Last night 25 years ago, we would have been gathered around the old VHS player.
Our favourite movie would be getting yet another workout. Phar Lap. What else? The perfect way to prepare for Cup week.
It was our routine to get ready for the Carnival. And no one could get us there quicker than Big Red.
Viewing would take place with several cool drinks, and delicacies from the local Chinese.
Like any classic of the cinema, heroes were cheered, and villains hissed.
We celebrated every time the great horse hit the front. Applauded the efforts of Tom Burlinson, as he battled cranky trainer Harry Telford. And wished we’d been around to back Jim Pike.
But there was one man we loathed. The boos would echo around our lounge room as soon as he appeared. I believe more than one spring roll was thrown in his direction. Lachlan McKinnon.
Remember him? The pompous, snobbish head of the Victorian Racing Club. I’m pretty sure the same actor played one of those Pommy generals giving the disastrous orders at Gallipoli. No one was more hated in our bachelor pad.
Back to Flemington. McKinnon wanted his own donkey to be in with a chance to beat the greatest galloper of all. After Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, McKinnon made it his mission to get our hero out of the winner’s stall.
The images replay in my mind now. I can hear his voice. See his scheming features. Ordering weights that would have crippled a lesser animal.
I can’t remember the pin number for my credit card, but I recall with ease scenes from a movie decades ago.
McKinnon and his cronies made Phar Lap carry 68 kilos in the ’31 Cup. Kim Beazley would have almost made the weight. It was the bravest 8th in racing history.
We couldn’t take it any longer. The screen was getting covered in too many Chinese entrees. Something had to be done.
My mate came up with the solution. A practice we follow to this very day.
It was decided that we would boycott the McKinnon Stakes. When the field jumped in the time-honoured event on Derby Day, we would turn our backs to the screen.
This would happen in the pub. The three of us were on self-bans. No watching the race. And no bet. After it was run and won, normal viewing, and punting, would resume.
None of our mates joined in this silent protest. We may or may not have been mocked. Didn’t worry us. If Phar Lap could lump the grandstand, we could take the barbs.
Year after year, we assumed the position. I took the stance with me when I moved on. The lads in Bundaberg thought I was mad. They would punt on the tide going out. Missing a race was unheard of.
I’m proud to say one of the boys did join in. He’s still part of our team. Rings me just before the McKinnon, every year, to make sure I’m facing in the honourable direction.
The beauty of our ban, is that the premise behind it has never been researched. Not once. Our stance was taken solely on the script of our favourite film. That was often viewed through one eye.
We refuse to contemplate that it could be false. McKinnon may have donated buckets of cash to orphans and baked cookies. But I doubt it.
So, the tradition continues. As they jump in race 5 this afternoon, I’ll be in my lounge room, facing the other way. So will a handful of other blokes, in various parts of the country.
If you worship Phar Lap like we do, feel free to join in. At the pub, or the TAB, or the track. Tell your mates you’re helping to right a wrong, all these years later.
Trust me, it will feel good. The punting Gods might even smile on you kindly later in the day.
If you know the real story, don’t bother telling us. Too late to change our ways now. We owe it to the memory of Phar Lap. And besides, it’s the one race of the day I can’t lose on.