Another Wednesday, another twilight meeting at Sandown.
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Trainer Bart Cummings stands over the history of the Melbourne Cup, like the colossus phenomenon that he is.
He boasts the most entries (89), most wins (12), most seconds (6), most thirds (4), most fourths (5), most top-eight finishers (47), and most quinellas (5).
I unwittingly entered Melbourne Cup history for Cummings’ first win 1965. I was nine years old and at the urging of my parents, and after numerous questions regarding horse names, settled on Light Fingers as my tip.
You see, I was a huge fan of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and Light Fingers was a thief so dexterous that he could pick your pocket without you realising it. Her sire, Le Filou, was French for, the thief.
She duly won, ridden by Roy Higgins and beating stablemate Ziema in a thrilling last 300 metres or so, the two horses going neck to neck, then head to head, then nose to nose.
Of modern trainers, only Lee Freedman has come close, and he isn’t even close.
Freedman won five cups (1989-2005), and was lucky to inherit Makybe Diva for his last two wins. Freedman has also picked up four seconds and a fourth from 27 starters.
Before him, George Hanlon neatly won his three cups six years apart: 1972, 1978 and 1984. Hanlon saddled up 49 entries for three wins, three seconds, one third, two fourths and 15 top-eight placings.
The great Tommy Smith only won two cups from 52 attempts, many years apart, in 1955 and 1981. Smith also had two seconds and a third, and 17 top-eight finishers.
Another hall-of-famer, Colin Hayes, won two cups in 1980 and 1986 from 39 attempts. Hayes also had one second and four thirds, plus 13 top-eight finishers.
Back in the early years of the cup, it seems the leading trainers, especially from NSW, only entered horses if they thought they would win. Travelling, by sea especially, was both expensive and dangerous.
Etienne de Mestre, who oversaw the winner of the first two cups in 1861-62, Archer, won five cups between 1861-78, from just eight entries. His other horses each ran third.
John Tait was even more discerning. He won four cups between 1866-72, while his only other known runner ran third.
Walter Higginbotham saddled up four cup winners between 1888 and 1905, including the great Carbine. But he only entered eight times, including Carbine twice for a win and second.
Dick Bradfield trained four cup winners and won a second from 15 entries. His four winners were spread between 1894 and 1924.
The great James Scobie, a Victorian institution for nearly half a century, only entered 20 times. A piffling when you compare his longevity and number of entries to others. He trained his first cup winner in 1900, then came in a rush with three more between 1922-27. He also had one second.
Frank McGrath, who handled Peter Pan (1932 and ’34) won his first cup in 1909, giving him three victories and two thirds from 13 attempts.
There are several others of note to mention before we move onto the jockeys.
Lou Robertson was another Victorian institution in the first half of the 20th century. He had only one winner in 1935, but also achieved five seconds and three thirds.
The feisty Gai Waterhouse has saddled up 20 entries now, finally breaking through with Fiorente in 2013. She has also managed seconds and a fourth.
The Emirati Saeed Bin Suroor has now tried 19 times to win the great cup, and has managed three seconds and one third.
Dermot Weld, the man who opened the cup to overseas interests, has had 12 entries for two winners (Vintage Crop in 1993 and Media Puzzle in 2002), one second (Vinnie Roe 2004), one third (Vintage Crop 1995) and one fourth (Vinnie Roe 2002).
The most successful jockeys have been Bobby Lewis and Harry White, with four wins each. Midge McLachlan, Darby Munro, Jack Purtell, Jimmy Johnson, Damian Oliver and Glen Boss have won three cups each.
The top 10 most successful jockeys are as follows:
1. Bobby Lewis (1895-1931): starts 33, wins 4, seconds 4, thirds one, fourth two, winning rides 1902, ’15, ’19, ’27.
2. Harry White (1963-93): starts 24, placings 4-0-0-2, winning rides 1974, ’75, ’78, ’79.
3. Midge McLachlan (1906-21): starts 14, placings 3-2-1-1, winning rides 1909, ’10, ’17.
4. Damian Oliver (1989-2014): starts 25, placings 3-2-0-1, winning rides 1995, 2002, ’13.
5. Glen Boss (1995-2014): starts 13, placings 3-1-1-3, winning rides 2003, ’04, ’05.
6. Jack Purtell (1940-63): starts 19, placings 3-1-1-1, winning rides 1947, ’53, ’54.
7. Darby Munro (1932-53): starts 18, placings 3-0-0-0, winning rides 1934, ’44, ’46.
8. Jimmy Johnson (1954-75): starts 10, placings 3-0-0-0, winning rides 1963, ’68, ’69.
9. Roy Higgins (1959-79): starts 18, placings 2-2-2-4, winning rides 1965, ’67.
10. Peter Cook (1968-87): placings 2-2-1-1, winning rides 1981, ’84.
Two original hall-of-famers, Scobie Breasley and George Moore, both dipped out.
Breasley, despite winning five Caulfield Cups, could only manage two seconds and a third from 14 starts. He also won two English Derbies and four English jockey premierships.
Moore, despite his 10 Sydney jockey premierships and wins in world renowned races like the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe, English Derby and King George VI Stakes, could manage just one third from 19 attempts in the great race.