Hammered at the heath

I hadn’t been to Caulfield since Redoubte’s Choice came again to beat Testa Rossa in the
Guineas. On this Orr Stakes day in February the course had never looked better, but it was now under the control of the Melbourne Racing Club, the new (or recycled) name for the Victoria Amateur Turf Club. Whatever the name, the club was blessed with a couple of standout events. Even so, only 8300
punters turned up.

My friend Graeme and I walked into Caulfield to encounter Bart Cummings even before we saw a horse. The trainer had only one runner for the day, Frightening. It’s not home yet. That week racegoers in Melbourne were overwhelmed with choice. There were meetings at each of the four metropolitan tracks in the space of five days. Wednesday was the Lakeside track at Sandown. There is also a Hillside track. Punters are working on the difference. Thursday was a night meeting at Moonee Valley, delayed because someone forgot to order the ambulances. That was no joke with the spate of jockey deaths and serious injuries in the last months.

At the weekend there were Group One races at Caulfield on Saturday (the Orr) and at Flemington on Sunday (the Lightning Stakes). But the first horse we wanted to see at the Heath (Caulfield) was the
ill-named and unfashionably bred Murphy’s Blu Boy, seven-lengths winner at his last start and long odds-on today for the colts’ Blue Diamond Prelude. At one stage the betting on the race was 20/1 bar one.

The colt was down from the Queensland border town of Goondiwindi. Owned by battlers, it was

bidding fair to be a ‘people’s horse’ and to follow in the hoofprints of the champion Gunsynd, from the same town (hence The Goondiwindi Grey). I’d seen Gunsynd win the Futurity Stakes in 1972 while I was on the way to a wedding. Essentially a miler, he ran third in the 1972 Melbourne Cup at 3200 metres,
giving the winner, the Tasmanian Piping Lane, 12.5kg in weight. Today Murphy’s Blu Boy had to run 1100 metres.

He did, but weakened into second. Think of the new part-owners, who had paid $700,000 for 49 per cent of him during the week. One wag calculated that this race cost them $10,000 a second as Murphy’s Blu Boy led till near the post, but was run down by the flashing Hammerbeam, which had been two lengths off the second last horse before the turn. Darren Gauci, Hammerbeam’s jockey, had spoilt the party and caused an indecent form reversal. At its previous start, his horse had been 12 lengths adrift of Murphy’s Blu Boy.

The Prelude for fillies had gone to a good one, the oddly-spelled Halibery (school or Oscar winner?). She ran nearly half a second faster than Hammerbeam would. Then it was time for the Orr Stakes at 1400 metres. Despite the distance, three Melbourne Cup winners won the race in the 1990s: Let’s Elope, Jeune and Saintly. On this day there was Australia’s champion racehorse, Northerly, resuming, together with Fields of Omagh, the gelding that he had narrowly beaten in the last Caulfield Cup. Fancied too were the three-year-olds—the brilliant filly Innovation Girl and the John Hawkes-trained
gelding Yell, which the stable thought might not be up to Group One class.

Yell hadn’t heard. He and Innovation Girl cleared out from the rest, with Yell camped on her outside. He took over near the post, where he veered out into the path of the hurtling Fields of Omagh. The race was almost over, the margin decisive, but the jockey of the second horse nevertheless lodged a churlish protest that was quickly dismissed. The air-raid siren sounded and the announcement was made that Yell had kept the race. Gauci was in the saddle this time as well.

Hammerbeam will be one to watch in the Guineas in the spring. Yell goes on to the Futurity, a shin-sore Murphy’s Blu Boy to the paddock. On the Sunday, Choisir tracked alone down the flatside rail and easily won the Lightning. Dextrous (Gauci again) took the Vanity cleverly. At Caulfield, the Melbourne Racing Club would have been happy with its day of racing, if not the crowds. For racegoers in Melbourne only flock in the springtime, to the soulless vastness of Flemington. At Caulfield, if they choose, they can come to the best course in the country. 

Peter Pierce is Eureka Street’s turf correspondent.



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