Jericho Cup founder Bill Gibbins; Warrnambool
ON the eve of the first Jericho Cup, the event’s founder Bill Gibbins still can’t quite get his head around that it’s actually happening.
“It started three years ago with an idea and I’m sitting here now thinking that it’s actually going to happen,” Gibbins said. “To get everything done has been a big effort. I’m waiting patiently or impatiently for the day to come.”
The concept emanated from Gibbins reading a book called Bill The Bastard to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Australian Light Horseman racing over three miles at Jericho in Palestine in a spectacle to distract the soldiers from World War I three years ago.
Gibbins said Bill The Bastard, who won that Jericho Cup in 1918, was Australia’s greatest warhorse and he was determined to celebrate his memory.
The philanthropist took the idea to the Warrnambool Racing Club and they fell in love with the concept. Firstly, though, they needed to convince Racing Victoria of the merits of the race and also they needed to do work on the course at their end.
Gibbins and WRC representatives, including chief executive Peter Downs and former chairman Des Roberts, spent many hours in discussion with RV officials. An early sticking point was Gibbins’ idea that it would be restricted to Australian and New Zealand horses.
“The race had to have its own persona,” Gibbins said. “It’s for horses who are never going to be champions. It’s about giving battlers the chance to have a go in a race with good prizemoney.
“It was suggested by RV that horses bred overseas could run but that isn’t what the race is about. You couldn’t have overseas horses contesting a race commemorating Australia and New Zealand involvement in the First World War.
“I said, ‘What’s the point of having overseas horses in a race honouring Australian and New Zealand horses?’ They suggested we’d struggle to get a field unless we did but it’s worked out well with an even field and a capacity one.”
Another point of contention was that Gibbins and Warrnambool wanted to run the race over the three miles of the original Jericho Cup.
Ultimately they settled for the same distance — 4600m — and the same ground as the Grand Annual Steeple.
That idea presented another set of problems as they had to take the jumps out of Brierly paddock and Tozer Road. Downs said this was a long process as the ground had to be re-sown after they were taken out and the ground had to recover.
Another stipulation from Gibbins was that it had to be a race restricted to jumps jockeys.
“It’s all worked out well,” he said. “There’s no more positive person about the race than Racing Victoria’s Greg Carpenter.”
Gibbins has arranged special trophies for every race winner on Sunday commemorating the Anzacs. “There’s so many great stories going into this race. I’m very proud,” he said.
Downs said he was expecting a crowd of between 3000 to 5000 on Sunday.
“It’s been a big three years to get the event up. A big build-up with marketing and also taking the jumps out and having to regenerate that ground took time.”
Downs estimated that the club had spent $200,000 on the event, which was a significant investment.