OPINION: This is not a Kiwi tale, but it could be. It is the story of the little guy. It is the story of the fan in the street. It is the story of a lad who grew up pretending to be a sports star. It is the story of a man who bubbled over with so much enthusiasm that one day his dream really did come true. It is a story of hope.
On Saturday Dr RDP Newland trained the winner of the Grand National in Britain. The National is the people's race when everyone has a punt, the jumping equivalent of the Melbourne Cup. Renowned trainers and famous jockeys take their chance alongside long odds outsiders.
Richard and I were at school and university together. I was best man at his wedding and he co-hosted my first attempt. We knocked around a lot and we were both sports mad. As far as we were aware, we were the world's only two fans of Cliff Thorburn, a Canadian snooker player known as the grinder because his matches could go on long into the early hours of the morning.
"Settle in for late night cocoa, this could be a long one," said commentator David Vine, a man who wore glasses with lenses as thick as a soup tureen.
Ricky and I rubbed our hands. We went together to Wembley Arena to cheer on a startled Cliff at the Masters. Ricky had got his hands on a book called Playing for Keeps, the story of Cliff's life. It may have sold 10 copies and I still have Ricky's. Well, he's not a big reader.
Cliff was a hustler. He once cleaned out a guy in an American pool hall who then pulled a gun. This is it, thought Cliffie. And then the guy went up to the bar, hocked his piece for a few more dollars and challenged Cliff to another rack. Ricky and I thought this was great and spent whole days down at the Acton Snooker Hall playing best of 35 frames until we had purple pools under the eyes and nicotine- stained fingers.
Ricky loves all sports. He is a big 'Blades' supporter (Sheffield United, not very good), he bowled leg breaks that orbited the moon and was a very mediocre halfback. Twenty-five years ago he invented a golf competition, called it the Ryder Cup (he always aspired) and we play it still, four mates gathering for three days. The cup itself is not very big, "but it means so much," says Ricky.
Ricky is a gambler. His wife Laura once came down to breakfast to find the IOU note that Ricky had forgot to throw away the long night before. She was furious. How much did you lose last night, she wanted to know.
"Er, sorry, six quid," said Ricky, nervously.
"Six," said Laura, "I think you mean 60," waving the note in his face.
"I know, I know. Sorry."
It was actually £600, Richard taking a big fall at the last. There was a lot of money on the table, Richard had the card (shoot pontoon) and he made the bet. It was the correct bet. He's a mathematician. He just lost in the short term. But ...
In the long term he's a winner. Pineau De Re brought in $1million for winning the National, trained by a man who started as a punter. "It's my hobby," he used to say. "Some people pay out £1000 on golf club membership, green fees, equipment. That's my stake money for a year."
When Richard and Laura had three lovely daughters, his stake got even bigger. Richard had thought he would sire a sevens team to win the Hong Kong Sevens. With three daughters he had to change course. They were all into horses, so Ricky thought, if you can't beat 'em ...
He had (and still has) a full-time profession as a doctor and medical administrator, but he studied for and acquired a trainer's licence. He put in some gallops at their home and set up the equine equivalent of a Reclaimers Yard.
He would keep a look out for horses that were going on the cheap because the big trainers thought that age or injury were taking their toll. Ricky and his mate John Provan buy a few in and then the crew tries to bring them back to life.
Ricky brought sport back to life on Saturday. He proved that it was still possible for the little guy, with tons of enthusiasm and a lot of smarts, to beat the big operators.
After winning the National he said, "I have 12 horses on the go at any one time, I feed them, harrow the gallop and then go to work. First and foremost, my healthcare business is my livelihood. Training is just a hobby. I give it a twirl and I have no real plans to change because if I had more than 12 horses I wouldn't really be able to cope anyway.
"I'm lucky enough to enjoy it and if you start doing it as a full-time profession, you get a high level of stress and expectation and it's less fun. No, I think I'll settle for a day like this. It's always been our dream to have a National runner. And we love taking on the big guys."
And celebrating. Over the years Ricky, who suffers from a delusion that he is a great disco dancer, has practised a great range of celebrations from the Mick Channon windmill to the Olazabal dance shuffle. On Saturday Ricky brought out world snooker champion Denis Taylor's index fingers to the sky.
If you aim for the stars ...
- Fairfax Media
What did you make of the 12-12 Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney?