Who Was I?

4 min read
In our weekly series, we take a walk down memory lane to learn about some of the characters, both human and equine, in whose honour our important races are named. This week we look at Rivette (Ronsard {GB}), who has the Rivette Series Final at Flemington this weekend.

Cover image courtesy of The Sporting Globe

According to Harry Bamber, who owned the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup winner Rivette, battling through anything was hard enough, but it was hardest of all in the racing game. When his 6-year-old horse won the Cups double in 1939, the first mare ever to do so, it put Bamber on his feet after much of life spent on his knees.

“I always felt I’d come good someday,” Bamber said, and so he did with the little Rivette, who had ‘fire, spirit and courage. She was full of promise.’

Harry Bamber as a young man in the 13th Light Horse regiment of World War I

On paper, Rivette had respectable breeding. She was by the imported stallion Ronsard (GB), but she came from a small little mare called Riv (Cyklon {Ire}), who stood no higher than a pony and who competed as such on the lucrative pony circuit.

Bamber bought Riv at auction in 1924 for 200 guineas, a price she repaid and then some because, along with her winnings on the racetrack, she proved the dam of both Rivette and the 1944 Moonee Valley Cup winner, Queen Midas (Frilford {GB}).

Bamber bred Rivette in 1933, and she was small and plain. She had a light bay coat and dubious frame, and a head that was more trotter than thoroughbred.

Rivette with Harry Bamber | Image courtesy of Maurice Cavanough and Meurig Davies from their book 'Cup Day: The Story of the Melbourne Cup 1861-1960'

She was a mare, according to the papers, that 'would pass unnoticed in a mob of ordinary horses, and you could not possibly select her, on looks, to be the winner of the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the one year’.

But Rivette won both races in 1939, each time leading home the wiry Maikai. The manner of her victories was excellent because she didn’t have clear runs and she had size against her at all times.

Rivette, with jockey Teddy Preston in Bamber's pink and black colours | Image courtesy of The Home, December 1939

She also became just the second horse since the brilliant Briseis (Tim Whiffler {GB}) in 1876 to win the Melbourne Cup when bred, owned and trained by the one man.

Rivette won close to £13,000 in a single month for Harry Bamber, a small fortune that set him up for life. It was a long way from Bamber’s scrambling to find the 20 guineas service fee to breed her dam, which came, it’s said, from his backing Peter Pan to win the Mackinnon S. (then the Melbourne S.) into the Melbourne Cup of 1932.

Jockey Teddy Preston and Harry Bamber at the 1939 Melbourne Cup presentation | Image courtesy of the Yarra Ranges Museum Collection

By her retirement in 1941, Rivette had won 11 races for close to £15,500 in prizemoney. Bamber was criticised for keeping her in work when she was past her best, but his widsom was that she’d won £730 in the twilight of her career, and it would take a good yearling to realise that amount in wartime Australia.

Rivette did go to stud for Bamber, but it was a sad story that she was ineligible for the Australian Stud Book. While her pedigree wasn’t in doubt, Bamber hadn’t registered Rivette’s birth in time in 1933, and her subsequent progeny were therefore excluded too.

Rivette with her 1949 foal by Great Britain | Image courtesy of Clive Inglis, from his 1950 book 'Horsesense'

It was a complicated chapter in Bamber’s life, and he contested the exclusion based on the distinguished achievements of his little mare. But Rivette remained out of the Stud Book and to this day she appears with an ‘ntb’ suffix (non-thoroughbred) after her name.

On April 5, 1955, at the age of 21, Rivette broke a shoulder in a paddock accident and was put down. She’d been living at Highfields Stud, established only two years before by T.J. ‘Jim’ Macknamara at Broadmeadows, Victoria.

Her jaunty owner, breeder and trainer outlived her by many years, Bamber dying in 1985 at the age of 92.

Who Was I?
Harry Bamber
Australian Stud Book