In the week that Ashton Agar strode not only to the crease at Trent Bridge but into the annals of Test cricket fame WA racing fans are absorbed by what young  apprentice jockey Chris Parnham is doing.

Australians love underdogs and dogged never-say-die performances. That is why the highly likeable Agar with the infectious grin has taken England by storm.

His 98, the highest score ever by a number 11 batsman was made when Australia was on its knees and in a last wicket partnership with Phil Hughes the pair put on an incredible 163 runs taking the Aussies to a 65 run lead on the first innings.

With everyone but the most biased Pom willing the novice Test spinner to create a fairytale debut with the bat it ended with the fledging just two runs shy. As the former great English all rounder Sir Ian Botham said, “it was the first time in my life I wanted an Aussie to get more runs.”

Even though the coveted ton just eluded Agar he left the arena with the entire crowd applauding his effort and his good natured departure.

The freshness of youth has its own appeal and the look of quiet pride on Australian coach Darren Lehmann’s face created an everlasting memory.

Another memorable almost moment was back in 1967 when champion West Perth centre-half back Brian (‘Bert’) France almost won the Sandover Medal  despite limping off the ground in the 14th match of the 21 game home and away season.

France would never play again and he missed the entire last round of seven matches. In that era knee reconstructions were not done.


With 18 votes the champion Cardinal defender failed by just one vote –the medal ultimately being tied by Claremont’s John Parkinson and Swan District champion rover, Bill Walker, who made it a Sandover hat-trick that year and added a fourth in 1970.

Had ‘Bert’ France completed the 1967 season the Sandover Medal would not even  have been close, such was his form, and obviously when he left the field forever after playing only two thirds of the year he was a long way in front on the medal count.

France’s appeal was that he was scrupulously fair and could shut down the best forwards in the land –something he managed in both club and interstate clashes at centre half and full back.

Ken ‘Noddy’ McAullay (East Perth), Guy McKenna (Eagles) Paul Roos (Fitzroy and Sydney Swans) and Colin Hebbard, a WPFC teammate who flanked France, are the only defenders in the last half a century who would even come close to giving ‘Bert’ a run in the best half back stakes.

Which takes us to a young fresh faced 16 year old kid called Chris Parnham who hails from a great racing dynasty. In just six months he has moved to a position in which he is all but leading in the metropolitan apprentice award and in fact he has really come into focus in less than the last two months.

Going into the meeting, on June 1, Parnham had just 14.5 metropolitan winners,  trailing Paterson on 23. After the meeting of July 13, in which he rode a treble, Parnham was on 28.5 winners, just half a win behind Ben Paterson.

Parnham has done it in reverse order to Brian France –finishing strongly. In fact it would be true to say that Ben Paterson is in the France role, watching as the Parnham tsunami approaches with a late rush.

However Paterson, unlike France in 1967, is still in the game and can still win the competition.

The interesting part of the equation is what part will Adam Durrant play? Will he throw Paterson more rides to help him to victory? The top trainer hasn’t done that so far using other jockeys as well as his talented apprentice.

In contrast Parnham will get that help from his father Neville if need be. The clan leader is going to finish second to Durrant on the trainers premiership list this year and he possesses the largest stable in the State.

In addition Chris Parnham is also riding for leviathan owner Bob Peters –and this counts for a lot as Peters stock are regular winners.

Perhaps I need to qualify the word leviathan when talking about Peters. In the Bible the term referred to a monstrous sea snake! More commonly it means something large. Peters racing interests qualify for that description-although Fin Powrie may disagree.

Having just completed a story on the former long serving WA chief stipe, (see Sunspeed magazine, winter 2013), Powrie was regaling me with stories of Indian owners like MAM Ramaswany who has 1000 horses in work and Cyrus Poonawalla, another leviathan.

I guess those two make ‘Our Bob’ seem small.

While the ‘Big Mo’ has unquestionably been with Parnham in recent weeks Paterson showed great character to emulate his challenger with a treble, at Kalgoorlie, the day following Parnham’s at Belmont.

In the context of the metropolitan award Kalgoorlie was the wrong place (and Parnham also rode one winner at the fixture too) but it was a great morale booster to Paterson who still maintains a ‘nose lead’ in Perth.

Hardened racegoers, likeThe Doc and The Pillster, think we in the media are obsessed with an event ‘that doesn’t matter.’

I disagree. As a young boy, introduced to racing by my maternal grandfather, I still remember the epic struggle between senior jockeys Keith Moxham and Colin Hayes (my favourite) for overall premiership honours in 1957-8.

It was decided on the last race at Toodyay with the top two hoops thundering to the post, on their respective charges, locked together with race caller Lionel Lewis almost falling out of the box in excitement. Moxham won the race and the premiership on a countback. He and Hayes both had 54 winners but Moxham also had 43 seconds, one more than Hayes.

Such duels add to the colour, romance and history of racing –and are worth remembering like those performances in the other sports mentioned.

Also, try convincing the two young apprentices ‘it doesn’t matter’- and the trainers who are ensuring they both have a virtual full book of rides on Wednesday’s Belmont fixture on July 17.

Aussies love competitions, they love the underdog, and the person who fights back from adversity and tragedy- as Mitchell Pateman did, on July 13, by winning on Black Romeo, just two days after the death of his father, Michael.

Indeed, Pateman the Younger, has had an annus horribilis, returning after a long absence with knee problems, but still being good enough to maintain third place behind Paterson and Parnham.

Ironically both the top two apprentices can claim underdog status.

If Parnham wins he is the kid that started half way through the season and finished like a veritable powerhouse; if Paterson wins he is the rider that beat the establishment contender- and a family dynasty- after coming West in search of his birth mother.

The three P’s, Paterson, Parnham and Pateman, represent the future of racing – it is worthwhile being interested in them.

They matter.