Sunday, 23 October 2011

What could have been???

For a true horse racing fan, there is nothing worse than seeing a potential champion's career cut down before their prime. Knowing you are about to see something special unfold, before cruel fate steps in, and either injury or illness prevents us from ever seeing that potential fulfilled. During my time in racing I saw this happen on numerous occasions. None more devastating than the magnificent filly Unworldly, by Quest for Fame, who in only a handful of starts in 1999/2000 showed enough blistering acceleration and determination to win to endear her in the hearts of racegoers around the nation. In her last race she blitzed the Group 1 Flight Stakes and was surely about to continue her domination, which saw 5 wins and a 3rd from 6 starts, when tragedy struck on a grey October morning when she badly broke her front left leg at trackwork and had to be euthanised. Sadly we never got to see how great she could be but her memory lives forever in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough to witness her incredible short career. Even Kbenjar, the horse from which I take my name won 2 good races in the Spring carnival of 1999 before breaking a sesamoid bone in his foot and never raced again.

Similarly is the tale of 1919 Melbourne Cup winner Artilleryman.

Reports from the era all claim that Artilleryman had the potential to be up there with the most celebrated names in Australian Turf history. Sired by the 1910 Melbourne Cup winner Comedy King, who was the first imported horse to win the Cup, Artilleryman had the conformation and movie star looks of a champion. Widely considered one of the best looking horses to ever grace the Australian turf, Artilleryman was quite erratic and inconsistent on the racetrack, much to the bafflement of his owners and trainer. Unable to find any physical ailment, they just put it down to bad manners and being "flighty", common traits among well bred colts who often had their minds on matters other than racing.

During the Spring of 1919 he cut a swathe through the major races in both Sydney and Melbourne. Winning the AJC Derby and dead-heating the Caulfield Guineas. He was beaten in the Victorian Derby in one of his "off performances", before finishing with what had been described as the most dominant winning performance in the Melbourne Cup's history at that time. He won the race by a widening 6 length margin that day at the odds of 10/1. Although spectators who had witnessed the race believed the margin was more like 10 to 12 lengths. He also ran a race record time of 3.24.5, almost a second quicker than the previous record.

In post war Australia racing was one of the major sports, and a champion is exactly what the public needed at the time, but sadly before he could be confirmed as a true champion, he was dead. Unknown until it was much too late, he had Cancer of the lymphatic gland since his 2 year old season. This would explain his erratic race career, often running in severe pain due to the swelling in his thigh region. An autopsy showed the cancer had severed his femoral artery, causing massive internal bleeding and subsequent death. Amazingly just a few hours before the great horse succumbing to death, his part owner, Mr Alec Murphy also died. Another of those strange coincidences common in racing.

The 1919 Melbourne Cup was also the first time the Loving Cup trophy was presented to the winner. Before the classic 3 handled Cup we know so well today was presented, winners of the race received anything from gold watches to a fruit bowl to the spectacularly garish trophy below, presented to Toryboy for winning the 1865 race, the first actual trophy ever presented.


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