When it comes to the training of racehorses, the good men emerge slowly over time; the great ones seem to arrive in an instant. It has always been thus. In the spring of 1885 when the health of Michael Fennelly failed, Tom Payten stepped into the breach at Newmarket and proceeded to win the Derby with Nordenfeldt, thereby launching his own successful career. In the spring of 1900 came the turn of Jim Scobie to step into the pages of history when he swept all before him with a stable brimful of champions, including victories in both Derbies and the Melbourne Cup with the likes of Maltster and Clean Sweep. The year 1920 marked the arrival of another man upon the scene whose genius for training, if not his quest for fame, warranted comparison with those two aforementioned greats. His name was Fred Williams.
Fred Williams hailed from one of the most remarkable families in Australian racing history, although the circumstances of his birth and the early years of his life are somewhat shrouded in mystery. He was born Frederick Charles Smith in 1881 at Hartley, NSW, the youngest of six sons of a sawyer, who cut and hauled timber around the Bathurst and Lithgow districts. Fred’s mother, Elizabeth Jane Gray, had been born in England but came to Australia when only a very young girl. Recognised as one of the finest horsewomen in the Bathurst district when she grew up, Elizabeth passed her talent for riding on to all her sons. The surname changed from Smith during Fred’s early years, after his mother separated from his real father and adopted the name Williams on behalf of her children; William had been Elizabeth Jane Gray’s father’s name. She later married a certain George Brown, and from this second marriage came ‘Bunty’ Brown, one of the great Australian jockeys of the first two decades of the twentieth century. There were six Williams’ brothers, and although all rode winners, as regards major prizes won in the saddle, it was their stepbrother, ‘Bunty’ who trumped the lot of them.
William (‘Jerry’) Williams was one of the country cracks of his day, and among other races, won a couple of Wagga Cups on Drumstick. Jack counted among his triumphs a Birthday Cup at Flemington on Best Bower, a horse he also trained. Alf rode mostly at the ponies while the other brothers, George and Harry, confined their riding to country meetings. Elizabeth, Fred’s mother, expressed the wish that he wouldn’t follow in his brothers’ footsteps, or rather, stirrups. Instead, he went to work at Billy Yeomans’ Humula station on the Tumbarumba line. It was while he was there that Williams rode a couple of Yeomans’ horses in races at Wagga and began to think that he might make a reasonable jockey after all. Fred’s brother Jack, who was training at Albury, then got him a job with James Mitchell at Tabletop. Grand Canary and Cremorne were there at the time. Williams proceeded to wear the famous Mitchell colours at many country meetings, winning his first race on a mare called Sally at the age of fifteen.
After piloting a few winners about Howlong, Wangaratta and Chiltern, Williams decided to try his luck at the Melbourne ponies in 1899. Among the owners for whom he rode successfully there, were Hans Kohn, Chris Robertson, ‘Tug’ Wilson, Mick Murphy and Jack Richards, sometimes against his own brothers. Indeed, one day at Fitzroy, four of the Williams brothers rode in the same race. In those days as many as twenty runners would start in a race around courses about four furlongs in circumference and it was a great training ground for jockeys. Jockeys of the calibre of Myles Connell, Frank Kuhn and Joe Killorn emerged from those tracks and went on to successful careers on the registered courses. The starter certainly had something to contend with in those races when the jump away meant everything.
I marvel at how ponies ever kept their feet in those wild scrambles. Yet in his twelve years of riding, Fred Williams missed any serious injury and among the good ponies that he partnered were Rita, Rheola and This One. However, the pony that held the most significance for Williams’ future career never came along until after he came to Sydney, and I refer to the 14.2 champion, Minerva, owned by a future stable patron in the colourful Ned Moss. In all, Fred won fourteen races on Minerva and a fortune in bets for Ned who was never afraid to stake his money. Ned liked to have two things in his favour when he bet: a good horse and an honest jockey. Whenever Minerva won Williams was guaranteed a riding fee far in excess of the ordinary due to the generosity and gratitude of Moss.
Fred’s real education on the Turf, however, was garnered in India where he rode with success for three seasons for some very distinguished potentates including enjoying a retainer for the Chief of Kagal, brother to the Rajah of Kolapore. In so doing he followed something of a family tradition, as his older brother, Jerry, had ridden successfully there before him and was responsible for Fred’s initial contract to ride on the subcontinent in 1906. During the winter of that year, Fred took the ponies Vocalist, Metal Maid and Celia across to India for Jack Morris and was subsequently granted his jockey’s licence. The Chief of Kagal had some seventy horses in the care of Byramjee Rustomji, a native who knew his job and Williams headed the winning list in his first season and finished well up in the next two seasons as well. When Williams relinquished the post with the Chief of Kagal, his step-brother “Bunty” Brown took his place. It was no coincidence when Williams subsequently christened his Randwick stables, “Kagal”.
However, Fred finished his riding days in Australia, returning for the latter part of the 1907-08 racing season. He managed a brush with fame in the main game when in 1908 he rode the ex-New Zealander, Pink Un, for Dave Price to victory in the Caulfield Stakes at the V.A.T.C. Spring Meeting. Williams retained the mount for the Caulfield Cup a week or so later for which he went to the post a 7/4 favourite. Alas, Pink Un couldn’t stay a yard beyond ten furlongs and he finished down the course after Williams had wasted hard to get down to 8 st. 1lb. It was at that same meeting that Williams threw his leg over the best horse he ever rode when Walter Hickenbotham asked him to partner Trafalgar in the Caulfield Guineas. Alas, the mile was too short and Trafalgar was too green at the time and the pair ran unplaced in the race won by Parsee. A few weeks later, Williams enjoyed his only Melbourne Cup mount when he rode the West Australian P. A. Connolly’s Post Town, unplaced at 20/1.
Williams last ride came aboard Irishman, a horse that Ned Moss managed, in the 1909 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield. Such was Williams’ burgeoning weight that he had to waste to ride at 8 st 9lb. When Soultline, ridden by Bill McLachlan, was given a narrow and controversial decision over Irishman by the judge, Norman Wilson, a disgusted Williams handed in his jockey’s licence. Competent in the saddle, Williams realised that he had never achieved true greatness there – the glory had always fallen short of the dream. But the stopwatch and cob now offered more profound possibilities given his increasing weight, and just before his twenty-seventh birthday, Williams took out a trainer’s licence. Almost a decade of the hard graft was to follow on the Randwick training tracks in the dawn’s early light, but in the dim distance, glory beckoned.
It was in 1910 that Williams opted for this change of career on the Turf when he began by training one or two horses of his own. As luck would have it, the first horse he got was Milfoil, by Murillo (imp.), which he leased from Major Smith at Molong. Williams’ flair for training soon manifested itself, and he won no less than six two-year-old races with her, including the prestigious A.J.C. December Stakes. That string of victories provided all the impetus that Fred needed to hang out his shingle as a public trainer. Every young man, assaying to make his fortune as a public trainer, looks for that first good horse that can launch a career. Fred Williams found his horse at the Melbourne Yearling Sales in 1916 when a colt by The Welkin, offered on account of young Archie Yuille, walked into his life.
Like most racing men, Williams had been impressed with the first three crops of The Welkin to race with gallopers such as Starland, Spica, Two and Deneb. Accordingly, he was hoping to secure one of the ten lots that Ernest Clarke was sending up from Melton for the sales. Alas for Williams, quite a few other buyers had the same idea, and the lots by The Welkin offered by Clarke in which Williams was interested, such as the brother to Starland, went for more money than he was able to pay. For 280 guineas, Williams bought the colt by Comedy King out of Perplexity instead, leaving him with little more than 100 guineas in his pocket, which was when the yearling by The Welkin put up by Archie Yuille came into the ring towards the end of the sale.
Yuille wasn’t a prolific breeder by any means and the colt in question had come into the world quite by chance. Sometime earlier, Archie Yuille had compiled a modest affair of a studbook for the use of Ernest Clarke at his Melton Stud where The Welkin stood, but he refused to accept any payment for the favour. Clarke, in a typically generous gesture, insisted that Yuille send a mare for a free service to The Welkin, then just setting out on his prodigious stud career. Grateful for the kindness, Yuille accepted with the Harmonist mare, Tuning Fork, whom he had bought for 45 guineas. The resultant foal was the yearling that Williams got at those 1916 sales with his one and only bid of a hundred guineas. When the hammer fell, the battling trainer was hard-pressed to come up with the cash for the giant colt. The beautifully-topped youngster might have had defective forward knees, but registered as Greenstead, and named after the premises in Alison-road where Williams was then training his small team, he developed into one of the best horses The Welkin ever sired. In comparison, the Comedy King colt that had cost Williams dearly fell in a race, and injured was sold out of the stable.
Even in his early days, Williams never made extreme demands on his juveniles before Christmas, and the first two appearances of Greenstead in public were delayed until December when he maintained his anonymity in both races, the first at Moorefield and the second at Randwick on Villiers Day. Those two excursions taught Greenstead all he needed to know about the business of racing and convinced Williams to set out his stall for the race meeting at Wyong Park scheduled for the last Tuesday in January 1917. The date is a significant one in the history of the Williams’ family fortunes. Not only was Greenstead primed to win a race at the fixture, but so too were Tressamita and Kagal, two of his stablemates. Williams backed them all, and with Myles Connell responsible for steering, all three landed the money in successive races.
Greenstead then did so well in the days immediately after that first victory that Fred proceeded to back him up on the Saturday at Warwick Farm. Usually, a cautious gambler, Williams played up his Wyong bankroll and instructed Connell on this occasion not to cut it too fine. The jockey certainly kept up his part of the bargain. It might have only been a five furlongs scamper at the Farm, but when Connell saluted the judge, he had ten lengths to spare over his nearest opponent. From that day forth, the hard-bitten fielders on Sydney’s registered courses came to regard any tried horse put down by Williams with the utmost respect. Just what a good bet Greenstead was on that balmy summer’s afternoon was borne out by the horse’s subsequent career: though not in the top rank as a two-year-old, he was a horse that just got better with age. Greenstead initially raced in the colours of the Townsville bookmaker and good friend of Fred Williams, Don McInnes, but was later sold to Messrs Body and Simpson, who enjoyed the most success with him.
In the 1916-17 season that saw Greenstead win at Warwick Farm, Williams finished the year with only two winners and £230 against his name on the Sydney Trainers’ List, the annual title that recognised the leading trainer of winners at Sydney metropolitan meetings. In 1917-18 he advanced to three winners and £950, and in 1918-19 to five winners and £2,562. Greenstead served to keep his name before the public over the next couple of seasons on the metropolitan courses, but Williams continued to win most of his races at the provincials. Then came the fateful racing season of 1919-20! In early 1919, upon the retirement of Ike Foulsham through ill-health, the 38-year-old Williams purchased the former ‘Kingsburgh’ stables, renaming them ‘Kagal’ in recognition of the boost his career gained by riding in India for the Chief of Kagal, one of that country’s leading owners. The stables were a landmark in the area at the top of the road that ran between Randwick and Kensington. In those days, there was next to no traffic in the locality and the horses didn’t have to dodge motor cars on their way to and from their work. They did their walking on the exercise area in Randwick, which was only a matter of two or three hundred yards from Williams’ gate.
In buying these very expensive and prime freehold stables, Williams borrowed heavily. Accordingly, the Easter yearling sales that year found him somewhat proscribed when it came to making extravagant bids for yearlings. The irony of possessing magnificent stables comprising eighteen loose boxes, yet only having five or six tenants to occupy them, wasn’t lost on Fred. So, he set about redressing the situation. As luck would have it, around this time, Myles Connell introduced Williams to Bill Manton. Manton was a wealthy man who had just temporarily retired from the world of commercial retailing, having had an interest in Sydney Snow’s, which he had later sold out to launch his own company, Manton and Sons, in Melbourne. A generous philanthropist, Manton would go on to donate the Happy Days Holiday Home and the Cronulla Children’s Home to the Melbourne City Mission and the Sydney City Mission respectively. He was interested in buying a couple of racehorses.
Fred Williams inspected a number of yearlings on behalf of clients, both actual and prospective, at those 1919 Easter Sales. One colt that he particularly liked was Lot No. 51 to be offered at Chisholm’s Randwick stables on the first day of selling, Tuesday 22 April 1919. He was a rather stylish, thick-set, chestnut by the first-season stallion, Limelight. Williams never forgot the first time that he saw him in Chisholm’s yards. An early October foal, he wasn’t very tall but was both compact and robust. The dam of the yearling in question was Suffer, who was very much in the headlines that Easter when her daughter, Hem, by Featherstitch, won the Doncaster Handicap in the mud with a featherweight 6 st. 7lb. Not surprisingly, the breeders of this particular yearling, the brothers Hugh and George Main, who conducted their own stud, The Retreat, at Illabo, and stood both Limelight and Featherstitch there as stallions, held out for a reasonable price for this colt. Fred Williams went the highest of the bidders with a nod at 140 guineas but the yearling was passed-in as were five of the other six lots offered by the Main brothers, for there wasn’t much demand for either the Limelight or Featherstitch progeny.
On the following day, Wednesday, 23 April 1919, it was the turn of William Inglis and Son to sell yearlings. Again, Fred Williams was drawn to one lot in particular, a brown colt by the leading stallion Linacre from the mare Kummulla. In the ring, the bidding on this youngster ceased at 250 guineas – a price that the Thompsons of Widden Stud, who had bred him, likewise refused to accept. I might mention that Easter 1919 was a very difficult time for sellers to dispose of their horses. The Great War had ended just the previous November, and the affairs of the country remained unsettled and uncertain, while money was tight. Moreover, Australia was caught in the grips of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic that would eventually claim 12,000 lives and become a major demographic and social tragedy for the nation, affecting the lives of millions.
Nonetheless, Fred Williams was never one to give up easily on any thoroughbred he fancied. In the wake of the sales, the Randwick trainer sought out the vendors of both colts to negotiate either a possible sale or lease. Hugh Main was the first seller that he approached and Williams eventually secured a lease on the Limelight colt with an option to buy at 500 guineas. Leases in those days were generally routine affairs of business whereby the lessee was required to pay all expenses and pass on to the owner as rental a third of any prize money won by the horse. In the case of an unbroken yearling such as this fellow, the owner seldom agreed to give the lessee the option of purchase at a stated price during the currency of the lease. In those unusual circumstances whereby an option of purchase was given, the price stated was generally quite high to provide for the prospect that the horse might turn out to be good. It says much for Williams’ skills of negotiation that with this colt the purchase price was pitched so low. Having secured the Limelight yearling, Williams then negotiated privately with the Thompson family for the Linacre youngster and managed to purchase him outright for 400 guineas.
Whereas the Linacre colt was bought with Bill Manton and a friend, Lionel Bridge, deliberately in mind, Williams originally intended to retain the lease on the Limelight colt for himself. However, when Manton expressed an interest in taking over that horse as well, despite his being by an untried first-season stallion, Williams happily transferred across the lease and option to buy. Registered as Salitros, he would give both owner and trainer success in the A.J.C. Derby, with their very first runner in the race. But the Linacre colt turned out to be no slouch either. Registered as Glenacre, he was arguably the best juvenile colt of his year and among other races would win the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes. It is rare indeed in the annals of Australian racing history for any first-time owner to be blessed with the singular good fortune that attended Bill Manton in 1919-1920. ‘Tis true that John Brunton enjoyed similar conspicuous distinction with his classy filly Maltine back in 1906, but there were few other precedents for such first-time success in Australia up to that period.
In respect of his first A.J.C. Derby winner, Fred Williams would later recall: “After being broken in Salitros was very wayward. He had to be watched carefully as he would act silly if given any latitude. However, he settled down and showed pace when allowed to stretch out. Myles Connell predicted he would be an awkward customer in a big field. One morning when Myles dismounted, he told me the colt would stay for a week. That was very encouraging and I had to pass it on to Mr Manton when I drove with him in his Rolls Royce to Kembla Grange races. He was very pleased. I remarked how very nicely his car was running, whereupon Mr Manton said: ‘If you win the Derby for me with Salitros, I’ll buy you a good car.’ I assured him that I knew of more remote things than Salitros winning the Derby.”
Both Salitros and Glenacre opened their racing careers at the same fixture at Canterbury Park in the first week of December. Myles Connell warmed the leathers on both horses, engaged in different divisions of the Nursery Handicap. As a trainer, Williams rarely had his two-year-olds too forward in condition for their racing debut – the horses generally benefited from the education of a first foray and were then placed to win with stable support in the betting ring at their next start or two. That was very much the case with both Salitros and Glenacre, who each ran promising races at Canterbury to earn minor placings. Glenacre was then produced nine days later to win a juvenile handicap at Warwick Farm, while Salitros broke his maiden in a nursery handicap at the A.J.C. Boxing Day meeting after being backed into favouritism. It was after this win that Bill Manton exercised his option to purchase the colt outright. I might add that it was during the course of these summer fixtures at Randwick that the real depth of talent among Williams’s juveniles that year first became apparent, for apart from the two colts already mentioned, the emerging trainer won races with Victrola and Waitea as well.
As the season progressed it became clear that Glenacre was the most precocious of the bunch. Taken to Melbourne for the rich autumn meetings at Caulfield and Flemington, Glenacre demonstrated his class by finishing second in the Sires’ Produce Stakes, a length behind the filly, Gossine Hatan, and then running third in the Ascot Vale Stakes won by the Tressady filly, Midilli. Returned to Sydney, the colt was freshened up to join his stablemate, Salitros, to honour their engagements in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. The stable jockey, Myles Connell, naturally enough elected to ride Glenacre, while Joe Killorn partnered the reject. The company proved too rich for the Limelight colt, but Glenacre gave the stable a victory by coming away at the bottom of the straight and winning comfortably in a fast time from another Linacre colt in Erasmus. It is interesting to reflect that each of these two colts by Linacre was sold on the same day at the Easter Sales – while Glenacre cost 400 guineas, Erasmus had set back Bill Keogh and Ned Moss a cool 1000 guineas. Salitros was struck out of his engagement for the Champagne Stakes later at the meeting, while Glenacre took his place in the field. However, under his 10lb penalty, he failed to flatter in the race won by the favourite, Tressady Queen.
Fred Williams’ Kagal establishment managed to win ten two-year-old races all told that season. While that doesn’t seem much by today’s standards, in those times of smaller stables and fewer meetings, it was a remarkable achievement. Included in that total, Glenacre, Victrola and Waitea each won three times and Salitros once. Good horses can make good trainers, as Williams readily acknowledged. Still, it was a performance that had buyers rushing to Williams with yearlings to be trained after the 1920 Sydney and Melbourne sales. His haul of juvenile winners that season, allied to wins from his older horses, saw Williams for the first and only time in his career head the Sydney Winning Trainers’ List, breaking the monopoly that William Booth had begun to exercise over the title. Williams beat the Rajah of Rosehill, as Booth had become known in the racing pages of the broadsheets, by two-and-a-half wins, although regarding prize money won, eclipsed him even more convincingly with £10,804 compared to £5,942. Williams’ prize money hauls saw him only beaten by H. J. Robinson with £12,463 although Poitrel was responsible for more than half that total.
Fred Williams’ money haul came about thanks largely to three victories at Randwick viz. Victrola’s December Stakes, Glenacre’s Sires’ Produce Stakes and Greenstead’s win in The Shorts. I think the interesting feature of Fred’s juvenile winners that season was that – Glenacre apart – each of the others was by a relatively unfashionable stallion. For example, Victrola was by Murillo and Waitea was by Achilles. It says much about Williams’ judgement of yearlings on the basis of conformation rather than pedigree. At one stage or another during the season, each of his winning juveniles was considered Derby material. But when it comes to racing, there is many a slip twixt promise and fulfilment. Midway through the season, Victrola was purchased out of the stable at a price of fifteen hundred guineas plus contingencies by Anthony Hordern and transferred to Tom Scully; while Waitea, a top-heavy colt with suspect legs, had to be gelded and pin-fired, and subsequently turned out of training indefinitely. As autumn mellowed into winter, Fred Williams’ seemingly full hand of classic contenders was fast diminishing.
Now, at the close of most racing seasons, there are usually a couple of juveniles, which, on form and pedigree, stand out as Derby prospects for the following season. Such was not the outcome of the 1919-20 season with a different colt or filly winning each of the major two-year-old prizes. Indeed, it was possible that the best of the youngsters was a filly, Tressady Queen, and fillies so rarely figured in Derby calculations that the market on the classic was wide open. Fred Williams at least had the satisfaction of knowing that Glenacre had won more prize money than any other two-year-old in Australia that season with earnings of £3,998, but he harboured genuine doubts as to the colt’s stamina. Salitros, on the other hand, in nine starts might have only managed to win once, but he had run some nice races, and, pedigree notwithstanding, struck Williams as the one colt in the stable most likely to stay.
Another man on the lookout for a prospective Derby colt in Melbourne during the late summer and early autumn of 1920 was Mick Polson. Born into a fringe racing family in the Victorian town of Carisbrook in 1886, Polson, like his brother Jack, had ridden in pony races as a lad. Although a natural lightweight, riding opportunities were few and far between and while his brother, who rode under the name of Jack Trenby, proved successful, Mick himself eventually swapped the saddle for the satchel to try his opportunistic hand at bookmaking on Victorian country tracks for a brief time. A youthful Bill Finlay was his eager assistant. Ever the sporting Beau Brummel, Polson was usually attired in spotless white. Now, while clothes might maketh the man according to Mark Twain who dressed in similar white attire, they don’t always maketh the bookmaker. It was soon after his marriage to his beloved Teresa (‘Teck’) Renny in 1911 that the young Polson decided to apply his wit and wisdom to the training of racehorses instead, starting in the years just before the Great War and basing himself at Ascot. Plying his trade at places like Benalla, Tatura, Marong, Avenel, Yea and Carisbrook with ordinary gallopers such as Grand Boy, Gallic Maid and Galeta, he won his first race with the latter mare at Shepparton in 1913.
Galeta, whom Polson leased, was also the cause of his first run-in with the V.R.C. committee when he successfully appealed against a twelve-month disqualification for improper practices by the Shepparton Jockey Club in a race at the club’s meeting at the Broken River racecourse on March 25th, 1914. While the smooth-talking Polson had his appeal upheld, that of Sutherland the jockey in question on the day, remained. It wasn’t long after this episode and the dislocation brought on by World War I that Polson relocated to Moorefield in Sydney. It was in the last year of the war that Polson secured that first lucky break in life that all horsemen need. Together with the backing of a stable client, he bought the four-year-old gelding Ready Aye Ready from William Keogh for 350 guineas.
A fine upstanding chestnut son of Wallace out of the broodmare Australia, Ready Aye Ready was a full brother to Sunny South, winner of the 1909 V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes. However, despite his distinguished bloodlines, Ready Aye Ready had hitherto proved a profound disappointment winning only a maiden when trained by Harry Robinson at Randwick. Yet very soon after the purchase, Polson prepared the gelding to win a division of the Park Stakes at Canterbury Park in June 1918 in the hands of the same jockey that had copped disqualification in association with Polson at Shepparton four years earlier. Now, from the very start, Polson was a man who wasn’t frightened to bet and keep on betting and this was just such an occasion. Alas, the jockey Sutherland was hit with another disqualification for causing interference – this time of six months’ duration. Nonetheless, the money taken out of the Canterbury ring that day more than compensated for the hurt.
Ready Aye Ready was Polson’s calling card over the next few seasons and gained him entree into the richer circles of racing. It was Ready Aye Ready that enabled Polson to purchase his fine home, ‘Rochelle’ in French-street, Kogarah, adjacent to the Moorefield racecourse and to construct his palatial stables there. He was also the horse that established Polson’s well-founded reputation for rattling the betting ring. Mick Polson would win some sixteen races with Ready Aye Ready, including five at Randwick and one at Moonee Valley, but the gelding’s most notable victory came in the 1919 Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes. Those were the days when the Carrington was a rich race and generally constituted a wide betting market. It was a six-furlong sweepstakes’ handicap run on the last Saturday of the year involving a £10 entry fee with £1,000 added money and all but £300 of that sum going to the winner. Moreover, Tattersall’s Club itself conducted two big sweeps on the event that proved very popular with the public during the Christmas festive season.
Just prior to the race that year, Polson was approached by the two lucky drawers of Ready Aye Ready in the Tattersall’s sweeps. The first was a waiter or ‘buttons’ from the Hotel Australia, while the second consisted of a small syndicate of diggers including a soldier who had lost both legs in the war. In those days, sweeps ticket holders would often lay off some of the winnings with the trainer to ensure that the horse was on the job. Polson declined their offers but reassured them that Ready Aye Ready was most certainly on the job and would be carrying quite a bit of Polson cash besides. In early course betting at Randwick on that Carrington, as much as 7/1 was bet about Ready Aye Ready and due to the weight of the Polson stable commission, he’d firmed into the 4/1 favourite at flag fall.
It was later reported that Mick Polson and his commissioners had won over £10,000 on the race and his reputation as a gambling trainer was born that day. Polson’s plonk in the ring hardly came as a surprise as he regarded his sprinter as a handicapping certainty. Only a fortnight earlier Ready Aye Ready had made hacks of his opponents in the Pace Welter at Warwick Farm when he carried 10 st 2lb. In the Carrington, he had just 7 st. 12lb and the agency of William Lillyman. Despite being drawn in the No. 12 position at the post, the horse was in front before a furlong was covered and never afterwards looked like being beaten. After the race, it was publicly confirmed on the course that a waiter and a syndicate of returned diggers had won the rich sweeps.
Flush with funds after the Carrington Stakes triumph, Polson freshened up the gelding and took him to Melbourne early in the new year. Polson initially targeted the Warrook Welter over six furlongs at Moonee Valley at the end of January. While the first prize money was only £100, the betting ring was strong and despite his 10 st. 5lb, Ready Aye Ready lasted long enough to prevail by a half neck. However, the real significance of the day as far as Polson was concerned came in the race immediately before the Welter. Twenty-two juveniles had raced for the Niddrie Handicap and Polson was struck by the physique and breeding of the colt Malurys who, after a great tussle with Earl Simon from the turn into the straight, went under by a half-neck. In the penultimate event on the same card, a five-year-old gelding named Persian Plume, owned and trained by Bill Burke, also caught Polson’s eye. Within a few weeks, Polson had purchased both horses and while Persian Plume was relatively cheap, Malurys set Polson and his partner, A. T. Brown, back a thousand guineas.
Originally bought for 80 guineas at the Sydney yearling sales, Malurys was a black colt by The Sybarite from Sweet Bird, a mare by Bobadil from Song Bird. Sweet Bird was a good performer in her own right and won several races including the 1908 V.R.C. Birthday Handicap when owned and trained by the former top jockey H. J. ‘Bert’ Morrison. The Sybarite, an English importation by Symington who traced back to the great Touchstone, was a half-brother to Craganour, winner of the 1912 Middle Park Stakes and involved in that dramatic English Derby of 1913 when he was first past the post but subsequently disqualified sensationally by the Jockey Club stewards. Craganour later went to Argentina where he became an outstanding stallion.
So Polson had a fair idea of the bloodlines he was buying when he parted with his thousand guineas to buy Malurys, who had formerly been owned and trained at Flemington by Harry Cousens. Malurys had shown speed from the moment of his first gallop and was seen out early in the season at the October meetings at Flemington and Caulfield. While he had run some nice placings as well as a close fourth in the Debutant Stakes at Caulfield, he was looked upon in some quarters as well sold at the price. The ‘Sydney Sportsman’ reported: “Malurys, who was purchased last week by M. Polson, has been scratched from all his autumn engagements here, and will be reserved for Sydney. He should win races, but it is questionable if he is as good as many people suppose.” Malurys didn’t run again as a juvenile. Rather he, together with Ready Aye Ready and Persian Plume, went out to the paddocks and only returned to work at Polson’s Moorefield stables in mid-May.
Indeed, one of the curious aspects of Mick Polson as a trainer was the almost complete absence of two-year-olds in his stable. The only one that comes to mind from the 1920s is the pony Trewilga, who won a nursery at Moorefield in about 1926. The reason Polson refrained from racing youngsters was his belief that it was too severe and marred their futures. It was an old-fashioned prejudice and looks particularly so from a modern perspective given the almost total obsession with two-year-old racing these days. Polson bought yearlings but because they were usually full of feed and humour, he invariably turned them out immediately after breaking them in and usually put them into full training only as three-year-olds.
Racing was enjoying an unprecedented boom in 1920 crowned in mid-June with a Royal visit to Randwick racecourse by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales for the two days of the A.J.C.’s Winter Meeting. Of course, at the time the public at large was unaware of the pathetic, selfish creature the Prince really was – the abdication crisis, his dereliction of duty, misappropriation of Crown jewellery, and pronounced Nazi sympathies, all lay in the future. Back in 1920, after the recent horrors of the Great War, the world was desperately in search of glamour. Prince Edward with his boyish good looks, his youthful sense of fashion and sheer joie de vivre, seemed to fit the mood perfectly. Crowds in excess of fifty thousand were present on both the Thursday and Saturday that His Royal Highness attended the racecourse – and this, remember, at a winter fixture.
On Saturday when His Royal Highness attended, it was particularly amusing to note the manner in which the large crowd on the lawn turned their backs on the horses doing their preliminaries for the Hurdle Race, in order to witness the Prince’s entrance to the Vice-Regal box. It was only when the noise of the gong announced that the race had commenced, their attention was diverted. The A.J.C. committee, falling over themselves in that familiar cloying sycophancy so evident from that body at the mere whiff of Royalty, celebrated the visit by programming the Prince of Wales’ Gold Cup with its £2,000 added money and £100 trophy. As it transpired, the one trophy wasn’t enough when an exciting race saw Parkdale and Silverton dead-heat for the prize. There was no run-off and the club had to hastily arrange for another gold cup to be made. The Prince of Wales was actually a keen rider in point-to-points in England, although his enthusiasm exceeded his éclat in the saddle. Cartoonists often seized upon his frequent falls, and typical of the satire of the day would be the publication of a picture of a riderless horse with the caption underneath bearing the words ‘Picture of the Prince of Wales on Horseback.’ During his visit, he actually rode early morning work at Randwick but on that occasion managed to do so without being dislodged.
The boom in racing and the bumper revenues being generated by it were, naturally enough, attracting both State and Federal Governments, which each sought a piece of the action. Although racing was beginning to prosper again even before the introduction of the Tote, it was the latter that acted as the real stimulus. The establishment of the machine lent betting a certain degree of respectability altogether missing when it was the exclusive preserve of the bookmaker, and as a result, a new class of racegoer was being enticed to the course. Some idea of the growth in popularity of the Tote is given by the fact that Totalisator turnover at the twenty-race meetings conducted at Randwick during the 1919-20 racing season had increased to £1,130,892/15/-. At the A.J.C. General Meeting later that year, the club announced its intention to increase the capacity of the Tote in the saddling paddock to administer one hundred ticket-issuing machines, double the previous numbers.
The club’s admission money returns for the season were also 50% greater than for any previous year. In late April the Federal Taxation Commissioner had declared that the Government intended to impose a 13% tax on Tote dividends. With the exception of Victoria, the Tote was now operational in all States, although the deductions being made from the pools varied. In N.S.W. the deduction was 11% together with fractions, which practically amounted to another 1%. Thus, if the Commonwealth Government got their cut, the return to the public would have been reduced to £76 out of every £100 gambled through the machine. The race clubs lost no time in appealing to the High Court.
However slowly the wheels of the law might turn these days, in 1920 this sort of challenge saw the full bench of the High Court headed by the Chief Justice, Adrian Knox – no stranger to racecourse betting – meet the following week. The main point of contention was whether or not the Tote represented anything more than a form of a lottery with judgment playing no part in proceedings – this, at least, was the argument mounted by the Federal Taxation Commissioner. The learned judges found otherwise and the proposed tax burden was abandoned. The money coming from increased attendances and gambling that was pouring into the A.J.C.’s coffers wasn’t just going on increased prize money. As supportive as the A.J.C. had been during the Great War in raising funds for the military effort, the club also made its contribution to the rehabilitation of the fighting men. In January 1920 the A.J.C. opened Canonbury, their beautiful war memorial convalescent home at Darling Point. Purchased at the cost of £18,000 the year before, the mansion had belonged to the late vaudeville entrepreneur, Harry Rickards, and the club had spent almost £10,000 more in restoring it and its beautiful grounds overlooking Sydney Harbour as a home for disabled naval and military servicemen.
But enough of diversions, allow me to return to the more immediate matter of the Derby prospects of 1920. Glenacre re-appeared in mid-September in the Chelmsford Stakes at the Tattersall’s Club Meeting, in which he ran fourth behind Miss Una Clift’s Chrysolaus. After an unplaced run in the Rosehill Guineas when Connell had tried to lead all the way, and then a disappointing third in the Hawkesbury Guineas, Williams abandoned a Derby programme and accepted the fact that the colt was more in the mould of a sprinter/miler, something confirmed later that same season when Glenacre won the rich Carrington Stakes. Salitros, on the other hand, began his Derby campaign earlier in the season and in somewhat less-exalted company than his more distinguished stablemate, when he resumed in a three-year-old handicap at Rosehill in the latter half of August. Ridden quietly over the seven-furlong journey, he finished out of a place, which befitted his appearance as he was as round as a balloon.
Fred Williams then gave Salitros one more run in public before the Derby, when he finished second in a seven-furlong handicap for three-year-olds on the same day that Glenacre failed in the Rosehill Guineas. Salitros was easily beaten in that race and the horse that won it, Etive, was conceding him more than a stone in weight. All things considered, it was hardly the exhibition of a classic horse. But Williams had been preparing Salitros for a trip much further than seven furlongs and in the fortnight leading up to the Derby the trainer poured the work into the colt with strenuous track gallops over the mile and ten furlongs – and Salitros was a horse that was a glutton for punishment. In private, he was showing Williams some wonderful trials. It might have seemed an unorthodox Derby preparation at the time, but Williams was laying down the template that would work so often for him in the years ahead. It was after that second run at Rosehill that Fred Williams confided his Derby thoughts to Bill Manton. The bookmakers were offering 20/1 about Salitros for the Derby, which Williams believed was rare value for money. Manton was delighted to hear that Myles Connell thought the same.
In comparison with Fred Williams and Salitros, Mick Polson and Malurys followed a more conventional course towards Derby Day, albeit while still keeping a low profile. Malurys resumed racing exactly a week before Salitros at the special Randwick meeting of the 14th of August put on for the Prince of Wales just before he left Australia. It was a red-letter day for Mick Polson as Ready Aye Ready took out the Flying Handicap at 6/1 while Malurys finished a most promising third behind Ventrola and Speciality in the second division of the Three-Year-Old Handicap, after running on nicely over the closing stages. A fortnight later, Malurys could only run fourth at Warwick Farm in a Maiden Handicap when handicapped with 9 stone and going out as the 2/1 favourite.
That performance was enough to put off the touts and wiseacres who believed that Malurys might be a Derby colt. Despite the failure of both Malurys and Ready Aye Ready on that Warwick Farm card, Persian Plume kept the home fires burning for Polson when he landed a good old-fashioned plunge in the Farm Stakes after being backed into 5/1. Indeed, Persian Plume was proving quite the moneyspinner for debonair Mick, winning multiple races. Malurys’s third run before the A.J.C. Derby came at the Tattersall’s September Meeting, exactly three weeks before the blue riband. The race was a mile Novice and looked upon by the betting markets as a good thing for Syce Knight.
In a big field of twenty-three starters the previously unraced New Zealand visitor, Vespucci, fancied for the Derby and carrying the famous colours of George Greenwood upset the apple cart in beating Syce Knight a length with Malurys a fast-finishing third, two lengths further adrift after ploughing his way through the big field. Seven days later, Malurys had his final Derby trial at the Rosehill Racing Club’s Spring Meeting but not in the Rosehill Guineas itself. On the day that Wirraway won that semi-classic from Syce Knight and Strathredole, Polson opted for the easier Three-Year-Old Handicap with Malurys. Split into two divisions because of the rush of entries, Salitros went to the post as the favourite in the first division while the weight of stable money ensured Malurys enjoyed the same status in the second division.
However, whereas Salitros went under to Etive, a filly by The Welkin carrying Barney Allen’s colours, Malurys ensured that Polson and company were drinking champagne that night. It was another of Polson’s clever betting manoeuvres. While Malurys might have opened the favourite in betting, when it was noticed that the little-known jockey Lyons had the mount, the horse went out to 5/1. This price was then pounced upon by the stable’s connections. Malurys was well in front turning for home and still clear at the distance and he lasted to win by a half-length from Marsh’s Son and Teremarau, ridden by a young Fil Allotta. In keeping with the recklessness of so many of Polson’s jockeys when the money was on, young Lyons was subsequently suspended for three months for crossing too sharply.
Polson now had a fortnight to get to the bottom of his colt on the Moorefield course and bring him to his peak. Much of the stable commission had already been laid on the colt for the classic and Polson had even approached the great Jim Pike to accept the ride by visiting the jockey’s Kensington home. The two men had never really met before and this visit was to be the start of a close long-standing friendship between two incorrigible gamblers that would see Pike ride whenever possible for the stable. Alas, on this occasion Jim already had a prior engagement for the Victorian colt Nautical, owned by James Wilson Jr for whom Pike had ridden regularly on his visits to Sydney over the years. Polson then belatedly booked ‘Roy’ Walker for Malurys instead.
The 1920 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Pleasant weather conditions on Derby Day encouraged a record crowd estimated at 75,000 people to attend the day’s festivities. Even the introduction of extra admission charges by the N.S.W. Treasurer, Jack Lang, and legislated only the week before – a tax of 2d on the Flat, 10d in the Leger reserve, and 3/- for admission to the Paddock for each male and 1/7d for each female – could not deter the crowds. It was a day that would see a new record for Tote turnover set at £105,337. The newly enlarged official stand had been completed on schedule for the meeting as well, at a cost of £30,000. The absence of an outstanding colt that season saw sixteen horses accept for the classic – a number that equalled the record for the race initially established in 1911, and matched again in 1916.
The pronounced favourite was Strathredole, a good-looking and massive Tressady colt, bred and raced by L.K.S. Mackinnon and trained at Mordialloc by Albert Foulsham. Although offered for sale as a yearling, the bidding failed to reach the 1500 guineas reserve placed on the colt by Mackinnon. Retained by him, the previous season Strathredole had won the Mimosa Stakes at the Flemington Spring Meeting. A backward colt that was still growing, he wasn’t persisted with for the rich autumn juvenile events. The dam of Strathredole was Perdita, an exceptionally beautiful chestnut mare, who, as we have seen, in her year had carried William Brown’s colours into minor placings in the Derbies at Randwick and Flemington, and for whom Mackinnon had paid a stiff price to obtain as a broodmare. She had already produced a Breeders’ Plate winner in Bundella, and Strathredole now promised to rise to even greater heights.
Although a bay or brown, Strathredole, like his dam, was a particularly striking racehorse. I suspect he owed his Derby favouritism more to such appearances and the rank and fashion of his aristocratic owner rather than anything that he had hitherto done on a racecourse. Admittedly, he had brilliantly won a mile handicap against his own age group at the V.R.C. August meeting, but upon coming to Sydney had failed in the Chelmsford Stakes and then run a disappointing third in the Rosehill Guineas. Yet the betting public still retained their faith. L.K.S. Mackinnon had two starters in the race – the other being the high-priced Fingon prepared by William Booth, although his presence in the race was solely to ensure a true pace for the benefit of both Strathredole and Fingon’s stablemate Syce Knight who was the second favourite in course betting. In a lifetime of training, Syce Knight represented the closest that the Rosehill maestro William Booth would ever get to the A.J.C. classic. Raced by his Queensland breeder, C. E. McDougall, Syce Knight after an unplaced effort in the Breeders’ Plate, had only started twice more as a juvenile without disturbing the judge’s repose on either occasion. He first emerged as a serious Derby candidate when he ran second in the Rosehill Guineas to Wirraway and a week later came out to win the Hawkesbury Guineas.
Erasmus and David shared the third line of favouritism. Erasmus, a rather stylish colt by Linacre from a full sister to Lord Cardigan, was purchased out of the Oakleigh draft of yearlings by William Keogh and Ned Moss and placed in the stables of Randwick veteran Harry Robinson. Erasmus had been placed in each of the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes and had already been supported by his big-betting owners at long prices for the Melbourne Cup. His improving second in the Chelmsford Stakes had ensured him of good support in Derby betting for a few weeks. David, by Baverstock, was arguably the most interesting runner in the Derby field. Purchased as a yearling for a miserly forty guineas by owner-trainer Bob Baillie, David had started in no fewer than 21 races in his first season on the Turf. Towards the mid-summer, he managed to win a race and run well in several others. But it was his slashing finish to win the Gibson Carmichael Stakes at Flemington that marked him down as something out of the ordinary. Some good track work moved a few shrewd judges to spec him in early Derby betting and he had retained a following right up to race day itself.
Salitros was quoted at 14/1 for the race, a price he shared with Wirraway, the surprise winner of the Rosehill Guineas that carried the colours of Major Anthony Hordern. Trained by the Hordern family retainer, C. H. Bryans, Anthony that season hoped to bid fair to rival his brother, Sir Samuel, in the acquisition of expensive tried bloodstock. Other horses in the field included the New Zealand representative Vespucci trained by Dick Mason; Rathluba owned and trained by Joe Burton; Skysail trained by James Scobie; Prince Charles trained by Frank Marsden; and Kilkenny Boy trained by the veteran Harry Rayner. Against such luminaries, the classic represented quite a challenge for the 34-year-old tyro, Mick Polson. Malurys had been brought from Moorefield the previous day and put up overnight at Miss E. Noud’s Eureka stables in William-street, Randwick. He arrived on the Randwick course in superb condition. Gambling was the spice of life for Polson, who had already backed Malurys to win over £10,000, and on race day itself, he plonked another £650 on the horse at even longer odds. And he may have been unlucky not to collect!
There are moments in racing history seen in retrospect when one can almost recognise a changing of the guard in the training ranks. The 1920 A.J.C. Derby represented just such a moment. For not only did the names of Fred Williams and Mick Polson appear with Derby entrants but so too did Dan Lewis with Speciality, a horse he trained for the well-known pastoralist J. J. Leahy. Speciality was by that consistent sire of winners, Persian Knight, whose yearlings seldom sold for more than the cost of the feed they had eaten, yet won races both on the flat and over hurdles. Speciality, who would ultimately turn out to be the best of his lot, was a case in point. Offered at the 1919 yearling sales of H. Chisholm and Co., he was passed in at 85 guineas and only later sold to J. J. Leahy for 100 guineas. There were echoes of another A.J.C. Derby in Speciality’s pedigree as his maternal grandsire was Amberite. As we shall see, the Derby came too soon for Speciality who remained immature, but it would be a different story at Randwick during the 1921 and 1922 spring and autumn meetings respectively.
The big field of sixteen horses wended its way to the webbing with much cheering from the restive and excited crowd. At barrier rise in the Derby, Kilkenny Boy, who was drawn on the inside, wheeled around and was left at the post. The rat-tailed Fingon went off to make fast running on behalf of Strathredole, but he did his job rather too well, making it too hot for his mate, who was beaten a long way from home. When the field passed the half-mile Myles Connell allowed Salitros to stride to the front and he looked to have the race in his keeping even at the home turn. Malurys made a run in the straight but a split hoof caused him to immediately lug out, and he finished under the judge’s box in great pain, a length and a half behind Salitros with Erasmus three lengths further afield. The merit of the win was emphasised by the fact that in leading for the last half-mile, Salitros had posted a new race record of 2 minutes 32 seconds, clipping a half-second off the time recorded by Noctuiform in 1905. The stable had always held a good opinion of Salitros, although the racing public at large seemed to regard him as more of a sprinter than a stayer prior to the Derby.
William Vaughan Manton, the Derby-winning owner, had already made one small fortune in retailing, and before the decade of the 1920s was over he would make another larger one. Born into rather humble circumstances in Ballarat in 1874, his first job at the age of eleven was in fixing boots to the feet of skaters at the local roller rink. Manton then worked in a variety of retail shops around Ballarat from a young age impressing his employers with his imagination and attention to detail. Around 1893, he began working for John Snow and Company, a profitable drapery business in Ballarat and proceeded to transform the whole notion of ground-floor shopping in width and depth of stock. This man “with good business ethics [and a] twinkle in his eye” was then asked in 1912 to join John and Sydney Snow as a business partner in opening a brand-new establishment in Sydney on the corner of Pitt-street and Liverpool-street, opposite the Anthony Hordern and Sons department store. The business flourished due to “the excellence of the goods supplied and the reasonableness of the prices charged.”
1920 was a significant year in Manton’s life for not only did he win the A.J.C. Derby but he also left Snow’s in return for shares in the company. In quitting Snow’s, Manton had signed an agreement not to open a store within 15 miles of Sydney for 15 years. Thus, Salitros came along during a hiatus in Bill Manton’s commercial life when he had both the time and the money to dabble in racehorses. It was a hobby that the younger Sydney Snow, a good friend of Manton’s was also to share with distinguished results. But Manton’s life in retail was far from over in 1920, despite the restrictions imposed upon leaving Snow’s. Sydney might have been out of the question, but Melbourne offered real possibilities. In May 1926, initially in partnership with Frank Paull, he opened a store in Swanston-street, on the opposite side to the Myers emporium. When Paull left within two years, the store’s name became Manton and Sons Pty Ltd.
In a curious way, the Great Depression helped Manton because it hurt his greatest competitor, Myers, even more. Indeed, in 1933 when the adjoining Theatre Royal came onto the market, Bill Manton successfully acquired the property only to have it demolished after its last show on 17 November of the same year. Out of the rubble in 1934 emerged the Art Deco splendour of Manton’s new store. “It’s smart to be thrifty” was adopted as the new store’s advertising logo. The newly expanded store flourished such that additional adjoining properties in Little Bourke Street and Bourke Street were acquired. Bill Manton retired and ultimately the business was sold by his sons, Jack and Ivor, to Edgar Coles in June 1955. While Salitros was the best horse ever to carry the colours of Bill Manton, there were other useful gallopers including Sun Valley (Moonee Valley Stakes winner) and Blue Valley that Fred Hoysted trained on his and his son Jack’s behalf during the years of World War II. Bill Manton died in 1962.
As if winning the Derby with a well-backed outsider at his first time of trying wasn’t enough. Fifty-five minutes later, Fred Williams teamed up with Myles Connell to win the Epsom Handicap as well, with the six-year-old Greenstead. Humping 9 st. 6lb but with the benefit of the number one post-position, Greenstead had to withstand a protest flag to retain the event. By equalling the Australian record for the mile, Greenstead further enhanced the reputation of Fred Williams for getting his horses to peak at the right time. Actually, the Randwick course was on fire that day; for apart from the records set by Salitros and Greenstead, a new race record was posted in the A.J.C. Hurdle as well. Fred Williams had the knack – like Jack Holt – of turning out his horses looking big and yet thoroughly fit. While Salitros didn’t run again at the meeting, Greenstead came out on the third day and annexed the Craven Plate – equalling the Australasian record for a mile and a quarter and ensuring Williams finished leading trainer.
The title of the leading trainer at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting was one thing, but money in the pocket was another and Williams had creamed the ring. Apart from taking 20/1 about Salitros for the Derby a fortnight before the race, he had also secured 25/1 for his money about Greenstead in the Epsom back in August. Moreover, he had coupled Greenstead in the Epsom with E. J. Watt’s Pershore, ridden by Joe Killorn, in The Metropolitan at odds of 400/1. And on top of all that, he had scored a fine car from Bill Manton to boot! Years later and upon his final retirement from the Turf, Fred Williams looked back on that famous Derby Day of 1920. “That was a royal day for me, the luckiest and most momentous day on my calendar. It was the day the tide turned. The winning of a blue riband at Randwick or Flemington will put a trainer in the first flight quicker than a score or more of minor races. For a number of years, I was battling along with a few horses and winning my share of races, but no one chased me with ready-made champions to train for them, and yet my methods were the same as I used in later years. A trainer, however, can’t win good races unless he is training good horses. I took notice of the methods adopted by those two grand old mentors Harry Raynor and Ike Earnshaw. They imparted a lot of knowledge to me when they found me a patient and interested listener.”
The Derby-winning jockey, Myles Connell, who enjoyed such wonderful success that spring with both Greenstead and Salitros, might have stepped straight from the pages of Banjo Patterson’s “Man from Snowy River”. Born in 1881 at Redbank, Araluen in N.S.W., he always seemed destined for a career as a jockey given that both of his parents were champion show riders. Reared in the Cooma district where his father conducted a farm, Connell as a lad honed his riding talents by helping his father round up cattle in the high leases of the Snowy Mountains. Until the age of eighteen, his appearances in a racing saddle were restricted to the district of Cooma and the local bush meetings. It was only in 1899 that he moved to Sydney to be licensed by the A.J.C. but he attracted so few mounts that the following year he switched his allegiance to the unregistered pony courses. During the next six years, Connell emerged as one of the leading riders on the circuit. When the senior club offered an amnesty to ‘pony’ jockeys in 1907, he decided to return to the A.J.C. ranks. The following season found him the runner-up to Bill McLachlan for the Sydney jockeys’ title.
Connell’s big race wins included a shared Caulfield Cup in 1909 when he dead-heated on J. C. Williamson’s Blue Book, while in 1910 he won the V.R.C. Newmarket on Mala. In those days he seemed to enjoy as much success with the rich prizes in Melbourne as in Sydney, the most notable wins in his hometown coming with Broadsword (1911) and Wedding Day (1917) in the A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap. The friendship between Myles Connell and Fred Williams dated from the days when each rode on the pony courses of Sydney. A strong rider who only had recourse to the whip as a last resort, both Connell’s riding style and personality suited William’s method of training. As the Williams’ fortunes prospered so too did Connell, and he was to enjoy a rare partnership with Greenstead that saw the pair combine to win eleven races. The spring of 1920 represented the very zenith of Connell’s career as a jockey when his horsemanship with both Salitros and Greenstead saw him win no fewer than five major prizes.
The following year Connell began to experience weight problems and paid a visit to England. It proved to be something of a busman’s holiday when the Australian expatriate, Etienne de Mestre junior, for whom Connell had ridden in Sydney when a lad, engaged him for two mounts at Sandown Park one day and he duly obliged by landing them both winners – one coming in the rich National Breeders’ Produce Stakes. Upon his return from England, Connell settled in Glenelg in South Australia where the climate better suited his asthmatic son and he eventually retired from riding in 1924. It is worth observing that despite the geography that separated them, Connell and Fred Williams kept up a regular and more than perfunctory correspondence over the years. A thoroughly meticulous man, Connell had recorded the details of his riding career in a series of diaries: out of 5,886 mounts, he had ridden 1,080 winners. Upon his retirement from the saddle, he proceeded to take out an owner-trainer’s licence and continued to train a small string of horses on Glenelg Beach until finally quitting the game in 1954. Throughout his life, Myles Connell was a devout Congregationalist and averred the betting side of life on the racecourse, preferring instead to invest his earnings in real estate around Randwick and Clovelly in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. When he died in April 1958 his estate was valued for probate at almost £80,000 – testimony to his skills in financial management.
Limelight, the sire of Salitros, then standing at a fee of 20 guineas, provides yet another example of a stallion siring an A.J.C. Derby winner in his first season at stud. Imported into Australia by George and Hugh Main, Limelight was one of a number of purchases made on behalf of the brothers by W. A. Alison at the December Sales in England in 1911. Although a non-winner on the English Turf, Limelight had run a series of good seconds in the Warwickshire Breeders’ Foal Plate, the Stud Produce Stakes at Newmarket, and the Hurstbourne Stakes. Apart from Limelight, who was a three-year-old at the time of his purchase for 500 guineas, Alison also bought eight mares and fillies for the brothers Main, and one of those mares was Suffer, by Rightaway, the dam of Salitros. Suffer was a mare who boasted an abundance of Stockwell strains in her pedigree and yet Alison was able to get her for just a hundred guineas. Considering the limited money with which Alison had to work, the special commissioner, as he styled himself, did remarkably well in buying both the sire and dam of a future Derby winner – and interestingly both horses came to Australia on the same ship.
Although he was really bought as a stallion, upon his arrival in Australia, Limelight was put into the stables of Mark Thompson to be tried on the racecourse. Unfortunately, Limelight, a lovely red chestnut, suffered from shelly feet, a condition that was exacerbated by the long sea voyage here and proved a particular handicap on the hard ground in Sydney. Nonetheless, whenever there was a sniff of rain in the air, Limelight ran some good races. Perhaps his best win came at the 1913 A.J.C. Spring Meeting when he won the Final Handicap, his fourth start within a week. He also worried Cider out of an A.J.C. Farewell Handicap later on, while Cisco only beat him a neck in the 1915 A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap.
Although Limelight carried something of a rogue’s reputation for pusillanimity on the racecourse here, I think his problems were wholly attributable to jarring on our hard ground rather than any lack of willingness. In all, Limelight earned George and Hugh Main over £3,300 in races in his adopted homeland. When he was finally retired and installed at The Retreat as a resident stallion with Featherstitch, he was only the second descendant of that splendid racehorse, Amphion, serving in Australia. It was the custom of the period to often exhibit valuable thoroughbred stallions at the Easter Show, then held at Moore Park. Limelight was exhibited there in 1920 and was judged by none other than Leslie Rouse, officiating that year, as the champion thoroughbred.
George and Hugh Main first began as horse-breeders at the time of the break-up of Durham Court Stud, from which the brothers purchased several mares. George became the more famous of the brothers in Australian racing chronicles because of his long service on the A.J.C. committee, first being elected to that body in October 1921 and then in September 1937 succeeding to the chairmanship upon the death of Sir Colin Stephen. But Hugh Main enjoyed some fame in elections himself, having been responsible for defeating the N.S.W. Premier, William Holman in the electorate of Cootamundra at the April 1920 N.S.W. State election. Salitros was certainly the best racehorse the brothers ever bred at their stud, The Retreat, near Bethungra on the southern line in N.S.W., although his half-sister, Hem, together with Featherstitch and Limelight were arguably the best horses to actually carry their colours.
In his very next start after the A.J.C. Derby, Salitros, like so many others before him, failed to handle the course for jockey Joe Killorn when he ran an unplaced second favourite in the Caulfield Cup won that year by Eurythmic. Salitros then stepped out at Flemington, and, in a roughhouse Victoria Derby, managed to survive the buffeting by leading for the last mile to win comfortably. On the following Monday, Bill Manton was approached at the Victoria Derby settling by Sam Griffiths, inquiring as to whether Salitros was for sale. Griffiths was acting on behalf of Mathuradas Goculdas, a leading Indian owner who only weeks before had bought the English St Leger winner Caligula. Manton declined to name a price, adding that he had taken up racing for sport and not for profit, and as it was the privilege of few owners to get only one good horse in a lifetime, he would be keeping his dual Derby winner. Salitros’s Victoria Derby triumph had been enough to promote the colt to Melbourne Cup favouritism but he was the first horse beaten the following Tuesday after piloting the field down the back of the course in the race eventually won by Poitrel. When Salitros finished last in a field of three behind Eurythmic and Poitrel in the C.B. Fisher Plate on the following Saturday, his more captious critics were suggesting the colt was over-rated while the more sympathetic concluded that perhaps he just wasn’t quite a genuine stayer. Manton himself began to regret that he didn’t do a deal with Griffiths.
Rested at Richmond in N.S.W., Salitros was brought back in the autumn for a campaign aimed at both St Legers, but it was to be a campaign severely disrupted by a strike of ships’ stewards and a drastic coal shortage in Melbourne. As a consequence of the lack of fuel supplies, the Victorian Government shut down special race trains and practically placed an embargo on racing in the southern capital. No registered race meeting was held in Melbourne for a period of two months. The V.A.T.C. Autumn Meeting was abandoned and the V.R.C. programme was postponed. All this was particularly detrimental to Salitros. The colt originally went to Melbourne by train along with his stablemates, Greenstead and Glenacre, but was brought back to Sydney as the interminable strike continued.
When the strike eventually ended and the delayed V.R.C. St Leger went ahead, Salitros made a third rail journey to take his place in the field. This series of interstate railway excursions was a less than ideal preparation and saw the colt, starting in the red, humbled in the V.R.C. St Leger by Nautical, a half-brother by Sea Prince to Outlook, trained by James Wilson Jr. But it was a different story when Salitros returned to the more familiar surroundings of Randwick for the A.J.C. red riband and Fred Williams had the opportunity to pour the work into him. Salitros convincingly reversed the order with his Victorian conqueror. The colt completed his three-year-old season with an unplaced run in the Sydney Cup won by Eurythmic, together with minor placings in the weight-for-age Cumberland Stakes and A.J.C. Plate behind Eurythmic and David.
The A.J.C. St Leger largely brought the curtain down on a remarkable 1920-21 racing season for Fred Williams, one from which he would never look back. At the end of July when the season officially ended, while his total of 14 wins at Sydney meetings paled in comparison to the 25 ½ wins recorded in the previous season, he had advanced considerably in prize money, the measure that mattered most of all. Williams’ total prize money from the Sydney fixtures had been £10,804 in 1919-20 whereas the sums credited to his wins at Randwick alone during 1920-21 were Salitros (£7,103), Greenstead (£5,402), Rosewalk (£1,295), Glenacre (£1,255), and Brank (£1,076). William Booth with 21 wins reclaimed the title of leading trainer for the fourth time in five years, with Williams finishing the runner-up. I might add that the wins measured in the above statistics were those scored at courses within a 40-mile radius of Sydney viz. Randwick, Hawkesbury, Rosehill, Moorefield, Canterbury Park and Warwick Farm.
The A.J.C. Plate incidentally, was the first race in which it became clear that the baton of champion staying three-year-old of the season had in fact passed from Salitros to David. As deserving a Derby winner as Salitros was, it was regrettable that the Derby came too early in the season for David that year, for his name would have been a worthy one on the honour roll of the great race and would have enriched one of the great romances of the Australian Turf. After all, the story of David is one from which every hobby breeder or yearling buyer with a modest purse can draw strength and inspiration. When Baverstock, the sire of David, retired from racing, the chances were high upon his becoming lost as a country sire in a dairying district – such was the disdain for colonial sires.
But as luck would have it, he fell into the hands of Albert Thompson at Widden. Thompson gave him a few mares and at the 1919 Easter Sales, one of the four lots offered by Thompson was the future racehorse David. Despite being the best looking, he was the least fancied of Albert’s yearling offering, and, as we have seen, fetched only 40 guineas in a bid from owner-trainer Bob Baillie. Baillie was never one to spare his horses and in his first season, David started in no fewer than 21 races! Those racing men, who fulminate against the heavy racing of juveniles as the ruination of stayers, generally turn a blind eye to this fellow. For just occasionally we are blessed with a youngster who happens to be so highly vitalised and as sound as bell-metal that he can withstand the demands made on his immature strength as a juvenile. David was just such a horse.
Although disappointing in both Derbies the previous spring, David had always done enough to suggest promise. And it came to fruition at that A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in 1921. Although he could only manage third behind Salitros and Nautical in the A.J.C. St Leger, his predilection for a bit of ground became apparent later when he ran fourth in the Sydney Cup and second in the Cumberland Stakes. David then came out on the last day of the meeting to easily beat Salitros and take out the A.J.C. Plate, over three miles. That year the race was run in particularly heavy ground. One of the conditions of the contest was that unless the event was run within 5 minutes and 45 seconds, the added money was reduced from £2,000 to £750. This seeming parsimony by the A.J.C. was imposed in some of its richest weight-for-age events and intended to discourage the prospect of a farcical pace, rather than penalise a winner in adverse weather. On that occasion, the committee retrospectively reviewed the condition and David kept the full prize. This was the race that heralded David as the next big thing in Australian racing and led to a series of splendid triumphs in both handicap and weight-for-age events over the next couple of seasons.
His owner-trainer, Bob Baillie, subsequently sold David to Norman Falkiner for 5000 guineas in mid-December 1921 after Falkiner and his trainer Jack Holt visited Sydney to inspect the horse. The Victorian grazier redeemed the purchase price from four big, long-distance, weight-for-age races, although David did fail him rather badly in the Melbourne Cup. Norman Falkiner tired of the horse when he flopped in the V.R.C. Handicap and in turn, passed him on to his brother, Otway, at the same price he had paid, and David thence went into the Rosehill stables of William Booth. Again, it might have seemed a large sum of money but David made the price look cheap when he slew the Goliaths of the 1923 Sydney Cup, carrying 9 st. 7lb to victory and leading most of the way, landing about £20,000 in bets. That was the year William Booth took out the feature autumn double of the Doncaster and Cup, and the stable reaped a mighty harvest in the ring with the combination of The Epicure and David.
Albert Wood, who partnered with David, alone was laid £2,000 to nothing. Booth trained David in the same manner as Bob Baillie, who did not use stables for his racehorses but rather allowed them to run in open paddocks. David was a horse who hated a loose box, and even rain could not induce him to use its shelter. It was just as well that he was hardy, for David experienced a rather arduous racing career that extended over eight seasons and 124 races. He was a much better horse in N.S.W. than Victoria, where he did not appear to be able to handle the left-handed running. Among other races, David won three A.J.C. Plates in all, as well as twice taking out both the Randwick Plate and the Spring Stakes. In one Metropolitan he was narrowly beaten with 9 st. 13lb on his back, and with 9 st. 8lb in another. In recognition of his achievements on the Randwick track, in 1925 Otway Falkiner presented an oil painting of David, executed by Martin Stainforth, to the Australian Jockey Club. Perhaps not surprisingly after the demands made upon him on the racecourse, David did very little at stud. His best horse was Santa Casa, winner of the V.R.C. Grand National Steeplechase.
Compared to David, Salitros’s post-three-year-old career proved disappointing. As a four-year-old, the Limelight horse started fourteen times, winning three races and finishing unplaced in all of the others. Salitros opened that season with a victory in an open handicap (10f) at Warwick Farm and closed it with a victory in the A.J.C. Dangar Handicap (12f), carrying 9st. 8lb, on the last day of the 1922 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. In between, Salitros had failed in each of the A.J.C. Metropolitan Stakes when handicapped on 9st. 4lb and the Sydney Cup when handicapped on 8st. 12lb, as well as a series of weight-for-age races. As a five-year-old, Salitros developed a splint and only started once when unplaced in the A.J.C. Liverpool Handicap in March 1923, before irrevocably breaking down during early morning trackwork at Randwick later that same month. From 37 race starts, Salitros recorded 7 wins, 6 seconds and 2 thirds and just over £11,000 in prize money. Sold as a stallion to stand at W. L. P. Richardson’s Bereen property at Barraba, some 60 miles northwest of Tamworth, Salitros served his first limited book of mares in the spring of 1923 at a fee of just fifteen guineas. He proved a sure foal getter but was denied a proper opportunity at stud when he succumbed to tetanus and died in September 1924.
When I look back on the field that started for the 1920 A.J.C. Derby, I’m reminded that David wasn’t the only Sydney Cup winner to emerge from its ranks. Prince Charles, that good-looking but diminutive colt bred and raced by John Brown, appropriated the 1922 race when appreciating a handicap of only 7 st. 11lb. Apart from David and Salitros, however, arguably the best horse to come out of the Derby field was Speciality. He later won both The Metropolitan and a Doncaster at headquarters and was the first really good horse to fall into the hands of Dan Lewis. Neither Malurys nor Erasmus, who ran the minor placings in the Derby at Randwick, ever won a major race on the Turf. However, Erasmus did finish second to his stablemate Poitrel in the 1920 Melbourne Cup, beaten a half-length after he had been backed for big money by Moss at long prices. Perhaps the most disappointing horse of that year’s Derby was Strathredole, with whom L.K.S. Mackinnon parted company for 1700 guineas at the conclusion of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting.
I started this chapter with the tale of Fred William’s rise to prominence, culminating in that memorable Derby Day that saw him win not just the Blue Riband but the Epsom as well. I might just add as a postscript that the Epsom winner, Greenstead, turned out to be a much better horse at stud than Salitros. Sold as an eight-year-old stallion to Herbert Thompson, he was used successfully for a few seasons before Thompson sold him – not because he failed to get many winners – but rather because he lost too many mares. A number of Greenstead’s foals were so big that quite a few mares died in foaling. I can’t think of another example in the history of Australian bloodstock where a stallion has been discarded for such a reason. Perhaps his best son was Greenline, although I must confess to a soft spot for the gallant Greensea who carried such big weights to victory over the hurdles.
Earlier in this chapter, I made the point that the 1920 renewal of the A.J.C. Derby represented something of a changing of the guard in Sydney’s training ranks. Both Fred Williams and Dan Lewis are names that will recur in future chapters of this chronicle but not so Mick Polson. So, what became of the man who so cruelly saw his chance of riches denied with that split hoof of Malurys? Quite a lot actually, but nothing in a Derby context. After the A.J.C. classic, Polson bought out A. T. Brown’s share in the unlucky Malurys but thereafter the horse’s racing career was blighted by knee trouble. Polson may well have been haunted by that split hoof of Malurys in the Derby, for over the next couple of years his pickings on the Turf were to be slim indeed. It wasn’t until Pteropod came along that the money started to roll. A son of the stallion Pteropus who was initially refused a certificate to stand in Tasmania by the Stallions’ Registration Board, Pteropod was both owned and trained by Polson.
At the 1922 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, he brought off a famous plunge in the Chester Handicap when weighted with only 13lb above the minimum. Having drawn the No. 1 position, the horse never left the rails and won pulling up to take some £20,000 out of the betting ring. And yet Pteropod still started at 10/1. Such was the strength of the Randwick betting ring at carnival time in those halcyon days of the 1920s. It was just as well that the Polson camp collected because the stable wasn’t to win another race in the metropolitan area until Pteropod scored again the following October in a flying handicap at Randwick. Mick cultivated a wonderful affection for Pteropod, largely because the gelding seldom let him down when the money was on. But while the horse rarely let Polson down, occasionally the judge did. Perhaps the most celebrated occasion was the Railway Highweight on Melbourne Cup Day in 1923 when in a controversial finish down the straight-six, Blue Cross on the inside rail was given the decision over Pteropod on the outside rail by a half-neck. Many members of the press believed that the Sydney horse had won. Stable commissioners had taken as much as £8,000 to £800 about Pteropod with Jim Pike in the saddle. On days such as that, the magic-eye camera couldn’t come soon enough.
Polson throughout his training career was a great supporter of country racing, using provincial tracks to educate his immature and inexperienced horses as well as pulling off the occasional sting. Indeed, he would even travel horses without racing them just to get them used to transportation, a common enough practice now but rare back then. One of his favourite sojourns was taking a team to the sun-kissed meetings around Grafton, Tamworth and Armidale each year during winter. Pteropod did a bit of his early racing in the Clarence River district. In those days, the northern clubs occasionally gave prizes totalling above £2,000 and their betting rings were strong. Moreover, the metropolitan handicappers didn’t penalise success on the country circuits quite so harshly. However, Malurys apart, the two best racehorses ever to pass through Mick Polson’s hands, Fujisan and Winooka, never required schooling on the country circuit.
Mick Polson first acquired Fujisan in the autumn of his four-year-old season on behalf of one of his major clients, the bookmaker A. J. (Joe) Matthews. A well-built bay gelding by Valais, he was out of that good mare Lady San that had carried Fred Merton’s colours. Lady San rather sensationally missed a place in the A.J.C. December Stakes won by Apple Pie when starting at even money but she made up for that failure the following spring when she won the 1909 V.R.C. Oaks. Originally purchased as a yearling by J. P. Arthur for 500 guineas on the only bid called at the 1923 William Inglis Sales, the Valais horse had won the 1925 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap with 8 st. 1lb when prepared by the young Caulfield trainer Charlie Hodson. It was after failing in the same race the following year with 9 st. 7lb that owner J. P. Arthur offered Fujisan at the Inglis sale of tried racehorses on Tuesday, 16 April 1926, on the same day that both Heroic and Amounis also went up for auction.
While Heroic was passed in for 10,500 guineas and Amounis was knocked down for 1800 guineas to Bill Pearson, Reg Inglis sought an opening bid of 1000 guineas on Fujisan but there were no takers and the gelded son of Valais left the ring unsold. It was only the next day that Polson successfully negotiated the purchase through Inglis at a reputed price of 1300 guineas. Despite his Doncaster failure, Fujisan had been showing decent recent form, having finished third in the V.R.C. Newmarket with 9 st. 5lb and over the same course carrying 9 st. 11lb and setting a race record in the Leonard Stakes. Fujisan more than compensated Matthews for his outlay two months later when he won three races in Queensland. The gelded son of Valais then went on to victories that marked him as one of the best sprinter-milers in the land. A big parcel of money was delivered from his runaway win at Randwick in the Tramway Handicap of 1926, and an even bigger one from his victory in the All-Aged Stakes against Top Gallant, Amounis and Valicare. Three great performances were his triumphs in the City Tattersall’s Flying (6 st. 7lb limit) with 10 st. 9lb; the Railway Highweight on Melbourne Cup Day, 1926 (limit 8 stone) with 11 st. 9lb; and the same race a year later with 12 st. 1lb.
Alas, the race in which Mick Polson and his cohorts put their greatest faith was the 1926 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap for which he started equal favourite with Amounis, and in which one of the greatest plunges of the times was thwarted. The stable’s straight out commission was £1500 at 15/1 totalling £24,000. Moreover, Fujisan, together with Star Stranger, was backed for the A.J.C. Epsom-Metropolitan double. Frank McGrath, who had recently acquired Amounis, nonetheless strongly suggested to Polson and company that they should hedge their bets by taking out some insurance on Amounis. Polson and Matthews watched Fujisan, carrying 9 st 9lb, get beaten three lengths by the year-younger Amounis carrying 8 st. 11lb in Australasian record time on the opening Saturday only to see Star Stranger step out and win The Metropolitan on the following Monday. Had Fujisan succeeded, Star Stranger’s completion of the double would have brought the stable’s winnings to well over £43,000, such was the extent of racecourse gambles in the midst of the glorious Jazz Age. How unlucky were Joe Matthews and Mick Polson to bump up against a very great racehorse just as he was emerging as the champion he was and enjoying such a pull in the weights.
Before Polson got his next good horse, he had moved stables. No doubt Fujisan’s winnings helped finance the transfer for it was in June 1928 that he completed negotiations to purchase the High-street stables at Randwick once occupied by Jack Tuckerman. Tuckerman had trained a number of horses for Sir Hugh Denison out of those premises including that good galloper, Greg. Polson’s acquisition of his new stables coincided with his application to the A.J.C. for a No. 1 licence. There were four vacancies for such a licence at the beginning of the 1928-29 racing season and the other successful applicants besides Polson were Peter Riddle, Johnnie Donohoe and L. McNeill, who had formerly been Fred Williams’ foreman. It wasn’t without irony, considering the 1920 A.J.C. Derby result, that it was Williams’ temporary retirement as a trainer that helped create a vacancy at Randwick for Polson.
However, as Polson was only too aware, it isn’t all gold that glitters with the granting of a No. 1 licence. One of the drawbacks of training at Randwick in those days, particularly for an aggressive betting stable such as Polson’s, was the dubious privilege of having one’s horses watched by an army of touts who then wirelessed their track doings all over the state. Polson was cognisant of the risk but realised just how much he still had up his sleeve with the clever deployment of heavy saddles and heavy shoes. Nonetheless, it remained to be seen just how Polson would fare having had the secluded shelter of Moorefield for his previous plunges. Polson only started training out of his new stables Randwick in the first week of December 1928, having newly rebuilt the twenty-stall premises to a design by the architects, Frank Moore and Dyer. At the time Polson’s major clients were Joe Matthews and Otway Falkiner and their horses included Boss Poppy, Gold Tray, Goldminer, Herilda and Papatu. Alas, Polson’s first couple of seasons training out of Randwick were somewhat underwhelming.
That all changed when a certain son of Windbag found his way into Polson’s High-street stables in the autumn of 1931 after just two public appearances in Queensland. The horse would proceed to send off Mick Polson on the biggest and most publicised adventure of his lifetime. Where exactly does one begin the Winooka story? Perhaps at the 1930 Sydney yearling sales conducted by William Inglis and Son. It was there that a bay colt by the first season stallion Windbag out of the 1925 A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes winner Kanooka was offered by Percy Miller’s Kia Ora Stud and knocked down to Hugh Taylor of the Turanville Station at Scone for 290 guineas. The very next lot to go through the Inglis sales ring that day was yet another bay colt by Windbag, and he, too, like Winooka, was bred by Percy Miller and out of a broodmare by The Welkin. Sold for 650 guineas – the most expensive Windbag yearling of the sales – he raced as Chatham. It is rare at any bloodstock sale to find two such champions sold as successive lots. Hugh Taylor, who raced a few horses out of Brisbane, placed Winooka in the Ascot stables of Tim Brosnan.
Being out of a Gimcrack Stakes winner, Winooka was expected to go fast early and he didn’t disappoint. Permit me to observe here that there are some moments of symmetry and coincidence difficult to resist in racing. When Kanooka won the Gimcrack Stakes at Randwick in the hands of Jim Munro on October 7, 1925, just thirty minutes later the same man wearing the same colours, guided Windbag to an easy victory in the A.J.C. Craven Plate. Whereas Bob Miller owned Windbag, he only leased Kanooka from his brother Percy. Nonetheless, just two years later, the stallion and the mare would meet in a breeding barn and the result of their mating would be one of the great Australian milers of the twentieth century. At his first start as a juvenile on November 1st, Winooka ran off the course in a Q.T.C. Hopeful Stakes at Eagle Farm and failed to finish. Winooka’s next appearance came at the same course in March when he spreadeagled a field of fourteen to win by four lengths in a smart time for the six furlongs.
Within a week the colt had been sold for a thousand guineas to the Sydney and Brisbane bookmaker, Bill McDonald who then sold a half-share to his bookmaking colleague, Joe Matthews. Left in the Queensland sunshine for ten weeks, Winooka only arrived in Mick Polson’s Randwick stables in mid-June. A fine, upstanding bay of attractive proportions, the son of Windbag hadn’t been entered for either the Sydney or Melbourne classics. Winooka’s Sydney debut came at Hawkesbury against a field of eighteen at the end of September in a three-year-old handicap. Despite drawing No. 16 post position nothing better than 2/1 was wagered against him. He won effortlessly with Stan Davidson in the saddle. Twelve days later, Winooka made his only appearance at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting when he won the Clibborn Stakes over the mile from a good field. It was to be his last victory that season. In seven more starts as a three-year-old, his best performance was his half-length second in the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap to the 33/1 outsider Lady Linden when the Polson stable had backed Winooka for a bundle. Winooka’s four-year-old season was easily his best when he won 8 of his 13 starts and was only unplaced once; his victories in the autumn of 1933 included the V.A.T.C. Futurity Stakes, A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap with 9st. 13lb and the A.J.C. All-Aged Plate.
On the last day of May 1933, Winooka left Australia aboard the Monterey en route to San Francisco via Auckland with Trevallion as his shipmate. Winooka had a bigger retinue than the winner of a Miss Australia contest and the travelling party above deck included Mick Polson, Joe Mathews, Bill McDonald, Rufe Naylor and Austin Robertson, a professional sprint champion. Not to mention Edgar Britt and Hugh Sullivan below deck. Thousands of words and acres of newsprint were devoted to the cataloguing of Winooka’s American odyssey in a manner that is perhaps difficult for a later generation to understand. It wasn’t as if the adventure was a startling success as Winooka was never really at home on the dirt tracks of America. Nonetheless, he took his part in seven widely publicised match races there against second-raters, winning one at San Francisco and two at Pimlico as well as enjoying a walkover at Churchill Downs when his sole opponent was withdrawn.
Winooka later developed a cough and this, together with an argument between the owners and their so-called racing manager Rufe Naylor, essentially ended the first foreign campaign. Winooka was rested at Audley Farm in Virginia and resumed for a second American campaign in 1934 but was even more disappointing in a couple of races. The Government then refused to extend the time permits held by Polson and Hugh Sullivan allowing them to stay in the U.S.A., which saw Winooka being shipped back to Australia in August of that year. Winooka never really regained his true form in Australia after his overseas peregrinations. Mick Polson trained him when he ran second in the V.A.T.C. Oakleigh Plate with 10st. 5lb and third in the Futurity Stakes in the late summer of his six-year-old season. However, Winooka was retired to owner Joe Mathews’ Waratah Stud at Peak Hill after severing the tendons in his off-hind leg when galloped upon in the 1935 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap. A disappointment as a stallion, Winooka failed to sire a single winner of a principal race. He died at the Waratah Stud in September 1942.
The real irony of Winooka’s underperforming American tour, which degenerated into something of a circus, was that the horse that contributed most to the bank balances of Messrs Polson, Mathews and McDonald was Winooka’s shipmate, Trevallion, a gelded son of Redfern. He was no slouch either. A half-brother to a New Zealand Oaks winner, he himself had been a placegetter in both the A.J.C. Villiers Stakes and Anniversary Handicap as well as the winner of a Caulfield Welter with 9 st. 6lb only weeks before being shipped off to the U.S.A. At a meeting at Laurel Park, Maryland, and in the last race on the same card where Winooka had earlier failed against a mediocre field, Trevallion was entered in a claiming event. Polson put a value on the gelding of just $1200, which meant that he got into the field with the lightest of handicaps.
I might mention that in an American claiming race as they were then, anybody could buy a horse competing provided they paid the amount of the claim up to some fifteen minutes before the starting time of the race. Of course, nobody offered $1200 for Trevallion because, apart from the Australians, nobody knew anything about the horse. In a scene that could have been taken from the Academy Award-winning film ‘The Sting’, a few minutes before the race, startled bookmakers on the U.S. East Coast were claimed for Trevallion at big prices. The bay gelding in the hands of a young Edgar Britt did the rest and was never headed after the jump. None of the East Coast money got back to the course and even those at Laurel could have got odds of 15/1 at starting time. Polson maintained later that Trevallion would have been a certainty in the race even with another three-stone on his back! A few years later, Horace Wade wrote about the plunge in ‘The American Weekly’ estimating the takings to be at least $US100,000 although the Australian party always remained coy about the precise amount. Sceptical sporting journalists in Australia believed the Trevallion winnings were always exaggerated but the story did serve to deflect attention from the embarrassment of Winooka’s failures.
It was during the time that Mick Polson was preparing Winooka there occurred a motor accident that was to haunt the trainer for the rest of his days. On the night of Friday, 5 August 1932, at around 8.40 p.m. Polson was driving his sedan containing two passengers across the newly opened Sydney Harbour Bridge when it struck two young police constables, James Bush and Joseph McCunn, who were on uniform traffic duty. The bridge was poorly lit and the officers had torches with which they were checking the lights on passing vehicles. At the moment of the accident, the two policemen were looking in the opposite direction, towards the city, as Polson’s car approached them from behind. One was killed instantly and the other died in hospital about an hour later. Polson was remanded and subsequently charged with manslaughter and he engaged barrister Bill Dovey, the future A.J.C. vice-chairman, to represent him.
At the time of the accident, Polson was returning from the Manly Golf Club and his passengers were John Ferrier, the president of the golf club, and Joseph Bannister, a bookmaker. Although Polson had been drinking, a police doctor on duty testified that it wasn’t sufficient to render him incapable of driving a car. The roadway was very black and the visibility was very poor with a light drizzle. After a lengthy hearing conducted at the City Coroner’s Court within the month, Polson was eventually cleared of the charges of manslaughter and dangerous driving. The acting Coroner, E. A. May, returned a finding of accidental death in both cases. The Coroner said that the bridge roadway was a carriageway, where no pedestrian should be. He concluded that had the constables been wearing their white gauntlet gloves instead of leaving them in their bags at a toll-house on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which might have distinguished them from the engulfing shadows of the bridge span, the accident may never have happened. Innocent though he was found, the tragedy played on Polson’s mind and I think it motivated much of his model behaviour as a good community citizen for the balance of his life.
Perhaps the only thing better to have in one’s stable during the 1920s and 1930s than a champion racehorse was a champion apprentice. Mick Polson was lucky enough in his lifetime to have two of them and the first coincided with Winooka’s rise to greatness. As a native lad of eleven, Edgar Britt got his start in racing with Mick Polson when he worked in his stables before and after school from the age of eleven until he became indentured to him at the age of fourteen. It was at Canterbury Park in January 1930 that the little-known apprentice partnered the Polson-trained, Bill McDonald-owned, Gypsy King to victory in a handicap and thereby record the first of his many triumphs in the saddle. Pity poor Polson, who was prepared to put the lad on the horse but not to back him. Gypsy King started the rank-outsider in the field of seven. Believe it or not but Britt went for another nine months before riding another winner and then along came Tea Miss, a mare owned by Cecil Wallace, who had a long association with Polson. A couple of weeks later and Jack King put Britt on Miss Nottava in a two-year-old race and Randwick and she won. Britt never looked back from that day forth.
Winooka measurably assisted Britt’s rise to greatness in his chosen profession. Not only did the young Edgar win the V.A.T.C. Futurity Stakes on Winooka as an apprentice but he won four races on the horse in America as well. Those races and his success on Broad Arrow in the Sydney Cup in 1934 and in the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap on Miss Notava in 1935, established Britt. Later that same year Britt accepted an offer to ride in India and it was over there riding successively for the Maharajahs of Kohalpur, Kashmir and Baroda that he first forged his international reputation riding 47 winners in one season. Edgar’s younger jockey brother, John, accompanied him to ride in India as well but rarely could the fortunes of two brother jockeys have been more different.
The 17-year-old John Britt, who at one time was apprenticed to Fred Williams, fell in Bombay in 1938 when entering a bath and struck his head, rendering him unconscious and he subsequently drowned. Edgar, on the other hand, would live to the ripe old age of 103, after a brilliant international career in the saddle. The Gaekwar took Edgar Britt to England in 1945, where he was an immediate success riding for the leading Newmarket trainers Marcus Marsh, Fred Armstrong and Cecil Boyd-Rochfort among others. In his first season there, Britt won the rich Cesarewitch Handicap on Kerry Piper, a stallion who proved a profound disappointment when later brought to serve in Australia. Still, the Cesarewitch was the harbinger of a wonderful career on the English Turf for Britt which saw him win a number of English classics including the St Leger (Sayajirao, Black Tarquin); Oaks (Musidora, Frieze); 2000 Guineas (Nearula); and the 1000 Guineas (Musidora, Honeylight). Britt was never destined to win the English Derby, the biggest prize of all, and the closest he came was when he finished third on the Gaekwar of Baroda’s colt Sayajirao in 1947. Sayajirao was regarded by Britt as the best horse that he ever rode. A full brother to Dante, for which the Gaekwar of Baroda paid the record price of 28,000 guineas at the 1945 English Newmarket yearling sales, Britt won both the English St Leger and Irish Derby on the colt.
Polson returned from America and resumed training at Randwick, although having been away intermittently over a fifteen-month period, he had to rebuild his stable numbers. Hugh Sullivan, Polson’s long-serving foreman who had spent the whole time with Winooka while that horse was overseas, also resumed his usual stable duties. The second half of the 1930s were tough years and Polson struggled to get a useful team together after the retirement of Winooka. He did enjoy some success with horses such as Nabob, Palm and Barak and he picked up John Brunton as a new client, but the winners were slow in coming. Then came World War II and the winding back of racing. During the early years of the conflict, Polson spent much of his time raising money for charity and war organisations, with winners even harder to come by. It wasn’t until Villiers Stakes Day on 19 December 1942 that he won his first double on his home track when he trained the winners: Adjust, owned by Tattersall’s Club treasurer Stan Chatterton; and Ron Rico, owned by Joe Mathews’ sister, Mrs M. J. Doyle, both ridden by the then promising stable apprentice Alan Gollogly. It was the same day that Flight made her racecourse debut and scored in the December Nursery at 33/1! Gollogly, who hailed from Ingham in Queensland and was the son of a station owner there was yet another of Polson’s top apprentices. Polson was beginning to steal the thunder of Bill Kelso and Jerome Carey as a maker of jockeys although it was his good friend Jim Pike who was the real secret behind the apprentices’ triumphs.
It was only in the last few years of World War II and through the agency of Edgar Britt that Mick Polson gained potentially his richest stable client in the Maharajah Gaekwar. The Gaekwar commissioned Polson to purchase a number of Australian yearlings on his behalf from a seemingly bottomless budget. The venture got off to a promising start when Polson trained Birthright to win the 1943 A.J.C. Widden Stakes for the Maharajah but later results proved disappointing with several high-priced yearlings such as The Gaekwar and Lakshmi Vallis proving embarrassing failures. The Maharajah was just one of a number of Indian buyers procuring Australian bloodstock at the time and others included the Maharajahs of Kolhapur and Patiala as well as Sir Victor Sassoon, who raced here as “Mr Eve”. One of the major reasons why Indian owners briefly turned to Australia was the impossibility of importing horses from England owing to the War and the fact that Australian horses often acclimatised sooner than horses sourced from elsewhere.
The second champion apprentice indentured to Mick Polson was William Wright (Billy) Lappin and he came along just a few years after Britt. Lappin hailed from the Charlestown district of Newcastle where his father William owned a small farm on Lambton road. As a boy, Billy was always with his pony and dreamed of becoming a jockey. When he was just shy of his 15th birthday, Lappin senior wrote to Polson seeking an apprenticeship for his son, and he entered the Randwick stables for a six-month trial in March 1936. Soon afterwards, Lappin’s parents moved to Sydney themselves to be nearer their son and the father became the licensee of the Grosvenor Hotel at Ultimo. Lappin rode his first winner, Jaccuse, at Newcastle on 8 November 1937. Granted permission to ride in races by the A.J.C. in December 1937 at the same time as Harold Darke and Frank Lewis, Lappin finished the season with 21 ½ winners and fourteenth in the Leading Jockeys’ List. It was no mean achievement considering that he had missed the first 4 ½ months of the season. Among the trainers giving him his first metropolitan rides were Bob Skelton and William Booth.
The following season of 1938-39 proved sensational for Lappin. There never was a struggle for a Sydney jockeys’ premiership quite like it. In those days there were two metropolitan meetings each week and, as we have seen, the results of provincial meetings were also included in determining the leading jockey and trainer. It came down to the last race on the last day at Moorefield before a record crowd for the racecourse, with more than 8,000 people in the Leger alone. Heading into that last day, the score was McCarten 86, McMenamin 85 ½ and Lappin 85. It was one of those rare occasions when the interest in the jockeys’ premiership spilt over from the sports pages and onto the front pages of newspapers. On this last day, McCarten was the first to ride a winner. Then Lappin took a double, the Rockdale Mile on Mack Sawyer’s Light Dragoon (4/1) and the Handicap on Bob Mead’s The Jilt (10/1). So, with one race to go, McCarten and Lappin were equal with 87 wins each. Unluckily, Lappin didn’t have a ride in the last. Mick Polson had been saving up his Denis Boy mare, Mrs Caudle, for Lappin in the last race of the season, but she broke down on the previous Thursday and the lad had to watch from the window of the Jockeys’ Room as McCarten rode to victory on Reception.
“I’m glad he won it,” said McMenamin afterwards as he congratulated McCarten. “He’s one of the veterans of the game, and Bill Lappin is only a youngster. Bill will have his chance next year. He has his future before him, McCarten hasn’t.” If only. How poignant McMenamin’s comments look with the wisdom of hindsight. For in that 1939-40 season, Lappin’s luck ran out. At Rosehill in September, he fell when his mount, Light Dragoon, came down. Lappin suffered a fractured skull, which kept him out of the saddle for two months. Then at Randwick two days before Christmas, he suffered a broken toe when his mount was forced against the running rail. When he returned after another period of inactivity, he soon notched up 26 winners, the last being Pennywise on that fateful Saturday, 10 February 1940.
Pennywise and Lappin won the first; Passport and Lappin fell in the third. Half the field passed over the motionless Lappin as he lay on the ground. The frantic waving of the red cross flag from the ambulance wagon as it broke speed records back to the casualty room prepared the public for the worst. Taken to Sydney Hospital, Lappin died two hours later in an iron lung. It was the third anniversary of the day that he had his first mount in a race on the Mick Polson-trained The World at Rosebery. For Mick Polson, who almost looked upon Lappin as a son, racing was never quite the same again. Haunted by ghosts from the past, for a time he lost interest in the game. Certainly, during the balance of the 1940s, Polson struggled to acquire a half-decent galloper, having to make do with the likes of Beau Robert, Challenge and Snow Queen.
Many years after the running of the 1920 A.J.C. Derby, Mick Polson was in a reflective mood and reminisced about that race: “The best horse I ever had in my stables was Malurys. That might seem ridiculous because I subsequently trained Fujisan and Winooka, but great as they were they did not show me the pace of Malurys. Malurys ran the greatest gallop I’ve ever seen at Moorefield before the 1920 Derby, and I backed him in that race for a fortune. Although I never got him quite right again, he won three races subsequently. Had I been able to train him properly, I think Malurys would have been one of the greatest horses ever to have raced in Australia.” A favourite of Polson’s, it is interesting to note that after Malurys retired from racing, the horse was used around Randwick as a hack by the trainer.
Into the 1950s and Mick Polson was slowing down although he did serve as the president of the N.S.W. Owners and Trainers’ Association for a brief period. The last decent horse that he had was Yeoval, the gelded son of Bourbon, which he both owned and trained and with whom he won the 1950 S.T.C. Christmas Cup and the 1951 S.T.C. Cup. Polson finally surrendered his No. 1 trainer’s licence at the end of the 1953-54 season. He remained a familiar and popular figure at Randwick until nearly the very end of his life, sitting in his accustomed seat in the corner of the trainer’s reserve in the Members’ Stand. It was ‘his’ position close to the action and no other trainer ever dared consider jumping his claim. After a prolonged illness and hospitalisation, Mick Polson died in December 1957 with a funeral service held at Kinsela Chapels, Taylor Square, on Christmas Eve and afterwards to the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium.