Bruce a reminder that racing not all about money

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By Darryn Nufer

THE stakes have never been higher than what they are today for the running of the 100th Rockhampton Cup but 89-year-old racegoer Bruce McKenzie is a humble reminder that it’s not all about money.

Bruce (pictured) has been coming to the races at Callaghan Park for 78 years – the first time he walked through the gates was by his father’s side as an 11-year-old.

The year was 1940 and to put that into some perspective, Australia found itself in danger of a Japanese invasion and towns along its northern coast including Darwin were about to be bombed, the Prime Minister was Robert Menzies and Donald Bradman was captain of the Aussie cricket team.

“I’d say racing is in your blood and it’s hard to get it out. Not that I want to get it out,” Bruce admitted.

Horses have always been a part of Bruce’s life.

As a boy growing up at Alton Downs on his parents’ cattle property Coolarah Station on Rockhampton’s outskirts, Bruce rode to school on horse back.

“There were too many hills to ride a push bike,” he reasoned.

Bruce’s family also owned the cattle property Pearl Creek at Duaringa which is where he went to work as a ringer permanently as a 21-year-old under the watch of Jack Walsh who himself was a racing man.

“Seventy-five percent of our work was done on horseback and my parents always bred thoroughbred horses,” Bruce said.

“We always had a couple of horses in our stables and we had a six-furlong training track and rode them work.

“We raced horses at places like Emerald, Comet, Walton, Dingo, Duaringa, Wowan, Baralaba and Ridgelands.”

Bruce owned his first race horse when he was 17 years old.

These days you have to be 18 to do that and when asked about the privilege of having his name alongside the filly Cherry Duchess in the racebook, Bruce made it clear that he had earned it.

“I did a lot of the hard yakka with the horses. When you’re 17 you’ve got to do as you are told. Well you did back in those days anyway.”

It’s fair to say that Cherry Duchess, by stallion Sir Geraint out of the mare Royal Heather, was a tough introduction to race horse ownership for Bruce.

“She ran five seconds but never won a race.

“We bred from her after she finished racing.”

Bruce’s fortunes changed when the family bred and leased Don Geraint (also sired by Sir Geraint) to trainer Jim Considine.

That galloper went on to win a Novice Handicap over a mile at Doomben in 1950.

“It was a big thrill,” Bruce recalled.

“Not many horses went down there from Rocky to race in those days. The horses travelled down by train back then.”

Among other notable horses Bruce bred over the years were Stream Gul and Discretion, both leased to Tom McCormack.

Bruce bought Coolarah Star and raced him successfully while Benstrum was the last of the homebred horses he raced who won 13 straight including five in that streak at Callaghan Park.

“He won a Seventh Division race on a Saturday, got a 14-pound weight penalty and backed up on the Monday and won again.”

Bruce gave thoroughbred breeding away in 1960 following the untimely death of his brother Ken and cousin Wallace who were both heavily involved.

Bruce continued to race horses but conceded he had never made money from it, nor was that ever his intention.

“I wouldn’t like to say how many horses I’ve raced over the years.

“I go to the races because I like horses, not to make money.”

Bruce recalled a day at Callaghan Park where he backed five winners on the card.

“I won $280 and as I was walking out the gate I told the bloke next to me and he couldn’t believe how little I’d won.”

Perhaps being a small punter has contributed to Bruce’s longevity in the game.

“I’ll have $100 on my own horse sometimes but as far as punting goes I only nibble. That’s the way I’ve always been,” he said.

“I remember the days at Carnival time in Rocky when there were 50 or 60 bookmakers at Callaghan Park. They wouldn’t all fit in the ring which is totally different to what it is now.

“I’ve seen blokes put thousands on but I’ve seen a lot of them come and go in my time.

“I go to the races because I like horses, not to make money.

“Racing is part of you. I just enjoy going to the races.”

And with today’s Rocky Cup boasting a $100,000 purse, also being part of the $350,000 Ubet Northern Crowns Series, and the Rockhampton Jockey Club’s Trainer Challenge carrying a $30,000 car as a prize, Bruce’s words and his lifetime of experience in racing probably carry a good message for all owners and punters.


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