IT was the calm before the storm for Pat Freyer.
The first race was yet to get under way and the verandah of the stewards’ office that faces the mounting yard was devoid of the scrum to come.
This is the stomping ground of the 84-year-old matriarch of the Albury Racing Club who coddles her “boys”, but is just as quick to give them a smack if they let a swear word slip in her presence.
“Hi boys,” Mrs Freyer said as she walks into the jockey’s change room.
“Hi Pat,” comes the chorus from the hoops and she accepts a handful of kisses on the cheek.
Wagga jockey Brad Clark takes a chain off his neck with his wedding ring and slips it over Mrs Freyer’s head for safe-keeping.
“She’s always here to help us out and tell us a few jokes, some clean, some dirty,” Mr Clark said.
“But no swearing,” Mrs Freyer warned.
“Otherwise we’ll get a smack on the bum, just like mum and dad used to do it,” Mr Clark said.
Mrs Freyer has been involved with racing for 70 years and like most who work trackside, they’re born into it or adopted by it.
All are hooked on it.
Tim Cossor started as a 12-year-old, taking after his father John Cossor, who was a clerk of the course from 1968 until the 1990s.
“We’re the blokes on the white horses,” Mr Cossor said.
“We get all the jockeys and horses to the barriers and back safe. If one gets away I’ll catch it. Steve caught a horse out by the car park and down the road.”
He pointed to a colleague who chased down a horse that last week bolted and galloped up Dowling Court, catching him before he got to Racecourse Road.
“We like it when there’s a quiet day and there’s not trouble and we don’t get noticed,” Mr Cossor said.
There was another good save on Thursday when starter Mick Donoghue, from Wagga, spotted a horse in trouble just before he pressed the button to release the horses from the barriers.
“If I had’ve pressed the button that horse would’ve gone ahead and probably snap a leg,” Mr Donoghue said.
Racing is in his blood, he said, and his work as a jockey means he’s used to handling the pressure of carrying the weight of signalling the start of the Albury Gold Cup.
In the stables, Albury trainer Alex Aquilina is under no illusions about his chances in the main race.
Damien Oliver’s scratching meant his docile 100-1 horse Olly I Am got a start.
“The poor bugger, he’s not very good, but he’s good enough to win the small country races,” Mr Aquilina said.
Olly’s breeder Shirley Schubach stops at the stables and scratches the horse’s head and whispers in his ear.
“He’s probably not going to win, but just to see him on his home track is just wonderful,” she said.