In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
That year saw a breakthrough win by a northern hemisphere-trained horse in cold, driving rain, Irish stayer Vintage Crop started the trickle of international visitors that has since become a flood. But the Irish victory wasnt the only first during that carnival.
In 1993, Flemington racegoers first set eyes upon the equine personality who would become the turfs most unlikely cult figure. That folk hero is an Australian stockhorse named Trewarrick Impulse.
Havent heard of him? Well, you and I know him as Banjo.
The then five-year-old made his debut during the 93 Cup carnival as the silent partner of what is undoubtedly the Flemington crowds favourite duo Banjo and Lettsy.
When master horseman John Patterson introduced former champion jockey John Letts to Trewarrick Impulse before the 93 carnival, Lettsy admitted he wouldnt be able to get his tongue around the name.
Patto replied that Lettsy could call the bay gelding whatever he wanted. Well youre Patterson, so Ill call him Banjo, Lettsy said.
Thus began a marriage made in horse heaven.
This Melbourne Cup carnival will be the 19th in succession that Banjo and Lettsy have performed together.
Lettsys horseback interviews with the winning jockey, thrusting a hand-held microphone as close as he can to the panting riders face, are an undoubted highlight of every carnival.
The former champion jockeys effortless good humour belies the skill required to simultaneously handle a horse and elicit responses from an exhausted athlete. Despite the balancing act, Lettsy seldom fails to capture the exhilaration that the jockey feels.
Lettsy and Banjo are inseparable during the Flemington carnival, but their relationship is by no means monogamous.
Besides carrying Lettsy around Flemington in Channel Sevens colours for the Melbourne Cup carnival, Banjo does the job for Channel Nine at the Caulfield Cup carnival and on Cox Plate day, with Claire Bird as the interviewer.
Banjo is an equine Eddie McGuire. This horses skills are bigger than just one network.
Hes such a unique talent that he crosses channels, as well as riders and racetracks.
Banjo works three of Melbournes metropolitan tracks every spring and has served all three of Australias commercial television networks without so much as putting a foot wrong.
When Lettsy and Banjo were first paired in 1993, the ex-jockey thought the little stockhorse was a prima donna. Under the name of Trewarrick Impulse, he had won ribbons at the Royal Melbourne Show and he came to the racetrack with a bit of an attitude.
He made it clear that he was the leader, Lettsy says. He had to be the first horse onto the track before each race. Otherwise, he just stood lead-footed or started pig rooting.
Horse and rider soon realised who was boss. Lettsy bowed to Banjos demands.
According to Lettsy, the combination works beautifully so long as everyone understands that Banjo is the No.1 attraction, and that he must go onto the track first.
On a professional level, Lettsy does all the talking. But Banjo is more than a supporting cast. He is the one who establishes terms with the winning horse, rubs shoulders with large and small, and puts Lettsy in position to ask the excited hoop how he feels.
Thats Banjos genius, says Lettsy. He rolls in alongside the winning horse and somehow puts it at ease. Im under no illusion. If Banjo could talk, Id be out of a job.
Rarely do winning horses object. An exception was after the 2010 Melbourne Cup when Americain attempted to bite Banjo on the neck while Lettsy was chatting with triumphant French jockey Gerald Mosse.
According to Lettsy, Banjo spotted Americains attack just in time and quickly pulled away.
I could see old Banjo saying to himself, Ive led in better horses than you, Lettsy says.
Banjo has led home a whos who of thoroughbreds. In the seconds after their victories, he has rubbed shoulders with Black Caviar, Makybe Diva, Might and Power, Saintly and, of course, the first northern hemisphere winner of the Melbourne Cup, Vintage Crop.
Lettsy attributes Banjos tractability and good nature to the horsemanship of his owner, John Patterson.
Patto has forgotten more about horses than the rest of us have ever learnt, Lettsy says. For him to keep Banjo going for 19 years is a tribute to his patience and passion for horses.
For his remarkable negotiation skills, Banjos remuneration comes in Flemingtons most cherished currency. He gets to smell (and eat) the roses.
Between races, Lettsy allows him to nibble on the David Austins, assisting the Victoria Racing Clubs gardeners in keeping their rose population under control. The more roses Banjo munches in the spring, the less dead-heads theyll need to lop in summer.
At 24, Banjos working days are nearing an end. He cant go on forever, Lettsy admits. The minute he shows any soreness, hell go home to those two lovely ladies to enjoy his retirement. But Id love to see him go for another two carnivals and chalk up 20 years. That would be a fantastic achievement for him.
I dont know what Ill do when my old mate cant go round any more, though.
Banjo spends most of the year spelling at a property near Warrnambool, where his two ladies-in-waiting, Mary and Karen, give him a life of luxury. In the first week of October, Patto brings Banjo to his Flemington stables to prepare him for the rigours of spring.
Its a ritual that horse and owner have observed for 19 years, without interruption. Even after all these years, Lettsy says he is continually amazed by how Banjos ears are always pricked and his manner friendly.
After the last event on the final day of the 2011 Melbourne Cup carnival, Lettsy went to Pattos stables near Flemington racecourse to meet John Patterson and his son, Shane, both clerks of the course, for a post-carnival drink.
Instead of fighting the traffic heading home from Flemington, John and Shane ride their horses across Epsom Road and around to the stables in Crown Street. When the two greys came around the corner this day with John and Shane on their backs, alongside them was Banjo being ridden by Shanes five year-old daughter, Ellen. At the end of a Cup carnival, after all the noise and excitement, after a week in which wed done 38 post-race interviews, there was Banjo so placid that a little girl could happily ride him home, Lettsy says. It was a beautiful sight.