Winning t'he race that stops a nation' changes your life forever

The day Larry Olsen and Kensei won the Cup.

The day Larry Olsen and Kensei won the Cup.

Champion jockey Larry Olsen came to Goondiwindi recently. Coming with him was the Lexus Melbourne Cup and the story which made him a legend...

Champion jockey, Larry Olsen came to town recently. Coming along for the ride was the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

Champion jockey, Larry Olsen came to town recently. Coming along for the ride was the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

He knew he had a chance the moment he jumped on-board.

“Good onya Larry,” a coat-tugger yells from the fence.

Others clap and shout, a dull roar beyond the fence.

But beneath him, there is only stately calm. Ignoring the maelstrom, the din and the clamor swirling around them, they make their way to the track and finally, to a clear and telescopic view of the straight.

No not clear, hyper. Green so,vivid it was almost electric.

While under him and in his own excitement, he understands the stamp of hooves.

They hear: “All right riders?”.

And then there’s the crash of gates opening and a ton of churning muscle and sweat explode and escape.

“We’re on.” No words. No other thought as thousands of rides over so many years before, take over. 

Before them jumps the big mare, a “backside” you can’t miss. 

They follow in the wake.

He can’t help but wonder at her as she takes the bumps and keeps driving through.

Perhaps He’s thinking the same.

Below him, He’s survived the roar of the 100,000 down the straight.

Past the 1800 He’s “gone to sleep”, the big mare still ahead.

“Good, nice and relaxed. That’s the trick.”

Sixteen hundred.

The pace quickens. He hugs the rail.

Twelve hundred, the tempo builds.

Then they hit the 800m.

“Getting serious now”. He stays on the rail, the big mare, the monster is powering along.

He wants to go to up to the big mare.”Not yet, not yet”.

Then they hit the 600m.

Worry creeps in, “Stuck on the rail...There’s no way through. Don’t panic stay the course”.

They’re caught behind the chestnut Scarvila.

And then, the gelding veers away from the fence...

“God it’s like the parting of the Red Sea, here’s our chance.”

  But He’s not working hard enough.

“Come on big fella. Time to go. Pull harder”

He uses the whip to send a reminder of why they’re there.

He jumps forward and gains a neck.

The winning post races towards them, still a neck behind.

The whip flicks again, and he stretches...”

“We won on the line and we would have lost it another stride past the post. He was gone”.

Champion jockey Larry Olsen has captured the imagination of race lovers, and more than a few who weren’t, when he described his Melbourne Cup victory in 1987 while riding Kensei.

It was shock victory over the “monster”, champion New Zealander, Empire Rose. 

It was to be Kensei’s last victory.

But what a ride?

Goondiwindi Mayor and local bookie, Graeme Scheu describes  the win as one of the “great Melbourne Cup victories”.

The Sydney Morning Herald described it like this:

By now the world knows of his ride. How he made a chestnut gelding white by scraping the paint off the Flemington fence for the best part of 3200 intriguing metres. Larry Olsen and Kensei - partners in greatness. Another Melbourne Cup to cherish. One to behold. Larry told us Kensei would do it. 

November 15, 1987.

Cr Scheu and Larry were speaking at a civic dinner held in honour of a special “visitor” last week.

Apart from Larry and Queensland’s premier trainer, Tony Gollan , the Lexus Melbourne Cup was in town.

Earlier, Goondiwindi race Club President, Geoff Makim had said the Melbourne Cup was the “greatest horse race in the world”.

Born in 1948, Larry was raised at Nudgee Beach in Brisbane, “just down the road from where the Bee Gees grew up.” But while Gibbs dreamed of making music and becoming the next Beatles, Larry had simpler dreams.

“I just wanted  a pony,” he told students at the St Mary’s Parish School. He also tells them to follow your dreams. He’s the perfect example that they can come true.

“I’d go to bed and say ‘Dear God let me wake up and find a pony tied up outside.”

There never was but at 13 Larry took matters into his own hands.

He began working at stables for Brisbane trainer Mal Barnes.

At 14 he was riding track work. And at 15 in 1963, he rode his first race ride at Sydney’s Canterbury Racecourse.

There is little doubt the 15 year-old Larry would ever have dreamed that 55 years later he would be chaperoning the Melbourne Cup to a small border town called Goondiwindi.

A town famous because of its ties with a grey horse which has captured the imagination of a nation. Gunsynd came third in the 1972 Cup behind Piping Lane in a brave effort which only added to his legend.

He carried a whopping 60.5kg. In 1987 Kensei carried 51.5kg.

Larry rode the mighty Grey six times. He spoke about a horse full of character, tough and “coltish”. “He stood up for himself...what a horse.” But not surprisingly, holding a special place in his heart is Kensei the horse he rode to victory in the 1987 race “that stops a nation”.

For Larry it’s where life changed.

Larry Olsen's message to Goondiwindi students? "Follow your dreams."

 t was never the same after that, you’d won the Cup. I’m not a religious bloke but  I can’t help but think some things are meant to happen.”

He points to Scarvila leaving the fence, he’s not sure why. Ironically he was ridden by Darren Beadman who would later study to become a pastor.

After, Larry remembers a woman who called to him from the crowd.

  She then threw him  a yellow rose. Instinctively he put up his hand, and the stem of the rose caught between his middle fingers. And there he sat on Kensei in the afternoon sun  of a first Tuesday in November, “saluting” the cheering throng with a rose…. 

It is a victory which still manages to impact on the jockey. “I experienced something special this afternoon when we took the Cup down to the Macintyre River (and the old Border Bridge where a statue of Gunsynd stands at the entrance to town.)

“I looked at the Cup and thought, “I won that” and than I looked at Gunsynd, and thought, “I rode him”.

 A racing career doesn’t get much better than that.

Not that there weren’t some ups and downs.

Ironically the lowest point in his career came on November 3, 1987, the day he won the Melbourne Cup.

What the? Larry had three rides that day.

He won two but on his third, riding Sound Horizon, he was charged with ‘not letting a horse run on its merits’ and was disqualified for a year and warned off all racecourses.

He appealed the decision and won, but the affair remains a bitter topic.

Still he didn’t let the furor stop him from celebrating.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” we said to him earlier in the day talking about the Cup.

“It’s even better when you are drinking out of it,” he said.

Sadly we can only imagine, and accede to his greater knowledge..

Larry retired in 1998. He was 50. “There was a meeting at Eagle Farm and I had one race –  a 100-1 shot and I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing?’.” He retired there and then.

With an interrupted career spanning 35 years, Larry rode more than a thousand winners, 24 of them at Group One level.   

In 2007, he was inducted into the Queensland Racing Hall of Fame.