Light Fingers New Zealand Thoroughbred
Light Fingers Will Always Be Remembered For Those Runs In The Melbourne Cup
Everyone likes a tale of an underdog who through determination and desire, defeats the opposition in dramatic fashion.
When the subject turns to thoroughbreds, a chestnut filly from New Zealand named Light Fingers seems to fit this bill quite nicely.
1965 Melbourne Cup Win
Her win in the 1965 Melbourne Cup, when she went off at odds of 15-1, while certainly not entirely prohibitive by any stretch, came at the expense of her stable mate, Ziema, a horse that enjoyed status as the favourite that was considered prohibitive.
This win by Light Fingers could not have come in a more opportune race given the awe with which the Melbourne Cup is regarded.
It also did not hurt the story to have the additional facet of representing the first of legendary trainer Bart Cumming’s dominance in the Cup, or that an equally legendary jockey, Roy Higgins, was in the picture.
Light Fingers was foaled in 1961. Her sire was the French champion Le Filou, perhaps as notable for producing Big Philou as for anything else, but he did produce 20 wins and never ran unplaced in his 36 start career.
Her dam was New Zealand’s own, Cuddlesome, a handy racer herself, who also produced The Dip and My Fair Lady.
Light Fingers Line
Light Fingers’ line also contained the likes of Hyperion and Gainsborough, so it is apparent that there was no lack of prior racing prowess on which to draw.
Even with this impeccable pedigree, her breeder and owner both felt that Light Fingers was not equal to their expectations. These doubts would have to be said to have been eradicated by their underachieving filly when she won the ’65 Cup. She went into that race with health concerns, her vet telling Cummings that she was not in top form.
Struck Down By Virus
She was also recovering from a virus, a pulled back muscle and being handicapped with a 52.5 kg weight allotment, all of which would seem to combine to further enhance Ziema’s prospects. It was somewhat doubtful that Light Fingers would even make the starting post, but Cummings decided to accept the risk of running her, and had the vet give her a cortisone injection to ease her sore back.
Her trainer and rider contrived the tactic of keeping her toward the front of the race, both so they could respond to Ziema and also to minimize the bumping and jostling that is a foregone conclusion any time a large field, such as that typical for the Cup, is involved.
This approach proved uncannily appropriate. One of the horses behind, Matlock, clipped the heels of another, causing a crash that involved several others.
Higgins had Light Fingers a comfortable fifth heading into the final stretch. With a scant 300 m remaining, Ziema looked invulnerable. This is where Higgins asked Light Fingers for a kick, and she more than obliged, gaining ground with every stride. She was still behind by almost a length when the 100 m post was reached.
With a herculean effort, she shortened that to half a length or less, but it did not seem as though she had either the speed or sufficient remaining track to overtake Ziema. With her last strides, however, she stretched to her limit. A photo finish ensued that many veteran punters and grandstanders claimed showed Ziema to be the winner, but the judge ruled in favour of Light Fingers.
When the dust had finally settled, Higgins and Cummings both had their first Melbourne Cup win, and Light Fingers had a permanent place in the history of Australian racing. She also accomplished the feat whilst carrying the highest weight to victory of any mare that had preceded her.
She had other top flight wins to her credit as well, such as a St. George Stakes, Craig Lee Stakes and Oaks victories from both the AJC and VRC, along with some others in 1964 and 1966.
Light Fingers Gets Deserving Encore
She returned for an encore in the Cup the following year, this time having to be satisfied with a second place finish, this one to another stable mate, Galilee.
Light Fingers was one of those rare thoroughbreds that could win in a sprint following a spell, but was also able to handle the middle distance events and as her performances in her Cup appearances clearly demonstrated, she could also more than hold her own against the stayers.
She will always be remembered for those runs in the Race That Stops a Nation, even if she had not won numerous other times despite being lightly built and injury prone.