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The Joe Cooks include characters like The Egg (from his habit of saying, "It's laid") and The Doctor (who loftily says, "You can get better," when asked the odds). All are in the spirit of the legendary Sol Green, whose gold-hubbed Rolls-Royce daily announced his solvency from its parking place opposite the Victoria Club, the posh pad of Melbourne's big books. Sol once paid off �A100,000 (then worth about $400,000) on one wager with the remark, "Best advertisement I ever had." Most of the large cash wagers go to the books, the native sport having a vague distaste for what he calls the tote, which, incidentally, was the invention of an Australian engineer, George Julius, who was knighted for the feat.
Away from Flemington there are few Australians who have nothing going on the Cup. Even the wowser will suspend his prejudice against gambling for one day and have half a dollar in the office sweep. Sunday-school picnics, always timed for Cup Day to keep the young away from the annual frenzy at Flemington, suffer outbreaks of child gambling in small currency and barter goods. Most of this is against the law, of course, yet in 1949, Prime Minister Joseph (Chif) Chiffley was unembarrassed when he held the ticket on unfavored Foxzami and won the Parliament House sweep among the nation's legislators. This year "Tatts" (Tatter-salls, the lottery people), which regard the Irish Sweepstakes as an upstart institution, will hold, as they have done for 80 years, a special Cup Eve drawing. First prize: $270,000.
The Cup that not only cheers but inebriates a nation won its status by no accident. History, poetry, plain money and great horseflesh have gone into it. When the Governor General (riding in a Bentley now, though it used to be a carriage with outriders) moves up the Flemington straight to inaugurate Cup Day, tradition is touched. Leading the Queen's representative is a troop of Victorian Mounted Police on splendid dapple grays. In their white whipcord tights and patent leather leggings and gear, they wear the uniform of the men who rode against outlaw Ned Kelly, Australia's folk hero, hanged not four miles away and only 80 years ago at grim Melbourne Gaol.
The country had yet to be crossed from south to north when the first Cup was run. Indeed, Burke and Wills, the horsemen who performed the feat (distance 2,000 miles) set out on their expedition that same year from Royal Park, just over the hill from Flemington. The course then was just a paddock with a pavilion and two miles of post-and-rail fencing.
"Built when Archer won the Cup," Australians will sneer of some obsolete vehicle. Thus they date the years—as Americans do by Presidents. They hark back to November 7, 1861, when 4,000 turned up at the track and played the "spinning Jinnies" (roulette) or took a chance on "doddle-'em-buck" (a loaded game of no skill) operated by "jerry-diddlers" (swindlers in a small way) until a horse named Archer trounced a field of 16 other colonial stayers by six lengths. Archer won again the next year, and founded the exclusive club of "10-stoners"—winners who carry a handicap weight of 140 pounds or more. The great Carbine and Poitrel are the other members. (Archer might have carried a brutal 158 pounds in 1863, but his acceptance letter was delayed in the mail. Legend has it that even the letter was overweight.)
Again and again the Cup has produced high drama. Such was Wollomai's year (1875), when an attempt was made to derail a train bearing country horseflesh to Melbourne. The following year a gale cost the lives of all but one of 11 Sydney entrants aboard S.S. City of Melbourne . One colt survived, on tender nursing and liberal doses of gin and beer, to be renamed Robinson Crusoe. (To this day a beer spiked with gin is known locally as a horse's neck.) In that year (Briseis') a hot prospect named Newminster was found in agony on his stable straw, poisoned by nobblers (fixers). In Merriwee's Cup of '99, his owner told the jockey, "You're on the best runner in the field." The jock looked at the rain-puddled turf and snarled, "He might have to swim." "You're on the best swimmer, too," said the owner. And so it proved.
The question as to whether, weight for age, Robert E. Lee was a better general than Napoleon or whether Bob Fitzsimmons could have taken Joe Louis is no more abstruse than the obsessional Australian question as to which was the greatest Cup horse of all time—Carbine or Phar Lap. That either one or the other was the greatest horse the world has ever known is very much an article of faith to both parties.
The hippomaniac patriot must begin by conceding the embarrassing fact that both horses—like so many of the best in the 1960 field—were foaled in New Zealand. Horsemen point out that New Zealand, like Ireland, has many qualities in pasture, soil and climate that go to make mares happy in the vital occupation of throwing sound foals. It is a greener land than Australia and does not enervate the studs with 100�-plus temperatures.
In any case, Carbine and Phar Lap were Enzedders (New Zealanders), and each failed in his first Cup shot. In 1890, as a 5-year-old, Carbine had a staggering and still record 145 pounds loaded on his back, yet started the favorite at 4 to 1 in a field of 39. He carried his jockey and his leaded saddle to immortality 2� lengths ahead of the ruck in the then record time of 3.28�, whereupon, a witness wrote, "many people became hysterical in their delight. Women shrieked and even wept, and quiet, decorous old gentlemen in frock coats and top hats abandoned their headgear and shook hands with everyone within reach."
Phar Lap, too, produced more than a little hysteria in his great year—1930. He had streaked through every big race in the country and was odds-on favorite for the Cup when a carload of desperado-handicappers sped past his training quarters and pumped a volley of rifle shots at him as he was being led to the stables. The miscreants were never caught. Phar Lap, whisked to a secret hideout, was theatrically floated to Flemington 40 minutes before the Cup start. Amid the roars of 72,000, his huge stride carried him home against a field of 15, half a second faster than Carbine's time.