It is spring; the silk ties, short skirts and betting slips flutter and rustle amid the mingled hues of the carefully tended flower beds at the Heath. The barrier before the Group 1 Underwood Stakes is cram-packed with 16 quality horses who, between them, have won nearly $30 million in prizemoney: Who to choose — leave out — from such a field of dreams?
To begin at the beginning: When they first built a primitive racecourse at Caulfield in 1859, a track had to be crudely fashioned from the heath, sand hills and snake-infested swamps. It looks much the same today but all the snakes have disappeared into Irishmen’s trouser pockets; where they rest, pensively, awaiting the arousal of the real spring.
Here is the venue map.
This race was first run in 1924 as the Williamstown Stakes and was re-named in 1926 to honour Mr H.A. Underwood, who had served as chairman of the Williamstown Racing Club for many years. It was won in 1931 by the storied Phar Lap OA, before he fatefully journeyed to the killing fields of California.
The Williamstown Racing Club was founded in 1864 and was the third largest in Victoria until the army stole their mojo in 1940 for the war effort — and they never got it back. In 1948, it merged with the Melbourne Racing Club, which now runs Caulfield.
From its inception in 1875, the Melbourne Racing Club has always attracted its fair share of rogues, gombeen men and gobshites. Chief among them was a certain Norman Wilson Esq. who was one of the founders of what then was known as the Victorian Amateur Turf Club.
In the club’s history, Wilson is described as “a prominent 26-year-old land owner, a prototype of what many saw as all that was best (or worst) in the character and pursuits of the squatters, a class who occupied large tracts of land in rural Victoria,” and had nothing better to do, it could have added — but didn’t.
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The grandstand at Caulfield is named after Sir Rupert Clarke II (1919-2005), the third Baronet of Rupertswood, near Sunbury, where the bails were burnt after a certain cricket match in 1882. This fortuitously provided us with the Ashes of English cricket, which we are allowed to hold neither physically nor metaphorically these days.
Indeed, the Clarkes are the closest Australia gets to having a hereditary aristocracy. Rupert II’s grandfather, Sir William “Big” Clarke, was made the first Baronet by Queen Victoria on the substantial grounds that he was “the biggest land owner in the colony”.
After his death in 1874, Rupert I took his father’s place on the board of the Colonial Bank of Australia (now the NAB); and — blow me down — the same thing happened to Rupert II, too. The Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes is also named in Rupert II’s honour because he was chairman of the VATC from 1972 to 1989. Rupert III handed over the trophy on Saturday.
The only Grandee on Caulfield committee these days is Peter “Pongo” Lawrence, who earned an MBA alongside John Dorman Elliott from the first intake of the Melbourne Business School. He was a stockbroker with Roach, Tilley Grice in the good old days and now shelters beneath the shingle of Bell Potter.
The winner was Heart of Dreams, a 4YO bay gelding trained by Mick Price here at Caulfield and raced by owner/breeder Larry Bartle. His sire was Show a Heart and his dam Academy of Dreams (by Royal Academy, USA). His full brother, Rightfully Yours, earlier claimed the Listed South Yarra Stakes (1200m), which would have made Bartle happy as Larry as he bred both and is part-owner.
Bartle began this thoroughbred breeding caper about 20 years ago with Academy of Dreams’ second dam Dream About It (Godswalk), who was a listed winner of a Ballarat Cup. Academy Of Dreams has been covered by the Glenlogan Park sire every year for the past six seasons. Show a Heart is from the Star Kingdom sire line.
Craig Newitt got the sit (his second winner for the day) and he produced no observable welts or blood-flow on his steed with his judicious use of the padded whip. He is a nice chap who can not only make babies, but doesn’t have one of those whining, high-pitched voices that hoops seem to acquire from a lifetime of bouncing up and down on their testicles.
I wasn’t very good with figures as a schoolboy — so instead, I became a financial journalist. Naturally, I could count to five on each hand and could assume the other 10 digits beneath my shoelaces.
My usual TAB bet is a boxed trifecta with five horses running for the first three places in any order — it gives you 60 combinations of the five horses finishing in the first three places, costs you $60; and, is the closest you can come to safe sex with a totalisator.
We told you there were a lot of quality horses in this race and we were quite beside ourselves when we approached the turf accountant for the funds required to make our plunge.
Fortunately, your man got the trifecta, which paid $308.60. Unfortunately, because the editor is too mean to fill our kitty with the subscribers’ hard-earned, we were forced to avail ourselves of Mr Tabcorp’s flexi Ponzi scheme, which is much like margin trading on the stock market.
This means that for $30 down, we were granted a box of six runners of which three were to finish at the front of the field (120 combinations). This is a complicated, synthetic, financial derivative where what you get — 25% of the $308.60 honeypot — is considerably diminished to $77.15 by the magic of usury.
We expect better things (and no skyrockets to frighten the horses) when we venture back to Moonee Valley on Friday night for the Manikato Stakes. QED.