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Horse racing is much more than an excuse for gambling. It is a love for the beauty, grace and speed of the horse. It can also be an intellectual battle of examining competing facts and trying to formulate the future from results of the past. In some ways it is an investigation, as performed by an eager detective. And in other ways it can be the thrill of a crossword puzzle, with multiple possible responses, but ultimately only one correct answer. It is a thing of beauty as much as it is a matter of commerce. I have been involved with horse racing in both practical and intellectual ways. From time spent as an apprentice jockey, to later the research of bloodlines in the multimillion dollar world of thoroughbred breeding and sales. And for the past seventeen years I have provided speedrating information to the racing industry and public through my company: Speedratings - Leonard Marlborough.

That was close!

December 21st 2008 05:43
The Chris Munce rollercoaster was on the rise again after a thrilling nose victory in the Group 2 Villiers Stakes (1600m) at Randwick yesterday. It was ironic that Munce only gained the ride this week when Jim Cassidy elected to ride race favourite Sniper’s Bullet in the race. Cassidy had won on Something Anything last time out but either honoured an agreement of an earlier engagement to ride Sniper’s Bullet - or selected the wrong horse on a measure of judgement. The wrong decision by Stephen Arnold presented Michael Rodd with a Melbourne Cup win aboard Efficient. Jockeys frequently (often) make a wrong decision when choosing between the best possible mount. So why then would anyone take a tip from a jockey? The irony of this race being convicted ‘tipster’ Munce gaining a last minute winning ride. I wonder which horse Jim Cassidy would have tipped if asked? Sniper's Bullet has done so much flying of late (from Melbourne to Perth to Sydney) that even jetlag would be reason enough to question his winning chances. He tired badly and beat only one other horse to the line.

Dark Marne (inside) - Rimfire (outside). Who won?!
Dark Marne (inside) - Rimfire (outside). Who won?!

And the winning margin was so narrow as to be almost less than a nose. It took the judge a very long time to declare a margin between Something Anything and (eventual) runner-up Hey Elvis. Something Anything did have a chequered path and would have been unlucky to share a win - or suffer a defeat. The connections of Hey Elvis requested a closer look at the photo, but in the end did concede that a margin was visible.

"It was the barest margin and such a good effort by the horse," trainer of Hey Elvis, Bruce Hill.

In a day of photo finish controversy we mark the death of Melbourne Cup winning jockey Ray Neville, who won the 1948 Melbourne Cup in a tight finish on 80/1 longshot Rimfire. Neville was then an apprentice and having only his 9th ride in a race.

In this case too the jockey (Neville) was a last minute replacement for another jockey, the lightweight senior jockey W.A. Smith who decided to switch mounts at the last minute (I wonder who he tipped?). The trainer of Rimfire did not even tell the very young and inexperienced Neville that he was riding in the Cup until the morning of the race - he was fearful that the boy would not sleep and be overcome with nerves if having too long to think about the situation.

1948 was the first year that judge’s used a camera to separate the placegetters. But this new technology was mired in controversy almost immediately upon use.

Racing legend has it that a few days later stewards discovered the camera had not been set up properly, meaning the result of the cup was wrong. However, by then everybody had been paid so the result stood.

Neville collected £475 as his cut of the winnings and was given a £25 sling by the owner. He celebrated with a trip to the circus that night.

Ray Neville at 15 was the youngest jockey to ever be successful in a Melbourne Cup. A record I believe that is very safe and most unlikely to ever be broken. He very quickly became too heavy, although he did spend some time riding over jumps. Although he drifted away from racing to trades like carpentry, Neville did continue to ride trackwork until he was sixty. Ray Neville died on Thursday last week.

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