Michael Cox



The 1984 Missile Stakes: Bogged barriers and a ‘flagless’ flag start

Jockey Peter Miers re-tells the story of his win on Plus Vite in the infamous ‘flag start’ Missile Stakes of 1984.

Peter Miers didn’t expect to win the 1984 Missile Stakes on Plus Vite let alone it be the race that he would be asked about nearly four decades later. 

As Miers approached the start on his 200-1 first-starter, after a heavy downpour at Rosehill, it was clear that this would be no ordinary Group 3 race.  

“Well, first of all when we got around to the start, the barriers were bogged,” Miers told The Report. “It was bogged down to the axles. Not only that, it was stuck halfway across the chute.”

It was bogged down to the axles. Not only that, it was stuck halfway across the chute.

Rosehill’s 1200m chute out of play, the race would be moved to the course proper, but with the barriers bogged, how to start the race?

An old-style flag start was suggested by Miers. But first, the starter Billy Dale had an idea to help get the field away fairly. 

“That is when I started to think the starter had never done a flag start before,” Miers said. “He wanted each barrier attendant to walk up to the start with a horse on each hand, and then he was going to drop the flag and we were going to go off, and I said, ‘you can’t do that, we will kill some of these blokes. When the horses jump they will be like spinning tops, when you say go they will get squashed.’ 

“They tried it anyway but it just didn’t work, the horses were going sideways, blokes were falling over everywhere, it was a mess.”

Miers, with experience riding from flag starts in the north of England, deployed  his well-honed organisational skills and stepped in with some helpful suggestions. 


Peter Miers (right) riding Bally Native at Sha Tin in 1978. (Photo by C. Y. Yu/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

“I just said ‘Billy, don’t do that, just line us all up. Haven’t you done it before? Just send us back, and we will form a line and just walk up towards you’.” 

At this stage Miers also helped himself to a spot one off the fence on the likely leader. 

“I just said ‘you get there with the flag and whenever you are ready, we will get into a trot and when you think we are in line just drop the flag and we will go … it’s really not too hard.’ 

“So he told everybody what we would do, we turned around … we were all walking up, pretty close and the next minute we were getting to the starter, and he said, ‘wait, I haven’t got a flag’.”

 A bogged set of starting gates and a flag start with no flag: the Missile Stakes of 1984 seemed doomed before it was even run. 

Miers may not have expected to win first-up on the diminutive grey by Bletchingly, but he did lobby Bart Cummings for the ride. 

Legendary trainer Bart Cummings. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

That’s because he wanted to be on next start – when the money was on – in a provincial maiden.

“Bart wanted me to ride his Epsom Handicap winner Cool River, but I told him I wanted to be on Plus Vite this start, but especially next time. I wasn’t worried about winning the Missile Stakes, I wanted to win that maiden, it was a certainty. 

“I remember Bart saying, ‘you really like that little horse, don’t you?’ and I did. Having ridden him in work I thought he was probably the best maiden in Australia.” 

Plus Vite was raced by Lister Catchlove (father-in-law of prominent breeder and former Moonee Valley Race Club chairman Bob Scarborough). Miers said Catchlove had a propensity for buying well-bred horses that weren’t always the most sound individuals. 

“I used to call Plus Vite ‘the downhill Bletchingly’, because it was like riding a horse downhill, he was that short in front. But he was fast. John Morish was foreman there at Bart’s, at the time, and I said to him ‘this is the best horse in the joint.’”  

Peter Miers rode with distinction in Hong Kong. (Photo by C. Y. Yu/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

Determined to preserve odds for the planned maiden sting one start after the Missile practice run, Miers proudly recalls how he threw off big bookie John Rogan when quizzed about the horse’s ability.

“I had just arrived at the racecourse and Rogan walked up to me and said ‘this thing you are riding, I hear it is alright’ and I just said ‘nah, it’s having its first start, you can’t be backing it.’ But really, we didn’t even know if it could run in the wet or not. I suppose we should have known: we all know that all grey horses can run in the wet, I haven’t ridden one that can’t.” 

Once Dale had rearranged the field following the first botched start, he found a jacket that would suffice as flag and the field was away, albeit with rank outsider Zany Zephyr left tailed off. 

“I think in the end I said ‘go’ and we took off,” Miers said. “My horse flew from the start. I led and travelled well, after we turned I was swinging off mine and I looked across at Real Dream, Geoff Allendorf was riding it, and he was scrubbing it along. When I got to the 200m and went for him, there was nobody near me.” 

Miers had a Group 3 win in the bag – the longest-priced stakes winner of Cummings’ illustrious career – but the rider was about to face one of the fiercest demonstrations from a racecourse crowd in years. 

Tommy Smith’s race favourite Pashenka’s Gem was unplaced and the confused punters were baying for blood. 

“The crowd was carrying on a bit,” recalled Miers. ”There was a lot of confusion about the race because they hadn’t gone from the barriers.” 

There was a lot of confusion about the race because they hadn’t gone from the barriers.

Almost as unimpressed with proceedings was chief steward John Schreck. 

“Schreck was standing there waiting. I had a big smile on my face and was laughing and Schreck said to me ‘stop laughing’ and I said ‘You can tell me to do a lot of things but you can’t stop me from smiling’.” 

Miers ‘maiden certainty’ had been ruined but Plus Vite never fulfilled the promise he had shown in that upset win. Plagued by hoof problems, Plus Vite was transferred to Bob Hoysted, to be set for an Oakleigh Plate with beach work. The sprinter won just one more race for his new trainer, at Caulfield early the next year. 

Miers will be at Randwick for the 2022 Missile Stakes, which will again be run in wet conditions. 

“Are there any grey horses in the field?” Miers asked. There aren’t, but there is one certainty: if the barriers get bogged, the starter will not be asking for tips on how to run a flag start. 



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