The corner with Garry Chittick

What a week. We have a lot going on – He Puapua, Three Waters, COVID lockdown, then to brighten our life, the annual Melbourne Cup.

It’s worthwhile trying to put these events into perspective. I have before lauded the history of the horse. Think about it. 161 runnings of the Cup, a couple of interruptions, but the only thing about the Cup that has changed significantly is the field size. I haven’t researched the spread of weights, however in recent years there has been a compressing of the handicapping to encourage better weight for age horses to participate. The handicapping is part of the legend. Trainers connived to get a start with the minimum weight without missing out. Punters pitted their IQ against the handicapper, identified horses months in advance of the big race to better their odds. The weight carriers of the past were legendary.

The VRC’s desire to internationalise the race led to the weight compression. Horses with dubious reputations made the field at the expense of the once conniving locals. There is no doubt that horses arriving, taking the benefit of attractive weights, and unknown to the locals, changed the charisma of the day. Mary and I attended both Derby Day and Cup Day in the first week of November for many years, then we attended Derby Day only. It’s not sour grapes but being amongst 100,000 people where it became harder to identify a racing person and watching a race of unknowns became unattractive. I am not alone with this view of the day. Have a look at the turnover decline, until last Tuesday. Unfortunately, only 10,000 were allowed on course to share the joy of a great day.

I don’t need to add to all that has been written about Verry Elleegant. It is suffice to say a field that included the up-and-comer Incentivise and last year’s Horse of the Year, both carrying weights that were bound to test their staying ability, turned into the theatre of old. I defy any racing enthusiast not to be moved by two of the best defying the handicapper and the rest of the field and justifying the title of The Great Race.

No Northern visitor or intended visitor can demean the effort and quality of the placegetters. A margin of 3.17 lengths settles most arguments, the great mare carrying 57kg settles all. 

Well done NZ for providing yet another quality performer to play our part in their annual carnival. Now, what about the wagering? Record turnovers across the board. We all love racing because we can attach ourselves to and share the dream, if we know who we are dreaming about.

So back to the beginning. Archer, at 16.3 hands, was the first winner in 1861, with a repeat in 1862 carrying 64kg, he is still one of three to win consecutive Cups. But doesn’t it make you proud to be part of an event of this duration with the same intent, to win on the same hallowed ground, the two-mile handicap of the world? There is absolutely no reason to assume in another century there will not be commentary on the first Tuesday of November, extolling the virtue of the winner of the Cup. 

We have learnt this week to not take our eye off the ball here in NZ. To continue to aspire to play out part as we have for the first one hundred and sixty years. To exploit our natural advantages and rear the horses of the future.

Well done Waller, McDonald, Goodwin, Zed, Opulence, and Verry Elleegant.

You have given us a shot in the arm (not COVID) and we are proud of your achievements, just like we are proud of the horse who has been a consistent part of our culture.


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