How Vintage Crop and a racing genius changed the Melbourne Cup forever
TIPPING POINT:Want to know how old you really are? Those of a certain age, think back to your youthful pomp, say a couple of decades ago. Feels like yesterday, right? Then imagine your youthful self doing the same sum. The result might as well be a sepia-tinted age of bowler hats and steam.
Such a date felt like deepest history. Well, that’s how you look to youngsters now: fossilised and f****d. Good morning/good morning!
Such thoughts have occurred because in the early hours of tomorrow, the Melbourne Cup, the race that famously ‘stops a nation’ takes place on its traditional first Tuesday in November date. Thus it is 19 years since yours truly watched first-hand the face of Australia’s most coveted sporting prize being changed forever by Vintage Crop.
That’s 1993 baby: 19 years prior to that was 1974. I can childishly remember bits of 1974. Heffo’s Army caught Cork at their most hubristic in the football. Kilkenny won the hurling wearing black and white stripes on the telly. Mick O’Connell still played for Kerry. John Giles’s only European Cup final was still a year away.
By 1993, though, all of that might as well have been Waterloo or Marengo for all the relevance it had to a callow hack on the trip of a lifetime.
It doesn’t do to get too Christopher Columbus about how a small but, ahem, select pack of journos travelled Down Under to watch how the first European-trained horses ever to contest the Melbourne Cup got on. But neither should its expeditionary nature be ignored.
Dermot Weld sent Vintage Crop. England’s Lord Huntingdon trained Drum Taps. If each camp represented a Nina and a Pinta, then being among a handful of British and Irish hacks felt a bit like skulking in a tail-gating Santa Maria. That is until we got there.
For Weld and Co, the focus of Aussie interest must have been oppressive. Media wise, the Cup is omnipresent on the front and back pages for weeks beforehand. Thus, with acres of newsprint to fill, even us trailing seagulls were being flung copious amounts of attentive sardines.
We were new and exotic. What did we think of Oz, of Melbourne, of how everything Aussie’s best – uggie-ugggie-uggie. There were invitations to Government House garden parties. Interviews on Melbourne radio. Polite inquiries from top Victorian officialdom as to our sexual well-being – “Gettin’ much, mate?” It was intoxicating stuff for those more used to suspicion and disdain.
Even basic terminology was different. Stable lads were ‘strappers’. The parade ring a ‘mounting yard’. There were betting terms like ‘quinella’ that might have been an exotic coffee for all we knew. And the racing norms were insane.