When a call becomes legend

11 October 2021 Written by Keith Hillier

With an estimated 700 million people around the world watching or listening to the Lexus Melbourne Cup, that final call as the winner crosses the line is crucial. The words that fall from the talented race callers’ lips set hearts pounding, stir the emotions and often become iconic.

In 2008, as a blur of coloured silks and horseflesh crossed the famous Flemington winning post, legendary race caller Greg Miles bellowed, “Viewed a nose to Bauer I think!”

I had watched the race from the media seats about 30 metres before the finish. I thought English stayer Bauer had won by, maybe, a half-head. I felt for Greg who was my work colleague and friend, thinking he had made a mistake.

Later, I told Greg I was surprised when he called Viewed the winner, and added that I had got it wrong. The veteran broadcaster, who called a record-breaking 36 Melbourne Cups in his career, said close finishes had to be judged in line with the winning post and not on an angle to the post.

He confided, however that he had been slightly worried about his confident words before the official numbers went up in his favour. But, he was right. Viewed, ridden by Blake Shinn, held off English-trained Bauer to win narrowly, providing legendary trainer Bart Cummings with his twelfth and final Melbourne Cup win.

Bruce McAvaney once described race calling as an art. “You’ve either got it or you haven’t,” he said. I took his advice and never called a race!

The call of the Cup is a major piece of Australian cultural heritage and there have been many iconic calls through the years.

Among the easiest to remember are more of Greg Miles’ gems. In 2005, when Makybe Diva became the first horse to win three Melbourne Cups, he shouted: “And a champion ……becomes a legend!”, echoing the thought of every person watching and listening to the race.

How right he was, as that legend remains unmatched.

Matt Hill took over the chief caller’s role in Victorian racing after the retirement of Miles. His accurate calls and strong voice have already captured the public’s imagination. Who could forget his excited, desk-thumping call (if you were lucky enough to see the vision) in 2019 when Vow And Declare crossed the line: “Vow And Declare’s won it for Australia! They’re on top of the world!”. 

Joe Brown, who was race caller at the ABC before passing the microphone to Miles, called the 1948 Melbourne Cup, the first to rely on the photo-finish equipment. At the finish line Brown said: “I can’t pick it. Rimfire, maybe.” He was right, Rimfire claiming victory at odds of 80-1, winning by a short half-head from Dark Marne. The margin was so small that backers of the well-fancied Dark Marne let loose their opinion of the new photo-finish accuracy.

Sydney race caller Ken Howard often quoted the line: “You can bet London to a brick on,” when he favoured a horse in a photo finish. But in the thrilling 1965 Melbourne Cup finish he was forced to declare: “Dead heat! No! Light Fingers from Ziema”. It was the first Melbourne Cup win for Roy Higgins who won again two years later, on Red Handed.

Greg Miles once again had the pleasure of announcing a monumental Melbourne Cup moment, when in 2015 he exclaimed, “It’s history at Flemington for Prince Of Penzance and Michelle Payne!” He was similarly excited in 2013 when Gai Waterhouse finally claimed her first win in the famed race: “And Fiorente’s won the Cup for Gai!” Like any win by Bart, the first name of the trainer was all that was required.

Finally, perhaps one of the most emotional Melbourne Cup calls of all was in the 2002 race won by Media Puzzle, ridden by Damien Oliver who had lost his brother Jason in a race accident less than a week before. Brisbane caller Wayne Wilson found the words: “This is the one that he wanted! This is the one that he is riding for Jason! Damien stands high in the irons, salutes the heavens ... that’s for Jason.”

In a sport full of emotional highs and lows, the iconic calls of the Melbourne Cup are intertwined with these moments, becoming words and phrases that are never forgotten.