MEMORABLE MELBOURNE CUPS:
PRINCE OF PENZANCE:
The quintessential tale of the boy from the bush, a girl with a dream and a horse whose dicey legs had stopped him from showing his best – until the Melbourne Cup.
But Darren Weir is much more than a bush trainer. After three decades of homing his craft Weir is Victoria’s premier trainer and the Australian record holder.
Before the 2015 Melbourne Cup Michelle Payne had already won more Group One races than any other Australian female rider and was no stranger to the big stage.
Payne had an affinity with Prince Of Penzance who she identified a couple of years earlier as the horse who could give her a Melbourne Cup win and had ridden him in all his 22 starts leading into the Cup.
She had run the race in her head many times, her brother Stevie had done his part by drawing barrier one, Weir had the horse primed – and history was made as Payne nad her prince got the better of Frankie Dettori on Irish horse Max Dynamite.
The win made both trainer and jockey famous. But Weir, who started out with several leading Cup chances this season has none, Payne’s momentum was stopped by a serious race-fall injury and Prince Of Penzance hurt himself once again and is unlikely to race again.
But the story will endure.
As the Melbourne Cup becomes more and more global, the 2014 edition heralded a first for Germany with Protectionist powering away from his rivals to beat English horse Red Cadeaux who had to settle for second for a third time.
It was left to Who Shot Thebarman to uphold antipodean pride with the former New Zealander running third for Sydney trainer Chris Waller.
The Andreas Wohler-trained Protectionist was ridden by champion British jockey Ryan Moore and completed a clean sweep of the spring’s big three races for overseas-trained horses with Irish horse Adelaide winning the Cox Plate and Japan’s Admire Rakti the Caulfield Cup.
But while Wohler was celebrating the Cup win for Germany, the Cup drama was unfolding in the horse stalls where the favourite Admire Rakti was in distress.
After leading the race, Admire Rakti dropped back through the field and finished last.
Surrounded by vets and stable staff, the big horse collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack casting a pall over the race.
More was to come with seventh-placed Araldo injuring his leg as he was spooked by a person waving a flag as he made his way back from the finish line.
What looked like a serious injury turned into a fatal one later that night when the best veterinary advice was that his leg was broken beyond repair.
It put a dampener on the Cup and forced changes to protocols for crowd control.
The Cup winner Protectionist remained in Australia but hard tracks took their toll and he was returned to Wohler. He won the Group One Preis Von Berlin in August 2016.
An American-bred, Australian-owned horse trained by a Frenchman and ridden by a Hong Kong-based jockey made the 2010 Melbourne Cup a truly global event.
Americain reigned supreme over one of the best Cup fields ever assembled, with emerging star Maluckyday chasing him home for second, relegating race and crowd favourite So You Think to third and denying Bart Cummings a 13th trophy.
Melbourne businessmen Gerry Ryan and Kevin Bamford paid $US225,000 for American and plotted an unusual course for the Cup, sending him to Alain De Royer-Dupre at Chantilly on the outskirts of Paris.
Gerald Mosse, Americain’s French rider who spends much of his time in Hong Kong, did his homework and kept $3 shot So You Think, the shortest-priced Cup favourite in 39 years, in his sights from the outset.
“So You Think, I wanted to keep him not too far away and I didn’t want to give him too much (start),” he said.
“I saw So You Think start to go and I followed him. At the 250 (metres) I am going to catch him.
“I definitely enjoyed that moment. It’s something very special.”
THE CUPS KING:
Bart Cummings’ first taste of Melbourne Cup success came when as a 23-year-old, he strapped Comic Court for his father Jim in 1950.
In 1965 he earned his own place in Australian racing folklore when Light Fingers won.
By the time he died in August 2015, James Bartholomew Cummings had trained 12 Cup winners and claimed the quinella five times to endear himself to the public as the Cups King.
Once he started winning, Cummings didn’t stop.
Hot on the heels of his Light Fingers-Ziema quinella, Cummings provided the Cup one-two the following year with Galilee beating Light Fingers and made it a hat-trick when Red Handed scored in 1967.
Cummings had to wait seven years for his next Cup with Think Big owned by Dato Tan Chin Nam, a Malaysian businessman who became a lifelong friend.
Think Big did not win another race for 12 months, returning to Flemington to break the drought.
Gold And Black was the next Cup winner off Cummings’ production line in 1977 and Hyperno did the trick in 1979.
Cummings then endured his longest stretch without a Cup runner, having to wait 11 years until Kingston Rule brought up win number eight.
He was quickly followed by the mighty mare Let’s Elope in 1991.
Saintly scored for Cummings and Dato Tan in 1996, Rogan Josh won in 1999 before Viewed brought up No.12 in 2008.
Viewed also raced in the colours of Dato Tan who shares the record of four Cup wins as an owner with Lloyd Williams who has three runners in 2015.
And while Dato Tan may not hold on to the ownership record, the training record belong to one man with Lee Freedman the next best on five.
Before the big European stables turned their attention to the Melbourne Cup in the 1990s, it was the New Zealanders who were the bane of the local trainers.
They hit hard – and often – in Australia’s greatest race, most notably when Kiwi stole the show in 1983 with his unbelievable finishing burst from last of 24 runners to claim the Cup with a youthful Jim Cassidy in the saddle.
Trained by sheep farmer Snow Lupton and owned by him and his wife Anne, Kiwi was bought as a yearling for only $NZ1,000 – Anne liked the Blarney Kiss breed and wanted a chestnut.
Lupton rounded up the sheep on his farm on Kiwi between races and after he won the Wellington Cup (3200m) in January 1983 the Luptons targeted the Melbourne Cup over the same distance.
They turned heads when they only brought him over for the Cup six days before the race after he had won the Egmont Cup (2100m) on October 19.
Thirteen days later they were the toast of Australasian racing after Kiwi dropped out to last and was still there, some 25 or 30 lengths off the lead, at the 800m.
Cassidy began to weave a passage through the field on the 9-1 chance but victory still looked a forlorn hope until Kiwi went whoosh in the final 100 metres.
So fast did he come that he beat Noble Comment, who was being hailed the winner at the 50 metres, by a widening 1-3/4 lengths.
“I was mentally preparing my acceptance speech until Kiwi came along,” Noble Comment’s trainer George Hanlon said.
THE WETTEST CUP:
“What’s this one, it could be Reckless,” the beleaguered race commentator said as the 1976 Cup field ploughed through mud deep enough in the home straight to make Flemington resemble a paddy field.
Visibility was reduced to a couple of hundred metres so it was no surprise race-callers could not pick up the runners until the closing stages of the race.
But the horse powering down the outside and surging away to triumph was not Reckless but a New Zealand raider called Van Der Hum.
With Bob Skelton in the saddle, Van Der Hum continued New Zealand’s dominance of the race in the 1970s during which five of the 10 winners were bred in the Land Of The Long White Cloud.
Some patrons were aptly attired in flippers and snorkel and seen skidding along the Flemington lawns as the heavens opened like never before on Cup day.
The race most certainly would not have been run under those conditions in the modern day for health and safety reasons.
“I nearly went down going out of the straight the first time – Battle Heights had been bandaged behind and the bandages started unravelling … Van Der Hum got on to one of the bandages and it nearly pulled his legs from under him … they were like streamers,” Skelton later said.
More than three-quarters of a century on and he is still revered as the greatest thoroughbred to grace the Australian turf.
Phar Lap’s never-to-be-repeated spring of 1930 inspired an Australia in desperate need of heroes at the height of the Great Depression.
After strolling home by four lengths in the Cox Plate – at 1-7 – Phar Lap famously survived a shooting attempt on his life on Derby Day just hours before he easily won the Melbourne Stakes.
Three days later the nation was held in thrall as the “Red Terror”, burdened with a record weight for a four-year-old of 9st 12lb (62.5kg), became the first and still the only odds-on favourite to triumph in the race that stops a nation – the Melbourne Cup.
Phar Lap did what will never be done again by winning on all four days of the Cup carnival – over different distances.
Two years later Phar Lap went off to conquer the world and started by winning the then world’s richest race in Mexico on March 20, 1932.
Just 16 days later he died in mysterious circumstances in America and Australia mourned as one.
The big horse was gone but the legend had just begun.
Conceived in Ireland and born in England, Makybe Diva was brought to Australia by her tuna fisherman owner Tony Santic when she was unwanted at auction overseas.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Trained by David Hall and ridden by big-race specialist Glen Boss, Makybe Diva unleashed a whirlwind finish to win the 2003 Cup running away.
When Hall headed to Hong Kong, champion trainer Lee Freedman took over her preparation and promptly sent her on a mission which had never before been successfully completed – a mare winning back-to-back Melbourne Cups.
But the almost unbelievable best was yet to come.
Lumbered with topweight of 58kg and then a seven-year-old mare, most of whom are usually at stud, Makybe Diva did the virtually impossible and won an unprecedented third successive Cup.
The mighty mare had nothing left to prove and was immediately retired.
The locals said he couldn’t win.
Bart Cummings wandered around Flemington in the days before the 1993 Melbourne Cup saying the “pommie” horses couldn’t win.
David Hayes was more circumspect but couldn’t bring himself to take the visitors altogether seriously.
Lee Freedman didn’t think they’d be competitive and another prominent local trainer, John Meagher, reckoned Vintage Crop and his travelling mate Drum Taps were obviously good horses, “but it’s different over here”.
He was closest to the mark.
Vintage Crop was obviously good and his win ensured the Melbourne Cup would be very different from that day on.
The victory by the Dermot Weld-trained Vintage Crop was the first time the Cup had not been won by Bart Cummings, or any other Australian or New Zealand trainer, and changed the shape of Australia’s most famous race forever.
His win opened the floodgates for the overseas raiders. Weld would come back in 2002 and do the deed again with Media Puzzle, further whetting the appetites of the international brigade to the extent that these days their numbers in the big race almost match the Australasian representation.
One knock-on effect of Weld’s Cup double was the spread of the Melbourne Cup’s appeal throughout the thoroughbred racing world.
The magnificent Makybe Diva won the hearts of Australia with her unprecedented, probably never to be seen again “threepeat” in the Cup in 2003-04-05.
With no Diva in 2006, it was left to Japanese trainer Katsuhiko Sumii to shake Australian racing to the core when his pair of Delta Blues and Pop Rock streeted the locals to claim an historic quinella in the “race that stops a nation”.
Jockey Yasunari Iwata, riding away from Japan for the first time, turned in an inspired performance on Delta Blues who just pipped his stablemate and equal favourite Pop Rock in a photo-finish, with Maybe Better the best of the Aussies a distant 4-1/2 lengths away third.
Australian pride was restored in 2007 with the win of the Lloyd Williams-owned Efficient over Luca Cumani’s Purple Moon from England.
In 1993 Gai Waterhouse produced Te Akau Nick to run second in the Melbourne Cup.
The only horse to beat him was Vintage Crop, beginning the annual invasion of northern hemisphere horses to Australia for our most famous race.
A couple of years later, Waterhouse ran Victoria Derby winner Nothin’ Leica Dane in the Cup but the more experienced Doriemus was too strong and the trainer settled for second again.
By the time the 2012 Cup came around, Waterhouse had well and truly embraced the growing trend to source stayers from Europe.
At his first Australian start, Fiorente gave Waterhouse her third second place finish in the Cup when runner-up to Green Moon, laying the foundation for 12 months later.
And 20 years and more than 100 Group One winners since her first Cup runner, Waterhouse fulfilled her destiny when Fiorente relegated Red Cadeaux to second.
It was a moment to savour for one of Australia’s most prolific trainers and she proudly took the Cup with her everywhere she went, posing with photographs of Australia’s most prized racing trophy.
Just how hard it is to win the Cup is underlined by the record of Waterhouse’s father, the late TJ Smith who set training records that will stand the test of time.
But even he could only manage to win the race twice – in 1955 with Topora and 1981 with Just A Dash.