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Australian Horse Racing Early History - Victoria
FLEMINGTON - In Victoria Horse racing officially began in 1838, and the first races were held on a course marked out next to Batman’s Hill (now the site of Southern Cross Station) on the 6th.and 7th.of March under the eye of the newly formed Melbourne Race Club. It wasn’t wildly successful - the first race “The Town Plate” was won by Postboy, but most of the starters in the second race refused to move and there were no takers at all for the third race. They had a Grinning (or Gurning) competition, won by a carpenter called Curwen who was so frighteningly ugly that the other competitors withdrew. Some poor woman who drank too much fell into the Yarra and drowned. In those days, horse racing was all about having fun, even if it killed you.
Flemington racecourse was originally known as Melbourne racecourse and was opened in 1840. The Flemington Hotel was built on Mt Alexander Rd in 1848 and a small township grew around it. By the 1850’s, the racecourse was commonly known as Flemington.
1861 saw the first running of the Melbourne Cup. It was widely believed that the winner Archer walked from Nowra to Melbourne, but it is now known that he travelled by sea. The wily trainer Etienne De Mestre kept the horse away from prying eyes by stabling Archer behind a pub in South Yarra and exercising in St. Kilda Park - later to be known as the Domain. Archer’s stable was still in existence at the hotel until about 1975. Archer also won the 1862 Cup and De Mestre was back again in 1867 to win with Tim Whifler; a well performed Sydney horse. De Mestre came back 1877 and ’78 to win again with Chester and Calamia, setting a record for Melbourne Cup trainers that would stand for 99 years until broken in 1977 by living legend Bart Cummings with Gold and Black.
ETTIENE DE MESTRE - De Mestre was the Bart Cummings of his day winning the first and second Sydney Cups, six Randwick Plates, four A.J.C. Derbies, four A.J.C. St. Ledgers, eight A.J.C. Queen’s Plate, three Australian Plate, a Craven Plate, three V.R.C. Derbies, a V.R.C. St. Ledger, a V.R.C Queen’s Plate with multiple Group wins in both Victoria and New South Wales. However, he was apparently a terrible punter often losing his entire stake winnings to the Bookies. He lost most of all he owned ending his days broke, but made a terrific contribution to the sport and is in the Racing Hall of Fame.
For more information about the Melbourne Cup at Flemington, see www.melbournecup.com.
THE BARB - 1866 saw The Barb win the A.J.C. Derby, the Sydney cup and Melbourne Cup with a rather odd result being called for the Melbourne race. The official placings were announced as The Barb 1st Exile 2nd nothing for 3rd. The grumpy old Judge reckoned he hadn’t been told the colours of the horse that came 3rd so there was no third runner. After some pressure a steward pinned a hand written note to the weighing stand the following day saying that Falcon had come 3rd. Still, several bookies refused to pay money on third place. The Barb also won the Sydney Cup 1869.
THE SHIPWRECK - In 1876 ten out of eleven horses bound for the Melbourne Cup from Sydney aboard the S.S. Citizen were lost in a fierce storm. In spite of pleas from the passengers and horse carers the Captain refused to turn back as the weather turned foul and he lost his wheelhouse, steering and nearly foundered. The only horse to survive was a colt later to be named Robinson Crusoe who nearly died but was saved by jockey Joe Morrison who kept rubbing him and feeding him beer and gin. Among the lost was Robin Hood trained by E. De Mestre - favourite for the Melbourne Cup. The bookmakers were so sorry they had a whip round and gave the Captain a sling out of the bets they didn’t have to pay. That was generous, wasn’t it?
The Captain’s Name was Paddle. Could this be the real origin of the expression “Up the creek without a paddle” meaning how a bookmaker feels when the favourite is leading by 2 lengths in the straight instead of being lost at sea?
CARBINE - 1885 a bay colt was foaled in New Zealand which was destined to make a resounding and still continuing impression on the World of Horse Racing. He was Carbine. He raced in N.Z. as a 2 year old winning 5 from 5 starts. Coming to Australia to be trained by Walter Hickinbotham he won the Sydney Cup in 1888 and ’89 and the Melbourne Cup 1890. As a 5 year old he ran 11 times for ten wins but he was unable to run in the ’91 Cup because of a foot injury. After he recovered he won six more W.F.A races before going to stud. Carbine was so popular that ladies were eager to grab a tail hair as a good luck charm. His race record was 33 wins from 43 starts and only missed a placing once.
Carbine stood at stud until 1895 and sired over 200 winners in Australasia and then was sold to the Duke of Portland to stand at Welbeck Abbey. He was put to the mares sired by his stable mate St. Simon, already the boom Stallion of the day, and together they founded a dynasty. Carbine sired Spearmint who won the English Derby, as did his Grandson Spion Kop, and his son Felstead. Possibly the most famous of his progeny was great- great-grandson Nearco for whom we have to thank such horses Sir Tristram, Zabeel, Might and Power, Northern Dancer who is in Sunlines pedigree and Makybe Diva who has a double dose of Northern Dancer and Nearco. When you think we are also talking Phar Lap, Gurners Lane, Kingston Town, Tulloch - most of the modern middle to staying distance horses running around today you can find Carbine influence.
Over half of the winners in the Melbourne Cup from 1914 to 1978 were descendents of ‘Old Jack’. The entire field of the 2009 Cup have Northern Dancer or Nasrullah (sometimes both) or Sir Tristram in their history which goes back to Nearco and the first 3 past the post in the 2009 Melbourne Cup have Nearco on both Sire and Dam sides of their pedigrees.
Danehill is the Great great grandson of Nearco and his influence on Australian breeding has been massive. Elvstroem has Danehill on his sire line and Star Kingdom on his Dam line and the story is similar for so many of the upcoming recent young sires such as Bel Esprit, Commands, Dash for Cash, Octagonal, Montjeu, Testa Rosa, Hussonet, Encosta de Lago.
Carbine left a huge worldwide legacy of superb breeding stock and finally died aged 29 and was buried at Welbeck Abbey where he scored his own tombstone. It simply reads: CARBINE, MUSKET – MERSEY, MELBOURNE CUP 1890
Also in 1930, Phar Lap was at the height of his remarkable career when, among many other races, he won the Melbourne Cup. Go here to read more about Australia's legend at Museum Victoria.
CAULFIELD - The 1840’s saw the opening of Caulfield racecourse, and it was said at the time that together with Randwick & Flemington they were the three best racecourses in the world. But conditions were a little rough and ready. In 1845, an unfortunate jockey called Dewing was leaving the weighing stand after his win on Wild Harry in the Melbourne Town Plate, when he was attacked by a disgruntled punter who almost killed him with a stick. Also, Mr. Edward Argyle, riding home from the meeting, was pursued by three ruffians for two miles before being knocked from his horse and robbed of his winnings.
In 1879 the Victorian Amateur Turf Club (now known as the Melbourne Racing Club) was established and the first Caulfield Cup was run, won by Newminster. This race, originally a mile and a half (now 2400 metres) would become an iconic handicap race which is always watched very carefully as a form indicator for the Melbourne Cup.
Winners of the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup Double in the same year are Poseidon 1906, The Trump 1937, Rivette 1939, Rising Fast1954, Even Stevens 1962, Galilee 1966, Gurner’s Lane 1982, Let’s Elope 1991, Doriemus, 1995, Ethereal 2001. The M.R.C. also runs the Sandown Racecourse, which becomes the quarantine station and home from home for the overseas horses and their entourage who come for the Spring Carnival.
MOONEE VALLEY - the venue for Australia's premier Weight for Age event, the W.S.Cox Plate. First run in 1922 over 9.5 Furlongs and won by Violoncello. It has gradually increased in distance and the course had the installation of a Strathayr track in 1995, making it a much slower track but good in all weather. The current record holder for the track and distance is Might and Power 1998 who is also the only reigning Melbourne Cup champion to win. Among the famous winners of the Cox Plate are Phar Lap 1930 & 1931, Kingston Town 1980, ’81, ’82, Saintly 1996, Makybe Diva 2005 & So You Think 2009 & 2010.
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