When I was a child we had a table-top horse racing game featuring Melbourne Cup winners such as Peter Pan, Pharlap and…..CARBINE. I seem to remember that Carbine was the pale green one, second from right.

The famous, bay stallion was born in New Zealand, but let’s skip that annoying little detail. Carbine rose to fame on Aussie soil and that’s what counts! 😛 In forty three starts he was unplaced only once, when he came fourth. That ‘failure’ was due to a badly split hoof. His affectionate stable name was Jack, which evolved to Old Jack.

Painting of Carbine by Percy Brinkworth.

In 1895, after a stellar career in Australia, Carbine was sold to the Duke of Portland as a stud horse. A world wide economic depression at the time had prompted owner Donald Wallace to part with him. The price of 13,000 guineas must have eased the disappointment of letting the champion go.

7,000 dedicated fans of the horse stood at Port Melbourne Pier waving Old Jack off to England, and no doubt the more sentimental in the crowd shed a tear. One little boy called out; ‘ Ee’s an oss who owes nobody nuffink‘ and not a soul disagreed.

Among many other prestige races, Carbine, ridden by Bob Ramage, won the 1890 Melbourne Cup in a record field of 39.

Carbine and his Melbourne Cup Jockey Bob Ramage.
FROM – carbinethoroughbreds.com.au
Poem on Carbine winning the Melbourne Cup.

Carrying a daunting top weight of ten stone, five pounds, he passed the post two and a half lengths in front. However, it takes more than success on the track to steal so many hearts;

‘He had a number of personality quirks which generally endeared him to his adoring public, including planting himself in the post parade, and staring off into the distance for a time while his fans cheered him and his handlers tried to get him to move on. In the instances when he did not place first and thus was not the first to the scales, he would throw a tantrum.

He disliked getting his head wet, to an extent that a ‘hat’ was devised for him to keep the top of his head and his ears dry during inclement weather, and that hat travelled with him to England, where he also wore it.’ (Thoroughbred Heritage)

On one rainy occasion, presumably before the hat was created, Walter Hickenbotham the trainer had to walk to the starting post holding an umbrella over Carbine’s head.

Every care was taken on the horse’s long voyage to England. He travelled with a companion, his son Novelette, and their custom made boxes allowed them to see each other, for company. Mr Earnest Dany had been sent out by the Duke to accompany the precious cargo.

Mr Dany brought out with him a quantity of the finest English meadow hay as chopped fodder, which will be mixed with feed of a kind the horses are used to, so that when they reach England they will be accustomed to the feed they will in future have to use.‘ (Warwick Examiner and Times March 27 1895)

The stand-out among the horses sired by Carbine in England was Spearmint, which won both the English Derby, and the Grand Prix de Paris.

When Carbine was aging, New Zealand tried to get their lost champion back. Well, who could blame them?

In August 1910, some sportsmen in New Zealand sent a cable message, of which the following is a copy, to the Duke of Portland;- “The people of Auckland want Carbine to die in the land of his birth. Will you sell?” The idea was to allow Carbine to end his days in luxury in Auckland, and after his death that he should be stuffed and presented to the Auckland Museum.’

Now unbeknown to the poor Kiwis, arrangements had already been made for the Duke to wait until Carbine’s death, then send his articulated skeleton back to Melbourne. It remains in the Melbourne Racing Museum.

The photo below was taken in London just before the skeleton was shipped.

The skeleton of Carbine.

I should add that New Zealand did not miss out completely. They were sent the skin, but unfortunately only the head and neck section arrived in good condition.

From Mad Bush Farm Blog, 2011.

As far as I can gather the proposed museum was never built and the relics have remained in a storage box somewhere. It’s just not good enough!

There is also supposed to be an inkstand at Government House in Wellington fashioned from three of Carbine’s hooves. It must be an awfully large inkstand! According to the following report in the Newcastle Morning Herald it was still being used there in February 1941. And the fourth hoof? As far as I know that is in Melbourne with the skeleton.

Some say that come the first Tuesday in November, Old Jack will be watching on at Flemington;

Go, tell the ‘Fans’ and ‘Books’ up the Hill

That Carbine’s spirit hovers round them still;

And tell them, too, that ne’er a race is won,

But Carbine’s spirit sees the horses run.

It’s amazing to think that more than half of the Melbourne Cup winners from 1914 until 1978 were descendants of Carbine. These include such household names as Phar Lap, Rising Fast, Rain Lover and Think Big.


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