When Coroner ruled the Pakenham Cup

Jockey Ian Virtue and trainer Kevin Scanlon partnered to win back-to-back Pakenham Cups with Coroner. 114158 Picture: DAVID NAGEL

With the 2021 Pakenham Cup on our doorstep, Gazette Sports Editor DAVE NAGEL winds back the clock to 2014 and a fascinating chat with two icons of Pakenham racing.

They just didn’t understand at the time – did the partnership of Kevin Scanlon and Ian Virtue- that their place in Pakenham’s racing history was assured the day Coroner made it back-to-back wins with victory in the 1980 Cup.

See, for all the great names… the great performances …and the great characters that have graced the turf at Racecourse Road, only two men can boast they joined forces to win the town’s biggest race, with the same horse, in consecutive years.

For local heroes, they’re humble men indeed.

“Yeah sure, it put a spring in your step at the time, but you just take it all in your stride, put it behind you and move on,” Scanlon said, sitting in the same grandstand where he watched both races unfold all those years ago.

“You look back now and think, same horse, same jockey, never been done before and it does start to sink in a bit. It’s great to look back now and think we’re a big part of the races’ history.”

Scanlon, 67, has always had horses around him.

From riding ponies on the family farm at Tynong, he progressed to point-to-point races at the Melbourne Hunt Club before pre-training horses for his late father Tom, who raced his horses with iconic Pakenham figure Gavan Bourke.

He gained his training licence in the late ‘60s and threw a saddle over many a good horse in his day including Jalna Park, Bengali Star, Byotrium and Small Brook …and of course, Coroner.

“He was a five-year-old stallion when I got him and Ian (Virtue) rode all his work,” he said.

“Therefore he rode him in his races. He won over a mile at Moonee Valley before the first cup so was highly fancied going in. The horse loved Pakenham and Ian knew the track back-to-front and was keen to win the race, there were no instructions, that’s all I needed to know.”

Virtue, now 74, was born in Carlton and he had never been on a horse or a pony before, until a friend, trainer Josh Doherty, took him to the Drouin races one day … as a 14-year-old he was hooked.

“Dad was a brickies labourer, but I was five foot and five stone so I wasn’t going to carry on after him,” Virtue said.

“After that day at the races I moved from Carlton to Drouin, I had my first ride 12 months later and I’ve known nothing else ever since. I finished my apprenticeship, got married to Pat and moved to Pakenham to get better rides.”

Virtue struck up a relationship with iconic Pakenham trainer Darby Webster and his son Robert, and also rode many winners for the Bourke family. Over the years he has sat on many a good animal; he rode Manikato in trackwork, led the Pakenham Cup field out aboard Bonecrusher, and won a Standish Handicap on the Bob Hoystead trained Kaoru Coup.

But his Pakenham Cup wins aboard Coroner remain his favourite memories.

“We were quietly confident heading into ’79, but we drew poorly and there was good horse in the race called Iko,” he said.

“As it turned out he was the only horse we went around, we settled back, got right up on the fence, it was a good win to do that at Pakenham.

“It was beaut to win your hometown cup, there were people here that knew nothing about horses but had a few bob on him because I was a local jockey, Kevin was a local trainer, his brother Tom was the strapper, you just knew you were at home.”

Coroner got in with the feather-weight of 50 kilograms for his second cup win in 1980, due to the fact he hadn’t visited the winners stall since his victory, 12 months earlier.

Virtue took full advantage of his weight pull, hitting the lead at the 600, in the process avoiding a nasty fall back in the field.

“I didn’t even know that had happened until I pulled up,” Virtue said.

“All I knew was we’d just won our second Pakenham Cup in a row…and it felt good.”