BACKING THE WRONG HORSE AT STAWELL
By Jon Anderson
IT was what you did at a time when serious money could be won on the punt, so being described as an unreliable drunk was something 20-year-old Bill Howard took in his stride prior to winning the 1966 Stawell Easter Gift in a sparkling 11.9 sec.
He returned a year later with a handicap reduced by 5.75m (three yards) and ran even faster, flying down the track in his green top in 11.6 sec.
Six months later Howard, who raced at 181cm and 80kg, ran 11.9 sec off scratch at Mornington before a cruel succession of leg injuries prevented him from reaching even greater heights.
He did run once more at Stawell, being beaten by a bee’s appendage in a semi-final in 1969 off scratch, and then he was gone.
Next week the 72-year-old, who is still in fine shape at 84kg, will be just another face in the Stawell crowd as he returns for just the fourth time since 1969.
Bill Howard during his heyday. Picture: Bob Buchanan
During the week he relived his first trip to Stawell in 1966 when he was backed from 100-1 into an odds-on favourite.
“In those days there weren’t a lot of motels in Stawell so you got billeted out,” he said.
“When we met the owner of our accommodation, I was introduced as Bill Kennedy who was down from Sydney to watch the gift.
“The owner was more interested in my training partner Ray Thomas who was also staying with him.
“So he asked Ray how he was running and when Ray truthfully told him he was a yard faster than last year, off went the owner to back him and the word spread aroud Stawell, but they backed the wrong horse.”
Howard said he had not raced a lot leading into the ’66 Stawell Gift and when the stewards contacted his coach Pat Kennedy to ask who he was and why he kept entering without turning up, they were given a colourful explanation.
“Pat explained I was a drunk and totally unreliable, when I hadn’t ever had a drink at that stage of my life,” Howard said.