Another Wednesday, another twilight meeting at Sandown.
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Apparently the VRC intend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of trainer Bart Cummings winning his first Melbourne Cup with Light Fingers back in 1965.
Less well known is that it will also be 50 years since I witnessed my first Melbourne Cup, at the tender age of nine.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was with Bart his entire journey of 12 Cup wins.
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I still remember watching the grainy black and white footage, and the excitement welling in the race announcer’s voice, as stablemates Light Fingers and Ziema fought nose to nose, alone for the last 200 metres or so.
It almost seems like yesterday and like louvres allowing some light in and blocking the rest, my memory is a mixed bag of those long ago days.
I remember my folks asking me to pick a horse for the Melbourne Cup, and after dozens of questions – beginning with, “what’s the Melbourne Cup?” – I settled on Light Fingers, fluking the winner.
Naturally, I was over the moon to pick the winner at my first attempt, and immediately fell in love with horse racing. Henceforth, every horse trained by Cummings, or ridden by jockey Roy Higgins, was an automatic selection.
Again, another happy coincidence, as both Cummings and Higgins had just started their dominance of major carnivals and racing in general on the east coast of Australia, for the next 15 years at least.
For my own commemoration of the past 50 Melbourne Cups, I thought I would select the best 24 winners since 1965. Well actually, 23 winners and one runner-up.
Most of the horses actually pick themselves.
Firstly, chose the multiple cup winners – Makybe Diva (2003, 04, 05), Think Big (1974, 75) and Rain Lover (1968, 69).
Then I chose the dual Melbourne and Caulfield Cup winners (same year) – Galilee (1966), Gurner’s Lane (1982), Let’s Elope (1991), Doriemus (1995), Might And Power (1997) and Ethereal (2001).
Next came the Melbourne and Caulfield Cup winers in different years – Viewed (2008, 09) and Dunaden (2011, 12).
Horses who finished first and second in the Melbourne Cup deserve a place – Gold And Black (1977, 76) Empire Rose (1988, 87) and Fiorente (2013, 12). Doriemus also ran second in 1997.
So do those horses who finished first and third – Hyperno (1979, 77) and Vintage Crop (1993, 95).
I chose several horses for their overall quality – Light Fingers (1965), Saintly (1996) and Americain (2010).
Now came selections for various other reasons.
Dramatic last-to-first win: Kiwi (1983).
Race record of 3 minutes, 16.1 seconds: Kingston Rule (1990).
Huge emotion involving jockey: Media Puzzle (2002).
Most emphatic win (at least in recent times): Protectionist (2014).
This leaves one final place, and although he never won the race, the three seconds in 2011, 13 and 14 by Red Cadeaux make him a worthy contender for the field.
Of course, Red Cadeaux gets another chance in 2015. Could he?
Much has changed since 1965.
For a start, that was the last year of prize money in pounds, shillings and pence. Decimal currency arrived in Australia the following February.
Weights and distances in 1965 were imperial, but both changed in 1972. The Melbourne Cup changed from two miles to 3200 metres, while weights changed from stones and pounds to kilograms.
In 1965, the weights ranged from 59.5 kilograms (9.5) down to 43 kilograms (6.11). In 2014 the weight range band was much narrower, 58.5 kilograms (9.3) down to 51 kilograms (8.0).
In 1965, the only overseas horses, trainers and jockeys came from New Zealand. In 2014, there were 12 overseas-owned horses, 10 trainers and five jockeys. And that’s not including the Kiwis, who are now locals.
In 1965 prize money was 30,000 pounds, plus a gold cup valued at 750 pounds. In 2014 prize money was $6 million plus $200,000 worth of trophies.
By the 1980s, the Melbourne Cup was becoming a parody of itself as people became swept up in sprints and mile races. But in the 1990s, with the dramatic win by Irish horse Vintage Crop in 1993, the floodgate was opened to overseas horses. Forever it seems.
Bart also found his second wind, and after being winless for 11 years, added another four cups to his name in the ’90s. The Cup was reborn!
Today the Melbourne Cup enjoys its status as a truly international, quality handicap race.
Below is the composite 24-horse field, with birthdate, weight, trainer and jockey.
In cases where there are two or three horses for the same jockey, I was able to find another jockey who rode a particular horse in another cup (other than the winning ride).
1. Rain Lover, b.1964, 60.5, Mick Robins, Jimmy Johnson
2. Think Big, b.1970, 58.5, Bart Cummings, Harry White
3. Makybe Diva, b.1998, 58, Lee Freedman, Glen Boss
4. Gold And Black, b.1973, 57, Bart Cummings, John Duggan
5. Red Cadeaux, b.2005, 57, Ed Dunlop, Michael Rodd (Mosse)
6. Galilee, b.1962, 56.5, Bart Cummings, John Miller
7. Protectionist, b.2009, 56.5, Andreas Wohler, Ryan Moore
8. Hyperno, b.1973, 56, Bart Cummings, Brian Andrews (White)
9. Gurner’s Lane, b.1978, 56, Geoff Murphy, Len Dittman
10. Might And Power, b.1993, 56, Jack Denman, Jimmy Cassidy
11. Vintage Crop, b.1986, 55.5, Dermot Weld, Michael Kinnane
12. Saintly, b.1992, 55.5, Bart Cummings, Darren Beadman
13. Fiorente, b.2008, 55, Gai Waterhouse, Damian Oliver
14. Doriemus, b.1990, 54.5, Lee Freedman, Greg Hall (Oliver)
15. Americain, b.2004, 54.5, Alain Royer-Dupre, Gerard Mosse
16. Dunaden, b.2005, 54.5, Mikel Delzangles, Christophe Lemaire
17. Empire Rose, b.1982, 53.5, Laurie Laxon, Tony Allen
18. Kingston Rule, b.1985, 53, Bart Cummings, Shane Dye (Beadman)
19. Viewed, b.2003, 53, Bart Cummings, Blake Shinn
20. Light Fingers, b.1961, 52.5, Bart Cummings, Roy Higgins
21. Media Puzzle, b.1996, 52.5, Dermot Weld, Pat Smullen (Oliver)
22. Kiwi, b.1977, 52, Snowy Lupton, Noel Harris (Cassidy)
23. Ethereal, b.1997, 52, Sheila Laxon, Scott Seamer
24. Let’s Elope, b.1987, 51.5, Bart Cummings, Steven King
Just don’t ask me who would win!