Almanac Poetry: In Celebration of Great Australian Racehorses


Jorrocks, arguably Australia’s earliest ‘celebrity’ racehorse, c.1840 [Source: Wikimedia Commons]



In Celebration of Great Australian Racehorses



In early colonial racing days,
Australian turf’s first champion,
JORROCKS, ‘The Iron Horse’
—a winner up to age eighteen—
discovered pulling a dray
on a farm in central New South Wales.


‘The Black Demon’,
for wildness and temper,
winner of the ’66 Cup,
a wonder at weight-for-age.


GRAND FLANEUR, never beaten.
His jockey, Tom Hales,
our greatest nineteenth century hoop,
described the horse
as a ‘smasher’.
Easy winner of the’80 Cup, Victoria and AJC Derbies.


‘Old Jack’,
a bay,
16.1 hands,
a white patch on his left hind leg,
perhaps the greatest of all,


winner of the 1890 Cup
lumping a record weight (10 stone 5)
in a record time (3.28.3)
in a record field
of starters (39).
A character,


the crowd’s darling,
and, when at the Duke of Portland’s stud
in England,
would wander round the property
wearing a hat.
He didn’t like his head getting wet.


Next in this Hall of Renown, NEWHAVEN.
Won the ’96 Cup by six lengths,
trained by CARBINE’S man, Hickinbotham,
who refused to say which was the better horse.
‘I didn’t know how good NEWHAVEN was’, he said,
‘because I never saw him extended’.


possibly the most
naturally talented
of the lot
but wayward and temperamental.
Missed the start of the AJC Derby


by 100 yards
but got up to win by a neck.
Jockey Lewis once said
that when the horse was in the mood
‘you could ride him
with a piece of cotton’.


‘The Red Terror’,
the icon,
17.1 hands,
a heart
twice the normal size;


like Bradman, an idol of the Depression,
victorious in Mexico’s
Agua Caliente Handicap,
then the world’s richest race,
winning it in a canter.
He tragically died weeks later.


as a three-year-old
doubtless the finest thoroughbred
on the planet,
struck down with illness at his peak,
spent eighteen months


lying against the wall of his barn.
Tommy Smith, his trainer, said:
‘I thought that he would die for sure.’
But TULLOCH returned
to the track again,
retiring a champion.


‘The Black Horse’,
won his third Cox Plate
from a hopeless place in the field.
He lurched around Melbourne’s
left-handed tracks


‘like a good natured drunk’,
according to caller Bill Collins,
yet was still,
in spite of the way of going,
many times
victorious there.


for a glorious year,
the finest stayer in the world.
At his peak would have won
the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
by three lengths pulling up.


Of the 1997 Caulfield Cup,
my racehorse-owning barber said,
concerning this horse’s stunning
seven length win:
‘He could easily
have gone round again.’


In more recent times, SUNLINE, NORTHERLY,


A joyful salute
to these equine immortals!


Kevin Densley


Note: this poem holds a special place for me, being the last poem of mine accepted by the late Les Murray in his role as Literary Editor for Quadrant. It appeared in a 2017 issue of the magazine. I should add that I’m not in harmony with Quadrant in general ideological terms, but when Les was Lit Editor, I had great respect for his choices concerning the literary area of the publication. This poem also appeared in my third poetry collection, Orpheus in the Undershirt (Ginninderra Press, 2018).


Further note: of course I would have included WINX in this poem if I’d written it a couple of years later!




Read more from Kevin Densley HERE



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Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, will be published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    For those interested, this poem was loosely modelled on German poet-playwright Bertolt Brecht’s ” Gedenktafel für 12 Weltmeister”, which can be translated as “Memorial Plaque for 12 World Champions”, Brecht’s verse tribute to World Middleweight Boxing Champs. It was also the late Les Murray’s (the oz poet) favourite poem of mine that I’d sent him during his long time as Quadrant’s Literary Editor, judging by the note I received from him before it was published there.

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