All bets are off

The horses were gathered behind the barrier. The big moment was approaching and they’d soon be on their way in the 2018 Melbourne Cup. I was on the Irish horse The Cliffsofmoher for two reasons – I’d visited the real Cliffs of Moher in 2017 and the horse had run a good race in the Caulfield Cup.


The Cliffsofmoher looked a bit distressed as he waited his turn to be led into position. My immediate thought was that it should be taken out of the race – the commentators noticed it too. But some horses sweat before races don’t they? They’ll all different aren’t they? The Cliffsofmoher broke a shoulder during the race. Soon he was dead. I don’t know if there was a connection between the horse’s pre-race condition and the accident during the race.


I can’t remember what won the race. I think it was owned by that bloke whose daughter ran away.


I grew up in a racing family. Not a horse owning, members of the committee type of racing family but we went to the races in Kalgoorlie. The annual race round – Boulder Cup; Hannans Handicap; Kalgoorlie Cup – was my favourite time of the year. I had a favourite horse – Guardlock and favourite jockeys Frank Flannery and Keith Mifflin.


My first memory of the Melbourne Cup is 1964. The family sat around the stereogram and listened to the broadcast – the race was probably called by Joe Brown on the ABC (he’d soon be my favourite race caller along with Max Simmonds in Perth). Polo Prince won and I was left with the impression this Melbourne Cup was an important part of life.


In 1965 I had my first bet on the Cup. I recall my brother Dean dropping into the TAB in Boulder on route to Mass at All Hallows Church – I think we were on our way to an All Saints Day service. I’d given him 10 shillings with instructions to put five bob each way on Ziema. Next day it ran second to Light Fingers (the first Melbourne Cup win for Bart Cummings) – caught right on the post. When I saw the race for the first time on the Movietone News at the Palace Theatre in Boulder some weeks later I just couldn’t believe how the beautiful Ziema had lost. There was more bad news too – Dean had backed it for a win.


Looking back at the replay recently I noticed three horses fell in the 1965 Melbourne Cup – they all survived.


The 1965 Melbourne Cup


I always knew horse racing had a dodgy side. More than once I was told the horse I’d backed in a race in Kalgoorlie “wasn’t going” – not trying to win. But I remained interested. In 1972 in my last year of school I ran a book on the Melbourne Cup. Two punters took my overly generous odds of 66/1 on the Tasmanian horse Piping Lane – the two bets of $13.20 to 20c wiped me out and thankfully ended a fledgling bookie’s career.


Gambling remained a background thing in my life. I wasn’t a regular race goer but would have a bet from time to time – and always on the Melbourne Cup. I liked knowing about racing. Knowing the history. Knowing the lingo. Knowing enough to see through a little con as betting became digital. Punters were led to believe a horse at $2 was two-to-one when really it’s the less attractive evens.


The Cliffsofmoher tragedy shook me. But there was worse to come. The story in The Age by Damien Ractcliffe and Chip Le Grand about what might have happened to Red Cardinal, another Irish runner in the 2018 Melbourne Cup, on the night before the race was also shocking. And then came Caro Meldrum-Hanna’s story on the ABC’s 7.30.


The horse racing industry won’t be rocked by my decision to step away from the punt but I hope it does get a rocket. There are good people involved in racing but it’s hurt a lot people and horses too. The racing industry employs and destroys.



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About Les Everett

A Footy Almanac veteran, Les Everett is the author of Gravel Rash: 100 Years of Goldfields Football and Fremantle Dockers: An Illustrated History. He is the WAFL correspondent and uses the money he makes from that role to pay for his expensive websites and and fund the extravagant Vin Maskell at


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I hear you Les.

  2. Well said Les.

    I’ve tried to tell Harmsy for ages that nag racing is a crooked, cruel and (essentially) barbaric pastime.

    Concerning Caro Melfdrum-Hanna’s excellent piece on the ABC’s 7.30 the follow-up must be what happens to greyhounds past their use-by date.

    My sister and her families, who live in outer Melbourne at Berwick, have taken in a couple. But that’s just one drop in a cauldron-full of rejects.

    And in case any Knacker reader might ask what does this bloke know about racehorses and racing I worked for 25 years in a regional daily, was sports editor for 18 of those years and reported on 15-16 local Cups in my area plus 4 or 5 Melb. Cups when locals from our region had interests — owners or trainers.

    And in case any Knacker is

  3. Les
    I’m surprised your piece hasn’t provoked more reaction, given the number of racing fans on this site. Perhaps I can poke the bear a bit further!

    Like you, I used to have a bit of an interest in racing and the mathematics of the punt, but I’ve long ago dismissed both, the former as a brutal business, the latter as a swindle. I’m no bleeding heart animal-libber, but I know horses are sensitive, intelligent creatures. It would be no surprise to me if The Cliffsofmoher’s distress before the Cup that you describe was due to an instinctive sense of its own imminent doom. My own two moments of realisation about the awful truth of racing were: the call of the 1979 Melbourne Cup, punctuated with the revelation that hot-favourite Dulcify had suffered an injury from which there would be no recovery; and, watching for the first time the organised carnage that is the English Grand National. Perhaps alongside the national anthem, we should preface tomorrow’s Big Race with a rendition of “morituri te salutant”?

    Racing’s moniker, “The Sport of Kings” is apt. Racing is a vanity statement of rich tyrants, fuelled by an army of expendable underlings, human and equine, who do the real work. Amidst the fatuous glitz of the Spring Carnival what we don’t see are their relentless regimes and extreme risks they undertake day after day. The recent horrific revelations of animal cruelty and the regular reports of the human casualties of racing seem to be briefly regretted but quickly accepted as “part of the business”.

    You’re right, Les. Your small protest won’t stop the show. The Spring Carnival’s propaganda machine is powerful. How else to explain why thousands of folk who shun racetracks for 11 months of the year, suddenly don the mantle of “racing expert”, and allow themselves to be gouged hundreds of dollars for ostentatious clothing, entry, food, booze and betting, with the strong likelihood that they’ll wind up broke, hungover and having seen precious little of the action that lured them in the first place?

    It’s a con, people. A carefully orchestrated Siren-call to entice Joe Average to a glittering event, with the empty promise that by being there, some of that glamour will rub off. The reality is that you’re being dragged into an expensive exercise of “rent-a-crowd” to massage the egos and line the pockets of those running the show. Aided by a complicit media that’s all too happy to fill pages and airtime with vacuous puff-pieces from “trackside”, and you have a flawless facade that this is something that really matters.

  4. I am also in the hearing of you Les. At least for the first time I won’t get asked why I am not participating in the office Melbourne Cup festivities.

    While we’re at it, though, how about those drug sniffer dogs they send to music festivals get deployed in the bird cage today?

  5. I was happy to get the quaddy on Derby Day. A nice three figure return.

    We were on track in Corowa yesterday. Good crowd, some quality racing, a nice day at the track.

    Melbourne Cup is the worst race of the year to bet on, so my sole focus is a trifecta on the cup. Happy to see three of the following fill the first three places: 2, 5, 6, 11, 12, 14, 19.

    Happy Punting .


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