To modern racegoers, it must seem that horses bred, owned, and trained, in the Dominion have been crossing the Tasman Sea and plundering Australia’s richest racing prizes since the beginning of time. Actually, it doesn’t go back quite that far. Before 1905 only two New Zealand bred horses had ever won the AJC Derby: Nordenfeldt (1885), who was purchased at a stiff price and raced here by the Hon. James White; and Bonnie Scotland (1894), who was bought and raced by the New Zealand sportsman, Spencer Gollan, a man who periodically invaded Australia with the best horses from New Zealand that money could buy. But if I were to nominate the year when the full majesty of their bloodstock was first felt at Randwick, 1905 would be that year. For it marked the most successful visit of perhaps the greatest owner-trainer team ever known on the New Zealand Turf, George Gatenby Stead and Richard J. Mason.
Dick Mason is arguably the most successful racehorse trainer in the history of New Zealand. Born in Wellington in 1853, his first lessons in racing came when he got a job as a boy with a veterinary surgeon that raced a few horses on the side. He began his riding career shortly after that, and in 1871 became one of his country’s first professional jockeys when Henry Redwood, widely regarded as ‘Father of the New Zealand Turf’, retained him. Among other top horses, Mason rode the great Lurline for Redwood when she won the inaugural Dunedin Cup in 1874, and later that same year Mason brought her over to Australia on his first visit to this country and rode her in the Melbourne Cup. Mason was a natural all-round sportsman; he was a very good billiards player, a talented track athlete and a first-class marksman who divided the £500 stake given for a pigeon match at the Dunedin Exhibition. It was while training for Redwood that Mason came into contact with the first great patron of his career as a trainer, George Stead.
In 1873 Stead was elected as honorary treasurer of the Canterbury Jockey Club, a position he was still occupying more than thirty years later. Stead’s first significant move into the world of racing came when he bought half of Henry Redwood’s racing stud in 1875, managing the enterprise before later buying out his ageing partner in the 1890s. The first racehorse owned by Stead was Trump Card, with whom he won the 1877 CJC Derby; then in 1880 came Le Loup and his string of victories. Le Loup was brought across to Australia by Dick Mason in 1879 and was backed to win a lot of money in the Melbourne Cup only for the coup to be brought undone by, among other things, a slipped saddle during the running. It was Stead who owned the great Trenton as a two-year-old, winning the CJC Champagne Stakes before selling the horse to Dan O’Brien. By then, the ‘yellow jacket, black cap’ was increasingly respected on New Zealand racecourses, as was the name of Dick Mason. When the Cobham Stud in England was dispersed in 1881, George Stead purchased eight broodmares, including the dam of the future Lochiel. Up to the time of Lochiel, Stead had raced under the nom de course of ‘Mr G. Fraser’, a fiction that he dropped by the time that horse won the 1887 New Zealand Cup. Before his 1905 visit here, Stead had enjoyed most of his success in Australia with Lochiel, with whom he won both the Newmarket Handicap (1887) and Australian Cup (1889) at Flemington.
George Stead had been a big punter in his early days on the Turf, a reputation that preceded him to Melbourne during a controversial autumn visit there in 1890. Dick Mason had charge of his horses on that trip, the team including Medallion and Scots Grey. The running of one of the horses was the subject of discreet inquiries by the honorary stewards there. The imperious and aristocratic Stead didn’t take too kindly to his character being impugned in such a manner by petty men enjoying such brief authority, and he resolved never to run his horses in Melbourne again. And for the best part of twenty years, he refused to either attend or nominate a horse for any Victorian race meeting. It was a resolution that had beneficial effects insofar as the A.J.C. Spring Meeting was concerned for Stead still crossed the Tasman but headed for Randwick instead; his first starter in the A.J.C. Derby came the following year when he sent across Lebel who ran down the course in Stromboli’s Derby. Until 1905, however, the best performance by a horse carrying his colours in the race had been with Mannlicher, who managed a dead-heat for third in Bob Ray’s year. The presence of these horses from across the Tasman imparted an inter-colonial flavour to our Randwick spring meetings and considerably enhanced public interest in the fixture.
Stead headed the owners’ list in New Zealand six times in the final decade of the nineteenth century and topped it again throughout the years 1900-01 to 1905-06 when measured by stakes earnings. Throughout this period, Dick Mason remained his faithful retainer. Whether Stead bought them or bred them, he insisted that only the best racehorses carry his livery and it was during these first few years of the new century that Stead produced a dazzling array of great gallopers including Cruciform, Menschikoff, Royal Artillery and Machine Gun. It was in 1903 that Cruciform campaigned against that other champion mare of the time, Wakeful, twice beating the Australian heroine in races that transfixed the sporting public. Dick Mason returned in 1904 with a four-horse team and on that occasion, Cruciform was the only member of the team that failed to win, while Martian took out the Randwick Plate; Nightfall the Grantham Stakes; and Grand Rapids won the Sydney Handicap. By any yardstick, the 1904 raid had been successful, but the best was yet to come, and it arrived exactly twelve months later.
Before I discuss the blood and plunder visited upon the 1905 A.J.C. Spring Meeting from across the Tasman, perhaps I should discuss the subject of blood and plunder closer to home. In the history of Australian bloodstock, 1905 is a seminal year for it marked the moment when the firm of William Inglis and Son joined forces with T. S. Clibborn and moved into the auctioning of bloodstock on a large scale for the first time. Perhaps I should provide some background. William Inglis (1832-1896), the famous auctioneer cum stock agent was born at Heriot Cottage, Sussex-street, Sydney, the eldest son of Scottish Presbyterian parents, Thomas and Catherine (Ross) who sailed for the colony of New South Wales in 1829. Governor Bourke granted Thomas land west of Camden in 1831 and he named the property ‘Craigend’. Much of the original grant is still owned and operated by the Inglis family today.
William Inglis’s childhood was spent on the Craigend estate and it is hardly surprising that reared in such a rural farming environment he grew up with a keen interest in livestock and bloodstock. It was in 1867 that William together with Joseph Butler began an auctioneering and produce agency at 793 George-street, Sydney. After a disagreement, Butler left the partnership some ten years later and in 1882 William initiated a horse bazaar in a building between Castlereagh and Pitt-streets. Horse sales were conducted on the ground floor while the wagons and harnesses were stored above, accessible by a ramp. I might mention that in those days and for many years after, the test of a draught horse in Sydney was to be able to pull a one-ton load from Sussex street up Druitt street to Inglis’s Bazaar. From the very beginning, William Inglis brought a sense of style and panache to proceedings, conducting his auctions wearing a top hat, which was to become his trademark.
When he died at his residence, Annesley, Balmain-road, Leichardt, on 12 January 1896, he was survived by his wife, nine sons and three daughters, leaving an estate sworn for probate at £38,724, testimony indeed to the plunder available in bloodstock and livestock. Upon William’s death, it was his son John, who had been taken into the partnership at the age of twenty-five back in 1884 and the year after his marriage in Sydney to Australia Renwick, who took control of William Inglis and Son. It was early in the year 1905 that the firm bought the goodwill of T. S. Clibborn’s bloodstock business. Accordingly, the firm’s yearling catalogue of April 1905, which consisted of 117 lots, was a joint production and the auction took place on Thursday afternoon, 27 April in Tom Payten’s yards at Newmarket. At noon and just before the business began, Clibborn mounted the rostrum, and in a short speech thanked breeders, owners and the general public for the support they had accorded him for thirty-two years. He informed those present that he was compelled, owing to failing eyesight, to retire from active participation in the business and he resigned the hammer to John Inglis.
Inglis then took his place at the rostrum and introduced himself to the bloodstock buyers gathered there in a concise, clipped speech. He remarked that though this was his initial attempt as a bloodstock salesman on a large scale, he hoped to be as successful in that line as he was in the selling of utility horses. With Tom Payten acting in the role of ringmaster, no fewer than 111 yearlings (six had been withdrawn from the catalogue prior to the day) were brought into the ring during the afternoon. Only one failed to elicit a bid while three others did not reach their reserves and were passed out. Such was the briskness of the Inglis gavel and patter that the whole affair was over by 5 o’clock. Those present perhaps didn’t appreciate that they were witness to one of the great inflexion moments in Australian bloodstock history.
One might observe here that the dynamic John Inglis began as he meant to go on! William Inglis and Son’s first foray into the mass auctioning of bloodstock had resulted in a record sales aggregate of 15,945 guineas for the 107 lots sold, and an average price per yearling of 149 guineas. Just for the record, the highest-priced yearling that went under the Inglis hammer in that first sale was the half-brother to Great Scot, by Grafton from Scotch Mary, which went for 1420 guineas to a bid by R. C. Allen, who was acting on behalf of L. K. S. Mackinnon. Registered as Iolaire, we will find him in our next chapter running in the 1906 A.J.C. Derby. Ironically, the best yearling sold in Australia that autumn had been knocked down the day before at the rival sale of Messrs Chisholm and Company when Ike Earnshaw paid 500 guineas for the future Poseidon. I say ‘ironically’ because of the two firms, it was William Inglis and Son that would best prosper and which, in February 1934 amidst the financial carnage of the Great Depression, would swallow up Chisholm’s, hook, line and sinker!
I seem to have run off the course in my pursuit of the Inglis dynasty and now need to get back on the track of the 1905 A.J.C. Derby. Before the Inglis tangent, I was expatiating on the successes of Martian and Nightfall at the 1904 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. It was those successes that encouraged George Stead to plot a deliberate assault on the 1905 AJC Spring Meeting. Yaldhurst, where Mason trained, was eight miles from Christchurch and boasted a private track of its own. The relative isolation there allowed Mason to trial his horses away from the prying eyes of the touts and tipsters, and it was there that, after a series of experiments, four horses were carefully selected to comprise the 1905 raiding party, and all by George Stead’s stallion, Multiform.
Nightfall again returned, and on all disclosed form, she was the star turn of the quartet, although Isolt was the pick of the party on looks – a daughter of a C.J.C. Oaks winner, she was a lengthy whole bay filly with perfect shoulders. Isolt had never raced or been away from Yaldhurst before coming to Sydney on that trip. But the real interest for the racing touts with a Derby perspective, were the two three-year-old colts that completed the gang of four. Originally, Stead had nominated four horses for the Derby, again all by Multiform, but when Cuneiform and Porcelain fell by the wayside, he was left with just these two to fly his colours, Noctuiform and Sun God.
If blood counted for anything – and whoever doubted that it did – the men of Tattersall’s running ante-post betting on the Derby, had good cause for fearing imminent plunder. Noctuiform was a brother to Nightfall, and altogether more prepossessing than his brilliant older sister. A chestnut with a narrow blaze down his face, he stood about 15.3 on splendid timber – very strong and short on top, with plenty of good length underneath. Sun God, on the other hand, was a half-brother to Martian, and the men with the satchels winced when they recalled how that horse had even outstayed Lord Cardigan at Randwick the year before. Sun God was a low-set, brandy-coloured bay with black-painted tops; he looked like Martian all over again, although perhaps not quite as wide. The quartet arrived at Randwick on the first Wednesday in August, with Mason taking up stabling and lodgings at the Royal Hotel. It had been a very rough passage across the Tasman Sea on the steamship, Mokoia: during the last forty-eight hours of the voyage the sea had run very high, frequently breaking aboard, and Stead’s horses had been forced to travel under battened hatches. When it came time to make the return crossing six weeks later, it would be the Sydney bookmakers who would be battening down the hatches on a storm that had already wreaked its havoc.
Noctuiform had only raced twice as a juvenile, winning the Royal Stakes on debut at the Auckland Racing Club’s Summer Meeting and then finishing third in the Middle Park Plate at Canterbury. A mishap incurred just before the start of the latter race then kept Noctuiform off the scene. Sun God, on the other hand, had been seen a bit more in his first season, winning twice in six starts including the ARC Great Northern Foal Stakes. The two colts had clashed only once when Noctuiform won the Royal Stakes, although on that day he was in receipt of twelve pounds in weight. Of the pair, the New Zealand handicapper, Joe Henrys, made out Noctuiform a few pounds better. Although the wet weather in the Dominion had prevented Mason working the horses much before their arrival here, neither colt was given a race before the Derby, and the track touts here were kept in the dark as to their respective merits in track gallops almost right up to race day itself.
That spring was something of a watershed in the preparation of horses on Sydney racecourses. Mason proceeded to use the lightest of working shoes on his horses and lightweight saddles and boys to ride them, believing that getting as near to nature as possible encouraged the horses to stride out and enjoy their freedom of action. He didn’t care if in their track work his team confounded all the watches at headquarters. The local trainers were aware of Mason’s practice of light shoeing and discounted the merit of the early morning gallops accordingly. They did so at their peril. By the time the A.J.C. Spring Meeting had concluded there would be a revolution in farrier practices and the widespread use of heavy shoes would be a thing of the past. In time, the acceptance of the light shoe would afford sharp trainers more opportunities to hoodwink the much-despised touts that plagued the early morning gallops, for it opened the way to the substitution of flat for concave shoes, and there was a significant performance difference between the two. But in the weeks leading up to the 1905 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, all that lay in the future.
The 1905 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
A record crowd was in attendance for Derby Day although the course itself had seldom been seen to less advantage after one of the driest winters for years. The day continued its boom as a fashionable and social gala occasion, or as The Referee put it: “The human form divine, artistically caparisoned by the latest devices of captivating style, was quite a charming study on Derby Day.” Seven mustered at the start of the classic after the paddock scratching of the Victorian filly, Vibrate. Noctuiform and Sun God were the only representatives from across the Tasman while Victoria had Charles Stuart and Pius to act on her behalf. An intriguing feature of the race was that just four stallions sired all seven starters. Multiform, Wallace and Positano each had two runners, while Grafton was responsible for the other.
The favourite for the race was the handsome chestnut, Charles Stuart, raced jointly by the brothers, Sir Rupert and Ernest Clarke. A son of Wallace, the colt had brought the top price of 1100 guineas at the Randwick Sales in 1904 when offered by Charles Baldwin of Durham Court Stud. When the Clarke brothers bought him, they did so under their own judgement, for Jim Scobie – their trainer and chief adviser on all Turf matters – was lying ill in Melbourne at the time. There were many at ringside that day only too willing to find fault with the yearling’s conformation; his perceived shortcomings ranging from the turn of his hind leg and the look of his hocks, to the width of his chest. Some went so far as to suggest that it was Baldwin’s good fortune that Scobie was laid low, or the horse would never have brought that price.
Those same critics quickly went to cover when Charles Stuart proved to be the crack juvenile of the 1904-05 racing season. In his first year, he landed the VRC Ascotvale Stakes and Select Stakes, and the AJC Champagne Stakes and All-Aged Stakes. Although beaten in both Sires’ Produce Stakes, he was freely acclaimed the champion colt when he took on the older horses in the weight-for-age All-Aged Stakes at Randwick in the autumn, including Gladsome, and completely eclipsed them when lowering the Australian mile record to 1 minute 38 seconds. After that race, the Clarke brothers put a price of 5000 guineas on his head to deter importunate Indian buyers.
Unfortunately, for a fortnight before the Derby, Charles Stuart was suffering teething problems, a fact that had leaked to the Tattersall’s men and although he retained favouritism, the bagmen remained eager to field against the colt. Wallace’s second representative in the classic and the only filly in the field was the well-credentialed Lady Wallace, raced by her breeder John McDonald under his nom de course of ‘J. East’. Lady Wallace was trained at Randwick by Joe Burton. A daughter of the Maribyrnong Plate winner, Lady Mostyn, she had won three times as a juvenile including the Easter Stakes at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, but perhaps her class was best emphasised by her placings in each of the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes at the same fixture. She had brilliantly won the August Stakes at Rosehill leading into the Derby.
Binnia, the colt that had led all the way to win the first Sires’ Produce Stakes run at Randwick since 1893, was an interesting runner. A big gross horse, he was raced by his breeder John McMaster, a noted sheep breeder hailing from a family of squatters on the Liverpool Plains. In an inspired moment, McMaster purchased that very fine-looking Marvellous mare, Marvelette, from which to breed and had promptly been rewarded with a succession of outstanding gallopers including the great Marvel Loch, a Metropolitan and Caulfield Cup winner, and Noreen, winner of a Sydney Cup. Binnia had been offered at the yearling sales with a reserve of 400 guineas, but had just come off his rich native pastures and looking rather rotund, failed to attract a bid.
On the same line of Derby betting as Binnia was Jargoon, for whom Dr Ewan Frazer had paid a stiff price as a yearling. The matching of Positano and Jacinth would produce a Derby winner in due course, but unfortunately for Frazer, it wouldn’t be until the following year. Jargoon was a fine-looking horse, a more commanding animal than his younger brother, Poseidon, and possessed of greater reach. Jargoon had started four times the previous season, breaking his maiden status at his last appearance when he won the Nursery Handicap on Sydney Cup Day with a featherweight 6 st. 12lb. In course betting Noctuiform was particularly well supported by the New Zealand contingent in attendance, and at the close of markets he disputed second favouritism with Lady Wallace; Sun God, on the other hand, was allowed to run loose, and as many suspected, would be used as a pacemaker for his better-fancied stablemate.
Sun God discharged his leadership duties with alacrity. He swung out of the straight the first time and quickly opened a gap of four or five lengths, an advantage that he maintained to the half-mile post. With the exception of Pius, who was outclassed, the field closed-in coming towards the turn although Fred Jones on the leader had them all off the steel, bar Noctuiform. The latter came at his stablemate with brilliant acceleration at the distance, to run past Sun God and record the easiest win on record for the race. Sun God beat the rest of the field just as comfortably with Lady Wallace claiming the minor placing, with the favourite the closest of the others.
Although the official winning margin was declared to be six lengths, many in attendance believed it was closer to eight. There was some confusion as to the official time for the race as well. The official timekeeper initially hoisted 2 minutes 37 ½ seconds on the semaphore, but private clockers were quick to draw his attention to the discrepancy with their own timepieces and the official winning time eventually reduced by five seconds. It was the fastest Derby ever run in the country. Certainly, the state of the ground on the day assisted the quick time, but there was no doubting that Noctuiform was a cracking good racehorse.
While the multitude crushed to get a view of Mr Stead’s wonder colt as he returned to weigh-in, perhaps the most telling testimony as to what had just taken place came from the little coterie of hardened, generally impassive, trainers congregated in their official stand. The men just stood shaking their heads and looking at their stopwatches in wonder. How much faster might he have gone if pressed? George Stead was no longer the leviathan punter he had been during his younger days, and long before 1905 had become a powerful advocate for the Totalisator, largely because of the boon to the prize money that the machine had brought to New Zealand racing. Stead maintained that the Tote had an elevating effect on the national sport in his home country. The higher stakes afforded by the machine reduced the need for substantial wagering by owners, and this was conducive to a better public image for the Turf. But Stead, and especially his coterie of friends who had come across the water, hadn’t forsaken betting entirely, as certain bookmakers during that 1905 visit could attest, and it would have taken the patience of Joab to resist such temptation as his stable of champions created.
The triumphant New Zealand finish in the Derby was merely the harbinger of a series of successes at that A.J.C. Spring Meeting from across the Tasman. Although Noctuiform didn’t appear again after sustaining a minor leg injury on the Monday following the Derby, his three stablemates more than compensated for his withdrawal. Sun God subsequently won both the New Stakes and the Grantham Stakes; Isolt won the Spring Maiden Stakes, Wycombe Stakes and Members Handicap – not bad for a filly making her racing debut at the meeting; and Nightfall won the Squatters’ Handicap and Randwick Plate. In just four days, Stead’s small team of four horses had won eight races.
If I may be forgiven a Churchillian flourish, rarely in the course of a Randwick spring meeting had one man won so much with so few. The New Zealand domination didn’t end there either, for Dick Mason had been adviser-in-chief to the owners of Maniapoto, winner of The Metropolitan, and had been superintending the training of the New Zealand horse since his arrival at Randwick. Moreover, the Kiwi domination extended to the sprints as well when even 10 st. 13lb could not stop Machine Gun in The Shorts. Having plundered the club’s coffers of so much gold, George Stead was accorded the honour of being made an honorary life member of the Australian Jockey Club. Whether it was guilt or a sense of noblesse oblige, the wealthy owner promised to donate a cup to the value of 100 guineas to be run for at the next spring meeting. The trophy subsequently came to be given for the Craven Plate.
The Derby winner and runner-up were each bred by their owner at Yaldhurst, near Christchurch in New Zealand, and were by Stead’s versatile champion galloper, Multiform. He was a descendant of the imported Pulchra, a line of blood from which Stead had derived some outstanding horses including Cruciform, Uniform and Nightfall. Multiform had won sixteen of his nineteen starts, including the New Zealand Derby and two CJC Canterbury Cups, run over the distance of 2 ¼ miles. No less a judge than Ike Foulsham regarded Multiform as the finest horse that he ever saw, while until Gloaming came along, Mason reckoned him the best horse to pass through his hands. He was sold at a large price to go to England, but he failed to strike any form in the old country in the colours of Sir Ernest Cassel. Multiform went in the wind, something which Jack Brewer, who was training in England at the time, put down not just to the change in climatic conditions but also insufficient rugging of the horse. Stead subsequently exchanged Screw Gun for Multiform and was thus able to bring his former favourite back home at a tithe of his original value. Screw Gun won a few races for Cassel amongst them the Grand Prix de Ostend, but, given Multiform’s subsequent record at stud, there isn’t much doubt as to who got the better bargain.
Multiform returned to New Zealand in September 1900, just in time for the breeding season and Stead made him available to a few outside mares besides his own at a fee of thirty guineas apiece. Noctuiform was his first A.J.C. Derby winner and largely thanks to him, Multiform was to finish the season as the leading sire in New Zealand. In the wake of his success at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Australian broodmare owners were falling over themselves to get their mares on a ship across the Tasman. Within a fortnight of the Derby, Humphrey Oxenham had despatched Acrasia, his Melbourne Cup-winning mare of the previous year, for a date with him. However, soon after this initial rush, Stead announced his intention of refusing all further outside mares and instead, reserved the horse for his own exclusive use. On the dam’s side, Noctuiform was closely related to Wakeful and F.J.A. since La Notte was a half-sister to FJA, and her dam, La Tosca, was a sister to Insomnia, the dam of Wakeful. La Notte had been bought as a yearling for 200 guineas and was never raced, being sent to the stud as a three-year-old, with Nightfall her first foal and Noctuiform her second.
Leslie (Tod) Hewitt, the jockey who guided the fortunes of the Stead horses throughout that memorable spring and rode eight winners at the meeting, was born near Melbourne in Victoria, in 1879. He acquired his nickname because he was the first jockey here to adopt the crouched riding style first made famous by the great American rider, Tod Sloan. Within just a few years of Hewitt making the style his own, it would become the dominant riding fashion. Hewitt had migrated to New Zealand as a youngster and first learnt his riding skills on stock horses at Heddon Bush station in Southland. Initially recruited as the second jockey to Bob Derrett for the Stead-Mason stable, his remarkable talent soon demanded top billing, particularly after he had ridden six winners at the 1900 New Zealand Cup Meeting. John Costello and Pat Finnegan in their excellent book ‘Tapestry of the Turf’ write: ‘Considering that Hewitt’s career began in earnest only when he started riding for Stead in 1900, it is remarkable that by the end of the 1904-05 season he had ridden the winners of more than £60,000 in stakes. Of this, £35,000 was won by horses owned by George Stead, for whom Hewitt had ridden in 172 races and won 85.”
Of course, the best was yet to come, and his winning average was given a considerable fillip at the 1905 spring meeting courtesy of Noctuiform and company. Hewitt’s success at Randwick was repeated the following year when he returned to ride the Epsom and Metropolitan double on Maximise and Solution. Subsequently, he was induced by a succession of rich retainers to ply his trade on the racecourses of England, Austria and Germany in the years leading into the Great War. His winners in England included the Cambridgeshire on Marcovil, The One Thousand Guineas on Tagalie and the Portland Stakes on The Welkin. He rode with similar success in Germany and Austria where he won every classic in both countries, with the exception of the Vienna Derby. When war broke out Hewitt quit Germany and was back in Sydney by September 1915 in time for the spring meeting but by then was riding longer in the saddle and he failed to meet with the same success and soon returned to New Zealand. Some years later he became a highly successful trainer in both Ceylon and India, where, included among his patrons was the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon. Hewitt only ever won the N.Z. jockeys’ premiership once – during the 1903-04 racing season, but this is hardly indicative of the immense influence he had on riding styles in the early years of the century on both sides of the Tasman.
George Stead didn’t have the services of either of his two Derby-placed colts for very long after the race, but for different reasons. Returned to New Zealand, Noctuiform was being prepared for the Canterbury Jockey Club’s Spring Meeting when it was announced that he had been sold to James Buchanan, the future Lord Woolavington, of England. The price was 5000 guineas, and although the sale was finalised before the Canterbury meeting, it was conditional upon the colt fulfilling his engagements at that fixture on behalf of George Stead, who was anxious for his champion to be seen on the course over which he had presided for so long as an administrator.
James Buchanan must have been comforted by the colt franking his Australian form by easily winning the only three races he contested viz. the New Zealand Cup, Derby, and the Canterbury Cup, the latter by twelve lengths from his solitary opponent. Thus, in all, Noctuiform appeared only six times on Australasian racecourses and met defeat but once. Good horse though he was – neither Stead nor Mason regarded him as the equal of his sire, Multiform. I might add that while Stead was soon deprived of the services both of Noctuiform and Sun God, Isolt, the filly that had been unraced before her runs in Sydney, went from strength to strength. This daughter of Noctuiform went on to win the Middle Park Plate, Great Northern Oaks and New Zealand St Leger, finishing the season unbeaten in eight starts.
It would be agreeable to write that Noctuiform upheld the finest traditions of the Turf upon his expatriation to England, but nothing could be further from the truth. He failed to disclose any form at all in a series of races, and the reason given was that the horse had contracted pneumonia on the Ruapehu going over. The malady reportedly affected his breathing. James Buchanan, his new owner, had amassed a fortune in the whisky business and was a princely supporter of the Turf in that country, and was the principal patron of the Beckhampton stable presided over by Fred Darling.
Few men spent so lavishly on bloodstock as Buchanan, but he enjoyed little fortune in the first dozen years or so that he played about the racecourse. His luck only changed a few years later when he purchased Hurry On as a yearling in 1914 for 500 guineas. When Noctuiform went to England, he was trumpeted as a future winner of the Cesarewitch, the Cambridgeshire and goodness knows what else! For a brief time, Tod Hewitt, who was riding in England was re-associated with him. I think the horse managed to win a paltry selling race before Buchanan offloaded him to a Captain Fenwicke for five hundred guineas. In this new ownership, Noctuiform was eventually put to jumping. At his first appearance under National Hunt Rules, he fell and broke a fetlock at Haydock Park in January 1909 and was destroyed.
George Stead had no sooner disposed of Noctuiform than Sun God died. The horse was doing a half-mile gallop in preparation for the Great Northern Derby when he shied and swerved into a fence, turning a complete somersault. It is interesting to speculate on what Sun God might have done at stud had he been spared for such duties, particularly in the light of the success his two brothers, Martian and Boniform, achieved there. Otterden, the dam of Sun God, was one of the mares that George Stead had brought out from England. When she crossed the waters, she was in foal to the English sire Martagon, and the foal she was carrying was none other than the great Martian – a good racehorse but, more importantly, possibly the greatest stallion ever to stand in New Zealand.
Sun God was Otterden’s next foal, but the one to follow him on to the racecourse was the unbeaten Boniform. This fellow suffered from unsoundness and only appeared in public three times – once a season for three successive years. At two Boniform won the Breeders’ Plate at Randwick; at three he was patched up to win The Great Northern Derby, and at four he annexed the Great Autumn Handicap at Canterbury. The length of his stay in the stallion barn more than counterbalanced the brevity of his career on the racecourse. Boniform may never have headed the sires’ premiership, but he was responsible for a host of top-class gallopers and amongst the greatest of which were probably The Toff and Eligible, who were raced by George Stead’s son, Gerald. As I say, it is interesting to ponder what Sun God might have done had he been spared to serve.
There are two measures or tests that can be applied to racing greatness. One is the clock itself, that absolute standard that brooks no contradiction if the timepiece itself, is functioning correctly. As we have noted, there was some doubt on that September day in 1905. The second test, while more subjective, is often the more convincing, and that is that the true measure of the victor may be derived directly from the mettle of the vanquished. Leading into that A.J.C. Spring Meeting of 1905, Joe Burton was lavish in his praise for Lady Wallace, encouraging John McDonald to believe that she would give him his second blue riband inside of two years. The filly did too, but McDonald had to wait until the V.R.C. Meeting at Flemington a few weeks later to receive it, when she became the first filly since Briseis in 1876 to win the Victoria Derby. After being beaten pointlessly by the Stead pair in the A.J.C. Derby, Lady Wallace went down again to Sun God by five lengths in the New Stakes on Monday, her only other run at the A.J.C. fixture. But her fortunes changed after that.
With the Dominion invaders safely shipped back to their homeland, Lady Wallace proceeded to reel off eight consecutive victories in the spring and autumn that included the Caulfield Guineas, Victoria Derby, V.R.C. Oaks, St George Stakes, V.R.C. All-Aged Stakes and both St Legers. Included in that sequence were two defeats of the champion New Zealand mare, Gladsome, and it was that same mare who eventually halted her winning run when Mr McDonald’s good lady was beaten a half-head in the All-Aged Stakes at Randwick. As we shall see, what Lady Wallace failed to achieve on the racecourse in the A.J.C. Derby, she achieved in the paddock. Retired to her owner’s Mungie Bundie Stud, in due course she produced a son, Cisco, who was successful in the 1911 running of the classic while another of her foals was Balarang, a Futurity Stakes winner. Charles Stuart, the beaten favourite in the 1905 Derby, never again recaptured the brilliance of his juvenile season. He ran an inglorious last of three in the A.J.C. St Leger, although as an older horse he did manage to redeem something of his reputation by winning an All-Aged Stakes at Randwick as well as a Moonee Valley Cup.
George Stead died in the autumn of 1908 and with his passing went one of the great racing empires in our part of the world. Since the days of Lochiel, Stead had set apart a certain sum each year to cover his racing and breeding expenses, but in all the years that followed he never once had to draw upon the account, for it was always in credit. During his thirty years as an owner, Stead only ever retained two trainers. David Jones had been the first, and when he died in May 1887, Mason took over all of his horses. Stead’s contribution to New Zealand racing can’t be measured just regarding horses raced, or prizes won. He was one of the foremost administrators in the land for more than three decades, a chairman of the Canterbury Jockey Club and one of the main sponsors of the Racing Conference, attending the first of the annual conferences in 1886 as Canterbury’s representative.
The dispersal sale of his stud occurred four months after his death – in August 1908. In total, 72 lots were offered, and with buyers coming from all over Australia and New Zealand the magnificent sum of 41,815 guineas was realised. The highest prices brought were by the rising three-year-old filly, Golden Slipper (4500 guineas), and Multiform (3750 guineas). Golden Slipper proved expensive on the racetrack, and as we shall see, she finished down the course in Parsee’s Derby; Multiform, despite getting another Derby winner in Beragoon was, sadly, somewhat wasted over here. George Stead’s death by no means spelt the end of Dick Mason’s incredible training career. Rather, it heralded the beginning of another long-term partnership with his second great patron of the New Zealand Turf, a partnership that would see him win a further three A.J.C. Derbies, which we shall get to in due course.