The Vic Peters Memorial Classic is the oldest age-restricted event in New South Wales. Since its inauguration as the Harold Park Classic in 1951 it has showcased some of the best sprinters ever seen on Australian racetracks.
Part of the reason for this, at least in the early years, was twofold. First, it was the richest of the age classics in terms of prize money. For example, when Cantee won the race in 1957 for Victoria (against a field of 10 starters by the way), the winning cheque was £1,900, the equivalent of $3,800. By way of comparison, when the first Australian Cup was run the following year, the champion Rookie Rebel was awarded £800, or $1,600.
Second, there just weren’t that many major races being conducted in the period between 1951 and about 1970. Indeed, in 1951, about the only major races conducted around the country that are still being run today were the Hobart Thousand, Launceston Cup, and Queensland Cup (at Beenleigh).
It is easy to forget that night racing did not become a reality until 1972 in Queensland, for example and greyhound racing was not even legalised until 1974 in Western Australia.
These days we are so used to seeing some Group event being finalised somewhere around the country pretty much every week. Indeed, there are so many Group races in the modern era it’s easy to become blasé about them.
Despite the occasional hype, it is rare for a major race final, especially a restricted age one like the Vic Peters Memorial Classic, to feature what might later be classified as one of the best fields ever seen.
Naturally, only hindsight can really be the arbiter of the depth of quality of a particular field. Personal bias also helps, but in the field I am going to suggest is, to my mind, the best ever to take on the Vic Peters, I have no especial affection for any of the runners. I just happen to think this field was outstanding.
The field in question was the 1998 Vic Peters Memorial Classic final eight. The winner was Bigbad Luther, trained by Gary Young, who downed the Queensland pair Faithful Hawk and Questions in a race record 30.20. Fourth home was John’s Fury, then Antonia, Crystal Light (Victoria), Dalalla, and Megaton Power.
OK, in a strange twist of fate, neither the tailender Megaton Power, nor the winner Bigbad Luther, ever featured before or after the event in another major final.
Yet the rest seemed to pop up all over the place in big events.
Dalalla (seventh): Won 1999 Wentworth Park Gold Cup, All Stars Invitation (Wentworth Park), and Anniversary Plate, ran second in the 1998 Chairman’s Cup, third in the 1999 National Distance Championship and fifth 1999 Albion Park Gold Cup.
Crystal Light (sixth): She won the 1998 Dave Alexander Memorial, Damsel’s Dash at Sandown and 1999 National Futurity.
Antonia (fifth): had run seventh in the Peter Mosman Memorial in June, again in a field arguably the best that particular race has ever witnessed. The winner was Victorian Solve The Puzzle.
John’s Fury (fourth): later was second to Kobble Creek in the 1999 Sydney Cup and fifth to Kobble Creek in the 1999 National Distance Championship.
Questions (third): He had competed 18 times prior to the final for nine wins, five seconds, and three thirds. His major victories through his career were the 1998 Brisbane Cup, from Rapid Journey, 1999 Albion Park Gold Cup, Lord Mayor’s Cup (Albion Park) and Winter Chase. He was second in the 1999 and 2000 Queensland Cup’s, third 1999 Brisbane Cup to Bob’s One and Faithful Hawk and sixth 1998 Gold Coast Cup to Faithful Hawk.
Faithful Hawk (second): Raced 49 times for 24 wins, 14 seconds, and four thirds. Had raced 18 times prior to the Vic Peters for 10 wins, five seconds, and two thirds. Named 1999 New South Wales and Queensland Greyhound of the Year. He won the 1998 Gold Coast Cup, Young Star Classic and 1999 Winter Stake, was second 1999 Brisbane Cup, second National Derby and third in the 1998 National Sprint Championship. He ran fourth in the 1999 Melbourne Cup, seventh in the National Sprint Championship and seventh in the Topgun.
Bigbad Luther had raced 12 times for seven wins and four seconds prior to the Vic Peters final. Although he never went on to greater heights, Bigbad Luther finished his career with 85 starts, registering an impressive 29 wins, 15 seconds and 12 thirds.
So, four of the eight finalists went on to win a multitude of Group class races and that’s not something you see very often come out of an age-restricted event.