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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Rail, Victory Robert (Vic) (1945–1994)

by Peter Schumpeter

He had a face, and at one stage a perm, that only a mother could love, but he had a heart open to the world. Vic Rail — the craggy, brash and unorthodox Brisbane racehorse trainer — and his great galloper Vo Rogue were a gift from the gods for Australian racegoers. The brave front-running antics of Vo Rogue coupled with Rail's knockabout style were an irresistible force, reviving the folklore of "Aussie battlers'' defying seemingly insurmountable odds.

Rail died in a Brisbane hospital yesterday morning after being admitted to intensive care a week ago. He had contracted an undiagnosed illness at the same time as an outbreak of a mystery disease caused the deaths of 14 racehorses in just over a week at Rail's and an adjoining stable. A statement from the hospital said Rail died after a heart attack.

Christened Victory Rail 49 years ago, after the end of World War II, he learnt his trade in Victoria with the late Tommy Woodcock. Woodcock had become a racing icon because of his legendary association with Phar Lap and, in more modern times, with the gallant stayer Reckless, who ran second in the 1977 Melbourne Cup.

A firm believer in keeping his horses as close as possible to nature, Rail set himself apart from most trainers, who often viewed his style with bewilderment and, in some cases, derision. But the results he achieved in the past decade testify to his skills as a horseman.

It was the arrival of Vo Rogue, who burst on to the racing scene in Melbourne in 1987, that first put Rail in the national spotlight, a position he handled with aplomb. Melbourne racegoers took Rail to their hearts instantly. They enjoyed the novelty of a battling trainer, complete with permed hairdo, who happened to share the same name as their much-discussed, little-loved rail transport system.

Vo Rogue and Vic Rail were nearly invincible in Melbourne for more than three racing seasons. Vo Rogue won at Group One level, the highest standard in racing, in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. His 26 wins, including two Australian Cups at Flemington, earned him more than $3 million by the time he retired in 1991. Yet despite the horse's deeds, Rail was always reluctant to label Vo Rogue anything more than a "good honest horse''.

After the retirement of Vo Rogue, many expected Rail to fade from the limelight. But he again silenced his critics in 1992 when one of his three-year-old gallopers, Quegent, scored an upset win in the prestigious Ascot Vale Stakes at Flemington.

Rail often ruffled the feathers of racing's officialdom and his training licence was threatened with being revoked more than once. But always he emerged with renewed vigor.

Vic Rail was a diamond cast in the rough, but he was a diamond nevertheless.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 28 September 1994, p 6

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Citation details

Peter Schumpeter, 'Rail, Victory Robert (Vic) (1945–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/rail-victory-robert-vic-27840/text37071, accessed 17 April 2021.

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