It was party time at the Irish National Stud on Friday, March 1. It wasn’t just the day which many people regard as the first day of spring, but it was also the birthday of a very special resident.
Vintage Crop, who was born on March 1, 1987, has his name indelibly inked into the annals of the turf as a winner of the Melbourne Cup (in 1993) as well as of two runnings of the Irish St Leger (1993 and ’94) and one of the Cesarewitch (1992). However, he ranks as much more than ‘merely’ a Melbourne Cup winner: he recorded his victory in what was a very different era, one in which it was almost inconceivable that a European-trained horse could win Australia’s greatest race.
Dermot Weld ranks as a pioneer of the modern internationalised racing world. He remains the only European-based trainer to have won a US Triple Crown race (courtesy of Go And Go in the 1990 Belmont) while his victory with Additional Risk in the Hong Kong Bowl in 1991 was almost similarly ground-breaking. However, even with these triumphs on Weld’s CV, there were very few Aussies in 1993 who believed that any European-based horse could win the Melbourne Cup – let alone a jumper!
However, just as Weld was no ordinary trainer, Vintage Crop was no ordinary hurdler. He had won a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in December 1991, but the following summer he had started to show above-average ability on the Flat. After the rangey chestnut son of Rousillon had won a staying handicap at the Tralee Festival in August 1992, Weld had stunned the local press corps by saying that he thought that the Melbourne Cup might be a suitable target.
True to his word, Weld sent Vintage Crop on the long flight to Melbourne – not that year (when he opted instead for the Cesarewitch, in which Vintage Crop landed a gamble under Walter Swinburn, beating Pride’s dam Specificity by eight lengths) but the next, when Vintage Crop warmed up by winning the first of his two Irish St Legers before going into quarantine.
The only ‘international’ horses to have contested the Melbourne Cup previously had been those imported well in advance and prepared by local trainers. However, two raiders lined up in 1993: Vintage Crop and the Lord Huntingdon-trained Ascot Gold Cup winner Drum Taps. At the time, the Bart Cummings theory that it was almost impossible to win the Cup unless one’s horse had run at Flemington on VRC Derby Day, three days previously, still held sway. Vintage Crop, by contrast, hadn’t run for seven weeks – but he caused a rapid revision of Australian training theory when he and Mick Kinane carried Michael Smurfit’s colours home three lengths clear of their rivals.
The mould was broken on that rainy day at Flemington, when Weld bewitched the Aussie press corps by reciting verses of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s great poem ‘The man from Snowy River’ in the unsaddling enclosure, and Vintage Crop ensured that his name will be linked forever with what any self-respecting Aussie will tell you is the most important race in the world.
By the time of Vintage Crop’s retirement in 1995, when he signed off by finishing third behind Doriemus in the third and final Melbourne Cup which he contested, he had recorded 16 wins and six minor placings from 28 starts. He had won three Group One races and had contested a Champion Hurdle too, having finished sixth of 18 behind Granville Again in 1993.
He was truly established as a living legend – and he still is one, aged 26 and the most celebrated of the many mighty equine residents of the Irish National Stud. If he doesn’t deserve a great birthday party, then nobody does.