Winners of the Melbourne Cup – 1873

Untitled-6On occasion, even the more banal elements of the horseracing experience—those matters of official procedure often settled in austere meetings far away from the romance of the racetrack itself—can come to resemble something of a soap-opera.
The 2007 spring carnival became engulfed in a storm of controversy when quality colt Pillar of Hercules, a leading contender for the Victoria Derby, was sensationally stood-down from racing amid concerns that he was secretly part-owned by Horty Mokbel, brother of convicted criminal Tony Mokbel. The Purana Taskforce, charged with investigating so-called ‘gangland’ activities in Melbourne, successfully applied for a restraining order in the Supreme Court under section 18 of the Confiscation Act 1997 to have Pillar of Hercules banned from racing until the colt’s bona fide ownership could be authenticated, with the three-year-old eventually sold at public auction for $1.8 million.
Similarly, but without such lingering undertones of criminality, the true ownership of 1873 Melbourne Cup
winner Don Juan remains a cause of considerable mystery to this day; a labyrinth of paperwork suggestive of a bizarre game of thoroughbred ‘pass the parcel’ making it difficult to definitively ascertain just who owned the four-year-old when he galloped to his emphatic six-length Cup win. In an intriguing story that has largely served to take much of the spotlight away from the race-day particulars of Don Juan’s sensational victory, a Mr W. Johnstone was officially listed as the lucky Cup-winning owner, though the weight of evidence appeared to point elsewhere.
Originally owned by South Australian John Baker, many believed that Don Juan actually commenced his career racing for bookmaker Joe Thompson, though the horse was not raced under Thompson’s name. This sentiment was supported by the fact that Thompson had backed Don Juan at long-odds to win substantial amounts of money on the Melbourne Cup, prompting many to suspect him of purposefully concealing his involvement in the horse to ensure a longer price. The plot only thickened from there, with renowned grazier Mr Joe Inglis purchasing Don Juan for £300 having seen the horse listed for private sale by Mr Johnstone just days before the Melbourne Cup. The sale was not officially recorded, so immortalising Johnstone’s name in Cup annals, but the first-prize of £1,360 garnered from Don Juan’s win on that Thursday in November almost certainly went into the pocket of Mr Joe Inglis. Bookmaker Thompson’s true interest in the horse remained a point of conjecture thereafter, and the fact that he would later come to name his magnificent East Melbourne mansion ‘Don Juan House’—built from the proceeds of his gambling winnings—only served to cloud the issue further. A subsequent inquiry into the contracts of sale pertaining to Don Juan failed to detect any impropriety, though the uproar in the local press following the race saw many maintaining that the public had been somehow duped.
Convoluted paper-trails aside, Don Juan’s Flemington romp would certainly have provided a great thrill to his proud owner (whoever he may have been). As the field flew past the abattoirs adjacent to Flemington, jockey James Wilson Jr, riding under instruction from his father, made his move, having settled well-back during the early running. In a flash the pair put paid to Dagworth and Horatio, the 3/1 favourite romping home to one of the more emphatic Cup victories of all time. Amazingly, trainer James Wilson revealed after the race that in the days preceding the Cup, Don Juan had experienced a mild form of heart attack. That the four-year-old was still able to win the race spoke volumes to his tremendous resilience, though cruelly, it appears that the mighty effort took its toll; Don Juan suffering a fully-blown fatal heart attack just months later.

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