Somewhere in the course of the 1950s for me at least, this history starts to slip the confines of the State Library’s archives and the research facilities of the A.J.C. offices. The names begin to have faces and personalities; the races themselves stir memories. I recognise them as belonging to the playground of my own experience. I think it is the year 1956 that marks the first emergence of this consciousness in me for the winner of the Derby that year was Monte Carlo. It was a name that was bound to resonate with any child of those times and in my naive infant imagination, it seemed so right that my first champion racehorse should happen to be named after my favourite sweet biscuit.
It was a year or two before I came to realise that the name had a far more sophisticated derivation and one altogether appropriate for the racecourse – after all, it was W. Somerset Maugham who had once famously described Monte Carlo and its principality Monaco as “a sunny place for shady people.” However, there was nothing shady about the two principals responsible for this colt’s rise to prominence, for Frank Dalton and Jack Thompson were two of the finest characters ever to venture upon the Australian Turf. One of the most successful trainer-jockey partnerships during the 1940s and 1950s in Australian racing, for all of their success in winning premierships and major races, the pair had never been linked together with a major classic contender until that 1956-57 racing season when Monte Carlo arrived upon the scene.
Francis John Dalton was born in 1890 in Nundle, an old gold mining town about 250 miles north of Sydney on the Peel River, the son of a mounted policeman. In those years around the turn of the century, most policemen serving in country districts used horses in the exercise of their duties. Frank Dalton naturally enough learned to ride from an early age. It was when his father transferred to Manilla, near Tamworth, that young Frank journeyed down to Sydney to spend a fortnight of his school holidays with his uncle, Richard O’Connor, who maintained the ‘Sunnyside’ training stable at Kogarah, which overlooked Botany Bay and was only a stone’s throw from Moorefield racecourse.
O’Connor had served his own apprenticeship with Tom Lamond at Zetland Lodge and had been a very capable jockey in his day, winning the 1883 Sydney Cup on Darebin and The Metropolitan in 1879 on Secundus. A dapper little man, he surrendered the saddle when the wasting got too difficult but had made a successful transition to the ranks of trainers by the time Dalton joined him. Early in his training career, O’Connor was associated with a quite remarkable incident in Australian racing, although one that has been all but forgotten today. On October 17, 1903, in the Moorefield Handicap at Moorefield racecourse, O’Connor saddled up the equal favourite Highflyer that subsequently ran a triple dead-heat with Loch Lochie and Barinde. It was, of course, in the days before the camera, and being unable to separate the three horses the judge declared that there should be a run-off after the following race. The run-off transpired but with the amazing result that the same three horses couldn’t be separated the second time either, whereby it was decided to split the stakes.
Better-class winners were to follow this curious episode for O’Connor and by the time Dalton joined him he had already trained the winner of a V.R.C. Newmarket in Pendant (1906) and was enjoying a golden era in his training fortunes that included Istria’s Doncaster Handicap (1907) and a tremendous betting coup when Scotland gave him a second V.R.C. Newmarket in 1908. All three of those racehorses were raced by James Brennan, a world-weary Englishman who had first travelled to Australia to compete as a sprinter in foot races, which were subject to big-money wagering in those days. Brennan later brought out the famous Jack Johnson, one-time heavyweight champion of the world, for a series of boxing contests. Sad to say, despite O’Connor’s run of success with Brennan-owned gallopers, trainer and owner fell out shortly after Brennan placed Linacre in the Sunnyside stables.
Nonetheless, it was this brand of success that Richard O’Connor had achieved with Pendant, Istria and Scotland which first brought William Brown to him as a client and among the many winners that he trained for Brown was Piastre in the Melbourne Cup of 1912. This, then, was the calibre of the man who first taught a young Frank Dalton the rudiments of the Turf. At the time, young Frank was approaching the end of his schooldays and was so taken by stable life that he persuaded his parents to allow him to stay on and become apprenticed to his uncle. His apprenticeship papers were signed in December 1908 and what was intended to be a fortnight’s holiday extended to a close collaboration with Dick O’Connor for almost fifteen years. O’Connor taught Dalton not just how to prepare a horse but how to execute a betting coup at the same time. When old Richard O’Connor, who retired in 1934, finally died in August 1945, as both he and a long line of bookmakers over the years could attest, Frank Dalton had absorbed the lessons well.
Dalton came out of his time in early 1912 and although he had ridden a few winners increasing weight and fewer opportunities forced him out of the saddle. He first took out a trainer’s licence at the beginning of the 1913-14 racing season, renting boxes in Doncaster Avenue and training at Kensington. O’Connor by this time had shifted his own training operations to Randwick and kept a keenly avuncular eye on his nephew during the formative years of Dalton’s training career. Dalton started with a very limited string of ponies at the cheap end of the sport, but a cracker 14.2 hands pony named Sayhome was the first horse to put him on the map. Still, Dalton found the going tough. In November 1919 Dalton and his jockey were disqualified for twelve months by stipendiary stewards acting for the Rosehill Racing Club over the running of Girdler. The 1920s and the early years of the Depression proved challenging. Eventually, however, Dalton’s training prowess attracted some well-heeled clients including the likes of Graham Waddell and Wally Freeman, and a useful horse in Grand Warbler, saw him promoted to a No. 1 licence in August 1935 at his Botany St stables.
It was around this time that Dalton’s success attracted the attention of one of those now forgotten characters of the thirties – the colourful and flamboyant John Woolcott Forbes – another of those likeable larrikins that seem to litter the Australian Turf down through the years. An inveterate gambler who bet fearlessly and in huge amounts, his assaults on the betting ring saw him dubbed by the Sydney sporting press as ‘The Bullfighter’. Born in March 1903 at Prospect, a northern suburb of Adelaide, and christened Louis Brandi, he only became Woolcott Forbes in his early thirties when his step-father’s sister agreed to give him a loan of £10,000 provided he changed his name. As he later quipped: “I would have changed my name to Billy the Blackfeller for £10,000.” At the height of his fame, he was seen as the man with the Midas touch and certain aspects of his life bear comparison with the later Alan Bond.
In 1944 he would be found guilty of forging £42,000 worth of share certificates and sentenced to five years gaol, three-and-a-half of which he served at Long Bay. However, in 1935 when his name first became linked with big wagers on Dalton’s horses, he was seen as the coming man. When Frank Dalton won a two-year-old race with Cascade at Randwick in the autumn of that year, The Bullfighter locked horns with the bagmen and dragged a swag from them, backing the horse from 20/1 into 8/1. Woolcott Forbes’ next dalliance with a Dalton neddy on a racecourse wasn’t to be so fortuitous. In October 1935 Dalton had set a chestnut son of Heroic for a Trial Stakes at Randwick on Derby Day, and he gave The Bullfighter the nod to tickle up the ring. Alas, the chestnut met interference in running and could only finish sixth. Just what a good thing he must have been if he had enjoyed a smooth passage may be gleaned from the fact that the horse’s name was Silver Standard!
Silver Standard’s breeder, Herbert Thompson, had raced the colt as a two-year-old after he had failed to make his reserve as a yearling. Although he won at Hawkesbury for Thompson, Silver Standard was somewhat disappointing in his first season, and the horse was passed on to Bill Freeman, a client of Dalton. Few horses have been unluckier on the Turf. In 1936 the chestnut put together a sequence of seconds that included the Doomben Cup, The Metropolitan, the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup. The following season Silver Standard again ran second in The Metropolitan when a hot favourite and also second in the City Tattersall’s Gold Cup. Dalton all his life was renowned for his dry humour but even he, not to mention the Bullfighter, had difficulty raising a laugh over Silver Standard’s catalogue of near misses. Some critics muttered that it was a case of a good horse with a bad trainer.
But Dalton’s luck was about to change. For it was in 1937 that a certain Vic Thompson journeyed to Sydney by train, and presented his lanky stepson at Dalton’s Randwick stables seeking to become an apprentice jockey. A stock inspector hailing from a well-known family of horsemen in the Nambucca district on the N.S.W. north coast, Vic Thompson was rather proud of Jack, and his prowess in the saddle. Born in November 1922 in Macksville, by the age of eight the lad had been crowned champion boy rider at the Macleay and Taree Shows as well as other towns on the north coast – and not just on horses, but bareback on bucking bullocks to boot. One day among the crowd who witnessed the boy’s exhibition at the Macksville Show was the well-known racing man, Percy Basche. Basche had bred and raced some good horses in partnership with Herbert Thompson, most of which were trained by Frank Dalton. Basche was so impressed with the lad’s lightness of touch on a horse that he approached Thompson senior and assured him that if young Jack ever wanted to become a jockey when he got older, he guaranteed he would get him into a good Sydney stable. It was to be a few years later – after Thompson had reached the age of fifteen and passed his intermediate exams – that his father sought out Basche for the redemption of his promise.
When the kindly Frank Dalton first saw the lad, he hesitated about taking him on, fearing that the tall youngster would soon become too heavy. But the hesitancy soon disappeared after he legged up the boy onto a couple of his horses and watched him ride work. Dalton couldn’t get Thomspon senior to the A.J.C. offices quickly enough to sign the necessary papers. It was to be the start of a sensational apprenticeship and an enduring friendship that would last to the very end. Thompson rode his initial winner during May 1938 on the country track at Tamworth and the first of his many wins in feature races on Bringa in the 1939 A.J.C. Summer Cup. It was in that 1939-40 season that Thompson won the first of his four successive apprentices’ premierships while the following season – when he rode 106 winners – Thompson had the distinction of becoming the first rider to win the Sydney jockeys’ premiership while still an apprentice, eventually winning five such titles in all! Testimony to the special relationship forged by Dalton and Thompson is that the trainer never deducted a penny from the apprentice’s earnings during his indentures, which ended on November 25, 1943, and would have run into thousands, even though by regulations Dalton was entitled to a quarter of the amount.
Thompson’s successful apprenticeship coincided with a boost in Dalton’s training fortunes as well. Good clients with good horses began to seek him out. Yours Truly, a New Zealand Cup winner, owned in partnership by Sir Thomas Gordon, Wally Freeman and F.W. Hughes, gave Dalton his first feature victory when he won the 1941 Moonee Valley Cup. In 1942 Dalton won the Epsom with Freckles for Norman Frazer, and his new wonder apprentice rode the horse. Other clients such as Sid Field, W. J. (Bill) Smith, Herbert Thompson and Percy Basche followed and with the flourish of success in 1944 Dalton purchased the famous training establishment built in Bradley St by ‘Lucky’ Dan O’Brien of Carbine fame, originally known as Mount Vernon. Over the years the stables had housed some of the finest gallopers to grace the Australian Turf, and Frank Dalton’s occupancy would invest the stables with even greater lustre. Shannon was the first of them when Frank Dalton trained the six-year-old stallion for four starts for new owner Bill Smith, after the death of Peter Riddle, and before the horse’s departure for the U.S.A. There were smart juveniles as well during those early years, but the stable had no luck with either Derby horses or likely Cups candidates until the year 1949 when a certain horse named Count Cyrano came along. And thereby hangs a tale.
One of Frank Dalton’s staunchest patrons, Ken Austin, had bred the horse from a mare named Raphis, an unraced full sister to Phar Lap, which he acquired soon after setting up as a breeder in New Zealand. Phar Lap had four full sisters, and while only one of them showed ability in races, two of them didn’t race at all. Austin acquired Raphis from her breeder before she had produced any progeny at stud, having missed in her first two seasons. Her first foal was the good colt, John O’London, winner of the C.J.C. Champagne Stakes. With a start like that Austin was convinced he’d found the ideal foundation mare for his fledgeling stud. Her next foal, Swingalong, had some ability too, winning the Great Northern Oaks at Auckland on a heavy track, but it was the fourth foal of Raphis that was to be the racehorse for Austin to build a dream on. Registered as Cyrano, he raced only once as a juvenile when unplaced in an unsuitably short five-furlong handicap at the Canterbury Jockey Club’s 1948 Autumn Meeting. Ken Austin then arranged to have the colt sent across the water to Frank Dalton.
Re-registered here as Count Cyrano, Jack Thompson partnered him to win a race at the 1949 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting although the horse was immature and still growing. The canny Dalton considered that come spring he would be well-nigh invincible over a bit of ground. As good as Silver Standard had been, the trainer was confident that Count Cyrano would go one better in the Melbourne Cup than his old favourite. But in what was to be the tragedy of Dalton’s training career, after trotting up to win an open handicap at Rosehill and then The Metropolitan at Randwick when favourite, Count Cyrano was killed as a result of an accident at Caulfield racecourse. It happened on the morning of the Hotham Handicap only days before the Melbourne Cup for which he was strongly supported.
Count Cyrano had just established a new record on the training track for nine furlongs and was headed back to his stall when a horse bolted on the tan and cannoned into him. Dalton was devastated. Right to the very end of his life, the trainer maintained that Count Cyrano was the best horse ever to pass through his hands. The one consolation for Dalton was that in his stables was a full sister to the putative champion in Bobalong, also owned by Austin. Alas, the mare only had a fraction of her older brother’s ability, although Dalton did manage to win a seven-furlong handicap at Randwick with her as a four-year-old when ridden by Jack Thompson. Bobalong wasn’t kept on the racecourse the following season, rather she returned to Ken Austin’s Inglewood Stud in New Zealand for breeding purposes.
Bobalong’s first foal, Final Lap, also came to Australia where he won two very minor races worth just £42, and perhaps Austin was starting to wonder whether the rich vein of Raphis blood was beginning to dry up when Bobalong foaled a strongly-made bay colt to his own stallion, Lucky Bag, in the spring of 1953. Austin offered the youngster at the National Yearling Sales in New Zealand in January 1955 but luckily for him, bidding did not reach the 2000 guineas reserve. Tom Smith offered 1500 guineas, but Austin resolved to retain the bay. Later on, Dick Roden was given an option to buy but upon veterinary advice decided to forego the opportunity. Such then are the vagaries of retaining a Derby winner, for the colt in question was none other than Monte Carlo. After the horse had proved to be first-class Austin reflected on his luck in keeping him: “I think Smith wouldn’t pay any more for him because he is the most awkward horse I have ever ridden or broken in. He can’t walk, and he trots badly. He almost fell with me twice because of his habit of plaiting his feet. When he went to Frank Dalton’s stables he was so awkward Dalton was afraid he would fall walking up the ramp from the road to his stables.”
Awkward he may have been, but when the colt began to sparkle in early morning gallops on the Randwick course during the mid-summer of his juvenile season Dalton realised that he’d unearthed a diamond. Monte Carlo only started four times during that first season, winning once and that at his last appearance in late July. The race in question was a Rosehill two-year-old maiden handicap and Dalton had laid out his charge for a bit of action in the betting ring. Despite the presence of a hot favourite in Prince Morvi, Monte Carlo was a well-supported second favourite at 5/2 even though the soft going was thought to be against him. The favourite might have missed the start but few who witnessed proceedings thought it made any difference to the result. Monte Carlo trotted up by nine lengths with Jack Thompson sitting hard against him. The Dalton gang had struck again, and this time with some style! It was the first full blush of promise from a colt that had Derby written all over him.
1956 was a year in which the best juvenile form failed to translate into the classics. Top weight in the Free Handicap with 9 st. 5lb had been Gay Sierra, a son of Gabador that had brought the highest price of 4500 guineas at the New Zealand Yearling Sales. Trained by Morrie Anderson at Rosehill for the Voet family, he won both the V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes and the A.J.C. Sires Produce Stakes but failed to carry the penalty in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes to finish the season with earnings of £8,285. Rated one pound behind Gay Sierra was Starover, a brilliant son of Star Kingdom from his second crop, and, like Kingster from the same stallion’s first crop, raced in the colours of Les Gibson and trained by Jack Green. To buy two yearlings in successive years by the same stallion and for them each to prove the very best of their generation is a remarkable coincidence in anybody’s language, but it spoke volumes for Green’s judgement. Starover managed to win the Maribyrnong Plate, Merson Cooper Stakes and VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes but, like Gay Sierra, was too brilliant to be ever seriously trained for the Derby. Starover was sold to America after only two starts at three. In comparison with this pair, Monte Carlo received just eight stone in the Free Handicap.
The preliminaries leading into the Derby also failed to clarify the picture. When the Genetout colt Commissionaire won the Hobartville Stakes at Warwick Farm and Movie Boy the Canterbury Guineas, they seemed the obvious Derby colts, but Movie Boy failed to stand up to training and Commissionaire was scratched from the classic after betraying his lack of stamina in the Guineas at Rosehill. As is generally the case in a year where no three-year-old is dominant, many owners were emboldened to try for the Derby prize and an unusually large field of nineteen accepted for Randwick. Monte Carlo had run two minor placings in unsuitably short handicaps behind Movie Boy, before finishing a most unlucky fourth in the Rosehill Guineas. On the strength of that run, Thompson confided in Dalton his belief that the colt was a good thing for the Derby, and although bookmakers didn’t share his ebullience, Monte Carlo was installed as the second elect for the classic.
The favourite was Fire Flash trained by Morrie Anderson at Rosehill, who earlier that season had been granted a No. 1 licence. The little colt had scored a hat-trick of wins including a handicap against four-year-olds at the Tattersall’s Club meeting at Randwick, before running a good third in the Rosehill Guineas. Gay Lover and Commedia shared the second line of betting behind Monte Carlo. Gay Lover, a colt retained by his breeder, Lionel Israel, was out of Gay Romance, the filly that carried Jim Bendrodt’s colours to victory in the 1937 A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes. Trained by Ted Hush, Gay Lover had won two of his five starts as a juvenile, as well as being runner-up in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes at Randwick. At his latest appearance, he had shown a return to form as a surprise winner of the Rosehill Guineas. Commedia had won the Kirkham Handicap the previous season and run a good second behind Bernfield in a three-year-old stakes race at Rosehill on Guineas Day when conceding the winner 16lb. The Smith stable was left without a runner after the breakdown of the Canterbury Guineas winner, Dubbo. Other prospects in the race were Bernfield, a colt bred by George Moore and carrying the famous Bernborough colours, trained by Harry Plant; and Harnham Hill, a horse trained by Les O’Rourke that had failed to win, even in restricted company, in eight starts but had at least finished a good second in the Canterbury Guineas. The last-named pair had run the quinella in a restricted race over the same distance only the week before at Rosehill. Noel McGrowdie and Alf Doyle, who had combined to take the race in 1947 with Valiant Crown, were once again teamed together, this time with Zaheida, a 16/1 chance.
The 1956 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Despite the big field, Thompson gave Monte Carlo a smooth passage throughout to outclass the field in time second only to that recorded by Phar Lap 27 years earlier. Never far from the leaders, Thompson had the bay colt fourth after settling and after that was never further back than sixth. Long Jack knew he had the race in his keeping topping the rise and he finished brilliantly on the outside on Monte Carlo to win running away. If there was a hard-luck story of the race, it was perhaps Gay Lover, who finished sixth. Never out of trouble after drawing a wide gate, he was cut so badly about the hind leg, that it required stitching. However, the victory of Monte Carlo completed a remarkable year for the team of Dalton, Thompson and Austin. In the autumn the same three principals had successfully taken out the Doncaster Handicap with yet another son of Lucky Bag, in Slogan II, who had been something of a barrier rogue in New Zealand, but a horse that Jack Thompson successfully rehabilitated.
Whether his efforts in the saddle were the subject of extravagant praise or intemperate censure, Jack Thompson remained inscrutable to the end; his poker face was a feature of racing during those years. Moreover, even upon dismounting and unsaddling a winning mount, seldom was the absence of emotion recollected in greater aridity by any jockey. Thompson would rarely use one syllable when none would do. Even a Derby triumph shared with his former master didn’t break his laconic habits. Ken Austin was rather fortunate to win the Derby with Monte Carlo, for two weeks before the race he had accepted an offer of 6000 guineas for the horse from Joe Harris, who was acting on behalf of American interests. However, the sale fell through because of customs regulations and currency restrictions applied at the time. In those days when a horse came to Australia from New Zealand, the owners had to sign a declaration that the horse would not be sold. In certain circumstances, the regulation might be waived, but the purchase money was required to remain in Australia. Unfortunately, Austin failed to get to the Randwick course in time to see his colours carried to glory in Randwick’s greatest race due to delays in his flight from New Zealand.
Ken Austin had enjoyed a long association with bloodstock on both sides of the Tasman. As a young man, he had been a highly successful amateur rider winning many cups at the city and picnic fixtures around Sydney, including the 1926 Bong Bong Cup winner, Capcyllene. In those days amateurs were occasionally given a chance to sport silk against the professional jockeys, and one such opportunity occurred at a Rosehill meeting in January 1922 in a highweight handicap with gentlemen riders enjoying a 5lb allowance from their professional brethren. Austin scored on the favourite, Douglas Haig, a horse trained by Fred Williams. Austin never entirely abandoned the saddle and in later life became a leading spirit in Sydney polo circles. His first administrative role in racing was as a stipendiary steward for the N.S.W. Western District Racing Association, a position he resigned in favour of joining the bloodstock firm, H. Chisholm and Co. on a salary of £300 p.a. plus railway fares; he eventually became a principal with the firm and well known throughout Australia.
Austin made his debut as an auctioneer in 1913, and at the Easter Yearling Sales that year Chisholm’s had drawn the opening day, with Austin in the rostrum for the opening lot. In a remarkable coincidence, the very first yearling he knocked down turned out to be Mountain Knight, the winner of the following year’s A.J.C. Derby. Clive Inglis relates the story of Austin being in the rostrum on the occasion of Sol Green offering Strephon for sale at Easter 1929 when he was the champion racehorse in Australia and Green had slapped a 25,000 guineas reserve on him. Bidding had stopped at 9500 guineas, and Austin was doing his best to stimulate interest. A voice from the back of the stand called out: “Will you take 14,000 guineas, Mr Austin?” As Inglis relates: “That brightened Ken up considerably, and, with the comment: ‘Ah, that’s better,’ he proceeded with the auction. But the same fellow again interjected, shouting: ‘No, no: I only asked if you would take 14,000 guineas – I never said I’d give it!’
When Wright Stephenson, the New Zealand bloodstock firm, linked up with H. Chisholm and Co in the late 1920s, Austin regularly travelled across the water to command their rostrum. Eventually, during the early thirties, after the Trentham Sales had been properly established, he settled over there although it wasn’t long before he left the auction ring to assume the management of the famous Elderslie Stud. Later he founded the Inglewood Stud at Kaiapoi, in Canterbury where Monte Carlo was foaled. It was Austin who became the inaugural president of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association when it was formed in 1948. Austin had dabbled in bloodstock breeding from an early age and sold the odd lot through the Melbourne and Sydney Yearling Sales but his establishment of the Inglewood Stud gave full scope to his passion. It was in 1949 that he imported Lucky Bag, the sire of Monte Carlo, to New Zealand to stand at his stud.
A brown horse bred in England in 1944, Lucky Bag was a son of Windsor Slipper while his dam Sun Princess was a half-sister to the great Nasrullah and thus a direct descendant of the legendary Mumtaz Mahal. The winner of five races in England, including the York Falmouth Handicap (9f), Earl of Chester Handicap (7 ½ f) twice, and the Nottingham Dukeries Plate (1m), Lucky Bag had also run second in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood. The attraction for Austin was the fact that Lucky Bag was a half-brother to Royal Charger, who at the time commanded the highest stud fee in the world after being sold by the Irish National Stud to the U.S.A. While not a great success in New Zealand, Lucky Bag was at least responsible for getting Austin two of the best horses ever to carry his colours in Slogan and Monte Carlo and they came along during the last few years of Austin’s life. Austin died in December 1959 and his Inglewood Stud was dispersed the following year.
Taken to Melbourne immediately after the Derby, Monte Carlo was responsible for a most impressive performance in running third in the Caulfield Guineas won by local colt Hot Spell, after drawing off the course and missing the start. It ensured Monte Carlo remained a very warm 5/4 favourite for the £7,000 Victoria Derby. Fifteen horses were accepted for the race with the local colt Summalu, the second elect at 7/2. Summalu ran in the ‘yellow, black sleeves and cap’ of the executors of C. W. Leonard and was trained at Caulfield by Basil Conaghan. Although only a disappointing fifth in the A.J.C. Derby, Neville Sellwood had stuck with the brown son of Summertime on the strength of his victory a fortnight earlier in the V.A.T.C. Burwood Handicap. Harnham Hill was on the third line of betting with Bill Cook replacing Athol Mulley, who had partnered the colt at Randwick. Although still a maiden, Harnham Hill was fancied because of his minor placings in both the A.J.C. Derby and Caulfield Guineas. Jack Purtell, still seeking his first Victoria Derby before embarking on an overseas riding jaunt, enjoyed the mount on the South Australian Derby winner, Auteuil, trained by Jim Cummings. An interesting 66/1 outsider in the race was the well-bred Tudor Hill, trained by N. A. Francis; his price reflected his poor form and the fact that many believed he was at his best over a mile.
Whereas at Randwick Thompson had produced Monte Carlo with a brilliant finish at the distance, at Flemington he was forced to ride the colt differently, trailing two other horses for a mile and then dashing clear on the home turn. The result was the same, however, with the Sydney colt having a length-and-a-half to spare over Summalu and another Victorian colt in Olympic Fire. The manner of his victory gave Jack Thompson cause for regret that the bay had been withdrawn from the Melbourne Cup a fortnight earlier, although Dalton was never a man to make excessive demands on his young horses. It was certainly a Victoria Derby Day for the ages. Not only did those lucky racegoers present witness Monte Carlo’s victory and Tulloch’s loss to Concert Star in the Maribyrnong Plate, but in the years to come, they could also boast of being present at the historic triple-dead-heat in the Hotham Handicap between Ark Royal, Pandie Sun and Fighting Force, the last race on the card. And if that wasn’t enough to satiate their racing appetites, in the Cantala Stakes over the mile, punters saw the Des Judd-trained Matrice score a narrow victory. A later sensation at stud, fourteen years to the day, Matrice would be responsible for a Victoria Derby winner himself.
Monte Carlo succumbed to a mystery liver illness after being physicked at Dalton’s stable following his summer spell. It caused him to miss the Victorian autumn meetings and although he easily won the A.J.C. St Leger at Randwick from a small field, the colt wasn’t quite right. Nonetheless, Dalton backed him up in the Sydney Cup only two days later, a race in which he was weighted with 8 st. 3lb, or a pound more than weight-for-age. Slogan II had won the Doncaster, the first leg of the autumn feature double, and it was rumoured the stable had Monte Carlo running for the best part of £50,000 in doubles for the Cup. Sent to the post a 9/2 second-favourite behind Evening Peal, Monte Carlo pulled his way to the lead just after the half-mile but compounded rather badly in the straight to finish tenth. When the horse ran unplaced in a small field for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on the final day of the meeting, many concluded that he was merely the best-staying colt in an ordinary year. Although in the spring of his four-year-old season he did manage to win the City Tattersall’s Gold Cup, unplaced efforts in both The A.J.C. Metropolitan and Melbourne Cup suggested the stallion was struggling to recapture his old form.
In fact, it wasn’t until he was a five-year-old that Monte Carlo came back to his best and Dalton set him for both The A.J.C. Metropolitan and the Melbourne Cup. After running two minor placings with big weights in ordinary handicaps, Monte Carlo went to the post at 13/2 in the big Randwick race with Neville Sellwood in the saddle. It was one of the few occasions when Jack Thompson didn’t have the mount because he had previously accepted the ride on stablemate Caranna, on whom he had won the Rosehill Cup when he didn’t believe Monte Carlo would start. Dalton had by then assumed responsibility for training the former Derby winner Caranna, who was quoted at 6/1 for the event. There was big betting on The Metropolitan that year and Dalton only changed his mind about starting Monte Carlo when a group of bookmakers got together and offered him the odds to nothing if he accepted. In a fighting finish with Sellwood riding desperately, the younger Monte Carlo got up in the last stride to beat his older stablemate by a short neck. Sellwood was on him again a few weeks later when he landed some good bets in winning the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington beating Melbourne’s weight-for-age champion Lord by four lengths.
And then came the Cup itself. Jack Thompson resumed the leathers and in a brilliant tactical ride went down with all guns blazing to Baystone, giving that horse a year of age and 11lb in weight. The margin was a length-and-a-half and as Thompson claimed after the race, the penalty for winning The Metropolitan taking Monte Carlo’s weight to 9 st. 6lb had cost him and Dalton the biggest prize of all. It was a race that neither of them was ever destined to win, each finishing second on three occasions. Monte Carlo only raced once more in Australia, running third in the C.B. Fisher Plate on the Saturday following the Cup before being sold to America. Monte Carlo raced briefly in the United States being trained by J. Bowes Bond, who had prepared Sailor’s Guide for his tilt at the Washington International. Although the son of Lucky Bag won about $US 26,000 in stakes there, including a brilliant first-up performance when he carried the top weight of 8 st. 7lb and ran a course record as the favourite in the Sussex Handicap (11f) at Delaware Park in July 1959, he never really showed his best after that. Nor was he a success at stud, first standing in Maryland at a fee of $US 500. Eventually, he was farmed out to a number of other properties, finishing his days at the Lion’s Share Stud in Virginia where he died in 1970 from unknown causes at the age of sixteen.
Frank Dalton trained other good horses after Monte Carlo – Valerius and Caranna among them – but I think that the 1956-57 racing season represented the plenitude of his power on the Turf. At a time when racing had become an industry and many owners were mercenary, Dalton’s aristocratic establishment harked back to a more graceful age when the leading owners were pastoralists and men of the land who indulged in the sport purely as a hobby and recreation. In those elegant Bradley-street stables Dalton prepared expensive blue-blooded equine aristocrats for wealthy men of the same ilk. Many of Dalton’s long-standing patrons were knights of the realm and pillars of the Turf, men such as Alan Potter, James Fletcher, Graham Waddell, Norman Fraser, Herbert Thompson, Sid Field, Sydney Snow and Walter Merriman. Dalton retired in March 1966 because of ill health, having sold his historic stable site to be developed as high-rise apartments. He died in August of that year at the age of seventy-six. Sir Alan Potter observed at his funeral service at St Margaret’s Church, Randwick: “Frank Dalton was not only a very great trainer but a very fine man, an extraordinarily kind man.”
Jack Thompson, who, like Dalton, was stamped of nature’s noblest metal, continued to ride successfully for many years after the death of his former master becoming the elder statesman of Sydney’s jockey ranks. Thommo may never have won that coveted Melbourne Cup but most of the other big prizes on the Turf came his way and few jockeys rode Randwick as well as him as indicated by his two Sydney Cups, four Doncasters, five A.J.C. Oaks, four Champagne Stakes and two Epsoms. Jack Thompson had been one of the first Australian jockeys to ride overseas after World War II when he accepted the offer to be the stable jockey for Paddy Prendergast in Ireland in 1950. Thompson rode forty-nine winners in Ireland that season, as well as eight in England, and was leading the jockeys’ premiership at the time he returned to Australia.
Little wonder then that the soubriquet ‘The Professor’ first coined by Ezra Norton, the volatile newspaper publisher, stuck with the jockey to the end. Moreover, as competitive as Thompson was, he rode to the rules. In a career that lasted for nearly half a century, contesting over 15,000 races throughout Australia and overseas and riding over 3,000 winners, Thompson was suspended on just thirteen occasions. His first was at Hawkesbury in March 1938 and his last at Canterbury in June 1979. The A.J.C. paid Jack Thompson the ultimate tribute when at the age of sixty he relinquished his jockey licence and sought a trainer’s badge. After a brief interview with Doug Mackay, the then A.J.C. supervisor of licensed persons, Thommo was granted a No. 1 trainer’s badge the following Friday –without ever having to go before the A.J.C. committee or even a sub-committee. It was an unprecedented gesture from a club that has jealously guarded its prerogatives down the years.
I might end this chapter by observing that the 1956 A.J.C. Derby was the last running in which geldings were banned from the race, a ban that had applied continuously since Ammon Ra won the 1931 renewal. It was on Friday, March 2nd, 1956, that the A.J.C. and V.R.C. simultaneously announced they had agreed to lift the ban, with both clubs amending their race conditions to enable geldings to compete from the following year in their respective Derbies, St Legers, and Sires’ Produce Stakes. Trainers had been chaffing at the ban for years and it was a decision that was both inevitable and long overdue. It brought the club into line with New Zealand and the rest of Australia and the early announcement had been deliberately made before the important yearling sales. In all the years since there has never again been an attempt to re-impose it. A month later the A.J.C. also announced that geldings would lose their 3lb allowance from the start of the 1956-57 racing season.