Big Philou Foaled In New Zealand
Big Philou Foaled In 1965 In New Zealand Sired By Le Filou
In the entire history of Australian horse racing, perhaps no other accomplishment has served to confirm greatness upon a thoroughbred as has winning a Caulfield Cup/Melbourne Cup double in one season.
2001 was the last time for the achievement, when Ethereal took the winning post in both events. Four years prior, Might And Power produced a Cups double in 1997. Only 11 horses have etched their name upon the annals of history by winning both events in one season. Renowned horses such as Gurner’s Lane, Rising Fast and Poseidon grace that short list.
Cups Double Scare
One thing that makes the cups double so remarkable in the eyes of many is that Australian punters can realize a huge payday if they have a stake in the proceedings.
The potential liability to bookmakers in the event of a horse producing a Cups double is so great that on one occasion it produced a scandal that rocked the racing establishment.
We are here speaking of course of the story of Big Philou.
Big Philou Foaled In 1965
Big Philou was foaled in 1965 in New Zealand. His sire was the French import Le Filou and his dam was the Kiwi native Pink Lady.
Running out of Bart Cummings stable and frequently ridden by Roy Higgins, Big Philou won the first leg of the double in a controversial Caulfield Cup victory that resulted when Big Philou’s jockey, Roy Higgins, lodged a successful protest that the apparent winner, Nasouri, interfered with Big Philou at the 200 m pole.
The stage was set for what would have been at the time only the seventh Cups double in racing history. Trainer Cummings and jockey Higgins felt that their horse was a prohibitive favourite Big Philou was massively backed by wagers despite the presence of formidable competition in the form of the previous year’s Melbourne Cup winner, Rain Lover.
At this point, the story takes an ugly turn when the prospect of a serious payday for punters who had the first half of a Cups double in their grasp proved too unpalatable for those who faced considerable losses in the event Big Philou went on to win the Melbourne Cup.
Drugging Horses Criminal
Drugging horses in order to make those horses win or lose has certainly been around at that time as it was prior and it is now.
This was not as easy in Big Philou’s time as it was earlier, but then, just as now, those who lack scruples seem always to manage to stay one or more lengths ahead of the people and methods designed to thwart them.
Some credible sources, a former Big Philou jockey amongst them, maintain that the horse was often medicated with heroin to calm his nerves. This was not the intent however, of whoever slipped into his stall on the eve of the Melbourne Cup and poisoned Big Philou through the use of a powerful laxative.
Bart Cummings Seeks Vet
When trainer Cummings realized that his horse was clearly in distress, he sought help from the VRC’s chief veterinarian, but it was too late to prevent the proper decision of scratching Big Philou from the race from being made.
While the outcome of any race can never be known with absolute certainty in advance, Big Philou was considered a prohibitive favourite to such an extent that previous year’s winner Rain Lover drew 8 to 1 odds.
The consequences of this dastardly deed could have been far more catastrophic.
According to Higgins , “Now the horse could have collapsed. If it was another 20 minutes down the line, that horse could have collapsed. Killed me, killed others, killed horses, you know.
You got these evil human beings out there, that would do that to a dumb animal, just for the thought of an illegal dollar, an illegal dollar. And, um, I ran into the guy a few times and I spoke openly to him about it, I wouldn’t. I’d spit on him.”
The story has a somewhat happy ending in the fact that Big Philou eventually made a full recovery, went on to win the 1970 Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Underwood Stakes. In a match race against Rain Lover, he was victorious, adding additional tantalizing evidence that he could have prevailed in the Melbourne Cup. He was retired shortly after that match.
Strapper Confesses To Crime
The culprit was uncovered many years after the incident. Dying of cancer, a former strapper in the Cumming’s operation, admitted to the deed.
His name was Les Lewis and he admitted to not only poisoning Big Philou, but another of the competitors, Tail. He did this for the rather paltry sum of $10,000 and admitted to his indiscretion to salve his conscience before dying, but he never did put the finger on the person or persons that funded the travesty.
While it is hard to imagine any good arising from this dismal event in horse racing history, the fact that it occurred on the Sport of Kings greatest stage may have supplied the incentive for some of the testing methods now in place to protect not only the elite runners, but also those of more modest talent that deserve to compete fairly without incurring risk beyond that already present in racing.