This chapter of our chronicle introduces us to the stud that bred more winners of the A.J.C. Derby than any other during the first half of the twentieth century. Younger readers will be surprised to learn that its location was – of all places – in the northwest of New South Wales, on the Moree Plains in the fertile Gwydir River Valley. It was on January 9, 1832, that Major Thomas Mitchell arrived in the vicinity of Mungie Bundie having set out in November 1831 from the Hunter to investigate the story of the runaway convict, George Clarke, and the great river that flowed northwest to the sea. Mitchell in due course reached the Barwon, near Mungindi. The Baldwin family first squatted and later claimed the run that became famous as the Mungie Bundie Stud.
However, the coming of the Land Acts, with surveyed boundaries and charges for land used, saw reductions in the size of runs; and the introduction of the Robertson Land Acts of 1861- intended to break the monopoly of the squatters, saw holdings reduced even further. The first land sales in the Moree district occurred as late as June 1868, and the first small school established there only in July 1872. In due course, the Baldwin family parted with Mungie Bundie and concentrated on their Diniwarindi station (the name changed in 1885 to Durham Court) further south near Manilla, where Charles Baldwin established his pioneering thoroughbred stud. The development of the Mungie Bundie pastures for thoroughbred breeding would have to wait until the appointed hour. When that hour finally arrived, it fell to the lot of an ambitious young Scotsman who had first landed in Australia at the age of just sixteen.
Born in Inverness-shire in Scotland in December 1842, John McDonald came to Sydney in 1858 attracted by family connections and the opportunities on the land that Australia offered. He first went to Old Goree Station, near Jerilderie, an area later to be infamously associated with the Kelly gang and which was then being managed by McDonald’s brother-in-law, John Spiller. From there young John transferred to Nangunyah Station, near Berrigan, following which he went on to become overseer at Ellerslie Station, near Adelong. It was of these pioneering days that Banjo Patterson was writing when recollecting a young John McDonald, possessed of nothing more than a branding iron and a determination to use it.
Much of the country was unfenced then, and unbranded clean-skin shorthorn cattle ran wild, many having escaped from nearby properties. Such animals became the lawful property of anybody that could yard them, and McDonald managed to get them out of the mountains in the hundreds. He built traps yards away up in the high country, sometimes working by moonlight long after his men had retired to camp. In 1939 Banjo asked one of the old-timers whether McDonald had been a good rider in those days and there came the response: “Well, nothing out of the ordinary in the buckjumping line, but put him after a clean-skin and he’d show you some class. He’d take two or three falls rather than let a clean-skin get away from him.”
It was this rare Scotch blend of thrift and industry, vigour and pugnacity, fortified by an indomitable self-righteousness and a faith that somehow a prosperous earthly life was ordained to him by the divine blessing that saw John McDonald’s fortunes rise so dramatically in his adopted country. It was this same spirit that saw McDonald quit the mountain country and become one of a partnership in 1875 that took over the Mungie Bundie station in the Moree district. In due course, he bought out his partners and set about making it one of the most prominent holdings in the State. Close to Moree and about eighty miles south of Tucka Tucka, intersected by two rivers, the Mungie Bundie property ran to some 60,000 acres of freehold.
Having established himself on the land as a wealthy grazier and pastoralist, he seemed the natural prey of all country mothers with daughters. However, the determined and dour 42-year-old McDonald knew what he wanted, and in November 1884 he performed that necessary act of any man seeking to establish a distinguished family. He committed hypergamy when he took to himself as a 27-year-old wife Rebecca, the eldest daughter of Franc Falkiner, the Master of Boonoke, Deniliquin. Alas, while it was a union of two prosperous pastoral empires, and the resulting influx of Boonoke rams and ewes improved the fleece, as a marriage it was ill-starred: failing to yield any children and Rebecca herself dying just nine years later in July 1893 at Mungie Bundie.
It was partly as a diversion to salve the bitterness of this profoundly personal loss that John McDonald began to take a more active interest in the metropolitan Turf, being elected a member of the A.J.C. on October 14th, 1895 and registering his colours. Naturally enough, like a real Scot, the colours that he registered comprised the McDonald tartan. It wasn’t until the last years of the nineteenth century that he decided to establish a thoroughbred stud at Mungie Bundie, coinciding with the extension of the railway to the Moree district in 1897. Until McDonald’s foray into the world of thoroughbred breeding, Moree – not far from the Queensland border – wasn’t regarded seriously as a nursery for the rearing of first-class thoroughbreds.
McDonald turned that thinking on its ear. After all, a climate of extended warm to hot summers with moderate and variable rainfall and winters of cool, bright days if frosty nights, seemed well suited to the breeding of the thoroughbred. The man who was to become the most successful individual breeder in the history of the A.J.C. Derby, with no less than four winners, proceeded to build up the Mungie Bundie Stud with all the canny judgement and single-minded determination for which the Scots as a race are renowned. As the long reign of Queen Victoria drew to its inevitable close, some major stud dispersals including Morphetville, Duckenfield Park, Kirkham and St Albans occurred in Australia and McDonald used all of these opportunities for augmenting his broodmare ranks.
McDonald first laid the foundations of the Mungie Bundie Stud when he attended the dispersal sale of the Morphetville Stud in July 1897, shortly after the death of Sir Thomas Elder. That day he purchased the stallion Mostyn and several broodmares, among them being Lady Lovelace, dam of that great stayer Portsea, and the Neckersgat yearling, Lady Mostyn, for 160 and 250 guineas respectively. Mostyn, a well-bred English horse, foaled in Australia, had carried Robert Barr Smith’s colours to victory in successive Goodwood Handicaps in Adelaide, as well as a Toorak Handicap at Caulfield, and was intended by McDonald to become his resident stallion at Mungie Bundie, although over time Mostyn failed to measure up. Nonetheless, he provided early success when his daughter Lady Mostyn, carrying the McDonald tartan, won the Maribyrnong Plate at the 1897 VRC Spring Meeting and thereby giving the Mungie Bundie studmaster his first significant success on the Turf. Disappointing though Mostyn was to ultimately prove, Lady Mostyn in due course was to be responsible for one of the best-performed racehorses ever to carry the McDonald livery, as well as Mungie Bundie’s first Victoria Derby winner, Lady Wallace.
As satisfying as the bloodstock acquisitions at the Morphetville Stud dispersal were, it was the business that John McDonald did on a December day in 1900 that established the Mungie Bundie Stud. McDonald had his eyes on Bonnie Rosette, a well-endowed English broodmare in foal to Hagioscope that the late William Wilson had acquired in England at the Childwick Bury sales in 1890 for 400 guineas. The only progeny she left in England, Undecided, developed into a good handicapper, while her subsequent foal to Hagioscope dropped in Australia turned out to be Koran, who won races here and later proved a useful stallion when he stood in South Australia at Henry Warren’s farm.
In her first three seasons here, Bonnie Rosette was mated with Trenton, and each of the progeny proved first-class. The colt Majestic was the first of these foals, and while he failed to win a major race, at stud, he got the Grand National and Sydney and Australian Cups winner, Realm, among some good gallopers. The second and third foals resulting from Bonnie Rosette’s dalliance with Trenton were the fillies, Majesty and Ma Mie Rosette, and each threw tip-top gallopers at stud. The former getting the 1909 Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes winner, Metograph; and the latter Signor, a good stayer in New Zealand who won both the New Zealand St Leger and the Canterbury Cup.
Trenton’s last assignation with Bonnie Rosette, which resulted in Ma Mie Rosette, came only a matter of weeks before the champion stallion was sold and shipped to the Cobham Stud in Kent in December 1895. It was thus in the spring of 1896 that William Wilson was forced to procure another lover for his favourite broodmare. Not surprisingly, his choice fell on Wallace, Carbine’s son, who that year was belatedly serving his first book of mares at St Albans, having been rushed to the stallion barn after his failure to stand a spring preparation following his third in the Caulfield Stakes. Proof that Bonnie Rosette brought as much to these licit relations as her escort came when the resulting foal, Kinglike, won both the Caulfield Guineas and Eclipse Stakes at the heath in 1900.
Clearly here seemed to be a broodmare that clicked with any stallion. Indeed, these Caulfield victories of her latest son were fresh in the minds of those gathered for the dispersal of the St Albans bloodstock on that hot December morning in 1900. The dispersal had been brought about by the premature death of Wilson some months before. Bonnie Rosette came under the hammer with her second Wallace foal at foot and having been served by the same stallion again. John McDonald was forced to go to 700 guineas to secure the rising 14-year-old broodmare and her accompanying foal. At the same time, he paid 450 guineas for She, by Nordenfeldt, already the dam of Bobadil and served again by Bill of Portland.
The broodmares were despatched by rail to Mungie Bundie, a fortunate choice of transport, given the storm encountered by the steamship Arrawatta upon which three horses died. John McDonald had agreed to lease Bonnie Rosette’s foal at foot at the time of sale to Les MacDonald, who had so successfully managed the St Albans Stud on behalf of William Wilson. MacDonald later became famous in his own right as the owner of Wakeful, whom he also acquired at the same dispersal. Bonnie Rosette’s foal was no Wakeful, but a handsome chestnut colt, and, registered as Scottish King he more than upheld the family reputation by winning the 1904 St Leger at Flemington. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1901 in the lush pastures of Mungie Bundie, Bonnie Rosette dropped the filly foal by Wallace that she was carrying at the time of her purchase by MacDonald.
A fine upstanding black filly, she was subsequently registered as Bonnie Crest but dislocated one of her hind fetlocks when being prepared for the 1904 Randwick Spring Meeting. Saved for stud purposes, she later threw Bonnie Plume who won the 1918 A.J.C. Challenge Stakes. But I digress. Let us return to the late winter of 1903, as John McDonald was once again contemplating his book of Mungie Bundie broodmares, and even then, it was hard to ignore the mounting body of evidence that Bonnie Rosette enjoyed something of a special nick with the great Wallace. Bonnie Rosette hadn’t been served the previous year, and it was in this unencumbered state that McDonald resolved to send her all the way from Moree to Melbourne – a distance of over a thousand miles – to be paired yet again with that outstanding son of Carbine. The following spring, she dropped a handsome chestnut colt to be reared in the same Mungie Bundie paddocks as was Belah.
Given Scottish King’s recent St Leger victory, John McDonald subsequently decided to offer the strapping colt for sale as a yearling. He was one of two offerings that Mungie Bundie made on the second day of Messrs Chisholm and Co’s sales in April 1906. The other was yet another stylish chestnut colt by Mostyn out of the former A.J.C. Derby winner, Picture. The pair had been sent directly from Mungie Bundie to Joe Burton’s stables and had not been housed and bulked up for the sales. Chisholm and Co were rather unfortunate with their auction of yearlings at their Randwick stables that year, which were marred by heavy rain. Although the sales began and finished in the open, in between an adjournment had to be made to the enclosed ring when the downfall was at its heaviest.
The crowd of spectators there was so large that it was impossible to parade the yearlings on offer. John McDonald’s sales prospects dimmed accordingly, and while the colt from Picture was bought-in by James Barnes for 150 guineas, the Bonnie Rosette colt was passed in at 350 guineas – well under the reserve of 600 guineas. It was a far cry from the 2000 guineas paid the following day in the bright sunshine at the William Inglis Sales by Andrew Chirnside for the yearling filly by Sir Foote from Etra Weenie bred by George Lee – the highest price paid for a yearling in New South Wales since the palmy days of Hobartville. Still, even rain clouds have silver linings – or at least those that descended upon the Chisholm sales at Randwick that April afternoon did for John McDonald. He resolved to keep his unsold mountain of a colt to race himself, and the following month submitted his registration as Mountain King. In the meantime, he entrusted the horse’s welfare to the white-headed Master of Rathluba.
58-year-old Joe Burton, who trained out of the celebrated Rathluba stables overlooking Randwick racecourse, already had two A.J.C. Derbies to his name, the latest having come with John McDonald’s Belah in 1903. An articulate and astute racing man in all facets of the sport, he was a real salt of the Turf and just the man to get the best out of this awkward son of Wallace. He had one race in mind for the youngster’s debut. In 1906, the A.J.C. committee under the chairmanship of the Hon. Richard Jones decided to include in their spring programme two well-endowed races for two-year-olds. The first was the Breeders’ Plate of 1250 sovereigns over five furlongs on the second day; the second was the Gimcrack Stakes of 500 sovereigns over four-and-a-half furlongs on the third day. At the time that the committee took this initiative, it could scarcely have dreamt of the happy auspices surrounding their initial runnings. Mountain King, despite his lumbering frame and unorthodox galloping action, had already shown Joe Burton enough in early morning gallops to allow the colt to take his place in the field for the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Plate despite being underdone.
The colt most likely, according to bookmakers and the public, was Boniform, who, like his older brother Sun God, hailed from New Zealand and was owned by George Stead and trained by Dick Mason. A ready-made blood bay with black points and standing about 14.3 he was a colt of exquisite quality. Mountain King didn’t help his chances by initially breaking through the barrier and bolting a couple of furlongs before pulling up. When the starter eventually despatched them properly, Mountain King showed early speed and at the half-distance was actually in front narrowly from Maltine, the first of the Maltsters to sport colours. However, Boniform came with a brilliant run to just catch the son of Wallace on the line and win by a head with the filly Maltine three lengths further adrift. Maltine subsequently franked the form when, with the first pair out of the way, she won the inaugural Gimcrack Stakes on the third day of the fixture.
Mountain King’s only other appearance that season came just over a month later in the V.R.C. Maribyrnong Stakes on the opening day of the Flemington carnival in which he disputed favouritism. On the dead ground, Mountain King struggled in the final furlong to finish a well-beaten sixth in the race won by Maltine, who triumphed despite a 10lb penalty incurred following her Gimcrack victory. Alas, the influenza microbe got possession of Mountain King during his Melbourne sojourn, and he suffered for some months which prevented him racing again as a juvenile. In his absence, each of the two-year-old plums – be it the Ascot Vale Stakes and the Champagne Stakes or each of the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington and Randwick – were won by a different horse, which is generally proof of the absence of anything outstanding in a season. Indeed, such was borne out by subsequent events when none made it into the A.J.C. Derby field the following spring.
Although spared a racing campaign in the fall, Joe Burton had Mountain King back in work during April, as autumn with its infinite palette of tints came creeping across the training grounds. A little difficult to handle as a two-year-old, by the following season Mountain King hadn’t so much matured as ripened; he now stood at nearly 16.2 and had lengthened in proportion although still a trifle on the leg. A master of the long and searching preparation for the stayer, Burton had Mountain King in steady work prior to his only three-year-old appearance before the Derby, when he was summoned to the colours in the Rawson Stakes at the Tattersall’s Club meeting at Randwick in mid-September. It was a good field too, and except for Mooltan, and Boniform who went amiss during the week prior, all the best horses in training were under colours.
The field numbered fourteen and headed by no less a celebrity than Poseidon, together with Collarit – the champion miler from the previous season. Apart from Mountain King, the field included some likely Derby candidates in Peru, Blue Book and Maranui. Opposite the grandstand Mountain King had the lot settled with his seven-league stride and won comfortably from Collarit and Poseidon, the latter conceding the winner 33lb no less. The victory provided heartening affirmation to both McDonald and Burton and strengthened the colt’s primacy in Derby betting. Provided the classic wasn’t a taxing contest of stamina, Joe Burton was confident of his charge, particularly when on Derby morn Mountain King ran a half-mile in 48 ½ seconds with his shoes on. When the betting opened on the course on Derby Day, a few hardy bagmen offered even money on the field, but an eager rush of punters quickly compelled them to alter their figures. Mountain King was being backed at 4/6 and hardened later to 8/15.
Visitors to Randwick on Derby Day found the inner reserve a good deal altered in appearance by the expansion of the saddling paddock and the improvements to the grandstand, coming in at the cost of nearly £22,000. Another new feature was the unique suite of furnished saloons established for the exclusive pleasure of the Governor-General and the State Governor and their entourages and, appropriately, Sir Harry Rawson, together with his daughter, Alice, were in attendance. Other enhancements included an iron bridge facilitating egress to the tramway; a new start for the six-furlong course; a new scratching board for the convenience of patrons of the St Leger reserve; and a new sanitary system.
The Railway Commissioners were also in the midst of an extension to the tramway service, facilitating delays when returning from the course. Other modes of transport were also in evidence and a sign of the times. The carriage paddock that had once been aflame with only grand spanking equipages and high-stepping and highly groomed horses now shared the space with the dreaded motors. The Sydney Mail printed a photograph of the scene and a comment that the chauffeur, trim and alert, had evidently come to stay, and beside him, the coachman was already beginning to look a somewhat quaint figure.
Nor had the changes to the face of racing been restricted to course improvements alone. In June the A.J.C. had removed the ban brought on by a connection to pony racing of some 75 owners, 13 trainers, and 45 jockeys that had taken part in unauthorised meetings in the metropolitan area, and some, such as Myles Connell, now made an appearance on Derby Day.
The 1907 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Best backed to beat Mountain King for the Derby was Peru, a fine, strapping colt by Grafton, and another of those good gallopers bred by Thomas Payten in conjunction with James Thompson and reared at Oakleigh in the Widden Valley. Payten had bought Peru’s dam, a Tasmanian mare, out of the Malahide Stud and recommended Peru to Agar Wynne who bought him for 280 guineas when he went through the Inglis Yearling Sales. Payten didn’t try him until midsummer of his two-year-old season, and he was good enough to finish runner-up in both the Ascot Vale Stakes and the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes before finding the mile of the Easter Stakes much more to his liking on the third day of the autumn fixture. He shaped as a genuinely dour stayer.
The next line of Derby betting was shared by Welcome Trist and Maranui. The former, carrying the colours of Ernest White of Belltrees and bought by him as a yearling, had been bred by Frank Reynolds at the Tocal Stud on the Lower Hunter; he was a half-brother to the good galloper, Regio. John Finn, trained Welcome Trist, who had finished well in both the Sires’ Produce and Champagne Stakes as a juvenile without finding a place; while on his seasonal reappearance he had disappointed in the Rawson Stakes. However, he had redeemed his reputation by subsequently winning handicaps at both Rosehill and Hawkesbury. And on each occasion, he had finished like a true stayer. Maranui had been brought across from New Zealand for the Derby by the veteran Dan O’Brien who bred him, although commitments elsewhere meant that old Dan couldn’t stay for the Derby and on the eve of the race he handed the colt over to Frank McGrath to complete his classic preparation. Seddon, a full brother to the champion New Zealand galloper, Wairiki, was on the fourth line of betting; he carried the colours of Lauchlan Mackinnon and was trained by Ike Foulsham in Victoria.
As a race, the 1907 Derby was a farceur’s version of a genuine contest. One had to go back eleven years to the Derby won by Charge in 1896 to recall an exhibition as bad as that enacted in the classic won by Mountain King. Certainly, the tactics, or rather the lack thereof employed by rival jockeys played into Mick Hickey’s hands. A slow pace is always a risk with a small field, and this septet of thoroughbreds for the first seven furlongs moved with all the urgency of a funeral cortege. Passing the members’ grandstand, Welcome Trist pulling great guns took it upon himself, with no cooperation from his rider, to render the pace warmer. Accordingly, from the winning post to the first bend the field got up to something like a racing gait but had no sooner done so than Charlie Barden, regaining possession of his mount, jagged Welcome Trist’s head in the air to stop the momentum.
The result was a melee of bumping and the first half-mile taking 58 seconds. Nor was there any improvement when they entered the long backstretch, dawdling until they passed the five-furlong post. There were unconfirmed reports afterwards that the ordinarily impassive Joe Burton was seen giggling in the trainers’ stand. Only after the five did this strange idyll translate into a race and by then, there was nothing that was going to touch the favourite for speed. The middle half-mile went by in 55 ½ seconds and the last half-mile in 48 ¼ seconds, and while the margin on the line was only a neck to Welcome Trist, the Derby was John McDonald’s a long way from home.
Mountain King appeared twice more at Randwick during that week. On Monday he was untroubled to win the New Stakes at special weights over nine furlongs; and on the Wednesday in a fascinating contest for the Craven Plate, Mountain King as the 7/4 favourite just got there in the shadows of the post from a field that included the great Poseidon. Except for the Wakeful-Cruciform match four years earlier, it is doubtful that there had ever been such an exciting Craven Plate or one with such a heated clash in the jockeys’ room afterwards. Poseidon, it appears got into some trouble with Mountain King during the running, and while no complaint came to the stewards, Hickey and Clayton almost fell to blows. Burton withdrew Mountain King from the balance of his engagements at the A.J.C. meeting after the Craven Plate, and, relying on Tartan for the rich Randwick Plate, captured that prize for the sporting owner J. J. Macken. It was a timely reminder of Burton’s talent with stayers, for prior to that spring meeting Tartan had been off the scene for about eighteen months, following an argument with a wire fence on his owner’s property.
Still, as good as Tartan’s comeback had been, it was Mountain King’s blue riband that was the principal sporting topic in stockmen’s huts, shearer’s camps and station parlours in the weeks after the A.J.C. fixture, for it had been one of the most enigmatic Derby performances in years. As the candles guttered and smoked, and glasses were emptied and filled in the roistering taverns and the inns, the arguments as to the true worth of the big colt went on. Time would show that the quality of the also-rans in that Derby was nothing to be sneered at for both Maranui and Blue Book won Caulfield Cups in 1908 and 1909 respectively. And the talent didn’t stop there. Peru proved himself a first-class galloper the following autumn, winning both the Australian Cup and Champion Stakes at Flemington; and later in the spring the A.J.C. Randwick Plate and the V.R.C. Melbourne Stakes as well, besides finishing runner-up to the Joe Burton-trained Mooltan in The Metropolitan.
The 1907 Randwick Spring Meeting provided a rather satisfying consolation to John McDonald for having been narrowly denied a place on the A.J.C. committee at the annual general meeting of the club, held earlier in the new season in its Bligh-street premises. All of the retiring members of the committee had offered themselves for re-election on that occasion, while John McDonald together with Harry Osborne of Currandooley, challenged. For the first time in the history of the club, a tied vote resulted in the final vacancy between McDonald and Walter Hall. In these extraordinary circumstances, the chairman Adrian Knox adjourned the meeting until the following day and meanwhile resolved to seek the advice of the club’s counsel, Ernest Lamb. The subsequent dialogue resulted in Knox casting his deciding vote in favour of the sitting member. McDonald’s accession to the committee was delayed rather than denied because in April the following year he replaced the Hon. Richard Jones upon the latter’s retirement. I might add that it wasn’t just Mountain King’s owner that contributed to the administration of racing in those years, but so too did the horse’s trainer. Just two days before winning the blue riband, at the annual meeting of the NSW Breeders, Owners, and Trainers’ Association at Franklin’s Cambridge Club Hotel, Joe Burton had been elected to fill a vacancy on the committee.
Mountain King went to the post for the Victoria Derby at the prohibitive odds of 2/5 in a field of seven and won with a length to spare, but it was by no means an impressive performance. The same three horses that filled the Derby placings at Randwick did so again at Flemington, albeit with a reversal of the minor positions. There was some uncertainty about Mountain King taking his place in the Melbourne Cup field when it rained heavily on Sunday, which somewhat cramped betting on Cup Eve. John McDonald, who was staying at Scott’s Hotel along with friends, was averse to subjecting his colt to such a severe test given the easy pickings in the rich weight-for-age contests. In the end, he only started the big son of Wallace in the two-miler because the weather was clear and the fact that his many friends had already supported the horse.
As it transpired, Mountain King ran a respectable race to take the minor placing behind Apologue, having looked the likely winner as the field entered the straight. Impressive as that performance was, it was Mountain King’s victories on the last two days of the V.R.C. meeting that had the sporting populace excited. On Oaks Day in the Flying Stakes, only three horses opposed Mountain King and supporters had to lay 4/7 the big chestnut. Mountain King won with quite eight lengths to spare and yet the time of 1 minute 27 seconds was within a quarter-second of the seven-furlong course record! On the last day, Mountain King clashed with Poseidon in a two-horse race for the C.B. Fisher Plate at weight-for-age over the mile-and-a-half. Only weeks before, the four-year-old Poseidon had carried 9 stone to win the Caulfield Cup over the same distance and yet Mountain King, who refused to set a solid tempo, won easing up by four lengths. It was apparent that another great and versatile racehorse had arrived upon the scene.
It was almost a similar story in the autumn. Mountain King resumed from his summer spell to win the V.A.T.C. St George Stakes at Caulfield with contemptuous ease, but at his very next start went under to the seven-year-old imported English stallion, Antonio, in the Futurity Stakes. The peculiar, hybrid conditions of that race – set weights with penalties and allowances, i.e. a handicap in all but name only – meant that Mountain King was receiving just 2lb from the much older horse. Still, it sharpened the son of Wallace right up for the V.R.C. St Leger the following Saturday in which only three went around; he beat the others pointlessly after making his own pace. It is worth reflecting that Peru, who was runner-up in that red riband and couldn’t make Mountain King gallop, came out the following week and snaffled both the Australian Cup and Champion Stakes. Was it any wonder that Mountain King was left to take the Loch Plate on the third day in a walkover when all his rivals withdrew, although in so doing John McDonald had to be satisfied with just half the stake. There were mutterings that the champion three-year-old had thereby deliberately avoided a clash with Antonio in the All-Aged Stakes, but the critics were perhaps ignoring Mountain King’s upcoming engagements at Randwick.
Mountain King has become something of a forgotten champion of the Australian Turf for reasons which will emerge in the following paragraphs. However, it is perhaps worth mentioning that when the weights came out for the 1908 Sydney Cup, his handicap was a massive 17lb over weight-for-age. By comparison, Poseidon, the established champion of Australia, in the very same race was asked by the handicapper to carry only 11lb over. In the end, neither horse started in the event. Mountain King featured during A.J.C. autumn week on just two days. Under a gloomy grey sky and on rain-sodden ground Mountain King won the A.J.C. St Leger from his only two rivals in a hollow fashion. Indeed, the big horse competed more with his jockey, Hickey, than his two opponents.
The son of Wallace made his last two racecourse appearances for the season on the third day of the meeting. The first came in the All Aged Stakes over the mile when he again ran out a comfortable winner. Such was the ease of the win that John McDonald sanctioned the colt to start for the second time that day – three races later in the weight-for-age Cumberland Stakes over two miles. McDonald had already resolved to give his horse a lengthy spell after the meeting closed but meanwhile was anxious for another crack at Poseidon. It proved poor judgement and Mountain King, resenting the demands made upon him, became quite uncontrollable and fought Hickey in a manner that would have settled any horse.
He was beaten badly, running last and knocking himself about into the bargain. It was a tragedy that such a triumphant season – a dozen wins in fifteen starts – should have ended so poorly. Nonetheless, it was thanks to Mountain King and his £9,407 first prizemoney that John McDonald headed the List of Winning Owners for the 1907-08 racing season. McDonald, of course, was a very wealthy man long before Mountain King came along. However, the stream of gold that flowed from his champion’s racecourse achievements certainly assisted when that same year McDonald decided to purchase the land at the corner of Hunter-street and Castlereagh-street in the city, upon which he later erected the building known as Castlereagh House.
Nothing offends racing men and favours equivocal reports more than absence from the racecourse, and I refer here to men as well as horses. When racing men go missing, their financial soundness may be questioned; when horses go missing, their physical soundness is questioned. It was after Mountain King’s inglorious last in the A.J.C. Cumberland Stakes, and John McDonald’s subsequent declaration that the horse would rest for at least a year, that rumours which had long circulated about his roaring, assumed more than a semblance of truth. Sol Green, aware of them, tried to buy Mountain King as a stallion for his Shipley Stud near Warrnambool, but McDonald wanted to retain the horse for Mungie Bundie, and no sale eventuated. Green went off and bought Positano instead. Mountain King was given a few mares in the spring of 1908, and then in April 1909, John McDonald decided to have the horse trained again and returned him to Rathluba. It would have been better to have left well alone. In four starts as a spring five-year-old Mountain King failed to run a place: his last race coming in the A.J.C. Craven Plate when he finished down the course behind his stablemate Maltine.
John McDonald had already proven himself a successful breeder long before Mountain King retired to his Mungie Bundie Stud and most of that success had come from colonial stallions. It tickled his parsimonious fancy that he had won a total of four Derbies with three different horses – and all of them homebreds. Having patronised the likes of Wallace and Havoc, McDonald had enjoyed the rewards of Lady Wallace, Belah and Mountain King. Was it any wonder then that he was now prepared to install the last mentioned as his resident stallion at Moree?
In his first couple of seasons at stud, Mountain King competed with San Francisco for mares, but once McDonald sold that stallion back to New Zealand in April 1910, he used our Derby hero more freely. Mountain King’s 1911 progeny included the top colt Mountain Knight, winner of the 1914 A.J.C. Derby as well as the St Legers at Randwick and Flemington. Indeed, in siring an A.J.C. Derby winner, Mountain King became only the third winner of the race to do so following on from the precedent set by the great Yattendon and Robinson Crusoe in the nineteenth century. Initially standing at a service fee of 30 guineas, after Mountain Knight came along it jumped to 50 guineas. There were a few seasons during the War years when Mountain King topped the averages at the Sydney Yearling Sales and in 1916 his colt from the imported Caserta’s Daughter realised the highest price of those sales when he went for 1350 guineas.
Although never particularly patronised with outside mares, he did well enough with those that John McDonald owned. Mountain King proved equal to getting fast early two-year-olds such as Del Monte and Pah King, winners respectively of the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate and the V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate; as well as seasoned stayers such as Mehi King and Tibbie, winners respectively of the City Tattersall’s Cup and the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap. Mehi King also finished runner-up in the Victoria Derby to Wolaroi, after trying to lead all the way. All told, Mountain King sired ten principal winners of nineteen principal races and also sired the dams of Avernus, Denali and Lovebox. Mountain King spent his entire active stud life at Mungie Bundie.
John McDonald remained a significant figure on the Sydney Turf until March 1920 when at the age of seventy-seven he retired from the A.J.C. committee, having served on that body for around twelve years in total, covering two separate terms. Walter Brunton subsequently succeeded to the vacancy. Less than twelve months earlier, in June 1919, McDonald had sold the famous Mungie Bundie station with all the stock including the distinguished stud of thoroughbreds, to his long-term manager John Burgess and his wife, in partnership. Mungie Bundie didn’t survive as a thoroughbred stud for very long under the Burgess’ ownership. In April 1926 the entire stud was put up for outright sale. The stock included the former champion Kennaquhair, then the resident stallion, together with about forty mares, most of them having foals at foot by either Kennaquhair or Mountain King, and having been served by them again.
After separating from Mungie Bundie, McDonald continued his active interest in the wool industry and in May 1922 was elected chairman of the Co-operative Wool and Produce Co. Ltd. He was in many ways a secretive and intensely private person and the closing years of his long life went unrecorded from the prurient gaze of posterity. He was shaken by the death of his beloved sister, Isabella, of North Yathong and Somerset Park stations, aged 93 in November 1924. John McDonald, who lived his last years at the Hotel Metropole in Bent-street, Sydney, died in his 94th year on March 38, 1936, at Darlinghurst. Childless, his large estate was subsequently administered by the Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd.
Mountain King was the third and last of Joe Burton’s Derby winners at Randwick, although as we shall see in a later chapter, he was unlucky not to have trained Biplane, the 1917 Derby victor. Over the years Burton had won most of the big races conducted at headquarters, particularly the rich staying handicaps. He won the Sydney Cup twice, first with Normanby (1885) and then with Tartan (1905). Normanby was trained on behalf of the Bathurst identity, William Kite, who had been responsible for breeding the famous stallion Gozo, and was a home-bred by Gemma di Vergy. Tartan, by contrast, had been bred by Francis Foy at The Monastery Stud, near Parkes, and raced by James Macken, a partner and brother-in-law of Mark Foy. As if to complement his brace of Sydney Cups, Burton also had the distinction of winning The Metropolitan twice, and each time with mares starting at good prices. Cremona, who he trained for John McMaster, won the race in 1899; while his second winner came with Maltine in 1909 on behalf of John Spencer Brunton. He might have had a third winner, too, for in 1904 he trained the two-minor place-getters, Tartan and Cato, beaten by the lightweight Alias. The Epsom Handicap had also come Burton’s way on two occasions with Dare Devil (1892) and Air Motor (1902).
Burton’s clients included some of the most respected owners of the period such as Charles McPhillamy of Warroo, and Riverina grazier William Mate, as well as the likes of William Brown and Dan Seaton. He won the Melbourne Cup for Seaton with Westcourt in that controversial finish of 1917 and might have won the Cup a second time – and this time for himself – having bred and reared Bitalli and raced him early on. I don’t think Burton won a race with the horse. Always brilliant in track trials, the gelding could never produce the goods in a race and Burton backed him to win both The Metropolitan and Sydney Cup only to be sadly disappointed each time. He sold Bitalli to James Scobie during Easter 1923 and Scobie proceeded to win the South Australia Tattersall’s Cup with the horse in July and then the Melbourne Cup five months later for owner Fred Craig. Upon winning that Melbourne Cup, Scobie paid a warm tribute to Burton. The Master of Rathluba had gone close to winning the Melbourne Cup in earlier years as well. Tartan ran third in 1905 when he started the 7/2 favourite and gave a stone in weight to the year-older winner, Blue Spec. Joe Burton also had an interest in Mooltan when he ran second in 1907 behind Apologue.
Burton was a very successful trainer in Bathurst long before settling in Sydney. After Javelin’s Derby success in 1871, he had broken-in Woodlands, the 1877 A.J.C. Derby winner, who, like Javelin, had also been bred by Thomas Lee. However, alas for Burton, Woodlands was sold as a yearling for 500 guineas. In 1880 Burton trained his own horse Hesperian to win the Hawkesbury Grand Handicap. He prepared his first winners of the Derby and Sydney Cup out of Bathurst, continuing to reside there, buying and selling horses out of his Stewart-street premises until 1896. Indeed, for much of the 1890’s he was a committeeman on the Bathurst Turf Club. Burton contented himself with visits to Randwick for the major spring and autumn fixtures, taking temporary accommodation on those occasions at the Duke of Cleveland Hotel, run by Henry Stebbings and located at the corner of Cleveland and Dowling-streets adjacent to Moore Park. There were other good winners during those years of commuting from Bathurst including his own horse Muriel, winner of the 1890 A.J.C. Winter Stakes and the 1891 Tattersall’s Club Cup; and Stanmore, winner of the 1893 Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes for Mr G. Townsend.
Burton’s ultimate relocation to Randwick seemed inevitable, particularly as his visits there became more frequent with the development of the A.J.C. racing calendar. However, it was the uncertainty surrounding the old Bathurst racecourse and to a lesser extent the infant death of his son, Walter, that ultimately forced his hand. Unemployment was particularly acute in Bathurst in the mid-nineties, and so it was that in 1895 the old Bathurst racecourse was resumed by the Government for the establishment of an experimental farm. By the following year and despite the highest snowfall in the history of Bathurst taking place in June 1896, an army of labourers had planted an orchard of some 2700 trees on the former racecourse. By the time the model farm became fully operational in 1899, Joe Burton had been a permanent presence in Surry Hills for some time, and Randwick had become his home course. Upon first relocating there he had continued to patronise the Stebbings’ establishment, but in June 1902 he was able to move into the nearby Wentworth Lodge stables, originally built by Fitzwilliam Wentworth, and where James Monaghan had held sway successfully for so many years. It was from here that Burton trained Air Motor to win the Epsom.
It wasn’t until 1903 that the opportunity to locate his training operations adjacent to Randwick racecourse presented itself when he settled at Rathluba. Those well-built and commodious racing stables, together with the residence known as Rathluba, were a local landmark at the elevated corner of Cowper-street and Prince-street overlooking Randwick racecourse. The land had a frontage of 155’ to the northern side of Cowper-street and a depth of almost 900’ along Prince-street on one side. The Rathluba house itself was a double-fronted detached family residence built of brick, on stone foundations with a slate roof, verandah and balcony in front, and comprising drawing-room, dining-room, morning-room, smoking-room, four bedrooms, bathroom, servants room, pantry, kitchen and scullery. At the rear and attached to the house, built of weatherboard, was a large area used as a jockeys’ room together with two bedrooms.
The stables were lofty and built of stout timber on substantial foundations. They contained ten loose boxes, harness-room, man’s room with a large loft and feed-room overhead. In addition to the main stable were twelve loose boxes built of weatherboard. The house and stables had come onto the market to be sold by Raine and Horne in May 1903 as a result of the death the year before of Robert Richards, who had supervised their construction. Robert was a son of the Richmond butcher and identity, Ben Richards, who, after founding a series of butcher shops, established the Riverstone Meat Company in 1881, which at the time of his death was the largest abattoir in the colony of NSW. It was the profits from this venture that afforded Ben Richards and his sons the opportunity to become major bloodstock breeders and Ben was chairman of the Hawkesbury Jockey Club from 1882 to 1888. The father had always retained Albert Cornwell to train for him, and with Ben Richards’ death in 1898, his son Robert had induced Cornwell to come to Sydney and train for him out of Rathluba.
Air Motor’s victory in the 1902 Epsom Handicap had given Burton a substantial windfall, and he lost no opportunity in securing Rathluba. It seemed that the gods sanctioned the relocation as well, for within months of moving into his new residence Burton had trained Belah out of that yard to win the A.J.C. Derby, while the following year he won the richly endowed V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate with the English-bred colt, Murillo, on behalf of Victor Foy. Foy was an excellent patron to Burton, and while Murillo was English-bred, it was to Australian time. Foy had purchased the colt’s dam at Newmarket in England for sixty guineas and then, after some difficulty, secured the services of Lord Rosebery’s famous horse Velasquez, to Australian time, with Murillo the happy result of the union. A brilliant early-season two-year-old, Murillo later stood successfully as a stallion at Fairfield – yet another example of a racehorse emerging from the rigours of racing under Burton’s sensitive superintendence to enjoy a useful post-racing career. Burton was, after all, a horseman rather than a trainer.
Proud of his accomplishments from such a humble background, Burton always carried himself with a dignity that never coarsened into a vulgar swagger. However, although no braggart, he was nonetheless not overburdened with false modesty either. He was to remain contented at Rathluba for the rest of his life. Burton never over-trained his horses, particularly his mares, and it wasn’t surprising when the likes of Wigelmar, Air Motor and Maltine all proved proper matrons later on. If it was his first Derby winner, Javelin, that got Burton going; it was the money that he took from the ring when his own horse, Dare Devil, won the 1892 Epsom that set him up for life. A fine strapping brown three-year-old, Dare Devil might have attracted attention in the market but for a couple of poor performances at proprietary meetings in the metropolitan district. A son of Grand Flaneur purchased at the Hobartville sales for five hundred guineas: Burton got the horse into the Epsom with 6 st. 12lb and had tried him as a certainty with about a stone more. Burton returned to Bathurst that year, not just with the horse but a pot of gold as well. Such was his affection for Dare Devil that he commissioned an oil painting of the horse from the brush of William McSherry, which took pride of place in the trainer’s lounge room.
For a time, Burton conducted the Cookamidgera Stud near Forbes, and it was here that Bitalli, by the Rock Sand stallion, October, was foaled in 1918. Francis Foy had bought the son of the 1903 English Triple Crown winner on a visit to England hoping that he could be trained again by Burton. A powerfully-built racehorse whose maternal granddam was a sister in blood to the great Ormonde, October had been a good galloper in the Old Country where he won the Liverpool St Leger – beating the English St Leger winner, Knight Hawk – and was a three-quarter brother to Sands of the Orient, another stallion imported to Australia that got some good winners in Tasmania. Alas, his leg proved troublesome, and upon his retirement, Burton acquired him from Foy as a stud horse. Apart from Bitalli he also sired Wirriway, winner of the 1920 Rosehill Guineas. Yet for all his successes and his own breeding ventures, Burton rarely had more than a dozen or so horses in work at any one time. Burton’s last good galloper was Etive, whom he trained to win the 1921 Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes for owner Mr F. G. White. A highly conscientious trainer, who conducted a disciplined stable, Burton was prey to painful anxieties when responsible for a heavily-backed animal.
Upon his retirement from the game after the 1924 Randwick autumn fixture, the Australian Jockey Club extended to him all of the privileges that he had previously enjoyed as a No 1 trainer. Despite the fact that his marriage in Orange in 1892 to Agnes Hogan had subsequently borne four sons who attained their majority, Burton never established a training dynasty. His eldest son, Hector, in whom he reposed great hopes, preferred to study medicine at Sydney University and when the Great War broke out, he joined the artillery. Injured in Egypt, Hector died from influenza in February 1919 while recuperating at Richard Wootton’s Treadwell House at Epsom in England. Of the remaining sons, only Clem, the oldest surviving lad evinced any interest in horse-training and during the twenties trained out of stables in Doncaster Avenue and Jane-street but with only modest success. That is not to say that all of Burton’s tutelage to stable staff down the years fell on stony ground.
Lou Burke, who rode successfully for a few seasons before turning his hand to the stopwatch, spent his apprenticeship with Burton. As a jockey, Burke partnered both De La Salle and Dark Marne to win the Epsom and Sydney Cup respectively in 1948. Charlie Barden, a nephew of the famous James, was another Burton apprentice, and he rode with success in India, before becoming a leading trainer in Perth. As a trainer, his major achievement came when he brought The Dimmer across to Sydney in 1931 and made history by winning the Autumn Plate, Sydney Cup, Cumberland Stakes, and A.J.C. Plate.
The capable jockey, William Osborne, was another who served his time with Burton, and he partnered Maltine for his master when she won the 1909 A.J.C. Metropolitan. He also rode Cisco in his A.J.C. Derby triumph. The retirement of Joe Burton saw the former New Zealand trainer, George Price, move into the famous Cowper-street stables, negotiating the purchase in February 1924 and taking custody after Easter of that year. Despite relinquishing his trainer’s licence and selling the stables, Joe Burton continued to live on at Rathluba, passing away at his beloved residence at the age of seventy-six in May 1926, survived by his widow and three sons. It had been a life well-lived, and to the end of his days, he maintained that had Mountain King not been touched in the wind, he would have been one of the greatest racehorses Australia had ever seen.