NO horse has captivated the Latrobe Valley quite like Royal Snack.
Even now, more than two decades after he won four consecutive Moe Cups, the son of Lunchtime still evokes rich memories.
Royal Snack is in an exclusive club alongside the Western District legend Puramaka as horses to win four country cups.
Puramaka had a mortgage on the Hamilton Cup during the 1970s and Royal Snack produced a similar stranglehold when it came to the Valley’s best-known race.
So let’s rewind to 1993, a time when Kevin Sheedy’s Baby Bombers won the AFL flag, Sale of the Century was still dominating TV screens and Eric Bana proved the headline act of a comedy night at the Royal Exchange Hotel in Traralgon.
Little did anyone know that the first chapter of a remarkable story would be penned when the 1993 Moe Cup rolled around.
Royal Snack certainly attracted attention in the lead-up, having won seven of his 32 career starts, including metropolitan victories at Caulfield, Moonee Valley and Sandown.
Trained by George Hanlon, Royal Snack was sent out by punters as the 9-2 favourite and duly delivered as Garry Howe reported in The Express on October 15, 1993.
It was a case of third time lucky for owner Keith Robinson when Royal Snack stormed home from a seemingly impossible position to win yesterday’s CUB Moe Cup (2050m).
Robinson, a Dandenong businessman, had run second in the cup with Ima Red Man in 1987 and 1989, the latter to legendary American jockey Willie Shoemaker on Cosign.
He and trainer George Hanlon had considered a third crack at the prize as far back as August when approached by Moe committeeman Mick Johnson at the Darwin Cup meeting.
Royal Snack, a half-brother to AJC Derby winner Innocent King, will now contest either the Kyneton or Ballarat Cups.
The cup win was a triumph for former Adelaide jockey Alf Matthews in only his second trip to the course and his first ride on the horse.
Royal Snack returned 12 months later to defend his crown.
His form since the 1993 triumph was mixed, unplaced in eight starts before combining with jockey Paddy Payne to win the Healthy Diet – Try It Cup at Bendigo, just 10 days out from his Moe Cup defence.
As a result, local bookmaker Gerry Geilman installed Royal Snack the 7-2 favourite ahead of Ride The Tide (4-1) and Main Strike (6-1).
This time Royal Snack received the front page treatment from The Express on October 14, 1994.
Epsom stayer Royal Snack yesterday overcame a career threatening injury to become only the fourth horse in 47 years to win successive CUB Moe Cups.
Royal Snack was seriously hurt soon after winning last year’s Cup and veteran trainer George Hanlon conceded he was lucky to get another run out of it.
Yet the six-year-old showed no signs of the injury yesterday, when, patiently ridden by Paddy Payne, careered past Hi Solid to win the cup by one-and-a-half lengths.
Royal Snack’s legend was growing and such was his upswing in form that trainer Hanlon headed on an international adventure.
Royal Snack contested the Queen Elizabeth Cup at Sha Tin in April 1995, running a game fourth in a race worth more than AUD$650,000.
By comparison, the Group 2 assignments he was contesting on home soil such as the Blamey Stakes and Carlyon Cup were worth $100,000.
Following his Hong Kong odyssey, Royal Snack had a four-month break as connections targeted a third straight Moe Cup.
“He’s not going quite as well (as in the past two years), but he hasn’t slipped much,” trainer Hanlon said in a pre-race interview with The Express.
So take it away Garry Howe, with this report from The Express, October 20, 1995.
The biggest Moe race crowd in six years witnessed history in the making yesterday when Royal Snack won his third successive Moe Cup in course record time.
Connections are already talking a return trip next year for an unprecedented fourth straight cup win.
The only other horse to achieve a Moe Cup hat-trick was gallant mare Hardway from 1953 to 1955.
Ironically, she and Royal Snack both carried three different jockeys to victory.
Hardway was ridden by Alan Burton, Dan Laskey and Les Whittle and Royal Snack was partnered in the first year by Alf Matthews, in the second by Patrick Payne and this year by apprentice Brett Prebble.
Payne had the opportunity to ride Royal Snack but instead opted for the unplaced Change of Fortune.
In running, Prebble settled Royal Snack back in the field and peeled five wide at the turn to make a winning run.
He overhauled tearaway leader Red Pax in the straight to win by one-and-a-half lengths.
Clicko and Cessna ran on from back in the field to fill the minor placings.
The cracking early pace set by Red Pax set up a course record winning time of 2:03.9, shaving one-tenth of a second off the record set by 1992 cup winner Ahora.
The win also built on the impressive race record of master trainer George Hanlon.
He has now won the cup six times with Drummond in 1967, Tipping Time in 1972, Flying Gem and Royal Snack in the past three years.
Hanlon, who won at Caulfield the previous day with Cyclone Watch, did not make it to Moe yesterday, but sent his deputy Bruce Jenkins, who also has a long history with the race.
Jenkins rode two Moe Cup winners in the 1950s, Liberal King and Lady Replica and also saddled up Royal Snack for his first win.
“What a champion this bloke is,” Jenkins said after the race.
“I don’t think we’ll have much trouble talking the owner into coming back again next year.”
The owner Keith Robinson did not rule out a fourth cup start, saying “there’s no reason why he can’t come again and win again.”
Robinson’s words would prove prophetic.
In 1996, Royal Snack was eight years of age, and it appeared to many that his best days may have been behind him.
A third in the Hong Kong Vase in December 1995, less than two months after his third Moe Cup win, had been looming as Royal Snack’s last great performance.
He finished no better than sixth in four runs during the autumn of 1996 and spring hadn’t been looking a whole lot better.
In three of his five starts before Moe, Royal Snack ran last and while Hanlon used the same lead-up as 12 months previously at Bendigo, this time he was beaten 14.7 lengths.
But the true believers remained and nothing was going to stop Royal Snack from chasing history at Moe.
The build-up was massive as Garry Howe reported in The Express.
Royal Snack can carve his name into racing history by winning his fourth successive CUB Moe Cup (2050m) on Thursday.
The George Hanlon-trained stayer will join a select few horses to have won a major race four years running.
If Royal Snack does manage it, few will be as thrilled as Moe Racing Club life member Mick Johnson.
He had a big part in attracting the horse to Moe in the first place.
Johnson is a regular visitor to the Darwin Cup Carnival and it was there in 1993 that he bumped into Royal Snack’s owner Keith Robinson.
He remembers sharing a drink with Gary Marchmant from the Darnum Hotel, and Robinson poolside at the Travelodge in Darwin when the conversation got around to Royal Snack.
Johnson, never afraid to expound the virtues of the race club on his travels, seized on the opportunity and suggested the Moe Cup would be an ideal race for the horse.
By the time they had said their farewells in the Top End, Johnson and Marchmant had planted the seed.
True to his word, Robinson arrived with Royal Snack a few months later and, ridden a treat by Alf Matthews, took off with the prize.
If Royal Snack wins, he will surpass the record of smart mare Hardway that has stood for over 40 years.
Hardway achieved the only other cup hat-trick back in the 1950s.
Royal Snack drifted from 8-1 to 12-1 with bookmakers as the likes of Station Hand, prepared by Peter Hayes (9-4) and the Clarry Conners-trained Deja Slew (7-1), took up the lion share of market percentage.
Here’s how the now legendary 1996 Moe Cup transpired, as reported by Garry Howe in The Express.
Veteran trainer George Hanlon is not one to get carried away, but he was clearly taken by the moment at Moe last Thursday when Royal Snack won his record-breaking fourth successive Moe Cup.
Hanlon, learning up against the winner’s stall, was transfixed on Royal Snack’s ample frame as he was being paraded after the race.
“Didn’t he run good?” he asked no-one in particular, before answering his own question with: “Gee the horse ran good!”
It was new ground for Hanlon, who has won almost every major race in Australia, but has never produced a horse to win the same race in four successive years. Few have.
It is believed Puramaka – trained by the late Kevin Lafferty – is the only horse to mirror the feat by winning the Hamilton Cup from 1977-80.
The previous record of three straight Moe Cup wins by gallant mare Hardway (1953-55) had stood for more than 40 years.
Many believe the feat of Royal Snack will not be bettered.
Remarkably the wins have got better by the year.
In 1993, Royal Snack got up in the last stride after jockey Alf Matthews had ducked and weaved his way through the field from a near impossible position.
In the following two years, jockeys Patrick Payne and Brett Prebble increased the margin and the race was over halfway up the straight.
It was a similar story on Thursday, with Payne – back on board after refusing the mount last year – getting a dream inside run to establish a break rounding the turn.
On the line, Royal Snack (12-1) still had a length to spare over Sydney visitor Seto Bridge (33-1) with the locally-trained Past Master (25-1) one and three quarter lengths back third.
The crowd this year was the biggest since 1989, which can be attributed to the unexpected fine weather and interest generated by Royal Snack.
Winning jockey Payne was pleased to be back aboard the Moe Cup champion.
“I knew his form wasn’t as bad as it looked because he had been on wet tracks,” Payne said.
“And I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.”
Payne became the first jockey to ride three Moe Cup winners, having partnered Ahora to victory as a young apprentice in 1992 and Royal Snack in 1994.
It was a fairytale result, but this would not prove final chapter of the Royal Snack story as the evergreen stayer’s career continued to race on.
A month after his Moe victory, Royal Snack won the Group 2 Sandown Cup (2400m) and headed back to Hong Kong for a third time.
With Damien Oliver in the saddle, Royal Snack ran second in the AUD$1 million Hong Kong Vase.
On returning home, Royal Snack’s form again went off the boil.
He was unplaced in 13 races ahead of yet another Moe odyssey.
The Express, October 13, 1997.
Champion galloper Royal Snack can carve his way into Australian racing annals on Thursday afternoon by winning his fifth successive CUB Moe Cup.
And there could be no better way for the club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the big race than a Royal Snack win.
If he were to win again on Thursday, Royal Snack would become arguably the most successful country cups horse in Australian racing history.
Trainer George Hanlon, who has won the race a record seven times, had declared Royal Snack ‘cherry ripe’ for the race.
But sadly for the giant crowd, Royal Snack could not produce another Moe Miracle.
This is how Garry Howe captured the events in The Express on October 20, 1997 in a story headlined ‘Vita Man makes a meal of Snack’s record bid’.
The crowd came, but saw Royal Snack conquered.
They wore their hearts on their sleeves, their T-shirts, their lapels, anywhere they could be seen really.
The sentiment was clear.
Mick Johnson, self-declared president of the Royal Snack Fan Club, led the way with a badge proudly willing his favourite horse to ‘Go Snack Go’ in his quest for a fifth successive CUB Moe Cup.
There was no doubt the evergreen nine-year-old was a favourite everywhere, except the betting ring.
That’s where the romance gave way to reality and suggested emerging New Zealand stayer Vita Man was the horse to beat, being sent out a warm 7-4 favourite.
Had Royal Snack won, he would have surpassed the feat of Puramaka in winning the Hamilton Cup four times in the 1970s.
But this year he was never in the race.
Jockey Rodney Griffiths had trouble finding cover from a wide barrier and was forced three-wide for most of the 2050m journey.
His mount found nothing in the run home and finished second last.
Trainer George Hanlon and owner Keith Robinson were disappointed.
Hanlon described the run as being “out of character” and Robinson gave the horse little hope at the winning post the first time around when he was wide and on the pace.
“‘He just wasn’t himself today, but he pulled up all right,” Hanlon said.
“He didn’t really settle at all.”
The future of Royal Snack, is still unclear.
What about another crack at his most favourite race as a 10-year-old?
“You never know, he might be back,” Hanlon said.
“That’s the great uncertainty that keeps us going.”
History would record that 1997 was Royal Snack’s final bow at Moe.
He would later run third in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2500m) at Flemington during the Melbourne Cup Carnival, but it was his final top performance.
By May 1998, Royal Snack had run his 98th and final race.
He won 15 races from 1200m up to 2400m and was minor placed 12 times, earning $867,098 in prizemoney.
Moe Racing Club named a race in his honour, the Royal Snack Plate, and his feats remain on display in the foyer of the Turfside Function Centre.
Fitting recognition for a champion of Moe.