'The Experience of a Lifetime'
We were thrilled to have a runner in 'The Race That Stops a Nation' and as a syndicate it was an honour to be in The Melbourne Cup line up, with our Richard Hannon trained RAYMOND TUSK. Here, you can read an owners travelogue and watch the feature video of their experience, made by World Horse Racing.
An 'Ordinary Bloke' Gets A Shot At The Cup - by syndicate member Duncan Smith.
"This is not a story of Prince's or Sheikhs, Irish raiders or Japanese stayers...It is my story, an 'ordinary bloke' from a West Yorkshire village best known for 'mungo and shoddy', (more rags to wool than rags to riches), who as a part-owner of Raymond Tusk, went on a great horse racing adventure to one of the biggest races in the world, The Melbourne Cup.
So, how did I, a fresh-faced lad of 17, who made his first racecourse appearance at Wetherby, Easter Monday 1977; end up 42 years later in Melbourne, Australia for the 'race that stops a nation'?
Well, I grew up watching black-and-white film replays of Phar Lap's 1930 Melbourne Cup win, never imagining for a moment that one day I would have a part share in my own runner in the great race. Aside from the Phar Lap replays, I also watched Vintage Crop's breakthrough win for Irish trainer Dermot Weld in 1993, backed up by Media Puzzle in 2002, Makybe Diva's three consecutive Cup victories and more recently, Rekindling and Cross Counter's win last year. As you can see, I have always had a bit of a fascination with the race, so to be there not just for the race, but also as the part-owner was just incredible, it was surreal.
Prior to the ambitious plan to enter the Melbourne Cup, Raymond Tusk had already taken us on a fantastic racing journey. We had experienced the thrill of a number of Group 1 races, including the Eclipse Stakes, the final English Classic, the St Leger, the Ascot Gold Cup, the Emir's Trophy in Qatar and also performing admirably by winning the prestigious €257,000 added Group 2 Gran Premio Del Jockey Club Cup in Milan.
'The 'dream' started to formulate earlier in 2019 when 'Raymond' ran very well in other Group. The race that sealed it though was the prestigious £1m added Ebor Handicap at York, where Raymond Tusk was a fast-finishing 4th after meeting 'traffic' problems. After interest from down under to buy Raymond, a plan was made to enter 'the Cup' for his syndicate.
In the ensuing weeks, after Raymond entered quarantine at Newmarket, we began to learn a lot more about the Melbourne Cup race conditions, the 'Order of Entry', the balloting out process and the very stringent veterinary scans and checks on all the intended runners. This resulted in no less than 5 intended GB horses being ruled out through failing the tests! After weeks of watching, waiting and hoping, Raymond was finally confirmed as having made the field of 24 and had also passed the vet, less than a week before the race! Phew!
To add to the excitement, MPR's Sarah Davey had a meeting with World Horse Racing (WRH), who approached Middleham Park Racing with a view to doing some features for social media about Raymond Tusk and his owner's journey as a syndicate - a mixture of candid self-recordings and formal interviews and we were asked if we might be happy to take part. It sounded fun, so we thought, why not! Thursday 31st October saw us arrive at Manchester airport ready to board the plane to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi, the 22 ½ hour flight, with an additional 2-hour transit stop, appeared daunting, but the excitement of our adventure dispelled any trepidation. I was travelling with my wife Aldene and daughter Alice and fellow Raymond Tusk owner, Jonny Fox.
Day 1 - Flemington Racecourse and Barrier Draw
We arrived at Melbourne airport at 04:30 am local time, 11 hours ahead of UK time; we made our way to our accommodation, got a quick shower, changed and something to eat, and we were on our way to Flemington Racecourse for Derby Day and the Barrier Draw (stalls to us). MPR had sorted out our entry tickets and fellow Raymond Tusk owner, Steve Straker, had kindly picked our tickets up and met us at the gates to enable entry. Amongst the huge crowd and extensive facilities of Flemington racecourse, we caught sight of more familiar faces, Tom Denham and his brother Jim. We all arranged to meet up later for the all-important Barrier Draw. After racing had finished, running on adrenaline, we entered the Mounting Yard area (paddock to us) to await the formalities of the draw. This was to be no backyard affair, the international press were gathered, young Joe Straker was to do the honours of the draw on behalf of the syndicate, as we all waited nervously. Number after number came out and it seemed like the main protagonists were getting all the plum draws.
There were just four numbers to draw; 3, 8, 10 and 21 - Joe went up with some trepidation and drew number 3 stall - Joe didn't look too sure, but we were all thrilled with that as we didn't really want the wide draw. The TV and Press descended upon us to ask what we thought of our draw, needless to say, it was all good! We eventually returned to our apartment, 52 hours after we had got up on Thursday to travel, content with the draw we had received. No rest for the wicked though, we had to be back up at 5am as a coach had been laid on to take us up to Werribee International Horse Centre, where Raymond was stabled for his two weeks quarantine and subsequent race preparation under the care of the very capable Joe Kington from Richard Hannon's stable.
Day 2 - Werribee International Horse Centre - Press and Media Morning
An hour's ride at 6 am brought us to Werribee where a formal press and media morning was to be held, we travelled on the coach with the Racing Post correspondent and other international press and owners. Lee Mottershead of the Racing Post interviewed all the runner's representatives, including our very own Tom Palin. We saw Raymond do a breeze-up and were then taken to see him in his barn while he had his breakfast and gave his nose a rub and wished him well. We got to chat with Joe who had travelled with him and learned about his preparation. We then returned to Melbourne and attended a Betfair corporate event and got to meet the CEO, courtesy of one of Jonny's friends.
Day 3 - Melbourne Cup City Parade
We were determined not to miss out on everything that was taking place and on the day before the Melbourne Cup, in the lead-up to the "race that stops the nation", the City of Melbourne gets in on the festivities each year by hosting the Melbourne Cup Parade, where tens of thousands of people come along to see jockeys, trainers and owners whose horses will compete in the most famous race in Australia, the Melbourne Cup. The Cup holds a special place in every Victorian's heart, so much so that Melbourne Cup Day has been declared a public holiday! Like all the other runners, Raymond had his car with a cheerleader in MPR colours and banner leading the way. Owner Russell Starke and his friend Jim Redstone rode in the car like racing royalty, waving to the gathered crowds. We walked behind the car, enjoying the colour and spectacle.
Our friends from World Horse Racing filmed us at various points throughout the week and have put together the video which accompanied this piece. Press and TV were keen to speak to us, especially as we had travelled halfway around the world to be there. In and amongst all the racing celebrities, they asked, "so who are you?"- I said I'm just an ordinary bloke. The headlines in the Aussie papers the next day read: "An 'ordinary bloke' gets a shot at the Cup"; hence the title to this piece!
We finished the day with a meal in a small Italian restaurant run by Karlos, who ironically had a share in Finche, new favourite for the Cup, along with local racing enthusiasts who had taken us under their wing and made us so welcome.
Day 4 - Melbourne Cup Day
The day was finally upon us, we were suited and booted and with our glad rags on, we were off to Flemington for Raymond's day with destiny. The allure of the Melbourne Cup had attracted a strong field of international runners, both big-money stables and a small mix of syndicated hopefuls. The butterflies, excitement and nervousness went up 10-fold, the atmosphere, colour and sense of occasion was building tangibly, we could feel the level of support from home with goodwill messages from family, friends and other MPR owners.
Raymond has heart, speed, stamina and a touch of class, all the attributes associated with a Melbourne Cup runner. It was awe-inspiring being a part-owner of a Cup runner like some of the biggest names in world racing. From Saudi Arabian royalty and the elite of world racing circles to ordinary English blokes like me, many racehorse owners dream of winning the $8 million Melbourne Cup. We were mixing it on the big stage but were proud to be there. We felt justified being there, based on form, and it felt good to be taking on the big boys to see if we could beat them. It would have been easy to have developed 'imposter syndrome' as we found ourselves stood next people like Tom Magnier of the great Coolmore operation and champion mare Winx's part-owner Peter Tighe, who in a way was no different to anyone else with a share in a racehorse: he too dreamt of winning the Melbourne Cup - his dream was the same as ours. Everybody wants to win a Melbourne Cup around the world, and we are no different.
Peter Tighe said he hoped Finche, one of the favourites to win the $8 million race, would deliver a first Melbourne Cup for himself. It really made you realise if you didn't already know that just getting in the field was a great honour. Win, lose or draw we were happy to enjoy the Melbourne Cup experience. We felt we had already won, just being involved!
We had been wined and dined by the Royal Victoria Racing Club; the time of the great race was upon us. Raymond looked an absolute picture, his coat shone in the spring sunshine; he really stood out and was a credit to the care and preparation of Joe Kington. We entered the Mounting Yard ready for the great race; it was now over to Raymond, Jamie Spencer and Lady Luck! A group of us owners gravitated together in a common cause in the Mounting Yard to watch the race. Suddenly a familiar face appeared; it was ITV anchor Francesca Cumani, asking to interview us live on Sky Sports Racing, asking how we felt at that moment. After all, Raymond wasn't without a chance, it was arguably his right distance, on a mostly galloping track and his last run was his best ever; he was, as she put it, perhaps flying under the radar?
Within seconds the race was off, surreally, our new 'friend' Francesca stood with us to watch the race. Raymond broke reasonably well and took up a nice forward of mid-division position in about 8th place. It was clear that the pace was soon steadied and as they passed us, I muttered to my new 'friend'; "what do you think of the pace"; she just shook her head, which confirmed my fears - it would suit the classy mile and a quarter/mile and a half contenders. The pace never really picked up until about half a mile out. Raymond was still travelling well after they turned into the home straight and he ran on gallantly.
At the furlong pole, he was around joint 4th or 5th and staying on; the time splits show he sustained his run, but he couldn't quicken more from the slow pace; it became a sprint to the line; he is an out and out galloper, not a sprinter. He was far from disgraced and was only beaten 5 lengths in one of the biggest races in the world - we were so proud of him! You could have covered the field with a blanket, just 1 1/4 lengths off $160,000 prize money. No 'Dingo Dollars' this time but Raymond gave us a great spin around; Jamie Spencer said he had a "beautiful position, but the race was too slow", a comment made by no less than 14 other jockeys about the slow pace. You win some, and you lose some with horse racing, that's all part of the game.
The main thing is that Raymond came back safe and well, we lived the dream, we dined at the top table of racing, we really had the very best of times, and we live to fight another day!
By the time you read this, we will have been to visit Raymond at Richard Hannon's Open Day on 30th November. We are looking forward to seeing him back and to start dreaming again about where he might take us next! It doesn't matter if you have 2.5% or 25%; you will have 100% of the enjoyment! If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone, so continue to live your own hopes and dreams as one day, they may just come true!
Thank you, Middleham Park Racing, Richard Hannon and Jamie Spencer, not forgetting the excellent Joe Kington for helping to make this extra-ordinary dream come true for this 'ordinary bloke'! - #EverybodyLovesRaymond."