First run in 1951, the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes occupies an intriguing niche in the Australian Thoroughbred racing sphere. Run over 1400 metres at Caulfield Racecourse is an Open Handicap race worth $500,000.
The 1400-metre trip is slightly above most true sprints, which typically range between 1,000 and 1,200 metres. The true sprinters are challenged to supply some additional endurance. Given that many races are decided in the final 200-metres or less, the extra distance can have an impact.
Horses bred and prepared for the 1,600 – 2000-metre races that dominate the racing calendar may have a good run, only to run out of track before they are fully wound up.
Invitation Stakes – 1951 to 1974
The Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes was known as the Invitation Stakes from its inaugural running in 1951 until 1974. It was a principal race up until 1979, when it was classified as Group 1 under the new race grading system.
Manikato won the year prior to the race being declared Group 1, 1978. He has a race named for him, the Group 1 Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley. He won 20 races that would be considered Group 1 by the present system, good enough for entry into the Racing Hall of Fame and to have a restaurant at Caulfield Racecourse named after him.
Invitation seemed to us to be a horse name, as more than a few races, such as the Winx Stakes, the Makybe Diva Stakes and the Kingston Town Stakes are named to honour a great champion racehorse.
Checking the pedigree and bloodstock records, we found a couple of Kiwi horses by the name Invitation, but both were born after the Invitation Stakes was established. Besides, neither of the New Zealand Invitations had anything near the sort of results that would justify naming a race after them.
Further searching revealed another nine horses named Invitation, but again, the foaling dates do not match the establishment of the Invitation Stakes.
The closest thing found was a British horse from 1944. The year is about right, but the horse, a mare, did next to nothing as a racer and the pedigree record indicates nothing noteworthy by way of ancestors.
Life might get easier if the Victorians would rename the name the Begood Toya Mother Stakes, after the 2019 winner, but this horse needs to do something other than win one Group 1 race to deserve to have a race or a restaurant named for him.
It might be that the Invitation Stakes was an invitational race. Horses received the invitation, but the trainers handled the RSVP.
Marlboro Cup – 1975 – 1988
It is doubtful that the Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes, on its second name, was so dubbed to honour a famous brand of American cigarette, but New York’s Belmont Park, home to the last leg of the American Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes, held the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap as a Grade 1 race.
It was won by Triple Crown winner Secretariat in the first year, and legends such as Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid won the race.
It was dropped following the 1987 running, although it would be sublimely ironic if race still goes on, but is called the Invitation Stakes.
Nothing to do with Australian Thoroughbred racing, some might say, until you look at the top Australian horses over the years that had sires straight out of the U.S.A.
One example is 1990 Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule, winner by the fastest time in the history of the race.
Case rested. Case closed.
So, why was the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes known as the Marlboro Cup from 1975 – 1978?
We can only guess. Spelled differently, the name is found throughout the world as a place name. There is a region of New Zealand where some of the finest Sauvignon Blanc grapes are grown. The name is associated with British heraldry.
We are open to suggestions.
1989–1991 - Show Day Cup
|Year||Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes Winners|
|2019||Begood Toya Mother|
|2017||Santa Ana Lane|
|2014||Trust In A Gust|
|2012||Moment Of Change|
|2005||Barely A Moment|
|2003||Exceed And Excel|
|1997||Cut Up Rough|
|1996||Encosta De Lago|
|1981||Soldier Of Fortune|