Subzero salutes

You never forget your first.

My first Melbourne Cup winner was when Subzero saluted in 1992.

My first and last.

Twenty-three years is quite the slump, even for someone who could write his knowledge of thoroughbreds on the back of a postage stamp with a crayon. That being said I love being linked with Subzero. Upon reflection I think I deliberately pick duds every year just to keep the bond intact.

I was 14 at the time and a student at Mount Austin High School in Wagga Wagga. Tuesday afternoon was sports day. The best day of the week. If it was raining our sports master Mr Gabitas, a much loved teacher in his 60s, resplendent in Terry Towelling hat and Dunlop Volleys, would call sport off and we would be thrust back into maths and geography classes. I hated rain on a Tuesday. Mr Gabitas would poke his head out from the PE staffroom, much like Punxsutawney Phil, and make the call. The sun was shinning this day.

I was playing golf for sport in 1992. An easy 9 holes at the Wagga City Golf Club. It was bad luck to get paired with a teacher as this meant swearing, sledging and cheating were out of bounds. This really hurt my golf. No bad luck that day as I was paired with Scotty and Morro, mates from footy and cricket. Morro was a straight laced golfer. The Davis Love of the group, susceptible to sledging. Scotty was raw, once taking 4 off the first tee to advance the ball. I was just crap. The new Prosimmon Glen Eagles sticks, with cutting edge plastic 2 wood, did SFA for my game.

We enjoyed a pleasant 9 holes in the sun before converging in the pro shop as the horses went to the starting gates. I don’t know why I backed Subbie; he certainly wasn’t the favourite with Veandercross in the field. I think I liked the fact he was a grey and it was going to hammer down with rain that day. This evened the odds in my non-educated punting brain.

My recollection of the race is sketchy. I do remember the finish. Subbie went for home from about 6th place and they just couldn’t go with him, as he held off Veandercross to win by two lengths. As he hit the lead I upended a box of ‘Pink Lady’ golf balls from the shelf, arms waving like a wild orangutan. Dad had put $5 on him for me and he was paying around $8 from memory. $40 was a fortune for a 14 year old in 1992. Heady with my success I shouted my mates a Fanta. Never has a drink tasted so sweet.

As the years have gone on my bond with Subbie has grown. It is fair to say Subbie has achieved more fame in retirement than in racing. He is a genuine ‘horse of the people’. His profile grew through his work as Clerk of the Course at Flemington. An ironic career given he was known as a feisty horse during his racing days. Graeme Salisbury became Subbie’s owner in retirement and they formed a great partnership. Lee Freedman sold Subbie to Graham for the princely sum of $1

Racing Victoria recognised the profile Subbie had developed and appointed him as an ambassador for the Melbourne Cup, whereby he would do more than 100 Primary School visits per year, bowing and nodding or shaking his head to answer questions at Salisbury’s prompting. He taught a generation of kids about the Melbourne Cup.

Subbie even liked an ale or three. There are many tales of him ‘indulging’ at the odd sportsman’s night.

Graham and Subbie worked tirelessly for charity and it is estimated that they have helped raise over $12 million. Who would have thought?

I got the chance to meet Subbie at the 2005 Melbourne Cup. He was performing the Clerk of the Course duties. I saw him in the stall and it took me an hour to pluck up the courage to ask Graham for a photo. I was more nervous than the day I met the Prime Minister. This was no ordinary horse. I sauntered up for a quick pat. The gentle beast was at peace with the world, happy with the environment and the attention. The years had caught up with him, yet he remained proud and steadfast. We had ‘our moment’. A mate took the snap and it took pride of place on the Dodson mantelpiece for many years. Wedding and kids photos have nudged Subbie to a corner, but he is still there looking out over the lounge-room.

In recent years he has had a battle with arthritis and in 2009 there was a quarantine bungle with his medication, which placed his future in doubt. There was a public outcry and a replacement was sourced from the States. Now pushing 27 years of age, the public appearances have slowed down, yet he is still there when needed.

In 1992 Subbie took his chances and reached the pinnacle. In retirement he has given back to his sport in spades. I hope next Tuesday he kicks back with a few carrots and ales and remembers the day when they couldn’t catch him. I think I’ll just back another dud this year so I can keep my piece of history with Subbie alive.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Wow Craig, you must be the only Almanacker to meet both Subzero and Harold Holt. Well done.

  2. James Grapsas says

    Thanks, Craig. Enjoyable article. Subzero won against a quality field: Better Loosen Up and Super Impose were also there.

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