The war ended in Europe on 8 May 1945 and while victory in the Pacific didn’t come until the surrender ceremonies aboard the battleship Missouri on 2 September, Australian racing had burgeoned throughout the year. Nearly all of the wartime restrictions had been abolished by Derby Day, including those on interstate transport before the spring meetings; but a persistent drought contributed to a fodder shortage, and as a result, the numbers of horses permitted to race in Victoria and NSW were drastically reduced. It was one thing for wartime restrictions to be lifted, it was another to return to normalcy after the upheaval of wartime legislation. A number of controversial issues confronted the Australian Jockey Club. Immediate lobbying began for the restoration of Wednesday racing in the metropolitan area, the prime movers in this direction being the Sydney Turf Club and the Owners and Trainers Association. While fodder restrictions meant the restriction couldn’t be lifted overnight, concerns for worker absenteeism and objections by religious bodies were to delay the resumption of Wednesday racing until the 1950s. When World War II ended the State Government had only approved licences for 34 meetings during the previous year compared to more than 150 such meetings the A.J.C. would be seeking. Moreover, the end of international military hostilities saw the resumption of domestic political hostilities between country clubs and provincial racing, one fearing competition from the other. The debate also resumed over the matter of the established clubs securing control of the provincial courses, or the prospect of new non-proprietary organisations being granted licences for such tracks. Breeders, of course, sought as much racing as possible as soon as conditions allowed.
In the days before World War II, there were three classes of racing viz. first class on Saturday; middle class on Wednesday; and the lower class on Tuesdays and a few Thursdays. Moreover, back in 1939 before hostilities broke out and when Sydney’s population numbered just one and a half million people, Sydney supported no less than nine separate racecourses. Ultimately, the Sydney Turf Club Act (1943) would see five of these courses disappear. Just for the record, those courses and the last meetings held there were Rosebery (July 10, 1940); Victoria Park (January 7, 1942); Kensington (July 18, 1942); and Ascot (August 15, 1942). Moorefield would be the last to linger with its final meeting conducted on July 14, 1951.
The only structural legacies from their histories that lasted down the years were the totalisator houses of Kensington and Victoria Park and the caretaker’s cottage at Ascot. Accordingly, racing wore an entirely different aspect in 1945 and it would be a long time before anything like the size and scope of pre-war racing resumed. However, the limited number of race meetings did mean that prize money was at a high and racecourse crowds even higher and nowhere was the general mood of euphoria in the wake of the War’s end more pronounced than at the yearling sales. In truth, the boom in bloodstock prices had anticipated the war’s end and had really begun the year before, at the 1944 Melbourne and Sydney Yearling sales. Which is where this story should start.
Considering that the guns were still blazing in Europe and elsewhere and it would be another twelve months before V.E. Day could be declared, astonishing prices were paid for yearlings in both Melbourne and Sydney in the autumn of 1944. Three factors contributed to this orgy of bidding viz. overall wartime prosperity, the surfeit of overseas money in Australia, and the knowledge that while the war wasn’t over, it was surely won. Russian lives and American materiel had largely seen to that. Melbourne started the rush when the previous Victorian record price for a yearling of 2750 guineas given in 1926 by Ben Chaffey for Manfred’s brother, was easily broken. At the Adamson, Mackinnon and Cox sale at Newmarket, 3400 guineas were given for a colt by Law Maker from Belle Gallante, a half-brother to Nuffield. That record was subsequently eclipsed at the same sales when an impressive colt by Dhoti out of Jeanne Hachette went for 3600 guineas. While the Law Maker colt virtually sunk without trace, the Dhoti colt registered as Leonard would go on to win the 1946 W. S. Cox Plate and C. B. Fisher Plate.
But it is the Newmarket sales of William Inglis and Son in Sydney a month later that most interest us here. Three hundred and twenty-five yearlings were sold for a record aggregate of 168,235 guineas and no fewer than fifty-two of them went for 1000 guineas or more. Every year for three generations a leather hammer or gavel in the hands of an Inglis had thudded onto the rostrum bench at the William Inglis sales. Costing grandfather William Inglis only ten shillings, it had accounted for millions of pounds worth of bloodstock down through the years. In the hands of Reg Inglis during that April week in 1944, it rose and fell monotonously until the Australian record aggregate had been reached. However, in doing so it experienced a seminal moment in its life. The leather-encased can handle split when it hammered out the final bid of 4500 guineas for a filly by Golden Sovereign from the A.J.C. Metropolitan winner, Feminist, bred at Herbert Thompson’s Tarwyn Park Stud. It was the highest price ever paid for a yearling filly in Australia or New Zealand and it had been paid by Harry McEvoy, a Sydney-based manufacturer and retailer of shoes.
However, despite the drama at the rostrum with the sale of the Golden Sovereign filly on the second day, the real excitement happened on the first. Tuesday, April 11, was the opening day of the Newmarket sales and buyers paid 64,970 guineas for 132 yearlings – a record result for the first day of any Sydney yearling sales. The total for the day was almost double that of any opening day since 1929. Indications that a record might be on the cards were apparent when within fifteen minutes of the beginning of the sales, a yearling brought 1050 guineas. From then on four-figure lots were regular and 21 yearlings of that first day’s total of 132 sold, brought between 2100 guineas and 1000 guineas. The attendance was one of the greatest in the history of the sales and the crowd overflowed from the stands into the sales ring itself. Many were present for the outstanding feature of that opening day and that was the bidding for the first progeny of the champion racehorse, Ajax. Only eight lots were catalogued: four colts and four fillies. All were being offered on account of A. W. Thompson and Company from the Widden Stud. Bright chestnuts of fine size and substance, the batch showed lovely quality. All eight yearlings sold for an aggregate of 11,850 guineas and all four of the Ajax colts were numbered amongst the top twenty prices realised for yearling stock at the whole of the sales.
The two highest-priced lots by Ajax sold were from the mares Only Us and Complete and came in at 2100 guineas and 2050 guineas respectively. The acquisition of those two matrons by Widden Stud is a tale of singular good fortune in itself that I think is worth telling. Both were acquired at the dispersal sale of James Barnes’ Canning Downs property in 1938. Clive Inglis attended that sale with a few commissions to buy mares for N.S.W. breeders, including one for Alf Thompson. The two mares in question were full sisters, and Clive managed to get them both for a total of just 310 guineas. It was a rum bit of horse-trading on Clive’s part, and, never slow on self-promotion, one that he wasn’t shy about discussing in later years.
The reason they went so cheaply was that they were by Bonnement, a very ordinary stallion by Tracery, although it was their female line that convinced Clive they were worth a risk. Their dam was We Two by Saltash from Trois by The Welkin from Teppo, and hence they tapped into one of the best female lines in the Australian Stud Book. Only Us cost 100 guineas and in time would produce Havoc by Ajax, on whom Darby Munro would win the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate in 1945. But the one that concerns us in this chapter was her younger sister, who was only two at the time and unnamed. Costing 210 guineas, she was ultimately registered as Complete and was to be the mother of the 1945 A.J.C. and V.R.C. Derby winner, Magnificent, the chestnut colt who sold for 2050 guineas at those 1944 Easter Sales.
The successful bidder was Moorefield trainer Arthur Croall, who was acting on behalf of Brighton-le-Sands publican Tod McLauchlan, a Fifeshire Scot, whose friends called him Mac. True to his Scottish heritage, McLauchlan could both play the bagpipes and sing the old Highland ballads, which made him a popular and entertaining host. Like many of his countrymen, he also had a love of horses. This colt, his latest purchase, was a big handsome chestnut with a white blaze and white socks and was very much like his sire in appearance, but possessing more length. Perhaps McLauchlan was also attracted by the colt’s set of Dundreary whiskers, which reminded him in a fashion of the Scottish highlands. Mac had actually dropped out when the bidding reached 2000 guineas but then had a change of heart and found 50 guineas more. McLauchlan dallied with many Scottish names for the yearling such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Laird O’Lathren and Rabbie Burns before coming to his senses and realising that the fit and proper name for such a flashy individual was Magnificent, just because that was how he looked. McLauchlan quickly became enamoured with the colt and he wasn’t just a Saturday afternoon owner. Mac’s hotel, which was on the corner of Bay St and The Grand Parade was within a couple of miles of Moorefield racecourse; most days he would stroll down to the stables when Magnificent was in work to feed him some loaf sugar and talk to him in his rich Scottish brogue. Historically, as we know, the Scots are brave, stubborn and courageous. The gallant steed Magnificent soon showed that he, too, possessed all three traits.
On pedigree and price, this latest blueblood was entirely different from the class of racehorse to which the 54-year-old Croall had become accustomed during his life on the racecourse. Like McLauchlan, Croall too was Scottish, a mediaeval surname deriving from the Kincardineshire region. Apprenticed as a jockey at the age of fourteen, Croall had encountered little success in the saddle before increasing weight forced a switch to the training ranks. For almost the next thirty years, Croall was part of the flotsam and jetsam of the racecourse, battling to eke out a living from slow horses and slower-paying clients, and not many of them at that. By prodigies of industry and hard work, and a keen judgement of horseflesh even when contained by a limited budget, Croall gradually began to acquire a reputation. The first decent horse he had was Castle Frontenac, which he trained for the Buxton family. The horse won his way through the grades before graduating in open company annexing a Winter Cup at Victoria Park and the Comfort Funds Cup at Randwick, as well as running second in a Squatters’ Handicap.
Just a year or two before he was training Castle Frontenac at Moorefield racecourse, Croall had made the acquaintance of a local publican, and fellow Scotsman, Alec (‘Sandy’) McLauchlan, whose Brighton Hotel had long been a popular haunt for racing men. McLauchlan commissioned Croall to buy him a couple of horses while he registered a set of racing colours with the A.J.C. consisting of a yellow jacket, brown diamond and sleeves, and a tartan cap, as befitted Mac’s origins. One of the horses acquired on his behalf was Annie Laurie, a daughter of Bullhead, which Croall got for just 110 guineas. She proved good enough as a three-year-old to fill the minor placing behind Flight in the Adrian Knox Stakes.
But more significantly for this story, as a juvenile, she managed to bring off a good thing in a nursery handicap at Randwick in June 1943 at odds of 20/1! Such success confirmed McLauchlan’s faith in Croall and the publican was cashed up when the Easter sales rolled around the following year, and he hit the jackpot with Magnificent. The colt showed promise from his very first track trials, although Croall was shrewd enough to disguise his ability from the touts. After a particularly satisfying gallop in late September 1944, Croall went to the Brighton Hotel and sought out McLauchlan. He declared: “Sandy, I’ve come to tell you that we’re going to win the Breeders’ Plate. I’ve tried your horse this morning, and he can’t lose.” Och aye! Now, this is the sort of intelligence that is music to an owner’s ears.
One of the great pleasures for a genuine racing man, apart from someone who follows the game purely as a gambler, is the anticipation of the early two-year-olds and their likely performance on the Turf given their ancestry. I have always derived great enjoyment from surveying juveniles making their debut in the saddling paddock and observing any likenesses to sire or dam in those instances when I’m familiar with a horse’s parentage. There are some racing seasons where this is a real pleasure if a particular favourite has progeny racing for the first time. Such was the case for many people in the 1944-45 racing season when those first offerings by Ajax stepped onto a racecourse. And Magnificent in his A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate debut didn’t disappoint. With the unfashionable ‘Pat’ Delaney in the saddle, and a small Stuart tartan ribbon tied to the bridle, the stable got better than tens for their money, and the flashy chestnut ran out the easiest of winners. Croall then sent the colt for a spell at Richmond until the autumn and a tilt at the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes double.
The Sires’ Produce Stakes that year at Randwick gripped the public imagination more than most recent runnings. Despite his Breeders’ Plate victory in the spring, Magnificent was preferred in the betting by the Agincourt filly, Courtship, trained by Frank Dalton at Randwick and unbeaten in her only five appearances, including the December Stakes by eight lengths and the Kirkham Stakes by three. Consequently, McLauchlan and Croall were able to get fives on course, although they wouldn’t have given twopence for their chances in the running. The course was soft as a result of recent rains, yet Courtship still tried to run them ragged. Magnificent, in only his third public outing and on shifting ground to which he was not accustomed, proved awkward to handle. The horse was down on his nose at the five; and ran into a series of checks after that, but when Courtship floundered in the final furlong, the gallant son of Ajax affirmed his class by getting up in the last stride to win by a head from Lucky Stream, with Courtship a half-head away third.
The following Saturday only three horses were saddled up to oppose Magnificent in the Champagne Stakes but even one of those, Jamelie, was out of it upon flagfall when she threw her jockey. Once again Courtship was preferred over Magnificent in the betting, and once again she attempted to lead all the way. For a moment in the straight, it seemed that the filly might justify her favouritism under Jack Thompson’s dashing ride, but Magnificent again produced a decisive turn of foot to win comfortably at the post. Admittedly, the wartime restrictions on the interstate transport of racehorses had reduced the depth and class of the rich juvenile events at the Randwick autumn fixture. But in winning the big double in the space of eight days, Magnificent became the first horse to do so since his sire Ajax; he retired to his winter quarters as a very firm favourite for the Derby.
There was an interesting postscript to Magnificent’s two-year-old season. Originally the horse had been registered in the ownership of a ‘Mr Todd’, a nom de course that played upon McLauchlan’s second name. However, with the proven ability of the horse, McLauchlan, like most proud men, could resist no longer the glamour and the reflected glory of publicly being associated with a putative champion of the Turf. The Keeper of the Stud Book, Mr Loddon Yuille, brought the application for a transfer of ownership under the notice of the Australian Jockey Club, and an official inquiry was held before duly processing the application. After all, there had been no fraudulent intent in the original registration. However, it was shortly after this, that the club severely curtailed the practice of having a nom de course.
While Magnificent was deservedly resting during the winter months much was happening in the wider world. With victory in Europe achieved and victory over Japan in the Pacific imminent, Australia’s great wartime Prime Minister John Curtin died of heart disease at The Lodge in Canberra on 5 July 1945. He was the second Australian prime minister to die in the office within six years following the death of Joseph Lyons in April 1939. Curtin had previously suffered a heart attack in November 1944 but had soldiered on developing post-war reconstruction plans with the end of the war in sight. Curtin was initially succeeded by his deputy Frank Forde for seven days as Australia’s 15th Prime Minister before a party ballot installed Ben Chifley as party leader and thereby Australia’s 16th Prime Minister on 13 July 1945. Thirty-three days later VP Day was declared, and ten days after that Magnificent began his three-year-old racing season at Randwick in the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes.
In those years, any winter during which a pronounced Derby favourite was scheduled to be ridden by an unfashionable jockey in the spring was bound to be a season of Machiavellian intrigue as rival leading jockeys lobbied both owner and trainer for the mount. McLauchlan and Croall were loyal men who intended to stick with Delaney. Indeed, during July when Magnificent resumed trackwork, Delaney left home to be nearer the colt. At McLauchlan’s request, Delaney became a house guest at his Brighton Hotel. Given its location, within walking distance of Moorefield racecourse where Magnificent was trained, it made the ideal base camp. Almost every morning during July and August, Delaney had risen at 5 a.m. to ride the colt in his slow and fast work. Upon his return to the Brighton Hotel, he would give Mac a detailed account of the workout.
Magnificent made his much-awaited seasonal re-appearance on 25 August in the Hobartville Stakes and won rather narrowly from Chaytor, although the margin had more to do with jockey Pat Delaney wanting to give the Derby favourite an easy race than any real threat from his rivals. Chaytor, like Magnificent, was trained at Moorefield but by Jack Cush. Alex McLauchlan being the generous publican that he was, had promised Cush a bottle of whisky when the Pacific War had ended. While McLauchlan had made good on the transaction some days before the Hobartville, Cush quipped after the race that he hadn’t had a drop of enjoyment from it. Cush explained: “I’ve had to take the whisky medicinally. Every time he steps out on the track, Magnificent gallops so brilliantly that I have to take a nip when I get home to steady my nerves.”
It was only after the Hobartville Stakes that Arthur Croall then decided to bypass the Canterbury Guineas in favour of tackling the older horses in the weight-for-age Chelmsford Stakes for the colt’s next assignment. Alas, Magnificent proved unequal to the task, running third behind the great New Zealand miler, Sleepy Fox, who was then enjoying his first campaign in Australia under the guidance of trainer Bayley Payten, with Russia in second placing. It was a performance that provided evidence for critics and admirers alike. It certainly wasn’t a failure to be beaten by two such fine gallopers, and yet the loss dampened some of the ardour that was beginning to swirl about Magnificent, with some sportsmen even declaring him a better horse than his sire Ajax before the race.
The colt’s pretensions to the Derby crown, however, seemed to become even more tenuous with his defeat in the Rosehill Guineas a week later, although there were legitimate excuses. Despatched as a two-to-one on favourite, Magnificent was cannoned into by Deliverance when the latter shied at the barrier strands rising too slowly at the start. Magnificent then dipped badly and almost fell at the back of the course. That the chestnut colt was able to keep his footing, work his way to the front, and even look the winner at the distance, was ample testimony to his class. The effort told, however, and his jockey was criticised for making too much use of the horse too soon after the mishap, leaving him without a finishing kick. Questing, a bay filly by Hua trained by George Johnson, was able to claim Magnificent in the final furlong to run out a comfortable winner.
Jockey Pat Delaney, who had partnered Magnificent in all of his previous victories, was already coming under pressure from more fashionable jockeys to keep the Derby mount on Magnificent. The Chelmsford defeat and the Rosehill contretemps certainly didn’t help his cause, and though Croall wished to retain Delaney, McLauchlan sought a substitute. While simultaneously professing faith in Delaney and denying leaked press reports that he was about to be replaced, the owner was frantically approaching leading Melbourne jockeys for the ride. Both Scobie Breasley and Harold Badger declined the mount due to prior commitments before Reg Heather was declared to warm the saddle just a few days before the Derby.
The Randwick Spring Meeting returned to a level of normalcy in 1945 following the cessation of hostilities. Racing on public holidays was once again permitted, and The Metropolitan was reinstated to its rightful place on Easter Monday. However, the recent occupation of the course by the Army had left an amount of debris in the centre of the course, which not only disfigured the grandeur of the place but severely restricted parking space. Moreover, the heavily laden army trucks of recent weeks had cut up parts of the track badly. Nonetheless, one notable change was the mood of the racegoers. The end of World War II was, according to the writer Philip Roth, “the greatest moment of collective inebriation in history” and there was plenty of evidence at Randwick on Derby Day to confirm that observation. With the declaration of the Derby field, it transpired that thirteen horses – eleven colts and two fillies – would contest the race.
The 1945 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Magnificent remained the easing favourite with the Maurice McCarten-trained Monmouth best backed to beat him. A son of Le Grand Duc retained to race by his breeder, Percy Miller, Monmouth had given Maurice McCarten his first classic as a trainer when he won the Canterbury Guineas by a head from the Hua filly, Questing, before occupying the minor placing behind that same filly in the Rosehill Guineas. Questing was the public’s third elect ahead of Chaytor, a brother to Skip Bomber, trained by Jack Cush, which had almost won the Hobartville Stakes carrying the colours made famous by Windbag. Excluding Magnificent, ultimately the best two horses to emerge from the race, Blue Legend and Columnist, received little market support. Trained by Bob Abbott, Blue Legend had been a present of Herbert Field’s to his mother when the colt was just a yearling. Although the smallest horse in the field, Blue Legend had managed to win two races at Randwick during the winter. But unfortunately, he suffered a disrupted Derby preparation when he missed the Rosehill Guineas after the horse float conveying him to the course broke down. Although he later galloped seven furlongs on the Rosehill track upon completion of the card, it wasn’t the ideal lead-up.
Columnist, on the other hand, was the first Derby runner of press baron and future A.J.C. committeeman, Frank Packer, and was trained by his nephew. An immature son of Genetout, the horse had only broken his maiden status in a minor three-year-old handicap at Rosehill the week before, and the Derby came too soon for him to reveal his real ability. Significantly, the field also included a Victorian colt, Fine Fettle, a half-brother to Simmering by Tudor King, trained by Roy Shaw, a man who was then beginning to make his mark in the training ranks of gallopers, having already distinguished himself as a leading trainer-reinsman in the world of trotting. At his previous start, Fine Fettle had finished second to Don Pedro in the Spring Stakes (1m) at Flemington; and it was the lifting of the road ban on transportation of racehorses that enabled Fine Fettle to become the first southern representative in the race since Laureate had carried off the Derby prize in 1941.
The doubt about Magnificent going into the Derby was whether or not the colt would stay a truly run mile-and-a-half. As it transpired, the question was never asked. There had only been three slower Derbies conducted at Randwick since Kilboy wallowed through a sea of mud in 1916 and as is so often the case in such affairs, there was much interference suffered by those behind the leaders. Magnificent, however, wasn’t one of the victims. The favourite jumped smartly and after that enjoyed the run of the race; being no worse than fourth until Reg Heather decided to launch his bid for victory upon entering the straight. The maiden performers, Guiding Light and Cavalero, had shared the lead throughout until Magnificent’s challenge, while Monmouth, the public’s second fancy, unsuited by the slow tempo and caught up in the roughhouse melee, was throughout among the tail-enders.
Magnificent went on to an effortless victory at the post, with Guiding Light and Cavalero holding onto the minor placings. Thus, the son of Ajax succeeded in the blue riband where the sire himself had failed. The deposed jockey, Pat Delaney, who watched proceedings through the window of the jockeys’ room, must have reflected ruefully on the hollowness of the win but at least he enjoyed the compensation of receiving a winning rider’s fee. On the other hand, the post-race dregs of the heady Derby draught held a bitter aftertaste for substitute jockey Heather. Stewards gave him a two-month suspension for crossing Blue Legend too sharply in the first furlong of the race and causing interference. At least Heather’s outing removed the problem of choosing between Magnificent and Don Pedro, his erstwhile classic mount, during the rich Victorian carnivals.
Unlike the Derby laureates of more recent years, the removal of wartime travel restrictions afforded Magnificent his opportunity to challenge Victoria’s finest and he left by train the following Monday with a stop-over in Albury for a few days en route. Croall had already anticipated the task of galloping in an anti-clockwise direction by training Magnificent the reverse way at Moorefield on slow mornings. That year Melbourne’s three-year-olds were rumoured to be well above the ordinary and three, in particular, Attley, Royal Gem, and Don Pedro were considered outstanding.
In the absence of Reg Heather, Jack O’Sullivan occupied the irons of the Randwick Derby winner. Magnificent’s first clash with the best of the Victorian colts came in the Caulfield Guineas. Alas, the chestnut cast a hind plate during the race and, despite finding the journey too short at this stage of his preparation, still managed to run fourth behind the dead-heaters Attley and Royal Gem, each bred at Ted Underwood’s Warlaby Stud, with Don Pedro filling the minor placing. When Don Pedro managed to run Flight to a half-head in the Cox Plate at his next start, and Magnificent finished last in the same race, bookmakers drastically revised the market for the Victoria Derby with Croall’s colt going to the post at Flemington at the generous odds of 15/1 while Don Pedro started at odds-on. It was a grand contest too, with Magnificent proving himself the finest colt of his year.
Don Pedro and Attley, the Victorian colts, looked like fighting out the finish a furlong from home, but Magnificent cut them down to win by a length from Don Pedro, with Attley three-quarters of a length away third. The victory was marred only by an on-course demonstration at the Sydney colt’s apparent form reversal. Immediately after the race, it was announced that Magnificent would be sent to the spelling paddock. None of the placegetters from either the A.J.C. or the Victoria Derby contested the Melbourne Cup that year although a few three-year-olds did run in the race won by the four-year-old chestnut mare Rainbird, ridden by Bill Cook. Leonard, carrying 7-stone and steered by Jimmy Duncan, did best of the three-year-olds by claiming the minor placing.
Unfortunately, the Victoria Derby proved to be Magnificent’s last victory on a racecourse. When the horse resumed in the autumn of 1946, he was troubled by niggling leg problems which saw him fail to even run a place in a six-horse field for the A.J.C. St Leger won by Gay Lad. A similar tale of woe attended Magnificent’s performances the following spring although he did run the mighty Bernborough to a neck when resuming in the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes. I don’t think that he was ever really intended to be a stayer and after failing in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in 1946, Croall resolved to set him for the Doncaster Handicap in the following autumn. Sent to the post at 12/1 in the hands of Vic Hartney, Magnificent injured his suspensory ligament and promptly retired from racing.
Sandy McLauchlan had no interest in retaining the horse as a stallion, and consequently, he was put up for auction at Newmarket in July 1947. By a curious coincidence, his sire Ajax was being offered for sale at the same time, and Magnificent followed him into the ring. W. J. (Bill) Smith finished up buying them both for 13,000 guineas and 6000 guineas respectively. Smith was one of Australia’s great industrialists of the twentieth century who spent his entire working life in the glass industry. Beginning as a humble glassblower, he had risen to become the managing director of Australian Consolidated Industries and had been largely responsible for building up that company.
The Turf had been Smith’s passionate hobby all his life, and the St Aubin’s Stud at Scone was his pride and joy on which he had spent upwards of £40,000 to establish. It was Smith who had bought the great Beau Pere from New Zealand, and for a time that stallion had stood at St Aubin’s before Smith on-sold him to Spendthrift Farms in the U.S.A. at a tidy profit. He was to be the first of some highly profitable stallions that Smith would sell into the American market and 1947 was to represent the high point of his horse trading when in the successive months of July and August he bought Ajax and Shannon for this purpose.
For a time, it seemed that Magnificent was destined for the northern hemisphere too, but instead, he was retained at St Aubin’s to carry on the Heroic line that had done so well for the stud in the form of the Victoria Derby winner, Hua. Alas, the Midas touch that Bill Smith brought to the world of corporate deals failed him in many of his bloodstock adventures and none more so than his purchase of Magnificent. In two seasons at his St Aubin’s Stud, the Derby winner failed to get one foal. Frustrated at the horse’s apparent infertility, Smith passed him on to Jack King who had previously been successful in treating Sir Hugh Denison’s imported horse, Merry Matthew, with a series of special injections. King tried the same programme on Magnificent before turning the horse out with a few mares on his property in the mountains. The experiment wasn’t a success, and although the horse did manage to get a handful of foals, none ever made their mark on the racecourse.
If Magnificent’s post-meridian career following his Derbies was less than splendid, that of trainer Arthur Croall was, ultimately, to be tragic. In the immediate aftermath of Magnificent’s string of triumphs during 1945, the future looked golden indeed. And so it proved – for a while. Flushed with money after Magnificent’s brilliant first two seasons on the Turf, ‘Sandy’ McLauchlan commissioned Croall to buy him another couple of horses at the 1947 Easter Yearling Sales. This time his choice fell upon a good-looking son of Midstream that cost him 2600 guineas at the fall of the hammer. Registered as Riptide and sporting the now familiar colours of the popular Brighton publican, the colt won three of his five starts as a juvenile including the Breeders’ Plate and Sires’ Produce Stakes. He won the Canterbury Guineas the following season, too, but then lost form when tried over longer distances. Croall had also managed to buy Mine Host – like Magnificent, another son of Ajax – which won the 1948 Carrington Stakes in the hands of George Moore. There was no premonition of impending doom here. However, the fortunes of the racecourse are capricious, and Croall was a soft touch and a heavy gambler when coins jingled in his pocket.
When Sandy McLauchlan died in October 1951, Croall lost his best and most generous patron. Nonetheless, for a time it seemed that McLauchlan’s family might continue to race some horses. Croall attended the 1952 Inglis Yearling Sales and for McLauchlan’s estate picked up what appeared to be a couple of bargains in Bartrix (110 guineas) and Estaca (575 guineas) when the pair won their respective heats at the official September two-year-old trials at Randwick. Alas, the two colts only flattered to deceive and after a series of disappointing performances, McLauchlan’s heirs transferred their horses, including the useful Golden Brew, to Harry Darwon. Perhaps the real turn in fortune’s wheel, however, came when Moorefield racecourse itself, was sold by the Sydney Turf Club, eventually to make way for a housing scheme, and Arthur Croall was forced to find stabling elsewhere.
Eleven trainers were operating out of Moorefield when the old course closed down, and while the transition proved traumatic for most of them, it was especially so for Croall. In October 1955 he moved into a house and stables at Rosehill in Aston St under a concession arrangement brokered by the Sydney Turf Club committee. It wasn’t an auspicious change, and the winners began to dry up, and the hard-bitten trainer’s familiarity with poverty and hardship renewed. And so, began the inexorable slide towards that grim day in June 1959 when the loss of a prospective champion out of his stables in Martello Towers, and the unfounded rumour that the Australian Jockey Club would not renew his trainer’s licence, so unhinged Croall’s mind that he took his own life. He was found hanging from a trellis in the yard of his Rosehill stables.
Before passing completely from the subject of the 1945 A.J.C. Derby, allow me a word on a couple of the unplaced horses in that classic. Time would show that both Blue Legend and Columnist were high-class gallopers. In 1946 Blue Legend would win both the A.J.C. Doncaster and Epsom Handicaps, and then add a second Doncaster Handicap in 1947 carrying 8 st 11lb as a four-year-old. It is interesting to speculate as to what might have happened in the Derby had the son of Waikare not suffered that mishap with the horse float on Rosehill Guineas Day, although he was far more suited to the mile. However, undoubtedly the best horse to emerge from that 1946 Derby at Randwick was Frank Packer’s Columnist.
The chestnut stallion would win some good weight-for-age races in those famous colours of ‘green and white hoops, red cap’ and crown his career on the racecourse by taking out the 1947 Caulfield Cup with nine stone when trained by Maurice McCarten. Columnist was part-owned by the divisive newspaper and magazine proprietor, Frank (later Sir Frank) Packer. When television came to Australia in 1956, Packer was awarded the licence for TCN 9 in Sydney. As Maurice Cavanough relates in his excellent publication ‘The Caulfield Cup’, Frank was not averse to telephoning Channel 9 to demand a Saturday night replay if he was entertaining dinner guests at home and one of his horses had been successful that afternoon. As Cavanough drily observed: “It is a fair guess if Australia had had television in 1947, TCN 9 viewers would have become very familiar with the running of that year’s Caulfield Cup.” Columnist did service at the Aluinn Stud and the first of his progeny to win was Storyteller, an ill-fated gelding raced by Frank Packer with his friend L. K. Martin and trained by Charlie Cullen. I might add that at stud, Columnist also sired that useful stayer, Essayist.
I noted at the beginning of this chapter that for all the high prices commanded by the progeny of Ajax on the first occasion of their auction, the highest-priced paid at those William Inglis Yearling Sales during Easter 1944 was a filly by Golden Sovereign. So, whatever became of her? Funny you should ask. Registered as Anne-Tien-Et, during her first season she won only one race – at Rosehill on December 16, 1944 -and the prize money was £252. In the autumn she did manage to run fourth behind Magnificent in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes but in January 1946, following the death of her owner Harry McEvoy, Anne-Tien-Et was sold again, this time as a broodmare, for just 1600 guineas having originally cost 4500 guineas. It is a cautionary tale on the risks undertaken when paying big money for yearlings although the personal back story of Harry McEvoy and Anne-Tien-Et is particularly poignant.
Born in Sydney in 1893 and educated at St Joseph’s and Riverview College, Harry McEvoy was a third-generation member of a family that manufactured shoes. It was his grandfather who had started the business in a small shop on the corner of George and Bathurst streets. During the harsh years of the Great Depression, Harry, strongly supported by his wife Ettie, resolved to retain all of his staff working at full production, despite the fact that there was no immediate prospect of selling all the shoes that were being produced. It was then that McEvoy took the plunge and opened a series of retail stores, trading under the name of Fostar’s Shoes, to dispose of his surplus stocks. It was those stores that made his fortune such that when he died at the age of fifty-two in November 1945 his estate was valued for probate at £130,000.
A soldier in World War I, McEvoy started his own business in the years after that conflict and garnered an extraordinary reputation for fair dealing, which wasn’t seriously affected by the famous ‘forged stamp boot case’, in which charges were preferred against McEvoy who was then manufacturing Australian military boots. Those charges were dismissed both by a Magistrate’s Court and the High Court of Australia. Speed was always Harry’s raison d’etre. He was fast on the hockey field and played first grade for years with the Western Suburbs club in Sydney; he was one of the early promoters of speedway racing in Australia; and, for a time, he held the Australasian record for unlimited powerboats. He was also an accomplished pilot who loved flying his own plane. Alas, this speed of flight never quite translated to his racecourse adventures.
Harry was a driven but happy man, at least until the outbreak of World War II. In the early months of 1942, his only two sons, Andrew and John, serving with the 8th Division in Singapore were captured and became prisoners of war for three years, while shortly after their capture, their mother and Harry’s first wife, died, although he did marry again in 1943. Harry McEvoy’s spectacular expenditure on bloodstock in the last years of World War II should be seen as a wanted distraction to the sadness that had engulfed his life. Apart from the death of his first wife, for three years, he had no knowledge as to whether his two sons were dead or alive. The record-priced Golden Sovereign filly that he purchased in April 1944 was subsequently registered as Anne-Tien-Et, a name derived from those of his first wife Ettie (Henrietta), his only daughter Tien, and his second wife Anne. A name, so lovingly chosen, and a price so lavishly paid, deserved success both on the racecourse and in the breeding barn. Alas, Anne-Tien-Et achieved neither. As mentioned above, she won just one minor juvenile race at Rosehill while at stud, she dropped nothing of note. It was always Harry’s claim that he would rather see his horse lose a good race than win an easy one and it was a claim fully borne out on the track itself.
Anne-Tien-Et wasn’t the only extravagant purchase that Harry made in the yearling ring. The following year in April 1945, he paid 5250 guineas for a colt by Ajax out of Privet that raced as Tengur. It was estimated that McEvoy spent £15,000 in the last two years of his life seeking some distraction in bloodstock and he even constructed a modern training track and polo ground at Cobbitty, near Camden, where he worked his racehorses and laid the foundation of his stud. Although he bought and raced some high-priced thoroughbreds, his close associates insisted that he rarely had a bet. All of Harry’s racehorses were trained by the veteran Ike Andrews, who prepared the great Rivoli all those years earlier and he had no less than six of Harry’s horses in training at the time of the shoe retailer’s death. Andrews would win a few races with Tengur but only after Harry McEvoy had departed the earth. The one redeeming happiness of the last weeks of Harry’s life, apart from the love of his second wife and daughter, was that he lived just long enough to learn of his two sons’ survival and to see them again after their return on the ship, Esperance Bay. However, the mental torment over the boys’ very existence for three long years seriously undermined Harry’s health and contributed hugely to his death.
Before I leave this chapter altogether, I might note that the 1945 A.J.C. Derby was the last conducted with George Main as Chairman of the Australian Jockey Club. On Friday, November 23, some eight weeks after the classic was run, Main resigned his office although he was to remain on the committee until April 1947. Aged sixty-six at the time of his resignation from the chairmanship, Main had succeeded to the office upon the death of Sir Colin Stephen in 1937; he was the oldest chairman in the club’s history. In truth, the war years had taken their toll and Main had wanted to resign some two years earlier, but through an honourable sense of duty persevered until the War ended. Main lived on his property at Illabo in the Riverina and transport conditions made it difficult for him to travel regularly to Sydney. The post-war challenges now confronting the club demanded a chairman constantly in attendance in Sydney. It was also the dawn of a new age that demanded a chairman who was not merely an experienced administrator, but a man of imagination and judgement with his ear to the ground. As Main’s successor, the club elected the deeply conservative Anglophile, Alan Potter. In keeping with the grand and venerable traditions of the club, Potter was no more than fifty years behind the times.
Thanks for the feedback!
Alex Mc Lauchlan
Hi Ian, hardy seems like 4 years ago that we exchanged my childhood memories of Magnificent. My grandfather Alexander Todd ( Sandy ) Mc Lauchlan would delight in this article. The photo of Sandy is a gem as the hat , like most in those years ago was standard attire.
However the walk from the Brighton Hotel corner of Bay Street & The Grand Parade to Moorefield Race Course corner of President Ave & Princes Highway is probably 3 k. Minor detail. Thanks for bringing back such fond memories.
Hi Alex, It is nice to hear from you again and I hope that you are well. I’m pleased that you think your grandfather would have approved of my article! Of course, the chapter benefited greatly from those three coloured photographs that you kindly sent to me and allowed me to publish. I’ve had quite a bit of complimentary feedback on that 1945 chapter quite apart from your own. I’ll amend the reference about the walk from the Brighton Hotel corner to Moorefield. I’ve never done it but I have no doubt that you made that journey many times in your youth. Thanks again and best wishes! Ian
Alex Mc Lauchlan
Hi Ian, there were several , I think either before or immediately after Annie Laurie. Blanket & Parramatoo but their ability probably limited their success to just a couple of victories.
Permel ( a beautiful grey ) was in the stables in Sans Souci but after six seconds was transferred & had immediate success, won six of his next seven starts, all for the new owners, ouch.
Estaca was transferred to Victoria, Ballarat I think & after a poor effort there went to Packenham, was backed from 15/1 to 7/2 charged home from last on the turn to win going away by 11/2 lengths. Dad flew down as the trainer was very keen & would have been responsible for the big plunge. We had a old 78 record of the win, which we all enjoyed over & over.
There was an unnamed Gabador colt who had a ton of ability but when Norm Munsie knocked on our door at Ramsgate, crying his eyes out it took him an eternity to break the bad news.
Martello Towers was named by my dad after the defensive towers built along the coast in Scotland. Dad was a champion runner at Fort Street High , I think Bobby Vagg broke his record. Dad like his father, Sandy both under 5 foot 6’ were not to be trifled with.
My sister sent me some old photos & this prompted these memories. Turning 80 this month, glad the brain is still working.
Thanks again for your amazing story on Magnificent.
Hi Alex, It is nice to hear from you again! I just hope that if I get to 80, I’m as sharp as you. I like the sound of both your Dad and grandfather. That Magnificent chapter wouldn’t have been as good as it is without your help! Thanks again and I hope that you celebrate becoming an octogenarian in real style! Regards, Ian
You may be interested to know that my parents purchased a block of land in Sans Souci (address 87 Alice St) c1960 & built our house on it. It was in the family until the mid 1990s. The stables remained through the time we lived there: stablehand’s room (it had a fireplace, so probably bedroom) that my father converted to a garage, tack/feed room + about 4 stalls (dividers & doors had gone). I believe that the stables originally extended across the neighbouring block but they had gone by 1960. I recall an ‘old gentleman’ who was in some way involved with the sale telling my father that ‘he’d never seen so much money than what was tipped there on the bed after the connections came back from Magnificent’s VRC Derby win’. I have a photograph of my parents & grandparents standing under the plaster arch at the front of the drive: perhaps rather poignantly given Arthur Croall’s life, the name ‘Annie Laurie’ is plain to see on the arch…
Hi Terry, Thanks for taking the time to leave those comments on my website. Are you saying that the land your father built on was once part of Arthur Croall’s original stables? The reason why I ask is that I hadn’t really sought out the exact location of Croall’s Sans Souci stables in my research. Some of the background information to my 1945 chapter was derived from Alec McLauchlan’s grandson, who was kind enough to send me some photographs as well but I never thought to ask him for Croall’s original address.
Alex Mc Lauchlan
Hi Terry Heath,
Very refreshing to read your comments. The Brighton Hotel our early home was a playground for young boys bent on getting into mischief. A very large German shepherd named Peter afforded my brother John & myself with riding practice. Around 1946 we moved to 244 The Grand Parade Ramsgate & this house looks mostly unchanged from that time.
In those days we were not allowed bikes as our uncle Alex ( dad’s younger brother ) died in a bike accident. So we used to walk/run everywhere.
The stables in Alice St could only have been part of the family’s concern as Annie Laurie was an early winner for A. T. Mc Lauchlan.
The distance from 244 to Alice St ( for some reason I thought it was Sandringham St ) was not far & at least my memory does recall the stables being half way up the street. Mostly of timber, plenty of sand for the stable enclosures was somewhere in the mind of this 80 year old.
A.T. did love a bet , as my dad followed his father’s lead it does seem likely that Magnificent win in the VRC Derby would have resulted in your story of a room full of money.
The WS Cox Plate was a great victory for Flight in 1945 on a worse than soft track. Magnificent did not handle the tight track, ran wide on the home turn & was labeled a horse that could not handle the reverse way of going. Don Pedro ran a close second to Flight & started a short priced favourite for the Derby, while Magnificent started @ 15/1. An easy win.
Great story of the old stables. Thanks
Hi Ian and Alex,
I wonder if you ever came across Dr Kevin Clifford in your days at Randwick (I believe he was a GP for the AJC) during the 1940s? He’s my grandfather.
Also, did you ever know of a jockey with the surname Wood (or Ward) from Murrirundi during that era? He too might have been named Kevin but I’m unsure. He’s my husband’s grandfather and I am trying to learn more about that lineage.
Many thanks for any light you can shed.
Kind regards, Stephanie
Alex Mc Lauchlan
Sorry for the delayed reply. However I cannot confirm any knowledge of your grandfather. Only Arthur Ward comes to mind, he was up there with the very best like Neville Selwood, George Moore ( who rode Riptide ) , Jack O ‘ Sullivan, Jack Thompson & Bill Cook.