After calling the gallops and trots as well as several other sports for almost 50 years, race caller ALLAN HULL has got one of the most well-known voices in the Riverina. Hull caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: Was it always your dream as a kid to be a race caller?
ALLAN HULL: No, as a kid I used to lie in bed until 3am in the morning and back then we didn't have radio's but a crystal set where I would listen to the cricket being broadcast in England. I always wanted to be a sports commentator and maybe not so much a racing commentator. But I used to listen to the races as well and had my favourite jockeys and a little scrapbook with clippings of racing stories.
BG: Growing up as a kid, was your family involved in racing?
AH: Not really, I grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Wagga at a little place called Gregadoo and went to a one teacher school with around 15 kids. This may be hard to believe but I travelled to school with my brothers and sisters in a horse and cart. I completed my education at Wagga High school and left at the end of year 10. I left on the Friday and started as an apprentice fitter and machinist on the Monday. I'm a qualified fitter and machinist.
BG: How did you get involved in race calling?
AH: I was sort of half interested in getting involved and started out calling the trot trials at Wagga. Max Croker was running the trials and was a family friend. I said to Max 'if you let me call the trials on a Tuesday night, I will be better than the bloke you have got.' It was true at the time because they had nobody. So I got the gig calling the trials with a crowd of about 30 people.
BG: Who do you regard as the biggest influence on your career?
AH: Ted Ryder who was the main caller at Wagga and the surrounding district at the time. Ted was a legend around Wagga and was also the long-time sports editor of the Daily Advertiser. He was a bit of a pioneer in regards to compiling form and every day he got home from the races he would update the form for every horse in the SDRA. It is an unbelievable amount of work involved when you think about it. Ted was smart though, he then sold the form to the race clubs and earnt an extra quid that way.
BG: Is there one caller in particular that you modelled yourself on?
AH: I would like to think no. Back when I was starting out there were heaps of different racing channels and blokes like Geoff Mahoney, Des Hoysted, Ian Russell, Bert Bryant and Joe Brown. I used to listen to all of them and pick-up different snippets off each of them rather than just one individual.
BG: Who do you rate as the best race caller in the business?
AH: If I have to name one only it's Greg Miles.
BG: You got your first paid gig at the Henty Show in 1969 as a 19-year-old. What are your memories of that day?
AH: Jack Adams who was well known in harness racing circles at the time asked me if I would be interested in calling the trots at the Henty Show. I really enjoyed it and it all grew from there. At about the same time Tex Condron who was calling the trots at Wagga, Junee and Leeton started getting into the training side of horses. So he was looking to get out of calling and I more or less took over from him. I started calling at Wagga in 1970 as course broadcaster which was also relayed on 2WG as well. I also started calling the gallops at a similar time and did my first meetings at places like Hay, Griffith and Berrigan.
BG: Was race calling a full-time gig for you or did you have another part-time job?
AH: It was never a full-time gig because there wasn't enough meetings. As I said previously, I am a qualified fitter and machinist and worked for a firm in Wagga for about eight years. I also called Aussie rules for the local radio station for about 25 years. A position also become available at the radio station as a sales representative and the manager at the time offered me the job because they used to hear me calling the trots and the football on the radio. So I sold advertising for radio and TV for most of my life.
BG: How much preparation goes into a typical meeting?
AH: It depends on the meeting. For example there were 10 races at Wagga trots on Friday and to do the form probably takes me an hour-and-a-half. But for the Wagga Gold Cup carnival over the two days and there might be 180 horses race and you only know the form for about 50 of the locals. So I might spend more than three hours doing the form because there is so many visiting horses.
BG: What about as far as remembering the colours and horses names?
AH: I know Joe Brown used to go to bed at 6.30pm on a Friday night with a cup of tea and learn the colours of each horse racing the next day. I don't do that. As far as the gallops is concerned I look at the horses and jockeys on a race to race basis. It gets the most tricky when you have got horses from the big stables that have multiple runners that wear the same colours except for different coloured caps. The most crucial time for remembering the colours is the 10 minute window where the jockeys get on in the mounting yard and head to the barriers.
BG: I'm lucky to remember what day it is, is remembering names and colours a gift or a skill you can develop?
AH: It's just a matter of having an eye for detail and then being able to remember it.
BG: You are well known for your call of "the gates craaaaash back". Is there a story behind the call and why you added it to your repertoire?
AH: I don't know where it came from but I've been using it for a long, long time. It is my original call and in reality if you do stand next to the barrier stalls, the gates do crash back. When I say it, I exaggerate the crash with craaaaash and that's what punters seem to like. I'd like to think it's my call and other callers use it from time to time. But I think that's great because imitation is the biggest form of flattery.
BG: Would it be fair to say that and "they hit the liiiiine" are your two most popular calls?
AH: I do say that when it's a really close finish because while you are saying 'they hit the liiiiine' it gives you that extra second or two to work out who has won. I don't really use that phrase unless it is a photo finish.
IN OTHER NEWS
BG: Do you enjoy calling the trots?
AH: I do. You can add a bit more colour when you are calling the trots, simply because you have got more time. A 1000m sprint in the gallops takes around 59 seconds and if you have got a field of 16 by the time you spit out the names the race has been run and won. At the trots you have 10 horses who will go around two-and-a-half times and you can tell a story as it unfolds.
BG: I have always rated you as an entertaining trots caller with two of your favourite sayings "he picks them up and down delicabilby" and "the panting pursuers chase in vain". What other sayings do you rate personally?
AH: "The favourite has run the spinnaker up and the wind is billowing into his sails" is one of my favourites. I also like "the favourite is about to put the handlebars into the downward position." Another one is "has lost contact with the peloton." They are just some of the sayings I use to try and relay in an interesting and exciting way what's going on. The three things that I pride myself on are be accurate, articulate and be interesting. After all it's an entertainment industry that we are in.
BG: Albury Harness Racing Club had some huge crowds during its golden era of the late 80s and early 90s. No doubt it would have been a highlight to call at those meetings?
AH: Those days were unbelievable. There was so much interest in Albury before they became TAB meetings. So much so that the starting prices at Albury were relayed to the betting ring at the Moonee Valley trots as well as the race call. That's how huge Albury was during the halcyon days.
BG: What are some of your favourite memories of back then?
AH: David Jack was the punter's pin-up back in those days. I would say 'D Jack is about to unleash the favourite' and the crowd would roar. Another thing I love about Albury is how close you are to the action. When the crowd gets a buzz, it's infectious and I used to feed off that and get a huge buzz as well. New Year's Eve is still terrific at Albury but that was the sort of crowds they used to pull on a regular basis.
BG: Who do you rate as the best trainer, driver and horse locally you have seen in harness racing during your time calling?
AH: As a trainer and driver, I was always a big fan of Robbie Jack. The horse that probably had the biggest influence on harness racing locally was Paleface Adios. Paleface Adios was a striking looking animal with a white blaze and feet, and a golden mane. He was driven by Colin Pike who was a farmer and we all know wasn't the greatest driver going around. It's a great story a farmer with this champion horse and I think he only one of three horses that has a statue in his hometown of Temora.
BG: Do you have a preference which code you call?
AH: I like to call them both but you can be more of a storyteller in harness because you have got more time.
BG: You must be proud of your son Quentin who is one of Australia's most highly respected sports broadcasters?
AH: Quentin used to tag along to the trots with me from about four onwards. When I was calling the football he would also come along to most matches and sit next to me as I worked. He would have his own team sheet like me. During winter I would work seven days a week, weekdays at the radio station selling advertising then call the races on a Saturday and the football on a Sunday. So Sunday was our family day my wife, daughter, Quentin and I would go to the football together. So Quentin grew up in broadcast boxes in Coolamon, Ganmain and Ariah Park and all those other little places. But Quentin has worked very hard and done very well for himself.
BG: What is your favourite track locally and why?
AH: It has got to be the Murrumbidgee Turf Club at Wagga because it is like a second home to me. It has also got the best facilities and an air conditioner that works. The broadcast box is high enough up and far enough back to give you a perfect view of a race. At some tracks the broadcast box is too close to the outside rail and it makes it hard to determine how the race is unfolding.
BG: You call at most tracks around the district except for Albury. Any particular reason?
AH: I called at Albury early in my career for about six or seven years. But after that the committee at the time decided if they could get a high-profile caller from Sydney it would help increase turnover. That's what I was told. There is also a rivalry between Albury and Wagga and without knowing for a fact but I suspect Albury was of the opinion that because I was from Wagga I was considered the enemy. But I've been calling for the Albury Harness Racing Club since the mid 70s. Albury Harness is the club I've worked the longest for.
BG: What about Wagga?
AH: I didn't call my first Wagga Cup until 1979 and have called the race every year since.
BG: Every race callers worst nightmare is calling the wrong horse over the line. Has it ever happened to you?
AH: I reckon I have called five wrong in 50 years - it certainly wouldn't be any more than that. If people want to have a go at me for that I would say what about the 50,000 plus calls that I got right? How many races would I have called over the journey - I've got no idea.
BG: Who do you rate as the best galloper, trainer and jockey you have seen locally?
AH: Allez Bijou won two Wagga Gold Cup's and is one of the best horses to win the race. The best trainer was Bert Honeychurch and was just a legend of his time. Steven Sharman was a wonderful jockey and used to ride a lot for Ollie and Brian Cox. If they put the money on and Sharman was aboard it was a lethal combination.
BG: What have been some of the biggest changes since you started your career?
AH: The game changer was the advent of the TAB coverage of country racing. Take the Wagga and Albury Cups, they are being beamed worldwide to goodness knows how many countries. So Sky Channel for sure has been the biggest change. The growing trend of female jockeys has also been huge. When I first started there were none and now the females outnumber the males at most meetings.
BG: I'm guessing you like a punt?
AH: Yes, in moderation. It's very difficult to be involved in the industry and not like a punt. Why do people go to the races? To have a beer but I can't because I'm working, a bet and for the fashion. I go to the races to call them and to have a punt.
BG: Have you got any punting stories that you would like to share?
AH: We have all had those days where nothing could go wrong and then those other days where nothing goes right. I'm not a big punter and prefer to dabble in the exotics, especially the quaddie or the trifecta. I think that's your best chance of getting a decent collect for a moderate outlay. Especially on the local races where I feel I know the form and have got a bit of an edge.
BG: Calling the Country Championships last year must have been right up there as far as highlights?
AH: It's right up there and it was the year the Donna Scott-trained Bennelong Dancer ran fourth. I also called four interdominion carnivals and 40 Wagga Gold Cups which is also a huge thrill.
BG: What about outside of racing?
AH: I called a rugby league test at Wagga when Australia played the PNG Kumuls and Alfie Langer made his debut for local radio. I also called several Toohey's Challenge cricket matches alongside Bob Simpson at Wagga.
BG: What are you interests outside of racing?
AH: I'm in two choirs and have also appeared in several local stage productions including Les Misérables, My Fair Lady and Oliver.
BG: What do you think you will miss most when you retire?
AH: I will miss the people but at the end of the day we all have to say 'I've had a good innings and that's enough.'
BG: What won't you miss?
AH: I won't miss looking at the calendar on the fridge to find out where I've got to be and when. My life has been controlled the racing calendar. People don't realise but every Saturday I'm working. Every public holiday I'm working. I have missed countless family milestones and now it's time to give back to my family.
BG: Do you have an idea who is likely to replace you when you retire?
AH: I have no idea. In days gone by the race clubs could choose who they got to call. But now it is dictated by Sky Channel. So if Sky Channel don't rate you as a caller, you won't get a start. It makes it hard for the young people starting out.