Cup Day: Endless stories
Photo Courtesy of: colourfultrips.com
EVERYBODY HAS A favourite Melbourne Cup Day story and mine, surprisingly for a Cup yarn, does not involve excessive drinking.
It concerns the winner of the 1985 trophy and started about a fortnight before the ‘race that stops the nation’.
I was table-hopping at Gowing’s restaurant in East Melbourne and came across owner Dennis Gowing, millionaire horse breeder Lloyd Williams and jockey Pat Hyland.
They were, they boasted, about to win the Big Race with a jointly-owned nag called What a Nuisance. Yeah, right.
‘Get on it, it’s a cert’, said the car sales king, known to the TV world as ‘Kevin Dennis’.
I went one better, in true ‘put your money where your mouth is’ fashion. At the time, as radio ratings king in Melbourne, I was deeply involved with two charities: The Variety Club and the Save the Children Fund. I was Chairman of Variety and had also just been to Africa to interview Princess Anne, the President of Save the Children.
(On that trip, I was subjected to a classic Royal put-down. Squatting in the dirt, outside a mud hut on the Sudan-Chad border, I mistakenly referred to her as ‘patron’. The haughty reply: ‘I’m not the patron…Mother is’.)
his winner’s purse.
Back at lunch. I told Gowing, that if he was so confident, why didn’t he promise to give me ten per cent of his winner’s purse for charity. He agreed. Magnanimously, so did Williams.
On the Monday before the race, I told the story on my 3AW morning program and tipped What a Nuisance.
Tuesday morning, on the way to The Birdcage -- for a champagne and chicken sandwich lunch out of the boot of the Roller – we stopped off at a Bollinger Breakfast, I think at the Old Melbourne.
They had a Cup sweep going with the horses’ names inscribed on piccolos of champers. Winning prize: Two jeroboams of Bolly. Eight bottles!
I drew What a Nuisance.
The gelding had had a leg injury in 1984 and had been out for months. It’s lead up to the Cup was a fourth in the Moonee Valley Cup and a fifth in the McKinnon Stakes. No wonder it started at 15-1.
It won by a nose in front of Prince Charles and Diana. I’d backed it ($200 at 20-1) so went home with $4000 and four giant bottles of bubbly.
a million dollars
But the best was yet to come. It was the first year that Foster’s had sponsored the carnival and the prize money of more than a million dollars made it the richest race in Australian history.
The winning purse was $650,000. Both Gowing and Williams honoured their luncheon pledge and Variety and STCF were $65,000 better off.
And there was more… as the Demtel man would say. Travelling around Melbourne with the Melbourne Cup is like touring with the Pope. Or the Beatles.
That night, our first stop was at the Southern Cross Hotel for the Trainers’ Dinner where I regaled the mob with my tale of the connections’ charitable generosity.
Then we headed for Maxim’s in South Yarra. It had become a Cup Day must for the winners after Susan Sangster Renouf Peacock etc danced on the table following Robert Sangster’s win with Beldale Ball in 1980.
Lloyd’s socialite wife, Susie, was already ensconced when we rocked up, trophy in hand.
As the night wore on, Dennis Gowing got grumpy. Why wasn’t he celebrating at his own restaurant? Why was Susie hogging the Cup? Lloyd had promised him mantelpiece honours for the first six months because Lloyd already had one cup from Just a Dash.
I told him to be patient. Made sure the limo was parked outside and told him: ‘When I elbow you, head for the door’.
the golden chalice
I waited until Susie Williams was engrossed in some earnest menu discussion with the bow-tied waiter, snatched the golden chalice from in front of her, stuffed it under my jacket and scarpered.
It could have ended badly. With the limo barreling down Toorak Road, I was triumphantly waving the Cup out the window, not realising it was worth $23,000. (Now, I’m told, the 2014 version is worth about $75,000).
Luckily, there was no tram coming the other way or my right arm and the Melbourne Cup could have ended up in Glen Waverly.
We made it back to Gowing’s where Dennis Gowing filled his trophy with champagne and sent it around the room.
What a Nuisance? What a memory.