SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER //
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
Jockey Greg Hall recalls an owner's bizarre instructions prior to Super Impose's famous victory in the 1992 Cox Plate, to this day regarded as the greatest-ever field assembled in the iconic race.
The first time Greg Hall laid a finger on Super Impose was on October 24, 1992, the very same day the champion jockey won the Cox Plate on the by-then ageing superstar miler.
“I’d never patted him, rode him trackwork or even touched him,” Hall told Asian Racing Report, 30 years on from what is widely considered the greatest Cox Plate of all time.
It was a partnership that would never have been formed, however, had Hall been successful in his cheeky, concerted campaigning of master trainer Bart Cummings to try and get a Cox Plate booking on champion mare Let’s Elope.
“I did manage to speak to Bart once and said, ‘I’ll win on your mare,’ and he said ‘oh you think so son?’, and then he kind of left it at that.”
But the jockey known simply as ‘G’ wasn’t done yet, tracking the visiting ‘Cups King’ to his Melbourne accommodation at Bourke Street’s Southern Cross Hotel, the same lodgings that famously housed the touring Beatles in 1964.
“I drove Bart mad trying to get on Let’s Elope. I was calling his hotel – the same place where The Beatles stayed – and paying the concierge to get notes put under his door,” Hall recalled.
“A journalist I knew had also suggested to Bart that he put me on. Bart said, ‘he likes to party a lot, that kid’, to which the bloke replied, ‘well that may be so, but one thing with ‘G’ is you won’t die wondering if you put him on’.”
With the race fast approaching and having still not heard back from Cummings, Hall accepted another offer to ride Super Impose, a richly talented horse more celebrated for achieving a historic ‘Double Double’, winning both of Randwick’s famous mile handicaps, the Epsom and Doncaster, in consecutive years, than for his prowess over 2000 metres.
Sure enough, no sooner had Hall accepted for Super Impose, his phone rang again. This time it was trainer David Hayes, with an offer to ride another champion warhorse, the Cox Plate and Japan Cup winner Better Loosen Up.
“In those days loyalties were everything and I said to David, ‘You wouldn’t believe it, I just took a ride in it,’” said Hall.
The equine talent which faced the Moonee Valley starter that year remains the stuff of legend, with the 14 contestants already having amassed $28 million in prize money going into the race.
Joining Let’s Elope, Better Loosen Up and Super Impose – champions all, retiring with 20 career Group 1 wins between them – were gallopers the ilk of iconic Kiwi Rough Habit, star fillies Slight Chance and Burst, Caulfield Cup winners Sydeston and Mannerism, and classy performers Kinjite and Prince Salieri. And then there was the hot favourite Naturalism.
Up against a field like that, and with Super Impose in the twilight of a storied career, Hall’s initial assessment had his mount competing for the minor money only. No eight-year-old had won the Cox Plate before, and the backmarker Super Impose was likely to be conceding too big a start to a high quality line-up.
A pre-race conversation with ‘The Enforcer’ Mick Dittman, who had the plum ride on Naturalism, changed that.
“Mick used to sit next to me in the jockeys room when he’d come down from Sydney and he said ‘Listen G, ‘I was on Super when he won the Canberra Cup the start before and he won like a three-year-old, don’t think you’re not going into the race without a chance.’ My confidence level went through the roof because Mick and I are very close mates,” said Hall.
Hall’s newly-found buzz was just as quickly diminished however, when it came time to be legged aboard the eight-year-old.
Super Impose was trained by the all-conquering Freedman brothers – Lee, Anthony, Richard and Michael – who like Liverpool’s ‘fab four’ were another celebrated, if slightly less globally-recognised, quartet. And like any good super group, Freedman Brothers Inc were blessed with a cast of contrasting personalities.
“We get to race day and Lee legs Mick up on Naturalism, Richard legs Damian Oliver up on Mannerism and I had the luxury of Anthony…”, Hall trailed off. “I don’t know if you know Anthony?” he said in reference to the famously gruff member of the training foursome.
“I said, ‘Are you excited Ant?’ and he said ‘Oh, nah, just another race you know?”
Anthony Freedman’s subsequent pre-race instructions weren’t overly remarkable, something to the effect of ‘get him back and make your move when you need to’.
They differed somewhat from those conveyed to Hall the night before by one of Super Impose’s emboldened owners.
“I don’t normally have owners ring me the night before and I think he’d had a couple of nice bottles of Grange or whatever, and he said, ‘Now tomorrow don’t listen to the Freedmans. Ride him up on the speed and he doesn’t like the whip.’
“And I said to myself ‘I don’t know what this bloke’s been watching for the last six years, because he gets back last with 20 runners in Doncasters and Epsoms and he storms home and they flog the s*** out of him!’.”
Despite the Murderers’ Row of equine stars set to contest the race, Hall wasn’t overly concerning himself with tactics.
“I never went into a race worrying about any other horse, I would only worry about my own. Some jockeys did but I didn’t,” he said.
Any semblance of tactics were thrown out the window, however, when the Caulfield Guineas-winner Palace Reign crossed his legs at the 600m and fell, bringing down Sydeston and dislodging Dittman from the favourite Naturalism. Rough Habit was also effectively put out of the race.
Hall, already stoking up Super Impose, knew something had gone awry but was too focused on maintaining his horse’s momentum on the tight Moonee Valley circuit to know exactly what.
“I was peeling off the fence and thinking they’ll all start panicking and making a move, and I’ll get a cart into the race. But next minute all the carnage started. Did I know who fell? No.”
Hall was a vigorous, aggressive rider who took full advantage of the tools that the era allowed.
“Other riders out there had beautiful hands like Harry White and Peter Cook, they weren’t so much whip jockeys,” he said.
“I’d already pulled the stick before the turn, I’m not cruel to horses but that’s the way I rode, I was a pretty strong rider and ‘Super’ seemed to thrive on it anyway.”
As those who had managed to avoid the fall set sail for home, Hall’s reputation allowed him to ‘shut the gate’ on the 1990 Cox Plate winner.
“Better Loosen Up with Simon Marshall was trying to come underneath my neck on the turn, I suppose Simon thought ‘Well I’m not going to be able to do that with the G’, he had no chance, I held my ground but I still had the whip out, and he was forced back into the pack, then I wound him up.”
That’s when Hall caught a glimpse of the famous green and gold Bart Cummings silks. And as the fruitless pre-race chase of the Let’s Elope ride flashed through his mind, the jockey resolved that this pursuit would be a successful one.
“As soon as I saw Let’s Elope I said to myself, ‘One thing we’re gonna do Super is we’re gonna make sure we beat her, I know that’, and I made sure I got his mind right on the job.
“But there she was and she got to the front and we got her right on the line. I think I even gave him one after the line too, I didn’t mean that!”
Let’s Elope would eventually be relegated to fifth after causing interference to Marshall and the unlucky Better Loosen Up. Hall, basking in the glory of a Cox Plate victory, was finally able to make contact with her trainer.
“After the race I said to Bart, ‘bad luck you never got those messages from the concierge Mr Cummings but I can assure you I’ll be partying hard tonight’. He said ‘Mmmm, maybe I should have listened to you son’.”
So just how hard was the party?
“It was a great day…” Hall said, his trademark pause lingering even longer than usual. “It was a better night though. I certainly didn’t go to the library.”
Ten days later Hall would again team up with the Freedmans to win the Melbourne Cup on Subzero, giving the training brothers a clean sweep of the Melbourne spring majors.
Looking back on the drama of the 1992 Cox Plate some three decades later, Hall is confident that its celebrated place in history has stood the test of time.
“We’ll never see another Cox Plate like that. Nothing against Winx, I know she won four in a row, but I don’t know if Hugh (Bowman) would be riding her so arrogant sitting three-deep against a field like that and think she’s going to blow them away. There’s never been a Cox Plate like that.”
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX