Holding the 2014 Emirates Melbourne Cup in his Fremantle birthplace yesterday, champion WA jockey John “JJ” Miller recalled how he won the iconic race on a whim and a prayer nearly five decades ago.
The $175,000, 18-carat gold trophy is in Perth as one of 34 official destinations in a tour which will head next to New Zealand ahead of a comprehensive east coast journey leading into the 154th Emirates Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November.
Miller guaranteed his place in Australian racing folklore in 1966 when he guided Galilee to an emphatic cup victory for legendary trainer Bart Cummings.
But his moment of glory may have come through divine intervention after he was cleared the previous night of allegations of not giving the same horse his best chance of winning in a Flemington race just three days earlier.
He described escaping a suspension as “the greatest relief of my life”.
“I walked out of the stewards room at 7pm on the Monday night,” Miller said.
“I don't know if it helped that I was an altar boy at the racing mass on the Sunday with everyone praying for me, including our Jewish brothers who had backed Galilee. But that's when I knew that the cup was won.
“The race wasn't any less then than it is now for people who are in the game. There you were, a kid knocking around Fremantle, where you'd spent most of your life up until then … it was pretty special.”
Miller was later that night presented with a whip to commemorate his win by his favourite actor Frank Thring at a Melbourne theatre. He said Galilee, who he had ridden in his first race as a two-year-old, was the biggest “freak” he had been associated with in his long racing career.
“I've never seen or ridden a horse who had a burst of speed like he had,” he said. “I was riding him all the time, even before he raced, and he was just special.”
Race broadcaster Bryan Martin, who is touring with the cup ahead of his 26th calling of the race, said it was important to give the whole of Australia a chance to connect with the famous, three-handled trophy.
“It's extraordinary how much interest there is, but it's such an iconic trophy and such an iconic race,” Martin said. “It grows in stature every year and it keeps reinventing itself. It is the holy grail.”