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Funny how the race that stops a nation once barred half of us from taking part


It takes all sorts to win a Melbourne Cup but the ones we remember are the trailblazers, writes Michael Blucher

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Only a few days to go, folks. The Cup, it’s on our doorstep, three minutes 20-something seconds that can and often does change lives. I’m not just talking jockeys and trainers and owners – I’m talking the real winners and losers – the punters.

If you don’t know somebody with a really happy or a really sad Melbourne Cup punting story, I suggest you need to get out a little more. Leave the house every now and then – duck down to the local, pull up a stool and get chatting.

Every Spring Carnival, the stories resurface – 2002, Media Puzzles’s year – the bloke they call “Blackjack” (something to do with his IQ) losing his trifecta ticket and costing himself a cool $12K.

Or 2008, the nerdy bloke from accounts, wandering down to the TAB and filling out his syndicate’s trifecta ticket – as fate would have it, erroneously. Purely by accident, he left out one of the agreed choices and instead included “Viewed”, who the true Melbourne Cup pundits would remember, scrambled home a 40-1 winner. Instead of collecting “donuts”, the syndicate pocketed $23K between them. Not an attractive man, Mr Accounts Clerk, but I’m guessing even he got lucky that night.

I’ve never had much luck betting on the Cup myself. My biggest win was in 1998 – Jezabeel – not huge in dollar terms but great theatre. We were yukking it up in the members bar at Flemington – my mate “Leftie” reckoned the horse was no chance, declaring early if it won, he’d walk to Perth nude backwards. Halfway down the straight Leftie was asking about sunscreen. Love your work, Chris Munce.

Of course nobody’s life has changed more over that three and half minutes than Michelle Payne. Prince of Penzance, a 100-1 shot in 2015 – rode it like a girl and made history, the first female jockey to win our national race. I’ve never heard Bruce Mcavaney lost for words, but he was that day.

Eight years on, we’ve well and truly broken that glass ceiling – there are female jockeys everywhere, not just making up the numbers but first choice riding mounts for leading trainers – Jamie Carr and Rachel King are among the queens of the Sport of Kings. Can we even call it that these days?

To appreciate where we are today, it’s helpful to understand where we’ve come from. Rewind the 8-track tape to the late 1970s and females weren’t even allowed to ride in races – country or metropolitan meets. We didn’t even have female strappers.

But then Pam O’Neill, the 34-year-old daughter of the hobby horse trainer from Hendra cracked her whip, and with the persistent help of legendary local race writer Keith Noud and federal politician, “agitating Al Grassby”, she eventually earned herself a seat in a race saddle.

It was long overdue. O’Neill could more than match it with her male counterparts – her “horsemanship” (or “horsewomanship”) left many of them chewing on grass and dust.

O’Neill rode six winners on the Gold Coast inside the first week of her professional career – her greatest challenge was finding somewhere to get changed into her silks.

“They were kind enough to set up a little caravan – ‘Pam’s Penthouse’ it was called,” she laughed. “Eagle Farm and Doomben were not so well equipped – I used to get changed in the Doc’s room. I imagine the facilities for the girls are a little better today!”

Pam had no trouble earning the respect of her male peers – they’d long acknowledged and admired her soft hands, as well as her power and poise in the saddle. It was the punters who were a little harder to win over.

The now 79-year old tells the story of a race at Doomben involving her favourite horse, Super Snack. Not for the first time, the “Snack” was a firm favourite, but on account of a mishap in the barrier, horse and jockey missed the start by three lengths. Pam eventually ran second (by a length), but the ride earned the wrath of the local punters.

“Get back in the kitchen, O’Neill – where you belong” was one piece of unsolicited advice she received from an indignant punter as she returned to scale.

As it turned out, the trailblazing female jockey was exonerated, with grainy footage showing the barrier attendant had held the horse’s head for far too long. All bets on Super Snack were refunded.

“It was all part of the fun – don’t worry I gave as good as I got,” O’Neill reflected, from her home on Brisbane’s north side..

“I remember beating the great Roy Higgins home in one of my first rides in Melbourne. I had great delight in telling him to get into the kitchen and make me a cup of tea!”

For what’s it worth, in the big race, Pam likes the French horse – “dunno it’s name – starts with V!”

I’m guessing she means Vauban – it won’t be going around with any of my hard-earned on it.

In fact if it wins, I’ll walk to Perth nude backwards.


Now that the Eddie Jones World Cup coaching debacle has at one level been resolved, it can be revealed that prior to the tournament, a former Wallaby captain fielded a phone call from fast Eddie, inviting him to join his coaching panel.

In Japan.


The offer wasn’t taken up, for reasons that had nothing to do with the former skipper feeling “compromised” – it just didn’t suit his career coaching trajectory.

The only positive for Rugby at the moment – Jones is gone.

Of all the bewildering elements of the sad and sorry Cup saga, it wasn’t the six different captains in seven Tests that I found most astonishing. Nor was it leaving all the experienced players behind, those “non-committed” types like Michael Hooper.

The one I still can’t fathom is Jones’ decision to pick a fight with the media a day before getting on the plane for France.

Some 30 plus years of elite coaching, and Jones clearly still hasn’t worked it out. His “media” audience is not the 10 journos sitting in front of him at a press conference – it’s the RA board, it’s the players, the fans, the corporate supporters, even his opponents.

And yet here is zeroing in on a couple of individuals whose questions he didn’t like. “Ya don’t know anything about rugby maaate. Give yourself an upper cut!”

Simply mind boggling, but in hindsight, a clear window into where he sat, emotionally and strategically.

Compare that with Wayne Bennett, who every time he fronts a press conference has his own very specific, strategic objective – put a rocket up A, belittle B, pump up the tyres of C, plant a seed of doubt in the mind D. There’s always an agenda, and it has nothing to do with the 10 or 12 people in front of him with microphones and cameras.

Anyway, see ya Eddie. Wouldn’t want to be ya.


Of all the houses, in all the streets, in all the suburbs of Brisbane, they chose to break into that one. The house owned by the magistrate of their local court house.

How do the defendants plead? Hang on a second, I recognise you from the vision on my home security camera… you were in my living room..

Funny how the world works, isn’t it?

Well aware of his ethical obligations, the magistrate immediately excused himself from any involvement in the case – the four offenders will appear instead before another magistrate in central Brisbane.

Boys, if I was you, I’d steer clear on punting on the Melbourne Cup this year. It seems your luck is running at an all time low.


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