The 1872 chapter of this chronicle entitled ‘Kings of the Ring’ related the story of the birth of the famous St Albans stud and stables under the stewardship of James Wilson senior. As we have observed, despite a lifetime of success on the Turf the elder James Wilson never won the A.J.C. Derby and his second with King of the Ring in 1872 behind Loup Garou was the closest he ever came. Thirty-eight years later, in the year 1910, James Wilson junior attempted to go one better than his father with a bonny bay colt of his own breeding named Bobadea. Like his father before him, James junior had to settle for second best on that October afternoon at Randwick, but the story of his life and how he came to breed Bobadea make for an absorbing tale.
James Wilson junior was born in 1856 at Hamilton in the pastoral Western District of Victoria, a region of lush green rolling hills and ancient river gums, the first son of James senior and his wife, Mary Jamieson. Formally declared a township in 1851, Hamilton was attractive from the beginning with its lush pastures proving to be the ideal sheep-grazing country. As the town prospered so, too, did the sport of horse racing and in those days prize money was often healthier at some country centres than in the metropolis of Melbourne itself. It was in the early 1850s that James Wilson senior moved there as he plied his skills of horsemanship both in and out of the saddle. It was on the Hamilton racecourse that he twice won the Great Western Steeplechase on Dayspring in 1859 and 1860. Nor was his success restricted to the flat and over the hurdles, for trotting was popular in those balmy days, and Wilson garnered his share of success with that light-harness branch of racing.
James Wilson senior’s dramatic ascension as a racehorse trainer coincided with the formative childhood years of his eldest son. Although not violent by nature, James senior had a fiery temper that inspired awe and sometimes terror even among his own family. Particularly after his move into St Albans and the expansion of his thoroughbred interests, the elder James became even more autocratic; and with that blinkered ardour of the heavily bearded, brooked no protest or dissent from family or clients about the operations of stud and stable. Needless to say, in such an equine environment James junior or young Jim – as he came to be known to distinguish him from his famous father – and like his younger brother William, was always intended for the saddle, like it or not. It just so happened, he liked it.
The boy radiated energy and determination from the beginning, and responsibility was thrust on him from an early age as he schooled himself in strenuous athleticism; he had his first ride in a race at Flemington on New Year’s Day 1869 when weighing less than four stone and shy of his 13th birthday. The race was the Victoria Derby, and he partnered Gasworks into third placing behind his winning stablemate, My Dream. Later that same year, he was entrusted with his first Melbourne Cup mount when he rode his father’s unplaced Cymba. By the following year at the age of just fourteen, Jim was considered proficient enough to partner the six-year-old gelding, Lapdog, trained by his father and backed by the stable’s supporters into 5/1 favourite for the Cup. Alas, on a bog track and amidst great controversy he was considered by the judge to have been beaten a half-head on the line by the ‘dream’ horse, Nimblefoot.
Young Jim was quickly maturing as a jockey, a maturity he showed beyond his years during 1871 when he accompanied his father’s horses on all of their inter-colonial jaunts. At the Launceston Meeting, he partnered Romula, a three-year-old mare owned by Joe Thompson, to win both the Tasmanian St Leger and the Champion Race but was even more successful when he came across with his father and their select team of horses for the 1871 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting at Randwick. The hope of the side on that particular visit was a four-year-old bay mare named Mermaid who had been bred by James Wilson senior from a granddaughter of his famous Dinah but raced in the colours of Edward Twomey. Mermaid had been backed by the stable to win the Sydney Cup and duly obliged when, in a field of twelve, young Jim dashed her to the lead at the Leger corner.
It proved a good week for both Mermaid and her youthful jockey as the pair later combined to win both the City Handicap and the Randwick Handicap. The junior Wilson also made it four wins when he partnered Romula to victory in the Metropolitan Maiden Plate, and this, together with his two seconds in other events from a limited number of rides saw him hailed as the coming man of the saddle. Enjoying triumphs such as those at a tender age, it was little wonder that James regarded Randwick as a lucky course to the end of his days. Later in the same year, he partnered Argus Scandal to win the Maribyrnong Plate for Joe Thompson and almost collected on the heavily-backed Romula in the Melbourne Cup for the same owner, only to be denied by the 100/1 shot, The Pearl. At the age of just fifteen young Jim thus had the mixed distinction of not only having won a Sydney Cup but having been beaten on Melbourne Cup favourites in successive years.
Unlike his younger brother who partnered Don Juan to victory in the Melbourne Cup of 1873, James junior was never destined to win Australia’s richest handicap in the saddle, although he was mainly responsible for schooling the gifted young Peter St Albans, who guided Briseis home for St Albans in 1876. One imaginative journalist of the period hailed young Jim as Australia’s answer to George Fordham, the great English jockey, twenty years his senior, who at the age of fifteen and weighing just 3 st. 12lb had won the 1852 Cambridgeshire. Despite a jaunty sangfroid in the saddle and the preference of his father in using him when the stable money went on, Jim Wilson’s life in leathers was always destined to be short-lived.
His lithe and athletic frame eventually matured into about twelve stone (even heavier in later years), and he abandoned the saddle as early as 1873 after less than five years, his last major triumph coming on board his father’s filly, Sunshine, in the 1872 V.R.C. Oaks. Nonetheless, it had been a brilliant career. No better tribute to young Jim’s gentle handling and understanding of fillies can be adduced than the fact that so many of them later flourished at stud in the financial interests of both father and son, long after the demands of the racecourse had been left behind. From the moment he hung up his saddle and spurs until the Wilson family sold the St Albans estate in the mid-eighties, James assisted his father with the training and breeding establishment. It wasn’t his only sporting interest, however, for he was a distinguished player with the local Geelong Football Club rising to the position of club captain in 1878 and 1879, and also captaining a Victorian team on a visit to Adelaide in the pioneering days of the sport.
It was in July 1884, as his father negotiated the sale of the St Albans Stud to John Crozier that young Jim, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight and with an impending marriage to the sweet Jessie Cunningham, judged that his hour had come to try his hand independently with the stopwatch. He moved into stables at Flemington and hung out his shingle as a public trainer, reserving as his own livery that of ‘black jacket, brown sleeves and cap’. These remained his colours until December 1903 when he successfully sought to assume the famous colours of ‘white jacket, black sleeves and cap’ formerly belonging to William Long, whose crumbling wealth had seen him retire from the Turf. Ben Jonson once observed that “greatness of name in the father oft-times overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth…” It is a challenge made even greater when the son happens to bear the same name and chooses the same calling as the famous father.
The shadow never killed the growth with this particular son. From an early age in the saddle James junior had already gained the unqualified respect of his father, who happened to be his harshest critic, and for the rest of his life, he carried the assurance of that hard-won benediction. The young man, who entertained few romantic illusions about the world of racing, was an immediate success when he trained the winners of both two-year-old races at the October Caulfield meeting. The first was the homebred Ringmaster, carrying his own colours, in the Great Foal Stakes; and the second winner was The Teacher, a colt by Gang Forward, on behalf of Mr A. R. Robertson in the Nursery on Caulfield Cup Day. In 1885 he followed it up by winning both St Legers with Silver King, yet another homebred by First King that bore the increasingly familiar livery of his trainer. With the ace lightweight Chris Moore, who had ridden Little Jack to win the 1882 Caulfield Cup among other winners for James Wilson senior, doing the stable riding, the junior James was an instant success.
Clients, like winners, were not slow in coming although the more significant, such as Herbert Power and John Wren, had generally been associated previously with his father. And like his father before him, young James more often than not handpicked his own clients, mainly preferring to own the majority of racehorses in his care. It was a policy he could afford to adopt given his good fortune with broodmares. If Mischief and Musidora were the foundation mares in establishing James Wilson senior’s pre-eminence as a trainer at St Albans, then Yardley and Etra Weenie did the same job for his son at Bonny Vale. The latter was the stud near Queenscliff in the Geelong district which James senior helped establish in the mid ‘eighties after the sale of St Albans. Queenscliff, which had long been a favourite shipping port, had enjoyed a population boom during the gold rush years but was afforded additional impetus when the railway line connecting Geelong opened in 1879.
Given the suitability of the land and its relative seclusion, Bonny Vale made eminent sense for the Wilsons after they departed from St Albans. I would argue that there are few studs in the history of Australian bloodstock breeding that have turned out more good horses in proportion to the number of mares held than either St Albans or Bonny Vale when in the Wilson ownership. This remarkable symmetry deserves comment. The immense success of these four mares at stud alone bears witness to the fact that both father and son, indulged in no pernicious practices as regards foreign substances or the like, despite keeping their horses up to the collar with hard training and racing. Each man believed in employing the absolute minimum by way of artificial aids in the preparation of their horses, and rarely had recourse to boots and bandages either, preferring to let nature have her way. The fruits of this wisdom were subsequently borne out at stud.
Yardley, a well-bred English mare by Sterling foaled in 1877 was imported into Australia by Abram Joshua, who sent her out intending to breed himself, but he afterwards determined to stay in England for some years and placed the filly on the market. Not surprisingly, James Wilson senior was very much taken with her pedigree. After all, her great granddam Pasquinade was a full sister to old Touchstone, one of the cornerstones of the English Stud Book. Touchstone was one of James’s favourite thoroughbreds when he was an impressionable boy growing up in the wilds of Yorkshire. The colt, owned by the Marquess of Westminster had won the English St Leger in 1834 at 40/1 when James was but a six-year-old, and the horse returned to the famous Yorkshire course the next two seasons to win two Doncaster Cups. Throw in the two Ascot Gold Cups that Touchstone won as a five and six-year-old and the fact that he went on to sire nine Classic winners, including the English Derby winners Cotherstone, Orlando and Surplice, and one can understand why James senior was so keen to own this great-granddaughter of Pasquinade. Having gained possession, he gave the young filly to young Jim to kick off his professional career. In February 1880 young Jim took her across to the Tasmanian Jockey Club’s Annual Meeting where ridden by Peter St Albans, she ran unplaced in the flying handicap. Later in the season, she appeared unsuccessfully at the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting and the Geelong Winter Meeting. A similar lack of success attended Yardley’s only three appearances the following season, after which she was peremptorily swept off to stud.
In his wildest imagination, James Wilson junior could never have pictured the triumphs in store for both he and Yardley in this, her new vocation. What this daughter of Sterling, possessed of rich English blood, had singularly failed to realise on the racecourse, would be more than compensated by the achievements of almost each of the thirteen foals she threw before she died shortly after foaling the last of them at Bonny Vale in October 1899. Mated with First King, the best racehorse the Wilsons ever claimed to train, Yardley’s first foal was Stone Broke, which Wilson sold, and he won several races around Colac and Benalla. Wisely, young James took the hint, and he retained her second foal by First King, the dashing brown colt, Ringmaster, who gave his public training career an immediate fillip when he won the 1884 Great Foal Stakes at Caulfield and the following season on the same course took out the Guineas. Ringmaster was also the first horse that revealed how determined James junior was to try for the big staying prizes at Randwick, while at the same time getting the right price in the betting ring.
In September 1886 James, together with jockey Chris Moore, brought Ringmaster across for the Metropolitan only to scratch him on race day when they were forestalled in the betting ring from claiming £2,000 to £200 about their charge. Such was the almighty right of an owner in those balmy days! A short time later Ringmaster was sold to Mr Saville, who had won the Melbourne Cup with The Assyrian, and campaigned successfully in England where he won among other races, the Great Northern Handicap at York. Apart from The Grafter, Newhaven, and Merman, few Australian horses up until that time had done as well as Ringmaster in England. Yardley’s next foal of note to appear was Lonsdale, yet another son of First King, and with him young Jim won the rich 1887 Maribyrnong Plate, carrying £1,000 in added money. To many Turf observers, there seemed to be a plus ca change flavour about the partial retirement of the father and the dramatic emergence of the son.
The year after Lonsdale, there came a bay filly named Magic Circle who captured both the Normanby Stakes and Geelong Sires’ Produce Stakes, and, but for The Admiral, owned and trained by Sam Cook, she would have given young Jim his first Victoria Derby in 1890 as a trainer. By now it was obvious to all and sundry that Yardley was a quite extraordinary broodmare who happened to enjoy a special nick with First King. Lest anyone think, however, that First King was the dominant partner, for as that stallion’s energies waned, Yardley proved her worth in her liaisons with other lovers including Trenton, Carbine, Strathmore and Wallace. Indeed, Yardley’s seven foals after Magic Circle all either won at Caulfield, Flemington or Randwick; or, produced sons and daughters that did. Most did both. Consider that of the six daughters of Yardley to survive to maturity, no fewer than four – Zeph, Phyllis, Circle and Our Queen – produced the winners of principal races on the Australian Turf. Indeed, both Zeph and Our Queen threw multiple winners. For that matter two of Yardley’s sons that stood as stallions, Lonsdale and Juggler, also sired the winners of major races. Let us now turn our attention to that second filly that was to be the source of James Wilson junior’s prominence on the Turf as a trainer for forty years.
As we have observed, the Maribyrnong Plate became something of a family tradition for both father and son; after all, James Wilson senior had won three of its first four runnings while running second in the other. Following Lonsdale’s victory in 1887, young Jim won his second Maribyrnong Plate in 1891 with a sweet filly named Etra Weenie on behalf of his most important patron, Herbert Power. Little was he to know at the time the influence that this particular filly would have, both on his own fortune and that of the Australian Stud Book. But first some background on the man that brought her to him – Herbert Power. Born near London in February 1836, the young Herbert came to the colony of Victoria in the early 1840s with his parents, Thomas and Sophia.
Thomas Power was a Catholic and one of the first lessees of Crown land; at one time he owned most of what is now the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn. Indeed, the Power residence was close to where the Hawthorn railway station stands. One of three sons, Herbert was an outstanding sportsman and very proficient in the saddle, both to hounds and over timber, and it was inevitable that he would be drawn to the Turf. A foundation member of the V.R.C. together with his brother Robert in 1864, Herbert was also a foundation member of the V.A.T.C, as well as a committeeman of that club from 1875 to 1916, and chairman for three separate terms. The brown jacket and white cap of Herbert Power first became familiar to Victorian racegoers during James Wilson senior’s days at St Albans, but with the father’s ‘retirement’ and young Jim’s succession, Herbert Power was happy to transfer his patronage to the son.
Power enjoyed an understanding with his old friend the Bathurst breeder, George Lee, and many of the top-class horses that sported Power’s silks hailed from Leeholme. Some fillies belonging to the Sappho family, which Lee wanted to retain for stud, were passed on to Herbert Power during their racing days and then sent back to Bathurst for breeding sometime afterwards. Etra Weenie was a case in point. A daughter of Trenton from the 1879 Derby-winning heroine, Nellie, Etra Weenie made her racecourse debut in a nursery at the 1891 V.A.T.C. Spring Meeting, and, subject to little or no betting, ran a tidy fourth. It was a different story, come Flemington and the Maribyrnong Plate. The stable ladled the money on, and the little miss won in a manner that hadn’t been seen for many a day. At the same meeting the following season, Etra Weenie added to the Wilson family’s distinguished training record in the V.R.C. Oaks when she triumphed in somewhat controversial circumstances, surviving both a protest on behalf of the favourite Trieste and a particularly rancorous and public exchange of opinions between Trieste’s owner John Bowden and Victorian racing authorities.
Like her mother Nellie before her, Etra Weenie was kept at Bonny Vale for a considerable time after she retired from the Turf, and Herbert Power arranged her first few matings at stud. As we have seen with the breeding of Palmer and Abundance, Jim Wilson and his father together with Herbert Power all held a high opinion of the imported English horse, Pilgrim’s Progress, a son of the slashing Isonomy. He was chosen as the stallion for Etra Weenie’s first mating and the happy result was Diffidence. Diffidence was that exception among the fillies descended from Sappho blood and nominally bred by George Lee, for she wasn’t owned by the Bathurst studmaster. Rather, the understanding from the beginning was that she was to be retained by Power. Only a Galloway in stature, she was brimful of quality and a perfect pocket edition of a racehorse. And with young Jim Wilson applying the polish, she easily won the 1899 Sydney Cup bringing off a good plunge, being prepared quietly at the Chipping Norton track after coming to Sydney. The stable supported her to win the Doncaster, too, but she got buried in the ruck. The two-mile handicap afforded her galloping room and that particular victory gave James junior much satisfaction for it was a race that his father had won four times in his heyday and that, as we have seen, he had won as a jockey aboard Mermaid in 1871.
The calendar year 1899 was to be a good one for the Wilson clan, for as sweet as the autumn proved to be, the spring was even better. As good as Diffidence was, it was the colt that Etra Weenie foaled the very next season in the Bonny Vale paddocks to the all-conquering Bill of Portland that both guaranteed her reputation, and thoroughly repaired the fortunes of Herbert Power at the same time. Moreover, the colt in question gave young Jim Wilson his only Derby as a trainer and finally a victory in the Melbourne Cup – the race he failed so narrowly to win as a jockey on two occasions and that his father had won twice as a trainer and his deceased younger brother once in the saddle. The little colt that tied all these loose ends together was the wonderful Merriwee. Much was suspected, but nothing known for sure, when this little fellow went into training.
Like many of the breed linearly descended from Sappho – Savanaka and Diffidence were typical examples – the progeny was often small and not overly robust early on. Merriwee was very much a case in point, although a slight enlargement below the knee also contributed to the fact that he raced only three times as an early juvenile without attracting the judge’s attention. Still, the man from Bonny Vale made sure that those appearances were very public affairs. Merriwee debuted at the Caulfield Spring Meeting where he failed twice before again finishing out of the money behind Revenue in the nursery at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day. Nobody among the 70,000 people that watched The Grafter take the Cup that day could have imagined that two of the juveniles sporting silk on the same card would, in turn, win two of the next three Melbourne Cups. Merriwee’s lacklustre efforts in that first season ensured that when the 1899 Cup weights were released, he was handicapped with just 6 st. 11lb.
No episode in James Wilson junior’s life is more instructive as to the discretion, patience, and skill, he brought to the task of executing a betting coup with a finely tuned stayer than that involved in getting Merriwee to the post for the Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup double. Turned out into the paddocks of Bonny Vale after his failure on that first Tuesday in November 1898, James began making his plans for the first Tuesday of November 1899. It wasn’t until early July that Merriwee resumed racing. Although his eight-month furlough hadn’t seen him grow much, he had strengthened appreciably, and such was the ability he was soon showing on the secluded training grounds at Queenscliff that Herbert Power, along with James Wilson senior and junior, all glimpsed the opportunity to tickle-up the ring at the coming V.R.C. Spring Meeting. First-up, Merriwee finished third in a two-year-old handicap over seven furlongs, followed six weeks later by a win at Flemington in a three-and-four-year-old handicap in a field of seven. After that, apart from stealing the minor placing in the Memsie Stakes with just 6 st. 12lb, all of Merriwee’s searching gallops were done at home. Ante-post bettors had cause to rue the Victoria Derby that year for they were subject to just about the worst drubbing ever dealt them in the history of the race. Different colts were, at different times, supported into favouritism only to drop out or be discarded later. All the while Merriwee was worked out in private, and he only arrived at the eleventh hour so to speak, with the Bonny Vale money plastered on in the last week before the meeting. Jim Wilson was supremely confident, and once the stable commission was secured, he told his few intimates: “We have backed this horse. Go forth and do the same. He will win.”
And he did! The Caulfield Cup winner, Dewey, might have run as the Derby favourite but he was in an ill-humour that day, and by the time he consented to gallop the bird had flown! Although Dewey was overtaking Merriwee at the post, the Bonny Vale coup succeeded by a length-and-a-quarter. Elevated in the Cup weights to 7 st. 6lb as a result of the blue riband, it made no difference as Merriwee, going to the post as the 7/1 favourite in a wide betting race the following Tuesday, had a length to spare on the line. Herbert Power, who had seen much of his fortune eroded during the drought and banking crises of the early nineties had at last found redemption and the narrow loss of Savanaka in the same race 22 years earlier, was avenged. Merriwee’s Melbourne Cup also served to compensate young Jim for having sold Newhaven for £2,000 to Messrs Cooper and Jones during the 1896 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting after going down when odds-on in the Champagne Stakes. Messrs Cooper and Jones might have paid £2,000 for a colt that had originally cost Wilson just 120 guineas as a yearling, but it proved a cheap price when Newhaven won a string of races in the spring including the Victoria Derby/Melbourne Cup double for the Hickenbotham stable. Now Jim had his very own double! In the public’s mind, a mystic aura began to envelop the horses of Bonny Vale, a recrudescence of the original St Albans’ legend for pulling off betting stings!
Yet for all of the greatness of both Yardley and Etra Weenie and everything that had gone before, it is doubtful whether James Wilson junior ever did a better bloodstock deal in his life than on that day in late December 1907, when he attended the dispersal sale of the Hon F. S. Grimwade’s Coolart Stud. Among the various lots on offer was the twelve-year-old stallion Bobadil, who as a racehorse had first put his sire, Bill of Portland, on the map. A brilliant galloper that carried the colours of W. R. (William) Wilson on the Turf, Bobadil was shifty when first put in work and had to be jammed between two other horses on the track to get him used to hands and heels’ riding. Nonetheless, as bumptious and wilful as he was as a two-year-old, he was precocious enough to win not just the Ascot Vale Stakes and Champagne Stakes against his own age group, but both the All-Aged Stakes at Flemington and Randwick as well.
Bobadil missed the A.J.C. Derby and was unlucky to go under by a mere half-head to Cocos in the Victorian equivalent. Jockey Bert Morrison wasn’t seen to any great advantage that day and lost the big event from over-confidence or carelessness. Perhaps ‘riding to orders’ was the only real excuse that could be made for Morrison if indeed that was the case. Bobadil was first away in that Victoria Derby and was fighting for his head all the way around the river bend. Morrison was pulling and reefing at him to such an extent that a shout of indignation went up from the spectators, who remembered how Newhaven was allowed to go to the front and make his own running both in the Derby and the Cup of 1896. Certainly, Bobadil did get to the front when he made his run at the home turn and led into the straight, but his rider was reckoning without his host when he thought at the distance that he had the race won for W. Delaney sat down on Cocos and with a splendid piece of vigorous riding, he got him at the post. In two strides more, Bobadil would have won, and the judge’s verdict of a short half-head would have been reversed.
It was a similar incident to Hales on Ensign in 1888 when Carbine was undone. Bobadil could have won that Victoria Derby by ten lengths had the horse been allowed to gallop from the start and eased up in the middle instead of waiting for the others, who were going as slow as hacks for more than half a mile. Nonetheless, Bobadil and Morrison more than compensated later that season by winning the Caulfield Guineas (by 3 lengths); Futurity Stakes (by 3 lengths); V.R.C. St Leger; V.R.C. Australian Cup (by 3 lengths); V.R.C. All-Aged Stakes (by 6 lengths); and V.R.C. Champion Stakes (by 8 lengths). Such was Bobadil’s versatility that he won important races over distances ranging from 6 furlongs to 3 miles – although rheumatism was to prevent him from having a long career on the racecourse. The last race in which Bobadil competed – and the only one in which Bert Morrison remembered him to have struggled – was the A.J.C. St Leger won by Johansen, a 10/1 shot. By then Bobadil was almost a cripple, having begun to waste on top. Odds of 5/4 were laid on the colt, and he made a dead-heat for second with Lee Metford.
William Wilson had bred Bobadil, and he was foaled at the St Albans Stud in 1895 being from his sire’s first crop. As we have seen, Bill of Portland had been purchased on behalf of Wilson for 1100 guineas despite having a reputation as a roarer, and he arrived in Melbourne in June 1894. The voyage over was none too smooth, and the St Albans studmaster used the horse rather lightly in his first season, giving him a few Nordenfeldt fillies, among them She. A smart galloper on the Turf, She had sported the colours of William Wilson and was seen out in the same year as Wilson’s grand filly, La Tosca; indeed, She was preferred in the V.R.C. Oaks to La Tosca by the stable but failed to repay the faith. Nonetheless, she did so at stud when the result of her tryst with Bill of Portland turned out to be Bobadil. William Wilson’s premature death in May 1900 saw Bobadil and his other bloodstock come onto the market later that year. The five-year-old Bobadil, who had already served a few mares as St Albans in the months before the sale, was knocked down to the Hon. F. S. Grimwade for just 500 guineas, a fraction of the amount the late William Wilson had been offered for him at the peak of his racing days.
Mr Grimwade’s Coolart Stud didn’t boast the most fabulous collection of broodmares in Victoria, but he had enough, together with a selection of outside mares, to provide Bobadil with his chance. Although his first couple of crops saw sons and daughters win good races in South Australia and Western Australia, it wasn’t until The Infanta won the 1905 Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington that Bobadil really made an impact. Sam Cook bred The Infanta and more than any other man, including Mr Grimwade, was responsible for the high esteem with which Bobadil came to be regarded as a stallion. Old Sam had some well-bred mares at his stud in the Gippsland and patronised Bobadil freely, breeding a string of good gallopers including Bobadil’s only Melbourne Cup winner, The Parisian, in 1911.
Sadly, Sam Cook never lived long enough to see the success of many of the good Bobadils that he bred. A one-time member of the ring and an inveterate gambler who in his prime, established a training track at Sandringham, Sam Cook died suddenly in 1906 leaving his only child, a daughter mostly unprovided for.
It wasn’t a mistake that James Wilson junior was to make. Like Cook, he was among the first of the perceptive breeders to recognise Bobadil’s potential and in his very first season at Coolart he sent him Circle, a daughter of the great Yardley. Boabdil was the result, and he proved a very handy galloper for Bonny Vale, winning the 1905 Memsie Stakes among other good races and finishing third in the 1906 Sydney Cup. Impressed with such results, in the spring of 1906, James Wilson sent a few of his other mares, including in particular Ardea and Danaide, to be served by the son of Bill of Portland. When both Ardea and Danaide dropped two fine colts in the Bonny Vale paddocks the following spring, Wilson became even more enamoured of the stallion and sought to acquire even more of his progeny. In November 1907 he managed to pick up Pendil, a lightly raced two-year-old by Bobadil previously trained by Dick Bradfield, for 300 guineas on behalf of Herbert Power at a public sale. Then, the following month, at the dispersal of the Coolart Stud he bought Bobadil himself to stand at Bonny Vale. And in doing so at 625 guineas, he secured the bargain of a lifetime!
As we have seen, the closest that James Wilson junior had come to winning the A.J.C. Derby in all his years as a trainer was with Lee Metford when that son of Carbine finished runner-up behind Picture in 1898. Thanks to the two sons of Bobadil from Ardea and Danaide that he had bred in 1907, the canny trainer entertained hopes that he might go one better in 1910. But first some background on the two broodmares in question. They were full sisters, both being by Wallace out of Danae, a mare that Donald Wallace had bred at his Lerderderg Stud but sold to James Wilson junior towards the end of his own life as his finances unravelled. Danae was just the sort of mare upon which the Master of Bonny Vale built his reputation as a judge of bloodstock. Although undistinguished herself on the Turf, Danae was a half-sister to the great Amberite, being by Donald Wallace’s 1883 Caulfield Cup winner, Calma.
At the time Wilson bought the filly Danae, she was carrying Ardea having been served by Wallace the previous spring. The theory went that as Amberite was by the great Carbine, then mating Amberite’s half-sister with Carbine’s distinguished son made eminent sense. At least that was the logic of Donald Wallace who was responsible for the match, although he never lived to see the theory triumph. Ardea was a failure on the racecourse in the handful of starts in which she sported James Wilson junior’s black and brown colours, and she was soon retired to stud. She missed in her first season, and when Bobadea came along in 1907 as a result of her mating with Bobadil, he was her third living foal. Danaide, in turn, was foaled in the Bonny Vale paddocks some three seasons after Ardea; she never raced at all but went to stud early and likewise was matched with Bobadil as her very first lover. After missing in 1906, she threw her first foal, Danaus, the following spring.
Of the pair, Danaus came to hand the more quickly, and ran at both the Caulfield and Flemington spring meetings in 1909, albeit without returning any prizemoney. Bobadea’s racecourse debut was delayed until the Christmas/New Year meetings when he was given a couple of educational gallops without disturbing the judge. However, it was a different story a month or so later at the Caulfield Autumn Meeting when he easily won the Federal Stakes after Wilson and his betting cronies had taken 7/1 for their money. It was Bobadea’s only win in ten starts during the season although he managed to claim placings in both the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. While Bobadea was preferred by his trainer in the best juvenile races in both Melbourne and Sydney, Danaus was restricted to his hometown but hinted that he might be a force in the coming three-year-old classics when he won two minor handicaps at Flemington during the autumn carnival.
What set the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting apart from its V.R.C. counterpart that year wasn’t the presence of Bobadea but rather that of another of Bill of Portland’s grandsons in the five-year-old New Zealand champion, Bobrikoff. Owned by the Hawke’s Bay sportsman, Tom Lowry, Bobrikoff in his only campaign on Australian shores, won three of his four appearances. In his Sydney debut, Bobrikoff easily defeated Hoax and Britain in the R.R.C. Rawson Stakes over nine furlongs at Rosehill. He then stepped out at Randwick for the first time in the A.J.C. Autumn Stakes (12f) on the opening day of the carnival to relegate Maltine and Trafalgar into the minor placings. But it was Bobrikoff’s versatility to back up in the A.J.C. All Aged Stakes (1m) on the following Wednesday over a distance four furlongs less, that impressed Sydney racegoers. Tailed off hopelessly for the first half-mile, Bobrikoff amazingly made up the ground to burst through a gap a furlong from home to beat Maltine by four lengths, with Malt King a further two lengths away. Bobrikoff’s only failure on Australian soil came on the last day of the fixture when he finished unplaced in the three-mile A.J.C. Plate. Bobrikoff’s achievements that week were yet another reminder of just what Australia lost when Bill of Portland went back to the Cobham Stud in England.
On Wednesday, 13 April, eleven days after the end of the 1910 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, there was another end of sorts with the Commonwealth Federal Election that saw the defeat of Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. When Prime Minister he had once objected to the adjournment of the National Parliament for the running of the Melbourne Cup. The electors passed a strongly adverse judgement on the opportunism of the new Fusion Liberal Party formed under the leadership of Deakin, which had come about after a merger between the Protectionist Party and the Anti-Socialist Party. In the 1910 election, the Labor Party won a surprising landslide victory in both Houses and saw Andrew Fisher become Australia’s 5th Prime Minister in a term that was to last 3 years and 56 days.
August 1910 was a relatively dry month by Flemington standards with less than half the average rainfall, and James Wilson had no trouble working Bobadea and Danaus towards their spring campaigns. The race chosen for their seasonal reappearance was the Memsie Stakes, and the decision was then taken to travel Bobadea to Randwick for the Derby and reserve Danaus for the rich events at Caulfield and Flemington. The lead-up programme for the Derby underwent a major change in 1910 with the first running of the Rosehill Guineas, a race conducted over seven furlongs for a prize of 500 guineas and restricted to three-year-olds only. The conditions of the race were quite liberal with yearlings being entered for a sovereign and remaining in for two days before the race for two sovereigns, with starters being called upon to find a ‘tenner’.
Some criticism was levelled at the A.J.C. for allowing Rosehill to ‘steal’ its Derby thunder. The initial running of the Guineas proved a triumph for the stallion Maltster with three of his progeny filling each of the placings although the winner, Electric Wire, wasn’t even entered for the Derby. Hitherto the only real dress rehearsal for Derby candidates had been the Hawkesbury Guineas, which, while still conducted, was no longer the force it had once been following upon the rise of gate money meetings about Sydney. Moreover, the development of railway facilities had brought a profound change in character to the Hawkesbury Spring Meeting. In the early days of the “Guineas and Grand” many of the horses intended for the meeting trained on the course whereas by 1910 there was virtually no prior galloping there. The horses went up from Sydney on the morning of the race and came back in the evening of the same day. James Wilson junior was content to by-pass both fixtures with Bobadea and restricted his movements to Randwick.
Derby Day was blessed with splendid spring weather together with a large crowd, and although not as numerous as some recent Sydney Cup attendances, was estimated to be as high as 30,000 people by the Sydney Mail. For some years the A.J.C. had been criticised for selling the rights to the takings of the outside gates at Randwick instead of keeping them in-house. In 1910 the club had decided to retain those gate takings and discover just how much the speculators had been creaming – around £3,000 as it transpired, based on the 1908-09 racing attendances. It was this prior arrangement that had previously precluded accurate attendance figures at major A.J.C. fixtures. Many of the crowd might also have noticed a subtle change in the public transport arrangements: it was the first Derby Day in thirty years where steam trams failed to run to the racecourse. These dirty, noisy and cumbersome juggernauts that had done so much to place the racecourse within reach of the common people had hissed their steam and roared their engines for the last time at the racecourse terminus just a few weeks before on 10th September 1910.
A newfangled transport era had been ushered in with the electric tram, the first of which had been seen in Sydney streets in 1899. However, steam trams had been retained longer than intended on the Randwick route merely to supplement the new electric cars, which could not be commissioned quickly enough to keep up with the burgeoning race crowds. The period of mourning following the death of King Edward VII on 6th May being over, Lord Dudley and Lord Chelmsford, Australia’s Governor-General and the Governor of NSW respectively, were present with their suites while the fairer sex once more reflected all the colours of the rainbow in their silks and brocade. The noticeable improvement on the racecourse was a large scratching board in the paddock although one acerbic critic noted that the racebooks still failed to provide the correct weights.
The 1910 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
A record field of fourteen accepted for the classic; and few horses fitter than Bobadea had stripped for the race in the preceding thirty years. James Wilson knew that he was no Merriwee, but he strongly fancied his chances. The clear favourite, however, was Cadonia, trained by Jack Mayo in Newcastle for the theatrical impresario, J. C. Williamson and his Melbourne partner Mr Mansfield.
The winner of the nursery handicap on Sydney Cup Day when ridden by a young Jim Pike, his only win in five starts that season, Cadonia owed his favouritism to a first-up surprise victory in the Sydney Tattersall’s Spring Handicap over ten furlongs a few weeks before. Those that clambered to take the 5/2 about the favourite might not have been so keen to do so if they had known that a day or two before, the colt had contracted the cold virus that was rampant at Randwick and had been scarred by the ravages of the mustard applications subsequently applied to his throat. Second elect was the one-eyed Beverage, a son of Maltster and the champion juvenile of his year, who was trained by Bill Kelso on behalf of an old patron, Colin Smith, the half-brother of ‘J.R. Smith’ of the Tucka Tucka Stud.
Perhaps the reason the Derby attracted the highest number of starters in its history was that the dominant two-year-olds of the previous season were regarded dubiously on the score of stamina. This was undoubtedly true of Beverage, a colt that despite only half-vision had won both of the Sires’ Produce Stakes as well as the A.J.C. December Stakes and V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes in his first season. Offered as a yearling at the Sydney Easter Sales by his breeders, Messrs C. L. and W. B. Thompson, buyers seemed blind to the one-eyed colt that would be king of the two-year-olds. Rather than accept a low bid for this rare-shaped fellow who would have commanded big money but for the defect mentioned, the Thompsons retained Beverage for a time but later still sold out way too cheaply. After the colt won a minor race at Canterbury Park, Bill Kelso bought him for 350 guineas, with a contingency of £50 out of the first win. The colt repaid Kelso at the first time of asking when he won the December Stakes in his new owner’s colours. At his most recent outing in the Hawkesbury Guineas, Beverage had demonstrated the inherent risk in backing him when he ran into the rails soon after the start and later made a bolt to his left when he heard the whips cracking on his blind side. It wouldn’t be until May 1914 that the A.J.C. committee would ban the entry of one-eyed horses as a danger to others but meanwhile, Beverage got his chance.
The trainer with the strongest Derby hand on paper was Frank McGrath, with three runners, namely Duke Foote, Desert Rose and Tanami. Duke Foote, like Prince Foote the year before, was owned by the coal baron John Brown and was the most fancied of McGrath’s trio, being a son of Brown’s imported English stallion, Sir Foote, out of a stoutly-bred English mare. Duke Foote had only raced twice as a juvenile, his debut coming when he finished unplaced in the Federal Stakes won by Bobadea at Caulfield; and his second appearance came when he again finished unplaced in the Nursery Handicap behind Lager on the last day of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. Duke Foote had resumed in the new season to win a six-furlong maiden at Rosehill in mid-August and had then run a reasonable race in the Rosehill Spring Stakes behind Flavinius. Unfortunately for his Derby prospects, he had been stopped in his trackwork for a time thereafter.
Duke Foote’s stablemate Desert Rose had been a brilliant two-year-old, winning both the Breeders’ Plate and Maribyrnong Plate in the spring and the Champagne Stakes in the autumn, but her stamina was suspect. The third-string to McGrath’s bow, Tanami, had blown out to 25/1 in course betting, primarily because of his failure at his most recent appearance in the Hawkesbury Guineas, when, in a field of six in the race won by Lager, he had trailed poorly in last place all the way. The only other runner to attract any Derby betting was the Maltster filly, Lager, the heroine of Hawkesbury. Indiscreet, a colt by Positano that had topped the Sydney yearling sales when he went for 1220 guineas, wasn’t regarded as a serious contender on any disclosed form.
James Wilson had booked Bill McLachlan for the mount on Bobadea and instructed the diminutive hoop to allow the colt to find his feet and ride a waiting race. Mac rather overdid the waiting. Beverage passed the judge’s box in front the first time around, with a slight advantage from Desert Rose, Moorilla and Cadonia, with Indiscreet at the head of the others and Bobadea near the rear. Going out of the straight Cadonia and Styria ran to the front, but it wasn’t long before the expensive Indiscreet burst through to pilot the field at a good clip. Passing the six-furlong post, Cadonia met with interference and dropped back while Indiscreet still going strongly, passed the five with Prince Lack at his girths, Beverage, Desert Rose, and Tanami were a length further back with Lager ahead of the others and Bobadea still loitering.
Near the half-mile post, William Foulsham allowed Tanami to work his way to the front, and he led the field into the straight albeit narrowly from Moorilla, Beverage and Desert Rose with Styria looming up on the outside. It was only upon entering the Randwick straight that McLachlan cut Bobadea loose and the son of Bobadil cleaved through the field with éclat. Tanami, however, didn’t weaken and at the judge, Bobadea’s challenge had fallen short by a length-and-a-half with the one-eyed Beverage in the minor placing. James Wilson had at least proven a point. The best juveniles of the previous season such as Desert Rose and Beverage might have been able to give Bobadea 10lb over two-year-old courses, but at level weights, over the Derby course, it was hardly a match. The indignity of it all, however, was that having beaten the best Bobadea went under to an unsupported outsider ridden by a Melbourne jockey.
Tanami was trainer Frank McGrath’s third winner of the A.J.C. Derby in ten years and his second in succession following the victory of Prince Foote the year before. However, unlike the others, Tanami’s triumph at 25/1, the longest-priced winner since The Duke in 1968, surprised even the stable. Tanami had already been uncommonly used on the racecourse having raced thirteen times in his first season, winning twice at Caulfield – in the Gwyn Nursery during the spring and the Alma Stakes in the autumn. He had started favourite in the Maribyrnong Plate only to finish seventh in the race won by his stablemate Desert Rose. Tanami was dismissed as a Derby horse mainly because of his poor last in the Hawkesbury Guineas at his most recent start when he wouldn’t let down on the adamantine surface. A strapping big fellow with plenty of the best bone, and loins strong enough to carry 16 stone over fences, Tanami was owned by leading Perth businessman, Harry Boan, who later settled in Melbourne, and bought yearlings prodigally right through to the Depression years of the ‘thirties. Tanami descended from the Governess branch of one of the foundation-families of the Australian Stud Book, family No 19 ‘The Young English Mare’; he was bred at the Merton Stud by E. R. White and sold through the Sydney sales for 300 guineas.
In recommending the colt to Boan, McGrath was moved as much by conformation as pedigree. While the colt was a brother to Specimen, a hardy gelding that had won consistently for Bill Kelso, Dalmeny, the sire of both, had produced the winner of a Tramway Handicap and little else of note after several years at the Merton Stud for which he was recruited as a foundation sire. Merton, which was situated about 16 miles from Muswellbrook on the Denman road, ran to about 5000 acres of splendid black soil flats and limestone ridges, all of which was watered by the Hunter. The stud had been founded around the turn of the century with both Dalmeny and Kingsley as the resident stallions. Certainly, Tanami’s Derby represented the apotheosis of Merton’s achievements on the racecourse up to 1910.
However, E.R. White’s fortunes as a studmaster were about to be boosted by another imported English stallion just as Tanami’s star was so briefly in the ascendant. Flavus was just beginning to give the stud its most significant boost with a string of good stayers while Kenilworth, an imported French stallion, came along a few years later. Sadly, Merton, like Shipley and Segenhoe before it, was another of those studs that were disposed of during the Great War – in September 1918 as a matter of fact – just weeks before the armistice. Frank McGrath’s satisfaction at winning the Derby was subsequently soured to some extent by the decision of the imperious John Brown to remove Duke Foote and his other horses from McGrath’s stables during the meeting.
Much of the credit for Tanami’s victory belonged to his young jockey William Foulsham having his first ride in the classic. One of the famous Foulsham racing clan, William was a nephew of Ike and a brother of Fred, the noted Randwick and Caulfield trainers respectively, and had crossed the Murray a few weeks before to ride for John Finn’s stable. A shrewd judge of pace, the patient Foulsham was to become renowned for his ability to time his run at the end of a race to a nicety – a talent that had attracted Frank McGrath’s attention in the first place. While Tanami was his only Derby success, Foulsham won several other important races including the Caulfield Cup (Violoncello 1921), Doncaster Handicap (Eurobin 1916), A.J.C. St Leger (Kandos 1916) and V.R.C. Oaks (Mufti 1920). Increasing weight forced Foulsham’s premature retirement from the saddle in January 1922. Turning his hand to training, in 1923 he prepared the good filly Frances Tressady to win both the Victoria Derby and V.R.C. Oaks. However, his reputation was somewhat besmirched a few years later over the sensational scratching of Golden Lullaby at Moonee Valley in February 1933 that saw him suspended for twelve months together with bookmaker Vic Newhouse, and which brought to an end treble betting in Victoria.
James Wilson junior might have left Sydney empty-handed but his dreams of classic glory in that 1910-11 racing season were not to go unrealised. Just seven days after Bobadea finished runner-up in the Derby, his stablemate Danaus caused an upset in easily winning the Caulfield Guineas. The Victoria Derby again eluded the Master of Bonny Vale, however, when Beverage became the first and only one-eyed winner of a blue riband in Australia. It was certainly the largest, and arguably the weakest, Victoria Derby field since Carnage had triumphed in 1893, but the handsome equine Cyclops that was Beverage proved his ‘gammy lamp’ was no obstacle. Given that the physical defect was on the off-side, the anti-clockwise gallop at Flemington arguably suited him even better than Randwick. Bobadea could only struggle into third placing in the Victoria Derby but he at least finished in front of Tanami who cut an inglorious figure in finishing near last. Despite failing to win the Derby, it was still a profitable V.R.C. meeting for Bonny Vale as the stable fielded the homebred Philio, a grandson of Yardley, who won the Maribyrnong Plate.
When a different three-year-old wins each of the classics in any one season, it is generally an indication of a mediocre year. The topsy-turvy pattern of the spring was to be repeated in the autumn when, in the absence of both Derby winners, James Wilson caused an upset in the V.R.C. St Leger-winning with Danaus at 12/1 while Bobadea, running as the even-money favourite, could only manage the minor placing. Bobadea’s season of frustrating placings in good races came to an end the following week when the son of Bobadil impressively won the V.R.C. Loch Plate at weight-for-age over two miles. After running the minor placing in the Champion Stakes behind Trafalgar, Bobadea developed leg problems, which saw him eventually sold out of Bonny Vale to Lachlan Mackinnon. The horse was off the scene for his entire four-year-old season, and when he did resume as a five-year-old, he proved a bitter disappointment to the future V.R.C. chairman. Likewise, Danaus raced in other hands after his classics winning year. Although he won some good races as an older horse, he never did enough for young James Wilson to regret selling him for a tidy price. Duke Foote ultimately was the best racehorse to emerge from that 1910 A.J.C. Derby, for he proved a good weight-for-age performer and was the winner of the 1912 A.J.C. Metropolitan with 7 st. 10lb., while both Moorilla and Cadonia each later won a Sydney Cup.
I might also mention the filly, Lager. Although she failed to win anything of note afterwards, at stud she was one of those matrons that firmly established Maltster as a celebrated champion of broodmares. Lager produced three splendid racehorses in Eusebius (Victoria Derby), Regal Son (A.J.C. The Metropolitan) and Vodka (A.J.C. Adrian Knox Stakes) to three different stallions. Arguably the greatest failure to come out of that 1910 Derby field was the winner himself. Tanami, a gross stallion, suffered from a weakness in one of his forelegs and failed to run a place again during his three-year-old season. McGrath gave up on the son of Dalmeny and advised Harry Boan to sell the horse after the 1911 Randwick Autumn Meeting. The ultimate indignity came at the public auction when the Derby winner realised a paltry 85 guineas on a bid from a Quirindi sportsman! Tanami was well sold at the price, finishing unplaced in his only four runs for his new owner at fixtures of the Tamworth Jockey Club before breaking down irretrievably.
Throughout Bobadea’s racing career in James Wilson junior’s ownership, a cloud hung over the Bonny Vale racing establishment. Just as his father had sold off his horses and ‘retired’ from the Turf after Blinker’s running in the 1904 Victoria Derby had caused V.R.C. stewards formally to caution both he and his jockey, the Diabolo incident in the 1910 Australian Cup, had a similar effect on the son. The facts of the matter were as follows. Young James had saddled two horses for that Australian Cup. The first was the 7/4 favourite Pendil, a four-year-old son of Bobadil owned by Wilson’s staunchest client of long-standing, Herbert Power, and ridden by a promising 17-year-old Sydney apprentice by the name of Jim Pike. The second was a relative outsider, Diabolo, the year-older full brother to Bobadea at 12/1 and ridden 4lb overweight by a boy named Cusdin. Pendil deserved his favouritism having won Power and Wilson the previous year’s Australian Cup and Champion Stakes, whereas Diabolo was relatively undistinguished. As the field came into the Flemington straight, Cusdin on Diabolo seemed more intent on determining the whereabouts of stablemate Pendil than the actual winning post. In the end, Jack Fielder’s Orline trumped the pair of them with Pendil claiming the second prize just ahead of Diabolo in the minor placing. The stewards inquired into Diabolo’s running and considered that the riding of Cusdin was unsatisfactory, although to some extent he had been hampered by injudicious instructions. Accordingly, the V.R.C. stewards reprimanded both trainer and jockey.
Badgered by what he considered the petty persecution of such authority, the 53-year-old James took exception to the imputation and sought a respite from the pressures attached to managing an extensive breeding and racing stable. He resolved to emulate the paternal example set by James Wilson senior and sell both his bloodstock as well as his training complex in Epsom-road, Ascot Vale. Chris Moore superintended the establishment, and it was one of the few stables illuminated by electric light at the time. Herbert Power, then in his mid-seventies and whose horseflesh in recent years had been managed by the Wilsons, took similar umbrage to the stewards’ aspersions and used the opportunity to sell out his breeding interests as well, including the well-performed stallion Pendil and a half-dozen broodmares. It was on Friday, March 10, 1911, during Australian Cup week and almost a year to the day of the Diabolo incident that the dispersal sales took place, although some yearlings were held over and later sold in Sydney during Easter.
Bobadil was sold for 2300 guineas while the twenty-four broodmares owned by Wilson, mostly with foals at foot by Bobadil, brought 5522 guineas. The twenty-one two and three-year-olds excluding Bobadea and one or two others went for 3015 guineas. The passing out of Bonny Vale, albeit temporarily as it turned out, made no real difference to the market for Victorian bloodstock because the Wilsons had only ever bred there for their own exclusive racing and not the sales ring. But the sale of the broodmares, in particular, did disperse some real bargains into other hands. Danaide with a colt by Bobadil was knocked down to Ernest Clarke for 525 guineas. In due course, the foal, racing as Tringa, would win good races while a few seasons later, as we shall see, Danaide would give Clarke that tragic champion filly of the early twenties’ – Furious. Another bargain was Circle, in foal to Bobadil, and she was sold to Adam Skirving for 160 guineas. The colt she was carrying turned out to be Blague, winner of the 1914 V.A.T.C. Caulfield Guineas and the 1915 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. Pendil, bought by Alex Creswick for 500 guineas, went on to become quite a successful stallion.
But, unwittingly, the biggest bargain of all came in the shape of Ardea herself. Young James Wilson had always maintained that, despite the contretemps over Diabolo, and Bobadea’s failure to realise his early promise, her blood was rich. And so, it proved. When she was sold for 525 guineas that day to the New South Wales studmaster, William Thompson, Ardea was carrying a bay filly by Bobadil. The filly turned out to be Bob Cherry and though she only ever threw one stakes winner in her entire stud life, what a winner he proved to be! For it was in 1916 that Bob Cherry gave the Australian Turf the mighty Eurythmic, one of the greatest racehorses ever bred here and the winner of 31 races from 47 starts over distances from 5 furlongs to 2 miles, including the Caulfield and Sydney Cups and numerous weight-for-age races. Still, James Wilson was pleasantly surprised with the prices that his bloodstock realised on that autumn day in 1911 and none more so than that paid for Bobadil. Then a rising sixteen-year-old stallion, he went to stand at Pranjip Park. For all of the horse-trading that young James Wilson did during his lifetime, few speculations had proven more profitable than this old son of Bill of Portland. Consider that he had acquired the stallion for 625 guineas when the Hon. F. S. Grimwade had sold out of Coolart. Bobadil did duty at Bonny Vale for three seasons, and apart from serving his owner’s mares, he earned £2,450 in stud fees besides giving James Wilson among others Hush Money with whom he was to win the 1915 V.R.C. Hotham Handicap.
When great Australian sires are mentioned one seldom hears the name of Bobadil discussed, mainly because most people are unaware of the difficulties he confronted at stud. Not only was he a colonial-bred in an era when such was frowned upon, but he suffered the indignity of being shuffled about from one stud to another as he constantly changed ownership – something that rarely happens to a high-class stallion. He served seventeen books of mares in his entire stud career and sired 39 individual stakes winners of 69 stakes races. Wallace apart, he was easily the best stud-horse in Victoria during his heyday. In his three full seasons under James Wilson junior’s management, the son of Bill of Portland produced ten of those individual stakes winners. Although a consistent performer at stud, Bobadil never topped the winning sires’ list, although he did finish second behind Maltster in the 1914-15 season. While Bobadil’s best years were behind him when he left Bonny Vale, his subsequent stud career is not without interest.
Bobadil remained at the Pranjip Park Stud of Tom Uphill, set in the Murchison district of Victoria, until the death of the proprietor saw the stud broken up in July 1915. The stallion was then sold for 425 guineas to the brothers’ Alan and George Tye at the dispersal and eventually found his way to Blackwood Park at Ferntree Gully. When the old fellow was considered past it, he was again sold in March 1917 for 330 guineas to Mr F. Fairbairn and sent to a station in Queensland. There is an interesting sidelight to Bobadil’s later stud career. A brown horse, Bobadil was a pure dominant for his own colour as a stallion. And yet in the returns for the 1917 season, several foals by him were described as chestnuts. Naturally, the Australian Stud Book authorities were sceptical. In his long career at various studs, Bobadil had never once before been responsible for a chestnut. The Keeper of the Australian Stud Book, unconvinced that the age of miracles had returned, rejected the entries of these foals. It seems that a chestnut horse named Costello was standing at the same stud at the same time and was the source of the colour confusion. Bobadil slowly established a formidable reputation as a sire of broodmares as the years went by – as the likes of Eurythmic, Whittier, Purser, Boaster, Vaals and Wolawa attest.
James Wilson junior might have temporarily sold out of his bloodstock but he continued to hang on to the Bonny Vale estate with his father, and he must have had some reservations about his decision as the year 1911 unfolded. Just a few days before the sale, James had trained a spare granddaughter of Etra Weenie named Wilari to win the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington. The filly had been bred by her owner Herbert Power but she had been cared for, and reared by, James Wilson in the Bonny Vale paddocks. Wilson’s decision to retire from training saw Herbert Power transfer the filly into the stables of W. Risby. In the 1911-12 racing season, Wilari joined Lady Wallace as the only filly up to that time to win the Victoria Derby, Oaks and St Leger at Flemington. In all of the years since Furious is the only other filly to achieve the treble, but Wilari remains the only one to have taken out the Sires’ Produce Stakes earlier on the same course as well.
It came as no real surprise when, less than three years after his dispersal sale, James Wilson junior began racing Monodia, a great-granddaughter of Etra Weenie. Ernest Clarke had bred the filly, which was by his imported English stallion Curtain Lecture, at his Melton Stud, and had raced her as a two-year-old three times without ever getting excited. The bloodlines naturally appealed to James, who after his self-imposed exile, was looking to breed and race horses again and he negotiated privately with Clarke to procure the filly. James didn’t spare her from the racecourse in his first season of ownership, however, and in twenty races she only managed to win once – the Spring Handicap on the last Saturday of the 1913 V.R.C. Spring Meeting when landing some good wagers. The following year she was mated with The Welkin, and the resultant foal was Outlook. Owned and trained by Wilson, he proved to be the best juvenile of his year winning both the Sires’ Produce and Champagne Stakes at Randwick in the autumn of 1918. Nor did Monodia’s contribution to the Wilson coffers end there, for in the next few seasons she produced both Nautical (1921 V.R.C. St Leger) and Perspective (1926 V.A.T.C. Oakleigh Plate).
The last years of World War I and the decade immediately afterwards were to be the twilight of James Wilson junior’s training career. As racing struggled to re-establish itself after the Great War, for a time James, who spent his entire life in the Geelong district, assisted the Geelong Race Club by serving on its committee. But it was only ever intended as a temporary move to help racing there get back on its feet. Training remained the raison d’être of his existence, and it was noticeable that, as with Monodia, James kept returning to the bloodlines that had made his name. King’s Bounty, a son of Bobadil, was a case in point. Bred by the Baillieu brothers of N.S.W., James bought him as a yearling and won both the Toorak and Coongy Handicaps with him at the 1917 Caulfield Spring Meeting. The Rover, the horse with which he landed a great coup in the 1921 V.R.C. Australian Cup and, but for Sister Oliver to whom he gave 23lb in weight, would have won the Melbourne Cup for John Wren, is an even better example. A gelded son of Reminder, whose first foal, Blinker, had been the cause of James Wilson senior’s estrangement from the Turf all those years before, The Rover was bred by James Wilson junior in 1915 when Reminder was 23-years-old. The mare had been sold out of the Wilson family to the Hon. W. McCulloch in 1905 and only re-acquired by James years later when it was believed she was barren. The Rover was her very last foal, and she was destroyed the year after dropping him.
I might add that the Etra Weenie blood held a fascination for James Wilson junior to the very end. In 1923 he brought Sir Andrew across to contest the A.J.C. Metropolitan Handicap. The four-year-old stallion, a grandson of Etra Weenie bred by A.S. Chirnside and bought privately by Wilson, had won the St. Leger at Randwick in the autumn. James Wilson junior pulled off some good bets when the son of Woorak, in the hands of Dick Bradfield’s brilliant apprentice, Harold Jones, established an Australasian record for the thirteen furlongs with the public’s favourite, David, languishing in second place four lengths behind. It was the last big race win by the Master of Bonny Vale at Randwick. As the exuberant decade of the twenties’ expired into the Great Depression, James Wilson wound down his bloodstock interests.
While his training triumphs don’t match those of his distinguished father, James Wilson junior’s list of honours is impressive nonetheless. Consider the list: a Melbourne Cup; a Sydney Cup; four V.R.C. St Legers; two A.J.C. St Legers; an A.J.C. Metropolitan; an A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes; a Victoria Derby; two Australian Cups; and two V.R.C. Champion Stakes just to name the most significant. And yet how much more impressive it might have been had Newhaven remained in his stables, or if Herbert Power had refrained from selling La Carabine? ‘Young Jim’ Wilson, the only surviving son of the redoubtable James Wilson senior, died on Saturday, 16 November 1935, aged 79 at a private hospital in Geelong, after being in indifferent health for some months. The Melbourne Cup, won just a few weeks before by Marabou, was the first that he had missed in seventy years. James Wilson junior was survived by his widow, Jessie, and a granddaughter – his daughter, Margaret, having died some years before. Thus, the name of James Wilson, which had struck such fear into the ring for two generations over three-quarters of a century, disappeared from the Australian Turf forever.
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