x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

On an even playing field

This much I know Former schoolteacher Wendy Green beat all the odds when her horse won the Melbourne Cup in 1999.

Wendy Green is in town promoting the Victoria Cup Tour, a horse racing event.
Wendy Green is in town promoting the Victoria Cup Tour, a horse racing event.

A former schoolteacher from Darwin, Australia, Wendy Green beat all the odds when her horse, Rogan Josh, won the Melbourne Cup nearly a decade ago in Australia. Australia is a country of isolation and distance, a country where the horse played a most significant role in communication and transportation, and without a good horse it was virtually impossible to survive. I grew up in the bush on a little farm and I always had a horse, but I had to share that horse with my two brothers. To get to school, we'd ride bareback, leave the horse in the swamp paddock and have to catch the bus from there.

Every family has that belief that if you have a good horse, you might get to the Melbourne Cup. If things are really bad, people say, "You never know: you might win the Melbourne Cup". Why is the Melbourne Cup such a big thing in Australia? Well, we have to look at the Cup in terms of an ordinary Australian like myself. It's a handicapped race, which means that the 24 horses enter with a handicap on their ability, but any one of them can win. It's an even playing field, in the great tradition of the Australian character - we are not hierarchical. We have come from all corners of the world, and in coming together, we've got this new Australia. That identity is the same for everyone; everyone has equal opportunities.

My father and my brother bred Rogan Josh - my dad had bred both his mother and grandmother. My brother had a good eye to a bloodline and a great eye for a horse, too. When it started winning local races, we had offers to buy him, and I refused three times, which is something my brother didn't agree with. I'm a schoolteacher with children, and not known for wasting money. But I kept thinking about the Melbourne Cup, and I knew Rogan Josh had it in him. Eventually, my husband and my son and I bought out my brother. There are a lot of skeletons in that cupboard.

I've always enjoyed teaching. Actually, the expediency to get to Darwin was to get back into the classroom. After winning, we drove back the next day with the Melbourne Cup strapped in the back seat with a seat belt. The sceptics had said, "Well, we'll give you a week off", because they hadn't expected us to win. So I went back to work, but I never really went back permanently. We still have horses. We're still hobby owners. We've bought a little property in Queensland. So we've got a little colt and a gorgeous little horse, and there are a few nice little yearlings around. Already, the whole dream has started again.

Rogan Josh definitely knew he was something special. It's something that anyone who has a horse knows: they know that they're winning; they know they're going to perform and they know when they've been successful. When we took Rogan Josh back to the paddock, when he retired, as soon as he heard the siren go off, he'd get excited and he'd sweat up as if he was going into the race. The horses know without a doubt that something is going on. I wear a particular perfume, and if I went near that horse and he smelled that perfume, he would know he had to race that day.

The skill is recognising that quality in the horse, and you can recognise it in people and children, too. It's the ability to dream. There's no doubt about it. If you are a person who buys great bloodlines that's one thing, but you can also foster a bloodline of your own. But it's by being naive and trusting and - even though sometimes it will go wrong - it's by taking that fool's journey.