A Memory of Might and Power on Cox Plate Day, 1998.

 

In 1998, I lived in Brisbane and, throughout that Spring, I was heading to the races with a bloke called Bimbo. We were both broke PhD students. I had the Camira which was just hanging together and he had an old Toyota that wasn’t. His punting mission was to win enough to keep the Toyota on the road. So he had a different job in mind all week. He started well with a series of collects across Guineas Day and Caulfield Cup Day which we enjoyed in the public area, having a squillion beers. I was also enjoying some rare success, and was trying to put a decent bank together in preparation for the Camira Ashes Tour, which was to become Confessions of a Thirteenth Man. It was actually a bit of a purple patch which started when our horse Courting Luck was set up for a first-start win. But that’s another story.

 

Anyway, Bimbo had warmed to the races and was getting a little uppity. On Cox Plate Day, the races were at Doomben. “Let’s go the members,” he said.

 

We got tickets and off we went, Bimbo looking a little awkward in his bag-of-fruit.

 

I’ll take up the story as it appeared in Confessions of a Thirteenth Man. Bimbo had just backed Mossman and was pretty pleased with himself (again):

 

He bought a round to celebrate. A couple of sips of his rum and he was back to the old Bimbo. He fished out the slice of lemon.which differentiates the members’ bar from the outer, turfed it across the room, and loosened his tie. He still had that look of the infallible, though, as if the majority of his statements were ex cathedra. I encouraged him not to flirt with his form; to take it gently. ‘Hands and heels, Bimbo,’ I implored. Bimbo took little notice, launching into a few significant losers. I could see his thoughts turn to the car.

 

I was there to punt, and to watch Might and Power in the Cox Plate. He had won my heart and I had a good bank with which to bet. Over the previous fortnight in addition to the Courting Luck windfall, I had backed the winners of the Geelong and Moonee Valley Cups, both at 15/1. We were in the happiest of positions: both Bimbo and I were punting with the Trans Australian Bank’s money. The loss of winnings does not give the sort of guilt that losing the dollars of wage slavery does, so punting when you’re ahead can lead to recklessness. Bimbo, I suspect, was on the edge of it. I was wary but kept going, having a good stab at Might and Power.

 

The Cox Plate is Australia’s premier weight-for-age event. It attracts the best horses in the country and from across the Tasman. This particular Cox Plate seemed

to attract a lot more interest than usual. Might and Power had ensured that. He seemed to have demanded the attention of more than just the racing enthusiast: he had become the people’s horse. He had made it to the top of the news and had joined the weather as a conversation-starter. Initially, he was a racing-lovers’ horse but you don’t win the Caulfield Cup by panels of fencing and then follow up with an all-the way win in the Melbourne Cup without being noticed. Once-a-year punters backed him, and watched him, as he won that Melbourne Cup. They watched him roll along in front, as smoothly as the tracked camera which followed him: his head ever-so slightly bowed; J.A. Cassidy holding the reins but speaking to the champ with the press of his flesh. It was a beautiful spectacle of colour and movement.

 

I had watched the replay often. I imagined being Cassidy as Might and Power brought him into the straight, a long, green tunnel in front of us. You and me together in this, champ. Let’s give it a go. Let’s take them on. Let the world catch us. Here’s the clock-tower. Here’s the post. I can hear Greg Hall urging Doriemus, forever destined to finish second. One more stride. Home. Yes. You didn’t need to know much about racing to see Might and Power’s courage, and you only had to be alive to feel the reaction of the crowd. The horse had become part of people’s own stories because so many had backed him, and because so many had seen what he did. In the lead-up to the Cox Plate, the stories gathered momentum. Somehow this Cox Plate had become the final test of Might and Power’s status. People remembered him. They admired him. They wished him well. The biggest crowd for a quarter of a century turned up at Moonee Valley. People everywhere turned to their televisions and radios. Bimbo and I stood beneath a monitor in the members’ bar at Doomben clutching our tickets. I had an overwhelming hope for Might and Power, as if there were some personal connection.

 

Moonee Valley is a crazy track. It is all out of shape and has a long, sweeping turn which comes into a ridiculously short home straight. Tactics are important. Horses must be well-ridden. The track can suit front-runners if jockeys can judge the pace and rate their horses effectively. But trailing horses make their runs from before the 600 and fields can bunch quickly putting the leader under pressure. If the leader has used up too much petrol in the early part of the race, it can fold quickly.

 

When Might and Power was caught wide at the winning post the first time, Cassidy had to make a decision. Did he fall in behind the leaders, if he could, and take a trail? Or did he take the champ to the lead? It required an act of faith. Cassidy believed in the horse under him, hunted him forward with the sort of burst that would have most horses finishing their race before the home turn, and let him settle. He bowled along effortlessly in front, a picture of grace and strength. Neck arched, he looked like a sea horse, his role nothing more than cosmetic. But he was actually flying, breaking those behind. At the 500, Cassidy shook him up and the champ dashed clear. Punters screamed their acknowledgment. In the straight, Cassidy gave him a couple of cracks with the whip, and Might and Power seemed to glance sideways at the crowd, as if to say, ‘Can you believe this bloke?’

 

He crossed the line to wild celebrations. It was a hats-in-the-air moment. Even those who hadn’t backed him were excited. This was not just a victory for Might and Power and Jimmy Cassidy, Jack Denham (the trainer) and Nick Moraitis (the owner), this was a personal victory for me and the bloke standing next to me, and his girlfriend, and the bloke behind the bar. Might and Power was part of our stories, and we had a lot more than money invested in him.

 

What followed was wonderful. Nick Moraitis, a widower who carries his own sadnesses, walked his horse along the outside fence as hands stretched to touch them. You could see the love in his face; you could see the unrestrained joy of all those in the scene. You could feel it – even in a Doomben bar 2000 kilometres away. My memory will always be of the champ out in front up the back of the course, still with 1,000 metres to go; the only horse in camera shot; the individual against the world. And yet, at once, this simple Saturday afternoon sports event was about communities of individuals, because it was his victory which provided a shared joy. It provided a moment where I could look into the eyes of someone next to me and say, I know what you hoped for, and I know exactly how you are feeling. This is no trivial feat.

 

We had a few more bets. Bimbo broke even but I had a good win. The Camira tour account got another top-up. More importantly, Might and Power was a hero, and a very worthy distraction. Who could have cared where the English cricketers were that afternoon?

 

 

 

Confessions of a Thirteenth Man is available as part of the omnibus Play On. Read more about Play on HERE.

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Kevin Densley says

    I very much enjoyed reading this piece about one of my absolute favourite thoroughbreds, John. For me, Might and Power’s best win was its seven-length victory in the 1997 Caulfield Cup. No horse in the world would have beaten it that day, I believe. On that form, it would have won that year’s Arc by lengths, I reckon! Vale, Might and Power.

  2. So many fabulous lines in this.

  3. Among the twitter tributes I saw someone posted their favourite ever form guide note which was on Might and Power. Can’t remember the race but it said, “Might lap them.”

    Great story JTH.

  4. Matt O’Hanlon says

    Great yarn about great horse! Reads like you and Bimbo took the gloomben out of doomben on that spring day!

  5. What a champ was Might & Power.
    I will never forget the ’97 Caulfield Cup, when he just torched them.

  6. Gavin Jeffs says

    Was at Doomben that day myself though not in the members and can still vividly remember the occasion and the feeling from the crowd watching the TVs

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