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No 17: Baghdad Note wins Melbourne Cup (1970)
It was 1970 and tens of thousands of New Zealanders huddled around their radios on the first Tuesday in November to listen to the race that stops two nations.
Watching that year's Melbourne Cup was not an option for Kiwis as the first live telecast to these shores was not until 1971.
Listeners in Otago had extra reason to follow the gruelling two-mile contest with interest as among the runners was 5-year-old gelding Baghdad Note, who was bred, owned and trained in Dunedin and ridden by Wingatui jocky E.J. "Midge" Didham.
The field that year was hardly a vintage one as injuries, breakdowns and retirements had affected its quality. Notable among the withdrawals was original topweight Il Tempo, one of New Zealand's greatest stayers whose wins included two Auckland Cups and a Wellington Cup.
Baghdad Note arrived in Australia in the spring of 1970 with a handy record of seven wins but with a reputation as something of a wet-track specialist.
The rangy grey raced five times in Victoria before the cup. His first-up effort was a distant eighth when barely off the boat after a rough crossing of the Tasman Sea.
His next start yielded a win in the Navy Day Handicap at the cup venue of Flemington and he then showed useful form in three traditional lead-ups to the great race.
Baghdad Note finished second in the Herbert Power Handicap, third-equal in the Caulfield Cup and a solid fifth in the weight-for-age L.K.S.Mackinnon Stakes.
Despite this useful preparation and the relatively weak field, the New Zealand galloper started the cup on a firm Flemington at odds of 25-1 because of the belief he could produce his best only on a wet track.
In the end, the lean gelding took advantage of a superbly judged first ride in the cup by Didham to outstay the field and win by three-quarters of a length from Vansittart, with Clear Prince third.
Baghdad Note, according to Didham, went to the post "like a lion gobbling up the opposition" to become the third grey to win Australasia's most famous race.
Baghdad Note's owner - colourful cigar-smoking, Rolls-Royce-driving Dunedin businessman Stuart Falconer - had not originally planned a Melbourne Cup campaign for his horse and had to be talked into it by the grey's Wingatui trainer, Bob Heasley.
Falconer, who had suffered a severe heart attack the previous Christmas, turned down an offer of $15,000 for his champion on the day before the cup. The next day his share of the $75,000 cup stake was $51,000.
He paid credit to Heasley after the race: "Bob has done a great job and he's been a wonderful trainer for me. I think he is very much under-rated and it is unfortunate because he is very good".
Heasley, for his part, was always confident of his charge's chances in the world greatest handicap.
"I thought he'd win the Melbourne Cup after the Caulfield Cup." The final verdict on Baghdad Note's Melbourne Cup win belongs to Didham: "She was a great race."
Baghdad Note's Australian history does not start or end with his 1970 triumph though.
His maiden win had come as a 2-year-old at Sydney track Canterbury and he returned for another Melbourne Cup campaign in 1971 but missed a start after pulling a muscle in the Caulfield Cup.
Baghdad Note next finished 13th in the first metric cup in 1972 before being sold in Australia.
Kilmore trainer Terry Millard prepared the by-now 8-year-old to win the 1973 Sandown Cup and then, his racing days done, he stayed in the limelight as the clerk of the course's horse on Melbourne tracks.