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Ad Lester with The Quarterback’s trainer Robbie Griffiths at the winning presentation for the 2016 Group 2 Gilgai Stakes at Flemington. (Pat Scala/Racing Photos)

Lester’s enduring legacy

13 July 2023 Written by Celia Purdey

In a tribute to the late Deane Lester, whose visionary idea sparked the revival of an iconic race, The Flemington Cup has been renamed the Deane Lester Flemington Cup, forever immortalising his name and passion for the sport.

Growing up on his parents’ thoroughbred studs on the Mornington Peninsula and in the Dandenong Ranges, Deane Lester’s love for horses and racing was nurtured from an early age. Despite being born with spina bifida, he refused to let anything dampen his passion for the sport.

As Lester grew older, his knowledge of horse racing developed, and his expertise in understanding the form of racehorses became widely respected. His dedication and astuteness earned him a reputation as one of the most respected form students in the Australian racing community. He spent countless hours analysing race data, studying pedigrees, and observing horses on the track, all in pursuit of uncovering the secrets of success.

Lester’s knowledge and curiosity about the sport led him to the discovery of “The Flemington Cup”. The cup, now in the National Gallery of Victoria, had a special place in racing history as the oldest surviving trophy awarded in Victoria. It had been presented to the winner of a horse race held in 1849, 12 years before the first Melbourne Cup.

The race for The Flemington Cup had not actually taken place at Flemington Racecourse, as the inscription suggested. Instead, it had been run on a course located two kilometres away, near the Flemington Inn.

The Flemington Cup won by Belzoni in 1849 at the National Gallery of Victoria.

These races were popular pub events held in the pioneering days of Australia. The local publican, James Dunbar, a proud Scottish man, had organised the race as a way to celebrate a traditional Scottish holiday, ‘Auld Hansel’s Monday’. The event attracted enthusiastic spectators and created a vibrant atmosphere around the inn, with lesser races offering prizes of saddles and riding whips.

Lester believed that the history and significance of The Flemington Cup deserved recognition, so he approached the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) with an idea. He proposed a race that would honour The Flemington Cup and celebrate the enduring spirit and roots of Australian racing. The VRC shared Lester’s vision and readily embraced the concept.

In 2020, as part of the club’s celebrations of 180 years of racing, the VRC introduced the reimagined Flemington Cup into the race program. It appeared alongside the Byerley Handicap, its revival bringing a sense of nostalgia.

In 2023, the race has been renamed the Deane Lester Flemington Cup. It serves not only as a reminder of the rich history of Australian racing but also of the legacy left by Lester, who passed away in February after a short battle with cancer. His passing left a profound void in the racing community.

Lester’s contribution and vision for honouring the past will now forever be remembered. His name will be etched alongside trainers and jockeys as a true legend of Australian racing, woven into the fabric of the sport he loved so dearly.

Lester celebrating The Quarterback’s victory in the 2016 Group 1 Newmarket Handicap with fellow connections. (Racing Photos)

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