Behind the Scenes on 'The Cup'

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Damien Oliver and actor, Stephen Currie. Damien Oliver and actor, Stephen Currie.

By now everyone knows the story behind The Cup...jockey Damien Oliver was due to ride Media Puzzle in the 2002 Melbourne Cup when just days before his brother Jason was killed in a tragic racing accident. What a lot of movie viewers might not have been aware of was that their father, Ray also lost his life in a racing accident. The scene where Jason’s horse falls is brilliantly done, and the hospital scenes are heart-wrenching.

After much soul-searching, Damien decides it’s what Jason would have wanted and despite his questionable form in races leading up to the Cup, he wins the big event. The movie is enjoyable and a who’s-who of Australia’s actors, including a cameo from Eddie McGuire (proving that he really IS ‘Eddie Everywhere’!) and Bill Hunter’s last role as iconic trainer, Bart Cummings.

Tom Burlinson plays Dave Phillips, trainer Dermot Weld’s foreman. He does a credible Irish accent in what must seem like a case of Déjà vu…he also played Tommy Woodock in Phar Lap, another Simon Wincer production about the Melbourne Cup, (and indeed, Media Puzzle does bear a resemblance to ‘Big Red’).

Tom Burlinson in another Cup movie! Tom Burlinson in another Cup movie!


The real stars of The Cup are the horses. The film features three races…the Irish St Ledger, the 2002 Geelong Cup which Media Puzzle needed to win to qualify for a start in the Melbourne Cup, and the 2002 Cup itself.

500 horses auditioned for 80 parts, all registered Thoroughbreds and for each horse featured, there were at least two doubles. Several safety horses were also used and these were Stock Horses and crossbred sport horses.

The majority of horses were specifically matched to the horses that competed in the actual 2002 races with colour consultants used to make sure they had the correct markings and make-up used to correct any differences.

The horses were selected not only on looks, but also for their temperaments. A number of horses shared the roles of Media Puzzle, Vinnie Roe and Pugin, chosen for specific skills such as being calm enough for the actors to ride; and speciality trick horses used for rearing, or prancing.

The horse search was conducted Australia-wide. Some were purchased through Inglis Thoroughbred Sales, others from brokers, trainers or private sellers. Others were leased by the production company while a few lucky ones were saved from the knackery!

More than 50 professional jockeys were used during filming and while the actors were good with horses, the racing scenes were left to the jockeys, who had to fit filming in around their regular track work and racing.

Filming in the mounting yard. Filming in the mounting yard.


Horse maser was Evanne Chesson, who has trained horses for movies and TV series such as Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, Phar Lap, Breaker Morant, The Silver Brumby (for which she won an AFI award), and Australia.

Evanne found and trained ‘Spike’, who stars as the main Media Puzzle, and he apparently loved being on set and later featured in a Spring Racing Carnival promotion after filming.

The team was headed by Georgia Aikman, who used her local and international experience in racing, hunting, polo and show horses combined with her corporate expertise to cater to Simon Wincer’s equine requirements.

Senior Wrangler was Brett Welsh who trained the horses to enter the barriers, and getting used to racing with a camera tracking beside them. Best is also Assistant Horse Master on the Gold Coast’s popular Australian Outback Spectacular.

Overall there were 16 wranglers on the horse team who exercised and cared for the horses, and this grew to 40 on race days.

Fifty-five horses were stabled at Simon Wincer’s farm between completion of the main shoot and filming the final scenes at Flemington Racecourse. He kept one of the horses, which is now a much-loved member of his family!

Members of the crew created a syndicate to buy one of the horses, hoping to watch him win some day!

The finale, on the left is real-life Clerk of the Course, John The finale, on the left is real-life Clerk of the Course, John 'Paddo' Patterson.
Guiding Media Puzzle back to the mounting yard in the movie is real-life Clerk of the Course, 72 year old John ‘Paddo’ Patterson, who has been leading home Cup winners for over 40 years. He’s a much-loved icon at Flemington Racecouse, so it was fitting he was part of the movie.

So what’s Top Horse’s final verdict of The Cup? It’s well worth watching, I give it three out of five stars!

Vicki Sach–Top Horse

Photos © Roadshow Films.

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