Day At The Track

The Victoria Cup – The Race of Champions

12:37 PM 09 Oct 2020 NZDT
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Victoria Cup,Harness racing
Stuart McCormick photo

Harness Racing Victoria’s Victoria Cup is one of the great races on the harness racing calendar, not only in Victoria, but all over Australia.

Champions by the score have competed in the race – some have won, some have lost, with owners and trainers involved in the sport aiming at this prestigious race each season.

Tomorrow will be the forty sixth running of the race and it’s interesting to reflect on how it began.

Harness fanatic Ron Meuleman who for years wrote a trotting column in the Footscray Mail and the Australian Trotting Register and was a regular at every Showgrounds meeting, worked for Rothmans Of Pall Mall, a tobacco company based in Footscray close to his home and on his suggestion approached management with the idea of running a feature pacing race at the Melbourne Showgrounds to promote their product as at the time the only feature of note was the A.G. Hunter Cup.

After consultation with both Rothmans Management and the then Trotting Control Board, the Victoria Cup was born to be known as the Winfield Cup as this was a new brand of cigarettes released by the company.

For the first time, the Winfield Cup was programmed in 1974, the victor being Kings Mead, a 5Y0 Meadow Lawn-Queens Crown gelding trained by former South Australian junior hockey state player Trevor Spry based at Kilmore who had switched from being a professional punter and pop star to a successful owner in the sport.

Kings Mead had been purchased by Spry from an ex-Kiwi trainer Russ Fiddler who lived in Kilmore for Templetowe builders Edo and Ritto Bettiol. Driven by Bill Le Sueur, Kings Mead led throughout over the 2538 metre journey from the pole to defeat Just Too Good and King Frost in a mile rate of 2-08.7. The field included Adios Victor, Nevada Smoke and Royal Gaze.

A who’s who of Australasia’s greatest horses were to contest the race in future years with winners such as Paleface Adios, Welcome Advice, Koala King, Popular Alm, Preux Chevalier, Bag Limit, Sinbad Bay, Franco Ice, Master Musician, Golden Reign, Chokin, Holmes DG, Shakamaker, Sokyola, Blacks A Fake, Smoken Up, Lennytheshark and Young Rufus just to name a few.

The race was switched to a mobile start in 1976 which saw the Laurie Moulds (NSW) trained Don’t Retreat victorious.

One of the biggest plunges landed in the race came in 1990 when Queenslander Sovereign Cloud (Brad Connelly) sensationally backed in from as much as 50/1 to around 12/1 saluted in a rate of 1-58.9, accounting for Thorate and Reba Lord, while Bag Limit did similar in 1988 to win for Bob and Vin Knight, defeating Luxury Liner and Rufus Young Blood in 1-58.5 in a race full of controversy. Bag Limit had won the race the previous year.

The Rothmans sponsorship was to end in 1989 and the sponsorship name has changed numerous times since.

This Saturday, another pacer will etch his or her name into the record books by winning the time honoured Victoria Cup - bring it on!


Len Baker

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