Whether you agree with the horse racing industry, or disagree, there is no arguing that on the first Tuesday of every November, most eyes, ears and hooves are glued to the TV screen in baited anticipation for that pivotal moment when the gates are opened and the horses are let out to run.
Now I’m not opening this most contentious debate; the, ‘Is it animal abuse?’ argument. I’m not quite silly enough for that… What I am doing, is sharing some of the great stories surrounding some of the great racehorses that have graced our tracks. So exhale, grab a tea, sit back and read on if you’d like the gossip on some of the real tear jerkers and feel goods of the horse racing world.
Affectionately known as Subbie, this great grey thoroughbred was the winner of the 1992 Melbourne Cup. Now whilst that is a huge achievement for all involved, I wanted to bring your attention to the partnership he developed as a clerk of the course horse with Graham Salisbury, and later the impact he made on the non-racing community.
Hanging up his racing shoes, Subbie went from a competitive racer to a clerk horse in 1994. This was the year he met Graham, and the year they formed a bond which still stands today. For the next 15 yrs Graham and Subbie took care of young horses and their jockeys on the track. Calming nerves and seeing them safely from the parade ring to their barrier stall. On one occasion the duo even had to run down the promising colt Choisir, who went under the gates in the barrier (losing his jockey in the process) and headed towards the straight. In no time Subbie drew alongside and Graham grabbed the colt’s reins. The horses slowed to a walk and (an uninjured) Choisir was returned safely to the barrier. He won the Lightening Stakes that day.
In 2008, at almost 20 yrs of age, Subbie left the track for good. His days as a clerk horse were over, but his partnership with Graham would remain. For many years Subbie and Graham have travelled across Victoria visiting school children, hospices, hospitals, special needs clinics and nursing homes. Raising money for charities along the way; their presence brings joy, excitement and inspiration to the young and old alike. The reaction of pure happiness from terminally ill children as they cuddle up to Subbie could bring a tear to anyone’s eye. It is said that horses are good for the soul, and I truly believe that.
As the years passed, Graham battled his own health concerns. Cancer of the prostate saw him in and out of hospital. Last year the cancer was back, having spread to his spine. After battling through chemotherapy, Graham was (again) able to return home to his best mate Sub. Then disaster nearly struck this year. Only a few days short of his 31st birthday, the great grey horse was admitted to an equine hospital with grave concerns for his life. For what seemed like an eternity (it was closer to a week), Subbie battled through colic and kidney ailments. Only to also be knocked with peritonitis. Could this be the end for the great old galloper? The world was concerned it might be. Letters arrived from schools and hospitals, and an outpouring of support from overseas flooded mailboxes. Multiple phone calls were fielded daily by the equine clinic, just from concerned community members alone.
Like the battler he is, Subbie dug deep and pulled through. The staff contributing part of his recovery to Graham and his hospital visits. Citing that the bond between the two was like nothing they had seen before. A depressed Subbie would come to life at the sound of Graham’s voice.
A quote from Graham:
“If it wasn’t for Subbie there would be no me, and if it wasn’t for me there would be no Subbie.”
Subbie returned home and celebrated his 31st birthday with Graham in the paddock. They ate carrot cake and wore party hats. An old man and his old horse. A beautiful partnership still going strong today.
MIGHT & POWER
As some of you may have guessed, I am a horse lover. Whilst I’m not exactly sure where my fascination with horses (not horse racing) came from, I would wager that it had something to do with this guy.
One of my fondest childhood memories was sitting in front of the TV on Melbourne Cup Day in 1997. I was 7 yrs old and weaselled my way out of school to watch my favourite horse run in The Cup. Now before we start sticking needles into a Louise-esque voodoo doll, please know that I am not ‘for’ horse racing, nor am I trying to glorify the sport. I just want to share a piece of my childhood with anyone who decides to read this. I was 7, so be kind.
Might & Power was a front runner. He erupted from the gates, heading straight to the lead in his races. He hit the front early and that is where he wanted to stay, dictating the speed, not giving up without a fight. He won his races this way (which is not easy to do) and had a pretty good record to boot. Anyway, little 7 yr old me probably related to this on some level. As a kid I was always head strong and stubborn, wanting to do things my way and not budging without good reason. I’d decide on something and that was it. You could give me suggestions, not instructions. Heck, not much has changed. Although I’d like to think I have mellowed somewhat. Here’s to some self-reflection on a weeknight.
So here I am, 7 yr old Louise, sitting on my little fold out foam couch in the middle of the living room floor. You know the one, specifically designed for kids. Floor level, a foam chair that folded out, so you had somewhere for your outstretched legs to rest on. I think they still sell them at Kmart… My father was home from work and my mother too. Ronald, my 4.5 month old baby brother was somewhere, sleeping perhaps or doing some other baby thing. He’s still kicking around today, so someone must have been paying attention to him. You can tell I don’t have kids, right?
Anyway, my father and I were backing Might & Power to win, and my mother was on another horse, Doriemus. My brother had no thoughts on the matter. Well, none that he was willing to share anyway. For any sporting event I always make a point to back the opposing team (or player) to my parents. It is inbuilt into me. They are from NSW and I was born in QLD. You can imagine what it’s like during The Origin. Might & Power was my exception to this unwritten rule. Although, in fairness, I’d like to point out that my dad backed the same horse as me, not the other way around.
So, we’re all in the living room and BANG the gates open. Might & Power surges to the front and settles in the lead. Doriemus ends up towards the back of the field. They passed the post for the first time and the three of us are glued (silent) to the screen. No-one makes a noise, we’re all too busy listening to the race caller. They run up the back straight whilst we all shuffle a little bit closer to the edge of our seats. We’ve been completely silent (even the baby, although honestly, I don’t remember where he was). Silent up until they swing around the final bend and head into the straight. With 400m left to run dad breaks the silence and starts cheering. At the 300m mark, Might & Power is still in front, a weakening Linesman in second, but here comes Doriemus putting in a big run. Mum sees the chestnut finishing strong on the outside and she starts cheering. I’m still silent, but both my parents are being very loud. Things are getting intense. I’m on the edge of my fold out foam, silently willing my horse to stay strong and stay in front. It gets to the 100m mark and Doriemus is coming hard. I can’t take it anymore; I add my own cheering to the mix. So here we are, my mother, father and myself, all screaming at the TV at 3pm on a Tuesday. Doriemus hits the line and it’s a photo finish. No one knows who has won, but the jockey on Doriemus stands in his stirrups, waving his whip in the air. He thinks he has it and my mum starts her victory lap (the epitome of humble). Dad and I are in disbelief, we refuse to acknowledge mum’s yahoo’ing and await the photo. The picture is up, and BOOM Might & Power has held on by a nose. As you can imagine, the living room erupts. Dad in joy, mum in disgust and 7 yr old me in pure delight. There’s laughter and taunting. I’m jumping around expelling all my pent-up energy that built during the race. My baby brother is still somewhere…
Might & Power retired in the year 2000. Since then he (like Subbie) has made appearances at public events. You can find Might & Power at Living Legends in Victoria. He is 26 yrs old. My goal in 2020 is to visit him. A present to myself for turning the big 30 perhaps. Eek… 30. Why did I go and remind myself?!
I promised you a tearjerker and that is exactly what you are going to get.
The story here is not so much with the horse, but with his jockey, Damien Oliver. You may have heard the name before; he is one of the most successful and famous Australian jockeys and he still rides today. You may not have heard about his older brother though; his name was Jason Oliver.
Jason was also a jockey, as was their father Ray Oliver. Ray sadly passed away due to a horse accident when Damien was only 3 yrs old. Not to be scared off, the boys grew up fond of horses and riding. They followed in Ray’s footsteps and both became jockeys themselves.
Jason was the elder by 2 yrs and at 33 yrs of age, had made a name for himself on the west coast. On Monday the 28th of October (8 days before his younger brother Damien was booked to ride in The Melbourne Cup), Jason was riding trackwork in Perth. His horse faltered and Jason was flung over the head of his mount. Despite the fact he was wearing an appropriate helmet, Jason sustained very serious head trauma and was placed in a coma and on life support.
The doctors did not expect Jason to make any sort of recovery and the family was called to his bedside to say goodbye. At 8:40 pm on Tuesday the 29th of October, surrounded by his mother, younger brother and other loved ones, Jason’s life support was turned off and he slipped away.
Understandably, Damien was distraught at the loss of his older brother and was unsure if he would keep his riding commitments for The Cup. In the end, he based his decision on what Jason would have wanted, which was for Damien to ride. Exactly one week since the passing of his brother, Damien hopped aboard the horse Media Puzzle to challenge for the 2002 Melbourne Cup.
I remember this race. I was 12 yrs old and again, home from school. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea here. My attendance record was good and I did well academically, the odd home day isn’t the end of the world. Like anyone watching the race that day, I was firmly for Damien and Media Puzzle. I didn’t even mind that my father was also cheering for the same horse. My mother however, was all for Beekeeper. Typical. My little brother (now 5yrs old) was somewhere doing something. I swear we looked after him. I only lost him that one time when he was a toddler… but that is another story.
There were 103 000 people at the racetrack that day. 103 000 people cheering for one man and one horse (or so I’d like to think). At the 400m mark Media Puzzle challenges Vinnie Roe and pulls ahead. Dad and I start cheering and even mum joins in. He runs down the straight and wins The Melbourne Cup by 2 lengths. Out of the 24 horses in the race, it is Damien’s mount who passes the post first. The numbers flick onto the screen and Beekeeper came in 3rd. Turns out mum wasn’t cheering for Media Puzzle after all…
As Damien passes the post, he stands tall in the irons and salute the heavens, sending a kiss skyward to his brother Jason. There was not a dry eye in the house. 12 yr old me had tears streaming down both cheeks. Dad looked glassy and maybe mum was just upset that she didn’t win… To this day I can’t watch the race without bawling from about the 300m mark. Turns out there isn’t any ice in these veins. I’m just a giant marshmallow on the inside.
Quotes from an emotional Damien post-race (through tears):
“Mate. Melbourne Cups don’t mean a thing to me anymore. I’d give it back right now to have my brother back.”
“I know you’re up there mate. I couldn’t’ve done it without you buddy. So this one’s for you.”
Damien even rode in Jason’s race breeches. The very next day, Jason was laid to rest in Perth.