Picnic in the Park, is a legend of the Queensland Racing turf. He started 26 times, for 21 wins, 2 seconds, was twice unplaced and tragically once, his last start, he was unable to complete the course after badly breaking down.
Owner: Raabe Family
Trainer: Malcolm Raabe
Picnic in the Park won 21 races in a row over a period of approximately 6 months during the 1984-1985 season. This included many track records, and even 2 wins in one day at the Gold Coast.
This feat earned him recognition as equal first in Australian history for number of wins in one season along side Top Ace.
His 21 wins, was at the time an Australasian record and his run ended by severely breaking down whilst leading at Rockhampton heading for 22 wins in a row. That feat has since been eclipse by possibly the best sprinter Australia’s ever seen Black Caviar whose record stands at 25 consecutive wins, so it puts Picnic in the Park in rarefied company.
He also was a winner of a Queensland Horse of the Month award and was narrowly beaten by only 1 point for Queensland Horse of the Year.
In a remarkable career he was even given the odds of 80-1 on by many bookmakers on his 20th win at Townsville.
“Picnic In The Park – a gelding by Lunchtime out of the Todman mare Tod Lass was bought by Malcolm Raabe at a Sydney Inglis Tried Horse Sale for just $5000. He was owned by Inghams and he’d had a few starts and never won a race. He was a full brother to top Sydney juvenile Street Cafe. Malcolm had gone to Sydney to buy “5 or 6” tried horses and had seen a tape of Picnic In The Park and liked what he saw. “I went over to the stable at the sale and I could see he had really shelly feet – that was a trait of the Lunchtime breed, but I’d had a lot of farrier experience and I reckoned I could plate him without pricking him, so I took a punt, I’d just make sure the nails went in shallow. When I got him home, I got a phone call from (a well known Sydney jockey of that time – for legal reasons I won’t print it) and he said that the horse was a bleeder and would collapse in a race and kill a jockey. I took that advice and cut the horse’s grain right back and Percy Sykes (world renowned Sydney vet) gave me some ideas and he never ever bled on me” said Malcolm.
Picnic In The Park was ridden in most of his races by a Western Queensland jockey called Chris Smith from a little place called Muttaburra that is near Barcaldine. “Chris used to ride the circuit without much success and he was a nice person and I thought if I’d put him on I might get a price, rather than putting on a high profile jockey, so he just stayed with the horse. The only time Chris never rode him was when an apprentice rode him at his first start for me at Wondai – on the sand – and he blitzed them”. (That means Chris Smith rode the horse to 20 successive victories, yet the “Ampol Australian Sporting Records” says that “Chris Smith on Picnic In The Park at Queensland country tracks in 1984-1985 holds the record for the most successive winning rides on one horse (in Australia) – at 18”. So whilst the number is disputed between “18” and “20” , there is no dispute that Chris Smith owns the record.
Picnic In The Park won on all track ratings from fast to heavy and on surfaces of turf, dirt and sand in his 21 straight wins spread across about a six months timeframe.
Asked what was the highest weight that the horse carried, Malcolm couldn’t recall, but did say he tried to keep the horse in “set weights” races, so he didn’t have go carry the grandstand.
In another totally amazing statistic, Malcolm told me that Picnic In The Park was never hit with the whip in any of his 21 straight wins, continuing that “I only ever once let him go full bore on the track and that was against another horse which had won a heap of races in a row called King Solo that I trained and Picnic In The Park beat him half a furlong over 6 furlongs – and King Solo went to Sydney and won.
“He even won twice in the one day at the Gold Coast – one start over 5 furlongs (1000 metres) and the other over 6 furlongs (1200 metres) and that was one of those times I got on on the punt. A bookie bet me 6 to 4 on for him to win both”, Malcolm giggled – “He won both and I think he won his second start for the day by about 16 lengths!”.
Malcolm Raabe said that the horse received so much publicity Australia wide, he would field phone calls almost daily to buy the horse. “I’m sure he could have won any Group race I set him for – a Stradbroke, a Doomben 10,000. I had him insured for a million dollars and in the end I finished up selling a half share in him for $500,000 as I was taking him to Sydney after he’d won 22 races in a row. As it happened he smashed a sesamoid bone in seven places going for 22 in a row in that run when he was 6 or 8 lengths in front, so the money never changed hands. After his sesamoid injury I put his leg in a stainless steel cast imported from New Zealand for 3 to 4 months and he was able to walk okay when that came off. He was a wonderful patient which was a big help”.
Ironically Picnic In The Park’s record breaking 21st victory was to be shrouded in controversy when he received a positive swab to caffeine. “I knew that was bullshit”, said Malcolm, “he (Picnic In The Park) didn’t need any help to win, as I said before he’d never even been hit with the whip. I had 24 hour guards on the horse when he was going for all these records, so I knew no-one got to him”.
Picnic In The Park lost that win due to the positive swab. The press at the time reported “a glut of positive swabs to caffeine caused untold damage to the credibility of racing in Queensland…. and QTC officials were almost beside themselves in their anxiety to find the cause. The club duly cracked the code and confessed that a batch of faulty testing sticks, used in the laboratory, had introduced the caffeine into the swabs”.
“What a lot of bullshit”, said Malcolm. I rang the Premier (Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen) and the Racing Minister (Russ Hinze) and they had me picked up in a helicopter and flown to Brisbane. I told them there was swab tampering going on and showed them how easy it was. I went on national television and showed it there and a wholesale back down happened and all the penalties were waived and disqualified horses were re-instated.”
“Soon after the authorities raided my property and blood tested 7 horses. They implied I was putting my $500 stallion to a mare then charging the mare’s owner as if she had been to the $2500 one. I received a life disqualification and a big fine. They said they’d take me to court and I said let’s go – for then we’ll get an impartial arbitrator – but that never happened. There was only one place in Australia back then which could test the blood – in Sydney. They sent a second test to London, but by the time the blood got to London the blood was supposedly off. I kept those 7 horses here for ages and wanted more tests performed, but they never came back near here.
I told them to get stuffed and said I’d never pay the fine on principle, so I had no option but to walk away from the industry.
So a (now) 62 year old man walked away from what he loved on principle, but not before he and his horse Picnic In The Park had established a (then) Australasian record of 21 wins in a row. Picnic In The Park’s record was broken when Queensland country galloper Miss Petty won 22 consecutive races on 21/7/1989 when victorious at Longreach. She had equalled the record of Picnic In The Park on 1/7/1989 carrying 66 kilos and breaking the Longreach track record.
So rightly or wrongly, the name Malcolm Raabe is etched into Queensland racing history forever.
The “Murgon Marvel” Picnic In The Park had a record made about him – and amazingly the flip side was dedicated to Wondai’s Mate the great pacer nicknamed the “Wondai Wonder” from 10 kilometres up the road.
Picnic In the Park and Malcolm Raabe – who combined for wins from the Gold Coast to Townsville – remained together until the end, when the great galloper succumbed to a heart attack in his paddock a few years ago aged 19.
In the path of life if anyone ever says to you about Picnic In The Park “Oh, he was only a bush horse” – you take it from me – he could have won on any racetrack anywhere in Australia. Sadly fate intervened so he was never given the chance.”