Sunday, November 05, 2006

Maybe banking on a winner

By Hardluck Harry,
Former Crikey racing analyst*

Picking the Melbourne Cup winner is easy. Just take your formguide and run a line through the 18 horses that can't win.

Then take a box trifecta with the rest.

Picking the past three winners has been easier than usual - the Mighty Mare Makybe Diva picked herself, and the great odds on offer in 2003-05 were like robbing the bookies.

This year, the six horse who can win select themselves. They are, in order:

No 23 Maybe Better,
No 4 Tawqeet (or Torquay, as Bruce MacAveney insists on calling him. What is this, a thoroughbred or a beach house?)
No 24 Efficient
No 12 Pop Rock
No 13 Zipping
No 1 Yeats

All the rest are running for second place.

The Brian Mayfield-Smith four year-old Maybe Better showed with his past two slashing victories that he is ready to win the Cup. Maybe Better ticks all the boxes. He is:

*A lightweight horse who's beaten the handicapper and is coming into the race in great form;
*Drawn barrier three
*Trained by a master who won't run him unless he's 100% happy with him;
*Unlike the foreign raiders, we *know* he's in form and not backing up from a hard Caulfield Cup run like the Japanese raiders, or a 3-month spell like the Europeans;
*Drops a massive seven kilos from his impressive SAAB Quality win on Saturday;

And most importantly: he has great *tactical speed*.

The Cup is now a quality handicap. No longer can you just front up with a two-mile grinders and hope to outstay them all.

A Cup winner now has to have both stamina and speed.

Go onto the Net and check out Maybe Better's Coongy Handicap win at Caulfied three weeks ago. It was awesome. He came from near last and had them beaten in a flash.
He went past that highly-rated Kiwi King of Ashford like he was standing still.

Which is why I also rate Lloyd Williams' 3 y-o, Efficient, the best Derby winner in the past 20 years. A galloper with a paralysing burst of speed at the end; he will be gobbling up the leaders at the clock tower, with 49kg on his back. He drops 6.5 kilos tomorrow from his effortless Derby win on Saturday.

If he gets a cheap run form his great barrier, he can nearly win.

The Times Tell All:

My raceday clocker, Maurice the Magician, tells me that on Saturday, Maybe Better ran the 2500m three seconds faster than Efficent in the Derby. But Efficient, with a slower overall time, ran home faster in all sectionals except one - so it's hard to separate the two.

You are just about guaranteed to get an outsider running a placing. My longshot outsiders are:

*The lightly raced European horse Glistening;
*The two Kiwi horses No 16 Kerry O'Reilly and No 21 Mandela - both ran slashing Cup trials last week in the Geelong Cup;
*The second Japanese horse, No 2 Delta Blues
*And Lloyd William's third horse, No 8 Activation.
Lloyd's a battler - a bit short of a buck - and wouldn't it be lovely if he cornered the market and got himself the Cup trifecta?


History says that Lloyd's Derby winner Efficient can't win - but he looks very mature and runs on easily.

He will run well - but he won't beat the winner.

And the final plank in the Maybe Better chain of evidence?

The past four Cup winners have had two names, and started with the letter 'M'...

2002: Media Puzzle
2003: Makybe Diva
2004: Makybe Diva
2005: Makybe Diva
2006: Maybe Better.

It just fits!

*Wow, that's quite a comprehensive analysis there from Hardluck, who was sacked by pleasant-but-conservative new Crikey owner Eric Beecher in February for "putting noses out of joint" in the Federal Parliament. Good luck tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Aussie soldiers in massive Iraq ambush

Sasha Uzunov reports:

Australian soldiers from the Townsville unit 2RAR have killed up to 20 Iraqi insurgents after they were forced to fight their way out of an ambush with up to 150 insurgents yesterday. Soldiers from Alpha Company 2RAR are callling it the biggest shoot-out since Vietnam.

No Australians suffered casualties. Australian soldiers were on a routine patrol, north of their base Camp Smithy, in a town called Samawah. Soldiers were travelling in three Bushmaster vehicles when they were fired upon by RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenades).

One participant said that he saw hundreds of bullet rounds flying past him. "One Sergeant was being fired at and miracalously the bullets kept landing at his feet," the soldier said. "Another soldier was hit by an RPG round and we fought he was killed but luckily the RPG round hit a mud wall which absorbed the impact."

2RAR soldiers contacted me to tell their side of the story in case it was ignored and highlight inadequate equipment. Soldiers complained that the Bushmaster vehicles did not have adequate armour. The insurgents are believed to have numbered at least 150, 20 od whom were killed.

One soldier said he managed to look inside a building where the shots were coming from. "I saw at least a hundred or so bad guys inside and it was like a Christmas tree, with so much lights and flashes from the Kalashnikov rifles and RPGs going off."

United States Air Force jets F16s were called to provide bombing runs on the insurgents but were called off by Australian commanders on the spot for fear of Australian soldiers being too close. The ambush was intense and lasted about 20 minutes with the Australians withdrawing safely back to base.

The insurgents were well armed and well trained and they had well prepapred defensive positions when they ambushed the Australians near a swamp and raliway track. There were many Iraqi civilians near the place of combat but the Australians were disciplined and held their fire.

Copyright 2006, Sasha Uzunov

Sasha Uzunov is a freelance photo journalist and former Australian soldier.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ezequiel Trumper for PM

I've found a man who can represent us all – he carries the delightful name Ezequiel Trumper, and he speaks with passion about the issues that should unite us all. Check out his brilliant analysis of the Howard-Beazley "Aussies values debate" in New Matilda today.

You'll need to subscribe, but it's worth the $88. Trumper co-hosts a daily news and current affairs show on Australia's only 24/7 Spanish-speaking radio station. It's called Radio Austral and it has a largely working-class audience across Sydney – and the voices on his show are far removed from the Alan Jones' "struggle street" audience.

Hours after Federal Andrew Robb released his Citizenship Testing Discussion Paper, he invited his audience to respond. Here's a taste:

So now they want me to sit a test in English. They didn't give a damn about my English when they brought me here in the 1970s. I was brought here to clean their toilets, wipe off their s**t, and now they want me to sit a bloody test...I can tell you where they can shove their test and their values...


This is not the Australia that I knew. This is not the Australia I fell in love with. I fell in love with a country which showed solidarity, compassion, understanding...Now this is neofascism. I saw this before in Chile. Pinochet was born ahead of his time.


Values? What Australian values? The values of what? Beer? What is so Australian about democracy? About respect for the law? I know more about democracy and the law than they do — I actually had to FIGHT for those values. And they have the gall to pretend that we should learn from them about their 'values'? About compassion? How can these people preach 'compassion' when they showed none in the past...look at what they did to the Aborigines, look at what they did to the refugees...What values are they talking about?

Trumper's analysis of the "Australian values" debate is a pearler. What's more, his name is redolant of what helped make Australia unique.

Ezequiel Trumper; a combination of the Biblical flood of immigrants who built our nation and rescued it from white picket fence suburbia - and the cricketer who embodied the notion of grace and fair play on the field.

A true multicultural Aussie, he was born in Argentina, and is a dual New Zealand and Australian citizen. To make things more confusing for everybody, he is also Jewish. Now, Ezequiel, if you only had some Koorie heritage, you'd be the complete Aussie and it’d be compulsory to elect you to parliament.

Together with pieces on the same subject by Emma Dawson and another expose by dashing SBS correspondent John Martinkus on the truth behind the East Timor coup, the latest New Matilda makes great reading.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Anwar Ibrahim: building bridges

“I like my politicians with a dose of humour,” explains John Button as he sits down next to us to hear former Malaysian Deputy PM, Anwar Ibrahim, lecture us on democracy at Melbourne University.

The laughter lines around former Senator Button’s familiar face remind us that he’s one of those rare politicians with brains and a hearty sense of the absurd. How badly we need his like in the parliament - but it’s hard to see a “gentleman politician” like Button, or Fred Daly or John Gorton getting elected in a 21st century political landscape flattened by party drones, pollsters and Howard apparatchiks.

Still, it’s a good enough reason to be here on a cold Friday night to listen to the man thrown into jail for six years by a recalcitrant Mahatir Mohamad, and who now is being touted as either a future Malaysian PM or the next UN Secretary-General, depending whose blog you believe.

Anwar Ibrahim is here to speak on ‘Islam and Democracy’ – and he starts by gently mocking his hosts at the University for a little latent Islamophobia: “I wonder if we’d all be turning up to attend a forum entitled ‘Christianity and Democracy?’, or ‘Judaism and Democracy?’” he ponders. “Unlikely.”

He reminds us that Turkey and Indonesia are two Islamic countries whose democracies have yet to be taken over by the fundamentalists. His message: There is enough wriggle room in Islamic practice to allow for the fundamental cornerstones of democracy, institutions like protection of liberty and freedom of the press.

Anwar’s theme; the qualities of humility, tolerance and sensitivity are needed as never before if we are to raise above the sloganeering and jaundice our political age. And Anwar has had plenty of practice in the politics of walking on eggshells in a multiethnic Islamic state with a history of religious and political unrest.

After a wide-ranging address, it’s time for questions: a Malaysian student wants to know what he’d do about Christian missionaries converting Muslims. It’s a hot topic back home. “I don’t want to sound like a politician…” begins Anwar, launching into a non-answer, albeit an elegant one. The thrust; while he acknowledges Malaysia as an Islamic state, he believes in freedom of religious expression. But as to “reports of Chrisitian missionaries proselytizing…and seeking to use financial incentives to convert Muslims” – that’s another matter.

Anwar carefully manages to walk both sides of the street, but the headscarfed student is unimpressed. She wants stronger words, but doesn’t get them. “Is it important to win the argument, or win the battle?” he asks, seeking patience. “I’d say, it’s to win the battle, and the war.”

Or as that old scandal-sheet publisher, HL Mencken, put it: “We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

An old foe, Mahatir Mohamad, has been in the news lately, attacking his successor, Abdullah Badawi. The nominal issue is PM Badawi’s decision to scrap Mahatir’s mad plan to build a bridge between Singapore and Malaysia, but the power struggle runs deeper. Anwar’s solution is elegant: “Maybe a bridge half-way across might please everybody.” As to the noisy re-emergence of Mahatir as his protégé Badawi’s greatest critic: “I am a democrat. I say, let him speak. The more he does, the better for us.”

We wanted to ask this question: “How can your weapons of humility, tolerance and sensitivity challenge the prevailing political tool: fear?” But the man’s popular, and we didn’t get a chance.

Still, his answer to our favourite question came close. Our questioner stated: “I’ve been trying to do the right thing as a practising Muslim. I educate my children at the local school, and on the weekend they go to religious class. I participate in our democracy - the problem at the moment is that democracy is sold as the solution, but in practice it’s far from perfect. How do we resolve this dilemma?”

His response: Hang in there. Muslims need to engage with the wider community - and that means with mainstream Australia, with those radicals seeking to distort the faith for their own means, and with hard-line conservatives who seek to isolate Muslims for their own political agenda; fewer ghettoes, more tolerance.

That’s no half-way bridge. As Mencken observed: “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right...”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Will the war flush out Mokbel?

The chaos that is Lebanon may be about to throw up another unintended victim.
Australian drug lord Tony Mokbel, who is believed to be in hiding in Lebanon, may be trying to leave that country, speculates defence writer Sasha Uzunov.

"The Australian government, in particular the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, should request Israeli help to snatch and grab Mokbel. Israeli Commandos or the intelligence service The Mossad are excellent at doing these kind of operations."

"Or better still why not send in the Australian SAS to do the job. Effective government control in Lebanon has ceased, why not use the Israeli's expertise on the ground?"

Excellent questions. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Israelis did what the might of Australia's police forces failed to do and captured the cunning crim on the run. Still, they'd be happy if he came back to face the music - not to mention his sister-in-law, left holding the million-dollar bail posting.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lord Downer the diplomat

SBS correspondent John Martinkus stands out from the herd for his coverage of the East Timor crisis - his recent pieces for NewMatilda and the SMH shed light on the murky background of events that saw last week's removal of PM Marí Alkatiri.

But if this was a very Australian coup, our Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, hasn't been following the script. In a recent private conversation with East Timor's new Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, Downer told Horta that "the Timorese are little people who needed to grow up..." Downer's haughty comments were relayed to Timor watcher, freelance journalist Sasha Uzunov, who writes:

"There's no real love between Downer and Ramos Horta, despite the media reports about a close working relationship. Downer, according to my sources, read Ramos Horta the riot act and played the part of the bully. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Ramos Horta is cleverly playing the role of submissive in an attempt to manipulate Downer. Not a good start to a close working relationship."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

God and mammon

The usual suspects have latched onto Rupert Murdoch's declaration this week that that we must be careful of 1.2 billion Muslims in every nation on earth because their faith "supercedes any sense of nationalism wherever they go."

Where to start? Let's begin by quoting that dangerous reactionary tract of the Christian religion, the Bible: "Render unto Cæsar what is Cæsar's, and render unto God what is God's." That was Jesus talking.

While some declare this a clarion call for the seperation of church and state, surely Christians would ask: if we rendered unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Cæsar.

Food for thought when powerful media moguls whose own influence sweeps across the continents start taking swipes at religion. And let's not get started about Matthew: "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve God and mammon."