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'TOM' ANNETT: Addington Personality

'TOM' ANNETT

Often the first person you encounter at Addington when you arrive for the races will be wearing a white coat.

Chances are regular racegoers at Addington over the years will have run into Gerald 'Tom' Annett, a veteran of the officials with over 45 years continuous service from 1945 when he started at New Brighton. In that time he has missed only "two or three" meetings. The next longest serving are Albie Keen and David Lyttle who have been working 34 years. Tom has progressed from being a carpark attendant to an inspector of the "men in white".

He is usually the first to arrive at Addington, motoring sedately around on his red motorcycle to open up all the gates for the influx of floats and private cars. Over the years Tom, now in his early 70s, has worked at most of the country tracks around Canterbury and has also served at Riccarton for 35 years, including attending the royal box when Queen Elizabeth was in residence. When he started out a couple of pounds were his reward, now he takes home nearly $70, extra money the likeable pensioner finds invaluable.

His interest in horses came from his father Tom, a leading saddle trot trainer and rider in the early 1900s. Annett Snr, who trained for Bill Lowe at Ashburton, was a highly respected horseman. Among his more notable achievments were taking out the Westport Cup three times in succession from 1904-6 with Federation, Juanita and Maid Of Perth. He was once described by master trainer Jack McLennan as the finest horseman he had seen, his best performers including Bush Ranger and Submarine.

At Kumara he trained and rode Pilot to win after conceding 105 seconds start and later developed the outstanding trotter Trampfast (by Logan Pointer) who was blind in his left eye. Lowe bought him from Annett and he went on to win 14 races, including three against the pacers for Roy Berry. His crowning achievement was in the 1934 Dominion Handicap when aged 14 years.

Unlike his father, Tom Jnr, one of 14 children (eight boys and six girls) has never owned or trained a harness horse. His sport was cycling and seven Annett brothers once took part in the Annett Handicap at English Park. They were regular competitors in the Waimate to Christchurch race and Tom still cycles regularly.

The spirit amongst his workmates at Addington has always been high. "There have been some real characters and I have made a lot of jolly good mates who are still friends today." He has never had any trouble with the men under his control thanks to what he describes as having "the right attitude" and describes the four Addington Raceway secretaries he has worked under as "very fine bosses." The days of parking over 2000 cars in regimented lines at the course are over but raceday is still busy.

"Some of the public have gotten a bit stroppy at times but you have got to humour them. You get nowhere by jumping on them." Being a vigilant chap while checking tickets in the Member's Stand he has noticed some people taking tickets out to friends and spiriting them in. "They usually back down when you have them on about it though and I've had no real trouble. The young people these days are very good towards us."

He has noticed that thefts from cars are on the increase and any trouble is referred to the police or higher ranking officials. He recalled a Mr Pocock, an old boss, driving a horse and cart in from Kirwee. "He carried a stick and sometmes used to thump a car with it to direct them. You would leave a bit of a dent if you did it these days." A year ago at Motukarara he was jokingly asked to remove a stubborn oppossum from the observation tower at the course. The lung bursting climb to the platform was declined and the intruder was eventually ousted from his perch, shimmying down the long ladder at a great rate of knots.

But it is the people he has met who stick in his mind. "The owners and trainers are some of the nicest jokers you'd ever want to meet. They are a lovely mob and I've never met a dud one yet. Ask them to do anything and they will do it."

And the great champions of the past bring a spark to his eyes. "Johnny Globe's NZ Cup (1954) was the best I've seen but I remember Gold Bar winning in 1945 when there were 32,000 people on course. The big fire in 1961 also sticks in my mind. We were told to get out of the stand quick but there was a guy who worked for the fire brigade who tried to fight it. The flames were getting around behind him and it took a policeman to carry him out."

Tom retired from the Post Office 10 years ago after 18 years service. Before that he worked in a flour mill for 20 years and is now happily settled in his Riccarton flat with wife Joan, a farmer's daughter from Dunsandel who he met through cycling. An avid armchair sports fan he is confident the All Blacks will retain the World Cup and follows the sporting careers of his four grandchildren closely.

His work at Addington and Riccarton will continue while he is fit. After 45 years he still enjoys the mteship and meeting new people. Next time you meet a man in white remember Tom Annett. Their contribution is rarely acknowledged but without him and hundreds like him the smooth running of racedays would be impossible.

Credit: Gary Birkett writing in HRWeekly 28Aug91

 
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