I had that anxiety before the first race I rode in in 1940, and before the last in 1969. [Mulley subsequently returned to the saddle again.] Riding Bernborough, the anxiety got worse with every race. The public began to believe that Bernborough could not be beaten, but I knew different. If he’d lost the Newmarket they’d have blamed me. And take the Ahern Handicap (Doomben Ten Thousand) in Brisbane. Bernborough was 70 yards behind the leaders after they’d gone a furlong. He was 23rd at the half-mile and 16th into the straight. The course announcer said he didn’t have a million to one chance to win. But I knew he had to be ridden like that. You had to time his run and let him begin it while he was making his turn. As it happened, he got up. But if he hadn’t it would have seemed to be my fault.
And the worst anxiety I ever had in my life was in the days before the 1946 Caulfield Cup . . . The racing public is fickle. Nobody was to learn that more bitterly than me in the years ahead. The pressure was terrible. I had worked tremendously hard for 12 months. I was only a kid, really, 22 or 23, I was engaged to be married. I had the pressure of riding that year some of the greatest horses ever produced. I had all the publicity of Bernborough. I was worn out and tired . . . I used to go bush occasionally, back of Bourke shooting, or up to the Grafton area where I was born. The pressure would get too great, and I’d just run away from it. By the time Bernborough had won 13 races – he beat Flight for the second time in the Hill Stakes at Rosehill – I’d had enough of riding a champion. Then he won his 14th at Flemington, then his 15th at Caulfield the week before the Cup.
I’ll never forget the fortnight leading up to the Caulfield Cup. First of all I was approached by a leading jockey with the offer of a fortune to pull Bernborough up. No amount was mentioned, because I told him to go to hell. A man called Spencer Shade, who died later, was present at the time. He could prove I had the offer and refused it. Then I was threatened. Men pushed their way through my door and threatened me. They rang up and said there were girls I was playing up with when I was engaged to June [his later wife], which was untrue. They threatened to kill me if Bernborough won the Cup, and wrote threatening letters . . .
If Bernborough could have won the Caulfield Cup, I’d have given everything I had. And the threats I got only made me more determined. I suppose, looking back now, I should have talked at the time. But the first thing you learn in racing is to keep your mouth shut. A jockey who talks doesn’t last long. I was determined to call their bluff and win the Cup if I could. But I knew the Caulfield Cup is the hardest race in the world to win. The pace is on all the way, and you have to remember no horse had ever carried Bernborough’s weight of 10st 10lb [68kg] . . .
But my biggest worry was not the weight (I knew he was a great weight carrier). I knew that bloody near half the field would be “scouting” for Bernborough. It was a very big field. There were a record number of runners I think, that year. Twenty-seven runners, and nearly half of them paid up to scout for Bernborough, to interfere with his run in every way they possibly could. I don’t think that, I know that. I was told by the people who were threatening me. Some bookmakers couldn’t have settled if Bernborough had won, especially some Sydney bookmakers. They backed Bernborough to lay off a week before the race. They wouldn’t have done that unless they knew he was trying for his life.
. . . The anxiety left me that day as soon as I mounted Bernborough. It always left me before the start of a race. It’s a funny thing that – once I got on the horse I was calm and lived for the race. I could always ride “cold” and I reckon it was because I beat the anxiety, I beat the fear, every time.
The start of that Cup was like a nightmare. Bernborough stood quietly at the open barrier (he was always well behaved) but the other horses kept jostling him out of position. He was half side-on when the barrier rose and he got squeezed out to second last before they’d gone a furlong [200m] . . . Going out of the straight we were second last, but on the rails. And he was such a champion, I still thought he could win. But, of course, they were scouting for him! He got knocked about all through. He was pushed and bumped as he raced – and most of it was deliberate. After the turn out of the straight, at the nine furlongs [1800m], I moved Bernborough up on the rails but they squeezed him up and he dropped back again. So I took him out off the rails and he began to make up ground again, but he got knocked over at the seven and was last at the six. He got badly interfered with three or four times. Yet he moved up wide out to be in a winning position at the turn.
He dropped his off-front shoulder, as usual, and began to make his run but he was interfered with very badly in the straight. That is really what spoiled his chance. He was stopped after he started to make his run and he really never got going again . . . If Bernborough had not been interfered with in the straight, he would still have won.