For racing enthusiasts the first Tuesday in November is Melbourne Cup day. A day that stops a nation and where a crowd of over 100,000 people gather at Flemington for Australia’s world renowned race.
First contested in 1861 the two mile handicap forms part of the Melbourne Spring racing carnival which is staged annually in October and November. Interestingly the first winner of the race was called Archer, who became the first dual winner when he triumphed the following year.
Since then there have been three other dual winners, whilst the mare Makybe Diva became the first treble winner in 2005 having also took the prize in 2003 and 2004. Perhaps the most famous winner was Australia’s wonder horse, Phar Lap, who won the 1930 race as an odds on favourite.
Whilst Bart Cummings trained the winner on a record breaking 12 times, over the past quarter of a century the race has taken on a more international flavour. With winners coming from Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand and America, the race has so far eluded the British raiders. Newmarket's Ed Dunlop trained Red Cadeaux has come close, finishing 2nd in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
One family who are entwined with the history of the race are the Freedmans, Lee and Anthony. Their first connection came via Anthony’s great grandfather Bill "Midge" McLachlan who rode three Melbourne Cup winners, the first in 1909.
Lee, who trained Makybe Dive to her last two victories, has saddled three other winners. Lee famously remarked after the mare’s third win "Go and find the youngest child on the course, because that's the only person here who will have a chance of seeing this happen again in their lifetime."
Very much part of the Freedman racing team has been Lee’s younger brother Anthony, who for a short period was training on his own after Lee’s retirement in 2011. However, since Lee’s return in 2014 the two have set up together in Flemington and Pinecliff where they train 110 horses.
Thanks to a family connection, Anthony’s son, Sam, who has been working at Roger Varian’s Kremlin House stables this year I have been fortunate to get Anthony’s thoughts on the Cup and his views on this year’s event.
Anthony began by mentioning his Great Grandfather, Bill McLachlan who rode 3 Melbourne Cup winners, the first jockey to do so at the time in the early part of the 20th century (1909, 1910 & 1917). In 1922 Bill came over to the UK to ride for his close friend and fellow Aussie Stanley Wootton where he also rode winners for King George V.
Anthony’s direct involvement came as a result of his father Tony, who purchased a stud farm near Canberra in the 1970’s. The Freedman training team of Lee and Anthony started in 1982 before they moved to Flemington, Victoria in 1984.
“My first memory of the Melbourne Cup would have been 1973 when we were allowed to watch it in class” said Anthony.
“I guess our first winner of the cup, Tawrrific in 1989 is a great memory, but Makybe Diva's 3rd success will never be done again and was a huge thrill to be a part of , my children were old enough to attend and I'm sure will also have great memories forever” recalled Anthony. Sam, then a nine year old schoolboy, still remembers that historic day "It was the first moment racing took over my emotions, I was only young but it got me interested and its part of the reason I love it now".
Lee and Anthony’s other winning horses came via the grey, Subzero in 1992 and Doriemus in 1995.
“The race still seems to "stop the nation " though probably more so in Victoria where it is a public holiday . However, the country does largely at least watch it live” said Anthony.
Asked about the race’s recent developments Anthony remarked “There is no doubt the race has changed in recent years with the influx of the Europeans. Horses that won in years past would probably struggle to win now. The atmosphere is still as electric, crowds are consistently around the 100,000 mark. The track is usually fair to all, the speed in the race is vital, last year’s race was very slow and saw a great deal of interference and a big priced winner in Prince of Penzance”.
“As far as jockeys go, there are some who ride distance races very well, patience and momentum are very important . The English riders have learnt to adapt to the race and will ride more and more of the winners in years to come” said Anthony. Ryan Moore had become the first English jockey to win the cup in 2014 with the German horse Protectionist.
“As for this year’s race, it seems very even. The Caulfield Cup winner, Jameka was very impressive and if she can run the trip will be in the finish. I'm sure the best of the Europeans will also be very prominent” said Anthony.
Leading European raiders currently expected to line up are the Michael Bell trained Big Orange, 5th in 2015, and Aidan O’Brien’s contender Bondi Beach. In addition Godolphin’s have a strong batch of Newmarket based entrants which include Caulfield Cup runner up Scottish, and Qewy, a recent winner of the Geelong Cup. Other interesting runners include the Irish trained duo Heartbreak City, who won this year’s Ebor and Wicklow Brave, the recent winner of the Irish St Leger where he defeated the subsequent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe 3rd,Order Of St George.
The current favourite is another Godolphin runner the home based Hartnell, who last weekend was beaten 8 lengths by the Australian super mare Winx in the Cox Plate.
“Our stable may have two runners. Our Ivanhowe ran well in the Caulfield Cup (6th) and should have run first 5 last year but for interference. If it rains his chances improve enormously. Exospheric also ran well in the Caulfield Cup (3rd) and is being considered for the Cup, if he lines up and can get the trip he will be very prominent” said Anthony. Exospheric, previously called Exosphere was trained by Sir Michael Stoute during the British summer before being purchased by Australian owners.
Whatever the outcome come 4am British time on Tuesday 1 November the racing world will be enthralled by the spectacle of a special race which stops a nation.
Thank you Anthony for sharing your memories and thoughts of the Melbourne Cup.
The main stand at Flemington photograph is by Jupiter Firelyte - Melbourne Cup 2013, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29453384