Bernborough’s big day
The paradox of war is that the more horrifying the event, the greater the chance of sanity returning to the world. So it was in 1945 when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, reducing the city and life in it to a pile of rubble and blazing shadows.
Therefore, it is small wonder that the people who had experienced the tortures of World War II should find an outlet for the joyous delights they had been denied during the six years prior to 1946.
"It was a beautiful, still, tranquil day," Brisbane racecaller and Telegraph correspondent Keith Noud recalled. "I could see the crowd below my broadcasting tower, clustered together like ants while they waited for the race to start. There must have been 25,000 people at Doomben that day; no official record was kept as far as I know. But every vantage point was taken, and the racegoers stood quietly, waiting and waiting.
"I'll never forget that day – it was a lovely day! The race started 11 or 13 minutes late (I'm not sure of that now), and I can remember looking down on the crowd and seeing this blue haze of smoke sitting above the people. It was cigarette smoke," Keith recounted quietly, slipping back through time to one of the most memorable days of his life.
"That is how still the day was – the cigarette smoke just lingered above the crowd while they waited the 11 or 13 minutes, and that was quite a waiting time for me because my binoculars were not bolted to a stand as they are today. My arms were aching like blazes by the time the race did finally get under way.
"And it was a happy crowd. The war had ended not event 12 months before, and the public had found an outlet for all the frustration they had experienced during the war years in Bernborough. Everybody knows the history of Bernborough, and how he couldn't race for so long in Queensland, but he had returned for the T.M. Ahern Memorial (now the Doomben Ten Thousand) in a blaze of publicity following his magnificent victories in Melbourne and Sydney. He had put up a miraculous performance to win the VRC Newmarket Handicap, and it was a real homecoming for the champion. The Australian public adored Bernborough – they loved him to a man.
"I remember Bert Woolfe's article in the papers on the Friday – on the front page the headline read: "WHAT WILL RUN SECOND TO BERNBOROUGH?"
"Then there was Bernborough's owner. Mr Azzalin Romano. He was a very smart dresser and well known by the public – in fact he was called 'Azzalin the Dazzlin'! And of course, there was Mulley – a great jockey.
"So there were many factors which caused Bernborough to become a national figure, but it was primarily his own great ability.
"Although he was so popular, he blew in the betting on course, although he did start the 7/2 favourite. I think the reason for the drift in the market was the huge weight he had to carry – 10.5. It was an enormous task he faced, because as great as he was nobody knew for certain how he would cope with 10 stone 5 pounds over the 7 furlongs less 93 yards.
"The race started from the open barrier, and Bernborough didn't begin all that well. I don't mean he missed the start completely, but he certainly was not the first horse into stride. He had only three horses behind him at the 800 metres, but gradually began to make up ground down the aerodrome side. There was a photo we used to print in the Brisbane Telegraph of that race, the 1946 Doomben Ten Thousand. At the furlong there are 12 horses in the photo – and Bernborough is not one of them!
"Cragsman, a good horse, was right up there, and although the names of the other horses don't come to me at the moment, they were all very good sprinters. And then Bernborough came flying down the outside. Although he wasn't in that photo at the furlong, he won easily in the finish. It was fantastic effort; and how the crowd loved it.
"I would not say that his win in the Doomben Cup a week later was an anti-climax, because once again he carried an enormous weight, 10 stone 11 pounds. Bernborough started a hot favourite but there was still doubt about the weight.
"There's quite a funny story about the Doomben Cup told by Scobie Breasley, who rode with such success in England and is now a trainer over there for Ravi Tikoo. Scobie was on Tea Cake, and there were Craigie and Repshot as well. Mulley moved Bernborough up on the rails and Breasley immediately positioned Tea Cake on his outside. It was the perfect pocket – a horse in front of Bernborough, another on the outside of the leader, and Tea Cake on the outside of Bernborough. It is said that Breasley looked across at Bernborough and Mulley and said 'Alright, get out of that you big bastard!'...and he did too! Mulley pilled him back and he went around the outside of them to win easily.
"Ah yes," Keith concluded quietly, "Bernborough was a fantastic horse, I haven't seen the likes of him before or since."
Such are the memories of Keith Noud of the first week in June 1946.
Racetrack, September, 1976