Thursday, 21 June 2012
To Race or Not Race; That is The Question

WORDS: JOHN RYAN

The year was 1881 and a letter appeared in the daily papers in Sydney from W.A. Long MLA.

William Long was a prominent figure; a lawyer, wealthy racehorse breeder and member of the Australian Jockey Club.

He was also the owner of the champion racehorse Grand Flaneur.

In the 1881-82 racing season Grand Flaneur was unbeaten winning the AJC Derby and the Melbourne Cup.

At the Australian Cup meeting at Flemington, the horse was a hot favourite and strongly backed but before the race Long scratched his horse.

The decision created great surprise and resentment among racegoers and those who had taken pre-post wagers.

Thereafter, whenever Long and his horse appeared on the racecourse, they were subject to demonstrations from a hostile racing public. In response Long wrote the following letter to the newspaper:

“As the public seemed dissatisfied on Saturday last at the scratching of Grand Flaneur, I desire to notify as publicly as possible that the horse in my name ran solely for the pleasure of myself and my partner J.R. Smith. That I have the sole management of his racing and will scratch him for any engagement at my convenience, within the provisions of the rules and regulations of the AJC and VRC. I desire to caution the public against backing my horses until they appear on the racecourse.”

This view of William Long was evidently accepted by the Australian Jockey Club for he was later elected as its chairman.

However, it was not a view accepted by many paying and punting patrons and Long received hostile receptions whenever his horses appeared; even when his horse Hopscotch won the Epsom Handicap at Randwick in 1895.

But for Long, the issue was quite clear. Racing was a sport run in the interests of the owner who provided the horses and paid for their training and running and who was guided by the best interests of his horse and trainer.

But there was a larger question … was it in the best interests of racing?

By 1890 racing was the national sport with a large public following paying for admission to the racecourse and the public looked to the race club to provide control and protection for betting patrons.
Hence, in whose interests were the best interests of racing?

As racing became more and more a large public sport in Australia with interstate and national betting interests involved, especially in the big racing carnivals, the question took on a wider compass.

What was the Club’s responsibility to the betting public off course for the running of a horse on which money had been invested in early acceptances and doubles markets?

Could an owner scratch a horse on which there was a large pre-post investment if he decided, as William Lang did, that it was in his interests or that of his trainer that the horse did not run?

A difficult question, especially in a period before the off-course Totalizator and when there was a large SP betting network with bookmaker charts on the Feature Doubles at the racing carnivals.

The scratching of a well-favoured horse could be a windfall for bookmakers especially if it was one of the favourites in the second leg of a double.

This was the issue faced by the Australian Jockey Club during the spring carnival of 1953.

The problem arose with the proposed scratching of Carioca from the AJC’s Metropolitan Handicap, the second leg of the Feature Double of the meeting.

Carioca was one of the most popular racehorses ever to race in Sydney. For Australian racegoers he had all the elements of an Australian racing hero.

Purchased for just 200 pounds, his early career was as a knockabout horse in the bush owned and trained by an ex-jockey in Jack Booshand.

Following an accident, Booshand leased his horse to another country rider P.C. (Duck) Hoysted.

Hoysted discovered that Carioca had a foot problem which he was able to rectify and soon came to recognise that he had a galloper right out of the box.

He then brought him to Warwick Farm as a five-year-old to begin a career on Metropolitan racetracks. And what a career it was to be …

Carioca’s first five runs produced five wins breaking course records at 6 and 7 furlongs (1200m & 1400m) and then went onto a mile at Randwick which he won teaming up with Sydney’s popular jockey Billy Cook.

No-one knew just how good he was but at each new distance the horse just went on to a stronger winning performance.

He could be the best horse I have ridden Cook declared before he was nominated for the Sydney Summer Double – the Villiers Handicap and the Summer Cup.

At the Christmas meeting he gave his Carioca followers a very Happy Christmas by winning both feature races.

In winning the Villiers, Carioca ran a faster mile than Bernborough and became the first horse to win the Summer Feature Double.

His army of supporters now believed he could win at any track, at any distance with Billy Cook on board; no matter what the opposition.

When Carioca returned in the autumn after a spell he took up his charismatic life again. He won the Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm and Hoysted set him for the Sydney Cup.

Carioca hadn’t run over two miles but that didn’t daunt his followers and when the Doncaster-Sydney Cup double charts appeared, Carioca was coupled with the favourites in the Doncaster.

When Tarien took out the Doncaster, bookmakers faced an Easter Monday ‘Armageddon’.

On the Monday 70,000 patrons came to the course to see one of the great Sydney Cups when Carioca raced away from the field to win by two lengths.

Even as the reception was being held, punters were lining up for one of the biggest marathon payouts in Randwick history.

This then was the background to events surrounding the Epsom-Metropolitan double at the following 1953 spring carnival.

Carioca accepted for both feature races and was naturally installed as favourite in each event, but now as his trainer’s plan was to set him for the 2-mile Melbourne Cup the following month, punters also coupled his Metropolitan number with other favoured mile runners in the Epsom, including the second favourite Silver Phantom.

A crowd of 72,000 came to see a most sensational Epsom Handicap at Randwick.

In the race two horses came down and Billy Cook, riding his usual race from behind, had to hurdle a fallen runner at the top of the straight. Carioca, in a very hard and draining race for the horse, came in third.

The race was won by Silver Phantom who run broke the record held by the former champion Shannon.
The win, however, offered no relief to bookmakers for they still faced a huge payout if Carioca was to win the Metropolitan on the Monday.

It was in this atmosphere after the race that news began to spread around the course that Carioca was to be scratched from Monday’s Metrop.

Evidently when he came back from his run in the Epsom, Hoysted inspected his horse and decided that another hard run over a mile and a half on Monday would be too much for him and in the interests of his horse, he would withdraw Carioca from Monday’s contest.

This was one report but as soon the news got out, another report quickly spread … that the horse was
scratched to save the bookmakers.

The AJC Committee was hearing other rumours; one was that the decision to scratch the horse had been made earlier – before the Epsom on Saturday.

In response the Committee, in a highly controversial decision, decided to order a veterinary inspection of Carioca over the weekend and if the horse was passed fit to race, it would take a very serious view if the horse was scratched.

What would this mean?

Pressed on the matter the Chairman, Mr A.G. Potter said: “One thing we could do would be to refuse any future nominations.”

On the Sunday, Carioca was inspected by four veterinarians and the AJC vet, Mr W.J. McFadden, who reported that, although the horse showed signs of fatigue, he had not been seriously affected by his Epsom run.

Another inspection on Monday morning at the course confirmed this opinion and Hoysted, against his own wishes, prepared Carioca to take his place in the field.

The news was greeted with tremendous interest and another huge crowd came to Randwick to see the race.

“FIELDERS FACE HUGE DOUBLES PAYOUT”

Was the headline in the morning’s paper and when Billy Cook came out to mount Carioca, the duo was given a huge reception.

Whatever the doubts may have been about Carioca’s fitness, his supporters never wavered and he went out the crowd’s favourite at 7/4 ($2.75).

Carioca’s win in the Metropolitan was one of the most courageous seen at Randwick – at the turn he appeared to be almost out of the race and in the straight he tended to roll about, veering out from the running rail, but his jockey held him up and he just prevailed’ reaching the winning post a long head in front of the second favourite Hydrogen.

“It was only his great heart that got him to the post,” said Billy Cook.

It was a tired and jaded-looking horse that came back to the winner’s stall to receive “perhaps the finest ovation ever accorded a thoroughbred at Randwick”.

As he followed his horse towards the swabbing stalls, Hoysted reiterated his opinion that the horse should not have run: “You see, I was not lying.”

Some say Carioca never recovered from this weekend of racing and he didn’t go south for the Melbourne Cup.

By next autumn Carioca’s owner and trainer both declared that the horse “has had it; he is over the hill.”

So in whose interests was “the best interests of racing” at the AJC Spring Carnival of 1953?

Whatever we might decide about the decision of the AJC Committee to run Carioca in the Metropolitan Handicap there is one thing we can be sure of; if a former chairman, William Long, had been in office at the time Carioca would never had won the 1953 Metropolitan Handicap.

In fact, Carioca would most likely never have run …