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Race memories

Peter Pierce |  14 May 2006

Mahogany was one of the most versatile horses to race in Australia since Malua, a century before. In the 1990s he won the Victoria and AJC derbies, was nutted short head by Octagonal in a Cox Plate, and then sent back to sprinting, winning successive Lightning Stakes. A high rollers’ playground at Crown Casino is known as the Mahogany Room (Kerry Packer had a share in the horse). More modest punters can now get aboard a mechanical Mahogany as they enter Champions, the Australian Racing Museum and Hall of Fame.

Originally the Victorian Racing Museum, it was established at the Caulfield Racecourse in 1981. Recently it moved to Federation Square. For $8 visitors get an outstanding audio tour of the eclectic exhibits. The grey background highlights the brilliant racing silks and, as well, the hats and costumes of long-forgotten Fashions on the Field. Turn any corner and there will be video footage—of Harry White guiding us through Sobar’s stellar year of 1972, which included his controversial loss to Dayana in the Victoria Derby; of the crowds milling into Flemington on Cup Day in 1930 to see Phar Lap let down at the furlong and win by three with his ears pricked and Jim Pike up in the irons.

The remains of this horse are elsewhere, but Carbine’s skeleton is on show and behind it a hologram of the horse galloping with a thumping red heart. Nearby jockey George Moore shares a panel with trainer Tommy Smith. The former opines: ‘If there had been no racing, both Tom and I would have been out on the roads digging holes.’ Across the way is a shelf with 11 small trophies—won by Bart Cummings as the trainer of 11 winners of the Melbourne Cup. There are old horse paintings, the mounted hooves of Wakeful and Malua, and advertisements featuring the Capstan Cavalcade of Famous Winners. No doubt  the fag of choice for many trainers and jockeys long gone.

Listen to poetry about the horse in Australia, and to famous race calls. Jim Carroll’s 1934 Melbourne Cup is polite and leisurely—until Peter Pan dashes away. Ken Howard bemusedly calls Vain’s triumph in the 1969 Golden Slipper when he showed the Sydney hope to be anything but a Special Girl. Then there is the incomparable Bert Bryant, calling the two-horse race in 1970 between Rain Lover and Big Philou. In a tight finish, Bert plumped, rightly, for Big Philou: ‘If you got it wrong in a two-horse race, you’d have to give it up forever.’

Sadly the colour and prejudice that Bert brought to race-calling—he was often ‘talking through his kick’—have been suppressed. He would have risen an octave when the fine filly Alinghi was run down by Fastnet Rock in the Lightning Stakes, with Cape of Good Hope—placed in Group One in four countries—third. The winner is set to go travelling too, to Ascot, in the hoofprints of Choisir.

Next week the races went to Caulfield. If the Lightning had been the best recent edition of the race, so was the Orr Stakes. Before it, there were two more Blue Diamond preludes. In the colts’ event Perfectly Ready ran up to his name, but the big run was from the giant colt The Rhine. Watch for him in the Sires Produce. Langness led up in the fillies’ Prelude but weakened badly, while co-favourite Queen of the Hill was never sighted. Doubting was a good winner (and at 8/1, thanks). In the Orr, Regal Roller led and compounded: the class and the track bias against horses drawn near the rails undid him. But the fine horse Elvstroem added this race to a Derby and Caulfield Cup, winning from last year’s surprise Cox Plate victor, Savabeel. The latter should have won, but—as Bert Bryant would have said—it ‘covered more ground than the early explorers’. 

 



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