A year ago at the favourite watering hole a high powered Auckland engineer took a sudden interest in horse racing.

Why, as an Irishman, he'd waited until middle age to admire the thoroughbred is anyone's guess.

He has become passionate. He'll arrive every Saturday and public holiday with the most intricate assembly of facts and figures research could provide. Who'd tipped the most winners last week, stats of all sorts on every horse racing at the main meeting and even some others.

Some of it most of us wouldn't bother with, but he saw it as critical.


It was probably the engineer in him. We encouraged, but when, after five months, he asked what a quinella was we knew we were in for the long haul. A couple of weeks back he asked: "How long do you think it will take for me to get a real grip on this industry." I said: "Ten years, eight if you really put in the study."

I wasn't joking. I added: "And even then you will only get to intimately know the form side of racing. You won't properly 'get' it until you've integrated yourself possibly with ownership, knocked around with horse people like trainers and jockeys and learned the passion."

Passion means different things to different people, but those at the racing coalface know that one particular vein. You congratulate your worst enemy when they win a race because it's so bloody hard to achieve. That's the passion horse people all understand.

We saw it at Trentham on Saturday when Alex "Snooky" Cowan was interviewed on Trackside Television after the biggest win of his training career when Signify won the $250,000 Berkett Telegraph.

Male or female, jumps jockeys are racing's toughest competitors.

You could bash their feet with a jackhammer and you'd be lucky to hear "ouch".

They don't cry, right? Well, Snooky, who won a Great Northern and a couple of Grand Nationals, did cry on Saturday. But only when asked about Signify's owner. "My wife owns him," and he stumbled as tears appeared.

Aiden Rodley, probably advisedly, but disappointing to some of us, ended the interview.

You have to truly understand horse racing to know where those tears came from. Passion. Doubtful the engineer understands.

Nothing but nothing beats the thrill of winning a horse race as an owner. Years ago I owned a share in a trotter - a real nightmare - who won a maiden race at Thames.

A Melbourne Cup that ain't, especially when you'd had a share in a group two Ellerslie winner, but the thrill was enormous because she'd taken a lot of putting up with.

Bart Cummings won 12 Melbourne Cups. As great as he was and there was no one like him, he cried after at least three of them.

"Nah," he'd say when asked, "hay fever." If hay fever is good enough for the man known only as Bart, it's good enough for Snooky Cowan.

You don't need to go to the chemist. Bart didn't.