Veteran racing writer Neville Pratt who died on September 28, aged 81, would have loved last Saturday’s meeting with the fourth race held in his honour.
On a golden Spring day with a big Irish Day crowd in attendance there was no better race than the Vale Neville Pratt 1000m race-and bouquets to Perth Racing for commemorating the veteran scribe’s long career with the Sunday Independent and Sunday Times.
The crowd were set roaring as the three that bounced out of the barriers best continued to slug it out in the home straight with Simon Miller’s Darlington Abbey, initially appearing to be the first horse beaten, fighting back to achieve a gritty close win over Detection and Tempestuous Strike, two gallopers that lost no supporters with their game runs.
A couple of races before the Vale Neville Pratt OAM race, one of the late turf writer’s sons, Geoff arrived at the press box and introduced himself, saying he wanted to see where his Dad had worked all these years (and that accounted for some 36 years).
It was one of those poignant moments because everyone stopped what we were doing and gathered around to talk to Geoff, including handicapper David Hunter.
Bill Bovington, from Reuters, now the ‘Father of the Gallery,’ (although if Ernie Manning was still doing racing instead of trots he would have that honour) recalled when he started Neville was in his usual chair in the corner of the press box.
(This is now occupied by yours truly since taking over from Neville after his retirement from the Sunday Times, due to illness, at the end of July 2011).
It was interesting that amongst the people who gathered around Geoff was Jay Rooney who if he continues as a turf writer for The West Australian until Neville’s age will have well over 50 years as a scribe.
Geoff ended up meeting with Darren McAullay in the broadcasting box who quickly disengaged from a phone call to talk to his visitor.
Macca ‘knows his onions’ when it comes to the passing of racing stalwarts, informing this writer of five that had gone recently. Geoff enjoyed his time with the race caller immensely.
Wes Cameron delivered the eulogy at Karrakatta, on Monday October 8, with his usual excellent delivery from the script written by Nev’s brother and former journalist Baden.
Perhaps that gifted English batsman, David Gower, who once ‘buzzed’ a cricket ground in a biplane, like some latter day Red Baron, knew something of Neville’s past.
No slouch as a grade cricketer himself, although better known as an Australian baseballer, Nev once left Gower’s aerial antics in the shade.
Coming back from a Kalgoorlie baseball trip he flew home to Perth with Ron Featherby while other team members travelled on the back of a large truck.
The pair then proceeded to dive bomb the occupants of the truck with Neville aiming flower bombs with a precision that Snoopy, from his Sopwith Camel, would have envied.
Unfortunately the pair of aces failed to see the electric wires that connected Perth to the Eastern States and sliced through them before making a crash landing.
That effort managed to isolate Perth from the rest of the world for several days. As Wes, laconically, noted: “there is nothing like a bit of fun.”
The late Reg Treffone would have enjoyed an even earlier story told about Neville.
That great trainer once told this writer about the milkman who careered his milk cart down Lyall St, Ascot, at breakneck speed ending up in the Swan River with his horse and cart –possibly singing ‘My Dear Old Swanee’ at the time.
Nev and his brother trumped that too.
An early job, at Kalgoorlie, delivering milk from a cart drawn by an ageing racehorse was too much of a temptation for this ‘pair of Ernies’ (apologies to Benny Hill and ‘Ernie’ who drove the fastest milk cart in the West!)
The Pratt pair, after deliveries, would then have the old galloper roaring around the local racetrack.
Their boss, alarmed that his horse was returning exhausted, followed them one morning and sacked them on the spot.
At the age of 46, Neville was re-associated with racehorses, writing for the Sunday Independent and then with the Sunday Times after the demise of the former paper.
Being involved was the key to Neville.
He was an important player, at the market and board level, in developing the fruit and vegetable industry in WA as well as the national president of the industry; he was a corporate director of various industries and attended regular meetings at Wescorp Holdings, including one just weeks before his death.
In baseball he not only represented Australia at the 1956 Olympics, and in Test matches against the US, but he later moved to administration and was vice president of the International Baseball Federation for 14 years, was Australian president for 12 years and also a WA State president for 13 years.
When the New York Yankees honoured his role in international baseball several years ago Neville found himself sitting behind Nicole Kidman and ended up with her autograph with a love heart drawn by her which he carried in his wallet thereafter.
Neville is survived by his wife Norma and four adult children, Helen, Geoff, Nigel and Guy.
10 October 2012