“WANGARATTA’S DES – ‘THE RACE-CALLER’S RACE-CALLER‘ “

The celebrity status that Bruce McAvaney has recently been accorded is welcome recognition of a genius who brings sport to life with accuracy and flair, from behind the microphone.

‘Bruce Almighty’ is a once-in-a-generation ‘caller’ who can readily adapt to many sports, but the recent era has also spawned such rich talent as Brian Taylor, Gerard Whateley, Anthony Hudson, Denis Cometti, Greg Miles, Matt Hill and Hamish McLaughlin………

Those of my ilk can throw up the names of Bert Bryant, Bill Collins, Geoff Mahoney, Johnny Tapp, Joe Brown, Harry Beitzel, Rex Hunt, Tim Lane, Clinton Grybas and Ron Casey……….

Wangaratta can lay claim to a gentleman who sits comfortably amongst those all-time great sportscasters ……

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Des Hoysted was born just on a century ago, into Victoria’s most famous racing family.

His father Wally was a successful jockey who rode more than 1,000 winners in a colourful 30-year career and, in his prime, was the number 1 jockey for Hoysted’s Stables …….

“He won a few Albury Gold Cups…..started as a jockey when he was 12 and won the first of his three Wang Cups a year later…..”” Des once recalled.

Wally participated in a dramatic train of events at Wagga races in 1916 which became part of country racing folklore.

He was on Silent Tress, owned by Wangaratta’s Arthur Callander, in the final race of the program…….In a neck-and-neck finish Silent Tress flashed over the line with highly-regarded Riverina horse, Eunona.

It was declared a dead-heat……Connections were given the option of sharing the prize-money or electing to have a re-run….Eunona’s owners, sensing that they had an edge, wanted a re-run…….Again they hit the line together…….Again the judges couldn’t seperate them….Another dad-heat was declared.

By now dusk had descended on the course…..the horses were exhausted……it was decided to divide the prize-money……

Des reflected on being at the races with his mother (Dimpna) and baby sister one day, when Wally crashed before their very eyes…….

“I think I was 6 and my sister Winifred was 4……The horses came down right on the finish line……..”

“The jockeys were just wearing cardboard re-inforced skull-caps…..They didn’t get smashed up all that much, but it was a shocking fall……Mum was horrified……I can still see it now….the scramble of horses and jockeys all over the place…..”

“That always stuck in my mind whenever I was calling all those years later…….I used to get a bit touchy and edgy whenever there was a fall…..”

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Des was never going to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I rode a bit, but I was always going to be too heavy…….There was no money in it, in that Depression era……Anyway Mum insisted I stick to my school-work…”.

But he had inherited the deeply-ingrained Hoysted fascination for racing……

The family home was situated just across the paddock from Hoysted’s Grey Street stables and he would pass through the stabling area to and from St.Patrick’s School each day.

In his pre-adolescent years of the early-thirties he was inspired by the voice of Eric Welch – the leading race-caller of the day – and acquired the knack of identifying race colours and names of horses and jockeys.

Using paints, he’d copy the colours onto pieces of cardboard, attach them to pencils, and call them as they rolled down a tilted table-top.

In the mid-30’s his uncle Fred trained a champion galloper called Valiant Chief, which became the object of his affection. To his delight Valiant Chief came to Wangaratta at the end of his racing career to be the resident stallion at Hoysted’s stud property.

“I used to ride him all the time,” Des recalled. “When I’d come home from school I’d coax him over to the fence, climb up on the rails and jump on his back….”

“I’d then do phantom calls at the top of my voice. I’d have Valiant Chief competing against all the champions……Of course, he’d always win……At the same time I would draw my knees up, and put my hands on the side of his neck, as if I was riding him to victory……You know that old bloke never turned a hair…….Maybe he still got a thrill out of winning ! “

“I’d listen to the race broadcasts on Dad’s powerful old wireless. He set up a 30-foot aerial and I tuned in to Ken Howard from Sydney, and frequently heard Lachie Melville on the ABC. There’s no doubt I thought the world of both men.”

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Des left school at 14 and gained employment as a Telegram boy at the Wangaratta Post Office. He was transferred to Melbourne two years later and boarded with his aunt at Moonee Ponds.

He’d previously written to Ken Howard, expressing his ambition to call races. By a quirk of fate, Howard had moved from Sydney to Melbourne and was calling a charity game of football at Richmond’s Punt Road Oval when Hoysted introduced himself.

Admiring his enthusiasm, Howard invited the lad to watch him call the races at Moonee Valley…..

But his ambitions had to be shelved for a while, with the onset of World War II. Three years after the cessation of hostilities he was back home for Christmas when he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime.

It was Boxing Day 1948, and his cousin Henry, who was the course broadcaster at Wodonga, called in sick…….An emergency replacement was required……….Would Des like to step in ?…….

He borrowed a pair of binoculars and proceeded to call the entire Wodonga Cup program…..

Fortunately, his call was heard by ABC radio’s Sports Editor Mel Morris, who was so impressed he appointed him as Joe Brown’s understudy.

He regarded it as an honour to work with Brown, who was one of the true gentlemen of racing. He was delighted to have the opportunity to relieve him when he went on holidays.

Des was enticed to Sydney’s 2GB in 1952, and was there for six and a half years before he became the central figure in an amazing swap.

Ken Howard was brought over from rival station 2UE to replace Hoysted………Just a few weeks later, Hoysted began calling for 2UE…..

For the next 24 years he gradually built his ratings and would reign supreme in latter years, as Sydney’s most listened-to race-caller.

“Ken Howard had been Mr.Racing…..I hadn’t been able to make any inroads into his audience.”

“But (2UE) gave me a free rein to do what I wanted….I was able to roast and criticise and say what I thought……That enabled me to improve my calling-style……Then the ratings came……

He recalled that this approach ruffled a few feathers, particularly among race officials and jockeys, but the listening audience appreciated his frankness……..It became the trademark of his calling for the remainder of his career.

Hoysted called 22 Melbourne Cups, but by far his toughest assignment was Van Der Hum’s win in 1976, after continued heavy rain had turned the course into a mud-heap.

In conditions which meant that ‘the jockeys’ mothers would have been hard-pressed to recognise them’, Van Der Hum, a wet-track specialist, held on to win. The favourite, Gold and Black was a length and a half behind.

One of the many highlights of his career was calling the AJC Derby, when his cousin Bob’s filly Rose of Kingston hit the front. He couldn’t resist egging her on with ‘Go Rosie, Go’, as she neared the post…..

There was no argument about the horse he most admired, even though he never got to call him in a race:

“I was standing outside Joe Brown’s box and watched Bernborough do the impossible, and win the Newmarket Handicap.”

“He was hot-favourite, but never appeared in the call, until he came from the outside and gobbled up a top field of sprinters…….You could hardly imagine that a horse could have gone so quickly…..He was 100/1 with 200 metres to go……And was all over them with 100 metres to go…..”

Des was forced to relinquish his calling duties at 2UE in 1983, because the company had a policy of compulsary retirement at 60.

“I was going pretty well, and felt I could have gone on for a couple of years…..My ratings were still good ….It was certainly an emotion-charged day…..”

But Des’s career continued, and encompassed stints at Sky Channel, Channel 10, as the on-course broadcaster for the Hawkesbury Race Club, and calling the Harold Park trots.

He recalled the night at Harold Park that an untidy-looking character knocked on the door of his broadcast box, high on the roof of the Grandstand.

“I was still on air, just wrapping-up a race, and the door was half-open……I turned around to see this bare-footed bloke, dressed in a check-shirt and ragged jeans……I’ll never forget him….he had a beard, long black hair and blazing eyes……”

“Anyway, I continued my on-air duties as he started to approach……’Can I help you, mate ?’ I asked. I suffered his breath as he uttered: ‘Excuse me, could you tell me where the shit-house is ?’ It went over the air as clear as a bell ! My reply was: ‘You’ve come to it.’….Needless to say, I promptly crossed back to the studio…..”

Fifty-three years after his debut behind the microphone, Des had his swansong call at a Fairfield Harness Meeting in 2001.

Des Hoysted, one of Wangaratta’s finest sporting exports, passed away in 2010, aged 88……

(With help from: John Tapp – Inside Racing)

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