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10 August 2010

The Race That Stops A Nation

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Melbourne Cup. I've been photographing the race since 1993. That was my first year, and I am ashamed to say that I was completely overwhelmed by the occasion and by the sheer noise of the crowd. I botched the finish completely. I did redeem myself a little bit my taking a very nice sequence from the top of the Clock Tower building. But given that the winner was Vintage Crop, that it was the first time international horses had competed in the race, and one of them had actually won the race, in large part I shall never forgive myself for this failure. I did take some good shots though, and wasn't completely hopeless, but admit to being overwhelmed come the Cup. Sigh...

1994 - kinder to me. I wasn't properly accredited yet, and it was cold and wet, but I did get some proper images of the finish. I really liked the winner, a stallion called Jeune, too (although didn't put any money on him, alas, he paid $20), but the Clerk of the Course made his pony dance across the winner, spoiling the return to scale shot again from the Clock Tower roof. Note - I am terrible with heights, so fair achievement to scale the ladder with camera equipment, shimmy across to the roof, and stand up there and take pictures. The favourites were Vintage Crop, who incurred a nasty cut in quarantine only a week or so before the Cup, and supposedly the best stayer in the world, Double Trigger, pictured below. Both internationals disappointed, although Vintage Crop was FAR from disgraced after being given an incredibly wide run.

1995 was one of the years I missed. It seems that whenever I miss a Cup, it is won by the winner of the Caulfield Cup that year, thus meaning I missed a Cups Double winner. It was my first year at University, and the rotten Economics Department at the ANU scheduled an exam for VRC Derby Day. Only the Economics Department would commit such a sin. And I think I had another exam that week, so with huge regret I missed the race, and Doriemus getting his Cups Double. I did miss a soaking though, which is I guess some consolation.

In 1996, I was blessed by being there for The Horse From Heaven. I am not remotely religious, and did not pen the name, but oh, what a glorious, glorious horse, and of course he was trained by Bart Cummings, who I'd only ever idolised from afar. The horse's name was Saintly, and he was ridden by Darren Beadman. Not all that long after this, Saintly broke down and didn't ever race again (he did win the CF Orr Stakes in February 2007, but bowed the tendon shortly thereafter), and Beadman gave up the track for a position with the Ministry. He said God had called him. Bart said he ought to get a second opinion! I sent the photos of Saintly to Mr Cummings, with a letter, because being there meant so much to me. And Mr Cummings wrote back to me. This letter is a treasured possession. He liked this image so much that he ordered some prints to send to the numerous fans of Saintly that would write in to him. Such is his generosity and love of the horse. This image has just been selected for a very special purpose, which I will hopefully be able to disclose soon. It's lovely Karma. It was the first Melbourne Cup I was fully accredited for, in my own right, and inside the mounting enlosure, and it was a very special moment. This was a special year, so I'm including more than one image. Indulgence!

1997 - a new champion, his name was Might and Power. I admit, in my post-Saintly heartbreak (I get very emotionally attached), to taking a little while to warm to this horse. He was a champion though, and I am now very fond of him through my work with Living Legends, where the horse now resides. He is pictured below with my son Heath, and a few years later having a run in his paddock, with 'all his flags flying'. This year I did capture the horse winning the Caulfield Cup, so I do have a Cups Double winner on file! Hurrah!

1998 - A mare called Jezabeel won the Cup. I'd have probably preferred the runner up, Champagne, to have won the race. They were both by Zabeel, that grand NZ stallion, but Champagne was prettier, and a more brilliant horse. She won the MacKinnon Stakes on VRC Derby Day, and had been a terrific 3-year-old, but the older mare out-muscled and out-stayed her and came again after being headed to win narrowly.

1999 - Mr Cummings! Again! My second Bart Cummings Cup winner, with a horse from the West, Rogan Josh. The weather turned cloudy at the last minute. Like literally, in the five minutes before the Cup. These were film days. You couldn't just dial the ISO up another few stops. And I'd erred, and gone for a 400 film instead of the 800 I had in the bag. I can't recall now whether I had the 800 in my pocket or not, but while the images are good, there were a few with a little bit of movement, and in hindsight, the 800 was the way to go! Frankie Dettori won a race on Cup Day, and did his famous star jump. I always liked this image.

2000 was Brew. Kerrin McEvoy is now a household name. Back then he was the kid from Streaky Bay. It was all a bit of fun. The horse wasn't brilliant, just a tough NZ bred stayer. He may have been one of the last G1 winners for his sire, the great stallion Sir Tristram, and I think his second Melbourne Cup winner. He certainly contributed to more wins through his sons and daughters (eg Zabeel has sired 3 winners I think, Might and Power, Jezabeel and Efficient, and he's not done yet), and his dam was none other than the champion racemare Horlicks. So on breeding alone, he was a bit of a special horse.

2001 - the second Cup I missed. I was firmly told I was just too pregnant. I was 39 weeks pregnant, and had struggled through the Cox Plate 10 days earlier, in my determination to not miss my darling mare Sunline try to win her third Cox Plate, but had bowed to the greater judgement of many that the Cup was too close. Turns out I missed (1) another soaking and (2) you guessed it, another Cups Double winner! I think I would have put up with the soaking! I was up mutinously checking airfares on the Qantas website the night before, but didn't go, and spent a rare Cup day at work at home in Canberra, hating every minute of it! Naturally our son Heath arrived a couple of weeks late, and wasn't born until 24th November, so perhaps I woosed out! This was the year of the Ansett collapse too, which nearly left me stranded for some important days. I was sad to see them go. They'd carried me faithfully to so many race meetings, and now they weren't around. Qantas stepped into the void now, and so now I fly with them. I don't like Virgin! They were mean to me, and so now I don't fly with them unless absolutely desperate. It was also the year of September 11. I can't say how much that affected me. Specially because I had to fly. It also made aircraft security murderous and traveling with heavy equipment was a nightmare. They wanted to check it through not let me carry it on board like I had done for years. Of course early in 2002 they 'lost' my camera bag. It nearly ruined me, as the insurance claim took so long to settle, because of the airline company (I'm friends with them again now!) wouldn't declare it stolen, it was a $16,000 lost property item. I couldn't even lodge a theft report, because there was the jurisdiction problem, of where was it actually stolen. Did it leave the airport? Where did it go if so? Was it stolen in the ACT? Victoria wouldn't lodge a report, as there was no evidence of it ever arriving (no scanning of luggage in those days), no sign of it on the carousel camera footage, it could have gone anywhere they said! In the end, all I could do was lodge a lost property statement with the AFP. Crazy red tape! A friend came to my rescue and loaned me equipment to get through the autumn carnival. As if having a newborn baby who refused to feed and sleep, having a moody and difficult teenage stepdaughter, and post-natal depression wasn't stressful enough!

2002 - back on deck. Difficult year, all the rules were changed, as I now had a young baby at foot, and he traveled with me, and was minded by my family in Melbourne. The carefree days were over! It was an historic win. Media Puzzle won for Dermot Weld and Damien Oliver. Dermot was famous because he remains the only international trainer to take the Cup, he won with Vintage Crop in 1993, and so is a gifted Irish trainer, and you can't help but really like the Irish. I could listen dreamily to their accents for hours. I'm sure it is why I love visiting Coolmore Stud! I feel like a budgie listening and learning new words! And of course Damien Oliver rode with such composure. His older brother had died just days before the Cup, from injuries sustained in a race fall. It was heartbreaking stuff, and when Damien won the Cup, he raised his hand to the sky saluting his fallen brother. He was so composed, and so brave.

2003 - Who knew! I was actually struggling personally. Our young child Heath had been diagnosed, at only 18 months, with type 1 diabetes. It was a devastating blow and came as such a shock. All at once the world that I was living seemed to collapse around me. My child was laying in hospital seriously ill, and in intensive care. He was ok, it was routine for newly diagnosed diabetics, and he wasn't at coma stage, but he was close, so thank goodness I didn't delay any longer than I already had. No thanks to stupid incompetent GP who failed to diagnose his diabetes in 5 appointments, and us asking at least 3 times 'is this diabetes?'. Bastard.... Of course I didn't know whether I could keep my 'real' job, we lost our daycare spot, I had to take 2 months off work from CSIRO, and after much pleading they relented and let me use the many many days of sick leave I had, but they were far from generous, and finally put a large amount of pressure for me to return 'or else'. The pediatrician was kind, and lobbied the daycare centre 'run' by CSIRO to accept Heath as special needs. They did this, getting permission to carry an additional child on their licence. I'll never forget the way the Centre Director came to our aid. She was great. Of course at the time I thought that continuing to photograph would be impossible. I live in Canberra. Travelling with a young child had seemed ok, but now I had a diabetic toddler. In one of the first visits to Melbourne, I stayed at my Dad's house, and dropped a full bottle of insulin on their tiles. The place smelled like a hospital for hours! Of course I burst into tears at that. And the Bali Bombing happened that year I think on Caulfield Cup day. But who won the Cup???? At the time I was far more excited by Nikon (dear Julie Mitrovski and Jann Hott) loaning me a 400mm f2.8 lens! It was brand new! Had only been used a couple of times. The brand new model. It cost $16,000!!!!! But an unsung mare called Makybe Diva won the Cup that year. Like I said. Who knew!!

2004 - another soaking. And I mean a REAL soaking, one that involved having to stand out in the pouring rain for over an hour, such is the setup at Flemington that means if you don't get out of the mounting yard before a certain time you couldn't get out till after the horses went out. Sept 11 changed so many things. Insurance hassles and security hassles. Everything was different. A storm swept through Flemington about 90 minutes before the Cup. You could see it coming on the radar. It hit with enormous ferocity. I've only seen it bettered by the March 2010 storm on Australian Cup day. In the end, I photographed the race in driving rain, freezing cold, my fingers so cold they were stiff, and hoping desperately that my lens wouldn't fog up, and that my trusty F5 wouldn't seize in the wet. A number of the new digital cameras failed that day. I refused to photograph the race before it was so wet, I didn't want to risk my gear. The images are only just ok, it was atrocious conditions, but I was there, and the mare won her second Cup. She was the first successive winner of the Cup since Think Big in 1974, and certainly my first and only to date. I felt sorry for Vinnie Roe. He had a big weight, was taken very wide, and the mare had a dream run up the inside. It was a brilliant ride by Boss. Vinnie was taking ground off the mare at the end, and he was a deadset champion, who deserved a Cup. It took a grand stayer to beat him and a brilliant ride by a brilliant local jockey. I thought I'd throw in an image I took, first time I photographed the horse, on VRC Derby Day. Shot in glorious sunlight, in stark contrast to the bleak conditions of Cup Day is a horse called Takeover Target. The rest was history.

2005 - would she or wouldn't she? Would she even start in the race? She missed winning the Caulfield Cup by a whisker. Probably a good thing, she'd have been given a big penalty, and that makes you wonder whether she would have (a) taken her place in the field, and (b) could she have won with more weight. 58kgs in a fair weight for a mare. It was a weight carrying record. After much conjecture, and after taking a pretty dramatic Cox Plate (I'm not convinced she met a vintage Cox Plate field, but you can only beat who lines up, and did she beat them!), she took her place in the Cup. I was hiring a digital camera for the first time, but still entrusted the job of the race itself to my trusty F5 film camera. I don't regret the decison. I finally had my own 300mm f2.8 lens by this time, and the photographs were great. It was a wonderful occasion to be present for.

2006 - Post Diva. Well, goodness me is all I can say! I took a plunge, feeling completely frustrated by what I'd been taking in recent times. I'd begun playing with head-on angles. Made possible by the purchase of a tele-converter and the loan by Nikon (thanx to John Wallace) of a D2X. This camera isn't a patch on my present camera, the flagship Nikon D3s, but it did have a handy high speed crop feature, which made my focal length pretty long. So I found a possy alongside my mate Jay Town, a superb photographer who works for News Ltd, and shot it head on. I'm shooting the 150th Cup from here, come hell or high water. I haven't done it since 2006, and need to do it again. Am figuring that the finish may well be dramatic and important. And wouldn't it be great to see Bart's glamour colt So You Think, in all his handsome glory, with perhaps Glen Boss on board, sweep towards me head on, doing a huge victory salute. I really want Mr Cummings to win this Cup, although I fear with the Japanese coming that this might be tough. He has the horse this year though, if he comes up, he's just fabulous.

2007 - Equine Influenza! This spring sucked! No Sydney races. My own mare off bounds, as I wasn't allowed contact with her within 48 hours of a race meeting. There was no EI within 300kms of Canberra, but because we were smack bang in the middle of NSW, we were declared a red-zone. There were all sorts of restrictions on where we could go. I later found out that Des Gleeson approved my being in the 'red-zone', but that the outsourcing people didn't act on it. The walkway we had to go through was dangerous, filled with drunks hanging over the rail. I don't cope well with that situation, and feel intimidated. We had to struggle through a narrow pathway filled with a growing pile of empty beer cans, wine glasses and bottles. It was awful. Thankfully come Cup day they agreed it was dangerous and widened it. And they had listened, and allowed me access to the head on area after the winning post where I wanted to go. Cup Day saw a dreadful fall with a horse destroyed, and also a terrible heat haze following heavy rain on Saturday night and Sunday (where I coped another soaking doing the international trackwork at Sandown). So because of this I didn't use the converter, and shot the race just with the 300mm lens, which didn't give me the focal length to go truly head on. It was a difficult year, under difficult circumstances, and I know that the VRC did their best, but there were times that I hated every moment of it. It was lovely that Efficient won though. I was pleased about that. Oh! And I put a winning bet on the trifecta!!!! My sister was delighted!!!! I'd left Heath at home, and only had Jessica this year. Cringed with guilt at leaving Heath behind. He really struggled too, felt like he'd done something wrong being left at home because he'd always come with me, and his little 2yo sister got to go to Melbourne and see her cousins. You can see our trifecta in the bottom image. Here is my big sis' blog post, it was a ripper:

2008 - everyone said Septimus was a moral. And that the Ballydoyle team would run away with the Cup. There were so many international runners. And they came very close to winning it, well, Luca Cumani that is. The Ballydoyle runners set out like scalded cats. At the 1200m mark they were miles in front, and I was thinking either they were superhorses and we were in for a whooping, or they were going to fall in a heap. The latter eventuated. And which horse prevailed. A near black horse called Viewed. Who was he trained by???? That man Mr James Bartholomew Cummings. His 12th, and the 3rd time I'd photographed one of his horses winning. I had a new camera too, the magical and wonderful Nikon D3. The image quality is unparalleled, and I love using it.

2009 - Shocking won the Cup. I was pleased because I'd taken good shots of him the day before in the pool and being hosed. I was SO close to the trifecta too, bugger it! I backed him, but that just meant that we made our money back. Another year! It was cloudy and overcast though, and the light wasn't brilliant. But I was working for Darley, who I love working for, and their stallion, Street Cry (who I'll be photographing in less than 3 weeks now, so exciting!) who's also the daddy of the mighty mare Zenyatta in the USA, sired the winner, and I was working for them, and that was terribly exciting. It was good for them, I was very pleased. Pity the light was so dull. Not that it matters nearly so much with a D3!

2010 - ?????????????????????? This is the horse I want to win it! His name is So You Think (see above), and he's trained by the Master, and he's glorious to look at.