“I’ll tell ya something, I’m missing the old bloke.”

On the other end of the line is the unmistakable matter of fact voice of Graham Salisbury.

Graham is old school, tough handshake, man of word, says it like it is – or colloquially let’s say “as tough as bird shit on the car roof” – but when it comes to the “old bloke” the voice starts to quiver a little.

The old bloke is Subbie – Subzero, the 1992 Melbourne Cup hero but since so much more – he has been racing’s best ambassador alongside Graham for over a quarter of a century.

They’ve visited countless, schools and old peoples home, walks into bars and hospices – this is a horse, well not just any horse, he’s Subbie – and made thousands laugh admire and engage with racing and the thoroughbred via their unique partnership.

The reason Graham is missing Subbie is because he is in a Bendigo isolation ward battling cancer and the side-effects of treatment.

Never one to want sympathy, never one to take when he can give, Graham is doing it tough right now both physically and financially, but what’s the old saying – “when the going gets tough….”

“The doctor came in the other day and said “I’ve never come across anyone like you before – you just don’t give a f..k do you”.

“I said ‘I do’ but “there is no point in two of us worrying about it.”

“But I’ll tell ya another thing – it hasn’t taken my spirit”

That’s typical Graham.

“Sometimes I feel like I can jump out a window and fly – 10 minutes later I feel down. I’ll take this to the grave but it won’t beat me.”

The specialists have told Salisbury to “get comfortable, you’ll be here for a while.”

“It’s a beautiful spot but I don’t want to be here, the only thing keeping me going is the old bloke and that other horse,” Said Salisbury.

The other horse is the family’s picnic performer Norsika, a winner at Yea, Mansfield and Healeseville on the circuit last season and who carries the Subzero colours when she races.

She was meant to be racing at the Avoca professionals today but Salisbury was too ill to make the nomination and acceptance, let alone the trip to the races.

“I’ve got cancer in the top of the spine between the shoulder blades,” said Salisbury.

“I’ve got no soreness at the moment, I’ve got plenty of movement but of course they are concerned about it.

“They are just hopeful it doesn’t get into the spinal cord, otherwise I’m in a bit of bother, probably out of business.”

That’s Graham.

Doctors have got the odds in Salisbury’s favour at the moment with ongoing chemo and treatment. They’ve rated him a 65% chance of coming right. “So I’m a bit over half, that’s good hey,” said Salisbury.

That’s Graham.

Phone calls of support from people like ex-jockey Jimmy Cassidy and so many others have buoyed Salisbury’s spirits, but he never wants it about him. It’s about the old bloke Subbie and what they share.

The Graham and Subbie show hasn’t been on the road since Melbourne Cup day last year when they entertained another 400 amazed kids at an Ascot Vale school breakfast doing all the old tricks, the bowing, the answering questions with a much practices nod like “do you have a girlfriend Subbie?”

It never tires that one.

Amazingly, Subzero is now out of contract with Racing Victoria. Subbie is a remarkable 29 but in rude health, amazing considering less than two years ago Salisbury was contemplating the unthinkable when Subbie was struggling with long term ligament issues.

Salisbury wants to get the band back together and is open to offers to continue Subbie’s great show. But make no mistake this is a team of two.

“I want to get back to the farm with Subbie. We are mates. Every afternoon I take out a couple of stubbies, I sit on a bucket, give him his feed, he gets one stubbie and I drink the other, that’s it”.

That’s Graham.

“He’s 29 and the vets say they can’t believe what shape he is in. I reckon he is missing me too.”

That’s Subbie.

“I’ll tell ya something, I’ll be back doing what I love doing bigger and better than ever with Subbie.”

That’s Graham



By Bruce Clark