10 stone 10 pounds is the most famous weight in pre-metric horse racing. 10.10 is just over 68kg. This is the weight that can finally slow down a champion horse and it has happened twice.
10.10 curtailed Bernborough’s 1946 Caulfield Cup attempt and more famously, this monster weight beat Phar Lap in the 1931 Melbourne Cup. Phar Lap was a big horse, bigger than average that is. He weighed in at just over 600kg. Therefore to win the 1931 Melbourne Cup, Phar Lap had to carry his massive frame plus another 11.5% of his body weight. Can you imagine waking up one day and having an extra 11.5% more weight, then having to run 2 miles at flat stick! Dunaden in winning the 2011 Melbourne Cup by 1/3 an inch, carried 54.5kg which is only 8% extra on top of its body weight.
As soon as the Cup weights were released in June 1931, speculation started to circle that 10.10 could stop even the great Phar Lap. Since Carbine was given 10.12 for the 1891 Cup (he did not run) only Bernborough and Phar Lap have been handicapped for the big race at close to 11 stone. Bernborough was given 10.9 in 1946 but broke down two days before the Cup. So out of the three immortal champions, only Phar Lap had a crack at the Cup with a weight close to 11 stone. There was a famous article that appeared in The Horsham Times the day after the weights were released for the 1931 Cup . This article shows how three months before the Cup, there was doubt over Phar Lap and 10.10. This article also shows that talk of Phar Lap and his weight was not limited to the city. Horsham, in country Victoria had to be suffering horribly from the effects of the depression in 1931; yet the local paper on the front page still was concerned with a race that was three months away.
In the three months between when the weights were released and Melbourne Cup day, the talk in every pub and at every racetrack was about Phar Lap and his massive weight. The connections of Phar Lap knew the weight was too great and as such they did not commit to running Phar Lap until the day before the cup. For weeks the connections of Phar Lap were hounded about whether or not the champion would run. And for weeks the connections ignored the press and left Australia on edge. The legend A. B. (Banjo) Paterson penned an article that is available in A. B. (Banjo) Paterson, Off Down the Track, Racing and other Yarns (1966). The piece almost pleads with the Australian public to leave the connections of Phar Lap alone and just ‘see what happens.’ It can also be garnished from this article that Banjo Paterson knew Phar Lap could not win.
Banjo knew Phar Lap could not win and the champ’s connections also knew. But they were almost forced by the VRC to run the champ. But the pressure from the VRC was not the only outside influence that was working to convince Phar Lap’s connections to run. Australia wanted him to run. Cup time (November 1931) was the absolute height of the depression in Australia. Many people had nothing; nothing but the wish to see a champion make history. There is no doubt whatsoever that owner Dave Davis, trainer Telford and young Tommy Woodcock felt the pressure from the Australian public and it influenced their choice to run. They knew he could not possibly win with 10.10.
Phar Lap had every chance. He loomed up but simple physics stopped him. No horse in the history of horse racing world-wide could have won that race with 10.10. In today’s racing industry that the top weight in major handicap races is usually around 58kg; that is 58kg on a 53kg or 54kg limit. This means the difference between top weight and bottom weight is generally only 4 or 5 kilograms. The horse that won the 1931 Melbourne Cup, White Nose, carried just 6.12 (43.5kg). That is just under four stone less than Phar Lap carried. Four Stone! 25.4 kilograms. If the minimum in this year’s Melbourne Cup is is 51kg as is the norm in the 21st century, the top weight to match Phar Lap in 1931 in relative terms would have to carry 76.5kg. Of course that is not going to happen. If Frankel and Black Caviar were the same horse, meaning one horse had achieved what those two champs had, this ‘super horse’ or ‘Black Frankiar’ or ‘Frank Blackel’ would probably be handicapped with 61 – 63kg. Not 76.5kg. These simple stats show what Phar Lap faced in his attempt to win the 1931 Melbourne Cup.
By Zeb Armstrong