1939 Melbourne Cup. Rivette. COPYRIGHT Fairfaxphotos.
The VRC has always been vitally aware of the importance of nurturing winter racing. With prize money and prestige being devoted to horses young and old, sprinter or stayer, the Club has been determined to uphold the rich tradition of winter entertainment that started many years ago. Flemington’s winter finals race day has provided many memorable moments and also launched spring contenders, with many of its races named after past greats of the turf.
TAJ ROSSI SERIES
This Listed race for 2YOs is named after Taj Rossi, the outstanding performer trained by the legendary Bart Cummings.. When the son of Matrice was bought by Cummings in 1972 at the Adelaide Yearling Sales for $18,000 (top price) and then sold to prominent owner Victor Peters, neither could envisage the heights to which Taj Rossi would rise in his short but spectacular career. Beginning his racing as a two-year-old in Adelaide, his first two wins came in moderate company in the winter of 1973 at Flemington. In the spring he ran second at Moonee Valley. Then followed a dazzling sequence in which he won six of his next seven starts including the Ascot Vale Stakes, Moonee Valley Stakes, W.S. Cox Plate, Victoria Derby, George Adams Hcp and Sandown Guineas. Said Bart Cummings: “All along I have said that he is one of the best, if not the best, three-year-old that Australia has known in the last 50 years”. This magnificent group of victories secured for Taj Rossi the award of Racehorse of the Year for the 1973-74 season. Cummings had great respect for Taj Rossi, who was retired to stud as a four-year-old, siring among others, Taj Eclipse the winner of the 1983 VRC Oaks and yes, owned by Mr and Mrs Victor Peters.
Taj Rossi. Artist Michael Jeffery. Source: VRC Collection.
BANJO PATERSON SERIES
Revered author and poet Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson had a lifelong love affair with horses. Polo matches, picnic races and riding his own pony were all part of his early life in country NSW. After moving to Sydney and qualifying as a solicitor, he began submitting poetry to The Bulletin under the pseudonym “The Banjo”, the name of a racehorse his father had owned. His various careers included jockey, horse trainer in the Middle East during WWI and racing journal editor, but it’s his wonderful bush ballads and poems – such as The Man From Snowy River – that truly reflect his equine passion. In 1886 he published A Dream of the Melbourne Cup; the first of many racing ballads, including Old Pardon, the Son of Reprieve, The Open Steeplechase, Rio Grande’s Last Race and The Wargilah Handicap.
Banjo Paterson at races. Source: Australian Racing Museum collection.
This series is named for Leilani, another Bart Cummings-trained champion who left an indelible print on Australian racing. Leilani won the 1974 AJC Oaks as a three-year-old before transforming into a dominant four-year-old race mare, winning the Turnbull Stakes, Toorak Handicap, Caulfield Cup and Mackinnon Stakes in the spring of 1974, before running a gallant second to stablemate Think Big in the Melbourne Cup. In the ensuing autumn, Leilani won the Orr Stakes, St George Stakes and Australian Cup, among other races. Winning 14 of her 28 starts, Leilani was a horse that Cummings was very fond of; so much so that he named his Sydney stables Leilani Lodge in her honour. Although Cummings was not one to talk much about his horses - especially those in the past as he preferred to look forward - it is well-known that he had huge respect for Leilani, known as a great horse with great fight. Leilani was raced by prominent Melburnians, The Hon Andrew and Mrs Susan Peacock as well and Mr Ian and Mrs Liz Rice.
Leilani. VRC Collection.
This series is aimed at 3YOs over the 1200m-1400m distance and takes in heats across metropolitan and country venues. It is named in honour of Rivette, who as a six-year-old mare owned and trained by Harry Bamber at Mentone, emerged from obscurity in the spring of 1939 to become the first of her gender to capture the coveted Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double. By the time the great race started, Rivette was into 5-1 favouritism in a field of 26 horses. She won by a half-length in a time of 3-27.0 and earned £7,200 for connections. It is said that Rivette changed the fortunes, and life, of Harry Bamber, for whom times were tough before the winning mare came along. Bamber owned, trained and bred Rivette, a rare feat in Melbourne Cup history.
1939 Rivette and H Bamber. ARM Collection.
THE MAHOGANY CHALLENGE
Newly introduced in 2019, The Mahogany Challenge was created to showcase developing stayers in Victoria. The series is for 3YOs only and takes in heats at Flemington, Caulfield and Sandown, before culminating in the final on Flemington Finals Day. The series is named after Mahogany, who was raced jointly by Hall of Fame owner Lloyd Williams and businessman Kerry Packer, and trained by the all conquering Lee Freedman. He won eight Group 1 races, including both the Victoria Derby and Australian Derby as a three-year-old, and was named the Australian Racehorse of the Year for the 1993-94 season. Known as one of the most versatile gallopers in Australian racing history, Mahogany won half of his eight Group 1s at Flemington, including the Lightning Stakes in 1995 and 1997.
Mahogany. VRC Collection.