Kings of the Turf

A History of the AJC Derby From 1861 to 1983

1875 – Richmond Arrives Upon the Scene

So well established was the reputation of James Wilson senior and the St Albans stable for shrewdness in horse-trading by 1874, that it seems strange to relate that in that year a champion was inadvertently sold out of the yard.  The story begins in April 1874 when Andrew Town offered six of his Hobartville yearlings for sale at Randwick.  Among the batch was a little dark brown colt by his resident stallion, Maribyrnong, out of The Fawn.  Maribyrnong, of course, had already established his reputation at the stud from which he took his name, before ever coming to Andrew Town’s famous Hobartville property at Richmond.  Initially, Maribyrnong came from George Petty on just a two-year lease arriving in Sydney aboard the steamer City of Adelaide in March 1871, although as we shall see, Hobartville was to become his permanent home.  As sound as the stallion’s reputation already was when he arrived at Richmond in the years to come it would be enhanced even further by his remarkable affinity with a few of the Hobartville matrons, and none more so than with The Fawn.  A daughter of the celebrated Melesina, an Irish mare by Harkaway imported into Victoria by Rawdon Greene to his Woodlands Stud, The Fawn was destined to foal a string of first-class racehorses.  Of course, all this lay in the future when the first of their offspring went through the ring on that April day. F. C. Goyder was much taken with the colt’s conformation, if not his size.  Goyder, acting on behalf of the Melbourne bookmaker William Branch, bought the youngster for 220 guineas, and, registered as Richmond in honour of the stud where foaled, went into the St Albans stable of James Wilson.

James Wilson was renowned for his extraordinary knack in getting two-year-olds ready early in the season – after all, he had already won two of the first three Maribyrnong Plates that had been decided and run second in the other.  In the early spring of 1874, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that St Albans sheltered not one but two precocious juveniles.  Richmond was showing promise in his first track trials at home as was a filly of James Wilson’s own breeding named Maid of All Work.  A neat, lengthy racehorse, she was the last of the progeny of the sadly neglected stallion, King Alfred, but was the first foal of the mare Mischief, who was to play such a significant role in the fortunes of St Albans.  Such were the rumours surrounding the Geelong pair that bookmakers remained uncertain as to which would be the stable elect for the fourth running of the Maribyrnong Plate.  It was on the Wednesday night before the race that the money came for Richmond at Tattersall’s, and after £1,000 to £100 had been booked, the money came again at 100/15.  Maid of All Work was backed for some small sums but there was no longer any doubt as to which horse Wilson preferred.

Richmond went to the post as the favourite in a field of twenty-two, and with a gale blowing down the straight that was thought to advantage the colts he could only finish a distant second – six lengths – to his less-fancied stablemate.  There had been a slight delay at the start and Maid of All Work was on her legs when the word was given; she never lost the advantage and had the race won by the time the training ground was left behind.  Wilson might have seen his betting coup come unstuck, but he at least had the solace of winning with one of his own, and the £1,435 first prize more than replenished the stakes outlaid in bets.  I might mention that the reward for winning the Maribyrnong Plate that year was £225 more than Andrew and Thomas Chirnside got for winning the Melbourne Cup with Haricot a few days later.  The brilliant showing by Maid of All Work convinced Wilson that she was the better prospect than Richmond.  Moreover, the colt had none the best of legs and Wilson was beginning to doubt that he could withstand a rigorous career on the racecourse.

Accordingly, the Master of St Albans was prepared to back the colt up on Cup Day itself in the Kensington Stakes (5f), a sweepstakes event for two-year-olds with £200 in added money. This, despite it carrying an unusual condition that the winner must subsequently be submitted to public auction on the course and sold for no less than £300.  Any sum raised more than £300 was for the benefit of the club. Despite missing the jump, a young Tom Hales got Richmond up to win rather easily in the end.  Flemington trainer Eli Jellett stepped in with a bid of £405 and proceeded to walk off the course with the youngster.  William Branch had just lost the first champion racehorse that was to pass through his hands, although he would gain a measure of compensation a few years later when Progress carried his all-white livery to a succession of victories.  As for James Wilson, he felt satisfied with a day’s work that had seen him realise more than £500 on behalf of Branch, who had outlaid less than half that amount to acquire Richmond in the first place.

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Eli Jellett was a hard man who had already established a reputation for shrewdness in his dealings both on and off the track.  Originally from Sussex in England, Jellett came to Adelaide at the age of four. Jellett belonged to that class of men – not uncommon on the racecourse in the nineteenth century – which combined some background in pugilism with a life on the Turf.  Jellett had both fought in the ring and ridden in steeplechases in Adelaide before moving across to the goldfields of Victoria in the late 1850s, although by the time he came there the best days of the rush were over.  Known as a fighting man, Jellett was more active in the betting ring than the boxing ring once he settled in Victoria, although he did fight a few battles with second-rate men in the field.  In the columns of ‘Bell’s Life,’ he argued incessantly with ‘Bill’ Cleghorn; each expressed their anxiety to meet under Queensbury rules for a suitable stake, but neither party was overburdened with backers. No fight ever materialised.  And Jellett was too shrewd a man to risk his own money on his tenuous boxing talent.

There were similar bluff and bluster to his athletic skills.  Eli fancied himself a little at running, and between races at an Adelaide meeting in 1875 he took on J. M. Christie for a race ‘once around the course’, the stake being £20 but old Eli caved in before half the journey had been put behind.  He had first captured the Turf headlines in 1867 when he ran Snip and B.A. at the Ballarat fixture winning a double including the Ballarat Handicap.  It was during that same meeting he was arrested in a drunken row and in his inebriated state had purportedly boasted of poisoning the racehorse Exile, just before the Ballarat Cup.  Although remanded on suspicion of the crime, Jellett recanted on becoming sober, and the prosecution was later dropped.  Now, with Richmond, his latest acquisition and ready-built stables at Flemington, Jellett was about to attract press coverage of an altogether more respectable nature.

Eli Jellett (T.A.)

Alas, the relationship between the new horse and trainer might have ended before it started when shortly afterwards Richmond slipped his lad at Flemington and broke away only to bolt into a paling fence.  A severe blister was applied to the horse’s shoulder, and to the day of his death he carried with him the resulting marks. The incident caused the horse to miss the rich autumn races.  Meanwhile, with Richmond hors de combat, his erstwhile stablemate Maid of All Work stepped out at Flemington and dominated the autumn meeting, easily winning both the Ascot Vale Stakes and the Sires’ Produce Stakes.  1875 marked the first time that the fixture had been held over three days instead of two and was an attempt by the club to redress some of the advantages that the Australian Jockey Club enjoyed at that time of the year.   The results of the major two-year-old events must have made James Wilson feel rather pleased with himself, convinced that he had retained the best of his juveniles while suffering no pangs of remorse at Richmond’s removal from St Albans. Maid of All Work was to finish the season with £2,637 in stakes, second only to Melbourne as the leading money winner.  Meanwhile, Richmond’s future seemed very much up in the air.

It wasn’t until the Maryborough and Carisbrook Race Meeting in mid-May that Richmond was able to resume racing.  Despite the benefit of five months in a grass paddock the son of Maribyrnong hadn’t grown much at all; although lengthy in the way great stayers often are, he was never to be much above pony height during his two and three-year-old days.  The race in question was a selling stake worth no more than £20.  Special conditions applied and it was possible to run a horse with the provision that he was not to be sold in the event of victory.  It seemed a most unlikely assignation for a prospective Derby colt but Jellett was a cunning man when it came to placing his horses; he already knew that he had a real live Derby chance in the son of Maribyrnong and the colt’s programme of modest engagements that winter was at times as much about deceiving those bookmakers betting pre-post on the classic, as getting the horse ready for the race itself.  After taking out the mile at Maryborough by twelve lengths, Richmond rounded out his two-year-old days with a couple of appearances at the Avoca and Geelong Winter Meetings where he earned some minor money.

Richmond’s appearance at Geelong at least proved that the Derby trip was well within his compass.  The race in question was a handicap over a mile-and-a-half and open to older horses.  Richmond hadn’t raced for six weeks and, looking a bit rough in the coat, he carried 6lb over his handicap weight but came with a rush at the finish to get second placing behind Onyx, a well-bred filly owned by Hurtle Fisher, and who would later win fame in the paddock as the mother of Nordenfeldt and Sardonyx.  The Geelong Winter Meeting wasn’t a particularly happy one for Eli Jellett as he also prepared Welshman to win the Hurdle in the hands of his son, only to lose the race when the boy weighed in light.  Jellett lost some nice bets on Welshman as a consequence, but at least had the satisfaction of knowing that earlier in the same week much of the Derby commission had gone on to Richmond at good prices that had seen the colt firm to the eighth line of betting. And nothing that happened at Geelong animated the stable with any desire to lay off the bets. Rather, Jellett and his associates continued to pile on more, despite the shortening price, as well as supporting Richmond to win the Melbourne Cup, for which he had 6 st. 3lb, or 1lb less than Maid of All Work.

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In the mid-1870s the legitimate flat-racing season was considered to commence with the Hawkesbury Racing Club meeting in early August and terminate with the May meeting in Adelaide.  For a time, the Hawkesbury meeting held great interest, and there was a good deal of betting on both the Guineas and the Grand Handicap outright, and in doubles with the Derby and Metropolitan at Randwick.  However, by around 1875 the Hawkesbury Guineas race had lost some of its attraction, and the majority of owners were declining to show their hand so early in the season.  In an acknowledgement that the meeting had perhaps been conducted prematurely in years gone by, the Hawkesbury club pushed it back a fortnight in 1875.

The change in timing suited Eli Jellett perfectly.  The wily Flemington trainer had brought Richmond, along with The Hook and a hurdler named Sir William Don, across to Sydney at the beginning of August on board the City of Adelaide and the colt, in particular, was already clocking excellent times on the training tracks. Taken to Hawkesbury for the Guineas, Richmond was beaten rather easily by George Hill’s Valetta colt, albeit in controversial circumstances.  A meal was made of the start on that occasion, and there was an attempt to recall the field after some fifty yards; all bar Tom Brown on the Valetta colt reined in their charges and just as they were so doing, to the surprise of most down went the front flag.  Brown went on with the job while the others were trying to regain their legs and the Valetta colt won by four lengths pulling up.  Richmond, with Hales up, tried desperately and managed to beat Robin Hood by a head for second place right on the line.  Eli Jellett enjoyed some compensation on the second day of the meeting when Richmond won the Mares’ Produce Stakes (10f) from two rather ordinary opponents.

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Hansom Cabs & Buggies Watch the Randwick Races c.1870-75 (SLNSW)

A very noticeable improvement at Randwick on Derby Day was the new saddling paddock, which had been enclosed at the rear of the Derby Stand by a high fence. A select field of eleven departed for the Derby start and the heavily-backed favourite was the handsome brown Valetta colt by Kingston, who was unnamed at the time of the Derby but was later registered as Malta.  Tom Brown had supervised his preparation for the race and again warmed the saddle.  The colt had been impressive late at the autumn meeting when, with plates discarded, he won both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and then the Nursery Handicap over the mile on the last day in a smart time, and carrying 8 st. 12lb into the bargain.  He might have won the Champagne Stakes on the first day, too, if his trainer hadn’t run him in shoes and George Hill, rather than Governor Robinson, would have had the felicity of standing two-dozen bottles of champagne for the A.J.C. committee.  As we have seen, the Valetta colt had confirmed his Derby rating in the Hawkesbury Guineas despite the hollow circumstances of the victory.

Randwick Racecourse in 1875 (SLNSW)

Richmond shared the second line of betting in the Derby with Valentia, one of two horses engaged in the race owned by the N.S.W. Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson. A strapping black horse with the profile and pedigree of a Derby colt, Valentia had won the Trial Stakes on the first day of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting and then ran second to his stablemate Hyperion in the Breeders’ Plate, although in so doing he easily beat Redwood and the Sylvia colt.  On the strength of those performances, he went to the post as a short-priced favourite for the Sires’ Produce Stakes in which he ran a disappointing fourth.  Valentia somewhat repaired his reputation when a good winner at the Maitland meeting of the Northern Jockey Club, of which his owner was the patron. Hyperion, the Governor’s second string for the Derby, had been the leading juvenile of his year.  His debut in the Maribyrnong Plate had not been a flattering one when he dislodged his jockey just after flagfall, but the colt had commenced his winning career at the Sydney Hunt Club Summer Meeting and then went on to take both the Champagne Stakes and Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick.  Hyperion had reigned as the Derby favourite throughout much of the winter although it was more on sufferance than any real faith that the colt could run a solid mile-and-a-half.

Randwick Racecourse c.1870-1875 (SLNSW)

Two other interesting runners in the race were Bullion and the Sylvia colt, which, though unnamed on Derby Day, would later that year be registered as Robin Hood. Bullion was out of the former Derby winner, Clove, and the colt carried the colours of the prominent Victorian Samuel Gardiner, who had leased him from his breeder, Judge Cheeke, while the latter travelled to England. The Sylvia colt was a full brother to the mighty Goldsbrough and was being prepared by Etienne de Mestre on behalf of Charles Fisher.  Still a maiden, the horse had disappointed in the autumn although some of de Mestre’s team hadn’t been fit for their engagements at that meeting due to the heavy flooding in the Shoalhaven district.  The horse had done enough in his work at Randwick in recent days, however, to suggest that he would not embarrass the family name this time around.

Randwick Racecourse c.1870-75 (SLNSW)

The 1875 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:

1875

Considering the disadvantage Mr Bowes the starter was under, due to a hunting accident, the field was dispatched to a good start.  However, just before they moved off, Ringwood kicked Valentia on the heel, and the incident may have hampered the latter’s chances.  Hyperion cut out the pace for his more fancied stablemate until about a half-mile from home when Valentia, Connaught, Richmond and the favourite all began to draw to the front.  O’Connor on Hyperion felt his colt weaken as they turned for home. He eased out a little, thus allowing Valentia up on the inside with Connaught at his quarter, while the Valetta colt and Richmond were coming fast.  A few strides on and Valentia was finished, and Richmond and the favourite settled down to fight it out.  In a wonderfully game final furlong, Richmond answered Hales’ every call and managed to beat the favourite by nearly a length in what was initially thought to be the fastest Derby ever run in Australia up to that time.  Valentia was a good third, and there was a considerable distance to the Sylvia colt in the fourth placing.  The winning time was officially given at 2 minutes 42.4 seconds although private watchers clocked a more conservative 2 minutes 45 seconds, and it was the latter time that subsequently came to be recognised.

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Richmond was the second winner of the Derby bred by Andrew Town of Hobartville and though that gentleman managed to lose a king’s ransom on expensive broodmares, the dam of Richmond, The Fawn, turned out to be one of his cheaper buys.  By a lucky dispensation of nature, she just happened to nick perfectly with Maribyrnong, and Richmond was merely the first of a string of very good racehorses she foaled at the Hobartville Stud to the resident stallion there over the years. From 1872 to 1884 The Fawn produced five colts and six fillies to Maribyrnong. Except for Palmyra, none of the fillies was much good, although a couple of them did prove useful at stud.  Rather, it was on her doughty sons that the reputation of The Fawn came to rest.  Three years after Richmond came the dual St Leger winner, Bosworth, and later those three brilliant juveniles, Palmyra, Segenhoe and Warwick.  All told her yearlings sold for an aggregate of 12,701 guineas, including, as we shall see in due course, Segenhoe who was sold to James White for the then fabulous price of 2000 guineas.

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The 1875 Derby was the first of the six victories that would eventually fall to Tom Hales, the man who would come to be the most successful jockey in the history of the race. He would ultimately retire from the saddle with the sobriquet of ‘the Australian Fred Archer’ – a reference to the great English jockey of the 19th century.  Born in Portland in the western district of Victoria, Hales was the second eldest in a family of ten, his father being a blacksmith of good Gloucestershire stock.  When Tom was very young, the family moved to South Australia, first settling in Penola and then moving on to Robe.  It was there when only thirteen years of age and weighing less than four stone that Tom rode his first race, winning a match for £50 on a horse named Euclid against another horse partnered by a well-known professional rider of the district.

It was an auspicious debut in the saddle, but, alas, Matt Hales strongly disapproved of his son pursuing a career as a professional jockey; the father warned the boy that ‘he would go to the dogs’ if he persisted in race riding.   But young Tom was no scholar, and the call of the wild was too strong to resist; Tom left home shortly afterwards and found work at Edward Stockdale’s station, Lake Hawden.  It was there that he properly made the acquaintance of that great sporting poet and dashing horseman, Adam Lindsay Gordon, whom Hales later called ‘the most competent horse breaker I ever saw’. Hales was a lifelong admirer of Gordon and many a good yarn he could spin of the riding deeds of “How We Beat the Favourite”.

Before he was out of his teens, Hales had won some races in the Mount Gambier district on the flat, over hurdles and across-country.  It was during his employment with Edward Stockdale that Hales went to Adelaide with a large draft of horses and on the trip down contracted a severe cold, which probably laid the foundation for asthma from which he suffered all his life.  After the horses were sold, Hales decided to try his hand as a jockey in the capital.  He got employment from that prominent sportsman Charles (C.B.) Fisher, for whom he broke in the Fisherman horse Smuggler, and won his first race on him in town on the Thebarton course in 1865.  It wasn’t until 1872 that the wealthy South Australian, T. J. Ryan, retained him and it was from this time forth that Hales dated his success in life.

Travelling to Victoria with the late Harry Tothill who trained for Ryan, Hales won the Ballarat Handicap and the V.R.C. Autumn Handicap on The Ace, an impressive son of the short-lived Ace of Clubs.  The pair then travelled north for the Randwick Autumn Meeting of 1872, and The Ace trumped the fields in the Cumberland Stakes, All-Aged Stakes and City Handicap; Hales also partnered Kingfisher when he won the Free Handicap.  Hales came in for a good deal of criticism in Sydney during that trip because of his short irons and close hold of the reins.  Genius, of course, is something apart and it often takes lesser mortals some time to absorb a new lesson.  As we have seen, Harry Tothill hadn’t been prepared to trust the young Hales with the mount on Benvolio in the 1873 Derby at Randwick, preferring the local navigational skills of Tom Brown. It hadn’t been until the next year that Hales picked up his first mount in the classic on Phil Glenister’s Buckingham.  1874 was very much a year of ‘have saddle will travel’ for Hales as he staked his claim as one of Australia’s leading jockeys.

Tom Hales (Racing Victoria)

It was that glorious but demanding 1875-76 season partnering Richmond, however, that afforded Hales his first real opportunity in the saddle. Richmond was a strong, wiry animal that well stood up to the rigours of the racecourse and was suited to Hales’ riding style.  On the third day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Richmond was again successful in the Mares’ Produce Stakes despite a 7lb penalty, and yet the merit of his Derby victory still hadn’t been recognised because again the Valetta colt was sent to the post at odds on to beat him.  If the sporting public had been a little slow to recognise the staying prowess of this son of The Fawn it became rather obvious at his next appearance, on the last day of the meeting in the weight-for-age Randwick Plate over three miles.  He measured strides with the great Kingsborough, our Derby hero of the previous year, and although odds of two to one had been laid on the older champion, at the end of the journey Richmond had twelve lengths to spare from the great gun, with Lurline a bad third.  The general public finally recognised that James Wilson had erred badly during the previous spring and that the Derby had been no fluke!

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Returned to Melbourne, Richmond was beaten a length in the Victoria Derby on soft ground by Robin Hood, who, in breaking his maiden status, credited the great Etienne de Mestre with his first training success in a classic.  Despite that defeat, the stable retained high hopes that Richmond could win the Melbourne Cup, run that year for the first time on what was to become the traditional Tuesday.  Tom Hales was unable to make the 6 st. 3lb of his handicap and Jellett gave the mount instead to the lightweight Williams.  Although Richmond ran a gallant second to Wollomai – beaten a couple of lengths – to the end of his days, Jellett regretted not declaring several pounds overweight and giving Hales the mount, convinced that the future champion would have made the difference.  On the fourth day of the Flemington Spring Meeting, Richmond stepped out to win the weight-for-age Canterbury Plate (18f) rather easily from the redoubtable Maid of All Work, much to the chagrin of the St Albans confederacy.

The Cup might have eluded Jellett, but he was determined that the Champion Race run at Flemington on New Year’s Day wouldn’t. Accordingly, as spring gave way to summer, Richmond’s workload wasn’t relieved, and he was kept up to the mark with two appearances at the Bendigo Spring Meeting, running second in both the Sandhurst Cup and Bendigo Handicap. After that excursion, Richmond enjoyed almost a month’s furlough.  Next came that famous Champion Race (3m), which for the first time was being conducted by the Victoria Racing Club (the previous four years Tasmania had hosted it) on its own account, and the club had added £2,000 to the stake. Under the conditions then pertaining, Richmond only had to carry 7 st. 1lb with the mighty five-year-old Goldsbrough giving him 36lb in weight.  Robin Hood went off as the favourite for the race but failed to see out the trip, and it was left to Goldsbrough and the ubiquitous Maid of All Work to fill the minor placings behind a gallant Richmond, who won easily in the fastest time ever recorded for that distance in Australia up to that time.  I might mention that later the same year, the club recast their weight-for-age scale, and in so doing, tacitly acknowledged the disproportionate advantage three-year-olds had enjoyed in the contest.

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Richmond followed up with three unbeaten appearances at the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting.  On the first day of the fixture, only five saddled up for the St. Leger with Robin Hood again preferred in the betting.  Richmond had to make his own running, but Hales showed great judgement on the little horse to win cleverly by a head from the St Albans filly, Maid of All Work.  There were suspicions that Richmond was feeling his suspect leg when he pulled up, but there were no signs of soreness on the following Thursday when he went to the post for the Australian Cup.  Many doubted that the little fellow could carry his 7 st. 13lb handicap to victory, but Hales brought him home in magnificent fashion to win by five lengths. On the last day, Richmond rounded out his commitments with an easy win in the Town Plate. Afterwards, there was much discussion in the racing press as to the respective merits of the little brown horse in comparison with the black demon, The Barb. And, all things considered given Richmond’s achievements, the comparison was no less flattering to The Barb.

Jellett now moved to take advantage of the euphoria swirling about his champion colt and decided to test the waters by submitting him to public auction at W. C. Yuille’s annual sale of tried thoroughbred horses at the Pastoral Hotel at Flemington on March 13th. There were very few buyers present and in almost every case where the crack horses were offered for competition, the bids did not come anywhere near the reserve prices put on the animals by their owners. Richmond was started at 1000 guineas and slowly offers were made for him until 2200 guineas were reached when his owner came to the rescue with a bid of 3000 guineas, at which price he was passed in. Among others, Goldsborough was put up for sale at the same auction. The first offer for him was only 1000 guineas and while bidding steadily advanced to 2050 guineas were reached, he was bought in for 2500 guineas, the lowest price that his owner would take for him. No offer was made at all for The Hook. Accordingly, Eli Jellett then set about loading his horses onto the City of Melbourne for a sea voyage to Sydney and the Randwick Autumn Meeting.  For a time, there had been some doubt about Richmond coming at all, given the swelling that had developed in his off-foreleg following upon his successful week at Flemington and the wild coastal weather around Port Phillip Bay.

That Richmond failed to win in his three appearances during the Randwick fixture is now a matter of history, but the manner of his defeats hardly detracted from his reputation.  Has there ever been a horse so unlucky to lose a St. Leger as Richmond was on his day? What business a mounted trooper had to be on the running track while a classic was being decided, was the question on everybody’s lips.  A stray dog had wandered onto the course, and a somewhat slow-witted constable took up the chase, badly miscalculating the speed at which the St Leger field was descending upon him as it rounded the last turn.  The trooper’s horse collided with both Richmond and Clifton, the result of which was that three horses fell and the trooper’s horse killed, although the constable himself and each of the jockeys escaped serious injury.

Richmond stayed on his legs, and Hales still managed to conjure an incredible finishing burst from him down the centre of the course that saw the pair go under to Robin Hood by a head, with the Valetta colt a further head away third.  It was nothing short of miraculous.  Indeed, there were some near the finish who maintained Richmond never failed at all, and that because he finished so close to the judge’s box, the judge’s vision was obscured.  It was the fastest St Leger run in the colonies up to that time.  I might add that the trooper was eventually suspended and ordered to take off his uniform, but that hardly appeased those wealthy souls who had supported Richmond so heavily at even money.  To them, it seemed just another instance of the bold outlaw, Robin Hood, again robbing the rich, albeit this time with the connivance of the authorities.

Nothing daunted, Richmond’s band of followers supported him into favouritism for the Sydney Cup three days later, despite being burdened with 8 st. 5lb and giving age to most of his rivals.  He could only manage fifth in the race won that year by the Etienne de Mestre-trained A. T. from Kingsborough and Neredah.  Robin Hood finished fourth in the contest, just a head in front of his great rival, but in receipt of 7lb.  A head separated the two horses again on the last day of the meeting when Hales, dictating in front on Richmond in a slowly-run A.J.C. Plate, Robin Hood came with a rush at the finish to collar him on the post, with Kingsborough scarcely a length away third.  Robin Hood thus came away from that week having finished in front of Richmond, albeit by narrow and controversial margins, in all of their three meetings.  It was a rather singular coincidence that each colt should have taken out both a Derby and St Leger with each sharing their spoils between Randwick and Flemington.

Despite the absence of a monopoly on the classics, few doubted which of the colts was the better.  After all, Richmond had been asked to race on no fewer than eighteen occasions during the season, yet had won nine, and failed to finish either first or second only once, that being in the Sydney Cup.  Jellett had even intended to campaign his champion colt at the Adelaide Cup Meeting later in the year until lameness ultimately forced his scratching.  Richmond proved a gold mine for Jellett during that season netting him £5,845 for his nine wins and thereby ensuring that he finished the racing year as leading owner.  It came as no surprise when the V.R.C. handicapper, Mr Barnard, allotted Richmond 8 st. 12lb for the Melbourne Cup – or two pounds more than Robin Hood when weights came out in mid-June.

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As it transpired the respective Cup weights of Richmond and Robin Hood proved academic; neither made it to the post in the race won by the three-year-old filly, Briseis.  Robin Hood was among those horses tragically drowned on board the City of Melbourne steamer as it headed for Melbourne after the 1876 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. At the time, the horse was prominent in Cup betting.  On the other hand, Richmond was a victim of the recurring lameness that had plagued him intermittently from his earliest days; as a four-year-old, his fetlock joints were heavily calloused.  In fact, Jellett only managed to get him to the post once during the next two seasons, that single outing being his unplaced effort in the 1877 V.R.C. Champion Race won by Pride of the Hills.  By then, Richmond had matured into an altogether bigger animal than in his three-year-old days and while he never stood much more than 15.2 hands high, he was strong and compact. The son of Maribyrnong boasted a very deep girth, with a short, powerful back, wonderfully sprung back ribs, wide well-arched loins, and long muscular quarters and thighs. Not the least noticeable feature of Richmond was his neat, intelligent head and he was a horse blessed with the most equable temper.

Given the outer training track at Flemington that year was as hard as a turnpike road, Jellett was compelled to confine Richmond to the tan. It was hardly the ideal preparation for such a demanding race as the Champion Race.  The horse laboured under the disadvantage of a split hoof even before he left the Flemington paddock and the injury only worsened as the event progressed.  As a six-year-old, Jellett managed to patch the old warhorse up for another crack at the Sydney Cup, but he was unwanted in the betting and unsighted in the race won by Savanaka, piloted by his former partner, Tom Hales.  Jellett then ventured across to Adelaide where Richmond won both the Queen’s Birthday Cup and the Town Plate.  In the latter event, his only rival was his full brother and stablemate, Bosworth, and Jellett had declared to win with Richmond.  It was to be the champion’s last flush of glory.

Richmond at Fulham Park (Adelaide Critic)

Although Richmond campaigned on for two more seasons, he was essentially a spent force.  The handicapper no longer held a high opinion and let him into the 1881 Sydney Cup with just 7 st. 2lb.  Richmond ran a decent race in it too. But for interference, he might have figured in the finish.  That autumn meeting marked his last hurrah, and shortly afterwards Jellett reported that the horse was lame all over. It was then that the redoubtable William Blackler stepped in and initially leased, and then ultimately purchased, Richmond for his nascent Fulham Park Stud.

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William Blackler

Oh! what memories are conjured up by the mention of William Blackler and his Fulham Park Stud for he was truly one of the pioneers of South Australian bloodstock! And how fortunate was Richmond to go there! Born at Newton Downs, Devonshire in 1827, Blackler had arrived in South Australia with his parents and four siblings aboard the Caroline way back in December 1838. Blackler’s father then took to farming at Unley. In March 1851, William Blackler was working as a barman at the Old Spot Hotel in Gawler when he decided to join the gold rush to Bendigo later that year. Moreover, he struck gold there and returned to Adelaide a wealthy man. He commenced hurdle racing and steeplechasing in 1854. Blackler used some of his money to acquire the Brittania Hotel, Port Adelaide, around 1863, after his brother Richard had taken over the Port Admiral Hotel in 1860. Blackler loved steeplechase riding as a young man and it was in 1868 that he bought 268 acres of grasslands and paddocks on the Henley Beach Road near the Reedbeds, where over time he proceeded to establish his famous Fulham Park Stud. It was Blackler who in 1869 revived the Adelaide Hunt Club, importing a pack of hounds from his brother in England.

Adelaide Hunt Club at John Newman’s The Brocas c. 1870

Later that same year in December, Blackler together with other like-minded sportsmen including Seth Ferry, George Church, and Gabriel and Henry Bennett, founded the Adelaide Racing Club, conducting events on the Old Adelaide Racecourse under a 21-year lease from the Adelaide City Council. The course, which was in the eastern city parklands, was eventually to be renamed Victoria Park in 1897, as part of Adelaide’s celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Victoria Park Racecourse c. 1890 (S.L.S.A.)

Victoria Park Racecourse c.1890 (S.L.S.A.)

It was in 1874 that Blackler booked a passage on the steamship Nubia for England, where he purchased the stallions Countryman and Winterlake, a yearling named Sir Edmund, and the broodmare Bridal Wreath, who all ultimately became the foundations of his Fulham Park Stud. Bill Shepherd, who was later to enjoy a long career as a trainer in South Australia, acted as the horses’ groom on the trip. Countryman, a son of Stockwell and a brother to Rustic, winner of the 1866 Prince of Wales Stakes, was first raced in England by Henry Chaplin and later by Sir George Chetwynd. The horse would go on to sire eight individual stakes winners at Fulham Park including The Assyrian, winner of the 1882 Melbourne Cup, although by the time that race was run, Countryman was dead. Winterlake was no failure either, getting two good gallopers in Isonomy (V.R.C. Melbourne Stakes; V.A.T.C. Caulfield Stakes) and Sandal (V.A.T.C. Caulfield Guineas, V.R.C. Essendon Stakes) before being destroyed after a serious disagreement. Finding that there were very few suitable broodmares available here, Blackler returned to England in 1876 and purchased nine mares and three foals including Instep, Serenity, Miss Heslop, Queen Consort, Miss Harriet, Norma, Success and Cameo.

In May 1880 William Blackler conducted his first yearling sales at the Henley Beach road property that he had named Fulham Park, and it was a practice that he continued for years thereafter. At that first sale, J. H. Parr officiated as the auctioneer and about a hundred gentlemen interested in racing found their way there. The bidding was poor and only six lots changed hands for a relatively paltry aggregate of  710 guineas although among the buyers was Eli Jellett who secured Queen of the Lake for 35 guineas. Blackler was one of those studmasters that named his yearlings even before they were sold. The abolition of the totalisator in South Australia had strangled racing financially and disappointing returns plagued those early yearling sales at Fulham Park. I don’t think that Blackler ever sold a yearling there for more than 500 guineas although it was a price that was realised on more than one occasion. By the time the first of the Richmonds came along to be sold, Blackler resolved to take a number of them to Melbourne to be auctioned through Yuille and Company although even in the Victorian colony the prices remained disappointing. When Blackler finally realised that he could not get from buyers what he considered fair prices for his yearlings, he decided that he would race many of them himself, either in his own name or as a lessor.

The timing of Blackler’s initial lease of Richmond in early September 1882 coincided with the death of Countryman, who fell down and died after serving the mare Miss Heslop at Fulham Park. The cause of death was probably the bursting of a blood vessel in either the heart or brain, as the horse when he fell, merely gave one short scream and died within a few seconds. I might add that Countryman’s beautiful golden skin was preserved and William Blackler Jr for years thereafter wore a portion of it as a waistcoat. Blackler Sr needed a replacement for Countryman post-haste, and he managed to secure Richmond on lease from Eli Jellett, who sailed for Adelaide with the stallion in a matter of days. Earlier in the season, Sam Cook’s broodmare Zenobia had dropped a handsome chestnut foal, the first of the progeny of Richmond, and thus there was no question as to the stallion’s potency.

At the time, Blackler looked upon the son of Maribyrnong as a stop-gap measure only, fully intending to procure a proper replacement for Countryman from England in due course. However, Richmond was to prove himself a most worthy stallion at Fulham Park and soon after the first of his progeny hit the ground, Blackler paid £1,000 plus the choice of a foal to convert the stallion’s lease into outright ownership. Blackler wasn’t always so patient with his stallions. Winterlake, for example, only had a brief career at Fulham Park and he was destroyed before his worth had been established with the likes of Sandal and Isonomy. Winterlake by no means possessed such an angelic temperament as Richmond and the horse often clashed with Blackler, who, at times, could be rather short in the grain. Blackler and Winterlake were at cross purposes one day, and the disagreement was settled with a gun. Such was life in our pioneering studs.

The relationship between Richmond and Blackler was an entirely different proposition. The best son of Maribyrnong ever to win races, it was hardly surprising that he was such a notable success at stud. Besides, as the resident stallion at Fulham Park, he enjoyed access to all of those high-class English mares and their daughters. Richmond would never have received those same opportunities at stud in Victoria or N.S.W., as his three or four unsuccessful years on the Turf had caused people to forget his truly brilliant achievements before he was galloped off his legs.  It was with the progeny of the imported British mare Instep and particularly through her daughter Footstep by Countryman, that Richmond made his most significant mark getting that splendid set of brothers The Admiral, Port Admiral and Fleet Admiral. Not only did The Admiral win both a V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate and Victoria Derby but at stud, he sired a number of good horses himself including the 1902 Melbourne Cup winner, The Victory.

Other notable stock sired by Richmond included Sainfoin (Caulfield Cup), Richelieu (V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes) and Broken Hill (Australian Cup). If for no other reason the name of Richmond would be cherished because he sired that wonderful broodmare  Aura, the dam of Auraria, Aurum and Aurous and the ancestress of Desert Gold, Gold Rod, Nigger Minstrel and a host of other celebrities. All told, Richmond went on to sire 14 individual stakes winners of 27 stakes races and all bar one were sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of that happy band of broodmares that Blackler bought in England in 1876. For several years Richmond was well up in the list of winning stallions, his most successful year being 1893-94 when his stock won £5,744. He was always sparingly used at Fulham Park and towards the end was kept almost exclusively for Footstep and two or three other mares.

William Blackler was a significant figure in Adelaide racing for many years. Apart from his bloodstock breeding ventures and his interest in the Adelaide Racing Club, he was also responsible for inaugurating the Adelaide Tattersall’s Club which he did after first taking over the licence for the Globe Hotel in Rundle-street in August 1878. It proved a popular meeting place for sportsmen. Not that he held the licence there for long as the demands for his time at Fulham Park proved too much for both activities. It was in June 1891 that Blackler attempted to sell the Fulham Park Stud and other freehold properties, valued at £65,000, on the art union principle but ultimately the lottery was undersubscribed and had to be abandoned. William Blackler died at his residence in June 1896 in his sixty-ninth year after catching a cold that quickly developed into pneumonia. The great Richmond outlived his last master but only by some eighteen months for in January 1898 at the ripe old age of twenty-six and failing, he was destroyed by John Horsley, who some forty years later was managing Fulham Park after the property had passed into the possession of Sir Sidney Kidman.

The Original Fulham Park Stables (Adelaide Critic)

Sale of Horses at Fulham Park (Adelaide Observer)

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I began this chapter by observing how uncharacteristic it was of the St Albans stable to let a colt like Richmond slip through their hands.  Curiously enough, the episode was repeated just a few seasons later with his younger brother, Bosworth, and Eli Jellett was again the lucky man.  Herbert Power had purchased Bosworth as a foal for 600 guineas and had him trained at St Albans until Jellett stepped in and bought him as a tried horse for 1000 guineas.  Many considered Bosworth well sold at that price, but he proved just a little inferior to his older brother when in Jellett’s hands he won both St Legers and the V.R.C. Town Plate as well as running placings in a Champion Race and Australian Cup.  Some sportsmen believed Bosworth should have beaten Savanaka in that Australian Cup but for the manner in which he fought his jockey, Billy Yeomans, from start to finish.

Yeomans could be a severe man on juveniles and to win the Normanby Stakes when riding Bosworth he had stopped at nothing.  The colt never forgot the hiding and when Yeomans sprang to the stirrups in the Australian Cup, Bosworth knew him at once and fought and fretted like a mad horse.  Jellett deemed it advisable to get another rider after running second for a fortune.  Although never the success at stud that Richmond was, Bosworth did get a Caulfield Cup winner in Boz.  Jellett’s talent for training was beyond question, and with a small team, he often bested his so-called professional rivals.  The day that he won the St. Leger at Randwick with Bosworth, he took out the Doncaster as well with The Hook.

The fact was that Jellett was prepared to pay big money for the best bloodstock with which to work; The Hook was a good example, being a half-brother to the Derby winners, Charon and Benvolio, while King of Clubs, a half-brother to Angler and Fishhook was another.  Despite the Doncaster win both of these colts proved expensive failures. Although Eli Jellett would win the Adelaide Birthday Cup many years later with Royal Master, and the V.A.T.C. Autumn Cup with Lord Richmond, his most celebrated moments on the Turf came with those two full brothers out of The Fawn.  Eli Jellett died in Geelong in May 1911 at the age of 76; his will was proved at £17,088 – a sum that showed his years on the Turf hadn’t been wasted.

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5 Comments

  1. Gina Gardner

    Wonderful article. Eli is my great great great grandfather, I just so happened to google his name and found this article. Thank you for the interesting history!

    • Ian Ibbett

      Thanks, Gina. I always appreciate feedback such as yours!

    • Chris

      I agree Ian, fantastic article
      Hello Gina, Eli or Ely, was the brother of my 4th time great grandfather. Looks like we are distantly related!

  2. Josephine

    Excellent article.
    Eli Jellett is my great great grandfather.
    I have researched my family history and the amazing stories I have come across. Thank you.
    Would you know where I would be able to source any photos or prints of Richmond with Tom Hales. I can’t seem to find any, I am sure there would be portraits of them.

    • Ian Ibbett

      Hi Josephine,
      Thanks for the feedback on the website. As far as photographs of Richmond are concerned, I don’t believe that any would exist. Reproduction of racehorse photographs in the newspapers only started to occur in Australia during the early-mid 1890s. The best ones were published in the better weekly newspapers where the superior quality of the paper that was used meant that the portraits reproduced better. I refer to the likes of The Australasian and the Sydney Mail, which were produced in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. Alas, Richmond was racing in the mid-1870s and while there may have been lithograph drawings made of him, I’m not aware that any have survived. As for Tom Hales, I don’t suspect that you’ll get a better photograph of him that the one available at the Australian Racing Museum. I hope that helps.

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