One of Australia’s greatest sports broadcasters, Greg Miles, will call his final horse race this weekend, almost four decades after he “really made a botch” of his very first call.
Miles, 57, is bowing out on Easter Saturday at Caulfield.
“I’ve always wanted to go when I was calling well, and I know I’m calling as well as I ever have right now, so I didn’t want to wait for the tap on the shoulder,” he said.
It was a career that first beckoned Miles at a young age.
“I fell in love with racing listening to it on the radio, listening to Bert Bryant and Bill Collins, and couldn’t believe the amount of information and the urgency and the vibrancy coming out of the radio,” he said.
“When I went to the track and the sights and the smells and the feel of being at the races and hearing Joe Brown on the course PA, I was sold. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Miles honed his craft doing his own mock calls, and traipsing around the Victorian countryside to call any race that would have him.
“I spent a lot of time going to the track, sitting in spare broadcast boxes, sitting outside amongst the people in the stands, calling races into tape recorders and doing hard yards.”
His first break came in his early 20s when he was asked to call a race for the ABC on Boxing Day in 1979.
He admits his career could have been over after just one race.
“I was as nervous as a kitten, could not even hold the binoculars steady. I really made a botch of it to be honest,” he said.
Former colleague Peter Booth remembers the call well.
“He seemed to get them away OK … but when they were coming down the side with about 800 metres to go, I knew Greg was in trouble,” he said.
“He was describing like a scattergun, just naming horses, it just didn’t make sense.
“Coming around the turn, obviously something happened, he composed himself … and the last 300 metres was fantastic.”
Melbourne Cup call ‘can be onerous’
The following Monday, Booth met ABC management and told them that Miles had “a steel rod up his spine” and was a talent worth persisting with.
In a stroke of good timing, the ABC was looking for a replacement for the legendary Joe Brown, who had been the voice of Melbourne racing since 1947.
Brown retired in 1981, and later that year Miles called the Melbourne Cup – his first of a record 36.
To commentate the race that stops a nation is to shoulder an enormous responsibility.
“You can call well all through the year, in those winter meetings, through the rain and the slush and do all the hard yards,” said Booth.
“But people judge you on that last furlong of the Melbourne Cup, and Greg’s done it right so many times.”
Miles concedes the Melbourne Cup can be “an onerous task” if you get caught up in all the hype surrounding the race.
“You go into a cocoon of concentration and don’t let anybody else into that cocoon,” he said.
“And there’s only one thing that matters in the time before the Melbourne Cup and that’s the horses and the riders, the names of the horses, and just keeping a sense of calmness over you.
“If you get that right, you’ve got half a chance.”
Black Caviar ‘the ultimate champion’
Since 1979, Miles has witnessed plenty of champion thoroughbreds.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate. I started with Kingston Town and Manikato at the height of their careers, and right through so many other great champions like Might and Power and Northerly and Bonecrusher, and the recent superstars like Sunline and Makybe Diva, and probably the ultimate one is Black Caviar,” he said.
Perhaps his most celebrated call was the 2005 Melbourne Cup, when Makybe Diva claimed an unprecedented third straight win.
As the mare loomed on the home straight, Miles captured the building excitement: “Here’s Makybe Diva, a nation roars for a hero.”
Then, once victory was assured, a line that has become synonymous with the race: “A champion becomes a legend.”
Miles says he will miss those opportunities to capture and convey dramatic moments on the turf.
“I’ll miss telling the story, I think. I love doing the form and understanding each race and what it means in the landscape of racing and putting it in its right place. I’ll miss being part of that tapestry.”
The Melbourne Racing Club is paying tribute to Miles by naming a race in his honour at Caulfield on Easter Saturday.