Thrown Off a High Horse

The 1863 Geelong and Western Districts Hunt Club Cup

Much can be learned about the 1863 ‘Geelong and Western Districts Hunt Club Cup’ through the punters alone: ‘The gentleman about the Bay View Hotel had either no opinions to back, no money to back them with, or no pluck to invest in it.’

Made by William Edwards, this silver claret jug would be the elegant prize awarded to the winner of a fierce, three-mile steeplechase between four aged horses – two of which had a lame leg. Despite the small number of entries, this was generally a popular event in the district. It even attracted ‘several of the lead betting men in Melbourne’ to the track, so it was necessary to have a prize which injected some grandeur to proceedings.

Chickamaroo, Smoker, Sir Robert, and Kate met on a sodden racetrack in the suburbs of Geelong. A competent beginning betrayed the chaos to come. Sir Robert was in the early lead until the third obstacle when a misjudged jump led the horse to fall on his side. Luckily, a clever manoeuvre by Bowes, his rider, meant he was able to continue.

The same could not be said for Smoker. Approaching the eighth obstacle, the horse ‘firmly declined’ to leap and removed himself from the race. Chickamaroo tried the same but the rider, Albert Brooks, brought her back around and cleared it – though not without being hurled off in the process. Undeterred, Brooks remounted and continued the race. At the very next obstacle, Kate came down on her head and threw her rider. Four competitors now became two.

The race lulled for some time as the remaining horses slipped out of view. The time was so prolonged that punters speculated that the ‘riders had stopped to have a smoke and a pull at the flask.’ In fact. the culprit was even boggier ground which forced the riders to take it slow.

In the final three hundred yards, a final burst of impressive speed from Chickamaroo clinched the win as rain started to come down. Not bad for a horse with one lame leg.