In this day of international shuttle-service stallions worth millions of dollars, petted and pandered like royalty, it is easy to forget the struggles and humble origins of some of their nineteenth-century predecessors. The great Musket, the sire of Carbine and our 1885 Derby hero Nordenfeldt among other champions, is a fine example. A son of the English Derby favourite and runner-up, Toxophilite, from an un-named mare by West Australian, Musket was a big awkward customer as a young horse and very slow to develop. Lord Glasgow, his rather ruthless breeder, suffered neither fools nor slow horses gladly: the former he ignored; the latter he had shot. A piece of lead from his namesake was to be Musket’s fate too, purportedly as a consequence of a disappointing gallop against another two-year-old. That the fateful trigger was never pulled must forever remain a cause of celebration for New Zealand bloodstock breeding, although the precise facts surrounding the matter are a tad obscure. We know that Lord Glasgow’s trainer believed the horse needed more time to mature, and either spirited him away from His Lordship’s gaze or, in another version, Lord Glasgow’s own life ended before that of the horse could be taken.
When Lord Glasgow died, his will bequeathed all of his horses, including as it turned out, Musket, to his friend George Payne, with the stipulation that they were not to be sold. The spared Musket ultimately matured into quite a fine racehorse, winning nine races including the Ascot Stakes and the Alexandra Plate as a five-year-old with 10 st. 7lb and beating the likes of Albert Victor and Favonius. Alas, when he was retired to stud in England, Musket failed to attract the attention of bloodstock breeders. Perhaps this wasn’t altogether surprising as his sire suffered from a reputation of being both a bleeder and of unsound wind. When put-up for auction, Musket brought all of 520 guineas on a bid from Colonel Bailey, who was acting on behalf of Thomas Russell from the Waikato Agricultural Company in New Zealand. It wasn’t strictly a sale because of the awkward terms of Lord Glasgow’s will, but rather a ninety-nine-year lease. The stallion was subsequently shipped to New Zealand purportedly to do duty as a sire of carriage and light harness horses if he couldn’t make it as a progenitor of thoroughbreds. Arriving in Melbourne on the Kent in late December 1878, he was taken to Kirk’s Bazaar for a brief period before proceeding across the Tasman.
It was after Musket reached the cold and forbidding shores of the Shaky Isles that one, in particular, of the progeny that he had left behind in England began to show real promise. It was the two-year-old Petronel, which the following season would win the 1880 Two Thousand Guineas for the Duke of Beaufort in the hands of George Fordham. Thus, from his humble intended lot of satisfying a few thoroughbred and half-bred mares running about Cambridge, Musket was belatedly snapped up by the Auckland Stud Company within months of having landed in New Zealand and brought north to stand at their Glen Orchard Stud in Auckland. The idea of a stud company, formed explicitly for breeding and selling thoroughbred yearlings, was somewhat novel in those days. The principal shareholders in this particular venture were Major Walmsley and the brothers Thomas and Samuel Morrin, who had taken most of the one thousand shares issued at £10 each. As well as buying some well-credentialed colonial matrons, the company commissioned Sir Hercules Robinson to buy seven broodmares in England selected from the Middle Park Stud and the bloodstock of Lord Falmouth. Musket ensured the commercial venture got off to a cracking start.
The very first mare mated with Musket at the stud was none other than Sylvia, the famous Fisherman matron brought to Australia by Hurtle Fisher and already the dam of Goldsbrough and Robin Hood. The result of that initial mating, as we have seen, was Martini-Henry. No sooner had Martini-Henry sensationally snaffled the Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup double at his first two race starts, than a week later the New Zealand Stud Company announced its intention to ship ten yearlings to Sydney to be sold by Tom Clibborn at public auction on Monday, 28th January 1884. No less than eight of the youngsters were by Musket and included in their number was a stylish brown colt bred on very close lines to Martini-Henry himself. Whereas Martini-Henry was out of the broodmare Sylvia, who was a daughter of Fisherman and Juliet, this yearling colt was out of the broodmare Onyx, a granddaughter of Juliet. Onyx was by Angler, a son of Fisherman, out of Chrysolite, the filly foal by Stockwell that Juliet was carrying when she was brought to Australia by Hurtle Fisher all those years before. You will recall from our 1883 chapter that the A.J.C. committeeman, Fitzwilliam Wentworth, sold Onyx and Sylvia, as a job lot to the Auckland Stud Company for 3000 guineas in August 1879.
Interest in the colt was intense, especially given his strong in-breeding to that cornerstone of the English Stud Book, Touchstone, whose name appeared twice upon the sire’s side, and twice upon the dam’s. Moreover, he was an entry for all of the leading two and three-year-old races in Australia. The sale took place at Mr H. S. Gibson’s residence, Greenstead, Randwick, and although there was a fair attendance, bidding, apart from the Onyx colt, was anything but brisk. Frank Dakin journeyed up from Melbourne to buy the Onyx colt on behalf of his patron, the Hon. William Pearson, who owned the beautiful Kilmany Park Stud. Dakin bid up to 1150 guineas for the impressive yearling colt that was the first lot offered, but it was hardly a surprise when James White, who had enjoyed such a triumphant spring meeting at Flemington with Martini-Henry, outstayed him with a final nod at 1200 guineas to secure the near-relation of his putative champion. At the same time, White gave just 230 guineas for a filly by Musket out of the imported English mare, Sister Agnes, which he later named Percussion. Percussion wasn’t to make a big noise on the racecourse, but at the Kirkham Stud, later on, she did sterling service when she produced two good gallopers in Projectile and Fulminate.
James White was particularly active during January 1884 in the acquisition of bloodstock. Just eleven days earlier he had paid Andrew Town 1300 guineas for a brown filly by Maribyrnong from The Fawn and hence a full sister to Richmond, Bosworth, Segenhoe and Warwick. Much of White’s largesse in the sales ring was in the pursuit of well-bred fillies, not so much to race, but rather as prospective mates for his favourite racehorse and foundation stallion, Chester. The first of Chester’s foals came along in the Kirkham paddocks during the spring of 1882 and like these, his latest purchases, were now yearlings. Chester had imparted size and raw, coarse strength to his first crop, and both James White and trainer Michael Fennelly were smacking their lips at the prospect of the new racing season.
As satisfying as the Chester homebreds were during that winter of their breaking-in, it was the slashing brown colt by Onyx that was causing a real frisson of excitement inside the gates of Newmarket, even if immaturity and a certain gaucherie meant his racecourse debut wouldn’t come until his three-year-old season. Now, all prominent bloodstock owners have had occasion to wish, along with Falstaff, that they knew where a commodity of good names was to be had, but in respect of horse nomenclature James White set a standard that many owners might find instructive. If appropriate appellations applying to either sire or dam were either not forthcoming or already taken, the Squire of Kirkham invariably settled on a title that at least sounded well as witness Matchlock and Volley for the progeny of Musket; Dreadnought for a son of Trafalgar; Stromboli, Volcano and Lava for sons of Etna. Nordenfeldt, the name he chose for this his latest yearling, was yet another good example. The Nordenfeldt machine gun, developed between 1873 and 1878 and fed by gravity, took its name from the Swedish arms manufacturer, Thorsten Nordenfeldt. It was a hand-cranked weapon, whose barrels laid beside each other and fired rounds in ripples. It only had a short career, being quickly supplanted by the more modern machine gun. Being a brown colt, by Musket, the name Nordenfeldt readily suggested itself to White. Like the gun, the horse was to enjoy only a short career also, being retired to stud after breaking down, but not before he hit the winning target six times from just nine rounds on the racecourse.
Nordenfeldt was a true Musket, and very massive like his sire. From the moment that he was broken-in, he showed that jealous independence of spirit and impetuosity of temper so often possessed by a high-class racehorse. Never more than about 15 hands 2”, he was marked with a white streak on his face and two white hind feet, and although Nordenfeldt never carried his head as high as Martini-Henry, he had the same muscular neck, muscular shoulders and great length in his quarters. Perhaps his only physical blemish was suspicious-looking hocks. Indeed, it was always Fennelly’s concern that he might break down and for that reason, he gave the big horse plenty of time to mature. Troubled with curbs as a juvenile, for which he underwent several blisterings, Nordenfeldt wasn’t seen out in his first season.
Nonetheless, from the very beginning, Fennelly held a high opinion of the son of Musket from a Derby and Cups perspective, and he was one of nine nominations that the Hon. James White made for the 1885 A.J.C. Derby. Those nominations are worth listing if for nothing more than to demonstrate the aristocratic lineage of the bloodstock that sported the blue and white livery in that epoch. The horses were as follows: Nordenfeldt; Genesta (Maribyrnong – The Fawn); Queen of Nations (Maribyrnong – Britannia); Angora (Maribyrnong – The Alpaca); Uralla (Chester – Moonstone); Monte Christo (Chester – Kathleen); Matchlock (Musket – Yatterina); Hexham (Goldsbrough – Goldfinch); and Lennox (Maribyrnong – Lady Kingston). Thus, despite being denied the services of Nordenfeldt and one or two others that fell by the wayside, it can be seen that the Newmarket stable had plenty of other artillery to call upon for the leading juvenile races during that 1884-85 racing season, although not all of their guns went off according to plan.
That it is well nigh impossible to gauge with precision the capabilities of two-year-olds and early season three-year-olds was well demonstrated by the experiences of Michael Fennelly’s team that year. Uralla, a homebred filly by Chester, was the first to be seen out and the trusted representative of the blue and white banner for the Maribyrnong Plate on the strength of some excellent trial form. However, she was unable to gain a place while her stablemate, Monte Christo, another homebred by Chester, though not backed for a shilling, finished runner-up to Newstead. Fennelly scratched his head and went back to the drawing board. It seemed clear that the colt was the better of the two after all, which appeared to be confirmed when Monte Christo gave his opponents 14lb and a stiff beating in the prestigious Normanby Stakes at the V.R.C. Summer Meeting. A horse of real power and substance, as so many of the Chester breed would be down through the years, Monte Christo even then was being hailed as the Newmarket stable’s Derby colt.
Accordingly, it was no surprise in the autumn when Monte Christo was backed against the field for the Ascot Vale Stakes, only for Uralla to turn the tables on him, although the half-stone penalty, no doubt, contributed to the outcome. This race gave rise to an ugly demonstration with sections of the public hooting James White and Tom Hales when Monte Christo returned to the enclosure. White had not made a declaration before the race, allowing each horse to run on their merits. However, the fact that Hales had taken the mount on the colt in preference to the filly and that he looked around inside the distance, as though he was waiting for Uralla to issue her challenge, which she ultimately did with devastating effect, led people to believe that Hales was under instructions to lose. The truth was that apart from the weight advantage, the daughter of Moonstone was fitter. The public protest of booing met with a counter-demonstration of cheering from the members’ reserve, to which the Hon. James White bowed in response. Still, Monte Christo did manage to resuscitate his reputation at the meeting when he took out the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes a couple of days later when his stablemate was out of the way.
It was on the strength of this form that odds of 6/4 were laid on the son of Chester in the A.J.C. equivalent, but he could only manage to run fourth, while Uralla, considerably longer in the market, won easily. Such then was the strength of the Newmarket stable as the Sydney autumn darkened into winter and Fennelly and White contemplated the Derbies and Cups in the spring of 1885; although many suspected that the real pick of the crop hadn’t been seen in public. One man in particular who harboured such suspicions was John Crozier, who was then finalising negotiations for the purchase of the St Albans Stud. Crozier knew his horses and while visiting Randwick for the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting saw Nordenfeldt for the first time on the gallops. He was so impressed that he immediately decided to couple the colt in Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup doubles anticipating that White would try and repeat the achievements of Chester and Martini-Henry.
Before I dispense with the autumn of 1885 I must address an event of considerable significance in the history of the Australian Turf that happened just a week after the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting concluded. I refer to the first official race meeting of the Rosehill Racing Club. It was Governor Phillip who first named the area Rose Hill, after his influential friend and neighbour in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, Sir George Rose, who was one of the Board of Secretaries of the Treasury. Indeed, is likely that Phillip’s very appointment as the first governor of N.S.W. owed much to Rose. It was as early as April 1788 that Phillip surveyed the Rose Hill area in his search for arable land to farm and feed the fledgling colony of Sydney. A fort and several supporting buildings were built there initially and then in 1791 a proper governor’s residence with the community being renamed Parramatta. For a time, Phillip entertained the idea of Parramatta becoming the main settlement.
Alas, it never quite fulfilled Phillip’s expectations. The most famous landholder to move into the area was John Macarthur, whose Elizabeth Farm comprises much of Rosehill today. Of course, it was there that some of the first important experiments in raising merino sheep took place. Even after Macarthur had died as a lunatic in April 1834, the land remained in the Macarthur family until it was sold in 1880 to Septimus Alfred Stephen, a prominent solicitor, who subdivided the land and called it Rosehill, to differentiate it from Granville and Parramatta, and thereby attract buyers. One such buyer who secured a large slice of it was the theatrical entrepreneur, John Bennett. Bennett built a racecourse, recreation ground, and later even built a private railway track connecting it to the mainline at Clyde.
The first official meeting of the Rosehill Racing Club, a six-race card, occurred on Saturday, 18 April 1885. The officials of the new club consisted of some distinguished sportsmen including Andrew Town as the judge, William Gannon as the starter and J. A. Scarr as the handicapper. These men were supplemented by the likes of Jimmy Ashworth as the clerk of the course and G.W.S. Rowe as the secretary. Messrs T. S. Clibborn and T. Poltitzer were to be complimented on the manner in which they had laid out the grounds. Unfortunately, inclement weather of cold and heavy northerly gusts of wind delivering constant showers of rain reduced the attendance at the picturesque course to some six or seven thousand patrons. Easily accessible from Sydney, the racecourse was just a ten-minute walk from Granville station and a few minutes from the river, by which route numbers came by steamers from the King-street wharf. Steamers dropped their passengers at a wharf at the mouth of Duck River and from there a tramway ran directly to the course and Parramatta.
The fields were large, the racing excellent, and a superb luncheon was provided by the celebrated John Ferdinand Gunsler, the Prince of Caterers. During the race intervals, the band of the Permanent Artillery discoursed a variety of choice music. One very noticeable feature in the grandstand – and a welcome one – was the absence of a barrier between members and non-members. While the Two-Year-Old Handicap didn’t feature a Derby runner, two very good colts fought out the finish in the shape of James Monaghan’s Astroea and James White’s Matchlock ridden respectively by Colley and Hales. The club paid out 910 pounds in prizes for the meeting. Just how picturesque the Rosehill course was in those early years is shown in the photographs below.
The choice of venue for the expensive Nordenfeldt’s initial bow to the public was the Hawkesbury Spring Meeting, and it came over the mile of the Hawkesbury Guineas. Three special trains were laid on to transport the public to the Clarendon course. It was a hot, dry forty-mile trip in the stuffy, old carriages of the railway as recalled nostalgically by Bill Kelso, who added: “We had to pay a shilling for a bottle of water at the old Blacktown railway station.” Kelso had good cause for remembering that meeting some fifty years later because he owned and trained the race favourite, First Chester. Seven horses in all contested the race, and apart from Nordenfeldt, who was the stable elect, Uralla also carried the blue and white banner for Newmarket. Gauche at the start, Nordenfeldt lost any chance in the race by turning almost around when Tom Hales applied the spurs; he lost over a dozen lengths and proved awkward even when Hales got him going, such that the jockey refused to punish the colt when he found pursuit hopeless. The great hope of Newmarket finished a bad last. However, it was a different story in the Produce Stakes on the second day. All the better for his abortive gallop in the Guineas, the colt was disposed more kindly this time when the flag dropped, and, relishing the extra two furlongs, Nordenfeldt made a one-act affair of it.
The Randwick course itself was in splendid order for Derby Day even if the accommodation for members was severely restricted by the work-in-progress that was the official stand. The two-storeyed structure was the club’s last major building project of the nineteenth century and in its unfinished state caused considerable inconvenience and crowding. A feature of the meeting was Henry Payten being allowed the privilege of demonstrating his new-fangled electrical apparatus as a means of starting a couple of races, and although the Derby itself was spared, the experiment was not adjudged altogether satisfactory. As the club’s secretary, Thomas Clibborn might have observed: “Don’t call us, Henry. We’ll call you.” The blue riband had attracted a field of five – three colts and two fillies; and with Tom Hales electing to ride the filly Uralla in preference to Nordenfeldt, the public had rallied to her cause, and she went to the post a slightly better favourite than the Hawkesbury Guineas winner, First Chester. Nordenfeldt, with the reins reposed in the hands of the lightweight Ellis, was next fancied at 5/1. There was some minor speculation at double figures on Boori, a little colt by Robinson Crusoe although, on appearances and the form book, he seemed more suited to a handicap. Magnifier, the sole Victoria representative in the race, carrying the colours of the founder of the Bundoora Park Stud, seemed outclassed.
The 1885 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Those hearty sportsmen who had journeyed to Hawkesbury to witness Nordenfeldt’s debut now sought him out in the saddling paddock to discover that he improved upon acquaintance. The son of Musket appeared well-loaded and primed to go off, and yet, despite his inexperience, the colt stood impassively in the yard as behoved his high breeding. Matchlock, the other Musket colt that White had purchased from the 1882 crop, had bruised his heels so severely before the Hawkesbury meeting that he had been withdrawn not just from the A.J.C. Derby but all of his other spring engagements as well. Mr Gannon dispatched an excellent start with Nordenfeldt displaying none of the recalcitrance that had so marred his Hawkesbury debut, and the field proceeded up the straight at a funereal walk. Ellis knew his only chance lay with a true gallop and he rushed Nordenfeldt to the front as they rounded the turn out of the straight and in so doing cut across First Chester and took his running.
Ellis quickly increased his advantage to three lengths and this margin separated him from First Chester as the field ran along the back of the course, with Uralla and Boori lying close-up and Magnifier trailing behind. Magnifier was beaten before reaching the half-mile post, while shortly after that Boori cried enough. The three fancied runners now took closer order, though Nordenfeldt still held a distinct advantage when they entered the straight. Although First Chester headed the Musket colt momentarily, once Ellis sat down to ride the big horse out he responded generously. On the line, he had three-quarters of a length to spare over his stablemate, with First Chester a half-length behind the filly. Many who lost their money on Uralla blamed Hales for not making an earlier effort on the horse but had he done so it may well have played into Ellis’s hands even more.
Perhaps it was the elaborate, enclosed sand-roll in the shape of a rotunda that Fennelly had recently installed at his palatial Newmarket training establishment, but his team of horses were in remarkably good humour during the week of that A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. Nordenfeldt was unbeaten in his four appearances during the week, adding the Spring Maiden Stakes, Craven Plate and Randwick Plate to his tally, while Uralla snaffled the Oaks, run for the first time that year, by leading all the way from her only opponent – her stablemate Percussion. Nor did the haul end there for James White, as Acme – yet another daughter of Chester – won the Richmond Stakes. The prizes paid out by the A.J.C. amounted to £8,297 and predictably the Hon. James White received the largest cheque, for the amount of £2,922.
As I have already mentioned, John Crozier beat James White to the punch in securing the best odds about Nordenfeldt winning the Victoria Derby and Cup double. The Squire of Kirkham was a masterful man at the best of times and took none too kindly to having his betting pitch queered, although when spring opened, he was by no means convinced that Nordenfeldt was mature enough for a Cup horse. For a time, White threatened to withdraw Nordenfeldt from the Derby and rely on either of his homebreds, Monte Christo and Uralla, ostensibly because a greater honour accrued for breeding a Derby winner than merely just owning it. That he gave way in the end and allowed Nordenfeldt to take his part owed more to the perceived threat of the improving First Chester than from any wish to appease either Crozier or the general public.
The Flemington track was heavy for the first day of that spring meeting after persistent overnight rain, and the postponement of the meeting was even mooted. The Derby proved a slow, muddling race and in the straight First Chester began to hang out and took Nordenfeldt with him, materially interfering with the Musket horse’s chances. It was only after the most desperate finish that young Ellis on Nordenfeldt prevailed by a neck over Bill Kelso on First Chester. This was the unfortunate occasion upon which the newly installed judge of the V.R.C., Mr Wakely, inadvertently hoisted the number of Uralla, Nordenfeldt’s stablemate that carried similar colours, but which, in fact, had finished last. Uralla was destined to win a classic at that meeting, but it was to be the V.R.C. Oaks Stakes a few days later.
Such was Nordenfeldt’s rocketing reputation that he went to the post the 5/1 favourite for the Melbourne Cup when handicapped with 7 st. 5lb. Michael Fennelly always maintained that the colt should have won for he met with scandalous interference on two separate occasions during the race and yet still managed to finish the closest of fourths in the fastest Cup ever conducted up to that time. Sheet Anchor won the event by a head from Grace Darling, with Trenton a half-head further away in third place. The V.R.C. handicapper, E. T. Barnard, who retired from the position in 1891, always regarded it as the best race he ever saw in Australia. Nordenfeldt was brought forth again on the last day for the Canterbury Plate over two-and-a-half miles at weight-for-age, but labouring under the disadvantage of having to make the running for the better part of the journey, he went under by a half-neck to that other great son of Musket, Trenton.
It proved to be Nordenfeldt’s last race. Rested during the summer, he was returned to Flemington in January and prepared for the 1886 V.R.C. Autumn Meeting only for his leg to fill after an early morning track gallop. Such was the strength of the Newmarket stable that season, however, that even though deprived of the services of their best son of Musket, the blue and white banner was still carried to victory in both the St. Leger and Champion Stakes when Matchlock, proved an able substitute. I might add that Matchlock continued his dominance at the A.J.C. Meeting as well, winning the major weight-for-age races and the red riband at Randwick just a few weeks later, before being sold to India for 1000 guineas.
Despite blistering Nordenfeldt’s leg, it was apparent the horse wouldn’t stand another preparation. Michael Fennelly, according to E. S. Chapman (‘Augur’), always maintained that Nordenfeldt was the finest horse to ever pass through his hands. Perhaps not as brilliant as Martini-Henry, he was capable of greater exertions under adverse circumstances. The big stallion’s enforced retirement came at a timely moment for the Sylvia Park Stud in New Zealand. The Stud, which had once been the Auckland Stud Company but had changed its name upon amalgamation in 1882, had been the birthplace of Nordenfeldt. In early October 1885 the great stallion, Musket, had died of a rupture of the kidneys. It came only a matter of weeks after Nordenfeldt had won the A.J.C. Derby and an eleven-year-old imported English broodmare named Mersey had dropped a washy-coloured bay colt in the Sylvia Park paddocks. In the absence of the father, a well-credentialed son seemed a good substitute, and Thomas Morrin opened negotiations with the Hon. James White to purchase Nordenfeldt.
Given the sensational start to Chester’s stud career and the availability of Martini-Henry, White regarded Nordenfeldt as excess to requirements at Kirkham and sold the big fellow for a reputed 2000 guineas in May 1886. Nordenfeldt’s first book of mares included the likes of Ouida and Frailty, and he proved a worthy replacement for his own sire, indeed a sensation right from the start. Nordenfeldt’s first crop included the Auckland and Canterbury Cups winner, Crackshot, as well as Medallion, winner of both the Canterbury and Great Northern Derbies. In each of his six seasons at the stud in New Zealand the big stallion never once failed to get at least one first-class racehorse as the likes of Strathmore (1888), Stepniak (1889), Carnage (1890) and Stepfeldt (1891) attest.
Those six seasons at stud in New Zealand also saw Nordenfeldt leave an impressive legacy as a sire of sires although a few more seasons would have to come and go before that legacy bore fruit. But just consider the achievements at stud of some of Nordenfeldt’s sons. Stepniak standing at the Elderslie Stud proved the best of them getting 31 individual stakes winners of 74 stakes races and during the first decade of the new century was three times the leading sire in New Zealand. The best of his progeny was Menschikoff but others included the dual Auckland Cup winner All Red and those two versatile gallopers raced by George Stead, Orloff and Munjeet. Stepniak apart, other prolific sons of Nordenfeldt at stud in New Zealand included Havoc (9 stakes winners of 15 stakes races); and Medallion (17 stakes winners of 43 stakes races). Medallion, of course, did splendid service for Frank Reynolds at the Tocal Stud after the horse was relocated here.
But in January 1891 Sylvia Park was dispersed, and Nordenfeldt was sold for 5600 guineas to an agent acting for the Sydney retailer, Samuel Hordern. I might mention that Sylvia Park’s dispersal and the sale of Nordenfeldt wasn’t the end of Thomas Morrin’s bloodstock breeding activities. Morrin proceeded to set up the Wellington Park Stud in Auckland in its place, buying some of Sylvia Park’s best mares at the dispersal sale as well as the emerging 10-year-old stallion St Leger, whose progeny was just beginning to impress. St Leger, imported from England as a foal at foot, was bred in the purple being by Doncaster, the 1873 English Derby winner, out of Atlantis, a full sister to the 1874 English Two Thousand Guineas winner, Atlantic. St Leger would go on to become the leading sire in New Zealand eight times and put the Wellington Park Stud on the map!
Samuel Hordern’s acquisition of Nordenfeldt wouldn’t lead to any such happy ending. At the time Hordern was spending a king’s ransom establishing his Wilton Park Stud on the golden meadows adjoining his country residence, Retford Park, near Bowral in N.S.W., and sought out Nordenfeldt for his foundation stallion. Samuel Hordern didn’t intend to breed bloodstock for public sale and nor was Nordenfeldt to be available to outside mares. The emporium king was plotting a monopoly on the wonder stallion’s progeny that would enable him to dominate the Turf in a like manner to his domination of retailing. The harem awaiting Hordern’s chosen sultan included proven racecourse performers like Grace Darling, the heroine of the 1885 Caulfield Cup; and Lady Norah, winner of a Hawkes Bay Cup and a brilliant middle-distance performer in New Zealand. Well-bred imported broodmares such as Idolatry by Isonomy and Rhythm by Kingcraft; awaited him as well as established colonial lines such as the Goldsbrough mares, Merry Belle and Golden Fleece, and Miranda, a product of that legendary matching of Maribyrnong and The Fawn.
If ever a stallion seemed destined to be successful on Australian soil the proven Nordenfeldt was surely that stallion. Alas, for Samuel Hordern it wasn’t to be. Jim McFadden’s superlative tome ‘Thoroughbred Sires of Australia and New Zealand’ shows Nordenfeldt as siring 27 principal winners of 52 principal races. All but two of those principal winners came during his sojourn in New Zealand. The only two major winners that Nordenfeldt sired after his arrival at Wilton Park were Mirella, winner of the 1897 Moonee Valley Cup; and Johansen, winner of the 1899 A.J.C. St. Leger and 1900 City Tattersall’s Cup. Johansen was easily the best horse that he got for Hordern, but he didn’t come along until his very last crop and his two-year-old season coincided with the embarrassing Gunbearer case at the 1898 A.J.C. Easter meeting that saw Hordern dispose of his racing stock in disgust just a few weeks later. I shall examine the Gunbearer affair in a coming chapter but let me say here and now that it prompted Hordern to sell the best son of Nordenfeldt he ever bred for just 320 guineas and less than twelve months later the horse garnered the A.J.C. red riband!
How bitterly old Samuel Hordern must have repented his dalliance with Nordenfeldt, and how little he got for his 5600 guineas! The stallion only stood for four seasons at Wilton Park, and in his first, he enjoyed just one or two mares because of his arrival after the breeding season was effectively over. The great racehorse died prematurely in June 1895 when, while running in one of the paddocks at Retford Park, he wrenched his back and became the victim of paralysis. Despite his misadventures in the NSW southern highlands, he was easily the most successful of James White’s Derby winners at stud as the likes of Carnage, Culloden, Havoc, Merganser, Stepniak, Strathmore and Tiraillerie attest. Ironically, in the light of his sub-performance in the breeding barn at Bowral, Nordenfeldt’s last season in New Zealand proved arguably his best, not so much for what his sons from that crop accomplished on the racecourse, but rather for what his daughters subsequently achieved in the breeding barn. The fillies that came along that season included the likes of Charente, Forme, Stepfeldt and Novelette II. Those four mares alone in the ensuing seasons threw no less than 13 individual stakes winners among their foals that together won a staggering 56 stakes races.
Samuel Hordern might have dispersed his racing stock in May 1898, but he continued breeding bloodstock and conducted the Wilton Park Stud, until his death in August 1909 at the age of sixty. He must have watched the posthumous creation of Nordenfeldt’s reputation as a champion broodmare sire with an admixture of hope and wonder. Hope, because Nordenfeldt was the sire of twenty-seven dams that produced at least one winner of a principal race on the Australasian Turf. Wonder, because sadly for Samuel Hordern the symmetry remained consistent here, too – for only two of those dams -Belove and Lurcher – did Nordenfeldt get at Wilton Park. Each of the other twenty-five, just like the twenty-five principal winners, was bred in New Zealand. It is true that Samuel Hordern bred those two cracking sisters, Haulette and Sweet Nell, from a daughter of Nordenfeldt but the broodmare in question, Novelette, was bred in the Shaky Isles during Nordenfeldt’s last season there. Samuel Hordern only acquired the filly afterwards in March 1895, upon the dispersal of Donald Wallace’s Lerderderg Stud where she had been foaling. If all this seems a bleak appraisal of Samuel Hordern’s career as a bloodstock breeder then hasten not in judgement, dear reader, for such can only be described as a premature evaluation. It was the untimely death of Nordenfeldt as his foundation stallion that ultimately set Hordern free to scour the Old Country for a worthy replacement, and it was his shrewd choice in those altered circumstances that would be the making of the Wilton Park Stud. But the telling of that episode must await its proper moment.
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