Photo tells a different story in tight finish

FIGHT TO THE FINISH: Wollongong born former jockey Phillip Hannon with a photo finish the 1948 Melbourne Cup. Picture: ADAM McLEAN
FIGHT TO THE FINISH: Wollongong born former jockey Phillip Hannon with a photo finish the 1948 Melbourne Cup. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

They say a picture is worth a thousands words, but what about a photo finish?

For jockey Jack Thompson, it could have been worth a Melbourne Cup. 

Thompson won thousands of races during his illustrious career that lasted close to 50 years, but Australia’s greatest race always eluded him.

He finished runner-up in three Melbourne Cups.

None were more controversial than a contentious photo finish in the 1948 edition of the race.

Thompson was adamant his mount Dark Marne had edged out Rimfire in a desperate dive at the post. But the judges concluded the Ray Neville ridden Rimfire had lasted by the barest of margins. It was a decision Thompson disagreed with – a view he would later share with stable apprentice at the time Phillip Hannon. 

“When [Thompson] came back home after the race, we were trotting out in trackwork and he said to me ‘Phil, if I ever rode a Melbourne Cup, it was that one’,” Hannon recalls. 

“He never rode one after all the riding he did, but it is the most amazing photograph because it shows Dark Marne first and Rimfire second.”

Hannon first met Thompson when he started as an apprentice at trainer Lou Burke’s Randwick stables in 1948 after moving up from Wollongong before he turned 15.

Jack Thompson in 1965.

Jack Thompson in 1965.

He worked from 3am at the stables on most days and rode track work for all Burke’s horses, including Darke Marne. Hannon was meant to join Thompson and Burke on their trip to Melbourne, but was forced to stay back for work. 

“They stopped me to come back to ride all the trackwork,” Hannon said.

“Jack went down, with Lou Burke the trainer and one of the strappers while I was looking after the stables as they were away. I had been riding work of Dark Marne in tandem with Jack. We would swap between [the stables two best horses] De La Salle and Dark Marne.

“I never rode him in a race, that was always Thommo.”

Hannon stayed back to ride horses like De La Salle.

He was later rewarded for his decision to remain in Sydney when he piloted Yardon – a colt owned by the same owners as De La Salle – to victory at big odds two years later. 

“I won on him later at 100-1. That was the reward,” Hannon said.

Hannon, who still resides in Wollongong, stopped riding as a 20-year-old when he was called up to the army, but still maintains a keen interested in racing. 

He intends to watch the 2017 edition of the Melbourne Cup from the Steelers Club, where he was been a member for several decades.