The 1946 Doomben Cup

In 1946 there were three standout horses in Australia. They were Shannon, Bernborough and Flight. In the winter of 1946, Shannon was in the paddock preparing for the Epsom Handicap which he famously ran second after missing the start by 100 yards. Flight and Bernborough were in Brisbane. After winning the Ahern Memorial Handicap, today the Doomben 10,000, Bernborough was backed up in the Doomben Cup while Flight’s connections sent their champion mare to the El Alamein Stakes to be run two days after the Doomben Cup. Flight had been beaten numerous times by Bernborough in the recent months and there is no doubt her connections dodged Bernborough in the Doomben Cup because they, like everyone else in Australia, knew the champ was unbeatable in the then 11 furlong (2200m) Classic. Unbeatable is a word used to describe Black Caviar’s chances recently in Weight for Age races over her best distances against moderate fields. Bernborough was granted this praise despite the fact that he had never before competed in a race over 9 furlongs (1800m), he was backing up after a weight carrying record in the Ahern over 7 furlongs (1400m) a week earlier and he had to contend with the top weight of 10.11 (68.5kg).

Yes that is right, 68.5kg in a Classic race. This was the weight Bernborough was assigned on a 6.10 (42.5kg) limit. He had 26kg over the minimum and he was still considered unbeatable. Bernborough also had to carry 17kg more than his closest rival Tea Cake who was burdened with just 8.2 (51.5kg). This was an era of huge handicaps, but there are very few horses in Australian history that have ever won a Classic race with 10.11. Phar Lap was famously beaten with 10.10 in the 1931 Melbourne Cup. 10.10 is also the weight that stopped Bernborough in the 1946 Caulfield Cup. But 10.11, a weight greater than that which caused these famous two defeats, did not even go close to stopping Bernborough in the 1946 Doomben Cup.

Bernborough won the 1946 Doomben Cup and due to the weight, the opposition and the ease of the win, it is clearly one of the greatest victories in the history of the Australian turf. In this race Bernborough had to concede between 10kg and 25kg to Tea Cake, Craigie and Repshot. These three horses were clearly at the time in the top ten best horses in Australia. The only victory that comes to mind that was greater was Bernborough’s win one week earlier in the Ahern (Doomben 10,000). We will explore this win in the lead up to this year’s Doomben 10,000. Bernborough won by two lengths untouched, from Tea Cake that was ridden by the legendary Scobie Breasley. In fact Tea Cake and Scobie Breasley did their best to try and box Bernborough in shortly after rounding the home turn. As Athol Mulley, Bernborough’s regular jockey, moved Bernborough up on the rails, Breasley immediately positioned Tea Cake on his outside. It was the perfect pocket – a horse in front of Bernborough, another on the outside of the leader, and Tea Cake on the outside of Bernborough. It is said that Breasley looked across at Bernborough and Mulley and yelled ‘alright, get out of that you big bastard!’

But it was not enough. Mulley simply eased back, pulled Bernborough out and breezed past his rivals untouched. Despite having been stopped in his tracks and having to regain his composer, Bernborough was still good enough to accelerate with the 10.11 and fly past his rivals without the use of the whip.

This was a remarkable win. 10.11 (68.5kg) is 10.5kg more than Makybe Diva carried in her third Melbourne Cup win. The weight is also exactly 10kg more than Super Impose carried in his record breaking second Doncaster victory. The ability to carry this kind of weight and still win a race that is today A Group One against probably the 5th, 6th and 7th best horses in Australia at the time truly shows that Bernborough was an immortal. Tommy Smith is one who saw both Phar Lap and Bernborough and rated Bernborough the better. Another was legendary bookmaker Sol Green.

Bernborough is clearly the greatest horse to ever win the Doomben Cup. Let’s hope that this week’s winner of the great race shows similar heart and determination in winning to what Bernborough displayed 67 years ago. If they do, we are in for a great race.

By Zeb Armstrong

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