Horse & Jockey is the fair-dinkum name of a town in County Tipperary, Ireland. T.P. Maher comes from a long line of horse thieves and whisperers who once roamed its townlands — finally, they were warned-off by the stewards and moved to Australia.

Vigorous racing at Flemington

One of the Australia’s great urban myths is that Archer walked the entire 800 kilometers from his stables near Nowra on the south coast of NSW to the Flemington racetrack for the first running of the Melbourne Cup in 1861. I know, you were taught it at school and by your parents, but it is pure, unadulterated horseshit.

Archer, his trainer, Etienne de Mestre, and his jockey, Johnny Cutts, actually came by steamboat from Sydney but — you know what the say — never let facts spoil a good story. But what a great story is Etienne de Mestre; who trained Archer in both of his Melbourne Cup victories in 1861 and 62 and won another three others besides. He was Bart before Bart.

Archer & John Cutts

Etienne was a currency lad (born in Australia). In 1825, his French-born dad Prosper de Mestre became the second person to be naturalised in the new colony and was a director of Westpac (the Bank of New South Wales) between 1826 and 1842. The rivalry between Victoria and NSW was at its peak at the time: A good reason not to allow Archer’s third entry in 1863 and also not acknowledge de Mestre’s superior training ability.

Flemington held its first race meeting in 1840 and is Australia’s racing headquarters. It is a magnificent, sprawling field of dreams on the Maribyrnong River flood plain; and, with the City of Melbourne skyline as its enchanting backdrop, is truly a sight to behold. Its facilities, turf track and setting are world’s best practice. Next year it will host the 150th running of “the race that stops a nation.”

It is a spacious wide track with long sweeping turns. The circumference is 2312 meters and the straight in front of the grandstands is 450 meters. Naturally, its direction is anti-clockwise. On Saturday, the rail was in the true position; it was rated a Dead 4 and the penetrometer was reading 4.69 (which must be comforting for the earthworms below).

The feature race was the Group 2 wfa (no, not wtf) Makybe Diva Stakes (formerly the Craiglee) run over 1600 meters (a mile or eight furlongs). It carried a purse of $405,000 is now named after the miraculous mare Makybe Diva who won the Cup in 2003-04-05 and who gave birth to her third foal last week.


The winner was as elusive a runner as Lord Lucan; Vigor, a five-year-old bay gelding from the Waikato Stud on the Shaky Isles, won by that narrowest of margins — a nose — in a photo from hot favourite Aussie mare Typhoon Tracy. Vigor is trained by Flemington-based Dan O’Brien and is a stablemate and half brother of the third placegetter Master O’Reilly who won the Caulfield Cup in 2007.

Both Master O’Reilly and Vigor were sired by popular Kiwi stallion O’Reilly, a Last Tycoon horse who stands at the Waikato Stud. Vigor was foaled by Rationable, an unraced mare by Housebuster, grandson of the notable racehorse and sire Blushing Groom.

Maco’reilly, another of O’Reilly’s offspring, bolted from barrier 12 to be a frontrunner with Typhoon Tracy and helped split the field into two divisions by the time they rounded into to the straight — one on the inside Flat rails and one on the outside Grandstand rails. It made for a very exciting finish. The Lloyd Williams-owned C’Est La Guerre finished fourth.

I don’t know much about the owners of Vigor by they were jumping up and down on the spot in gay abandon in the winner’s circle after this race. Isn’t it strange that even the very best of horses can not stimulate quite the same curiosity about the sport of kings as some of the connections around them? Justin Mathie is the manager of the Canberra-based Titan Thoroughbred Charlie Syndicate which owns Vigor and collected the trophy and the $240,000 prizemoney.


Champion jockey Damien Oliver was on board for this trip and came in for some criticism for his over-jealous use on the whip in the last furlong. He was reprimanded by chief steward Terry Bailey’s panel who found him to have used his whip on two consecutive strides on two occasions inside the final 200m – which is against the new rules.

Oliver is unlikely to be too concerned as he was in contention with Typhoon Tracy right to the finishing post. Of more concern to Oliver (who has two Big Cups and four Caulfield Cups in his saddlebag) is getting a ride on Vigor in this year’s Caulfield Cup. Oliver rides at about 53 kilos and will have to “waste” a few kilos in the steam room if he is to ride Vigor at his handicap weight of 51 kilos.

If he doesn’t make it, O’Brien has also asked Craig Williams and Corey Brown to be standby. O’Brien noted that six jockeys — Oliver, Stephen Baster, Glen Boss, Danny Nikolic, Steven King and Jamie Mott — had won on Vigor.


The winner paid the good-value price of $8.10 on the Victorian TAB. It, and the second-placed mare, were among your correspondent modest box trifecta of five horses — alas the third placer getter wasn’t among them and I did me dough. Happily, horses have no knowledge of human expectations because they are dumb, dumb animals.

My Nap (best bet) for the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600 metres) at the Valley on Saturday is Whobegotyou. Q.E.D.