19 February 2020
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Pre-Cup Pony Tales

Are you one of those people who leans in to other people’s conversations? Do you find yourself accidentally listening to the strangest stories on buses, trains, trams, movies theatres etc. that lure you in, even though you know you’re trespassing? 

People who become an uninvited party to other people’s conversations are called eavesdroppers. Under California Penal Code 632, eavesdropping is a crime, can be prosecuted as a misdemeanour or felony and can carry up to several years in state prison! And in Utah, it’s also illegal to trespass with the intent to eavesdrop.

Down under, Aussies can eavesdrop at leisure, with the only possible consequence being filthy stares from those into whose chatter you intrude, if you’re caught. Of course, it’s illegal to record a conversation between parties without their consent and you can understand the criminal nature of the act, if you deliberately stood under the eaves of someone’s home with the purpose of hearing information that could be used for no good purpose. I can wear that. 

But if someone was sitting innocently in the foyer of a plush Melbourne hotel (as I was a few years back ahead of Cup Day) and accidentally overheard a conversation (that led my ‘worse’ half to win a small fortune on the GGs) well, surely they wouldn’t be imprisoned for that?

Let me put my case before you, and you be the judge. 

Here I was on this typical Melbourne racing Carnival day, waiting for Pete to finish a speech he was giving to ‘adoring’ fans. I flew down from Sydney to meet him and we’d planned an OTT weekend (that’s “over the top” and it’s the way I like to spend my breaks) outside the city. I’d booked it, so it was bound to be special, with a hefty price tag attached!

While sitting in the hotel lobby, I realised I was in the company of race goers – all dolled up to the nines, with those crazy half-hat, half-headband fascinators, which never cease to surprise me how aptly named they are.

One lady, who looked particularly fascinating, was directing flowers, chocolates and champagne by the crate load to various rooms, instructing the eager hotel staff to place them in numerous suites in correct positions. A celebration was in toe and my curiosity juices were flowing. This particular woman spoke so loudly that it wasn’t a case of me eavesdropping, more a case of her not been discreet. And maybe I should have tuned out but I was keen to know the reason for the planned festivity. When her loud voice dropped to whispers, I admit I started leaning in – and perhaps this is where I could have been done under 632 of the above code. All was revealed in those few minutes of sotto speech and I had this gut feeling that I was onto a winner.

Armed with my ‘inside’ information, I positioned myself far from the maddening crowd and watched the happenings from a distance.

When Switzer arrived, I grabbed him by the arm, dragged him out of the hotel, pulled his ear closer to my mouth and whispered “Find a TAB and back number 4 in the 9th at Flemington”. He was astounded, as I’d never shown any interest in the GGs but like the good man he is, he did what he was told. 

The horse romped home, we pocketed our winnings and celebrated in style in our out-of-town getaway, returning home with a fist full of dollars. Howzat!

My second pony tale has nothing to do with eavesdropping, more with listening. Again I was meeting Switzer but this time we’d been invited to a function at the Inglis stables at Randwick. As Pete couldn’t get there on time (doing another infernal speech!), I went along to a pre-lunch treat, where a small group sat in the stands while the horse trainer, Chris Waller, spoke for 30 minutes. I’d never heard the name Waller before but found him and his story leading up to his success so inspirational. At the very end, by popular request, Chris gave us his tip for the day’s race meet. When Peter arrived, I told him that I’d been completely engrossed in the speech by this amazing horse trainer. Of course, Peter knew him but smiled when I revealed that Waller’s suggestion was to follow the progress of this mare (which sounded something like Blink), the likes of which Waller said he’d never seen before. This was in the days when the odds on this neddy (her name was actually Winx!) were still in a punter’s favour. An initial bet was placed on this magnificent filly and over time, we made several trips to the TAB to collect, until the old racing maxim of “don’t run down stairs and don’t bet odds on” influenced our occasional try at what the great Aussie author, Frank Hardy, called a “four-legged lottery.”

So what’s the moral of my pony tales? Well, if you’re going to be an eavesdropper, don’t waste time tuning into those who don’t have anything valuable to say! And if you’re in California or Utah, don’t get caught eavesdropping, if you want to avoid the slammer!

Good luck in the Cup tomorrow. If I overhear some good oil, I’ll be sure to let you know!

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