shirt, filthy tracksuit pants and clacking beach thongs. Masked or not, I cut an alarming figure and ladies with prams cross the street when they see me. The homeless take me as one of their own. One staggered up to me yesterday and said, ‘Where ya dossing tonight, brother? Have you got a spare fag?’

The trouble is, I just don’t care. This is lockdown. Normality does not apply. I’ve met my social responsibilities by getting double jabbed with a concoction from Oxford, and now I’m free to be a wastrel wandering the coastline, farting, belching and scaring the locals shitless. As I veer along the pavement, growling, cursing, and expectorating, I cut a figure redolent of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, and I’ve got a locomotive breath to boot since I am badly out of condition. I am a vile, panting, dribbling creature.

Doing business online, I perpetrate a neat piece of subterfuge. I claim my camera is broken, and log in as a head-shaped icon. I then use beautifully modulated tones with lilting cadences as I provide racing tips to my legion of followers. I ooze eloquence and credibility. My audience thinks of me as a man of class with purring, gorgeously thrumming vocal cords. Out of sight, I am, verily, the man with the golden tonsils. In reality, I look like the man with misfiring chromosomes. You know that line from Toto’s Africa – ‘frightened of this thing that I’ve become’? I feel that, physically, I am that thing. Next to me, used-car salesmen in check coats look like the feature act at the Met Gala.


My Spanish girlfriend is appalled at my appearance. She will not sleep with me if there is any light whatsoever coming into the bedroom. As with Oscar Pistorius, even the electronic devices must all be switched off. I have challenged her on this point. ‘You’re thinking of somebody else when we’re doing it anyway. What does it matter if there’s a bit of light’?

‘It’s impossible to feel worthy of a fantasy lover when any part of you is visible,’ she responded.

I find this upsetting. OK, I look ragged and dissolute, but we are not our bodies. At least that is what a Hare Krishna guru, Guru Dave (Dev?) taught at an ashram I visited with a woman I wanted to sleep with. Dave said we are souls finding our way back to Brahman via numerous material incarnations. Bodies come and go; only the soul matters.

This inspired me. I told my date that if she let me come and go inside her regularly, I would learn to see the pointlessness of the experience, and could then find my way back to Brahman. After she punched me, she explained that she was simply working through a physical compulsion to bash my teeth in.

I have steered clear of Eastern thought ever since. It is too profound. For example, if the body is so unimportant, why does the Kama Sutra describe 64 positions for lovemaking? Nobody compiles 64 contortions for copulating souls. Physicality is important, appearances are important, and special performances are for the specially endowed. The more athletic you look, the more athletic you probably are, and the more likely you are to perform like a champion.

This insight is crucial to the punter. Just as the IRC brains trust can pick a future champion at the sales (kudos, kudos), the best horse watchers can spot a horse in the pink of physical condition in the parade ring. This entails having an expert eye, which comes with years of practice allied to a love of thoroughbreds.

Lizzie Jelfs.
Lizzie Jelfs.

We in Sydney are blessed to have every horse in the parade ring assessed by horse expert, Lizzie Jelfs. Like the vaccine in my veins, Jelfs is from Oxford, and she’s a shot in the arm for every Aussie punter. She is a hero of mine, and it’s a huge fan club.

Jelfs conducts picture-rich research of all horses racing here, and knows their behaviour inside out. Her parade ring comments are invaluable to punters, and her pick of the yard selection in each race – based on the horse’s behaviour, coat, fitness, and growth – instantly changes the odds. Jelfs tips winners at a variety of prices, including longshots nobody rates. If she says a horse is looking better than ever before, you’d better believe it. If a runner has dull form but has ‘cleaned up in the coat’ and is now sporting dapples, watch out!

 All power to Jelfs. She has proved that what you see is often exactly what you get. But you need the eyes to see. She sees and we believe.

 The most dramatic parade ring appearance last weekend happened in Melbourne, and punters didn’t need a steer towards the runner. Zaaki, the 1-5 favourite in the Gr. 1 Underwood Stakes over 1800m at Sandown, looked great when he entered the ring.

 However, when jockey Craig Williams arrived to mount him, Zaaki’s demeanour kicked up a notch, and – we all saw it – he started swaggering like a king at a feast. The four other runners quickly got the message. They were being eyeballed and intimidated by a superior force of nature. 

What we saw is what we got – Zaaki won easily. The Leroidesanimaux (BR) gelding is now even-money favourite for the Cox Plate (23rd October), with Chris Waller-trained mare Verry Elleegant at 6-1. I love the second horse dearly, but I won’t be betting against Zaaki. Appearances can be deceptive, but not with him.

 This Saturday, Verry Elleegant faces off against Incentivise in the Gr. 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington. Waller’s charge won the Turnbull last year, while Incentivise is a rising star who won the recent Gr. 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) from the front. Early markets have Incentivise at 15-10 and Verry Elleegant at 5-2.  -IRC.



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