In January 1933 the colourful and flamboyant gambler Ned Moss accompanied both his trainers, George Price and Fred Williams, to the New Zealand National Yearling Sales. Moss was particularly interested in the progeny of Limond, the New Zealand based stallion that had become premier sire in Australia in the 1931-32 season, and he had asked each man to select him a colt by the stallion. The interest shown by Moss in this particular sire line wasn’t hard to understand given the success that he had already enjoyed in both St Legers and numerous weight-for-age races with Veilmond, one of the stallion’s best sons. He had his heart set on buying the chestnut colt by Limond from the great producing mare Homage, a daughter of Eulogy, but bidding was too lively, and when Jack Jamieson bid 1175 guineas, it was Fred Williams who cautioned restraint and urged Moss to look elsewhere in the catalogue for another Limond.
Williams rather liked the look of a big bay colt from Mirabelle II and was aware that Jamieson himself was training the colt’s older brother. When the yearling stepped into the ring and Jamieson indicated an interest by bidding, it was all the confirmation Williams required. At a final bid of 650 guineas, the canny Randwick trainer had booked the first of Moss’s colts. When it came George Price’s turn, he opted for the Limond yearling out of the mare Jewel of Asia. Price had been responsible for purchasing the dam for the Koatanui studmaster George Currie in Sydney during December 1926 for 575 guineas at the H. Chisholm and Co. sales and she had been one of a consignment of eleven English thoroughbreds offered by Rundle Brendon. Price had taken a liking to her brown colt. This youngster cost Ned Moss a little more, at 725 guineas.
Considering the lingering effects of the Depression and the fact that the average price of a yearling at those sales was 155 guineas, neither colt seemed particularly cheap at the time. But whereas Moss had acquired two colts that would each win classic races in their first two seasons on the Turf, the Homage colt that Jamieson bought on behalf of the well-known Sydney stockbroker, Claude Quinan, and which topped the sales, would prove particularly expensive. In a rather reckless moment, Quinan registered that colt as Deep Respect, a name that proved singularly inept, although the horse did manage to land a trademark Jamieson plunge when he won a Canterbury maiden in August 1934.
Edward Aloysius Moss, or Ned ‘Skinny’ Moss as the newspapers dubbed him, was one of Sydney’s most dashing gamblers during the years between the Wars. Born near Tambaroora racecourse in Hill End in 1873, he was the fourth son of Patrick Moss and Cecilia Connolly, Irish Catholics who had been attracted from Sydney to the town by the lure of gold. Hill End owed its very existence to the yellow metal, which had first been discovered near there in April 1851. Indeed, the very year before Ned’s birth, Hill End gold production peaked with the unearthing on October 19, 1872, of the world’s largest mass of gold – the Beyer and Holtermann specimen with its estimated 3,000 ounces of gold. It was Hill End’s hour of fame but, even by the time Ned first entered the world via the town, a majority of disillusioned gold seekers were leaving it.
As a lad, young Ned started off selling newspapers at Circular Quay when he won a doubles bet of £100. It was this stake that funded his activities in S.P. betting. There was nothing small in Moss’s character and he was fortified by his staunch Roman Catholicism, which laid down no strictures against gambling. He soon began to accumulate considerable wealth through his racecourse speculations. Ned’s first notable association with racehorse ownership came when he acquired that grand little pony, Minerva. Bred at the Durham Court Stud conducted by Charles Baldwin, Minerva was foaled in 1894 and was by the English stallion, Metal, out of Georgina. Harry Robinson originally bought Minerva as an unbroken three-year-old at the Durham Court sale for just 22 guineas, her lack of inches deterring most buyers at the time. After winning several races in the 14.2 hands class, Minerva was purchased for £300 by the New Zealand bookmaker, Mr J. Beckett, but she failed to strike form in that country after suffering a rough passage across the Tasman.
Beckett, tiring of her, sold Minerva in September 1901 for £150 to Ned Moss, who was already a high profile punter at the time. Ned placed the horse in the stables of Bob Keating. All his racing life Moss had the knack of finding clever trainers and Keating was the first such example. Keating had been with Tom Payten back in the days of Camoola, Autonomy et al and while as a jockey he didn’t achieve distinction, his ten years’ experience at Newmarket proved invaluable once he switched his craft to training. One blot on his escutcheon at Newmarket was that while he was there he looked after three Derby favourites in Coil, Dewey and Hautboy, and all three suffered defeat. It was after leaving Payten that Keating first took up training on his own account and Minerva, who proved a champion in the 14.2 ponies, helped make his name.
I might add that Ned Moss’s relationship with Fred Williams really began with Minerva when, together with Keating, they all enjoyed that wonderful northern campaign in the late spring and early summer of 1901-02. In those days the Q.T.C. wasn’t in unison with the A.J.C. as regards the ineligibility of those horses racing here in the pony ranks and as such Moss and Keating had carte blanche in choosing races there. It was on that trip that Minerva with Fred Williams in the saddle, landed a Moss plunge in the Birthday Handicap over the mile at the Q.T.C. King’s Cup meeting. It was a very happy ship’s company of Minerva, Moss, Keating and Williams that made the return trip to Sydney by steamer just a few days later in early December. Fred Williams did quite a bit of riding in those days for Ned Moss and he could always tell when the latter was having a good old tilt at the bookmakers. He would say “a nice afternoon to win a race”, or “see if you can win a nod from the judge”. If he did, such occasions brought Williams a handsome present.
For a time a leg injury kept Minerva off the racecourse but she eventually came back and when she did so, Moss placed her with her original owner-trainer, Harry Robinson. In February 1903 we find her winning a Kensington Handicap as an eight-year-old. Yet as profitable as Minerva proved to be, there was no sentiment with Ned in his horse-trading. In July 1903 he sold the little mare to the Sultan of Johore for 450 guineas and she did her future racing and breeding in India. She was arguably the best 14.2 pony that ever left Australian shores! For a long time, Ned Moss had been quite satisfied to put his money on the meanest little fourteen-hander at the ponies, so long as it had a pull in the weights. Eventually, however, Ned hankered after something better in the way of horseflesh.
It is often overlooked that before Moss really hit the headlines, he had made an attempt to purchase Trafalgar during his disappointing spring three-year-old season. Fred Williams had been requisitioned by Trafalgar’s trainer Walter Hickenbotham to ride the big chestnut in the Caulfield Guineas for which he went to the post at 10/1. Last most of the way, Trafalgar finished the race off well enough although he missed a place behind Parsee. After the event, Moss asked Williams just what sort of a ride Trafalgar had given him in the Guineas? Williams responded by saying that the big chestnut was as green as grass but a coming champion. Ned then asked Fred what he thought the horse was worth. Williams replied: “Any price you have to pay for him.” Moss tried but the Mitchell brothers weren’t for selling.
Moss is sometimes mistakenly credited as the owner of Irishman, the Havoc horse that won the 1909 Oakleigh Plate and finished runner-up in both the Futurity Stakes and Doncaster Handicap that same autumn. In fact, Irishman was owned by Mr J. Johnson, a friend of Moss, although it was Moss that managed the horse and organised the betting commissions. A tall, light-necked brown horse, Irishman was bred to go fast as his dam, Party, was a full sister to Marvel, who was perhaps Australia’s greatest miler up to that time. In the autumn of 1909, Moss had tried Irishman on the tracks and believed he could win the Oakleigh Plate-Newmarket Handicap double. Although still a maiden, the horse was backed heavily in both events. Moss got him into the Oakleigh Plate with just 7 st. 13lb and while he may never have won a race before, the weight of the stable’s money saw Irishman go to the post at a very short quote.
There was nothing of the fluke about his victory either, as he simply cleared out from his field when the barrier lifted and won pulling up by half-a-dozen lengths. The five-and-a-half furlongs were cast behind in the smart time of 1 minute 8 seconds, which was only a second outside the Australian record for the distance established by Wild Rose in the same race back in 1891 when she carried 8lb less. Despite the bad settling that the ringmen suffered that day, in retrospect, it became conventional wisdom that Moss and Johnson played their cards in the wrong order that autumn. The penalty incurred for winning the Oakleigh Plate undoubtedly cost Irishman the Futurity, when Fred Williams rode a brilliant race to go under by half-a-head to Soultine, and it probably cost him the Newmarket as well when the penalised son of Havoc could only take the minor placing. Brought across to Randwick, Irishman then ran second in the Doncaster. Despite the flurry of near misses, it had been the most satisfactory autumn for the big-betting Moss.
It was just a few months later that the 36-year-old Ned entered a new phase in his life when he married Mary (Mollie) Tyquin, the eldest daughter of Martin Tyquin of Taradale, Victoria, in a stylish ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Ned’s brother Arthur was the best man. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a handsome dress of ivory satin charmeuse, made in the Directoire style. The Court train was of silver gauze, covered with chiffon, embroidered on one side with silver berries and pearl leaves and her veil was arranged over a wealth of orange blossom. She wore a stunning pearl and diamond necklet and carried a shower bouquet, the gift of the bridegroom. Moss must have reflected during the ceremony that while Circular Quay wasn’t far distant, his impoverished days of selling newspapers and racebooks there seemed a lifetime away. It was no accident that the wedding was in July. Why would any racing man waste a Saturday afternoon in the autumn or spring getting married when racing is at its best? Following a wedding breakfast at his Aunt Rapp’s Newtown home, the pair honeymooned in Brisbane. After all, married or not, the Q.T.C. Winter Meeting beckoned!
Until his marriage, Moss had stuck largely with the 14.2 ponies but his new life soon saw him even keener for a piece of the action in the main game with one carrying his own colours. Accordingly, for some years afterwards, Moss haunted the sales ring and the yearling sales in the quest for a galloper that could win him a big handicap or a classic. For a time he thought Merimee, who cost 220 guineas as a yearling, might do the trick, and then Two Blues was the best that he could find. Indeed, both horses won him a rare double at a Rosehill meeting in July 1917. Two Blues, a son of True Blue, seemed the more promising but he proved a moderate deceiver and saved his foremost achievement – finishing third in the 1919 Melbourne Cup won by Artilleryman – until he had been sold in disgust by Moss to S. M. Wilson, a Tasmanian owner. But that disappointment was soon overshadowed by the hope that Moss attached to a three-year-old brown colt the very next year in the very same race. Oh! What a plunge Ned Moss and his racing partner Bill Keogh of Coonamble almost pulled off with Erasmus in that 1920 Melbourne Cup!
Moss was gratified when he was finally admitted as a member of the A.J.C. in 1919 and it was in April that same year at the Inglis Yearling Sales that he and his partner purchased the Linacre colt out of the mare Lady Capulet, who herself was a full sister to the 1903 Melbourne Cup winner, Lord Cardigan. Bred by the Thompson Bros at Oakleigh Stud, Widden, and only the second horse in their draft, he was knocked down for 1000 guineas in Bill Keogh’s name. Placed in the stables of Harry Robinson, Erasmus was among the best of his age group as a juvenile, winning a race at Warwick Farm (beating Speciality) and finishing second in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes – beaten two lengths – by another Linacre colt in Glenacre, although Erasmus beat the others just as easily as he was beaten himself. Erasmus confirmed the promise by taking the minor placing in the shorter A.J.C. Champagne Stakes a couple of days later behind the two fillies, Tressady Queen and Galtee Maid. As we have seen in our 1920 chapter, Erasmus came back in the spring and finished a good third behind Salitros and Malurys in the A.J.C. Derby. It was after that race that Moss had laid a sensational series of wagers at big prices on the horse to win the Melbourne Cup, worth about £34,000 in total.
Erasmus (33/1) failed, but only by a half-length, after leading the field around the home turn, and ironically it was his stable-mate Poitrel, carrying three stone more, who foiled him. Harry Robinson trained both horses. I think this marked the first of the spectacular tilts on the betting ring for which Moss was to become famous over the years. It was Moss in fact, who induced George Price to quit New Zealand and come to Sydney to train in 1922, promising him horses. Not long afterwards, Price bought Stony on behalf of Moss for 625 guineas from Percy Miller. A useful galloper, Stony afforded Moss his next big crack at the betting ring in an important race. It came in the Sydney Cup of 1924 when Moss backed Stony to win about £30,000 but again he beat all bar the winner, Scarlet. He should have won, as it was one of Bill Duncan’s few ill-judged rides when the money was on. He took Stony to the front a mile from home only to be caught in the last few strides. Afterwards, the horse was put to hurdling and chasing, a career for which he wasn’t cut out, and when he later fell and broke his neck, considerable opprobrium descended upon Moss from the popular press.
It was around this time that Moss’s bloodstock purchases took on an altogether more extravagant air, particularly with the progeny of the sensational stallion, Valais. Moss was a compulsive character; when he fancied a horse, he wasn’t afraid to bet; and when he fancied a yearling, he wasn’t afraid to bid. At the 1924 Easter Yearling Sales he paid the top price of 2000 guineas for Vaals, and two years later gave 4100 guineas for his younger brother Sion. Although each failed in the Derby at Randwick, the mile course there was much more to both brothers’ liking. Vaals won the Clibborn Stakes and an Epsom over the trip, while Sion was runner-up in both an Epsom and a Doncaster. When Vaals won that 1927 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap with 8 st. 7lb, he had been backed by Moss and his commissioners to win £25,000 in straight out bets while the horse had also been coupled extensively with the imported A.J.C. Metropolitan winner Murillo for substantial amounts. Later that spring, Vaals added the V.R.C. Cantala Stakes to his swelling list of victories. Having lived in Coogee for a number of years, Moss soon afterwards moved into a luxurious mansion in Everton-road, Strathfield, and when he did so, he christened the property ‘Vaals’ after his favourite horse up to that time. Was it any wonder?
The bookmaker, Jim Hackett, recalled the settling over that 1927 Epsom and Metropolitan as the biggest his firm had ever had at Tattersall’s in Sydney. “My partner and I were loaded up with stacks of hundred-pound notes from the bank nearby, and when we arrived, you’d have thought we had come fresh from the Commonwealth note printing headquarters in Melbourne.” In a single wager laid at 33/1, Moss had backed his horse to win £15,000. In the run-up to that Epsom, Moss had saddle-up Vaals twice on the same day at Rosehill and won both races. As Ned quipped at the time: “It’s no good leaving until tomorrow what you can do today!” Moss had won big money when he backed Vaals in his first engagement in the Camellia Stakes against some top sprinters – the horse’s first win in almost a year, and £1,500 of the winnings went on when Ned saddled him up the second time in a division of the Highweight.
A highly-strung customer doesn’t usually saddle-up well for a second trip, but Vaals won the Highweight that day even more easily than the sprint notwithstanding an inartistic fumble of the whip by Harold Jones. Twos were on offer in isolated parts of the ring until it was apparent that Ned meant business. It was the first double that had been landed on a Sydney suburban course for many years and was rarely tried on such courses as it was a practice more reserved for the old pony tracks. The following year Vaals easily won the City Tattersall’s Cup, reducing the Randwick record for 11 furlongs that had stood to the credit of Beau Vite for 19 years, by half a second.
Ned Moss was a buyer rather than a breeder and at the end of Vaals racing career, he sold the horse to stand stud duty in New Zealand. Vaals followed Kilbroney at the Mardella Stud, situated between Otahuhu and Papatoetoe. Mardella, as ‘Tapestry of the Turf’ informs us, was the only stud in New Zealand, perhaps in the southern hemisphere, then entirely owned and managed by women. Two sisters, Misses M. and N. Edwards who came from a trotting family, ran the show and made quite a success of it. The good ladies certainly weren’t disappointed with Vaals’ exploits in the stallion barn for he sired 11 individual stakes winners of 24 stakes races including the dual Auckland Cup winner Cheval de Volee, and that fine galloper Route March.
By the decade of the 1930s, Moss was a colourful member of the committee of the Hawkesbury Racing Club and immensely popular with the Sydney racing press; he was often the guest of honour at the Annual Racing Press Dinner held during the A.J.C. Easter Meeting. Accordingly, when he bought those two well-bred yearlings in the company of George Price and Fred Williams at the 1933 New Zealand Sales, much interest was taken in the colts in the sporting broadsheets. When it came to registering his two latest bloodstock acquisitions, Ned Moss was both circumspect and sentimental, naming them after two of his closest friends.
The brown colt from Jewel of Asia that went into George Price’s stable was registered as Sir John, after Sir John McKelvey the famous surgeon and racing man. Widely known and respected for his charity in performing major and minor operations on patients lacking the money to pay for his services, McKelvey later unsuccessfully stood for the vacancy on the A.J.C. committee created in 1937 by the death of Sir Colin Stephen. The bay from Mirabelle II that had so greatly attracted Fred Williams at the sales was named Theo, after Theo Marks, the famous architect and racecourse commission agent. This colt would become Fred Williams’ third Derby winner at Randwick, and, like his two previous winners of the classic, would also go on to win the equivalent race at Flemington. Both yearlings were left in New Zealand in the care of Trentham trainer, Sid Reid, to be broken-in, eventually arriving at Randwick in May. Neither colt was hurried, and in private trials, both showed considerable ability although Sir John was the more precocious of the two.
Early in the spring, Ned Moss entertained the belief that Sir John was a potential champion and possibly the best he’d ever owned. The son of Limond was working the place down at Randwick and Moss was convinced that he would easily win the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate. Unfortunately, in late September the youngster developed an abdominal complaint, and acting on veterinary advice, trainer George Price decided against racing Sir John in the early classics. Instead, Price delayed his racecourse debut and prepared the colt for a first-up victory in the Kirkham Stakes run at Randwick in early December. In the betting ring that day, Ned Moss launched an onslaught on the bagmen and Sir John and Maurice McCarten did the rest in defeating a good class field.
A very big and commanding youngster, Sir John went on to prove one of the best juveniles of the year, running second in the December Stakes and setting a new Randwick record in a race at the Anniversary Meeting. Taken to Melbourne in the autumn, the stable considered him good enough to tackle the older horses in the Hawkesburn Handicap at Caulfield, which in those days was a first-class sprint and was looked upon as a dress rehearsal for the Newmarket. Moss backed him heavily for the race and the colt firmed into favouritism. But the plunge wasn’t brought off, although he did run a nice second to Press Gang, a well-named colt by The Night Patrol.
However, at Flemington seven days later and back to his own age group, Sir John in the hands of Maurice McCarten, cleverly won the Sires’ Produce Stakes as a raging hot favourite from the fast-finishing and unlucky Dark Sky, who was cut out at barrier rise. It was a different story, however, in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick when Sir John never flattered after being sent to the post as the even-money favourite. Those backers who believed that Dark Sky should have taken the Flemington equivalent were vindicated at Randwick when the Victorian galloper trained by Frank Musgrave won easily.
Meanwhile, Theo, after a quiet introduction to racing at Rosehill just before Christmas, and a series of minor placings over the summer, finally broke his maiden status in the Wentworth Handicap at Randwick on Sydney Cup Day. Labelled for that race and with Maurice McCarten in the saddle, Theo was backed down to 2/1 favourite by Ned Moss and his commissioners. Old Ned went for more than the colt cost, plus expenses and landed the plunge. Theo’s last start that season came five days later with an engagement in the Fernhill Handicap on the final day of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. The race proved of no little interest or guide to the following season’s classics. Fred Williams had been at pains to avoid his colt clashing with Sir John, given that both were owned in the same interests. Williams was a very sound judge of his own team, although never effusive in his comments to betting owners.
Nonetheless, the Fernhill Handicap was run over the mile course, the first race of the season over that distance for two-year-olds, and he now believed that Theo would be able to bring his staying prowess into play. Certainly, Ned Moss thought so and backed the colt accordingly. But Williams started another horse in the same race and one that had also shown considerable ability. The horse in question was Sylvandale, a son of Silvius, and destined to be the best of his progeny to race. Sylvandale had opened his account at Randwick in somewhat sensational circumstances. He won the Juvenile Stakes at the Tattersall’s December meeting in the stewards’ room. His jockey, a young Edgar Britt, fresh from his overseas triumphs with Winooka, successfully protested that Ted Bartle, who was first past the post on Constantine, had used his leg to impede Britt riding out his mount. “Bartle had his leg jammed over mine, and that prevented me from winning”, Britt declared. That a protest might eventuate that day was a consideration that escaped the notice of the vast majority. But then up went the green flag after a hurried conversation between Britt and Fred Williams. Bookmakers had 3/1 against Sylvandale gaining the verdict, although those odds were cut as the time taken to resolve the issue became more protracted.
Sylvandale won his second race at Randwick in early March at the City Tattersall’s Meeting. On paper, that race looked as open as a philanthropist’s pocket, with as much as 20/1 on offer about Sylvandale. Fred Williams had already won the Novice Handicap over a mile earlier on the card with the three-year-old Kagal, which he supported at 8/1, ridden by Edgar Britt. Yet he wasn’t prepared to parlay any of his winnings on the son of Silvius, also partnered by Britt. For the truth of the matter was that although Sylvandale was a better horse in a race than on the tracks, it was a truth that Williams was yet to recognise. He came to bitterly regret the opportunity missed that day when he belatedly discovered Sylvandale’s true mettle. For it was a notable day on which Fred trained a treble at headquarters when Chatham later took out the w-f-a Tattersall’s Randwick Stakes. Moreover, it was the same day that Sir John landed the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington. And yet the best-priced winner of the lot in Sylvandale was allowed to run loose.
Sylvandale had already attracted some interest from the general public, even before those two Randwick victories, largely because of the circumstances of his sale and the identity of his owner. The son of Silvius was that rare racehorse in those days in that he ran in the nomination of a female owner. The woman in question was Mrs Lorna Utz, the wife of the A.J.C. committeeman and Macquarie-street surgeon Leslie Utz. Lorna was a very talented lady in her own right having reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in women’s doubles in 1925 with her partner Esma Boyd. In the same year, she had also competed with her husband in the Wimbledon mixed doubles but lost out in the first round.
In the weeks prior to the Easter 1933 sale of yearlings by William Inglis and Son, Lorna and her husband had approached trainer Fred Williams and auctioneer Clive Inglis to purchase two yearlings on her behalf. The couple were also embarking on an extended trip abroad, and she was hoping that the horses in question would be in racing trim upon her return. Now, given that the horses were being purchased on behalf of a lady, the two gentlemen in question had to exercise the greatest care. The first one cost 700 guineas, and racing as Jovial Son he won four races in ordinary company. However, there was a mix-up in the purchase of the second yearling, which was the subject of a disputed final bid of 300 guineas. When re-offered to resolve the impasse, Eiver Walker ran Clive Inglis up to 550 guineas, almost double the previous figure, before quitting the contest. Nonetheless, Lorna went away very happy in the knowledge that she had two fine colts. She was happier still upon her return, for success came to her immediately.
Although lazy and deceptive in his track gallops, Sylvandale had shown Williams enough at Randwick to warrant advising Moss to at least save on him in the Fernhill, advice that the trainer had put into practice but that the big-betting owner chose to ignore. Theo carried 9 st. and with Maurice McCarten in the saddle was backed into favouritism, whereas Sylvandale, receiving 3lb from his stablemate and with the services of Jim Pike, was sent off at 12/1 in the eighteen-horse field. In an eventful race, the outsider defeated his more fancied stablemate, although he was lucky to do so. Approaching the home turn, Theo seemed to gallop onto the heels of Sylvandale and dropped back several lengths. By the time the colt became balanced again, Sylvandale had the race in his keeping, although Theo did manage to get within a length or so at the finish to be a clear second.
Frustrated and angry at a good gamble thwarted, in the heat of the moment Moss threatened to transfer Theo to George Price’s stable, although his temper eventually subsided after a good night’s sleep. It was the only serious difference that Ned and Fred had in thirty-five years of friendship. Whereas old Ned was a huge plunger, young Lorna didn’t bet at all and Sylvandale’s win was a good example as to why backing horses owned by non-betting owners in those days was much the better proposition. The real irony of the story is that before the Fernhill, Williams had seriously considered gelding the Silvius colt. Had he done so, the classics the following season would have taken a decidedly different turn, and denied Williams a particular distinction in Australian racing. As it was, the race brought to a close a season in which no outstanding two-year-old had emerged to dominate Derby discussions during the winter, although Sir John and Dark Sky headed the quotations of most bookmakers.
Now the relative merits of colts can often undergo a significant change between the age of two and three as the advantages of early foaling or precocity give way to the influence of maturity and stamina, and also as the distances of races increase. Something of the like happened to the perceived difference in class between Sir John and Theo. Sir John, the classic winner at two, was considered the more likely to be Moss’s Derby representative in September, but the horse failed to come up at all in the spring. When one considers that old Ned declined an offer approaching £10,000 for Sir John immediately after his success in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington, the balance of his racing career makes sober reading. As a three-year-old, Sir John only won one race – a division of a flying handicap at Rosebery worth £60, while the following season all he could manage was a mile welter of £195 at Warwick Farm. A little later Moss decided to part with him, and at auction, the once-lauded colt only realised 475 guineas for his trouble. Conversely, Theo wintered splendidly and by the spring of his three-year-old season had grown to stand around sixteen hands and matured into easily the best horse of his age.
Those people that had been looking for the prospective Derby favourite at the major Randwick and Flemington meetings earlier that autumn had been looking in the wrong place. The colt that would start a prohibitive favourite for the 1934 Derby didn’t manage to win his first race until a fortnight after the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting had concluded. Silver King, a rather nondescript bay colt from the first Australian crop of the imported Argentine stallion, El Cacique, won a maiden handicap at Moorefield rather easily and then in May created a big impression when he scattered the field in a two-year-old handicap at the Tattersall’s Club Meeting at Randwick.
Given a let-up, Silver King resumed his winning habit in the Hobartville Stakes by brilliantly leading all the way, before his Derby preparation culminated with a stroll to win the Rosehill Guineas by three lengths, despite being eased down in the last half-furlong. Silver King was a colt that possessed a very quick action and was raced by trainer Eiver Walker on a lease from his breeder, Reg Allen, a long-serving committeeman of the A.J.C. and owner of the South Wambo Stud at Singleton where El Cacique stood. Allen was a keen sportsman and had been an interstate cricketer in his youth. Indeed, he was the uncle of the English cricket captain, “Gubby” Allen. Reg Allen generally raced his own horses, but because he had been called to London on business and couldn’t take his colt, he had leased him to Walker – certainly a fortuitous turn of events for the trainer. Eiver Walker trained out of Randwick, although very soon after the arrival of Silver King, the trainer purchased 88 acres of farmland in the Windsor district, about three-quarters of a mile from the Clarendon railway station, and within easy access of Hawkesbury racecourse.
A.J.C. Derby Day in 1934 affords us an opportunity to pause and review the changes in the Sydney racing scene during the previous twelve months and certain policy decisions of the A.J.C. Racing still faced considerable challenges from the effects of the Depression, but there were heartening signs that the worst of it was over. The A.J.C. had generally increased prize money for most events at their autumn and spring meetings that year, although the club had removed the £300 breeder’s subsidy to the Derby winner. The previous year the club had radically changed its policy on prize money, whereby it now retained all entrance and acceptance fees for races rather than adding such money to the value of the stakes of an event. The change hadn’t affected the 1933 running of the Derby, which continued to carry such forfeits and sweepstakes, simply because nominations for the race had closed much earlier. The 1934 renewal of the classic saw the change come into effect for the first time although the race did carry a total prize of £5,000, the same as the Victoria Derby that year.
The hard times of the early 1930s and the slashing of prizemoney had seen a greater recourse by stables to the betting ring and an increase in pernicious practices aimed at securing an advantage. The issue that most concerned racing authorities in the early months of 1934, was the question of the plating of horses off the course. In April 1934 the secretary of the Farriers’ Journeymen’s Union, George Rowland, claimed that loaded shoes were being frequently used and with brazen effrontery on Sydney racecourses to stop horses doing their best. The motorised horse-float was partly responsible for the outbreak, with heavy shoes being nailed on at the stables before going to the course, and then, after racing, the horse being whisked away by float before the stewards were able to make any inspections. The illegal plates, made of aluminium, were subsequently filled with lead. In early May, the A.J.C. passed a special resolution. It was to the effect that at all race meetings within a radius of 65 miles of the Sydney G.P.O., the owner or trainer of any horse which had been shod or plated off the course was required to notify the stewards of that fact at least one hour before the time of starting such race.
Heavy shoes or not, the A.J.C. had also seen fit to fix a time limit for some of the long-distance weight-for-age events that it conducted, such as the A.J.C. Plate and Randwick Plate. The club decided that it would withhold half the stake if the time limit were exceeded. It was a condition that had once applied to races like the Champion Stakes and Randwick Plate some years before, and its reintroduction was intended to ensure a genuine test of stamina rather than see such rich weight-for-age races reduced to farce as had been the Randwick Plate a year earlier when won by Rogilla. In a bid to bolster acceptances at Warwick Farm, the A.J.C. also announced that the club would meet all costs of transporting horses to and from the outlying suburban course.
Another feature of racing during this period that the authorities tried to stamp out was the emergence of the modern tick-tacker. No longer hoisting a bedsheet or waving a Union Jack, the new tick-tacker conveyed his information by more subtle means. It could be by raising his hat to a lady friend, blowing his nose, rubbing his chin, arranging a carnation in his buttonhole or some similar everyday occurrence. It was as much to catch this type of behaviour as to halt the practice of loaded horseshoes that the A.J.C. had appointed Captain Timperley as their Racecourse Supervisor. A former stipendiary steward of the club, Timperley succeeded Tom Malone in this more public role.
Yet while all race club executives appreciated the need to stamp out the rorts relating to loaded shoes, not everyone accepted the need to outlaw tick-tacking or the communication of information between the Paddock and Leger enclosures. What harm was done if a man in the Paddock tells a friend in the Leger that a certain punter was backing a certain horse? In those straitened times, the majority of Leger patrons couldn’t afford to go into the Paddock enclosure. No doubt a few urgers were pests, but decent people shouldn’t have been persecuted merely to eliminate a few urgers. Racecourses need their colour. Was it any surprise that with such communications taboo, the St Leger devotee was in danger of becoming a dying breed? Many had concluded that they might as well be in town betting starting price and listening to the wireless.
Behind the appointment of Captain Timperley was a strong move by Sydney racing clubs to make stay-at-home punters come to the races. Or at the very least, a genuine crusade to cramp the style of those who bet in town. During the 1920s one could sit in a city S.P. shop and get all, if not more, than the average racegoer secured in the way of ‘course information’ but later reforms put paid to that. There was once a wire service which supplied town betting shops with the opening odds in the betting ring, the riders and post-positions, then the betting after ten minutes of progress, and the final prices some few minutes before the time of starting of a race.
Thus the punters not merely in Sydney, but in most of the big suburban or even country town shops were as well informed as those on the course, and they could “follow the money” as easily as those who helped to keep racing going by paying their admission fee to the racecourses. But at Captain Timperley’s advice, after he had investigated for a few weeks, the suburban clubs closed their telegraph offices. That meant a loss to the revenues of the Commonwealth, but when the clubs told the Postmaster-General they no longer needed them, the proprietors had no option but to shut up shop. Operators for some of the big distribution syndicates used to send their prices through this telegraph source. When they reached the city they were sent out simultaneously over a thousand telephone direct wires to the shops which paid for the information, and the service was as near instantaneous as an organisation could devise.
The Depression was also causing a shakedown in other aspects of the racing game. In February 1934, William Inglis became the only agency selling bloodstock in Sydney when it purchased the business of H. Chisholm and Company, first established by Harry Chisholm in 1897. Although Chisholm had died in 1927, Ken Austin and, later, Ray Chisholm, Harry’s son, had struggled to carry on the business, but in 1934 the name of the distinguished firm disappeared altogether from the scene. Mind you, the nascent economic recovery had been in evidence at both the Sydney and Melbourne yearling sales that autumn. Average prices increased from around 114 guineas of the previous year to 145 guineas, and five colts realised 1000 guineas or better. The most encouraging sign of all, however, was the attendance at Randwick on Derby Day itself, with an estimated crowd of 60,000 people.
The 1934 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The 1934 Derby field consisted exclusively of colts, fifteen in number, and the largest contingent since 1927. All but three were by imported stallions. Custodian, prepared by Fred Jones, and Marcus Cicero, represented the Dominion, while Victoria boasted four runners in Cape York, The Earl, Dark Sky and Aztec. Dark Sky, trained by the veteran Frank Musgrave for ‘Prince’ Baillieu and W. S. Robinson, was considered the most likely of the quartet although he had disappointed since winning the Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn. Queensland had one representative in Pandion, a colt by Pantheon and whose maternal granddam was a sister to Poitrel. The trainer Tim Brosnan raced the colt in partnership with the Q.T.C. committeeman, Isaac Moore. Pandion was a stablemate of the notoriously inconsistent champion, Lough Neagh who was here for the Epsom Handicap and both horses were stabled at Jerry Carey’s headquarters at Randwick. While neither galloper was to succeed at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting Pandion would return to Queensland and take out the Q.T.C. Queensland Guineas a fortnight after the A.J.C. Derby.
Silver King remained in the red throughout course-betting, although his heavily bandaged front legs seemed an ominous portent. Theo was next fancied and in his final trial for the Derby, had finished fast after meeting interference to grab third placing in the Rosehill Guineas. Despite the form of the Fernhill Handicap, Sylvandale was regarded very much as the outsider of the Fred Williams pair. An inspection of the jockeys’ board for the 1934 Derby would have disclosed the name of Edgar Britt, a young man who although having only his second and last ride in the race, was destined to achieve significant triumphs in the saddle, albeit on foreign soil. Britt had served his apprenticeship with Mick Polson and was riding The Earl, a son of Trivalve, for the James Scobie stable, but he was a relative outsider. Sylvandale and the George Price-trained Gladswood were each attempting to become the first horse to win the Derby in the ownership of a lady. Ned Moss had backed Theo extensively in the early markets on the Derby but on race day itself, he wanted to supplement his bets even further. Seeking out Fred William’s opinion, the trainer told him that Theo was fit to run a solid mile and a half and that Silver King would have to be a good one to beat him. It was all the reassurance Ned needed as he made a beeline for the betting ring to relieve the satchel swingers of many thousands. As he left Williams he muttered: “It’s nice to have someone make a market for you when you want to have a dash.”
The story of the race is soon told. The free-going Silver King with his kindly disposition was asked by his jockey Darcy Webb to emulate his Rosehill Guineas performance and lead all the way, although it was a task made all the more difficult by the extra three furlongs of the journey and the niggling persistence of Dark Sky, who insisted on accompanying him for the first mile or so. There was no loafing at any stage, which made it a cleanly-run race and the first four furlongs were put by in 50 ½ seconds while the second four took 52. Although by the top of the Randwick straight the favourite had beaten off Dark Sky, he remained a sitting shot for any colt with a finishing kick. This was the cue for Theo.
Maurice McCarten produced the son of Limond at precisely the right time and after a stubborn duel over the final furlong prevailed by a half-length. Dark Sky managed to withstand Sylvandale’s finish to retain the minor placing. After the race, Webb attracted some criticism for having made too much use of Silver King in the early stages. Indeed, it wasn’t a particularly happy day for the Sydney hoop as in the rich Epsom Handicap, the following race on the card, his mount, Dermid, went under by a head to Silver Ring. It was to be a much happier fixture, however, for the New Zealand bloodstock industry, for fourteen races of the twenty-seven that were run at that entire A.J.C. meeting were won by horses bred in New Zealand including the winners of the three major races, i.e. Theo (Derby), Silver Ring (Epsom) and Waikare (Metropolitan).
After the Derby, Theo was taken to Melbourne with the intention of just starting in the Derby and the Melbourne Cup. However, Theo had travelled and done so well upon his arrival in Melbourne that when acceptance time came due for the Caulfield Guineas, Fred Williams paid up. A run over the mile at that juncture wasn’t going to do the horse any harm while his chance appeared far from hopeless. For little outlay, Ned Moss realised a handsome profit on the Guineas. No one in Melbourne gave Theo any thought as they rushed in to take the 6/4 about Titanium, the Heroic colt trained by Fred Foulsham and which had won the Moonee Valley Stakes. The more Ned put on his colt, the longer his price drifted until his starting quote was 25/1. Although it was generally thought the mile journey would prove too short, Theo loitered at the rear of the field before unwinding a brilliant sprint in the final quarter-mile to win the race going away from Hyperion and Aztec. In a quiet moment after the Guineas in the Members’ Reserve when Moss and Williams found themselves alone, Ned said: “Fred, keep him on his feet till Flemington as I feel like having a right royal splash!” Even the offer of £10,000 for his putative champion couldn’t dissuade Ned from his course as he firmly believed that both the Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup were within reach.
Theo was backed into 8/11 in the Derby, and those intrepid souls that laid the price had to survive some anxious moments before his number was hoisted victoriously. The margin was a half-head after a final furlong struggle down the Flemington straight with his stablemate, Sylvandale, who with Jack Pratt in the saddle, had bravely tried to lead for most of the journey. This time, however, Ned at least had saved on Sylvandale. In winning, Theo had equalled Rampion in achieving the grand slam of the spring three-year-old classics of both the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Derbies and the Caulfield Guineas in between. A significant feature of that Victoria Derby and the rest of the races from Flemington that day was that they were broadcast over the amplifiers at the equivalent meeting being held at Canterbury Park in Sydney. Theo’s victory was well received. Every time that a Flemington race was announced at Canterbury Park, there was a rush to gain a position near the amplifiers. This was in contrast to the dull atmosphere pervading the betting ring at the local meeting. In Melbourne, Moss now had Theo going for a poultice in the Cup as a result of a doubles-wager but subsequently during the weekend received anonymous calls at Scott’s Hotel where he was staying, that something would happen to Theo in the running. Three days later in Australia’s richest race, won for a second time by Peter Pan, Theo suffered a tendon injury, which effectively blighted the balance of his career. Indeed, he failed to win another race.
In the autumn of that 1934-35 racing season, whereas Theo lost all form completely and Silver King was hors de combat, Sylvandale emerged as the outstanding graduate of that 1934 A.J.C. Derby field to become one of the best horses in the land. At Flemington, he won both the V.R.C. St Leger and the Australian Cup, each in very smart times. Handicapped with 8 st. 3lb in the Australian Cup, Sylvandale landed a very nice coup at a clip that had only been bettered once in the history of the race. Lorna Utz watched that event from the top of the Ladies’ Members’ Stand. Before making her ascent, her husband told her she mustn’t be late for the presentation ceremony – “if we win, which we won’t.”
In order to avoid the possibility of family friction at Flemington, after the race, she hurried down the stairs with the same speed that she chased down returning balls at Wimbledon. As she brushed past, someone said: “What’s bitten her – you’d think she owned the winner!” It quite upset the lovely Lorna, as unlike many of her sex, she hated drawing attention to herself. In the wake of that victory, Lorna gave the winning jockey Jack Pratt a present of £500 and distributed a generous quantity of banknotes to the farrier and among the stablehands. The boys couldn’t help asking themselves: “Why don’t more women own racehorses?”
Brought across to Sydney, Sylvandale then won the A.J.C. St Leger to accord Fred Williams the distinction of becoming the first man to prepare the winners of all five three-year-old classics in one season. Sylvandale then finished an unlucky third in the Sydney Cup when carrying a good horse’s weight in 8 st. 12lb. In that Sydney Cup, Sylvandale was backed down to favouritism at 3/1 despite his 8 st. 12lb. As Williams later reflected: “Without trying to take away any kudos from Akuna and Dark Chief, who finished first and second respectively, I think that Sylvandale would have won comfortably only for meeting with interference at the home turn. He finished like a champion but the judge’s box was too near. The verdict was ‘won by half-head, with half-head between second and third’. That race was one race I would have liked run over again.” As a four-year-old, Sylvandale won four races viz. the Chelmsford Stakes, Melbourne Stakes, Essendon Stakes and the King’s Plate. Those who saw Marabou’s Melbourne Cup will remember the fight Sylvandale put up with his 9 st. 4lb. Sarcherie beat him for second honours, but his third in the big Flemington two-mile race was full of merit. It takes a good four-year-old to be anywhere near the lead at the finish of a Melbourne Cup with 9 st. 4lb.
Sylvandale went out in a blaze of glory early in his five-year-old days. He ran unplaced in the Warwick Stakes, Chelmsford Stakes, A.J.C. Spring Stakes and Craven Plate before going to Melbourne for the Moonee Valley Cup. With 9 st 5lb and Darby Munro up, he put up a grand race. Munro rode one of the best races of his career to be beaten by a neck by Dark Chief, with Queen of Song a half-head away third. As Sylvandale broke down in running it will be appreciated that his last appearance in a race was the effort of a hardy horse. Sylvandale was just short of being a champion. Although a bit one-paced, he was an honest horse and the toughest that Fred Williams ever trained. Lorna Utz was unfortunate in one respect: the handicapper held him in too high esteem.
Both Theo and Sylvandale retired in 1936 after each suffered from recurring tendon weakness. Theo was sold privately to Dan Seaton for something like 500 guineas and stood his first season in 1936 at Kingsfield Stud at an initial fee of 30 guineas. Although mated with a number of the stud’s Wolaroi mares, he failed to sire anything of note. Indeed, there was an unsuccessful attempt made by Seaton through trainer Frank McGrath to bring him back to racing as a seven-year-old after serving just three seasons at stud. Sylvandale was sold publicly to A. E. Thompson and Sons for 1900 guineas in April 1937 although he, too, failed to make his mark as a stallion standing at the Rylstone stud, with none of his progeny ever winning a principal race.
Sylvandale certainly represented the apotheosis of Miss Lorna Doone’s fortunes on the Turf. By the time he retired the son of Silvius had won some £12,300 for her charming owner – a sum which could so easily have been much greater. Lorna raced other good horses – Billy Boy and Tuckerbox come to mind, but she never again thrilled to the sight of her ‘dark blue and white stripes, dark blue cap’ as she did when the colours were being carried by Sylvandale. An enthusiastic owner, she was often up before daylight to watch her horses galloping on the training track. Sadly, Leslie Utz, a former army major and an A.J.C. committeeman from 1939-41, died suddenly of a heart attack in December 1944 and Lorna sold out of all her horses.
A long-barrelled bay with a white blaze and white markings on his near hind leg, Theo, had been bred by George Currie at his Koatanui Stud, near Wanganui in New Zealand and was to be the only A.J.C. Derby winner bred by this most successful of studmasters. Rare is it for any breeder to come by one champion stallion; two or more in the one life is a special blessing, but George Currie enjoyed that distinction in standing both Absurd and Limond at his North Island stud. Originally a renowned breeder of Hereford cattle, Currie extended to thoroughbreds just after the turn of the century. But it was his acquisition of Absurd that was to change the stud’s fortunes.
The Great War hit English breeders particularly hard, and in the absence of buyers from the Continent, the December Sales at Newmarket in 1915 offered the prospect of some rare bargains. It was at these sales that Currie acquired Absurd, a Middle Park Plate winner owned by J. B. Joel, for the bargain price of 1000 guineas. If that wasn’t enough of a bargain, shortly thereafter Currie bought the mare Eulogy privately from Leopold de Rothschild for 350 guineas. Both horses were sent to New Zealand on the same ship. Absurd brought a revolution in speed to the New Zealand Turf and was to be the premier stallion in that country five times, while Eulogy went on to become one of the most influential matrons of all time in the New Zealand Stud Book.
But it is George Currie’s purchase of the stallion Limond that concerns us most here. Bred in England in 1913, Limond was successful in the Exeter Stakes at Newmarket as a two-year-old, and the following season only started twice, finishing unplaced in the Two Thousand Guineas and the Gatwick Three-Year-Old Cup. His racing career was curtailed soon after owing to leg trouble, and he retired to the Meddler Stud after being sold as a stallion for 100 guineas. Although Limond met with poor patronage there despite a mere 18 guineas service fee, he did manage to sire a brilliant two-year-old colt named Limosin, owned and bred by Edward Moorhouse, the joint-founder of the British Bloodstock Agency in 1911 and publisher of its associated annual, The Bloodstock Breeders’ Review. In fact, Limosin was the only horse ever to carry Moorhouse’s colours. It had been Moorhouse and the offices of the British Bloodstock Agency through whom George Currie had negotiated the purchase of Absurd and when the New Zealand studmaster again approached Moorhouse to procure a stallion for Koatanui it was quite understandable why Limond came to mind.
Currie, in turn, liked Limond because he was by Desmond and descended from the Sunshine branch of the No 1 family. Lindal, his dam, was also the dam of Marconigram’s dam, Marcia Blanche. It was a bloodline that had already enjoyed much success in New Zealand through the champion stallion Demosthenes, as well as Martian and Boniform. When Limond arrived at Koatanui, Absurd was on the verge of becoming the champion stallion and Limond’s opportunities in his first season were limited. In fact, in his first crop, he only managed six foals although a number of them won races. However, when Limerick and Commendation came along in his second season, the stallion’s reputation was made.
Although his stock occasionally suffered from shelly feet – Limerick and Veilmond are examples in this regard, he proved an outstanding sire of horses over all distances and of all ages and the most successful sire of classic winners ever imported to New Zealand up to that time. Limond sired the winners of no less than ten Derbies, ten St Legers and seven Oaks’, as well as a host of first-class juveniles in both Australia and New Zealand. He sired very few genuine two-milers but many brilliant middle-distance horses. Two of his progeny in Ammon Ra and Theo won the A.J.C. Derby, but Limerick was arguably his most celebrated son. Limond was the premier stallion in New Zealand on only one occasion, in the 1930-31 year, while in the following season he was the premier stallion in Australia, where he was particularly highly regarded. He died at Koatanui Stud at the age of 23 in May 1936.
Mirabelle II, the dam of Theo, was foaled in Belgium in 1920 but afterwards went to England, and it was from there that George Currie imported her into his New Zealand stud. As a racehorse, she had proved quite adaptable winning a number of races over distances varying from seven furlongs to two miles. By the British horse Kroonstad, winner of an Ascot Derby and Doncaster Stakes, Mirabelle II was from an unraced mare by Missel Thrush out of a half-sister to All Black. It was this last fact that greatly influenced her importation to New Zealand, given that All Black was the sire of the great Desert Gold. Mirabelle II proved quite useful at stud in her adopted homeland, for apart from getting Theo, she later threw Sir Cameron, a winner of the A.R.C. Great Northern Guineas.
For owner Ned Moss, Theo’s victory in the A.J.C. Derby represented his proudest moment in a lifetime on the racecourse and came at his fifth attempt to win the race. And yet for all of the pride that old Ned took in his two Derby blue ribands, which he had on display in his Everton-road home, Theo wasn’t his favourite racehorse. Of all the horses that he ever raced, Vaals was the one he liked best of all. He landed some rare plunges on the son of Valais and Galtee Queen and they often came off when he needed them most. Now, the Australian Turf is littered with the corpses of those fearless gamblers who have won big money in spectacular plunges down through the years only to lose it all in the end. Moss avoided such a denouement. During the middle years of the 1930s as the Depression lingered and after Theo’s enforced retirement, he scaled back on the extent of both his racing string and his betting and set up a trust account for his wife and four children, which he could not touch. He died of a heart attack at the age of 62 in January 1937 while holidaying at Jervis Bay, on the very same day of the National Yearling Sales in New Zealand, the place where he had found his greatest bargains of the Turf.
A Requiem Mass was held at St Mary’s Church at Concord, his local parish and where he had been unobtrusively generous to numerous worthy causes. The Mass was attended by many of the great and the good in racing including Sir John McKelvey, Bill McKell, George Rowe, Leslie Utz, W. W. Hill and Frank Underwood. Tattersall’s Club, with which Moss was widely associated, was also well represented. Also in attendance was T. J. Lynch, the Deputy Commissioner of Police. Moss bequeathed an estate valued for probate at £234,164, and apart from small bequests of £100 to Lewisham and St Vincent’s Hospitals, it was left entirely to his family. For the lad who had started off his working life as a paperboy, it had been quite a journey.
Theo was the third and final winner of the A.J.C. Derby trained by Fred Williams. He continued to train successfully at his Alison Road premises over the next few years, preparing among other horses Talking, before he announced his retirement, this time for good – during the 1938 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. He had been training the expensive French imported stallion Genetout on behalf of ‘Prince’ Baillieu and Alf Thompson and although contemplating quitting, had felt obliged to continue given the large sum Genetout had cost his owners. When Genetout broke down in the Colin Stephen Stakes at that meeting and was retired to stud, Williams, too, left the Turf. He had enjoyed a most remarkable career.
Perhaps his greatest achievement as a trainer was in preparing the three colts, Salitros, Rampion and Theo to win the A.J.C. Derby and then successfully backing all three up to annex the Victoria Derby a few weeks later in the season. In between the Derbies, Rampion and Theo each managed to win the Caulfield Guineas as well. Randwick was certainly Williams’ happy hunting ground, for the other notable statistic in his career was his training the winners of five Epsom Handicaps viz. Greenstead (1920), Claro (1923), Vaals (1927), and twice with the champion miler, Chatham (1932 and 1933). The great man was just as adept in his handling of juveniles as with Derby colts and handicappers, as his hat-trick of wins in the Breeders’ Plate in the years 1925 to 1927 demonstrates. Although he only topped the Sydney Trainers’ Winning List on one occasion, he was invariably at or near the top, judged on stakes winnings alone.
Williams retired from the training ranks a very wealthy man with extensive property interests but a man plagued by ill health. He had long suffered from asthma and bronchial problems. His loyal foreman, Jack Mitchell, who had been such an integral part of the stable’s operations for more than eleven years, inherited many of Williams’ clients and horses, and in turn, carved out a distinguished training career in his own right. Mitchell applied for and was granted, a No. 1 trainer’s licence immediately upon Fred’s projected retirement. Indeed, few trainers have had such a comprehensive background for their profession as Mitchell. Apart from everything he had learned from Fred Williams, Mitchell’s experience went all the way back to the Kingsfield Stud in its early years. After leaving Kingsfield, Jack Mitchell went to the late Bill Booth’s stables at Rosehill as a foreman and remained with ‘The Rajah’ for five years. Jack also acted as Frank Dalton’s foreman for some four years.
Fred Williams continued to race a number of horses over the years after handing in his licence, retaining Mitchell as his trainer. One such horse to sport the black jacket and orange cap was Veiled Threat, bred by the well-known veterinary surgeon, Norman Larkin, who only kept a few broodmares. Jack Mitchell trained Veiled Threat to win two Sydney Cups among other good races after Jerry Carey had originally bought the horse for Williams as a yearling for 600 guineas. Although he won two Sydney Cups, Fred sold the horse to a trio of friends only a week before the first of those Cup wins, which came in 1942 and, due to the war, was held at Rosehill.
The new owners, Jim Normoyle, Bill Dawes and Reg Allcott, rather generously gave the Cup to Williams, one of the few Sydney racing trophies to elude the great man during his training career. As well as buying some yearlings outright, Williams raced a number of fillies on lease from Kia Ora Stud during his twilight years. These included Defame, who was the last horse to successfully carry his colours when she won the 1952 Princess Handicap at Randwick landing some good bets and beating among others, Golden Chariot, the future dam of Wenona Girl. Sadly, ill health dogged the last years of Williams’ life. He died in tragic circumstances early on a Thursday morning in February 1953. It came as a result of a sixty-foot fall from a fourth-floor window of his suite at the Hampton Court Hotel in King’s Cross, a hotel he owned. He had been largely confined to his suite there for a number of years suffering from severe asthma. It was believed that he had staggered to the open window during an asthma attack and fallen or jumped to his death. He died childless although he left a widow, Edith, whom he had married in 1914.
Before I end this chapter, permit me a few final thoughts on that 1934 A.J.C. Derby. The race favourite, Silver King, proved a difficult horse to train afterwards. He suffered from suspect tendons in his forelegs throughout his life and he was probably feeling the effects of them when Theo managed to run him down in the classic. Certainly, he pulled up sore and the balance of his spring campaign was aborted. Although he did resume racing the following autumn in the Oakleigh Plate, Silver King continued to prove troublesome. Eiver Walker patched him up to win the Liverpool Handicap at Warwick Farm at the April Meeting and the following season as a four-year-old, he did manage to win a flying handicap at Rosebery and run second to Rogilla in the Warwick Stakes. Shortly thereafter, however, Silver King met an untimely end in December 1935 when he fell and fractured a leg while spelling in the Windsor district at the property of his owner, Reg Allen. Although an attempt was made to save him for stud purposes, it was all to no avail and the horse was humanely destroyed.
Permit me also a final word on the horse that won the 1934 Derby prize. In light of Theo’s complete loss of form following his Melbourne Cup failure in 1934, it is easy to dismiss him as merely just another classic winner in an ordinary year. Such a judgement I believe is unfair. In winning the spring Triple Crown of the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Derbies and the Caulfield Guineas, Theo accomplished what only Rampion had done before him. When one considers that the Victorian Amateur Turf Club introduced the Caulfield Guineas in 1881 and the treble was there for the taking in all the years thereafter, it is no mean achievement. After all, to win the three events in those days a horse needed to maintain peak form over a five-week period and cope with the exertions of at least one interstate journey from Sydney to Melbourne. Moreover, the horse had to be able to mix distances, going from a mile and a half to a mile, and then back again at three quite different racecourses. Perhaps it is worth contemplating that apart from the great but unsound Nuffield in 1938, no other colt would measure up to the exacting challenge again until a certain son of Khorassan came along in the spring of 1957.