With the Melbourne Cup just a week away, Sideline Sid thought he would have a little one question quiz to get local punters in a horse racing frame of mind - How many Melbourne Cup winners have been owned by people from the Bay of Plenty?

The answer of one reveals a story of one of the best Kiwi-bred horses to ever look through a bridle on race day.

Rising Fast was raced by Leicester Spring, who settled in Whakatane in 1938 and gained fame as the owner of a Melbourne Cup winner, the founding proprietor of the Whakatane Beacon and an outstanding cricket player.

Rising Fast set a record in the spring of 1954, that is unlikely to ever be matched of winning the Group 1 treble of the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate, which today have combined stakes of some $18 million.

He nearly completed the Melbourne/Caulfield Cup double the following year, winning the Caulfield Cup and running an unlucky second in the Melbourne Cup.

The Whakatane-owned horse entirely dominated the 1954 Melbourne spring carnival, preceding his historic treble with wins in the Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Stakes and adding the LSK McKinnon Stakes and the CB Fisher Plate to his tally.

Only Rain Lover, in winning his second successive Melbourne Cup in 1969, carried more than Rising Fast's nine-stone five pounds (59.5) in 1954.

They say that weight can stop a train, as it was proved in the 1955 Melbourne Cup when with 10 stone on a very wet track, Rising Fast was outgunned by another New Zealand-bred in Toporoa.

Rising Fast was recognised as a true champion on both sides of the Tasman, being inducted into both the Australian and New Zealand Racing Hall of Fames.

Now, switching from horse racing to cricket, sees Sidleine Sid talking bout Leicester Spring, an extremely accomplished cricket player who played two seasons of first-class cricket for Canterbury, before moving to Auckland in the mid 1930's.

During December 1936, Spring was selected in the all-conquering Auckland Plunket Shield team.

After the team played Canterbury at Christmas, it was reported in the media, “Spring has a excellent chance to represent New Zealand to tour England in March 1937 under T C Lowry, in company with certainties H G Vivian, P E Whitlaw, W Cowie, M Wallace and W N Carson all of Auckland”.

A shoulder blade injury resulted in the talented batsman remaining at home.

In July 1938, Spring arrived in Whakatane after purchasing a local accountancy firm.

Joining the Whakatane United Cricket Club, the new recruit went on a batting and bowling blitz.

During the 1938/39 season, he smacked 706 runs with a highest score of 148 (including 9 sixes) and took 67 wickets with the ball.

Bay of Plenty representation came quickly, with selection to captain the Bay against Waikato in a Hawke Cup challenge on December 3, 1938.

Captaincy again followed against Sir Julian Cahn’s English touring side in Rotorua.

At nearly 40 years of age, Leicester again took the skipper’s role against Waikato on January 1, 1948 in a Hawke Cup challenge, and played against the Fijian tourists the same season, scoring 48 runs out of the Bay of Plenty total of 148.

It's worth noting that in the 1947/48 season when Whakatane United won the Williams Cup, they were so strong in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, that they had to withdraw from the local competition, and played against teams in Gisborne and the Waikato.

The team, which was captained by N E Rigden, played 18 games in which they compiled some 4228 runs with Leicester Russell Spring leading the way with both bat and ball.

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian