The Sydney Morning Herald – October 3, 2003
By Max Presnell
‘Hello Jack’, I said. ‘Hello Wally’ . . . I often say that’s my idea of a good yarn with Jack Denham.”
Sure, the fact that Wally Truscott, the former tent wrestler who became a successful businessman, has been racing horses successfully for half a century is by no means a record, but his link with Denham is one of racing’s longest owner-trainer associations.
Denham could be described as difficult to be around. When his body language says “steer clear”, it’s best to comply. By comparison, Truscott – who played the bad guy in the ring to the extent that he was rumoured to be “a Russian – Truscottski” – looks like Mickey Rooney.
“Jack’s got a hard surface but he’s really soft-hearted,” Truscott related. “We’re just like brothers . . .”
“If anybody is ever in trouble, Jack’s got his hand in his pocket. I’ve seen him go up to [Athol George] Mulley and say ‘how ya going, George’, and pull out a bundle of notes and give them to him.
“Lots a blokes in trouble walk past Jack at the track and he’s called them over, put his hand in his pocket. He wouldn’t tell a soul.”
The Truscott-Denham combination promises to be highly competitive again with Zabarra in Saturday’s Epsom at Randwick, a group 1 event they won with Ricochet in 1970. Zabarra hails from Kaldarra, Truscott’s foundation mare, to which Ricochet was also closely related.
Truscott races many horses in partnership with Denham, which is the situation with Zabarra, though it hasn’t all been joy and mateship.
“We’ve had plenty of friendly arguments,” Truscott related. “There was one serious scrape many years ago and he said ‘get your bloody horses out of the stable’. I sent a float around and Jack told the bloke to get out. He rang me up and said, ‘what do you mean sending the float around here. You don’t take any notice of me when I get cranky’.”
And it was hardly mateship at first sight, either.
“I said to a friend of mine at Canterbury one day, ‘do you know a trainer who frightens shit out of bookmakers?’ and he introduced me to Jack. When I told him the horse he replied, ‘it’s no bloody good’ and walked away. I thought, what a funny bloke. He came back half an hour later and said that he’d take it.”
That was about September 1954, but not Truscott’s introduction to racing.
“A friend came into my place of business on Parramatta Rd and said, ‘I’ve got a winner for you today, Wal’,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Harry, there’s the front door, get out – you know I don’t gamble’.”
Finally Truscott handed over just to get rid of Harry. The horse was First Row. Apparently, on the way to the races it fell down in the float and it blew out from 5-1 to 40-1 at the track. On receiving the settling, the new punter asked: “How long has this been going on?”
After an unfortunate episode in which Truscott purchased a horse, only to find out later that the stable hack was a better type, he ventured to Kandos looking for something better.
Most were “a bit scraggy” but he finally spotted one leading the pack in a paddock gallop.
“I was very experienced now because I knew all about race horses,” Truscott explained. “It was by Dark Lover out of Roger Girl. The breeding hadn’t produced anything. I gave it to Arthur Croall and it won five races over about 1000 metres, but never beyond. So I said, ‘this bloody trainer’s no good. The horse is good but the trainer isn’t’. Because I knew all about horses. I had one.”
The horse was called Fulfilment but the AJC later said the name was “too suggestive”, so the owner changed the name to Harmalwa, taking the names of a couple of friends, Harry and Mal plus Wal. “They asked where I got the new name from. I said it was Hawaiian for lightning,” Truscott quipped.
Thus Harmalwa became the first horse Denham prepared for Truscott and started a streak of around 350 winners for him.
“Remember, the horse couldn’t run beyond five furlongs,” the owner stressed. “Jack won with him at six furlongs and then a mile at Hawkesbury. Later he came to Sydney for a mile and five at Canterbury. He said, ‘have something on today then get rid of it’.”
The proceeds from Harmalwa bankrolled Truscott for the Newmarket yearling sales.
“I wanted to get a filly that I could breed from,” he said. “I marked down two. Jack said they both looked all right. I picked Kaldarra. After racing for about two years she only ran a third at Gosford, so I put her to stud. She produced six foals for six winners. Her first foal was Wildarra, who won around 18 races. Jack said if he had known more about champion race horses, Wildarra would have been a champion. Jack was a punter. In those days the prizemoney was so small a trainer had to survive punting. He wanted winners. The big stables today don’t punt, they depend on prizemoney.”
Thrills and regrets?
“Every time I win a race, no matter where it is, I’m just as happy,” Truscott answered. “I’d have liked to have won the Melbourne Cup with Natski [second to Empire Rose in 1988].”
Again Denham gave his longest-standing owner the choice of two horses imported from Britain. “The sprinter or the stayer – fortunately he went for Natski, the sprinter did nothing.”
Truscott remembers vividly a day at Kembla Grange with one of his horses, Sharazan. Denham had told him it couldn’t win but after several scratchings there was a change of opinion.
“But I didn’t take any money but Jack stressed I had better get some,” he said. “Jack told the jockey to take his time getting around to the barrier because we hadn’t bet. I got to the last bookmaker and the race started, we averaged about 13-1. Anyhow the bookmaker said they’d jumped and wouldn’t let me on. I said, ‘you weak bastard’.”
Truscottski was applying the Indian death lock when a friend prevented the exhibition, a legacy of his war years, from going further.
After joining the air force in 1939 – he was an engineer instructor – Truscott met Harry Woodville, who tutored him on being a professional wrestler. “I wrestled Harry 400 or 500 times, all over Australia, the Islands as well as Jimmy Sharman’s tent. Following the war I had bouts at Leichhardt Stadium.” These days he has porcelain hips, “only Royal Doulton, I like a touch of class”.
“Don’t be surprised if Zabarra does a Ricochet,” Truscott predicted. That’s not because he knows something about racing. It’s the same instinct that led him to Fulfilment.