By Garry Howe
PAKENHAM’S most direct link with Australia’s most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup, has been through the 1943 winner Dark Felt, trained at the Dakwood property in King Street by Ray ‘Darby’ Webster.
As this year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup toured the district last Thursday, 20 October, as part of a Trans-Tasman tour, Ray’s son Rob Webster revealed another more tenuous link with the race.
Three years after Dark Felt’s win, Pakenham played a small part in the preparation of another Melbourne Cup winner.
Sydney stayer Russia spent a couple of days relishing the wide open spaces and clean air at Dakwood in the lead-up to his big win in 1946.
Russia was trained by Ted Hush, who was known to shy away from the limelight.
He steered clear of the hustle and bustle of the Spring Racing Carnival build-up around the city and chose to stay out in the suburbs, wanting to give his runner as relaxed a time as possible.
Rob recalls a “short, stout man” arriving at Dakwood one day with a horse, a dog and a shotgun.
It was a clandestine affair, with the trainer keen to keep the media off the scent of the horse.
“Even the staff at Dakwood didn‘t know they were looking at the next Melbourne Cup winner,” Rob recalls. “You could say it was a ‘hush, hush’ type operation.”
The relaxed surroundings of Pakenham played a key role in the win of Dark Felt three years earlier.
The horse was in the care of Darby Webster for a relatively short time. He came down from Sydney and started in the Melbourne Cup the previous year when in the care of his owner Alby Cain, but finished out of the money.
With the Webster polish in 1943, he proved far too good for his rivals as a 7/2 equal favourite.
Rob Webster says the stable should have had another Melbourne Cup on the mantelpiece, with Nether Gold considered a good thing beaten in 1959.
“The jockey thought he knew more than the trainer,” Rob said of jockey Bill Camer’s ride. “He pulled him out of the race and went from third to 16th. Five (furlongs, or 1000m) from home had 16 horses in front of him.”
Nether Gold flashed home to finish second to Macdougal.
The Emirates Melbourne Cup toured Cardinia Shire as one of 34 stops on a tour that started in Auckland and will finish at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November.
The local leg started at Emerald Primary School before the Cup travelled on Puffing Billy from Emerald Station to Emerald Lake, then up to the Cardinia Shire headquarters at Officer for lunch, before heading to Hillview in Bunyip then on to the Pakenham Racing Club’s opening night race meeting for the season at Tynong.
The cup was accompanied on its journey by noted racecaller Bryan Martin and Myer Fashions on the Field ambassador and equestrian competitor Georgia Connelly, whose family had an interest in 2001 cup runner Mythehorsebewithyou, which ran fifth to Ethereal.
Martin is set to call his 27th Melbourne Cup next Tuesday.
He recalled one of his first race calling assignments was at Pakenham in 1972 and spoke fondly of his connection and friendship with the Bourke family.