Tom needs army to rally behind him for Mile
HE'S been referred to as the second-most talked-about horse in Australia behind Winx - for different reasons - but that will be put to the test as the campaign to elevate cult figure Tom Melbourne into the $5 million All-Star Mile field goes into overdrive.
The quirky eight-year-old broke a 1044-day winning drought on Australia Day, when he saluted at Randwick, sending social media into meltdown.
Now part-owner Terry Henderson is urging the horse's army of followers to vote for him to gain a start in the inaugural All-Star Mile, to be run at Flemington on March 16.
Currently, Tom Melbourne sits 42nd, with only 286 votes - more than 5500 less than leader Urban Ruler. Such is his popularity that he already has a booking to spend the remainder of his days at Living Legends after his racing career ends.
But OTI Racing and Bloodstock want to turbo-charge that support into a recruiting drive for their much-loved galloper before the February 18 All-Star voting deadline.
The first 10 spots in the race will be determined by popular vote, with four wildcards to be determined by Racing Victoria.
"We needed to see him come back and run well (last Saturday) because we didn't want to sell something that we weren't able to deliver," Henderson told the Herald Sun.
"But after seeing what he did on Saturday, and after speaking to (trainer) Chris (Waller), we have agreed to see him go on a path towards the All-Star race."
Tom Melbourne, who has amassed $1.2 million in prizemoney, gained a big following courtesy of his penchant for running second in almost a third of his 38 starts.
But Henderson isn't worried his first victory since winning at Albury in March 2016 will dent his popularity when it comes to the All-Star voting.
"More than 1000 days is a long time in racing," he said. "At some stage before he retired, he had to win again, and now that he has done it, he might put a few of them together.
"As someone said to me, he might become part of the (Australian) language for finishing second - to do 'a Tom Melbourne' - like we saw with (Olympic speed skater Steven) Bradbury, where everyone else falls over.
"We rely on horses like Winx and Black Caviar, but racing also needs the romance of these enigmas too. Not that he has ever done badly for us, because he is such a talented horse, but he is quirky and has some unusual habits."
Last Saturday's emotional win was a comeback for jockey Blake Shinn, too, who returned to racing after suffering a serious neck injury last October.
Shinn will retain the mount if the horse manages to push into the All-Star Mile.