In thoroughbred racing, photo finishes have been around since 1937, but it wasn’t until 1948, when Australian Bertram Pearl improved Lorenzo Del Riccio’s design, incorporating a mirror and neon-pulse time signature in the winning-post, which would provide a precisely aligned image in which both sides of the horses could be viewed.
In the hundreds of thousands of races that have been run and won in Australia since the introduction of photo-finish technology, there have only been four recorded triple dead-heats, and just one in NSW.
The only NSW triple dead-heat occurred at Cowra Jockey Club on January 20, 1997 and unsurprisingly the result garnered national and international attention in the mainstream media.
On that day, Sir Laucrest for trainer Norm Collins and jockey Tracey Bartley, Sleepers for trainer Garry Lunn and jockey Dar Lunn, and Churning for trainer Debbie Prest and jockey Mark Galea were awarded joint first place at the Cowra Jockey Club meeting.
Legendary country race caller Col Hodges called the race, and he remembers the day well.
“It’s the only time I’ve said in my whole life that I thought a race could be a triple dead-heat,” Hodges said.
“The actual words I said in the call were ‘this could be a three-way dead heat’ and it was put all over the back page of the (Daily) Telegraph the next day.”
Hodges said the dead-heat took some time to be confirmed by head steward at the time, Shane Cullen.
“Shane Cullen was the Chief Steward and he held up correct weight for about 25 minutes, and he even said, ‘this is going to be history’,” Hodges recalled.,
“They wanted to make double sure it was a triple dead-heat.”
There was conjecture on the day, and despite some parties questioning the decision, Cullen took the necessary steps to make sure the triple dead-heat was in fact the correct decision.
“The next day they took the picture down to the theatre down at Orange and they blew the photo up to as big as it could go,” Hodges said.
“There was no way in the world there was a margin. It was definitely a triple dead-heat.”
Sleepers, trained by Garry Lunn and ridden by Dar Lunn did look to hold the advantage as the trio crossed the line, with the former jockey and now Dubbo-based trainer appearing to be more forward of his rivals Mark Galea and Tracey Bartley.
Still, Hodges explained that Sleepers was bobbing upwards on the post, while Churning and Sir Laucrest were getting the bob in.
“In the photo finish, Dar (Lunn) is in front of the other two jockeys, but there is a lot of photo finishes where jockeys are in front of other jockeys,” Hodges said.
“The other two horses got their heads down and were stretching out and Dar’s horse was coming back up.”
“It was that close; Mathew Cahill rode the fourth horse, and it was only a neck away.”
With only the three prior triple dead-heat finishes in Australia – the first famously occurring in the Hotham stakes at Flemington (1956) before two more in in Townsville (1985) and Stony Creek (1987) – Hodges said the rarity of such a finish was mind-boggling.
“Since the photo finish came in, it would be interesting to see how many races have been run in Australia,” Hodges said.
“To only have four triple dead-heats in Australia and only one in NSW, it must be such a rare occurrence with the huge amount of racing, especially in recent times.”
Hodges – a popular figure on the NSW country racing circuit in general – admitted the famous Cowra finish made him a very popular caller at the time.
“The next day when I got home; the phone never stopped ringing,” Hodges laughed.
“I had people calling me from all over Australia and overseas.
“I was wondering what was going on. Then afterwards, I realised it was a pretty big thing, and I treasured that moment for a bit.”
Col Hodges will be joined by the trainers, jockeys and committee members involved in the famous triple dead-heat at Cowra Jockey Club’s 25-year anniversary of the meeting on January 16, with the club and those involved celebrating the momentous and historic result.
It will be a massive day for the club, with the $34,000 Cowra Cup and $30,000 Cowra Japan Cup headlining a bumper eight-race-program.
There will be fashions, fun and entertainment too, and on the Saturday night prior to their cup meeting, the club will be hosting their Cowra Cup Calcutta at the Cowra Bowling Club from 6pm.
Punters, racing fans and readers can find out more information on the meeting by clicking here.