This is an old story now. It starts in 1956 when I was nearly 9 and a racehorse began its career by coming second in the AJC Breeders Plate, the first classic race of the season held just after the ‘official’ birthday of horses of August 1st in the Southern Hemisphere.
Yes, we were in Sydney, Australia, to be precise Royal Randwick Racecourse. Soon after, this horse, that was to become one of the greatest racehorses of all time. It won its first race, the Canonbury Stakes and proceeded to win or come second in every one of his races in the 1956/57 season and repeated the dose with 14 wins and two placings in his next year as a three-year old.
It was in this year that Tulloch broke the record for the mile and a half held by Phar Lap for 29 years and then proceeded to take out the second great race on the calendar, the Caulfield Cup. It was in this season that my father took me, just the two of us, the Warwick Farm racecourse, south-west of Sydney, to see Tulloch win the Chipping Norton Stakes by over 10 lengths
But glory does not always come to those who are great, and the owner scratched Tulloch from the Melbourne Cup as he believed that the race, at 2 miles, was too long for a three-years old. While he may have put the interests of the horse first, who proceeded to win virtually every other race on the calendar, the fans and backers of the champion felt that this was glory denied.
At this time Tulloch was not just racing in fixed weight events but also handicaps, where his ‘swampy back’ and relatively small stature seemed to carry the burden with ease.
And then disaster – a stomach infection that should have killed the horse, left him in the paddock for nearly two years. I felt an empathy with the horse as this period was also when I suffered from bronchial complaints that had me hospitalised and in recovery for many months. Yet, the horse recovered and Won its first race back. On my side I won scholarships for high schools.
It was 1960, when Tulloch was once again at his peak, and I had learned how to ‘run a book’ from my accountant father. For a week before the great race, the Melbourne Cup, I took bets on the field, but the odds were SP (starting price) so I could not control the ‘book’. It seemed that if Tulloch won, all the ‘zac’ (6 pennies) and ‘tray’ (threepenny) bets on Tulloch would ruin me when the great horse won – as it was certain to do. Tulloch was carrying 64 kg, about 7 kg more than the heaviest impost of the current era.
At 2:40 pm, we listened during Physics class to the call of the race – and somehow, Tulloch’s jockey connived for the horse to lose. While my pockets swelled, my heart sank. I felt that I had sold the soul of my hero for a silver penny.
Yes, Tulloch recovered from this shattering experience and went on to win his last race, the Brisbane Cup, over the same 2 miles distance, in a faster time and carrying over 62 kg – proving that for the great there is only one law – Never Give Up.
Yet, I wonder how the great horse felt, alone in the paddocks again, away from the cheers and adulation of the thousands of fans and backers.
I still have a large framed photo of my hero who passed on in 1969 just one month after my first marriage.