AS A FLASH new members’ stand begins to take shape at Flemington, RHETT KIRKWOOD reveals a secret link between the old stand and a cunning ruse to sell a very slow racehorse:
WITH THE VRC making the most of every opportunity to promote its new $128 million Club Stand to be open for the 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival, the club has also paid due honour to the now demolished Members’ Old Grandstand stand it will replace.
In typical effusive PR speak the club noted: “During the Members’ Old Grandstand’s 92-year lifetime, it has seen many heroes of the turf including Phar Lap, Rising Fast, Makybe Diva and Black Caviar claim victory at Flemington, Jean Shrimpton shock the nation with her shift dress, Bart Cummings become the Cups’ King and Michelle Payne win the hearts of all Australians at last year’s (2015) Melbourne Cup.
“The Members’ Old Grandstand has witnessed milestone events at Flemington that have shaped Australia’s sporting, social and cultural landscape.”
We’re willing to bet that the VRC official who sanctioned these words was unfamiliar with another aspect of the Members’ Old Stand, more precisely the western corner of it. One well-known and successful Flemington trainer’s reason for remembering the old stand was much more important to him than any hyperbole the VRC concocted in their press release.
This trainer, long departed, used the western corner of the stand as a point to record the time of his horses’ gallops.
All other trainers and professional clockers followed the regular ritual of timing horses according to the various furlong markers around the course until they hit the winning post – as they still do today.
But not this particular trainer. His stopwatch was clicked as his horses went past the edge of the old grandstand, about 200 metres before the winning post.
Asked why, he had a simple answer: “They can’t move grandstands!”
And therein was a story involving the trainer with a “sneaky” gallop at Mentone racetrack decades earlier.
It involved a slow conveyance who couldn’t run out of sight on a foggy day and the trainer despaired of trying to get the horse out of his stable.
He finally conceived a plan and convinced a potential buyer to come to Mentone to see the horse in a workout. In such gallops, a vital component is how a horse finishes off over the last one or two furlongs (200-400 metres). The faster they finish and the easier they do it is an important indicator as to a horse’s ability and in many cases can show a win is just around the corner.
While the trainer knew that the latter was most unlikely, he knew how he could clinch the sale.
In the early hours of the morning before the gallop he arranged for friends to move the furlong pole closer to the winning post, so that while the horse would be timed over the last furlong, the distance was somewhat less.
During the workout the horse hardly seemed out of second gear as he sizzled over the final “furlong” (according to the stopwatch) and the new buyer was quick to confirm the sale.
Thereafter the furlong post was returned to its original position.
We don’t know the subsequent performance of the horse, but we do know that the trainer never trusted timing horses between moveable furlong poles again, hence his use of the corner of the old stand.
The VRC noted in their PR speak that, “The new Club Stand is a celebration of the history, character and joy of Flemington Racecourse and our hallmark event, the Melbourne Cup carnival.”
The new stand is said to be shaped like a rose and therefore totally unsuitable for timing a gallop.
To my mind the red brick, slab-sided Members’ Old Stand was a better example of racing history and character!