You can tell the Caulfield racetrack was an army barracks during World War II; everywhere you went on Saturday there were people piled on top of people. It was even worse in the members’ reserve. A b-line from the members’ entrance to the trackside mounting yard involved making complicated military maneuvers more worthy of General Douglas MacArthur at Bataan.

Exactly 24,582 racegoers attended the 129th running of $1 million Caulfield Guineas; what’s more they all seemed to be having a damn good time. Surely, they can’t all have backed winners?

Only about 582 attended the first meeting of the Victorian Amateur Turf Club (now the Melbourne Racing Club) at Caulfield on 5 August, 1876. The Caulfield Cup was introduced in 1879 and the Caulfield Guineas for three-year-olds in 1881.

TP Maher’s infernal inner pedant tells him that means the Caulfield Guineas was running for 50 years before the US Congress finally made the Star-Spangled Banner the American national anthem in 1931. On a day when the US President was given the Noble Peace Prize for waging war on the Middle East, anything is possible.

And so it was at the Caulfield Heath when a sensational incident occurred on the eve of the 1922 Caulfield Cup; a huge conflagration (that’s a fire to Collingwood supporters) destroyed the Members’ Stand, Judge’s Box, Weighing Room, Committee Room, Stewards’ Room, Secretary’s Office, Press Reserve, Telegraph and Telephone Office.

Although never proven, suspicion for the fire was directed towards notorious Melbourne crime figure Leslie “Squizzy” Taylor. Now Mr Squizzy was known to be a sore loser but he is unlikely to have burnt the place down on his own account. No doubt, a person or persons known only in the committee room provided him with a financial incentive to act so precipitously. Unfortunately, it is always the rich wot get the pleasure and the poor wot get the blame.

The Group 1 Caulfield Guineas is known as the premier stallion-making race in Australia. It is run over the metric mile (1600m, eight furlongs) and attracts the best three-year-olds from around the country to the wondrous Melbourne Spring Carnival. The track was rated a Good 3 and penetrometer was reading 5.18.

THE HORSE: The blue and gold balloons are still up in the clubrooms of the Affiliated Owners’ and Breeders’ Association Inc. (Olmates Syndicate) behind La Notte Restaurant in Lygon Street, Carlton. Above all else, this was a victory of the Melbourne workingman against the Sydney toffs and fancy dans – who promised so much in this race but delivered so little.

Starspangledbanner, a charming 3yo chestnut colt by Choisir out of Gold Anthem, has 31 owners; they made more noise ‘a hooting an ‘a hollering in the mounting yard than a US Marine battalion on VJ Day.

“He’s such a nice sensible horse,” trainer Leon Corstens told Michael Lynch from The Age, who sponsor this event rather than spending money on quality journalism (no offence Michael but you are a Tottenham supporter).

Leon Corstens, and his son Tony, are based at Kilmore in the heartland of Victorian thoroughbred country. He spent a lifetime as Melbourne stable foreman to the iconic master trainer Bart Cummings before setting-up on his own: ”I think that’s one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life,” he said of Saturday’s win.

The horse, of course, knows nothing of the sweat and tears that went into making him the champion colt of the Southern Hemisphere (and serve to keep his entire cojones in their proper place).

His sire, Choisir, did of course, finished third in this race in 2002 and then went on to become the world’s leading sprinter with his dual success at Royal Ascot a year later. What a pity we will never see the Northern Hemisphere’s champion colt, Sea The Stars racing in this country.

Like Starspangledbanner, he’s gone straight to the paddock so he can spend a lifetime dreaming of standing the world’s leading broodmares. Half his luck!

THE JOCKEY: Danny Nikolic “done good” taking the lead from the jump and keeping it throughout the journey to finish 2 and ¾ lengths in front at the post. The showponies from Sydney never came near him. Perhaps they were over awed by the big crowd. You wouldn’t see that many people at a Sydney race meeting in a month of Sundays. Wait till they get to Flemington!

THE RECKONING: Betting on horses is a bit like unconsummated sexual desire. You know you want it — but how the hell do you achieve it? I’m all for going ugly early rather than waiting for Ms Right to come along and wink at you at the last minute (insert your own sexual preference and tactics here).

With such a stupendous field of quality horseflesh, it is just as well your correspondent could not possibly shoehorn his usual boxed trifecta into just five runners: Easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle, he was told at Mass on Sunday.

So he ended up giving Mr Tabcorp 100 percent of his entire life savings (that’s $65 AUD) on a flexi boxed trifecta of seven runners. That gave him 210 combinations of his favoured horses possibly finishing first, second and third in a kind-of butterfly spread that sharemarket margin lenders would have been proud of.

Thank Christ it came in!

However, his flexi boxed punt gave him only 30.95 per cent of the totaliser payout of $1,156.50 for the trifecta.

Unfortunately, the turf accountant removed the vast majority of these liquid assets to satisfy unsecured loans removed from her handbag in previous punting weekends.

Such is life! We will just have to win it back at the Caulfield Cup on Saturday. QED.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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