A car pulled up with a horse float attached. It was about 6pm. Earlier, at 2.40pm, Hyperno had won the Cup at famous Flemington to become the sport’s latest equine hero.
A near-record modern-day crowd of 96,433 had crammed Flemington to cheer a different horse, the much loved favourite. They left the racetrack with heavy hearts and worthless tickets.
At the saleyards, across Epsom Rd from the abattoir, three sombre men got out of the car and unclipped the float door before yanking out the carcass of a brown horse with a parrot mouth.
They dragged the dead horse into a pen, next to a dead sheep, covered it with sticks and leaves, removed its race plates, and drove off.
The stragglers moved on from this macabre scene. It was next door to the abattoir, after all. You see things.
It was ironic – and sometimes convenient – that the abattoir sat across the road from the nation’s most famous racecourse on land that is now an upmarket housing estate.
What happened next is unclear, a Melbourne Cup mystery.
Broadcaster Derryn Hinch claims the dead horse with the parrot mouth was churned into chicken pellets. Others are adamant it was picked up the next day and delivered to a farm at Werribee, or Kyneton, and buried under a beautiful big tree.
We will never know – the death and disposal of the mighty Dulcify is one of racing’s cloudiest chapters; a bitter aftertaste to the 118th Cup, Bart Cummings’ seventh win.
If Hinch’s version is right, Dulcify’s demise says something about horse racing, its elevation of livestock to hero status and the outrage and tears that ensue when death intervenes.
There was outrage when Hinch said on 3AW next morning that Dulcify’s body had been dumped at the saleyards, next to a dead sheep.
Hinch said he had a photo to prove it.
“It was a dead horse next to a dead sheep. The horse had a parrot mouth and a star on his forehead. It was Dulcify all right,” Hinch said of the only racing story he broke.
“They turned him into chicken pellets.
“The reaction was huge.
“Years later, it became a saying in the (media) business, before ‘boned’. If you’d been fired, or treated badly, you’d been ‘Dulcified’.
“I was with (newsreader) Annette Allison at the time. I told her I was going to break the story. She said, ‘You can’t’.
“I said, ‘Bloody oath I can, it’s a big story’.”
No one disputes Dulcify was carted to the Newmarket saleyards the same day he smashed his pelvis in the Melbourne Cup.
There are no quick-dial funeral services for dead champions. Clumsy and unsavory things are done.
Dulcify’s body was slumped in a float that carefully negotiated its way through the departing Cup crowd along the Maribyrnong River, between Colin Hayes’ Fisher Pde stables and the saleyards.
If the heart-broken crowd had known what, or who, was in the float, the scene would have been the Cup’s one and only funeral procession.
The crowd had been told late on the race day, through the track PA, that Dulcify had been put down. Thousands wept.
Cup Day 1979 began far more hopefully for Dulcify and the Sport Of Kings.
Dulcify had won the Cox Plate by seven lengths 10 days before the Cup, elevating him to super-hero status. Three days before the Cup, Dulcify tenaciously won the Mackinnon Stakes.
Colin Hayes, who would later be offered condolences by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, wouldn’t hear of the favourite being beaten.
He’d hired security guards to protect Dulcify. The crowd was 10 deep around his stall, desperate for a glimpse.
At the 1800m Dulcify was travelling well. Then he clipped the heels of Hyperno.
He raced on but faltered approaching the home turn and was pulled out of the race by jockey Brent Thomson.
Hayes pleaded for his champion to be placed in the horse ambulance, a float, and taken to his nearby stables at Fisher Pde, rather than be shot on the spot.
Terry Ryan was one of Hayes’s foremen that day. He was one of the three who took the dead champion to the saleyards and covered him with leaves. He now works on the track at Doomben racecourse.
“I remember C.S. was so upset, he went inside the house when the horse was put down. No one knew what to do. You couldn’t leave a dead horse in the stables with other horses. They’d sense it. So we left him on the float where he was put down and took him to the saleyards,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s voice still wavers when he recalls the dumping of Dulcify. He said he and two others had put the body in a pen and covered it with leaves and sticks to hide it.
“Two people on the bridge were looking at what was going on. They had no idea the horse was Dulcify,” he said.
Ryan and the others, including strapper Shane Coleman, who refuses to this day to discuss Dulcify’s death, had the horse’s race plates mounted on wooden plaques, inscribed “Dulcify; the greatest horse ever.”
Ryan disputes Hinch’s claim that Dulcify remained at the saleyards, as does stable vet Campbell Baker, who gave Dulcify the lethal injection in the horse ambulance.
Baker still works for the Hayes family.
“As far as I know, the horse was taken to the saleyards because it was late in the evening and it was impossible to make other arrangements,” he said.
“But I was told he was buried at Werribee the next day,” Baker said.
Bill Rigg, who part-owned the champion, said Hayes swore to him that the horse’s final resting place was under a tree in a lush paddock.
“He said it was somewhere up the country. I thought Kyneton. I had no reason to disbelieve him,” Rigg said.
Ryan said Dulcify was at the saleyards only overnight.
“The next day he was picked up by someone from the stable. I think the boss even did it personally,” Ryan said.
“He had a friend with a farm at Werribee. That’s where he was buried.”
Ryan said he was not aware of the location of Dulcify’s grave, or even the location of the farm.
A witness who helped dispose of Dulcify’s body said there was no farm, no burial, just chicken pellets.
“Back then, you didn’t have pet funerals like you do now,” he said.
“C.S. loved Dulcify and loved horses but he said that when you deal with livestock, you deal with dead stock.
“He reacted to the outrage after Hinch said what he said, made up a story.
“C.S. loved that horse, he was utterly heart-broken, but what do you do with a dead animal?”
Baker said people were stunned by Dulcify’s death.
“There was some uproar that he was put down,” he said.
“But he’d shattered his pelvis. It was a hopeless case,”
“It was the saddest day imaginable on a racetrack. The entire track was in tears.”
Mystery still clouds what really happened to Dulcify: Matt Stewart, Herald Sun 2009