Nearly our own triple dead-heat

Belmont’s tight finish recalls the famous photo 27 August 2017


In the Old Mate’s Sports Bar and Eatery at Belmont Park racecourse is a small framed photo of  The Triple Dead-Heat.

This needs no further explanation to racegoers of my vintage and beyond but younger readers may need to know more?

On 3 November 1956, Victoria Derby day at Flemington, three horses crossed the line together in the Hotham Handicap. They could not be separated.

Fighting Force (Jack Purtell), Ark Royal (Reg Heather) and Pandie Sun (Bill Williamson) became part of Australian horse racing folklore triple dead-heating for first.  

It is the answer to a quiz question I have waited for all my adult life but have never been asked.

Post World War II, the Hotham Handicap was considered a terrific form reference to the Melbourne Cup run three days later but, after Baystone won in 1958, the race had a long lean stretch as a springboard for the cup.

Not until Think Big in 1974 did another Hotham Handicap winner salute in the Cup and only Brew (2000) and Shocking (2009) have done so since. The latter two did so under one of the six name changes the race has been through since 1979. It is currently the Lexus Stakes.

So why all this memory jogging?

Thoughts of the famous triple dead-heat came back on Saturday when Pinsson, Gunnago and Jupiter Rising reached the finish of the Peacock Bros Handicap (1300m) at Belmont Park. To the naked eye Pinsson, in the centre, looked to have lasted but then, before announcing the verdict, the authorities put a mono version of the photo finish on the big screen. 


Without the benefit of the judges’ technology, it looked for all the world as though WA racing had its own triple dead-heat. Certainly course commentator Darren McAullay was edging towards that idea – and his opinion counts for plenty because who knows how many races he has called at Belmont Park? 

The judge eventually posted Pinsson the winner a nose ahead of the favourite Gunnago  with another nose to the grey Jupiter Rising, whose colouring further added to the misconception (grey skin in a black-and-white photograph can be confusing in a photo finish). Add Zefiro, fourth only a head back, and it was some race.

It certainly added some colour to a great day’s racing but the result held no comfort for punters who had backed Gunnago into odds on favourite. The lightly-raced four-year-old was completely luckless trying to get a run on the inside of Watijadoo and finished strongly when clear.

Gunnago became the 50th horse at starting price odds of $3.00 or less to be beaten at Belmont Park since 1 July.

From the first of July until the last race Saturday, there have been 81 favourites or second favourites leaving the barriers at 2/1 or less. Thirty-one (31) have won. 

If you had backed all of these, you would need to have gained average odds of $2.65 to turn a profit. Plenty of the winners were odds on so, without further crunching the numbers, I reckon you’d be behind.

Such is the difficulty of winter racing but favourite backers need not be too concerned. Ascot is just around the home turn and – historically speaking – the favourite backer fill-up begins.

HOOFNOTE: One of the Hotham Handicap dead-heaters, Ark Royal, had a major influence on WA racing, siring the Perth Cup winners: Royal Coral (1966), Special Reward (1967) and Jenark (1969). He was also dam sire (Polo Jane) of Muros, who also won the Perth Cup (1977) and Brisbane Cup (1978).

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