Ah, the morn and liquid dew of youth, as the Bard once famously put it! Many and many a talent has announced itself at the precocious age of twenty. The vigour of manhood is almost at the flood, tutelage has been cast aside, and inexperience hasn’t even allowed self-doubt to manifest itself. As a result, a Mozart, Byron or Picasso appears. Now, what is true of the various branches of the arts is also true of the various branches of sports. The 1871 chapter of our Derby chronicle introduces a 20-year-old youth in the guise of Joe Burton, who was destined to become one of the great trainers on the Australian Turf in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Luck’s a fortune in life, and so it proved for the 20-year-old Burton when the famous Bathurst breeder, Thomas Lee, passed a well-bred Yattendon colt into his hands to be broken in during the winter of 1870. So satisfactory was Burton’s work with the colt that the 44-year-old Lee decided to permanently entrust the young man with the horse’s training, the first horse the lad was to prepare in a long career that would eventually span more than fifty years and countless triumphs on the greensward.
The great English essayist and philosopher, Francis Bacon, observed that they are happy men whose natures sort with their vocations. Joe Burton was one such happy man. Born in 1849 at Blayney, near Bathurst, Burton’s childhood and youth on the family farm coincided with the boom years of the Bathurst district after the first discovery of gold in nearby Ophir in 1851 and Edward Hargraves set about publicising its existence. There were milestones years in the development of the district: 1860 when the electric telegraph came to Bathurst and when the first agricultural show was held at O’Connell Plains; 1862 when Bathurst became both a borough and the headquarters for the New South Wales operations of Cobb and Co. after James Rutherford moved the firm from Victoria; and 1876 when the Bathurst rail terminus opened. These milestones provide a glimpse of the maturing landscape in which Joseph Burton passed those critical years as he grew to manhood in the Bathurst district.
The lad had been precocious from the start. In his very first race ride at the age of nine when weighing just 3 st. 10lb, on his father’s horse Cronstadt, he came second in an important race at Bathurst. His first employer on the Turf was Gyp Ford with whom he worked for about six months at the time that James Kean was his stable foreman. It was while in Ford’s employ that Burton rode Duke of Athol in that memorable Bathurst Cup won by Tamworth. After Ford, he went to work for that well-known Irishman of the district, John De Clouet, better known by his nickname of ‘Dublin Jack’. In the days when John Tait kept the Black Bull Inn overlooking the Vale Creek in Bathurst, De Clouet himself maintained the Sportsman’s Arms in Piper-street. It was De Clouet who owned the celebrated racehorse Pasha that bushranger Ben Hall tried to steal in a brazen daylight raid. Before taking charge of Javelin and ploughing his own furrow, Burton had spent some months acting as the foreman in the training establishment of that strict disciplinarian, Charles Tindall at Bathurst.
It is too easily forgotten now just what an important racing centre Bathurst was in the decades immediately after the discovery of gold in the district in 1851. Gold and gambling went hand-in-glove, and by 1867 the Bathurst Jockey Club was fully operational with ninety-six members all paying an annual subscription of two guineas each. The trustees of the club were the prominent Bathurst identities, John McPhillamy, William Kite and the aforementioned Jack De Clouet. The racecourse itself on which the sportsmen of Bathurst conducted their affairs, involved a government grant of 196 ½ acres. The course was oval, one mile and a quarter round, right-handed, and undulating. While the running ground had been cleared of timber, the inside of the course hadn’t, which presented something of a gambling hazard, more than a physical hazard. The correspondent for the Sydney Mail observed in March 1872: “The inside of the course is still rather crowded with trees, and consequently the horses are longer (sic) out of sight than is desirable. The ascent is very severe and long, and might well be termed ‘Armstrong’s Hill’, but although it affords such great facilities for ‘roping’, it is pleasing to be able to state that not even the shade of suspicion rested upon any of the events of the meeting. Nevertheless, the club would do well to clear some of the trees.” There were facilities of a sort. There was a saddling paddock, enclosed with ten-foot hoarding, and the course was fenced all round with six-foot palings. There was also a grandstand, erected at the cost of £735. The club raced under the rules of the A.J.C., and the honorary secretary was none other than George Lee, Thomas’s youngest brother while Thomas himself occasionally served as a steward.
If any young man aspiring to enjoy life on the Turf in the colony of New South Wales during the 1860s could have chosen his very own patron, then one of the six sons of the Bathurst pastoralist and patriarch, William Lee, would have been a logical choice. In Thomas Lee, the third son, Burton attracted a sportsman of the keenest quality. Possessing an earthy and practical character, Thomas Lee had been born in the Bathurst district in 1826 and educated locally and later at Sydney College where he proved proficient in arithmetic and geometry and where, among his fellow pupils, was the future distinguished Anglican clergyman, Alfred Stephen. Upon leaving his studies, Thomas Lee managed properties around the Bathurst and Mudgee districts on behalf of his father. Married in Trinity Church, Sydney, in February 1848 to 16-year-old Fanny, the daughter of John Tindale, a wealthy landowner in Kelso and the Bathurst district, the couple had their first child a few months later and by 1851 we find them settled on the Woodlands Estate on the Bathurst Plains, some seven miles outside of Bathurst. It was to be their home for the next 35 years and where they would eventually raise seven of their children to adulthood.
Woodlands comprised more than 1400 acres under Thomas Lee’s stewardship and had long been celebrated for its fertility of soil and richness of natural grasses, not to mention its scenic beauty as part of the acclaimed Bathurst Coursing Downs. Woodlands had first been settled by John Street, the progenitor of that famous family of Chief Justices of New South Wales when he brought out a flock of merino sheep from Surrey in 1822; and it was he that had built the homestead. Thomas and Fanny Lee moved into the old place and began to clear more of the property, watered by the Macquarie, Fish and Campbell’s Rivers which meandered through the estate. In time, extensive outbuildings were completed together with the planting of an orchard, garden and lucerne paddock. Like most of his brothers, Thomas Lee revealed an interest in both turf and field. In April 1853 we find him acting as one of the three stewards for the three-day meeting of the Bathurst Races, thereby assuming a role that his father William had performed as far back as 1842.
Trusted by his fellow sportsmen, in April 1855 Lee was the judge in the private match race between De Clouet’s Euroka and Mr Mylechorane’s Comet over the Bathurst course. From the beginning, Thomas Lee was to be one of the earliest supporters of the Agricultural, Horticultural and Pastoral Association at whose shows he was to be a prolific exhibitor. Lee’s primary concern was to be shorthorn cattle in which his family specialised, together with merino sheep, although in time he was to try his hand at other species of livestock including the breeding of llamas and alpacas – the latter bought when the Government’s flock was auctioned off in July 1866. Woodlands never was to establish itself as a thoroughbred stud on the scale of some other Lee family properties such as Bylong under John Lee or Leeholme under George Lee. But for one brief, brilliant epoch beginning in the late 1850s and lasting until the mid-1870s, it was to affect a disproportionate influence on Australian bloodstock, thanks to just one particular broodmare.
Lilla, the colonial taproot mare in question, had been bred by Thomas Lee and was by New Chum (AUS) by Camel (GB) out of Eva. A handy race mare when carrying the Lee colours, she won the Forced Handicap at the 1861 Bathurst Jockey Club Meeting and the Short’s Free Handicap at Randwick later that same year. But it was at the stud that she was to make her mark, although bad luck was to mar her early seasons there. Thomas Lee held out great hope for Lilla’s 1863 colt, Lord of the Wood, by Lord of the Hills. A well-made and promising two-year-old, he was being prepared for the 1866 A.J.C. Derby when, after taking a gallop on the Randwick course, he got away from his lad and attempted to jump the fence of the Stand enclosure. Upon catching one of his hoofs, he fell over on his head and broke his neck.
Indeed, Lee enjoyed very little luck with his racehorses until Lilla’s 1868 foal came along. The horse that was to launch Joe Burton’s training career in such spectacular fashion was a neat and handsome dark brown colt by Yattendon with powerful shoulders and muscular hindquarters, albeit a little short in the back. Subsequently registered as Javelin, the colt showed promise from the start. Even before his racecourse debut, we find Thomas West, handicapper for both the Homebush Jockey Club and Tattersall’s Club, informing the readers of the Australian Town and Country Journal just how splendid the Yattendon colt was, and what a clipper he promised to be.
Javelin’s racecourse debut came on the third day of the Bathurst Jockey Club’s annual meeting in March in the nursery against just two opponents when, with Joe Burton in the saddle and handicapped with 8 st. 10lb, he jumped to the front and was never headed – winning as he liked. The colt was then brought overland for the A.J.C. autumn fixture. Now the logistical challenge confronting Burton in getting Javelin across the Blue Mountains to Randwick hale and hearty both in the autumn and spring of that year shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, the extension of the Great Western Railway to Bathurst wasn’t opened until April 1876; and in 1871 the railway tracks terminated some 33 miles short at Wallerawang. Indeed, the Wallerawang terminus itself had only become available in March 1870 after the completion in 1869 of that heroic feat of Victorian engineering, the Great Zig Zag Railway, which successfully negotiated the mountains and valleys of the Great Dividing Range. Burton was compelled to walk Javelin to Wallerawang station before entraining it to Sydney for his eventual rendezvous with destiny, taking care that the change of climate, feed and water – not to mention the rail journey itself – didn’t unsettle the colt. Still, as this young Lochinvar was to demonstrate down through the years, he was never one to be cowed by unfavourable odds.
When the horses gathered for that 1871 A.J.C. autumn fixture, the consensus of the betting markets was that one man seemed to stand between Joe Burton and the glory of the Champagne Stakes – and that man was Philip Dowling. A very old racing identity with an inveterate weakness for betting intrigues, this notorious trainer lived in Argo street, South Yarra, but maintained private stables at Caulfield; his maroon and gold colours had become familiar at nearly every racecourse in the colony. As early as the 1861-62 racing season, Dowling had landed a series of wagers when winning both the Derby and St. Leger at Flemington with Camden. In the 1864-65 year, the same feared stable enjoyed arguably its finest season when Illumination, that famous daughter of Gaslight, won both the V.R.C. Oaks and St Leger; while Frolic captured the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes.
Earlier in the year Falcon, another Dowling galloper, had frustrated bookmakers when winning the inaugural running of the Adelaide Cup, a race that was then one of the most valuable in the land with its sweep of 50 sovereigns and a further 500 sovereigns as added money. In taking that race, Falcon had relegated his stablemate, Roebuck, into second place. Philip Dowling made the headlines in July 1865 when he paid 1500 guineas to acquire the proven racehorse, Panic. Foaled in England in 1858 and imported to Tasmania in 1860, this son of the 1846 Ascot Gold Cup winner, Alarm, went to the stud as a three-year-old and for a few seasons had successfully mixed both racing and breeding. Dowling bought him believing that he could win the Melbourne Cup and backed him accordingly. Those few seasons at stud hadn’t sapped Panic’s ability to stay and just before the Cup he proved it by taking out the inaugural Champion Race over three miles at Launceston. Alas, for Dowling, the Melbourne Cup didn’t fall to him, however, with Panic running a gallant second carrying ten stone.
Accordingly, Philip Dowling had well and truly proven his ability to prepare racehorses before 1871. Moreover, he had also long combined the occupations of betting man and trainer with his stableful of horses belonging to different owners and his activities in the ring had more than once attracted the criticism of the sporting press. It was an incident with three of his horses at Smythesdale in December 1869 that brought forth a stinging rebuke in the pages of The Australasian. Allow me to quote from the said article: “There are very many honest bookmakers in the Melbourne betting ring and very many backers of horses who are in every way excellent and admirable members of society; but the sum of such persons in infinitesimally small as compared with the mob of ex-billiard markers, broken-down pugilists, sporting pot-housekeepers, and proprietors of dancing saloons, who form the major part of the Victorian betting-ring. Our bookmakers have succeeded in reaching a pitch of combined insolence and dishonesty which is intolerable. They would appear to have got the upper hand of all racing authorities, and to work their fraudulent oracles as they will.” To the perceptive sportsman considering a wager on the two and three-year-old classics in 1871, the potential for Philip Dowling to manipulate the betting market, again seemed to loom large.
Dowling’s dominance of the juvenile classics in the autumn of 1871 was wholly attributable to the presence in his stable of a particular colt and filly both of impeccable pedigree, whose specific breeding had been first planned by Charles Fisher when he was the owner of the Maribyrnong Stud. The two-year-olds in question were named Hamlet and Beatrice. Their dams – Rose of Denmark and Lady Heron – when carrying their respective foals, however, had formed two of the prizes in that famous Maribyrnong art union of April 1868 when Fisher disposed of his stud. Accordingly, as related in my previous chapter, it was the new proprietor of the Maribyrnong Stud, George Petty, that reared Hamlet. A half-brother to our Derby heroine Florence, he sold him as a yearling for 500 guineas to John Crozier, the wealthy South Australian pastoralist and future owner of the St Albans Stud.
Beatrice, on the other hand, a daughter of the 1865 V.R.C. Oaks winner, Lady Heron, was owned by Philip Dowling himself. Despite Crozier’s interest in Hamlet, for a time his ownership was a matter of public uncertainty, as he, like Beatrice, raced under Dowling’s misleading nom de course of ‘Mr P. Lewis’. Such were the absurd rules applying at the time when verily a trainer, a groom, or a friend of the real owner could enter a horse for a race or indeed, the entry could be made under an assumed name altogether. Beatrice created quite an impression when she was seen out at the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting at Flemington. A few days before the running of the Ascot Vale Stakes, large sums were wagered on the filly, and the Caulfield stable picked up easy money when the daughter of Stockowner jumped to the front and led throughout to win by three lengths. It was a similar tale in the Nursery on the second day of the fixture. No V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes was run in 1871 – the race wasn’t to resume until 1874 – and accordingly, Dowling proceeded to bring both Beatrice and Hamlet to Randwick by ship.
The Prince of Denmark hadn’t been seen in public before the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, and long before the Macedon had docked in Sydney with its valuable cargo, there was an intense curiosity about Crozier’s expensive and aristocratic colt whose half-sister had appropriated the Derby at Randwick the previous spring. In the weeks leading into the fixture when Dowling’s two were matched on the track, Beatrice invariably came home a couple of lengths in front of the great striding son of Maribyrnong. This blissful state of affairs lasted until about seven days before the Champagne Stakes was to be conducted when the stable suddenly revealed their hand one evening at Tattersall’s. The next morning’s gallop was rather less flattering to the filly. That year the start of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting was postponed a week due to inclement weather, although when the Champagne Stakes was finally staged on the first Saturday in May, it was in delightful sunshine. The fine form surrounding Beatrice at Flemington together with the rumours that Dowling had one equally as good in Hamlet, saw only five horses vie for their owners’ honour of shouting two dozen bottles of champagne to the A.J.C. committee.
Of the local contingent, Javelin was regarded as the best hope. As it transpired, the five furlongs proved a mere canter for Philip Dowling’s pair, with Hamlet getting away smartly on flagfall and never being headed – winning by three lengths from his stablemate, seemingly by arrangement. Javelin, with Burton again in the saddle, proved most disappointing after dwelling at the start. On Thursday, the second day of the meeting, Javelin ran unplaced in a flying handicap while Dowling again dominated the Sires’ Produce Stakes despite the extra two furlongs. Again, the Dowling pair silenced the ring, and there was no betting in the seven-strong field until the horses were leaving the paddock.
It was then that the stable’s intentions were declared, first by 2/1 being laid on Hamlet, and when that was all gone, 3/1 on him was offered and taken. The Sires’ held some interest up to the last turn when The Prophet made a sudden dart to the front and threatened a boilover, but Hamlet, despite his 7lb penalty, came again in the straight to finally win running away, with Beatrice comfortably tucked in fourth place. It wasn’t until the fourth and last day of the meeting that Javelin revealed something of the potential that he had shown at Bathurst on debut when, with the two Victorian cracks safely out of the way, he easily appropriated the Nursery from his seven rivals.
However, such was the superiority displayed by Hamlet at Randwick that the Victorian colt stifled Derby betting throughout the winter months with very little money being wagered on the classic. What caused many to stay their betting hand was the fact that not only did Philip Dowling have the Derby favourite, but in Beatrice, his stable also sheltered the favourite’s most obvious rival. Indeed, some questioned whether Hamlet was to be or not to be in the Derby field at all, for there was a school of thought that believed the son of Maribyrnong might be reserved for The Great Metropolitan Stakes instead, while his stablemate was allowed her way with the blue riband. Javelin, it seemed, wasn’t even considered a serious rival. However, Joe Burton and Thomas Lee thought differently. Javelin had contracted a cold en route to the Randwick fixture and had been a trifle short of work in the early part of that week in autumn. Come spring, the two men were sure it would be another matter.
Tom Willis of the Sydney Mail has left us with a fascinating vignette of the Randwick scene on Derby Day, 1871. It was the earliest recollection of headquarters from the sporting writer who would go on to work for the paper for twenty-six years: “In those days every conceivable kind of vehicle could be seen drawn up on the inside of the course. The carriages of the well-to-do lining the cords, then came [sic] the buggy of the opulent publican and the van of the dealer. After a race was over the chains were drawn across the running to prevent, I assume, wild horsemen from unlawfully using the racing track. About where the members’ stand is erected there stood a ramshackle old structure called the Derby stand constructed of planks. Randwick road was no wider than it is now and it was an exciting sight to watch – from a safe distance – the sports returning from the races in ‘bus, cab, van, and private carriage. Everybody appeared to be racing mad, and the bumping five-horse ‘bus ‘took on’ anything and everything, and as there were no transit officers around to see fair play, all hands raced in from the toll bar as if their very lives depended upon getting first to the city. Upsets, of course, were frequent, and fights not at all infrequent.”
The Derby Day attendance was a match for any previous year and included the Governor, the Earl and Countess of Belmore, together with their elite party which filled the vice-regal corner of the stand. All three of the stands were well patronised, and the opposite rails were lined with coaches, dog-carts and broughams – from one to four-in-hand. Willis observed: “It was the custom of the coach-owners to invite their friends across the course to coach luncheons, and, between races, to sample certain liqueurs much appreciated by the top-hatted, high-chokered sports, who, I regret to chronicle, were a rather quarrelsome lot.” By contrast, the usual row of omnibuses extended along the road from the entrance gate to the bottom of the hill past Cutts’ establishment and upon which were perched hundreds of people taking a peep at the show for nothing. All that was needed was an Antipodean Frith to capture the scene on canvas for posterity.
The 1871 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the following table:
From the original list of thirty-two subscriptions, a select field of six, four colts and two fillies faced the starter for the 1871 renewal of the A.J.C. Derby. Hamlet, who was making his seasonal re-appearance, went to the post a firm 1/2 favourite on the strength of his unbeaten showing at the Randwick autumn fixture while the Victorian filly, Retort, nudged out Beatrice for second favouritism. Retort raced in the colours of his breeder, William Pearson, of Kilmany Park in the Gippsland, and was a daughter of Hurtle Fisher’s imported English mare, Gaslight.
Indeed, she was the first foal of Gaslight after Hurtle Fisher had sold her. Trained by William Filgate, Retort had failed in her only two starts at Flemington in the autumn but had run third in the Hawkesbury Maiden Plate upon her season renewal, and her market quotation had more to do with her bloodlines than anything she’d shown on a racecourse. The other two runners in the race, The Prophet and J. L. weren’t looked upon as serious contenders. The Prophet, a light chestnut colt bred at Tocal by Charles Reynolds from the good imported English stallion New Warrior, had a fascinating history. When brought under the hammer as a yearling he was so little thought of that William Bassett only had to go to 60 guineas to secure him. Placed in both the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes and Sires’ Produce Stakes as a two-year-old, Bassett then sold out of the horse to Tom Lamond who saw a likely stayer in the making.
Taken up the line to assist the new club at Hawkesbury, The Prophet opened his three-year-old season by winning the Trial Stakes (10f) there and on the second day ran a gallant second in the Maiden Plate in which he carried a 5lb penalty to be beaten narrowly. J. L., named after his breeder John Lee, was the second horse bred by him contesting the Derby and raced in the nomination of John Tait. The minor place-getter in the inaugural Hawkesbury Derby, won by his stablemate Whalebone, he had caused an upset on the second day of that same meeting when he turned the tables on Whalebone in the Hawkesbury Maiden Plate. Nonetheless, few expected him to figure in the Derby finish.
After one breakaway, the flag fell to a splendid start from Mr John Arkins with all the horses on equal terms. Hamlet was the first to show in front, although halfway up the rails, his stablemate Beatrice took up the running. After they had gone about three furlongs, the daughter of Stockowner had a couple of lengths to spare over J. L. and The Prophet, with Hamlet, Javelin and Retort all in close proximity, not more than a few lengths separating the field. Mathieson on Beatrice had been instructed by Philip Dowling to guarantee a true contest for Hamlet, and went very fast, so much so that by the six at the back of the course the filly had nearly shot her bolt. Jimmy Ashworth then urged J. L. to the front although Joe Kean was alive to the danger and promptly moved Javelin forward. Both Hamlet and Javelin closed on J. L. and Beatrice as the pace quickened even more, climbing the hill at the Leger turn, and the four came past the trainers’ stand together.
As the field thundered into the straight Javelin was slightly in front – an advantage that he maintained; and at the distance, the race was all over with Javelin the only horse not being ridden with the whip. At the post, Thomas Lee’s brown colt had a couple of lengths to spare from The Prophet, with Hamlet a well-beaten third, and the rest of the field having tailed off some distance behind. The winning time of 2 minutes 47 seconds was the fastest Derby ever run in the colonies, matching Charon’s effort in the same race two years earlier. The favourite’s run was so poor that some of his supporters thought they must have seen an apparition – not so much Hamlet but rather Hamlet’s ghost. The result came as quite a shock to the sportsmen gathered at F. C. Goyder’s Victoria Hotel in Bourke-street, Melbourne, when it was posted some thirty minutes after the race had been run. The sporting lounge at the back of that establishment was the focus of racing interest in Melbourne in the early 1870s where the racing lists were posted, odds laid, betting movements shown and Calcuttas drawn. That Derby came as one of the great disappointments that ever the backers of horses of that colony had suffered up to that time. The bookmakers, of course, could hardly believe their good fortune.
At Randwick, loud cheers greeted Thomas Lee’s first Derby triumph, while groans and hoots were the lot of Hamlet as he walked back in. The victory amply justified Lee’s faith in Burton, his young retainer, and for the balance of their lives, no sentiment of estrangement was ever to come between the two men. Snobbery, real or inverse, was never a part of Lee’s character and yet somehow, he always managed to maintain his own gentlemanly status on the Turf without offending democratic sensibilities. The hearty response from the grandstands was a testimony to that. Burton, for his part, always scrupulously observed the social deference required by the chasm of station, wealth, and age that separated them.
It was also a first Derby victory for 24-year-old jockey Joe Kean, another Bathurst identity who had done a lot of work with the colt, and it seemed fitting following his second in the same race five years earlier on John Lee’s Bylong. A clever and straightforward jockey, Kean had first come to notice when he partnered Tom Ivory’s O’Meara to win the Tattersall’s Cup on New Year’s Day in 1866. Kean’s reputation saw him retained to ride for the Governor of N.S.W., Sir Hercules Robinson, for a time, and for that distinguished patron of the Turf, he won the 1874 A.J.C. Champagne Stakes on Kingsborough. Following his retirement from the pigskin, Kean was to act as the starter in pedestrian events at the Carrington Ground and later on behalf of the race clubs at Liverpool and Canterbury Park. Kean eventually succeeded ‘Jemmy’ Ashworth as the Clerk of the Course at Randwick following the latter’s tragic death in October 1892 and remained a Sydney sporting identity for some years. He died in August 1903 in his Surry Hills home as a result of a paralytic stroke.
Javelin started twice more during the week of that 1871 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. On the second day, he won the Metropolitan Maiden Plate with the greatest of ease from The Prophet, his only rival, while on the same day Hamlet again failed ingloriously in The Metropolitan. On the third day Javelin, who started equal favourite with Tim Whiffler, was first past the post in the Craven Plate but a protest entered by Tim Whiffler’s jockey, George Donnelly, against Javelin for crossing in the race, was upheld and Javelin was disqualified. It was a controversial protest, and many were critical of de Mestre, the trainer of Tim Whiffler, for having sanctioned it, but I suppose he didn’t like to see his veteran galloper beaten. It was generally conceded that had circumstances been the reverse, Lee wouldn’t have taken the same advantage. Still, jostling or no, Javelin should have won the race but for being pulled and hauled about by his partner, Sherringham. On the same card, Hamlet redeemed something of his reputation by winning the Mares’ Produce Stakes, although his rather ordinary third in a four-horse field for the Randwick Plate (3m) on the last day had sportsmen concluding that perhaps he wasn’t a stayer after all.
On Monday evening following the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, a large attendance of members and outsiders were at Tattersall’s for the settling and the paying over of stakes. With the president of the club, Richard Driver, in the chair, Buchan Thomson, the secretary and treasurer of the A.J.C. handed over to the different winners their cheques for stakes, including the £613 to Thomas Lee. A plentiful supply of champagne having been arranged by the winning owners of the Derby and the Metropolitan (Andrew Town), and generously supplemented by John Tait and Austin Saqui, the Chairman proceeded to toast the winners. In giving the health of Thomas Lee, he observed that the whole colonial press, with one exception, had given Hamlet or Beatrice as a certainty for the Derby. However, Mr Lee had brought a worthy son of Yattendon to beat them and thus keep the money and honour in N.S.W. in the fastest Derby on record.
Lee thanked them all and was cheered to the echo. I might add that Sydney sporting journalism in general, and Turf reporting in particular, was dealt a blow only weeks after that Tattersall’s gathering. I refer to the news that Bell’s Life had been sold for just £26 to John Fairfax and Sons, thereby succumbing as it did in Victoria to the overpowering influence of the weekly cum daily publications. The highly regarded Rowley Pickering (‘Nemo’) after that, transferred his smooth pen to the pages of the Sydney Mail thus sharpening the competition between it and the Town and Country Journal.
Javelin was never intended for the Flemington Spring Meeting, and in his absence, Hamlet went to the post as an even-money favourite for the Victoria Derby in a field that dwindled to just seven starters. Hamlet’s appearance when he took his preliminary hardly inspired confidence, however, and the favourite, clearly exhausted by the demands made upon him at the Randwick gathering, cracked after just three-quarters of a mile, finishing down the course in the race won by Miss Jessie. Philip Dowling went back to the drawing boards with his putative champion while critics seriously began to question the quality of this crop of three-year-olds. The picture became even more opaque later in November when it was reported that Javelin had staked himself in the groin when trying to jump a paling fence at Blayney where he was spelling. Immediately upon becoming aware of the injury, Thomas Lee made all haste there in the company of a veterinary surgeon. The injury left the horse with an unsightly gash and the autumn betting markets for the two St. Legers very much up in the air.
Javelin had recovered sufficiently to appear at the 1872 Bathurst Annual Meeting in the first week of March; he easily won the Maiden Plate on the first day and then walked over the course with his stablemate Leveret for the Bathurst St. Leger on the second day, thereby pocketing £45/10/- for Thomas Lee when settling occurred at the Bathurst Hotel on Saturday night with brother George presiding in the chair. Still, such hollow victories imbued Lee and Burton with little confidence when they transported their charge to Randwick later that same month for the A.J.C. St. Leger. While the son of Yattendon had been gallivanting about in the Gold town, his bête noir, Hamlet, had been doing the hard yards at Flemington, snaffling the V.R.C. St. Leger there from the Derby heroine, Miss Jessie, and then, just two races later, running a bold race in the Australian Cup until his condition gave out over the two-and-a-quarter-mile course.
Whatever else Hamlet’s exertions on the first day of the V.R.C. meeting had proved, it set Maribyrnong’s son up for a full-blooded tilt at the big plums on offer at Randwick. And what a revelation Hamlet proved to be during that week! On Monday, the first day, he comfortably relegated Javelin into second place in the A.J.C.’s red riband; on Thursday, the second day, he ran a gallant second in the Sydney Cup – beaten one-and-a-quarter lengths after conceding the winner and fellow three-year-old, The Prophet, a half-stone in weight. On Friday, the third day, Hamlet ran the fastest mile in the colony up to that time to win the All-Aged Stakes and relegate the great Tim Whiffler and Javelin into the minor placings. And on the last day, Saturday, Hamlet concluded a successful week in a flourish by taking out the three-mile Queen’s Plate and in so doing beating the Sydney Cup winner and Tim Whiffler at weight-for-age. Clearly, he was the premier colt in the land.
It was to be a short-lived reign, however, for neither Hamlet nor Javelin was seen to advantage once their three-year-old season ended, as both suffered from troublesome fetlocks. Hamlet only ever managed to win one other principal race, that being the Craven Plate at the 1873 Randwick Spring Meeting but it was just a two-horse race. Such were the problems that Joe Burton encountered with Javelin’s leg that Thomas Lee accepted his advice to sell the horse after failing to win in four starts at the 1872 Spring Meeting at Randwick. Lee sold out privately to the prominent Sydney sportsman George Hill junior.
The 38-year-old Hill, already an established member of the A.J.C. and a committeeman and future treasurer of Tattersall’s Club, was just then embarking on his expensive career as an owner. Having bought Javelin, it was to be eighteen months before the horse appeared in public carrying Hill’s colours at all and even then, he managed to get him to the post just seven times. Hill’s only real moment of glory with Javelin came when he won the A.J.C. Spring Stakes, beating a good field in quick time. But the horse had trouble leaving his box the next morning and was off the scene for another fifteen months. When Javelin did re-emerge under colours, he failed twice and retired for good after finishing down the course to Briseis in the All-Aged Stakes at Randwick in 1876.
It is hardly surprising to learn that Javelin wasn’t a success at stud. Certainly, his post-Derby career wouldn’t have inspired broodmare owners. Fitzwilliam Wentworth gave the horse his first chance with some of his mares at his Graystanes Stud although in July 1877 Javelin was sold on account of George Hill junior for 400 guineas to Allan McLean of the Tuki Tuki Stud at Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. McLean turned a rather quick profit, for in April 1878 we find him selling Javelin to James Gilligan’s Yaldhurst Stud for 1000 guineas. The stallion sired one principal winner in the mare Rivulet, successful in the 1887 Taranaki Cup. Rivulet, in turn, was the dam of both Brooklet (1896 W.R.C. Wellington Cup) and The Shannon (1902 Avondale Cup). The only other broodmare sired by Javelin that produced a principal winner was Huerfana, who got Heiress, winner of the 1900 W.R.C. Wellesley Stakes. Javelin died at stud in New Zealand in October 1883.
I might add that for all the alleged superiority of both his lineage and performances on the racecourse, his great rival Hamlet proved a similar failure at stud. R. J. Hunter established Hamlet at his Woodstock Stud in Victoria but, like Javelin, he only ever sired one principal winner in Australia in Soldier’s Wind, winner of the S.T.C. Anniversary Handicap, although he also sired the dams of Australian (1895) and Eclipse (1885). When Hunter disposed of the whole of his stud in March 1879 at the Pastoral Hotel at Flemington, Hamlet was knocked down to James Moran of Warrnambool for just 475 guineas, but that gentleman enjoyed no more luck with him than had Hunter. Hamlet broke a leg in the middle of the 1886 breeding season and had to be destroyed.
Javelin’s Derby came to represent the high-water mark on the Australian Turf for Thomas Lee and – for a decade at least – Joe Burton as well. There would be other good progeny from Lee’s grand broodmare Lilla, but somehow circumstances would conspire to deny the Squire of Woodlands and his faithful retainer from enjoying the full glory of their potential. Commodore, the year-younger full brother to Javelin, was a case in point. A good deal taller than Javelin, and out in the same season as George Lee’s crack, Lecturer, the pair of them dead-heated for the Nursery on debut at the Bathurst Jockey Club Meeting of 1872 with Burton doing the honours on Commodore. Well fancied for the A.J.C. Derby the following season, Burton couldn’t get him quite right for the race, and it was after a disappointing A.J.C. Spring Meeting that Thomas Lee sold the horse at public auction for 600 guineas to William Winch. Much to Thomas Lee’s chagrin, the following autumn Commodore won both the A.J.C. St. Leger and Autumn Stakes. The horse was later sent to India and ultimately to England.
The next of Lilla’s progeny to carry Thomas Lee’s colours was Jessamine, and while her fortunes on the Turf were rather ordinary, at stud she did get the 1882 Sydney Cup winner, Cunnamulla; but, alas for Lee, he had sold the colt as a yearling to Walter Hall. Lee parted with Lilla herself in March 1875 when, at the first annual sale of livestock and bloodstock conducted at Woodlands, he sold her with foal at foot by Yattendon, and in foal to Barbarian, to his brother John Lee for 630 guineas. Lee probably reflected that the old mare, by then a rising nineteen-year-old, had seen her best days and, besides, he still possessed a little bit of her blood in her daughter, The Alpaca, and through her, Lilla’s granddaughter Llama. It was an unfortunate miscalculation. Less than a month after the sale, Llama did confirm her potential when she won both the Bathurst Cup and St. Leger only to meet with a fatal accident at the A.J.C. spring fixture later that same year. That 1875 A.J.C. gathering wasn’t a happy one for Thomas Lee; he was quite convinced that his horse Ringwood hadn’t been afforded every opportunity in the Derby by his jockey Driscoll and had subsequently taken the colours and substituted Ashworth for the Mares’ Produce Stakes on the following Thursday but all to no avail. The harsh truth was that the overly hyped Ringwood wasn’t much good.
Lee began to lose his taste for racing shortly afterwards, preferring to sell rather than retain most of the bloodstock bred at his small but select stud. Although he realised some good prices into the bargain, too often time would prove that it was the buyers that got the better of the deal for Lilla proved a veritable fountainhead for talent. Perhaps the cruellest cut of all came when the aptly named Woodlands, a grandson of Lilla, won the 1877 A.J.C. Derby for Joe Silberberg. Bred by Thomas Lee and named after the horse’s birthplace, Joe Burton broke in the colt following his sale for 500 guineas plus contingencies, before sending him to the St Albans stables of James Wilson. Lilla’s three best daughters at stud proved to be The Alpaca, Jessamine, and Lillian, and together they threw no less than six individual winners of eight principal races – none carrying the colour of all magenta! Lee sold out much of his thoroughbred stud in September 1878, preferring instead to concentrate on his beloved shorthorn cattle and sheep as well as tending his olive trees and a well-stocked aviary of English bullfinches, green linnets, partridges and silver pheasants. A final clearance sale of thoroughbred stock took place in April 1883.
Meanwhile, during the 1880s land boom, Bathurst continued to flourish and was finally declared a city in 1885. The 1400 acres that comprised Woodlands had grown significantly in value over the years and pressure was being applied for such large monopolistic landholdings to be broken up. Lee put up both the Woodlands Estate and his so-called Lee’s Paddock, a grazing and agricultural estate of similar size that he owned at Orange, for sale in February 1883. After a lifetime on the land, he was cashing in his chips. The Woodlands property was slow to sell as Lee held out for top money and even an attempt to break the land up into eleven subdivisions failed to attract buyers at the premium price asked. Eventually, the homestead together with some 1300 acres was sold to George Mann for £11,000 in February 1886. Thomas and Fanny Lee purchased ‘Brewongle’ on New South Head-road, Double Bay, and lived out their remaining years there: Thomas dying at ‘Brewongle’ in September 1893 at the age of sixty-seven and Fanny at the age of seventy-three in January 1905. Their remains were returned to Kelso and buried in the family vault in Trinity Churchyard. None of their surviving offspring ever showed much interest in the Turf.
If the 1871 A.J.C. Derby was to be the making of Joe Burton as a horse trainer, it marked the last serious assault on a major Randwick meeting by long-time Caulfield trainer, Philip Dowling. There remained other significant achievements to come for him on the Turf, perhaps the most notable being the victories of his own mare Ella, a daughter of Yattendon, when she sported the maroon and gold to win the Hobart Town Cup and the Tasmanian Handicap at Elwick, and the Launceston Cup and Handicap at Launceston in February 1875. However, Dowling’s training career was to come to a ruinous end very shortly thereafter in January 1876 over the controversial riding of his horse, Cyclops, in the V.R.C. £100 Plate at Flemington. It was to be a celebrated case in the annals of the Victoria Racing Club.
Cyclops, entered in the name of “Mr P. Lewis”, the nom de course of Dowling, and ridden by a boy named Rawlings, appeared to be most shamelessly restrained from winning with Rawlings riding the last furlong or two as quietly as an exercise gallop. Indeed, it was only with the greatest of difficulty that the jockey was able to lose the race. So incensed were the spectators in the enclosure and on the hill that they heartily hooted the jockey upon his return to scale. The stewards took the matter into consideration at once and after hearing the evidence brought forward, Rawlings was disqualified indefinitely.
The father of the lad, a very respectable man, living at Smythesdale, started for Melbourne directly he became aware of his son’s predicament, and removed him from Dowling’s Caulfield establishment, at the same time requesting that the club further investigate the matter. Certainly, the betting on the £100 Plate seemed of a very suspicious nature with bookmakers refusing to lay against Cyclops at any price, offering 3/1 bar one and peppering away against him until the offer was even money, thereby clearly proving that the swindle wasn’t between two owners but rather one for betting purposes as The Australasian observed.
The stewards, virtually to a man, believed that Dowling had supped with the devil once too often and it was at their further inquiry that Rawlings confessed he had been directed to pull the horse by his master, Philip Dowling. The press wasn’t admitted to the stewards’ deliberations, but the dramatic upshot was that Dowling was disqualified, but for no specified time. The V.R.C. committee after a long-enforced absence did eventually relent on Dowling. However, his colourful life on the Turf was effectively over. For the rest of his days, Dowling continued to nurse a grievance against the V.R.C. stewards which he aired to all willing to listen. He died at the age of seventy at his residence in South Yarra in January 1893.