Thoroughbreds, Trainers, Toffs and Tic Tac Men; A Cartoon History of Horse Racing in New Zealand

  • Annette King

I am delighted to be launching David Grant's book tonight, firstly because it is special for a Racing Minister to be launching a new book on racing, and secondly because sometimes I feel like a modern, political and female equivalent of a "tic tac man".

For those of you who don't know, there used to be a strictly hierarchical element in the world of bookmakers when they operated on New Zealand racecourse.

Top of the heap were the bookmakers themselves, of course. They took responsibility for the odds, and stood on their banana boxes shouting them. Alongside them stood their clerks, sometimes called pencillers. These pencillers wrote down the size of the bet and the name of the horse.

Below them in the pecking order came the touts, who were often disqualified trainers or jockeys, and who wandered the course seeking inside information. The touts then passed the information to the tic tac men, who in turn semaphored it back to the bookies.

So, in effect, the tic tac men were among the first New Zealand recipients of leaks. In these modern days politicians have taken over this role. We are the ones who get the leaks, and we are the ones who try to use them to best advantage. It just happens that some politicians tend to ACT a little bit tic tackier than others.

But to return to David's book. It is important firstly to acknowledge Charmain Firth, of Dunmore Press, the publishers, and Lydia Wevers, director of the Stout Research Centre. Mostly, of course, however, I want to acknowledge David himself.

This book represents the very first New Zealand cartoon history entirely related to a specific social subject. It is no dry academic history either; it is popular history, and it entertains as well as informs.

I was particularly interested in the considerable role cartoons have played in racing politics. There has been much debate over the years whether there should be a Racing Minister. I have sometimes asked myself this question. Well, I am in no doubt now that we need to keep politics in racing so that we keep the glorious tradition alive of political cartoons on racing issues.

In New Zealand the most virulent of these cartoons appeared during the lengthy debate on banning bookies, but the tradition survives. A recent article in a British political journal analysed the content of cartoons in the 1997 British election. Several of them had racing analogies. The thoroughbred horse will always be rich in imagery.

Mind you, I was pleased in that British analysis to note that other animals were also rich in imagery as far as the Tories were concerned. Animals like the extinct dodo, tortoises, dead ducks and headless chickens also featured prominently.

New Zealand has a rich cartooning heritage. For a small country, we have produced, and continue to produce, some of the best political and social cartoonists in the world. Some of them are represented in this book, and I have no doubt they would be proud to be associated with it. David has honoured their work by the way he has presented it, and by the sharpness and wit of his own observations.

The history of racing in New Zealand is very much a social history of changing times and values. It is also very much a story of endurance. Everyone knows what an important part of the social fabric racing was in days gone by, yet today it still employs many thousands of New Zealanders, and it earns New Zealand a deserved international reputation for quality and skill.

Just as importantly as any of that, however, racing retains this amazing potential to move people. Who will forget Kiwi's run from the back of the field to win the Melbourne Cup? No one who reads this book, that's for certain.

And then there was my own favourite, the great duel between Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star in the Cox Plate. And today we all cheer for Sunline in the same race.

David takes us on a journey through New Zealand racing from the criminal class of yesteryear to the modern day role models for all young people like Michael Walker.

David, you have done a wonderful and an important job. My sincere congratulations to you. And for all you punters here today, you are on to a sure thing. As a good tic tac person, I can leak this inside information. For today only, you can purchase this book for just $29.95. The price goes up tomorrow.

I am delighted to be launching this book, and I wish David and Dunmore Press all the best with it. David deserves it for his enterprise, and Dunmore Press does too for continuing support of subjects precious to our heritage. Congratulations to you all.