"I don't mind losing, I just don't like getting beaten." It wasn't Casey Stengel who said that, or Yogi Berra, or even Sam Goldwyn. It was George Hanlon, Australia's best known trainer of stayers aside from Bart Cummings.
Hanlon enjoys a similar reputation as Cummings for playful one-liners, this one delivered with a roguish smile to the 1988 Caulfield Cup-winning owner. A couple of hours earlier, Hanlon had settled for second in the Cup (Aust-I) for the third time. If that wasn't bad enough, all three had been photo-finishes, by a combined margin of about six inches.
A dozen years ago, a then 71-year-old Hanlon might have felt his Caulfield Cup chances slipping away. But what goes around comes around, as Stengel might have said, and the trainer finally nailed his Cup with Diatribe, a son of itinerant traveler and sometime shuttler Brief Truce.
Hanlon must have been relieved a camera wasn't required as the octogenarian marvel descended from the stands. Victoria Amateur Turf Club officials would have nodded with almost pathetic agreement, given that this was one of the few recent Cups free of controversy.
Diatribe had just come from near last to win the 123rd Cup by a length over New Zealand entrant Kaapstad Way, the 7-2 favorite Fairway gamely holding off Grand Lodge son Freemason for third, another 1 1/4 lengths back.
The Gary Grylls-ridden Kaapstad Way, at 14-1, was one of the precious few to give Diatribe a run for his money in the stretch.
After rider Jim Cassidy wove Diatribe into contention, and taken Berra's fork in the road to sweep past Fairway on the inside, this edition was over faster than any preceding it, the 2,400 meters traversed in 2:25.32, a track record. Fairway had plenty of help with the pace, before trailing Camarena to the fourth and final bend. He then gained a rail trip seemingly on cue to move into the lead. He was the only one in the first half of the field at the turn to finish in the top five.
The winner was a well-supported 8-1, equal third choice with French entry Mont Rocher, 11th after being fifth into the stretch. Diatribe actually used the gap created by Mont Rocher tracking wider to make his bid. The other northern runner, Godolphin's All the Way, a 40-1 longshot, faded to beat two of the 18 to the wire after racing just off the pace.
Diatribe was a $95,000 (Australian funds) yearling at the 1998 Australian Easter sale--twice his sire's national average that year--and the $1.1 million prize takes his earnings to nearly $2 million. He ranked in the top half-dozen colts last year, defeating Freemason in the Rosehill Guineas (Aust-I).
The colt is colt is out of Gabbing Gloria, a daughter of Desert Wine (by Damascus). On the track in the United States, she won three races and $88,975.
Brief Truce's lone grade I winner is from the Irish River horse's second southern crop, when stationed at Woodlands by Coolmore. Cut loose by the Irish group, Brief Truce moved to Germany and earlier this year to Switzerland's Sophrenof, Diatribe's Guineas success earning him a recall to shuttle, and a trip to the Independent Stallion Station outside Melbourne.
The Cup brought together owners of a slew of Sydney horses, and from as far afield as France, but went to a locally-bred-and-trained horse--even if he was owned by New Zealand's John Thompson. Hanlon is originally from Adelaide and trains a small team on the beaches at remote Leopold, southwest of Melbourne.
In the end, it turned out to be George Hanlon appreciation day and he might have invoked the Berra line of thanking all those who made the day necessary.