‘What, when drunk, one sees in other women’, the critic Kenneth Tynan once intoned, ‘one sees in Garbo sober’. It was the ultimate paean to a screen heroine – those transcendent qualities of beauty, strength and courage. In the dark years of World War II when the austere and hard times robbed the racecourse of any glamour, another of the fair sex was to win the hearts of a generation. Hers might have been a different kind of beauty, strength and courage, but, like Garbo, she too, wanted to be left alone to enjoy her own company – both on and off the racecourse. It was in races, however, that her aloneness captured the public imagination when doing what she did best – setting the pace and daring others to catch her.
It was during the hard times of the Depression in 1932 that Brian Crowley first assumed responsibility for the sheep property ‘Oreel’ at Merrywinebone, near Moree. As he oversaw the property back to prosperity and the years of economic gloom recede, Crowley began to take an interest in thoroughbred breeding and racing in the local Moree district; in time he became chairman of the Collarenabri Race Club. It was in 1942 that Crowley decided to journey to Sydney on the North-West Mail to attend both the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting and the Easter Yearling Sales. The idea was to buy a cheap filly for racing with the prospect of ultimately using her as a broodmare on his property. It was about 11.30 on the morning of Tuesday, April 7, 1942, that one of the greatest bargains in the history of the Australian Turf went under the hammer at the Barker Street stables of William Inglis and Son.
An early September foal, Lot No. 11 was a bay filly being offered by C. H. Schmidt from his ‘Mirridong’ property at Manildra, N.S.W. by his nondescript stallion, Royal Step, out of a broodmare imported from New Zealand named Lambent. Schmidt was a wealthy and well-known grazier in the Cudal and Manildra district. A native of Mt Gambier, South Australia, he had engaged in pastoral pursuits from an early age. Successful, he acquired a large property at Cunnamulla, Queensland, and later, in the winter of 1936, had purchased the 8,000 acres of Mirridong station from the executors of the late Cecil Smith estate, at a price of just under £10 an acre. It was land that had at one time been owned by W. C. Wentworth. In addition to his pastoral interests, Schmidt was a keen racing man and a prominent bloodstock breeder, who so often retained his homebreds to race in his own colours.
Indeed, as far back as New Year’s Day, 1925, he had won the Sydney Tattersall’s Gold Cup with the lightweight Royal Dighton. But now, with the Japanese threatening Australian shores and the future of racing precarious, he had decided to part with this filly along with some others. Schmidt had raced Royal Step, a son of Heroic whom he had bought out of the yearling ring for 625 guineas. Trained by Bill Ross, the horse had some ability, but troublesome legs prevented him from rising above welter class, although he had won ordinary handicaps at Randwick and run a placing in the James Barnes Plate at the Tattersall’s Club Meeting. Schmidt had kept the horse to stand at his own property and provided him with a few mares to test his worth.
Because Royal Step was an undistinguished Australian-bred stallion, there had been very little competition for his first limited draft of yearlings the year before. Schmidt had considered retaining most of the stallion’s small second draft, to carry his own colours, but the Federal Government restrictions on race dates and the cuts in prizemoney by race clubs forced his hand. In the end, he just kept back the most likely-looking colt by Royal Step, the one out of his aptly-named broodmare, Only Blue, while letting the other few go for ridiculously low prices. In so doing, Schmidt committed perhaps not the ‘only blue’ in his bloodstock breeding life, but certainly the biggest, and the one he spent the rest of his life regretting. After all, it is the impossible dream of every bloodstock man to breed a champion racehorse and yet only a handful of men ever achieve it in any era. And those that do are generally large-scale commercial breeders, not relatively small-scale hobby breeders such as Schmidt. Still, it’s one thing to breed a champion. It’s entirely another to let it slip through your fingers.
Lambent, the dam of the bay filly for which Brian Crowley was about to bid, was a chestnut mare bred in New Zealand in 1927; she had only raced at three and failed to run a place in all five of her appearances on a racecourse. However, she had left a few foals in New Zealand before coming across the Tasman in 1937, and included amongst them had been Sparkle, winner of both the Dunedin and Winton Cups among other races. Now, it is easy enough to justify almost any pedigree in hindsight, especially when the bearer develops into a champion, but the maternal line of Lot No. 11 did stand up to scrutiny. Or at least the scrutiny of Brian Crowley, which was all that mattered on that crisp autumn morning in April, for she descended from the legendary Chelandry, one of the most famous mares in the whole of the English Stud Book. While Lambent herself might have besmirched the family honour on the racecourse, other members of the clan hadn’t. Lambent’s dam, Dazzling Light, had been runner-up in a New Zealand Oaks and was the sister of those two great New Zealand fillies, Razzle Dazzle and Affectation.
The 1942 Inglis sales catalogue was a very thin volume by usual standards, with breeders voluntarily cutting their offerings by half, given the Federal Government’s wishes to restrict race meetings and the difficulties of wartime transportation. The doubts that haunted the vendors as to the short-term future of Australian racing preyed upon the minds of many buyers as well. As events transpired, over the two days of those William Inglis Yearling Sales only 232 lots were sold and the aggregate amount realised was £34,537½ guineas, 45,865 guineas less than the previous year and the smallest aggregate since 1906. Moreover, the average sales price was under 150 guineas, the lowest average since 1932 – the worst year of the Great Depression. A natural corollary flowing from such a dismal state of affairs was that any bargain yearling that turned out trumps would likely be a very great bargain indeed. Lot No. 11 would prove to be that bargain.
The particular yearling in question had arrived at Newmarket straight out of the Mirridong paddocks only a few days before the auction and lacked the elegance and comportment of her sales yard rivals who had been carefully groomed during the weeks before. Still, the bay filly did have good legs, and Crowley was able to secure her for just sixty guineas. Sixty guineas! Of course, Schmidt could have declined to sell at the price, but he didn’t and thereby condemned himself to a lifetime’s reputation as a cuckolded hobby breeder i.e. one who allows his best filly or mare to be taken by another hobby breeder for a trifling sum. As the yearling filly left the sales ring, one of Brian Crowley’s country acquaintances jokingly asked him: “What made you buy her?” His response has become famous in Australian Turf folklore. “Oh well, if she’s not good enough for down here she might win a race in the bush,” Crowley replied. The filly, of course, was Flight.
Just a couple of years before, Brian Crowley had retained a local man at Gunnedah named Frank Nowland as his private trainer and he now sent this latest yearling to him to be broken-in. A quiet little man, Nowland, the son of a Royal Mail coach driver from the north-west, was one of the old school. Initially, a jockey and a groom to a prominent country stable, once he retired from the saddle he became a successful pony trainer. Some twenty years before, he had trained a small team on the unregistered courses; his best performer during those grafting years being Lady Baeda, a smart all-height sprinter. In more recent times, his most reliable breadwinner had been a 14.2 pony named Marie Clare who was a regular winner around Tamworth, Narrabri, Gunnedah and Quirindi. However, Nowland’s association with Crowley was now about to lift him away from that country circuit and onto an altogether different plane. The pair had already enjoyed a modest measure of success in town with horses such as Hilarious, Arahura and Amazing, but this latest filly was to prove something else altogether. After being broken-in, the as-yet-unnamed filly was returned to Crowley’s property ‘Oreel’ where his daughter proceeded to ride her about the place. It was about the same month that his son enlisted in the Air Force. Accordingly, when it came time to register a name for the filly to race under, Flight seemed the perfect fit.
Such was the potential shown by Flight as well as a number of the lesser horses Nowland was now preparing for Crowley, that, together with wartime restrictions on horse transport, Nowland decided to relocate to Sydney. With Crowley’s assistance, he moved from Gunnedah into stables in Botany Street, Kensington, at the beginning of the 1942-43 racing season. The closure of the Kensington course saw Nowland permitted to train Flight on the Randwick track. Although the daughter of Royal Step had only been in work ten weeks, Frank Nowland was confident of a bold showing when he produced the filly for her first public appearance in a five-furlong nursery at Randwick on Villiers Day in late December. The trainer had booked Roy Carter for the ride, a former apprentice of Bayly Payten, who hadn’t saluted the judge in Sydney for a few years. Bayly actually had one in the same race, Van Eyck owned by Sir Sydney Snow, and the stable rather fancied it.
The field included the speedy Estborough, and in early betting as much as 33/1 was quoted about Flight. Nonetheless, apart from Brian Crowley and Frank Nowland, she had found no new friends by the time the field picked their way to the start. While the public didn’t realise it at the time, what happened next would come to be seen as a paradigm for the filly’s courage over the next few seasons. Flight jumped to the front and simply refused to surrender the lead; she had nothing left to give at the post but had managed to win by a length from Bayly Payten’s Van Eyck. Perhaps the story is apocryphal as so many good racing yarns are, but as Payten waited in the saddling paddock for the horses to return to scale, he allegedly quipped to Snow: “I’ll bet it’s the last time she’ll ever beat him!” It wasn’t long before Payten together with the entire Sydney racing public were dramatically re-assessing the abilities of this most unfashionably bred filly.
Flight was a filly that improved steadily throughout her first season on the Turf winning five of her eight races, although it wasn’t until the Randwick autumn meeting that sportsmen really began to recognise her remarkable ability. This myopia was partly explained by the fact that no one – including her different jockeys – had yet realised that here, was a free spirit that chafed at restraint. Rather than be ridden back in a field, she was at her best when allowed to run. It was an insight not entirely lost on Fred Shean who partnered her in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes after her former jockey Ted McMenamin had preferred the mount on Mayfowl. Starting a 16/1 outsider, Flight, after being second early, led from the half-mile and was only caught in the last few strides to be beaten a head by Mayfowl with War Eagle a length further back in the minor placing.
McMenamin acknowledged after the race that only his respect for Flight had enabled Mayfowl to beat her, as he understood the importance of stalking the filly. At least Flight in defeat had avoided a penalty for the Champagne Stakes and a week later, with Mayfowl a scratching and McMenamin back in the saddle, she swung for home as full of running as Mussolini’s legions, galloping the colts off their legs over the six furlongs in a time that had only ever been bettered in the race by Manfred and Pandava. Flight won the Champagne Stakes by two lengths, with a neck separating War Eagle and Moorland for second and third. It was after this bubbling Champagne performance with perlage aplenty that pressmen began to ask: “Is this Flight another Valicare?” Little did they know, but they were still selling her short! The daughter of Royal Step was then turned out for a spell on her owner’s Merrywinebone Station.
Mayfowl, the colt that clipped Flight’s wings in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and who now wintered as the Derby favourite, had also been sold at the 1942 William Inglis Yearling Sales. Offered by the St Aubins Stud, he was a roan son of Beau Pere out of the English mare, Grey Port, and as such a brother to the useful performer, Beau Port. Although the Beau Pere yearlings were much sought after, during Easter 1942, this youngster had initially been passed in at 475 guineas because he was small but Maurice Wheeler later negotiated to buy him for 600 guineas on behalf of his brother-in-law, Alex Higgins. The name Alex Higgins is now largely forgotten in Australian racing but the influence he and his brothers came to exert over the sport on the Indian subcontinent during the interwar years was immense. Born into a horseracing family in Benambra, Victoria, in 1894, Alex, the second youngest son, was a leading jockey in the country districts of Victoria and N.S.W. in those years immediately before World War I.
The key to the change in Alex’s fortunes came when he visited his older brother, Jack, in India for the first time. Jack Higgins was a one-time police constable who broke horses in for the metropolitan force for two-and-a-years before first taking up racing stewardship with the Western Districts Racing Association. He had been the A.J.C. Newcastle stipendiary steward when, in July 1919, he accepted a similar position at the Royal Turf Club in Calcutta, India, worth £1,000 per year. Jack, of course, would later return to Sydney in March 1924 to succeed Abel Hyde as the A.J.C. chief steward for a time before serving out a much more extended term in Calcutta.
But back in 1920 after a profitable season riding around the Cowra district and beyond, Alex Higgins decided upon a holiday visit to Shanghai. En route, he called in on brother Jack in Calcutta. Immediately impressed with the prospects there and encouraged by his brother, the one-time country lad took up the saddle in teeming Calcutta and in two seasons’ riding finished near the top of the jockeys’ list. A third brother, Roy, also joined Alex there, although increasing weight forced Roy into the training ranks sooner than Alex. Roy’s initial stint in India as a trainer was successful but short-lived and he returned to Sydney to be quickly promoted as one of the youngest men ever to be granted a No. 1 A.J.C. licence, after having trained The Dancer to win the 1923 A.J.C. December Stakes.
Hampered by the increasing weight that came with age and unwilling to risk his health by wasting in the Indian climate, Alex Higgins too, had to hang up his saddle. However, he resolved upon a long-term training career and settled initially upon Bombay as his headquarters, away from his brother Jack’s Calcutta bailiwick. Supplementing Indian-bought racehorses with handy gallopers sourced from Australia, Alex Higgins quickly became the leading racehorse trainer in India, heading the list in the 1925-26 season with 29 wins, 20 seconds and 13 thirds. Alex eventually encouraged brother Roy, to re-join him in India as a trainer after Roy had suffered a disqualification in Sydney. Together, the two brothers would forge remarkable and lengthy careers on the subcontinent. Eventually, Roy Higgins would base himself in Bombay while Alex Higgins returned to Calcutta. In a star-studded career there, Alex would lead in the winners of no less than six Viceroy’s Cups, five King’s Cups and four Eclipse Stakes.
While initially during their Indian experience the maximum number of horses allowed one trainer was thirty, in later years the rule was altered which saw the brothers training around one hundred and fifty racehorses between them at the peak of their game. The pair did things on an elaborate scale and their stables in Calcutta and Bombay were showplaces, as they had to be with patrons such as the Aga Khan and his son Prince Aly Khan, the Maharaja of Kolhapur, the Nawab of Bhopal, the Maharaja of Gwalior and A. C. Ardeshir among a host of others. Wealthy Indian owners took pride in inviting their friends to see their horses in training and the entertainment of such wealthy dignitaries became as much a part of Higgins’ stablecraft as the horses themselves. Winning multiple training premierships was only one dimension of the Higgins’ influence in India. The brothers became major bloodstock agents for the Indian market and did much to resuscitate the reputation of Australian and New Zealand racehorses over there, recovering much of the market for Australasia that had been lost to France and England in the wake of World War I. The Higgins’ brothers also did much to promote the international reputation of Australian jockeys. Among the top riders to be retained by the Higgins’ stables in India over the years were Jim Munro (for five seasons), Rae Johnstone, Harold Jones, Edgar Britt, Billy Cook and Bob Maxwell. Unfortunately, brother Roy didn’t enjoy the same longevity as Alex Higgins and died unexpectedly of peritonitis in India just prior to the outbreak of World War II.
Prior to his acquisition of Mayfowl, Higgins had last hit the headlines in Australia when he purchased Lucrative to take to India after he had won the 1941 A.J.C. Sydney Cup. Mayfowl, however, put him back in the local newspapers although ironically, Mayfowl, too, had been intended for India until the outbreak of war. Placed in the Rosehill stables of Maynard (Ted) Webster, Mayfowl was named by Higgins after the Irish-bred galloper that had won four Viceroy’s Cups (India’s richest race) in the years immediately before World War I. The Australian Mayfowl had made his racecourse debut on the last Saturday of January 1943 at Randwick in the A.J.C. Hialeah Handicap. The colourful son of Beau Pere ran greenly but came home strongly to finish second. The experience garnered there served him well at his next appearance in February when he raced away with a Rosehill Maiden Two-Year-Old Handicap by five lengths. Mayfowl’s only other start prior to his victory over Flight in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes was in the A.J.C. Fairfield Handicap when he was left hopelessly at the start in the race won by Moorland.
Flight was back in work by the third week in June 1943 and she had filled out considerably into a bigger, more powerful filly. The auspices for the Crowley-Nowland team certainly seemed promising when the owner and trainer enjoyed a winning double at Canterbury in early July with Arahura and Artistic in successive races. Meanwhile, Flight won a barrier trial at Randwick over four furlongs on July 21st at a time when anti-aircraft gunnery practice was underway at Kensington. Although warnings had been posted in newspaper columns two days before, the sound of the gunfire caused some of the horses to shy. Flight seemed unperturbed, however, and those few sportsmen who witnessed her physical development and time trial that day must have realised she now possessed real firepower of her own that would also soon be reverberating around Randwick.
After a three-month break, Flight resumed racing on the last day of the old season in a nursery at Randwick restricted to fillies. Despite being burdened with 9 st. 7lb and being drawn wide at the tapes in a field of nineteen, Ted McMenamin was applying the brakes long before the winning post. Flight’s trajectory towards the Derby then involved just three races in the new season, i.e. the Hobartville Stakes, Rosehill Guineas and the weight-for-age Craven Plate. In defeating Tribal and War Eagle in the closest of finishes in the first of these races, run that year at Randwick, Flight – for the first time in the hands of Jack Thompson after McMenamin had again preferred Mayfowl as a spring engagement – displayed all the grit and courage for which she was quickly becoming famous.
In post-race interviews, Thompson maintained that Flight was the gamest filly that he had ever ridden. “I didn’t think she’d make it when I was riding her hard coming to the turn,” he said. “However, she didn’t shirk it for a second and I think she was going just as well as Tribal and War Eagle at the finish.” In winning the Hobartville Stakes, Flight, following upon All Love just two years before, became only the second filly to do so since the inception of the event in 1925. The race immediately after the Hobartville was the Warwick Stakes, won that day by Katanga and little could those racegoers present have imagined the rivalry that would ultimately take place between this pair before their respective careers on the racecourse were finished.
Three weeks later came the Rosehill Guineas. Flight again made the running, but both Moorland and Mayfowl ran past her in the straight. Beaten by two-and-a-half lengths, it seemed to many that the Derby was mission impossible for the filly. What gave the sceptics pause for reflection, however, was Flight’s performance at her very next start – in the prestigious Craven Plate, which, due to wartime restrictions on race programming, saw the race run on the opening Saturday of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, just a week before the Derby. Moorland was the favourite, with Flight freely quoted in double figures in a contest that included older horses of the likes of Katanga, Veiled Threat and Yaralla. Persistent rain had delivered up a heavy surface and restricted the attendance to just 35,000 people.
Given that another three-year-old in Tribal was prepared to act as the pacemaker and Flight was able to enjoy a slipstream, it proved a fascinating contest. Duncan tried the same tactics on Tribal that had been successful in the Chelmsford Stakes, by easing the horse for the first five furlongs and then endeavouring to steal a break. Jack Thompson, however, wasn’t caught napping and when Tribal shot away, Flight went after him. Both three-year-olds left the others standing! With both Yaralla and Moorland six lengths adrift, the race was between the pair from the half-mile. Thompson was hard at work on Flight before the furlong post and at that moment Tribal looked likely to hold her off. But in the last half-furlong, she got his measure, winning by three-quarters of a length with the same margin back to Veiled Threat in third place.
It was an exhibition of speed and stamina seldom seen from a three-year-old filly in a weight-for-age race in the spring. Indeed, she was the first filly to win the A.J.C. Craven Plate since its inception in 1867. No doubt, the heavy conditions helped her, or rather, hindered her rivals more. Moorland, who had promised to start an odds-on favourite in the Derby, could finish only fourth – four lengths behind Flight. But then, the ability to gallop well on any racecourse under any conditions is surely the hallmark of a champion. Prior to the Craven Plate, Flight had been backed for the Epsom and the Epsom-Metropolitan double by the public. Even Crowley, until then although preferring a Derby start for his filly, had his doubts and had been toying with the idea of the Epsom instead. There were no doubts now. As Crowley quipped after the race: “There are plenty more Epsoms to be run when Flight is older, but she can only start in one A.J.C. Derby.”
As the gushing panegyrics swirled about Flight’s performance on that cool and damp October Saturday afternoon, spare a thought for the filly’s breeder, Carl Schmidt, who was in attendance at Randwick. Indeed, he had witnessed Royal Result, a homebred gelding by Royal Step, carry his own colours to victory in the A.J.C. Trial Stakes, the first race on the card. Now, when any owner wins a race at Randwick with a 12/1 shot that he has supported in the ring, he is entitled to feel rather pleased with himself. Perhaps Schmidt did too, at least for as much as seventy minutes, or in other words, the time it took for the second of Royal Step’s progeny to majestically sweep past the winning-post in the third race on the card. How galling it must have been to be accosted by vulgar pressmen, asking how he felt in the wake of Flight’s success?
It was a conundrum that would endlessly play itself over in his mind for the next three-and-a-half years: proud to be Flight’s breeder; ashamed to be Flight’s seller. The one Royal Step colt that Schmidt had retained from his stallion’s second crop, the one out of Only Blue and now racing as Royal Peer, had won a juvenile handicap at Canterbury a few weeks after Flight’s debut, but Schmidt was no longer kidding himself about his colossal failure of judgement. Perhaps for a time, Schmidt consoled himself with the belief that in Royal Step, he at least retained a sire of champions. But even that wasn’t true. Royal Step would only ever sire three stakeswinners at stud, and the other two, Real Step and Most Regal, were distinctly ordinary. Real Step would win two Bendigo Cups, while Most Regal would win a Q.T.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes.
One horse that had attracted a disproportionate amount of newsprint leading into the 1943 A.J.C. Derby was War Eagle and much of it had to do with his colourful owner, the flamboyant society restaurateur, Jim Bendrodt. Bendrodt was the proprietor of Prince’s Restaurant in Martin Place, which, along with Romano’s Restaurant on the opposite corner of Martin Place, were the two ritziest eateries in Sydney and particularly popular with the glamorous racing and social set. Bendrodt’s background was every bit as colourful as anything exposed on a Sydney racecourse. Born in 1891 to a Danish sea captain and his wife, James Charles Bendrodt had grown up in British Colombia and was a natural athlete and showman. After attending school in Vancouver, Bendrodt worked his passage to Sydney as a stoker and arrived here in the autumn of 1910 with less than £10 in his pocket.
A champion roller-skater, within weeks of his arrival, he was giving exhibitions at the Tivoli and Prince Alfred Park and earning more than £30 a week with his skating partner, George Irving. Bendrodt soon parlayed his showmanship into dance halls although when war broke out in 1914, he quickly volunteered to wear khaki. Soon after the Armistice in November 1918, young James briefly moved into acting (as if he hadn’t been doing it all his life), and accepted some small parts on the stage in J. C. Williamson productions. But taking directions from someone else wasn’t quite Bendrodt’s concept of life or the stage, and during the 1920s and 1930s, he became a professional dancer and eventually married his attractive partner, Peggy Dawes. As entrepreneurial as ever, Bendrodt launched the Palais Royal dance hall at the Showground and the famous Trocadero in George St.
Bendrodt’s introduction to the Turf came about through a former jockey who worked as a waiter at his dance hall. In 1928, the waiter persuaded Bendrodt to buy the 14.2 ex-Victorian pony Passella, by Passing By, for £100. He kept her stabled in a yard behind the hall with the waiter training her in his spare time. The mare had her first start in Bendrodt’s colours at Kensington in a 14.2 handicap over 5½ furlongs in late October 1928 ridden by Andy Knox. Passella was the medium of a well-organised plunge that day and Bendrodt had £400 on her at 2/1 with the bookmaker, Jack Shaw. Passella dead-heated with another mare, Pretty Sweet, ridden by Alf Stanton, and then the pair had a run-off some forty-two minutes later. In the return match, Pretty Sweet just beat Passella in a jostling finish but Bendrodt got the decision on a protest. He was hooked!
The racing correspondents of the various sporting broadsheets must have been rather pleased when Bendrodt took to the Turf as it guaranteed them reams of colourful copy for years to come. Passella herself wasn’t always the most reliable commodity in the betting ring for Bendrodt. It was in December 1928 that he labelled her with the equivalent of a good night’s takings at the Palais Royal in another race at Kensington with several of Danceland’s stars in attendance. I’ll let the racing writer from the Sydney Sportsman retail that denouement of Passella: “But, while she jazzed away merrily in the early stages, she started to do a Boston Crab coming up the stiff grade to the post. Then along came My Bruce to join in the hop for a tap or two, but, tiring of the step, hoofed it away to the strains of ‘Home, Sweet Home’ from the grandstands.” Now, you must admit that we just don’t get race reports like that anymore!
I might add that Bendrodt’s racing livery was as colourful as the man himself viz. ‘red jacket and white diamonds, white hoop sleeves and red cap’. Whatever the heartache felt with Passella’s disappointments, Jim Bendrodt became enamoured with the Turf. He scored his first city win in the thoroughbred ranks when Patiala landed the mile Maiden Plate for him at Canterbury in February 1933. Other horses such as Firecracker and Grand Mogul carried his colours, but our dance man didn’t really break into a Charleston until Gay Romance came along. A Gay Lothario filly that cost Bendrodt 375 guineas out of the St Albans draft at the 1937 Melbourne yearling sales, she won him the A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes. The prizemoney and bets landed from that race helped finance Jim Bendrodt’s next venture, Prince’s restaurant in Martin Place, which opened its doors for the first time on Wednesday, December 7, 1938. Replete with its modern kitchen and bakery, two dance bands and Monsieur Pierre’s staff of eighty, it was marketed as Sydney’s newest high society rendezvous. It certainly became famous among the fast and the frivolous of the racing set and more than once was the venue for the N.S.W. Trainers’ Association Easter Dinner.
War Eagle was the next decent horse upon which Jim Bendrodt got his hands. A slashing-looking colt, he was by Manitoba out of Gneiss, who was a full sister to the 1935 V.R.C. Derby winner Feldspar. War Eagle had been bred at The Nook Stud in Victoria but had been acquired with Gneiss as a foal at foot by the St Aubins Stud when the former stud was dispersed. Jim Bendrodt had paid 475 guineas for the yearling colt at the Sydney sales. A Randwick winner as a two-year-old, War Eagle had also finished runner-up in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes when he separated Flight and Moorland at the finish. Early in his three-year-old campaign, after being placed in the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes, War Eagle was vying for Derby favouritism, but a couple of later sub-standard performances including his fourth in the R.R.C. Rosehill Guineas had seen him recede in the betting. However, some track watchers claimed that the son of Manitoba had run the best Derby trial at Randwick on the Thursday morning prior to the classic. And in twenty years of ownership, the Derby was the prize that Bendrodt sought most keenly. I might add that the A.J.C. had reviewed the registration process for owner-trainer licences at the beginning of the season and Jim Bendrodt was one of the more prominent gentlemen among that class along with the likes of Alan Cooper, Michael Dann and E. Hunter Bowman.
Seven colts were declared to run against Flight for the A.J.C. Derby prize. It might have been the darkest chapter of the War but more than 80,000 people, including 10,000 freely-admitted servicemen and women, crowded into the racecourse surging and milling around bookmakers and tote windows alike. Totalisator revenue for Derby Day was to be £155,207/10/-, surpassing any Melbourne Cup Day, and an Australian record for one day’s takings. Five of the eight Derby starters were quoted at 7/1 or less, with Moorland offered up as the favourite at no more than 2/1. Here I think was the definitive proof of the Orwellian theory on bookmakers, i.e. that all bagmen offer poor prices but that some offer poorer prices than others. That Moorland remained at the top of the market despite finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Craven Plate surprised many. However, the colt’s inability to act in the rain-softened going had been accepted as the reason for that failure with Ted Bartle merely nursing the horse in the straight when it was clear he was beaten. Before that Moorland’s form had been first class, having won both the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas at his only other appearances in the season and landing good betting plunges in both races.
MacArthur and Mayfowl shared the second line of betting. MacArthur was a son of the imported Irish stallion Golden Sovereign, whose progeny had commanded the highest prices at the previous Sydney Yearling Sales; his breeder Herbert Thompson had retained him to race in partnership with his good friend Percy Basche and placed the colt with Bayly Payten. Backward as a two-year-old, MacArthur had burst upon the scene just seven days before with an eight-length triumph in the A.J.C. Clibborn Stakes. Mayfowl had been deposed by Moorland as the Derby favourite after the latter had relegated him into second placing in both the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas.
Due to Ted McMenamin’s suspension at Rosehill for causing interference on September 25, the ‘black jacket, red sash and sleeves, and black cap’ of owner Alex Higgins were being worn by Fred Sheahan instead. One man particularly hoping for a change of luck on A.J.C. Derby Day was Mayfowl’s trainer, Maynard Webster. Sixteen years earlier, on the day that Trivalve took the blue riband, Webster had suffered a bad fall in the Hurdle, the opening race on the card, and it was one of the incidents that ultimately led him to relinquish his riding licence and take up training instead. Not that it had been an uneventful career thus far although Webster’s reputation derived largely from the success he had enjoyed with Sarcherie, a mare that he had trained for J. J. Leahy. Sarcherie not only won the 1937 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap but had twice finished runner-up and once taken the minor placing in Melbourne Cups in the space of four years. Webster was hoping that Mayfowl would serve him even better.
On the next line of betting after MacArthur and Mayfowl came Flight at 5/1, despite the fact that no filly had won the race since Picture in 1898. Flight had done well since the previous Saturday’s Craven Plate. Indeed, on the morning after that race, Flight had bailed up her groom in a corner of her box and wouldn’t let him move. The daughter of Royal Step could be a bit of a madam around the stables at times, but at least that incident proved that she had made a quick recovery from her exertions at Randwick less than twenty-four hours before. Both Crowley and Noland observed the episode at the time and knew in their hearts that the filly was up for the classic challenge against the colts. The absence of the best of the Victorian three-year-olds, of course, also rendered her task easier. After Flight, the only other runner under double figures in the Derby betting was the prepossessing War Eagle, unbeaten in every show ring in which he had appeared. Still, handsome is as handsome does.
The key to the race was always going to be the pace and whether any horse other than Flight might be prepared to do the honours. Nowland and Crowley had been bitterly disappointed when the George Gorrie-trained Tribal had been withdrawn only days before the Derby as a result of a track accident at Rosebery. They had been hoping that, as in the Craven Plate, Flight would be relieved of pace-making duties and thereby able to conserve her energy for staying the mile-and-a-half journey. In the circumstances, Crowley succumbed to the belief that it was impossible for any horse to lead all the way in a Derby at Randwick – and least of all a filly. Accordingly, he pressed jockey Jack Thompson to either, surrender the role of front-running to another, or, if nothing took Flight on, hasten slowly.
In retrospect therein lay the reason for Flight’s defeat, for the race was run in a time slower than many flat races for steeplechasers. Taken to the lead after the field settled down, Flight slowed down proceedings to 58 seconds for the first half-mile and for a time pulled hard against Thompson. The next two furlongs went by in 25 ½ seconds with Flight enjoying a little more leather, but it wasn’t fast enough for the favourite Moorland. It was between the six and seven that Ted Bartle made his famous move in dashing the son of Felcrag to the front to lead clearly and after that Flight and the rest of the colts couldn’t run him down. Considering the race took a leisurely 2 minutes 37 ¾ seconds to run – the slowest Derby since 1916 and more than six seconds slower than Main Topic the year before, conceding a start to Moorland made Flight’s task well-nigh impossible. In dashing to the front so far from home, Bartle wasn’t taking any risk at all. It was left to Mayfowl to run on into third place.
Moorland, a first-season son of the imported English stallion Felcrag, had been bred by the venerable Percy Reynolds at the famous Hobartville Stud and provided one last faint, nostalgic, echo of greatness from that historic homestead and paddocks, a place that had once meant so much to Australian bloodstock in the nineteenth century. The 87-year-old Percy was at Randwick to witness Moorland’s victory, and it was a beaming studmaster that entertained pressmen afterwards. Born at Tocal, Percy Reynolds had come to Hobartville in 1900 after the tragic demise of William Long; and had actively bred bloodstock there in all the years since, but until now had never got a Derby winner. Old Percy had seen Carbine race many times and firmly believed in the prepotency of the Musket blood.
It was this that had prompted him in December 1938 to import Felcrag, who descended from Carbine via the Felstead-Spion Kop-Spearmint line of English Derby winners. Felcrag was only lightly raced but had managed to win two undistinguished races at Doncaster and Pontefract in his two seasons on the Turf. He was bred on the same lines as the highly successful young stallion Double Remove, both being sons of Felstead, from a daughter of a son of Hurry On and a daughter of Hurry On respectively. Bower Belle, the unraced dam of Moorland, had been bred by Percy Reynolds in 1927 and was by the imported British sire Bernard, who enjoyed some success in Queensland in the mid-twenties, from a daughter of an own sister to Prince Bardolph, winner of the 1916 Sydney Cup. Bower Belle had already produced two modest winners in the brothers Silver Charm and Silver Bower from seven successive matings to the disappointing Silverburn.
A mid-August foal, Moorland cost 210 guineas at the 1942 Sydney Yearling Sales and had been sold just a few hours after Flight went under the hammer; he had been the most expensive of the seven yearlings offered by the Hobartville Stud at those sales. Ironically, Randwick trainer, Dan Lewis had bought Moorland on behalf of one of his long-term clients, Arthur Murrell, who raced under the nom de course of ‘M. Lundern’. A wealthy Sydney fish merchant based in Oxford Street and a big punter, Murrell had raced horses – many in partnership with Lewis – for more than ten years. Lewis had inspected Moorland at the Hobartville Stud before the colt had been sent down to Newmarket as part of Percy Reynolds’ yearling draft, and the canny trainer had suggested to Murrell that he would mature into a nice type and was worth a bid – at least up to a thousand guineas. Lewis got him on the nod rather cheaply and then set the son of Felcrag for the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate.
Renowned as a trainer of stayers, Dan Lewis was impressed with the speed that Moorland showed on the Randwick track in his early gallops and resolved to set him for the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate. In order to secure a better price in the ring for Murrell, Lewis booked the young apprentice Mick Freedman for Moorland’s debut. Freedman, formerly from Brisbane, had relocated to Sydney earlier in the year with his master Charlie McLoughlin and had already shown that he could ride. On a day when our big-betting fish merchant disregarded Moorland’s wide draw, Murrell trawled the ring to land a mighty fine catch! After having been backed into 5/1 and getting lost in the early stages, Moorland came down the middle of the Randwick course to win running away by four lengths!
However, the problem with big-betting owners is that they are apt to view their relationship with any trainer through the refracted prism of the betting ring and the opportunities provided therein – and not just with their own horses but rather those of the entire stable. It seems that the cause of the falling-out between Lewis and Murrell was the win of Easter Time – trained by Lewis for a lady client – in the last race at Randwick in early January 1943 at the lucrative odds of 15/1. Murrell wasn’t on and thought he should have been. The upshot was a letter delivered to Lewis the following Tuesday peremptorily ordering him to hand Moorland – who was back in work – over to Stan Lamond at Victoria Park, together with all the owner’s gear. And there ended a beautiful friendship. Acclaimed as the best two-year-old of the season on his Breeders’ Plate performance, Moorland was produced by Lamond to land two juvenile handicaps upon resuming, but the colt then failed to run a place in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick when a prohibitive favourite. In his last race that season, Moorland could only manage third behind Flight in the Champagne Stakes when again sent to the post as the favourite. The failures were later attributed to the horse not having properly recovered from having two teeth extracted just before the meeting. Punters who had supported him understood the pain that the horse felt!
Moorland’s Derby victory gave Stan Lamond junior – a third-generation member of one of Australia’s best-known racing families – his first win in the race with his very first starter. It was hardly surprising that he proceeded to christen his residence in Ingram St, Kensington, as ‘Moorland’. Stan’s grandfather, Tom Lamond, had won the race four times, the last being with Charge in 1896. Young Stan had originally been apprenticed to his grandfather, and his first win in the saddle had been at Randwick with the horse, Copper Top that old Tom prepared for millionaire owner, Walter Hall. The occasion was the Members Handicap, run on the last day of the 1907 A.J.C. Spring Meeting.
Stan’s most notable achievement as a jockey came when trainer Frank McGrath asked him to partner Ungarie carrying 7 st. 2lb in the 1909 Sydney Cup and the pair ran the great Trafalgar to a head. Stan enjoyed only limited success as a jockey, however, and for some years had acted as assistant trainer to his father Stan Lamond senior at Zetland Lodge, who had taken over those stables upon the retirement of old Tom in November 1909. Stan Lamond junior finally took out a trainer’s licence in his own right in the 1924-25 racing season. While the elder Stan Lamond enjoyed success as a trainer, he never won the Derby, and it had taken his son in 1943 to restore the family connection with the race. It was a particularly memorable Derby Day for both Stan Lamond and Arthur Murrell for they also combined to win the rich Gimcrack Stakes with Scaur Fel, a daughter of Felcrag.
Interestingly, Ted Bartle turned down the winning mount on Scaur Fel, with Jack O’Sullivan substituting instead. Bartle would have had to waste to ride the Felcrag filly at 8 st. 5lb in the Gimcrack, the opening event on the card, and he didn’t want to weaken himself for the Derby just two races later. Bartle was nearing the end of his long career in the saddle and during these years he was a munitions worker as well as a jockey. Besides, Lamond wasn’t keen enough on Scaur Fel’s chances to risk a Derby win and he advised his No. 1 jockey to retain his strength by shunning the Turkish baths. A weaker jockey than Bartle might have failed Moorland. In a curious bit of symmetry, the unplaced favourite in that Gimcrack Stakes was Twice Royal, another Royal Step filly trained by Frank Nowland on behalf of Brian Crowley. As a yearling, she had cost Crowley three times what he’d paid for Flight and bookmakers had assumed – quite wrongly as it turned out – that she might be another Flight.
The wartime restrictions imposed by the Commonwealth Government on the carriage of registered racing stock, in the interests of conserving coal and fuel, circumscribed the immediate post-Derby programmes of the leading Sydney three-year-olds at least insofar as the Mebourne spring was concerned. Whereas Flight was put by until the summer, Murrell directed Lamond to have a crack at the older horses in The A.J.C. Metropolitan with Moorland, in which the three-year-old was handicapped on 7 st. 8lb. Lamond had won the race a decade earlier with the four-year-old Regal Son, who carried 7 st. 6lb, and yet the year younger Moorland was being asked to carry 2lb more. Rarely had Derby colts attempted the race after the early years of the century and almost fifty years had passed since a three-year-old had won, such were the impossibilities of the handicap conditions. However, at least the wartime re-programming of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting meant the race came a week, rather than the normal two days, after the Derby.
Given that Ted Bartle was unable to ride the Derby winner on 7 st. 8lb, he had previously committed to the year-older Main Topic in The Metropolitan, and accordingly the lightweight Billy Cook slipped into the saddle on Moorland. And what a cracking good race it proved to be! Throughout Bartle and Cook were determined not to evade each other and each shared fourth place during the running. That Moorland went so close to taking the prize – beaten a half-head by the previous year’s Derby winner, Main Topic, after kicking away inside the two – is a testimony to his ability on that day. Moreover, the race was put by in 2 minutes 41½ seconds and equalled the record for the mile and five furlongs established by Dashing Cavalier. In running second, Moorland emulated the effort of Poseidon, the A.J.C. Derby winner of 1906 who finished second to Solution in The Metropolitan of that year. Whereas Poseidon raced in happier times and was able to go on to Melbourne and win the Caulfield Cup, Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup, wartime transport difficulties precluded such a course for Moorland.
Perhaps it didn’t matter, after all, for Moorland was never the same horse again after his Metropolitan exertions. Alas, for Murrell and Lamond, it seemed that the massive son of Felcrag bottomed as a result of the record effort. The colt failed to find any form in the autumn and after Mayfowl won a hollow victory over him in the St. Leger, was scratched from the Sydney Cup, a race for which he had been a long-time hot favourite. Although Moorland raced on intermittently into his seven-year-old season, he was fated never to win another race. Offered as a stallion prospect at the William Inglis Sales in April 1948, Fred Kelly bought him for 525 guineas to stand at his Killarney Stud at Canowindra. Alas, Moorland didn’t attract many broodmares and didn’t last long at Killarney, being sold up the line to stand at the Kyle Stud, Young. Perhaps the best two of his progeny were Moorakyle and Gun Lad although his greatest distinction as a stallion was siring triplets in the spring of 1952 to an unnamed station mare at the Kyle Stud.
Moorland was the third and final A.J.C. Derby victory for the popular jockey, Ted Bartle, following upon his earlier wins on Tregilla (1930) and Avenger (1937). It also came in the veteran jockey’s last ride in the Randwick classic when he was nudging forty-two. Bartle’s early history was related in the 1930 chapter of this chronicle and it is appropriate here to complete the story. Edwin Cecil Bartle was a man of few words and simple tastes. Out of the saddle, he had three great loves viz. family, golf and fishing. That memorable A.J.C. Spring Meeting of 1943 when he landed the Derby on Moorland and The Metropolitan on Main Topic on successive Saturdays was to be his last hurrah in the big time. Already a veteran, as his weight edged up, his opportunities edged down, although he resolved to stay in the saddle just a bit longer given the manpower shortages created by World War II. Bartle’s last metropolitan winner came in August 1945 when he partnered Shining Night at Canterbury.
While he retained his A.J.C. jockey’s licence during that season and the next, he received very few mounts. Announcing his retirement, Bartle did not reapply for his ticket to ride at the beginning of the 1947-48 racing season. It had been a stellar career that included no less than five Sydney jockeys’ premierships, the last coming in 1937-38 when he rode 93½ winners. A measure of just how well Bartle rode in distance races and judged pace, especially at Randwick, is the fact that apart from his three A.J.C. Derbies, he won four A.J.C. Metropolitan Handicaps (Murillo, Strength, Royal Chief and Main Topic) and two A.J.C. Sydney Cups (The Dimmer, Mosaic). He was also very successful at the A.J.C. Summer Meetings, winning the Villiers Stakes four times (Pavillion, Closing Time, King’s Head and Rimveil) and the Summer Cup five times (Braille, King of the Forrest, Dalston, Young Crusader and Malagigi), during an epoch when each of those races was very much a valuable and prestigious race to win.
Upon surrendering his jockey’s licence, Ted Bartle, unlike many former leading riders, never seriously contemplated taking out a trainer’s licence. Had he made the transition immediately upon hanging up his saddle, a training career might have opened up for him, but in those years immediately after World War II, government building restrictions rendered securing stables well nigh impossible. Once that brief moment of opportunity had passed and Bartle had smoothly settled into retirement, he was content to remain an unobtrusive presence on those occasions when he did attend race meetings, most notably during the years of Neville Sellwood’s accession. Bartle, travelling to the races with Sellwood and carrying the jockey’s large bag of saddles and riding-gear, became a familiar sight in the members’ and officials’ car park on Sydney’s racecourses.
As we have seen, it was Bartle and his wife who were so helpful to Sellwood and his young bride in making the successful switch from Brisbane to Sydney during the 1946-47 racing season, even having them to stay in their own house upon relocation. And, of course, Sellwood was coming to Sydney to succeed Bartle as Maurice McCarten’s stable jockey. The friendship between the two riders was deep and genuine and Bartle was devastated upon hearing of Sellwood’s tragic death at Maisons-Laffitte in November 1962. Bartle himself would die almost ten years later from throat cancer. Sadly, there was a certain poignancy about the post-riding years of Bartle’s life. His beloved wife, Amy, died at Randwick in July 1951 and despite the marriage producing two loving daughters, Bartle remained distracted and never quite got over the loss.
Moreover, despite his immensely successful riding career, he was to die in much-reduced circumstances but not because of any extravagant living or profligate gambling. Rather, through a much too cautious and conservative approach to investing. Upon retirement, Bartle had kept his money in a simple bank savings account that paid little interest. In an era of rampant inflation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the purchasing power of such savings eroded badly. In the last three years of his life, Bartle sold his home in Wood-street, Randwick, and moved in with the trainer Bob Skelton and his wife, before his final admission to hospital. Perhaps I should leave the last word on Edwin Cecil Bartle to the great Billy Cook. On the occasion of Bartle’s death at the age of seventy-one in February 1972, Cook declared: “I rode on most major tracks of the world and I doubt whether I was ever opposed to a stronger jockey than Ted. When the money was down and the pressure on, he was at his best. We all regarded him as the best ‘money rider’ of them all. “
So much for Moorland, his trainer, owner and jockey, as well as his poor post-Derby career. Before we resume following Flight’s post-Derby trajectory and the subsequent adventures of those other colourful personalities involved in that 1943 A.J.C. Derby, perhaps a summary of the three-year-old situation during that Melbourne spring is in order. And it was a Melbourne spring like no other. For the first and only time in the history of the race, the Caulfield Cup was run in two divisions while the Melbourne Cup was run on Saturday, November 13, as late as at any time in its history. Although the first Tuesday in November was observed as a holiday in Melbourne, because of Federal Government regulations there was no racing on that day. The entire V.A.T.C. and V.R.C. meetings were basically devoid of any interstate gallopers.
At least the Victoria Derby had some parallels with its A.J.C. counterpart in 1943 in that there was an outstanding filly involved in a field of fewer than ten starters. Simmering, the filly in question, was a daughter of Hellespont out of a Windbag mare and went to the post as the even-money favourite in the hands of Scobie Breasley. Trained by Lou Robertson, Simmering, like Flight, had been a top two-year-old, winning both the V.A.T.C. Debutant Stakes and the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes, while at three she had already taken the V.R.C. Edward Manifold Stakes. Moreover, she had been considered a good thing beaten in the first division of the Caulfield Cup when finishing third. Simmering was attempting to become the first filly to win the V.R.C. blue riband since Frances Tressady in 1923.
Lou Robertson, on paper at least, appeared to have a strong hand in the Derby for not only did he have Simmering in the race but also Lawrence, winner of the Caulfield Guineas, although that horse had been stopped in his work after incurring an injury at Moonee Valley the week before. Whatever the strength of Robertson’s hand on paper, it all came unstuck in the race itself at the seven when Breasley was dislodged from Simmering after attempting an inside run and clipping the heels of her stablemate, Lawrence. It proved an intriguing and sensational race. Sent out to steal the race, Valentino looked at one stage as though he would succeed. In the first furlong, he scurried to the front and quickly opened up a break of six lengths. A dozen lengths to the good at the mile, Valentino had the field strung out like washing on the line on Monday morning. But, come the last furlong, he had tired so badly that he only had two lengths to spare over the storming Precept. At the half-furlong, Precept gave Valentino the shake and went on to win easily by three lengths with Lawrence a further two and a half lengths away third.
Precept, a son of Peter Pan out of a Heroic mare, was trained at Mentone by Jim Pengilly for J. J. Liston, the chairman of the Williamstown Racing Club. It was jockey Ted Preston’s first Victoria Derby winner, although the horseman’s real claim to fame had been his association with that great mare Rivette when she won the Caulfield-Melbourne Cups double in 1939. Alas, Preston couldn’t add to his Cup record that year. In a sub-standard Melbourne Cup field drawn exclusively from Victorian gallopers, Precept proved himself the best of the southern three-year-olds when he finished a good fourth behind Dark Felt in a finish that saw seasoned six-year-olds with a pull in the weights, fill all of the placings. However, for those fortunate few Sydney sportsmen who managed to make it to the Victorian capital for their spring racing, nothing they witnessed either at Caulfield or Flemington led them to believe that Flight and company had much to fear when the interstate transport restrictions were ultimately lifted.
Returning our attention to the 1943 A.J.C. Derby, what became of some of the colourful supporting characters and horses involved in the contest? Mayfowl and Alex Higgins offer an intriguing tale. Unable to be taken to Melbourne for the Victoria Derby because of transport restrictions, Mayfowl was kept in work until the last Saturday in October when handicapped on 7 st. 7lb, he won the City Tattersall’s Cup (11f), setting a new Randwick record of 2 minutes 17¼ seconds for the trip and breaking the previous time by three-quarters of a second. He followed this up a week later with a win in the Ascot Turf Club Handicap at Rosehill before going to the paddock.
In the autumn of his three-year-old season with travel restrictions still, largely in place, Mayfowl was set for the A.J.C. St Leger and Sydney Cup double. He almost pulled it off, too! Only five ran for the A.J.C. red riband with Moorland going off the even-money favourite and 7/4 on offer about Mayfowl, while Mustang, MacArthur and Annie Laurie were at extended odds. Darby Munro replaced the injured Ted McMenamin on Mayfowl, and after being well-placed throughout, swept to the front rounding the home turn and outstayed Moorland to win by three lengths. Given the failure of Beau Pere three-year-olds in the past to stay two miles, many doubted Mayfowl’s chance two days later in the £5,000 Sydney Cup with 8 st. 4lb or 2lb over weight-for-age.
With Munro switching to the topweight Veiled Threat (8 st. 13lb) and Moorland scratched after his St Leger failure, Ted Bartle, riding 1lb over, substituted on Mayfowl in the Cup field of thirteen. Halfway down the straight, Mayfowl was proclaimed the winner after a muddling-run race. But in a stirring finish, the sheer strength of Munro saw Veiled Threat become just the fourth horse to annex two Sydney Cups when he got up in the last few strides to beat Mayfowl a neck, with Grand Fils, half a length away, third. It was a gallant performance from the grey who was intended for the A.J.C. Plate on the last day of the meeting but a heavy track saw the colt scratched. However, rather than immediately being sent for a spell, Mayfowl went out as the favourite in the Rosehill Autumn Cup at his home course the following Saturday. During the running, the colt was squeezed up against the inside rail near the four and faltered, Munro only cantering him to the line to finish last. Brought back in the spring, Mayfowl won the S.T.C. Hill Stakes in race record time before failing ignominiously in both the Epsom and Metropolitan Handicaps and ultimately the Melbourne Cup. Mayfowl was then sent for a long spell to Maurice Wheeler’s Wilton Park property at Picton where he escaped the worst of the fodder shortage then impeding many stables.
Mayfowl resumed racing to finish a bad last in the 1945 A.J.C. Warwick Stakes when he moved more like a dapple-grey rocking horse than a genuine weight-for-age galloper. He fared slightly better when third in a six-horse field in the weight-for-age S.T.C. Clarendon Stakes at Rosehill behind Accession and Sleepy Fox. Although he appeared to have soured of racing, Mayfowl was still being aimed at the 1945 A.J.C. Metropolitan Handicap when international sporting circles were rocked by the dramatic cable news out of Bombay that Mayfowl’s owner and India’s leading trainer, Alex Higgins, had been warned-off the Turf. The reason was for the alleged doping of the racehorse Han, winner of the Ascot Plate at the hilltop track of Poona on September 23rd, 1945. A saliva test was claimed to have disclosed traces of dope. Higgins challenged the validity of the analysis, but the stewards didn’t accept his declaration of innocence. The A.J.C. thenceforth refused to accept Mayfowl’s entries for the 1945 A.J.C. Spring Meeting.
The episode marked the start of an unrelenting struggle by Higgins, the so-called White Rajah of Racing in India for more than a quarter of a century, to clear his name. Meanwhile, he set in train the dispersal sales on his bloodstock in four countries. In January 1947, six of Higgins’ horses, including the celebrated Frontal Attack but not Mayfowl, were sold for £14,490. The Beau Pere horse was retired from the racecourse and installed as the foundation stallion at Alex Higgins’ Piercefield Stud, near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, standing his first season there in the spring of 1947 at a service fee of 100 guineas. In April 1948, Higgins launched legal proceedings against the A.J.C. and its chairman Alan Potter in the Equity Court to challenge their right to have rejected his race nominations.
Potter and the club argued that they didn’t disqualify Higgins, they merely rejected Mayfowl’s entries. The A.J.C. maintained that it was perfectly entitled under the rules of racing to reject the entry of any horse without giving the reasons, and that was all that had ever been done. Higgins contended that the club’s actions were illegal and that the proceedings in India were sub judice. Later, that same month of April 1948, the A.J.C. called upon Higgins to show cause why a Royal Western India Turf Club warning-off should not be imposed upon him here. Higgins countered swiftly with an injunction against the club. However, Higgins’ suit was ultimately dismissed in November 1948. In his judgement, Justice Roper said that the fact was from the date of Higgins’ warning-off until, towards the end of 1947, Higgins had thought he was a disqualified person and had arrived at that conclusion for himself, uninfluenced by anything done by the A.J.C. There was no threat to visit on Higgins the consequences of disqualification, and in particular to refuse him admission to, or expel him from, Randwick Racecourse at the time the action was brought.
It wasn’t until the end of May 1950, that the Royal Western India Turf Club, which imposed the disqualification, advised Higgins’ lawyers in England, that it would be prepared to grant him a clearance if the Australian withdrew his prohibitive damages claim against the club. Unfortunately, by the time the clearance came through, Higgins was broken in health, partly as a result of his years on the Indian subcontinent and tropical diseases, and partly through the exhaustion of trying to get his appeal and damages suit heard before the Bombay High Court. Higgins just wanted his solicitors “to wind up the whole wretched business.” He told Clive Inglis: “I have been made to pay dearly, both in terms of money and anguish over the stigma of having been warned-off.” Whatever sympathy might have been felt for Higgins’s plight by the public, much of it was dissipated by his decision to return Mayfowl to the racecourse after his serving four seasons at stud and disappointing as a stallion.
A number of Beau Pere’s sons did well at stud including Beau Cheval, Beau Repaire, Beau Vite and Beaulivre but sadly, Mayfowl didn’t. Perhaps the best of his progeny was Lohengrin. And so, in January 1951, the ten-year-old Mayfowl was put back into training at Rosehill again with his former trainer, Maynard Webster. Higgins wasn’t alone in this regard as other owners with horses such as Crusader, Vermeil, Proctor and Silver Link were initiating comebacks, given the paucity of horses racing at the time. Mayfowl’s much-publicised return lasted just one race. The horse ran badly in the A.J.C. Denham Court Handicap at the end of February and then became very lame after a track gallop at Rosehill a few days later. Persisted with by Webster, Mayfowl later broke a leg in a track gallop at the end of March and was destroyed. Still, the dapple-grey horse had proved a bargain for Higgins returning him some £9,277 in prizemoney from some 30 races. During the 1950s, Alex Higgins gradually withdrew from the public gaze and his appearances on racecourses became very infrequent as he shared his time between his residence in Bulkara-Road, Bellevue Hill, and his Piercefield Stud in the Hunter. He did race the occasional horse successfully in Sydney during his twilight years including Charente, Greater and Fastest. Alex Higgins died in St Vincent’s Hospital in February 1966.
War Eagle and Jim Bendrodt offer a more prosaic storyline in the wake of the 1943 A.J.C. Derby. Treated by Bendrodt perhaps more like a pet than a racehorse, War Eagle was only sparingly raced but only ever won one principal race on the Australian Turf and that was the 1946 S.T.C. Lord Mayor’s Cup. In most races, he disappointed including the 1945 Melbourne Cup in which he went round as a despised 50/1 outsider. Bendrodt’s somewhat unorthodox training methods occasioned plenty of adverse comment among rival trainers and not a few newspaper scribblers. While War Eagle might have been disappointing on the racecourse, Bendrodt believed that the imposing son of Manitoba had the makings of a first-class stallion. Flush with funds from the rivers of gold that Prince’s restaurant returned to him during the boom years of World War II and the free-spending American servicemen based here, Bendrodt bought a plot of land at Castlereagh. It was during 1946 that the colourful restaurateur began to develop these 125 acres and more on the Nepean River as a stud farm on which to stand War Eagle. Once a desolate wasteland on the eastern side of the Nepean River, Bendrodt spent £90,000 developing his so-called Prince’s Farm, laying an access road to the river, cultivating grasses and constructing some twenty-two paddocks and fifty horseboxes.
Despite War Eagle’s rugged good looks – twice he was named the champion bloodhorse at the Sydney R.A.S. Easter Show – he didn’t fare well when standing at Prince’s Farm Stud, Castlereagh, where his only progeny to win a principal race was the mare Two Birdies, who was successful in both the City Tattersall’s Cup and the Wagga Gold Cup in 1953. There was the odd useful galloper such as Madey but overall, War Eagle’s progeny proved disappointing. Bendrodt’s next major experiment in standing a stallion at Prince’s Farm came with his importation of the English horse, Abbots Fell. The highest-priced thoroughbred to be brought to Australia for stud duties up to that time, Abbots Fell had finished a close fourth behind Ocean Swell in the 1944 English Derby before later going on to take the minor placing in the Ascot Gold Cup and win the Caledonian Hunt Cup.
A son of Felstead and thereby a lineal descendant of Carbine, Abbots Fell was out of the Friar Marcus mare, Lady Abbess. Bendrodt acquired the stallion on lease for three seasons and claimed that he was costing him £10,000 a season. Whether or not he would have been a stud success at Prince’s Farm was never properly tested for Abbots Fell dropped dead after a cerebral haemorrhage as he was being led back to his box in September 1952. On the evidence of his first two crops in Australia and the foals that he left in England, one suspects that Abbots Fell would have been a disappointment as his only principal winner in Australia was Prince Abbott, winner of the 1956 Geelong Cup. Although perhaps I should mention that Abbots Fell was also the maternal grandsire of Pago Pago, winner of the 1963 S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes. Even before the demise of Abbots Fell, Bendrodt had announced his retirement as a bloodstock breeder on the eve of the 1951 Caulfield Cup, selling almost all of his broodmares in 1951-52.
Ostensibly, the reason Bendrodt gave for getting out was that he found it distressing as a commercial breeder to part with his beloved yearlings. The embarrassing failure of War Eagle and his expensive band of imported broodmares, including Toll Gate, Painted Lady, Fell Flower, Artist Queen and Gay Abbess, would be closer to the truth. Despite having withdrawn as a bloodstock breeder, Bendrodt retained Prince’s Farm as an agistment property and it was patronised over the years by many of Sydney’s leading trainers. Much later, of course, it became closely identified with Bart Cummings when the great trainer settled in Sydney. Jim Bendrodt gradually withdrew into his charming residence in Eastbourne Avenue, Darling Point, surrounded by his rich collection of Royal Meissen porcelain. The colourful restaurateur launched one last eaterie for the well-heeled racing set when he opened the Caprice restaurant at Rose Bay in the late 1950s. But the times they were a-changing and Caprice was sold in 1967. While he continued to race the odd horse during the 1960s and early 1970s, he had become somewhat of a back number. One of his last metropolitan winners was Peaceful Song who won at Warwick Farm in November 1964. Jim Bendrodt’s colourful life came to a close on a Saturday morning in February 1973.
In pursuing the colourful careers of Alex Higgins and Jim Bendrodt, I seem to have forsaken the story of Flight, the one genuine champion to emerge from that 1943 A.J.C. Derby. Relative to Moorland, Mayfowl and War Eagle, Flight’s post-Derby career bore an altogether much more distinguished aspect. Whereas Moorland went for the A.J.C. Metropolitan one week after the Derby, Flight was given a well-earned rest for a month to freshen her up and she was back in work by the end of November 1943. The filly’s main summer objective was the £1,300 A.J.C. Adrian Knox Stakes, a mile race restricted to three-year-old fillies conducted at the two-day Anniversary Meeting in late January. Flight resumed in the Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes on New Year’s Day and after being prominent early, finished eighth of fourteen in the fast-run sprint. Believing that owners should give the newly-formed Sydney Turf Club every encouragement by racing their best horses at the club’s historic inaugural race meeting, Flight’s next start came a fortnight later in the £1,000 Lord Mayor’s Cup.
The filly made all of her own running over the mile and 27-yards at Randwick, although on the winning post she didn’t have much to spare, prevailing over Rimveil by a head, with the A.J.C. Villiers Stakes winner, Sir Neith, a short neck away third. But punters were becoming accustomed to Flight’s fine margins of victory. Taciturn jockey, Jack Thompson, who had by now transformed into Flight’s regular partner in crime, rarely paid horses any compliments but he was unstinting in his praise of Flight after her latest smash and grab triumph. “I’ve never been on a horse that tries so hard,” he told owner, Brian Crowley. “Whether she is winning easily or is flat out, she puts everything she has into the effort,” he added. “The remarkable thing is she does it without urging from her jockey.” The cup presented to Brian Crowley on the day wasn’t for keeping as it was the Sydney Cup won by Yattendon back in 1866 and only brought out on special occasions. The real trophy was given to the lucky owner at an informal luncheon by the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Alderman Bartley, later in the week.
When it came to the Adrian Knox Stakes on the following Saturday over the same course and distance, a fit Flight was far too fleet. At set weights of 8 st. 5lb, only three fillies opposed her, but after a walk-in start, Jack Thompson went straight to the front and Flight (1/5) effortlessly cantered away from the opposing trio to record her ninth win easing up in 1 minute 38 seconds. Immediately after that exhibition, a defensive Pat Osborne, the owner of Sydney’s previous great filly, Valicare, observed of Flight: “She is good, but I’ll confess she is the best filly of the century when she wins a Doncaster or Epsom with 4lb over weight-for-age.” Valicare, of course, had done exactly that eighteen years earlier, when as a three-year-old, she won the 1926 Doncaster with 8 st. 9lb and led all the way in doing so.
In the wake of the Adrian Knox Stakes, there was much speculation as to how much weight the A.J.C. Handicapper, G. F. Wilson would allot Flight in the same race. As it transpired, he gave her the very same weight that he had given Valicare. At that weight, she would have been a living certainty! Alas, for Flight, Crowley, Noland, and the Australian public who had already supported her in the big mile, Wilson hit Flight with another 5lb after she won an A.J.C. Quality Handicap in mid-March. The daughter of Royal Step would now have to set a weight-carrying record for a three-year-old to win the Doncaster. Crowley commented: “If she wins with 9 stone that will be the end of her in handicaps, and if I do not run her, I will be breaking faith with those who have backed her for the race. The handicapper has me in a cleft stick, but there will be no change of plans. Flight will run in the Doncaster, for, win or lose, it looks as if her handicapping days are over.” Flight’s only other run before the Doncaster was at Rosehill when she disappointed in running the minor placing in the S.T.C. Rawson Stakes.
Flight didn’t win that Doncaster. Oh! But she went ever so close! In a fourteen-strong field and despite her crushing burden, the gallant filly was sent to the post as the 3/1 favourite. Jack Thompson waited until the final furlong before asking her to take the lead. In a stirring finish before a huge crowd of 82,000 people including some 15,000 members of the armed services, Flight was beaten a half-head in the last stride by Goose Boy, an aged gelding to whom she was conceding four years in age and 12lb in weight. The third placegetter, only another half-head away, was Easter Time to whom Flight was conceding a massive 31lb! The A.J.C. judge, Dudley Smith, later acknowledged that, but for the white overhead finishing cord that stretched across the track from the judge’s box to the winning post in those days, he might have declared a triple dead-heat.
Indeed, that wonderful black and white photograph of the trio flashing past the old wooden winning post at Randwick with Flight sandwiched in the middle was to be seen afterwards for many a year in many a pub and barbershop throughout the land. As a rueful Brian Crowley remarked after the race: “With her original weight, 8 st. 9lb., I think she would have landed the Doncaster with something to spare.” In her final appearance for the season, Flight stepped out for the All Aged Stakes on the following Monday and with only Katanga and Main Topic to beat, backers, laid 5/2 on her. She tried to lead all the way but, tired after her gallantry in the Doncaster, Katanga smothered her in the last furlong. Thus ended a quite remarkable three-year-old career.
Some of Flight’s best years coincided with the war’s worst. Restrictive race programming for all horses – let alone mares – and the transport ban meant that Crowley and Nowland had no option but to try for the rich handicaps on their home course. In the following spring the A.J.C. handicapper, Fred Wilson, allotted the mighty mare 9 st. 5lb, or 10lb over weight-for-age in the Epsom, but let her into The Metropolitan (13f) with 8 st. 10lb or just 1lb over. It was an invitation too good to resist, even if the distance was unchartered territory. Up to that stage of her career, Flight had never been beyond a mile-and-a-half and had raced at that distance only twice – the first time in the Derby and the second time when she won the A.J.C. Colin Stephen Stakes a week before The Metropolitan.
The public rallied to her nonetheless, and when she dashed clear inside the two furlongs after disputing the lead for much of the journey, it seemed she had the race won. But the task of giving 22lb to the three-years-older Nightbeam proved too much, and she went under by a length. It was a similar story in the autumn when Flight contested the two-mile Sydney Cup with 9 stone. Way beyond her best distance, she went within a length of pulling it off when third behind the lightweight Craigee and Russia. Bookmakers were saved from payouts running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds on each occasion. It was during this four-year-old season that Flight had that series of famous clashes with Katanga, the savage stallion trained by Bayly Payten; four times that season the pair secured the quinella in valuable weight-for-age races at Randwick with honours even and only once was the margin more than a head.
Flight enjoyed her greatest season as a five-year-old when she developed into one of the best weight-for-age horses in the land, and, with transport restrictions lifted, Melbourne finally got to see what all the fuss was about. Flight won no fewer than eight races that year including the A.J.C. Craven Plate, W.S. Cox Plate, V.A.T.C. St George Stakes and V.R.C. C.M. Lloyd Stakes. Flight’s six-year-old season was no less demanding than the others; she raced fifteen times and managed to win three times including another W.S. Cox Plate, which she claimed brilliantly after setting-up an eight lengths’ lead.
However, it was the 1946 Mackinnon Stakes that she won at her next start that was perhaps her most poignant victory. It has been said that on that November afternoon at Flemington nobody actually saw her pass the post. Rather, all eyes were on the pathetic figure of Bernborough as he hobbled in pain near the home turn. A susurrus of dismay had rustled through the grandstands at the moment of his breakdown. It was one of life’s terrible moments on a racecourse as the great champion departed the scene. Nor was Flight’s departure from the racecourse to be long delayed either. It came at Randwick after she had made all of the running in the weight-for-age Autumn Stakes at Easter, only to be caught by Russia in the last half-furlong. The great mare retired to the paddock after winning 24 and being placed 28 times in her 65 starts, earning a record £30,667 in stakes for a mare, and eclipsing the previous earnings record held by Tranquil Star.
It is interesting to reflect that Flight amassed her money through sheer consistency and hardiness in weight-for-age contests. As Peter Pring observed in his book ‘Analysis of Champion Racehorses’ in five seasons she never suffered an extended lapse of form. When one considers that she never won a major handicap and that the richest prize she ever earned was the £1,520 for the Champagne Stakes, her record haul of prize money is breathtaking. However, cold statistics alone do not explain how she managed to capture the hearts of the Australian people. It wasn’t just the matter of her winning but the manner in which she did it: in a word – courage. Once the secret of letting Flight run in her races had been stumbled upon, the challenge was laid down. Henceforth she would have to be caught; and then she would have to be beaten. The authorities might have impounded racing binoculars for the war effort, but who needed them when Flight was on the job.
Flight fought out finishes with some of the great horses of Australian racing – Bernborough, Shannon, Russia and Tranquil Star included – and she beat them all. Among the thousands of racegoers that thrilled to the sight of the little mare – all 15.2 hands of her – ears pinned back and defying the odds, many were servicemen in uniform on leave. Sacrifice and courage were qualities they understood only too well. In the closing years of the war, Australian and American troops serving in Darwin, New Guinea and the islands of the Pacific, received radio broadcasts of the great mare’s battles. Requests for photographs of Flight flooded into Army headquarters and newspaper offices alike; and she was idolised in the picture gallery of many an army hut or mess alongside those other fast ladies with good legs – Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable. Once wartime restrictions eased, and newspaper journalism returned to normal, some newspapers issued coloured supplements featuring Flight. One such example is reproduced below:
There is another aspect of Flight’s racing life that needs emphasis. It is the longevity of it and, in particular, those years it embraced. Remember, it began during the darkest days of World War II when the very future of civilisation as we knew it was being called into question. And it was still going strong long after the desperate German Fuhrer had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on that last day of April 1945. Never underestimate the significance of context and circumstance in the mythology of our heroes and champions, equine or otherwise. Just as the Great Depression embellished the Phar Lap legend, the Dark Age of World War II enhanced the mythology of Flight. Whether it was a black stallion like Katanga attempting to savage her or the handicapper attempting to stop her, she was very much a heroine for the times.
Flight also made unlikely folk heroes out of Brian Crowley and Frank Nowland too. In yet another example of the reflected glory that a famous racehorse can bring to an owner seeking a seat on the committee of a race club, in April 1944 Brian Crowley was elected to fill the A.J.C. vacancy created by the retirement of Sir Samuel Hordern. He easily defeated his two opponents, Sir Sydney Snow and A. E. Stephen. And it was thanks to Flight (and, no doubt, newly elected committeeman Crowley) that Nowland was elevated to the status of holding a No. 1 trainer’s licence at the beginning of the 1945-46 racing season.
At stud, Flight produced five foals – four colts and one filly – yet only one of them, Morning Wings, a moderate colt by Helios, was a winner. Flight died while foaling in late September 1953 at the Woodlands Stud at Denman; an unusually big foal by Confessor caused a haemorrhage and the great mare died soon after foaling. At the time of her death, Flight seemed to be a failure as a broodmare and among others, Clive Inglis marked her passing in his weekly Truth column with the observation: “she died this season at the age of thirteen without making any conspicuous contribution to posterity.” At the time it seemed a fair comment. Nor did her last foal – which was reared by hand – rescue her reputation, as he never made it to the racecourse.
However, the last chapter of the story of Flight was yet to be written and the key to it lay in her one surviving daughter. Although the eponymous Flight’s Daughter failed to win on the racecourse in just four appearances as a juvenile, she earned immortality as the mother of two Derby winners in Skyline and Sky High. Their stories will be told later in this chronicle. At least Flight’s breeder, Carl Schmidt, was spared the pain of realising just how far his mistake in parting with her as a yearling extended across the generations. Schmidt died in Orange Private Hospital at the age of eighty-two in September 1952, the season after Flight’s Daughter had raced both for the first and last time.
Looking back on that famous 1943 A.J.C. Derby years later, Jack Thompson believed the contest should have been much closer. Prior to the race, Brian Crowley had been plied with gratuitous advice as to how the filly should be ridden given the unenviable record of her sex in the race. Thompson recalled: “In those days it was the popular belief that it was impossible to lead all the way and win over the classic distance at Randwick. The speed of the race, as a result, was farcical. I led on Flight to the seven furlongs mark, going as slowly as possible. Then Ted Bartle took off on Moorland. The change of tempo pleased me, but when I put pressure on Flight in the straight she could not peg back Moorland. I know now that I would have been better off trying to lead all the way and make Moorland do the catching up in the straight; but thanks to Sir Brian’s many ‘experts’, I was tied down with instructions not to attempt to lead all the way.” Perhaps even Brian Crowley learned from the experience. I might observe that when Flight’s two grandsons carried the ‘orange and blue’ and avenged her in their Derby victories at Randwick and Flemington some fifteen years and later – they did so by being allowed to use their speed freely from the front.