“THE DREAM CUP OF 1870”
During its long history, the Melbourne Cup has been postponed only twice, in 1870 and in 1916. The Spring of 1870 really was dismal. In September the city was deluged by six inches of rain, and again in October by a further 4.5 inches.
Trainers had a most difficult task to give their horses sufficient work in preparation for the V.R.C’s spring meeting. Over 100 horses were stabled near Flemington, but for weeks on end the running track was under water. On Tuesday, 27th October 1870, the VRC stewards inspected the course at Flemington and announced that the spring meeting would be postponed for one week. The steward’s decision turned out to be a wise one. The weather picked up well and on both Derby and Cup Days, the going was surprisingly good.
The main effect of the racing on Derby Day was to bring the Hotham Handicap winner, Nimblefoot, from long odds to a prominent place in Cup discussions. Nimblefoot was an aged gelding, whose form over the previous three years had been so poor, that the handicapper had assessed him at only 6.0 for the cup.
Ballarat publican Walter Craig had paid $200 for the horse and had sent him back to his native Tasmania in the hope that a long spell would bring him back to his early form. It was from there that Nimblefoot came back to do his Cup preparation under the care of the prominent Flemington trainer, W. Lang.
By post time for the big race, the attendance was estimated at 30,000. 28 runners lined up for the cup, and the big field included the winners of the previous three cups.
The race provided one of the most controversial finishes in cup history. At the final turn Lapdog and Nimblefoot broke clear, and all the way down the straight had the race between them. Inside the distance Lapdog led by a half-length, but young Day on Nimblefoot, got the last ounce out of his mount, and as they hit the line only inches separated them. Most onlookers were certain that Lapdog had just lasted long enough, but the Judge gave the race to Nimblefoot. The time of 3.37 was a new race record.
Host to poets, princes and prime ministers over its 160 year history, the hotel is a true icon of the Victorian period. Now, after 5 years extensive restoration, the magnificent accommodation, dining, meeting and banquet facilities are re-establishing Craig’s as the finest boutique heritage hotel in the region.
About the four months before Cup time, Walter Craig dreamed that he was watching the running of the Melbourne Cup, and was amazed to see it won by his own horse “Nimblefoot”. He walked over to the jockey and while congratulating him, he noticed that the man wore a mourning band of black crepe, “Why are you wearing that?” Craig asked. “Oh” replied the jockey “the horse belonged to Walter Craig who died three months ago”.
The morning after the dream, Mr Craig told his story to several friends and it was even recounted in the Melbourne Age of Monday, 9th November 1870, the day before the Cup.
Come Melbourne Cup day 1870, excitement in Ballarat centred around Craig’s Hotel. About four o’clock in the afternoon a telegram came for Mrs Craig. When she read it she burst into tears. Nimblefoot had won the Cup. His rider wore a black armband, for Walter Craig had died early in the morning of the 17th August 1870.