No man has stood higher on the Australian Turf than Etienne de Mestre did after Chester’s Victoria Derby – Melbourne Cup double success in the spring of 1877. It was his fourth Melbourne Cup – he had owned his previous winners – and in landing the rich double, de Mestre had won a fortune in wagers. What more, then, could any man want from the Turf? The answer: to own a world-class thoroughbred-breeding establishment at Terrara on the banks of the Shoalhaven River. It was something he had coveted for years, having prepared horses on behalf of some of the most successful breeders in the land. Now he wanted to do it for himself. Ambition, Shakespeare tells us, is the sin by which the angels fell, and it was de Mestre’s vaulting ambition to not only own and train, but also to breed the great classic and Cup winners, that would sow the seeds of his own tragic fall. But I get ahead of myself. Who was this man that by 1877 had climbed to such a pinnacle and how had he got there?
Born in Sydney in April 1832, de Mestre was the third son of a Sydney merchant of French Huguenot descent, Prosper de Mestre, who arrived in Australia as a 25-year-old superintendent of cargo aboard the three-masted Magnet in April 1818. Initially setting himself up as an import merchant of tea before moving into shipping and whaling, Prosper maintained stores near the old Tank Stream in Pitt-street. In March 1821 Prosper married Mary Ann Black of Macquarie Place, daughter of a merchant seaman and a transported felon, and the marriage was to produce ten children. It was in 1824 that Governor Brisbane first promised a land grant of thirteen hundred acres to Prosper de Mestre on the southern shore of the Shoalhaven River, but it would be twelve frustrating years before the title deeds to the thirteen hundred acres were eventually received. Prosper named the property ‘Terar’ and constructed a homestead, Mill Bank House, some outbuildings and stockyards.
The 1840s were hard times in the colony of New South Wales as the cost of imports multiplied and the value of exports shrunk. Banks and loan houses crashed and Prosper de Mestre’s estate was put under sequestration; but for his wife being a creditor of the estate and having priority over other claimants, de Mestre would have been declared bankrupt. As it was, less than a year later as the struggle for solvency exacted its toll, the patriarch of the family died at Terar in September 1844. The rapid decline in family fortunes saw the widow Mary Ann, together with her growing family, complete the relocation from Sydney to the Shoalhaven farm, which until then had been conducted mainly along hobby lines. It was Mary Ann and her two oldest sons, Prosper junior and Andre, who proceeded to develop the property as trade recovered, selling off sub-divided allotments alongside the Shoalhaven River to finance the improvement of the dairy farm.
Terrara House in due course became a rambling colonial residence built of brick and weatherboard with wide, comfortable verandahs and dormer windows protruding across the jagged roofline. Towering oak and elm trees stood sentinel on the long entrance drive from the Southern Road. In time a village named Terrara (changed to Terrara in 1935) began to develop around the de Mestre landholdings. A wharf was constructed around 1850 able to accommodate coastal steamers, and in 1856 a steam-driven flour mill was completed on the de Mestre estate. At this time the burgeoning village of Terrara was the most significant settlement in the area, a state of affairs that lasted until 1870 when record floods destroyed much of the town and saw an exodus to Nowra, two miles further west.
From his early boyhood, it was on the ‘Terar’ property that the young Etienne first demonstrated a natural affinity with horses, and by the age of fifteen local lore had it that the lad managed to win a good race at Bathurst on one of his own mounts, Sweetheart. Etienne attended Sydney College, and it was there that he befriended Tom Roberts of Jembaicumbene near Braidwood, whose family owned the Exeter Farm, a connection that was to prove crucial as Etienne’s career unfolded. (Jembaicumbene it must be said came to exercise an undue influence on the development of the Australian Turf quite disproportionate to its size. Not only was it the home of this T. J. Roberts but it was to be the birthplace of another, more famous ‘T.J.’ over a half-century later.)
It was at Terrara in the early 1850s that Etienne and his brother Andre entered into a partnership and leased a portion of the estate from their mother to set up the first stud and stables close to the family homestead, Terrara House. By December 1856 not only the stables but a makeshift training track had been completed. Annual race meetings began in the Shoalhaven district in the early 1850s and the first record of Etienne de Mestre training and riding a winner comes in 1855 courtesy of a three-year-old bay gelding named Lottery. He brought the horse to Homebush later that same year for the A.J.C.’s annual race meeting, which was staged in 1855 under the auspices of George T. Rowe, newly appointed Secretary of the A.J.C. and future father-in-law of Etienne.
The young de Mestre soon won the respect of the South Coast sportsmen, and many of the Monaro squatters brought their horses to him to train. In 1857 at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting conducted at Liverpool, de Mestre rode George Rowe’s Planet to win the Liverpool Club’s Members’ Plate. The first race of real importance to come his way as a trainer was with Veno in the international Champion Challenge, run in Melbourne for the first time in 1859, and it was again George Rowe, who owned the horse, which defeated Andrew Chirnside’s famous mare, Alice Hawthorne. Those were the days of single matches: horse against horse, for private wagers involving large sums, and Rowe, the Squire of the Edensor Park estate near Liverpool, backed his horse for £1,000 aside each time. Veno and de Mestre were active participants at the first race meeting conducted at the rejuvenated Randwick course in the autumn of 1860, following the extended Homebush interlude.
In July 1861 came the death of Etienne’s mother, Mary Ann, after a prolonged illness at the age of sixty, with the result that the Terrara estate was divided equally among her ten children. Given the twenty-year dispersion in their respective ages, their shares were either leased from the trustees of the estate or held in trust. In due course, as his racecourse successes multiplied and his siblings died or moved on, Etienne, with the assistance of an overdraft from the City Bank of Sydney, was to buy out his brothers and sisters and take over most of the Terrara holdings in his own right. Among the sportsmen attracted to de Mestre’s remarkable horsemanship in these early days were Rowland Hassall and Tom Roberts of Exeter Farm, Braidwood. Roberts, the old schoolmate of de Mestre, was responsible for sending him a string of high-quality horses over the years including Archer, Exeter, Tim Whiffler and Stumpy.
The last-named ran second to The Barb in the Sydney Cup but was initially sent to de Mestre as a hack, which gives some idea of the quality of the Exeter Farm bloodstock in those days. When de Mestre first came to Randwick, he would stable his team of horses at the old Half-way House, and his horses took up most of the stabling accommodation there. George Donnelly did much of his riding in those days, and George later married the proprietor of the Half-way House. Along with the horses, de Mestre would bring a retinue of retainers – mostly Shoalhaven aboriginals. The Sydney sporting public began to realise that in de Mestre a remarkable man had appeared among them. The winners started to come in ever-greater numbers, and de Mestre honed his training technique to perfection as he gathered confidence in his own powers.
Responsibility and ambition at such a young age extract a price in their own manner; de Mestre, a singularly handsome man, went prematurely grey before he had even reached the age of thirty-five. With Archer, whom he not only trained but leased as well, de Mestre won the first two runnings of the Melbourne Cup and might have won the third even with 11 st. 4lb but for the V.R.C. officials refusing his telegraphed acceptance for the race because it purportedly arrived too late. The cause of the confusion was the falling of a Victorian public holiday on the last day of nominations. In those days of raw parochialism that existed between the two colonies bordering the Murray, the rejection of the nomination became something of a cause celebre in the popular sporting journals. At the time, de Mestre claimed that he would never race in Melbourne again, but it was an avowal from which he soon relented, winning the Cup for a third time with Tim Whiffler in 1867. But for all his success in winning rich handicaps, up to 1877 de Mestre had failed to land the A.J.C. Derby – although as we have seen with Chester, he was unfortunate not to do so. Ironically, it was Chester’s Victoria Derby/Melbourne Cup double that provided the means of realising this unfulfilled ambition.
De Mestre had become closely associated with the brothers, Hurtle and Charles Fisher, particularly the latter. It was Charles who in 1873 bought all of the Maribyrnong yearlings offered by George Petty (the following year he purchased the entire stud) and instead of giving them wholly to William Filgate to train, placed a number of the valuable youngsters in de Mestre’s hands including Robin Hood, Burgundy and Sovereign. Robinson Crusoe had run poorly as a juvenile at the 1875 V.R.C. Spring Meeting – as we have seen from a previous chapter, and Charles Fisher ultimately passed him over to de Mestre to train as well. Such was the calibre of this stock that when Fisher decided to relinquish his ownership of the Maribyrnong Stud for the second and last time on December 31st, 1877, the Master of Terrara with swaddles of cash from Chester’s triumphs saw his opportunity. The sale was probably the most important in Australia up to that time and included sixty-seven broodmares, thirty-seven with foals at foot; stallions such as The Marquis, Fireworks and Angler; and all of the horses in training. Only a few weeks earlier, Fisher had held a sale of all his yearlings at which de Mestre had been active.
In all, this second sale which took place on Fisher’s Cumberland estate realised more than £50,000 and de Mestre was one of the most significant buyers in the two hundred or so that attended proceedings. One of the biggest sensations of the day was when Rose of Denmark was sold with a chestnut colt at foot sired by Fireworks for 2050 guineas to de Mestre. But that was by no means his only extravagance. Other lots he acquired included Cocoanut (1200 guineas), Ragpicker (1000 guineas), Beatrice (800 guineas), Dagmar with a foal by The Marquis (1400 guineas), the aged Nightlight (200 guineas), and Sunshine with a colt foal by Fireworks (1600 guineas). He also bought the young stallion, Piscator, a half-brother to both Maribyrnong and King of the Ring, for 1000 guineas. Not all the bids were in de Mestre’s name, but many were.
At the time many people believed that he was merely buying in on behalf of Charles Fisher, but they could not have been more mistaken. De Mestre left the mares in Melbourne until the following June when he returned personally to oversee their overland journey to Terrara. The foals were kept in Melbourne five months longer and as yearlings were transported to Terrara for breaking-in only after the 1878 V.R.C. Spring Meeting. I might add that racehorses were not all that de Mestre gained when Charles Fisher sold up. One of Fisher’s most valued employees at the Maribyrnong Stud had been Gregory Wilson, a qualified veterinary surgeon well-respected about the environs of Flemington, and in 1878 he came across to Terrara. It began an association with de Mestre that would prove mutually beneficial to each and would last until de Mestre retired from active bloodstock management in 1886. The stable’s successes in that memorable year of 1878 were in no small measure due to the talents of Gregory Wilson.
The course of de Mestre’s breeding adventures will be chartered in a later chapter, but our immediate concern here lies not with the broodmares and foals he acquired, but rather with his most expensive purchase from the current racing stock of Charles Fisher. This was a two-year-old colt named His Lordship, the favourite and runner-up for the Maribyrnong Plate the previous month. A fine style of a racehorse by The Marquis from Beatrice, the colt was not blessed with the best of legs but did boast two strains of Stockwell blood in his pedigree as a result of a calculated piece of inbreeding on the part of Charles Fisher. At 1800 guineas he wasn’t a cheap buy, but de Mestre was in a more privileged position than most to appreciate the colt’s racing potential.
Joe Morrison had trained the youngster for his Maribyrnong Plate engagement from his Williamstown stables, and de Mestre had stabled his own team for that V.R.C. meeting at the same establishment. Indeed, de Mestre had saddled up the winner, Vulcan, and the third place-getter, Roodee, Chester’s younger brother, for the same race. That particular Maribyrnong Plate – for which twenty-eight juveniles stepped out – the largest field of two-year-olds to start in Australia up to that time, was widely regarded as the finest contest of its kind with only a matter of heads separating the three place-getters. When de Mestre shipped his newly begotten acquisitions back to Terrara, he was secure in the knowledge that he now had arguably the best three juveniles in the land.
In the autumn His Lordship proved beyond question that he was the best colt of his year. On the opening day of the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting in the Ascot Vale Stakes, somewhat surprisingly both his stablemate Roodee and Bosworth were preferred in the betting. Bosworth was a younger brother to Richmond, although lacking the substance of Eli Jellett’s champion. As with Richmond, Andrew Town had bred him, and while only a foal he had been sold to James Wilson for Herbert Power at a price of six or seven hundred guineas with Wilson stipulating that he was to be delivered to him when six months old. Bosworth had created a big impression at the New Year’s Day Meeting when he won the Two-Year-Old Stakes and, despite having to carry a 5lb penalty, on the strength of that performance was installed as the favourite over the two colts from Terrara. But Bosworth proved both fractious at the start and erratic in the running, and in the end, His Lordship, sporting the colours of C.B. Fisher for one last time, ran out a comfortable winner over Roodee.
Perhaps it was just as well that His Lordship won; after all, he did have a family tradition to uphold. His granddam Lady Heron had won the same race in 1864, his aunt, Seagull, likewise in 1865, while in 1871 his dam Beatrice had done the trick. But on the following Thursday, the second day of the Flemington meeting, His Lordship managed something that had eluded even those close relatives when he won the Sires’ Produce Stakes as well. On that occasion, he again beat his stablemate Roodee in a common canter, although the latter betrayed signs of lameness after the race. His Lordship’s double saw de Mestre pocket almost £2,000 from the meeting. It was a dominance repeated at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting when His Lordship narrowly beat Bosworth in the Champagne Stakes on opening day after the latter had again proved intractable in the running, while in the Sires’ Produce Stakes, the son of The Marquis was untroubled by his only two rivals. However, Bosworth did gain a measure of revenge over His Lordship in the Breeders’ Plate when he beat his nemesis by a head.
The 1878 A.J.C. Derby attracted very little betting activity in the months leading up to the race. Except for Bosworth, which was not expected to journey up from Melbourne, on the disclosed form the Terrara stable appeared to hold a mortgage on the race. When Bosworth’s name was struck from the list of entries in early August, it seemed to be only a matter of which of the de Mestre string – His Lordship, Roodee or Vulcan had progressed most during the winter. The Hawkesbury fixture in August was expected to provide a guide as to the stable’s intentions. De Mestre had been preparing his team on the Clarendon course since late June, and until a day or two before the race for the Guineas, it was given out that His Lordship was a doubtful starter; and consequently, Roodee was in demand.
However, on Tuesday night, the stable money came for the son of The Marquis and eventually Roodee was held over until the Mares’ Produce Stakes run on the second day of the meeting. His Lordship had grown and thickened since the autumn, although his tail had been shortened and thinned which partially spoilt his appearance. The colt got away badly in the Guineas but came through untroubled in the end to beat the Governor’s filly, Emily. Tom Hales protested on behalf of Sir Hercules Robinson, against Pigott on the winner for alleged jostling in the running, but the stewards were quick to dismiss the complaint. Roodee, who was booked a certainty for the Produce Stakes on the following day, could only manage second placing and eased markedly in Derby betting with His Lordship then assuming a virtual mortgage on the blue riband.
De Mestre’s team arrived at Randwick only a week before the spring meeting was scheduled. There was a distinct lack of excitement in the air at the prospect of the fixture due to the absence of a Victorian contingent, the dominance of the de Mestre stable, and the wet and cold weather. Only three horses accepted for the blue riband – His Lordship and Vulcan from Terrara, and Woodlawn – a poorly performed son of Barbarian, which had failed twice at Hawkesbury but whose owner sportingly accepted to avoid a de Mestre monopoly. De Mestre had reserved his other Derby colt, Roodee, for the Epsom Handicap instead – the last race on the programme. Joe Morrison, who had come up from Victoria, renewed his partnership in the saddle with His Lordship, while Tom Brown gained the mount on Vulcan. Although Vulcan’s early two-year-old form had suggested that he might develop into a Derby colt, his performances after that memorable Maribyrnong Plate had been disappointing. An imposing specimen but a good deal inbred, Vulcan was a difficult horse to train; his joints had been blistered in the autumn, and his feet – like those of many of the Yattendon family – were troublesome.
The 1878 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The crowd of around five or six thousand people regarded the race with indifference, particularly when the notification appeared announcing that de Mestre had declared to win with His Lordship and odds of 1/10 were put up. The dull and leaden canopy of clouds under which the race was conducted seemed to match the public mood perfectly. Perhaps the only bright note came from Henry Payten, who was making his first attempt as the starter and his performance with the flag was enough to suggest that the club had at last secured someone capable of discharging the role with credit. The contest for the Derby proved to be little better than a farce. Vulcan cut out the early running from His Lordship, who pulled very hard for the first five furlongs. Shortly after that Morrison rushed the favourite to the front. Though there was a frisson of excitement among the crowd when Woodlawn drew close to the Terrara pair coming to the bend, it was on sufferance only. Once in the straight, His Lordship, exhibiting all the noblesse oblige of one of his exalted breeding, gained the laurels over his stablemate without anything like the semblance of a struggle.
The son of The Marquis only made one other appearance at the meeting, and that came on the rain-postponed third day in the Mares’ Produce Stakes when once again de Mestre declared for him ahead of Vulcan; and again, the pair ran the quinella in the expected order. A measure of de Mestre’s mastery at this stage of his career is afforded by his training performance at that 1878 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. There were twenty races over the four days of the fixture – five races each day – but if we eliminate the two jumps events for which de Mestre didn’t prepare horses, eighteen races were available to trainers on the flat. De Mestre won no fewer than nine of them. The Epsom Handicap, however, eluded him when Roodee was just collared in the last two strides by the year-older Viscount to which he was conceding not just age but 8lb as well.
His Lordship’s victory in the Derby was jockey Joe Morrison’s third success in the race following upon winning mounts on Charon (1869) and Robinson Crusoe (1876). It seemed fitting that the man who first trained His Lordship and who rode the colt in each of his six juvenile starts partnered him in the blue riband. Born in Falkirk, Scotland, in 1839 the son of an innkeeper, Morrison had learnt basic horsemanship from his father who kept some horses at his hostelry. He served his apprenticeship with various masters before joining John Holliwell’s stables at Gullane in the mid-fifties where he rode for among others, Lord Cardross and Sir James Boswell. Bold and daring, Morrison rode successfully on the Continent for the likes of Comte Prado and Comte Lagrange before a young man’s love of adventure brought him to Melbourne in April 1859 to join in the gold rush. A fellow Scotsman, Robert Hamilton, was then a trainer here and he helped Morrison first find his irons in his newly adopted land.
It was after he won the 1860 V.R.C. St. Leger on Flying Buck for William Yuille that Morrison came to notice. In 1861 he won the Flemington Derby on Camden for Phillip Dowling but the following month broke his arm when his mount Despatch fell during the running of the first Melbourne Cup. When Morrison recovered, he resumed his association with Dowling in whose maroon jacket he caught the judge’s eye in a series of significant victories on the likes of Falcon, Frolic and Panic. It was in May 1866 that he first entered the service of Hurtle Fisher, and afterwards his brother Charles, and, as we have seen, he managed to sport the colours of each to victory in the Derby at Randwick as well as a host of other classics and rich handicaps in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Morrison’s acquaintance with the Fishers, which began to their mutual benefit with his riding their racehorses, soon ripened into a deep friendship. In May 1868 Morrison purchased the six-acre paddock alongside the Racecourse Hotel at Flemington and erected a range of loose boxes and a house from where he proceeded to train successfully for some years while at the same time remaining a jockey. Morrison only won the Melbourne Cup once, that being on Warrior in 1869, but from the winnings, the canny Scotsman bought ever more land at Flemington, to set himself up for life. Alas, it was another Melbourne Cup ride – that on Chester in 1878 when he cannoned into the running rail and broke his leg – that eventually ended Morrison’s career in the saddle and ultimately his life.
For a considerable time, Morrison trained Charles Fisher’s string of racehorses, initially at his Flemington stables, and later at Williamstown, after Fisher had purchased the lease on that racecourse from Phillip Dowling in January 1876. Fisher constructed a comfortable cottage there for his trainer and extended the number of horse boxes. The relative solitude of Williamstown proved an advantage, and for a time the training grounds were superior to Flemington, but when Fisher went out of the game to again go a roving, Morrison returned to his own comfortable cottage and capacious boxes at Headquarters. He neither wanted for clients nor victories as he went about his business in his quiet and unostentatious manner.
For William Pearson he won a Champion Stakes and other good races with Commotion as well as taking the Newmarket with Hyacinth; for Samuel Martin, he won many races including that remarkable domination with Reginald at the 1885 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. It was in August 1889 that Joe Morrison entered a Melbourne hospital to have his broken leg reset as a result of calcification and increasing pain. What was intended to be a routine operation – if any nineteenth-century operation could be described as routine – went awry and the 50-year-old Morrison died a few days later. He left a large family well provided for as his will was proved at £13,330. One of his sons, ‘HJ’, was also successful as a jockey – for a time acting as the first rider for W. R. Wilson when he was the Squire of St Albans.
The success of His Lordship in the Derby again served to focus the attention of breeders on his sire. The Marquis was one of two distinguished sons of Stockwell standing in Australia at the time – the other being Gang Forward – and curiously enough each of them had won the English Two Thousand Guineas before finishing runner-up in the English Derby, albeit in Gang Forward’s year by sharing the position. Unbeaten in five starts in a two-year-old season which included the Champagne Stakes, The Marquis matured into the best three-year-old in England, for after winning the Guineas and being only narrowly beaten into second placing at Epsom when favourite by Caractacus, he went on to win the English St. Leger at Doncaster. The Marquis only started once more – at the Newmarket Craven Meeting as a four-year-old – when an injury prompted his retirement. Much was expected when he went to stud in the old country but in a few seasons there he proved disappointing, although he only stood at a small public house near York and received neither so many nor such choice mares.
The Marquis was readily sold to Messrs Dakin when they made an offer, and in turn, Frank and his brother brought him over when they immigrated here. Australians were at least familiar with the horse’s breeding, for he was a three-quarter brother to the famous Maribyrnong matron, Rose of Denmark. Another half-brother, The Peer, was already doing stud service in New Zealand. When The Marquis landed in Melbourne in late August 1871, his appearance was derided, but George Petty saw enough to acquire him from the Dakin brothers for his Maribyrnong Stud. He was well patronised there too, though not during his first season as he did not arrive until late in the year. Although no oil painting, his breeding and performances carried weight, and amongst those who used the stallion during his second season, were the Messrs Chirnside who sent Spa to him, with the happy result being Newminster. Ultimately, however, The Marquis came to be regarded as unworthy of the quality mares that Petty and Maribyrnong provided. He was moved on and died in Victoria in October 1886.
Beatrice, the dam of His Lordship, had been bred by Charles Fisher at the Maribyrnong Stud in 1868 and was got by Stockowner, a son of Stockwell that Hurtle Fisher had bought in England and left to race there, albeit with little repute. Stockowner was eventually brought over to Australia in the hope that he might replace Fisherman after he had died, but Stockowner only managed a couple of crops before snapping a leg and subsequently dying of inflammation. Lady Heron, the dam of Beatrice, was a daughter of the imported Omen, one of the chosen in the harem that accompanied Fisherman on his journey to Australia. A smart galloper, Lady Heron carried Hurtle Fisher’s red and black stripes with distinction, winning among other races at Flemington, the Ascot Vale Stakes and Victoria Oaks.
Beatrice was her first foal and inherited all of her ability, also winning the Ascot Vale Stakes at her debut at the 1871 V.R.C. Autumn Meeting before being brought across to Sydney where her best performance came in running second to her stablemate, Hamlet, in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. Acquired by George Petty, Beatrice only started once the following season – in Javelin’s A.J.C. Derby in which she was pulled up; after that, she was retired to the stud. Apart from His Lordship, Beatrice also managed to throw His Grace the following season after again being mated with The Marquis, a colt that emulated his brother by winning the A.J.C. Mares’ Produce Stakes. De Mestre acquired Beatrice when Charles Fisher sold out of Maribyrnong, but as with many of the broodmares he bought at that time, fortune failed to smile on her subsequent progeny.
The hollowness of His Lordship’s Derby win had done nothing to dispel doubts as to his genuine staying ability, and few of the stock by The Marquis had been able to get over much ground. Nonetheless, after Bosworth was struck out of the Victoria Derby only days before the race, it was assumed that there was nothing left in the field at Flemington within a stone of the Sydney crack. How wrong they were when at the prohibitive odds of five to one on, two superior stayers in Wellington and Warlock humbled His Lordship. Such was the defeat that there seemed no point in de Mestre pursuing a start in the Melbourne Cup with the three-year-old, who was handicapped on 7 st. 4lb – more weight than any three-year-old had ever carried to victory, and 6lb more than Chester did the year before.
His Lordship might have forsaken an appearance in the Melbourne Cup but there was no shortage of other three-year-olds willing to try that year including Warlock, Emily, Pride of the Vale, Wellington and Melita. Indeed, Melita, a chestnut mare by the imported horse Tim Whiffler out of the 1871 V.R.C. Oaks winner, Formosa, handicapped on just 5 st. 7lb, had been a long-time favourite for the race. Melita’s market dominance that year certainly wasn’t based on disclosed form and said much about the mystique of James Wilson’s St Albans stable where she sheltered, and the extent to which the unlucky Savanaka Cup plunge of the year before still haunted bookmakers in respect of dark horses that were lightly-weighted three-year-olds. Melita’s two-year-old performances were of little account. She wasn’t in the first dozen in the Maribyrnong Plate while later at the same meeting in the Kensington Stakes she was last but one. It was only after Melita won two races at the Wagga meeting and went into the dangerous St Albans’ stable that she was rushed up into the position of first favourite in Cup betting.
De Mestre’s decision to strike His Lordship out of the Cup was made all the easier in the knowledge that he believed he still held the winner in his hands in the shape of a lightly-raced five-year-old horse named Calamia. A homebred, de Mestre had trained his maternal granddam Lauristina as far back as 1857 and she had won good races at Homebush and Liverpool. De Mestre then purchased her in 1859 for 400 guineas. Eventually retired to stud at Terrara, her first foal, dropped in 1864, was Luna and she was to distinguish herself as a broodmare by producing not only Calamia but de Mestre’s 1876 Sydney Cup winner, A.T. Calamia was foaled in the same paddock on the property of Messrs Hassall, Roberts and Royds at Jembaicumbene, where the winners of no less than four previous Melbourne Cups had been foaled viz. Archer (twice), Tim Whiffler and Warrior.
Calamia was seen out in Robinson Crusoe’s year and made his debut in the 1876 A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes won by that horse. It wasn’t until the fourth day of the 1876 A.J.C. Spring Meeting that Calamia first emerged as a fine staying prospect when he galloped over Valentia and others to win the 3-mile Randwick Plate. Taken to Melbourne although he ran unplaced in the Victoria Derby, he again demonstrated that staying was his forte with his easy win in the 2 ½-mile weight-for-age V.R.C. Canterbury Plate. Kept in Melbourne in the summer, he had finished second in both the V.R.C. Champion Stakes and Australian Cup. As a four-year-old, he was treated to a long spell, and ran only twice, in the autumn but did not gain a winning bracket. With Tom Brown in the saddle, the 1878 Melbourne Cup was Calamia’s first appearance at five and yet he had the field settled fully five furlongs from home, running out an easy winner from Tom Kirk and Waxy.
It was eloquent testimony to de Mestre’s skills as a trainer and in winning he claimed his fifth and last Melbourne Cup. Calamia’s victory was a heavy blow to the ring, for the son of Maribyrnong had been the most consistently-backed horse engaged in the great handicap since the declaration of weights. His Lordship had been extensively coupled with Calamia in doubles-betting from the moment weights had been declared, and had the son of The Marquis carried off the Victoria Derby prize the ring would have sustained quite as severe a blow as when Chester landed the double for the same stable the year before. Still, de Mestre did quite nicely out of the Cup result, pocketing about £4,000 in winning bets as well as the first prize of £1,790. His Lordship added a little more cream when he took out the Mares’ Produce Stakes on the fourth day of the meeting also in the hands of Tom Brown and confirmed that the ten furlongs trip was a bit more to his liking. De Mestre’s successes at that 1878 V.R.C. Spring Meeting ensured that he finished the season as Australia’s leading owner.
I might mention that in the Melbourne Cup, Melita sadly disappointed the many who thought she was going to walk in, finishing near the rear of the field. The best performance by a three-year-old in the race came from the Victoria Derby winner Wellington, who with 5 st. 13lb, officially ran fifth. Melita did later win the V.R.C. Oaks all the way but, with the exception of Emily, didn’t have anything much to oppose her in that fillies’ classic. Wellington, a maiden going into the Victoria Derby, proved later in the summer that his performances were no fluke by winning the Champion Stakes at the same course. Bred at the Glenormiston Stud by the V.R.C. committeeman, Alexander Finlay, Wellington was a son of Panic and was so named because of his Roman nose, a feature he shared with the Hero of Waterloo. He well deserved the high public favour in which he was held, particularly in Victoria, with the passing of the seasons. It came as no surprise when Finlay having sold him as a yearling, eventually bought him back for 1000 guineas as an older horse from Mr Baldock to serve as a stallion at Glenormiston.
The balance of His Lordship’s racing career proved to be something of an anti-climax. In the autumn his inability to stay was cruelly exposed in both St Legers when Bosworth beat him easily after His Lordship was allowed to freewheel in front. After that, de Mestre restricted the son of The Marquis to races up to a mile. As an autumn four-year-old, he was strongly fancied by Terrara to win the Newmarket at Flemington but while prominent for much of the journey, weakened to finish third; he backed up two races later on the same card to run a minor placing in the All-Aged Stakes. His Lordship continued to race in his five-year-old season, his last on Turf, but by then was regarded as somewhat pusillanimous and in eight appearances that year only managed to win a minor sprint handicap. In August 1882 de Mestre finally sold him out through Yuille and Co in Melbourne, and he brought the paltry sum of 175 guineas from Alexander Smith of Lindenow in the Gippsland district. Calamia was offered at the same sale but he was passed in at 300 guineas, that amount not reaching the reserve. Ultimately, Calamia was purchased privately by Albert Selman of the Willowvale Stud, south of Ballarat. It was just as well that Smith didn’t pay very much for His Lordship. Our 1878 A.J.C. Derby hero failed to sire the winner of any principal race in Australia or New Zealand, the same fate that met Calamia’s procreative efforts.
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