THE modern-day Melbourne Cup kicked off in 1956 and since then has arguably become the most sought-after race to win on the greyhound racing calendar, much like its horse racing counterpart.
A decade later and its already impressive history was given a huge boost when the brilliant Paul Hogan-bred, owned and trained black and white bitch Cheltenham Lass (Black Top x Fairbairn Queen) became the first of her sex to make the final of the Melbourne Cup for a second successive year.
Previously, only Style Bird (1956, 1957), the smart Saskaview, third in 1962 behind kennelmate Saskagay, and then victorious in 1963, and Rocket Streak (won in 1964 and sixth in 1965) had made the final of the race in two successive years.
For Victorians, her presence in the 1966 final was a perfect potential rebuttal to the presence of three New South Wales’ contenders: Early Pace, Rev’s Elk and Thunder Lane. NSW, at the time, was still seeking its first success in the event.
A year earlier, Cheltenham Lass had burst onto the racing scene, winning her maiden at her first start over the 555 yards (507 metres) trip at Sandown Park at the astounding odds of 1/10 ($1.01).
She continued to perform well at Sandown Park, winning the Laurels Classic in early September, collecting £500 for the win, and establishing a race record time of 30.12/16. She also annexed the Lord Mayor’s Cup at Olympic Park.
Paul Hogan knew he had a top-class bitch on his hands and the December 1963 whelping was raced quite sparingly, and generally kept for the major races. Of course, this was a long time before Group racing and major events were nowhere near as frequent as they are in the modern era.
Set for the 1965 Melbourne Cup, Cheltenham Lass won her way through to the final but drew awkwardly in box four. In a thrilling race she had to be content to finish a three-quarters of a length second behind the smart Kinta’s Son in a fast 30.10/16.
Taken to Sydney, she made the final of the Sprinter’s Christmas Gift over 500 yards (457 metres) at Harold Park, but could only finish seventh behind Blast Off in the January 1 final.
Her next major campaign was the 1966 Australian Cup at Olympic Park where she qualified for the final with a strong semi-final victory in track record time.
She drew box four in the final and among those opposed to her in the final was her Melbourne Cup victor Kinta’s Son, but it was the Monty Tomblin-trained Billy Vee who used box one to full advantage to win by two and half lengths in a sensational 30.4/16 for the 560 yards (511 metres) trip.
Cheltenham Lass finished second after being badly checked early and coming from a long way back. It was the run Paul Hogan later identified as being the best of her career.
When the 1966 Melbourne Cup series came around, it was no surprise to see Cheltenham Lass yet again forge her way to victory in her semi-final and take her place once more in the prestigious final.
Drawn out in box seven suited her and this time Cheltenham Lass made no mistakes as she powered away to a brilliant four lengths victory over the smart Fawn Nulla with NSW hope Thunder Lane in third place.
As Paul Hogan later said, “Her Laurels win was excellent, but the Melbourne Cup win was my biggest thrill.”
The brilliant bitch then went on to make the final of the 1967 Australian Cup and finished a three-lengths second behind Fawn Nulla. The winner held the Olympic Park and Sandown Park sprint track records at the time.
Cheltenham Lass thus became the only greyhound to have ever made the final of the biggest two sprint races held in Victoria four times, scoring one win and three second placings.
After making the final of the Olympic Park Sprint Championship later in 1967, Cheltenham Lass finished third, beaten just over half a length.
It was her last start, as she then dropped a back muscle and was forced into retirement.
All told, she raced 43 times for 16 wins and 13 placings and is still recognised as one of the stars of Victorian racing.
2016 Group 1 Melbourne Cup – market
1 – Barton Bale -$8
2 – Worm Burner – $7.50
3 – Zambora Brockie – $2.25
4 – Tripum – $12
5 – Ando’s Mac – $9
6 – Outside Pass – $8 with William Hill
7 – Matt Machine – $41
8 – Jesaulenko – $8.50
1st Res – Blazin’ Bomber – $10
2nd Res – Bruce Tycoon – $34