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Quenching the need for speed

 Nov 25 2013

It may have been immortalised by Tom Cruise in Top Gun, but 19 years before Maverick uttered his famous line, Len Smith, the NSW Trotting Club Secretary, decided he felt "the need, the need for speed."

Smith, had represented Australia in rugby league two decades earlier, and while a significant sporting achievement, his brainchild back in 1967 would become an enduring legacy for his new sport.

It was a year after Harold Park had hosted a successful Inter Dominion, but with the series not due back in town for seven years, the idea was to create a feature race which could hoist the club into the spotlight annually.

While running two-minute miles had become commonplace in the United States, it was still to happen in a race in Australia. Smith knew we had quality horses, we just needed an avenue to show the rest of the world.

The club came up with a name which would never be dated, decided the race would be exclusive, with invitations issued by the board, it would be limited to a single line of six runners behind the mobile, and Smith found a willing major sponsor. On March 3, 1967, the inaugural Miracle Mile was run at the famous Glebe Paceway.
In less than two minutes, it was mission accomplished, with New Zealand mare Robin Dundee recording 1min59s to stun and delight the 20,287 trackside, and win the $15,000 event.

In the 46 years since that Miraculous evening, the race has not only continued to grow in stature and significance within the racing industry, it has found its niche on the Australian sporting landscape, each year attracting widespread mainstream publicity.

While the Inter Dominion remains the sport's premier event, the Miracle Mile is the race which truly arouses public's interest.
And almost without fail each year, the Mile produces its own special story.

Mount Eden missing the start by 10 lengths, rounding up his rivals and racing away for an effortless win in 1971, the two-horse war between legends of the sport, Paleface Adios and Hondo Grattan in 1974, Popular Alm doing a Gammalite to Gammalite in 1983, sitting parked outside the superstar and grinding him into the Glebe track and the following year, a 60 year old named Joe Ilsley driving a 12 year old named Double Agent to one of those fairytale victories. And we could go on and on and on.

The honour roll of the Miracle Mile reads like a harness racing who's who, and evokes magical memories of Friday nights at Harold Park. Our Sir Vancelot, Christian Cullen, Preux Chevalier, and two time winners Village Kid, Westburn Grant, Chokin, Holmes DG, Sokyola, and Be Good Johnny.

In 2009 with the sale of Harold Park, the Mile got a new home - a bigger home, a faster home at Menangle.

New Zealander Monkey King went 1min.50.8s that first year, a time not even Len Smith would have dared dream of. In 2010 and again in 2011, Lance Justice brought Smoken Up to town to terrorise the locals, before Baby Bling became the latest to join the elite.

While times have shrunk, prize money has soared since 1967, with $750,000 on offer this Saturday, but like all iconic races in Australia, regardless of the code, it's not just about the money. It's about being the best of the best, the fastest of the fast ... becoming a Miracle Mile winner and quenching that need for speed.



By Michael Cowley

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