Hawke's Bay's connection to the Melbourne Cup could receive a much-needed fillip today through the oldest horse in the field.

Bars across the region are preparing for another bumper day as hundreds of thousands across NZ watch and bet millions on the 5pm race, between 24 horses they barely know.

Waipukurau horsewoman Kirsty Lawrence will not be your average punter. She's backing Who Shot Thebarman, with good reason.

It's not the favourite at the TAB, although at age 10 it's a hot pick for sentimental favourite.


If it weren't for Lawrence, Who Shot Thebarman may never have hit the race track, let alone made it to four cup starts.

About seven years ago, the O'Leary family, of Whanganui, sent their troubled bay gelding to be broken-in at Waipukurau.

Whatever it was that the owners saw in Lawrence, where all else had apparently failed, was a winner.

The horse won $9980 for them at its first start, over 1600m at Trentham on April 27, 2013.

In its first 11 months Who Shot Thebarman won six of its nine starts, culminating in victory in the March 5, 2014, Auckland Cup over the Melbourne Cup distance of 3200m, taking earnings to the almost $715,000.

Who Shot Thebarman's life earnings now stand at $4.58 million. Today will be its 56th start.

Only eight horses aged 10 or over have started in the cup since it was first run in 1861, and the oldest winners were aged 8, the most recent 80 years ago, in 1938.

Age was perhaps the only reason for inflated odds on Who Shot Thebarman, which mid-afternoon on the eve of the race was paying $61 to win.

Age is not the only piece of history against Who Shot Thebarman — it has drawn No 18 at the barrier, when no horse from No.18 has ever won the cup.

That's no worry to Lawrence, who has trained winners of 24 races, including 2014 Hawke's Bay Cup winner Intransigent.

Not only can Who Shot Thebarman win the Cup today, she says, but she can see the horse extending the record another year or two before the mandatory Australian racehorse retirement age of 12.

"I'd love him to win it," she said.

But win or not she still anticipates the usual, a phone call from the connections sometime not too long afterwards, and a shout next time she sees them.