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Adam Lindsay Gordon and the Melbourne Cup

In many of his racing verses, Gordon refers to several Melbourne Cup winners including Archer, which won the first two Melbourne Cups, in 1861 and 1862; Banker, which won the 1863 Cup; Lantern which won the 1864 Cup; Toryboy which won the 1865 Cup and the black horse The Barb which won the 1866 Cup. The Barb, owned and trained by Sydney and Bathurst publican John Tait, was a black horse with a temper, earning it the nickname The Black Demon.

Apart from Lindsay Gordons lengthy verse A Lay on the Melbourne Cup (not by Macaulay), published in the Australasian on Saturday 29 September 1866, as a forerunner to the forthcoming Cup in November that year, Lindsay was later to train a future Melbourne Cup winner, Nimblefoot.

As a three-year-old, Nimblefoot, then owned by Sam Blackwood, in 1866 had run second to Fishhook (one of Fishermans stakes-winning progeny) in the St Ledger and second to Volunteer in the Queens Guineas, both at the Launceston Cup meeting. After that run, Walter Craig bought Nimblefoot. The horse had been bred by John Lord of Tasmania, by Panic out of Quickstep. Mr J Dowlings Panic, ridden by J Morrison, had run second in the 1865 Melbourne Cup to Mr Marshalls Toryboy. He was then sold for £300 to Melbourne bookmaker Joseph Thompson who, after winning one race with the gelding, the Trial Stakes in Melbourne, then passed him on to Craig for £600.

Fisherman (by Heron out of Mainbrace), winner of two Ascot Gold Cups, was regarded as one of the best English stayers imported to Australia during the 19th century. Hurtle Fisher bought him for 3000 Guineas and he was imported to South Australia in November 1860. He then went to Fishers Maribyrnong stud, where he stood for five years before he died in June 1865, having sired several stakes-winning progeny. His son Angler (VRC St Leger Stakes and Victoria Derby winner) can also be traced back to King Alfred.

Although Lindsay helped train Nimblefoot for Craig the horse ran only eighth in the 1867 Melbourne Cup and seventh in 1868. Overall, the horse did not perform well so Craig, after refusing an offer of £50 for him, sent Nimblefoot back to Tasmania in the hope that a long spell would bring him back to his earlier form. This strategy must have worked well as Nimblefoot came back to Flemington and, under trainer William Lang, went on to win the 1870 VRC Hotham Handicap and a week later the 1870 VRC Melbourne Cup, ridden by apprentice John Day, ahead of top-weighted entry Etienne de Mestres Tim Whiffler from Sydney. The following year, Nimblefoot won the VRC Australian Cup. 

About four months before the 1870 Melbourne Cup, Walter Craig dreamt that his well-known colours of violet won the Cup, but the jockey wore a mourning band of black crepe on his arm. From this, Craig concluded that Nimblefoot would win the Cup but that he himself would not live to see it. The morning after the dream, Craig recounted this story to several friends. Early in the morning of 17 August 1870, Walter Craig died. The story of his unusual dream was recounted in the Melbourne Age of Monday, 9 November 1870, the day before the Cup. The race provided one of the most controversial finishes in Cup history. At the final turn, Lapdog and Nimblefoot broke clear and all the way down the straight had the race between them. Inside the distance Lapdog led by a half-length but young jockey Day, on Nimblefoot, got the last ounce out of his mount and as they hit the line only inches separated them. Most onlookers were certain that Lapdog had just lasted long enough but the Judge gave the race to Nimblefoot. The time of 3.37 was a new race record. And young Day, who rode Nimblefoot, wore crepe on his arm, as can be seen from a contemporary painting which hangs on the wall of the VRC committee room.

There is another unusual tale concerning Craig and Nimblefoot. Long before that 1870 Cup, in the preceding February, a group of Melbourne racing men, including prominent bookmaker Joseph Slack, were sitting in the billiards room of Craigs Hotel, Ballarat, when the talk turned to doubles-betting on the Sydney Metropolitan and the Melbourne Cup.  Craig jokingly asked Slack what odds he would offer against Croydon and Nimblefoot for the double. As both horses were poorly performed, Slack counted the number of people present and then told Mr Craig he could have £1000 to eight drinks, a bet that was promptly accepted. After the death of Mr Craig, which of course cancelled out all debts of honour, Slack duly paid the £1000 to a representative of Mrs Craig in the lounge of Menzies Hotel Melbourne.  After the race, Nimblefoot sold for £650, then the highest price paid for a gelding in Australia, with the exception of Flying Buck which realised £750.



Gordon of Dingley Dell - 2nd edition out soon!!

First printed in 2003, Gordon of Dingley Dell, the story of Australia's national poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, has been extensively revised with addition of new material and photos. Gordon of Dingley Dell tells the remarkable story of a man who, despite numerous cruel blows dealt him throughout his life, retained his pride to the last. Adam Lindsay Gordon had a unique understanding of a horse, just as he was a unique poet.

When he was astride a horse, the horse and rider became one. His daring feat of horsemanship when he defied death during the famous ‘Leap’ at Mount Gambier has never been equalled; his impact on Australian literature and horse-racing, in particular, steeplechasing, was unparalleled. A Member of the South Australian parliament in 1865, Adam Lindsay Gordon was regarded as both a fearless man of action and a dreamer, but it was not until after his death that he was taken seriously as a poet.

The years he spent in the south-east of South Australia and in the western district of Victoria, are now remembered and relived at Dingley Dell Cottage and Museum, Port MacDonnell, the poet’s summer home for nearly two years from March 1864, and an important part of the colonial history of this country.




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