The 150th Melbourne Cup: Rivette -- first mare to win the 1939 Cup
Adapted by Frank Morris
The Melbourne Cup has never been just another horse race and a ‘still distant’ war could not disrupt it in November 1939.
Recruiting for the Second AIF was underway and dots of khaki added a more sombre tone to the usual colourful Flemington scene on Cup Day. About 2000 soldiers were present and those in uniform were admitted without charge.
Despite the fact that the war had been in progress for two months, events overseas had made little impact on the daily lives of Australians.
The Sydney Morning Herald said: “The war will have little impact on the brilliant pageantry of Melbourne’s spring racing carnival. Most of the principal hotels already report that their bookings are full.
“Leading hostesses are waiting on events overseas, and even Government House has not indicated what lead it will give to the social world.”
Echoes of the Australian experience of the Great War and the Depression were personified in the life of Harry Bamber, breeder and trainer of the Cup winner, Rivette.
Only once before in the history of the Melbourne Cup had one person combined these roles.
Bamber was a veteran of a Light Horse regiment in the Great War who later farmed a soldier-settler block at
Scoresby on the outskirts of Melbourne. After several years of struggle, he quit the farm in favour of horse training but was severely affected by the Depression.
He managed to retain one mare and scraped together the twenty guineas stud fee which resulted in the birth of Rivette.
Rivette started a favourite at 5/1 and won the race easily, becoming the first mare to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double.
Earlier in the year she had been quoted at long odds for the Caulfied Cup and bookmakers were dismayed at her subsequent success.
The horse was unlucky not to have won the Moonee Valley Cup that year as well.
After missing the start, and being twenty lengths last five furlongs (approximately 1000 metres) from the finish she still managed to come third.
Rivette won 14,000 pounds for ‘battler’ Harry Bamber whose persistence with his champion was rewarded.
Captions: Rivette wins the Cup, Border Morning Mail (Albury) [Australia 1939; Susan Johnston and Lindsay Nation, NSW University Press, 1989].
Unknown Archer wins the inaugural Melbourne Cup
Adapted by Frank Morris
A new event was on the program for the first day of the Victorian Turf Club’s spring meeting at Flemington on Thursday, November 7, 1861. It was a 2-mile (3.2 kilo-metre) race known simply as the ‘Melbourne Cup’, the last event of four to be held on the day. Despite the tremendous interest the race generated … (no) club committee could have imagined they were instituting … the longest enduring sporting event in the country. The cup stipulated that it was a sweepstake with 200 sovereigns in prize money. The evening before the race to decide a market for the event … among the odds quoted, a virtually unheard of Sydney horse called Archer, was given 8 to 1. The following afternoon, seventeen starters lined up for the inaugural Melbourne Cup. The mare Twilight bolted before the start … (but) she was recaptured. Tragedy struck as they entered the straight for the first time: Medors faltered and crashed to the turf, bringing down both Despatch and the hapless Twilight, who regained her feet and galloped off the course. However, the race continued with Archer surging to the lead ahead of Flatcatcher. The horses entered home straight, three lengths clear of Antonelli. Archer increased his lead to win easily from Mormon and Prince in 3 minutes 52 seconds. Archer returned the next year and became the first horse to win the Melbourne Cup twice. [Great Events in Australia’s History; Child & Associates, 1988.]
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