Forget the Topgun, ignore the Golden Easter Egg, discount the Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane Cup’s, the Melbourne Cup remains as arguably the one race all owners and trainers aspire to win, just like its horse racing equivalent.
This year sees the 15th running of the Melbourne Cup over the 515 metres distance at Sandown Park, and it will mark yet another chapter in one of the greatest races held anywhere in Australia, or the greyhound world for that matter.
Drawn perfectly in box two, the fastest qualifier El Grand Senor will be attempting to overcome a bit of a hoodoo for the greyhound who wears the ‘checks’. Carrington Jade (1976), Acclaim Star (1979), Fox Hunt (1991), Master Giant (1992) and Henry Hand (1996) are the only five greyhounds that have exited box two and gone on to take the Melbourne Cup since 1956.
Actually, I would argue the Melbourne Cup is much older than the accepted wisdom, but I will go into that a bit later in this article.
With a scintillating turn of early foot and an incredible 22 wins and three seconds from just 28 race starts, El Grand Senor is clearly entitled to favouritism. Mind you, it is worth recalling that apart from having to buck history to win from the two alley, El Grand Senor has been unplaced three times in his career and two of these have been at Sandown. OK, he has scored impressive victories in his other four starts at the track and is undefeated in two starts when wearing the black and white rug. While he has now won seven races on end, El Grand Senor’s last unplaced effort came in August at Sandown, when he led but faded to run fourth behind Octane Show, from box one.
Veteran sprinter Dyna Obelia will be exiting the coveted ‘cherry’ and this daughter of 2000 Melbourne Cup winner Go Wild Teddy will lack nothing in terms of perfect preparation, coming as she does under the tutelage of Andrea Dailly. It’s hard to believe the Dailly’s have yet to prepare a Melbourne Cup winner but Dyna Obelia certainly gives them a great chance: after all, she has won six of 10 outings from box one and seven of nine when wearing the checks, so she is a desperate for the inside and has the early speed to give El Grand Senor a fright in the early stages.
The Melbourne Cup was run under handicap conditions between 1956 and 1963, but since 1964 when Rocket Streak scored out of the red alley, a further 13 winners have crossed the line in front wearing the red rug.
Excite Ability, Bombastic Shiraz (sire of Aston Galilee, box three), Hallucinate and Closing Argument are the four most recent winners to have come from box one, and they did it in sequence, from 2002 to 2005 inclusive.
This year, there is not a single competitor from the 2009 final who has made it through to this year’s decider. Since 1956, no greyhound has ever won it twice; a unique situation in terms of an open-class Group One event with a history of more than 25 years. In fact, it is rare for a greyhound to manage to make it into two finals. In the last 55 years just 12 greyhounds have competed in back-to-back Melbourne Cups, with four of them managing to take the race, three at their second attempt. They are: Style Bird (1956 fell & 1957 seventh); Saskaview (1962 third & 1963 Won); Rocket Streak (1964 Won & 1965 sixth); Cheltenham Lass (1965 second & 1966 Won); Benjamin John (1968 sixth & 1969 second); Half Your Luck (1972 third & 1973 second); Miss Alliance (1973 sixth & 1974 second); Relle Louise (1979 fourth & 1980 seventh); Proud Paul (1983 fifth & 1984 third); Classic Capri (2000 second & 2001 Won); Coulta Bandit (2000 fifth & 2001 second); and Miss Mini Mouse (2006 second & 2007 sixth).
A little known fact: the first major event to be tagged as the Melbourne Cup was run at Napier Park, home of the Essendon speed coursing club, in November 1933, with the race restricted to just six finalists in an attempt to keep interference to a minimum. The race quickly became as sought after as the horse racing version with the 1934 event worth a substantial ₤200 to the winner. That was big prize money in the depths of Depression-era Australia. No wonder the sport was extremely popular in those days; the average man had a chance at a big payday. Champion coursers such as Pharminda and the South Australian Rhythmic attempted to win the event. In 1937 the winner was a former New South Wales greyhound named Gay Monarch. He had been especially set for the Melbourne Cup and came from nearly last to defeat Silver Chief (for whom the classic is named) by one length. The owner of Silver Chief also owned the third placegetter, Ever Bright.
From what I have been able to gather, the Melbourne Cup continued at Napier Park into the Second World War years, with the race taking place in 1941. Whether it was ever suspended I do not know, but it was certainly being contested at Napier Park in the early 1950s. The 1952 winner Solo Chief made it through to the 1953 final. Napier Park went into voluntary liquidation in October 1955 and the Melbourne Cup moved to the newly opened Sandown Park in 1956.
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge the reality that the Melbourne Cup has a history that stretches back to 1933, not just 1956, thus making it Australia’s oldest major event, surpassing the Hobart Thousand.