Every so often there comes along a racehorse that happens to capture the public imagination. The reasons for the fascination may vary, although in all such instances the ability to gallop is paramount. But many horses win more than their share of prestigious races yet never attain that charismatic aura with the crowds. There need to be other qualities at work as well. It might be the horse’s flashy looks or style of racing that grabs the public, or sometimes it might be the flashy looks and style of racing of the horse’s rich and famous owners. In fact, all of these ingredients were at play in the spring of 1963 when there emerged racing’s quintessential glamour horse of the ‘sixties in the shape of a sleek and dapper black colt from Todman’s first crop. Truth be told, the aura of romance began on a crisp autumn day in April earlier that same year, when the colt went under the auctioneer’s hammer at the William Inglis Easter Sales.
The first of Todman’s progeny were always going to excite interest, but it was late on the final day of those sales that a real frisson exhilarated the Newmarket crowd when the black colt from the former champion race mare, Chicquita, was paraded. The yearling, reared at Baramul Stud, was being sold on account of Sir Gordon McArthur of historic Meningoort, at Camperdown, one of the earliest established homesteads in Victoria. The three principals that were most interested in acquiring the yearling were Perce Galea, Darby Munro and Jack Denham. Munro was the first of the trio to drop out of the bidding, and although Denham went to 6100 guineas, it was Galea’s trump bid of 6,200 guineas that won the prize. It was a record price for the final day of the Easter Sales and helped Todman set a record for a sire in his first year. All told, his thirteen yearlings offered, sold for 33,100 guineas – or an average of 2546-guineas. But undoubtedly the pick of the crop was this Chicquita youngster, and the interest wasn’t hard to understand. Apart from the yearling’s impressive conformation, his pedigree belonged in Debrett’s.
I’ve already expounded upon the abilities of Todman in the pages of this chronicle; Chicquita’s weren’t much inferior. An exceptional filly, at the Melbourne spring meetings of 1949 Chicquita had swept the board of fillies’ classics, winning no less than the Manifold Stakes, One Thousand Guineas, Wakeful Stakes and the Oaks Stakes! Moreover, the following year she had matured into a quality handicap and weight-for-age performer, winning races and running second in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. Although all-up, she won sixteen races during her career, her record would have been even more distinguished had that grand champion Comic Court not been around to rain on her parade – she finished second to him in no less than six races. Retired to stud as a five-year-old, Chicquita had already proven a top matron by getting a string of winners in King Nero, Neron, Don Jota, Comicquita, Starquita and Sirikit. But it was this fellow sired by Todman who would prove to be her best. Galea would race the colt in partnership with his sons, Clive and Bruce, and initially applied to register him as Black Prince; but when that name wasn’t available, he opted for his next choice. And that name, as you have already guessed, was Eskimo Prince.
I think it is safe to argue that Perce Galea in the 1960s was the most colourful and flamboyant character on the Sydney, if not the Australian Turf, and it was a reputation that was aided and abetted by his association with Eskimo Prince. Neither would be out of the headlines for long during the colt’s tumultuous racing career. Born in Broken Hill in October 1910, Perce Galea came to Sydney at the age of four when his family moved and settled in the district of Woolloomooloo. He began his working life humbly enough, first as a streetwise paperboy and thence graduating to a milk truck before becoming a wharf labourer just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Although only of medium weight and height, Galea was always willing and able to use his fists, and as a talented sportsman, he placed great value on physical fitness and appearance. A member of the Clovelly surf club for most of his life, he was proud of his suntanned, taut physique and his prowess as a lifesaver.
The turn in fortune’s wheel came to Perce in the 1940s when he began operating an illegal baccarat school. It proved to be a financial bonanza and bankrolled his gambling excesses as he laundered his money on the racecourse – a debonair, high rolling punter of the ‘fifties. In the years during and after the war, illegal gambling burgeoned in Sydney under a benign, or rather corrupt, policing administration. In this respect, Galea boasted impeccable connections, numbering among his friends the future N.S.W. Police Commissioner, Fred Hanson, and a future State Premier in Bob Askin. Galea would eventually become the king of illegal casinos as his empire in King’s Cross and the eastern suburbs of Sydney flourished down the years with establishments such as the Roslyn Social Club, the Victoria Club and the Forbes Club. And much of his fortune would be channelled into the racecourse, whether through his expensive and extensive acquisition of bloodstock or his galvanising tilts in the betting ring.
Perce Galea first registered his famous colours of ‘black, orange maltese cross, orange arm-bands, black cap’ with the A.J.C. in 1961 and it was the same year that he bought into his first racehorse, Sugarfoot, a tried three-year-old bay colt by Pan that had fairly ordinary form racing in the country districts of Victoria. Trained and raced in the nominal ownership of J. H. Nickson, the colt after being backed into 9/10 favouritism by Galea fell into win a three-year-old maiden at Kembla Grange in February 1961 in the hands of Athol Mulley. Upon returning to scale, the forthright Mulley lost no time in advising Perce to part company with the colt post haste.
Galea accepted Mulley’s advice and ploughed his funds instead into leasing a giant, rising five-year-old bay gelding by Summertime named Summer Smile. The horse was trained by Cec Rolls for other clients when he stormed home to win a Rosehill welter in March 1962 beating a future Doncaster winner in Persian Puzzle, and it was Rolls that suggested the prospect of a lease to Galea. Rolls was a softly-spoken, dapperly-dressed trainer and originally hailed from a racing background in Glen Innes, where his father Charlie Rolls had been a prominent Northern Rivers trainer around Grafton and on the pony tracks in Sydney before World War II. Cec Rolls now resided at picturesque Lurline Bay and held a No. 1 licence, training his small team on Randwick racecourse. His older brother, Charles ‘Happy’ Rolls had been a foreman for Tommy Smith for more than twelve years until the pair fell out in March 1960.
Rolls understood his craft well and as far back as 1954 had been the first master of a young apprentice named Max Lees, but even he could not have appreciated just how exhilarating and tempestuous the relationship with his latest client would prove to be. Galea was already well known as one of the biggest punters on Sydney racecourses even before he assumed the lease on Summer Smile, but the prospect of wagering on a horse carrying his very own livery transported his gambles to new heights. Soon after the transaction of the lease, Rolls prepared the five-year-old Summertime gelding to win four races on the trot during the early summer of 1962-63 – culminating with two victories at Randwick within four days at the Tattersall’s Club fixture during the Christmas-New Year period. During that unbroken series of wins Galea had continued to bet-up on his flagbearer, having obtained good odds in his first couple of races.
Summer Smile, however, wasn’t the only horse to carry Galea’s colours to victory during those weeks. Indian Prince, a bay colt by Wilkes and a full brother to the 1960 V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate winner, Native Statesman, for whom Galea had paid 4300 guineas in April 1962 at the William Inglis Yearling Sales, also won at his debut in January 1963. This rush of victories gave the former wharf labourer a tantalising taste of the glory of ownership on a racecourse and after that Galea wanted to drink copiously from the cup. The bankroll won with Summer Smile and Indian Prince was parlayed a few months later into the purchase of a few yearlings at the 1963 Sydney Sales with Eskimo Prince the most expensive of them all, although he also gave 6000 guineas for another son of Wilkes earlier in proceedings. Registered as Prince of Fashion, he proved to be a good welter horse but was always destined to be cast in the shadows by his more glamorous stablemate.
Like a younger John Wren before him, Perce Galea managed to successfully reconcile the conflicting roles of a pillar of the Catholic Church with that of an underworld figure that derived most of his income from illegal sources. It was reconciliation made all the easier by a complicit racing press, which rarely allowed hypocrisy to get in the way of a good story. And Perce indeed proved good copy. He loved the limelight and the glamour of the racecourse; he regularly attended early morning trackwork at Randwick, which was close to his Coogee home, and visited stables to inspect and hand-feed his horses, and given his overweening narcissism he made himself accessible to the press in all his Turf dealings. It was the very antithesis of the ‘cloak and dagger’ secrecy that shrouded large racing stables in the past. The planned campaigns of his racehorses were freely retailed in the racing broadsheets and as a result – both Galea and all of the horses carrying his racing colours – achieved a considerable following with the chattering classes.
‘Leviathan’ – that delicious adjective so beloved of racing pressmen over the years in describing the big punters that have walked upon the Turf seemed singularly fitting for Perce Galea. So often the big betting duels in the Saturday sunshine between high profile punter and bookmaker had been portrayed in the sporting pages as a life and death contest of High Noon proportions. In Perce Galea’s case, it was literally true. In July 1963, just as Eskimo Prince was first beginning to show his precocious ability on the training ground, Perce Galea was rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, in a critical condition after suffering a severe heart attack while playing handball at the Clovelly surf club. Doctors in attendance told his wife, Beryl, to prepare for the worst and even Cardinal Norman Gilroy visited his private room to perform the last rites. Not for the last time, Galea cheated death and staged a remarkable recovery in the hospital after a stay of nine weeks. However, his cardiologist warned this prince of punters henceforth to avoid tension and heart strain by scaling down his betting activities. Fat chance with Eskimo Prince scheduled to make his racecourse debut just a matter of weeks later!
Richly caparisoned for his first start in the Breeders’ Plate with white saddle and bridle and matching white hock boots, it was a toss-up before the race whether the colt himself or the sartorially resplendent Perce Galea, cut the more dashing figure in the birdcage. If it was a toss-up before the race, there wasn’t much doubt after it. Public confirmation that the colt could move had already come at the first of the official two-year-old barrier trials at Randwick racecourse in early September. The striking black had run the half-mile in 48.6 seconds, easily the fastest time of the day and with a margin for error of ten lengths. Athol Mulley rode eight of the sixteen heat winners that day but was left in no doubt as to who was the real star. The Canterbury trial a fortnight later was a reprise of the Randwick exhibition when Stan Cassidy, replacing Mulley who had been injured in the previous heat, partnered the colt to a nine lengths’ victory.
Such were the wraps on the colt and the big-betting support of his colourful owner who plonked £11,000 at 4/9 on his putative champion that Eskimo Prince went to the post at 3/1 on for the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate. He won by four lengths and clipped Young Brolga’s race record in the winning, although he remained 0.4 seconds shy of the course record posted by his illustrious sire on that famous December afternoon just seven years before. Listening to the race broadcast that day on the wireless, I conceived in the ardour of my youthful imagination an unbeaten season beckoning for the flashy black colt that would lead inexorably to classic honours at three. Ah, the salad days of youth when I was green and inexperienced! After the race, Galea quipped to pressmen that with his winning bets he now had the horse for practically nothing.
Eskimo Prince’s second race start came in the inaugural £3,500 Silver Slipper Stakes at Rosehill in late October. The Sydney Turf Club had instituted the race because of the surge in the public interest that two-year-old racing was enjoying as the popularity of the Golden Slipper increased. Starting a 4/7 favourite, Eskimo Prince justified the public’s faith with an effortless victory and was then set aside in Cec Rolls’ Randwick stables until late summer with prohibitive odds laid on him for both the Golden Slipper and the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. Despite the public glamour and ballyhoo, the son of Todman was proving a handful for Rolls in the privacy of his stables. The lightly-framed colt was a finicky eater, which frequently reduced the trainer to feeding him by hand. Never particularly robust, Eskimo Prince moreover had a long and awkward stride that often resulted in his hind legs striking his forelegs when galloping – hence the need for the hock boots. But perhaps most disturbing of all about the brilliant colt, at least as far as Rolls was concerned, was the fact that he seemed to breathe through one nostril only – not an aspect of physiognomy calculated to be rewarded by Derby victories over a mile-and-a-half.
When Eskimo Prince resumed in a juvenile handicap at Warwick Farm at the end of February, he was well above himself in condition and entrusted to the hands of an inexperienced, 7lb claiming apprentice from Newcastle, Chris Goodwin. The lad left the colt with too much to do in the final furlong, and he was beaten a length by Prince Okawa from the T.J. Smith stable, having conceded him almost a stone. Nonetheless, the run brought the Prince to perfection for the Golden Slipper Stakes three weeks later. Installed as the 7/4 favourite, it was a field of eight that included two smart Melbourne colts, Longwood and Star of Heaven, each carrying the colours of Todman’s owner, Stanley Wootton, and each trained by Angus Armanasco, who was enjoying the most successful season with two-year-olds of any Melbourne trainer since the renowned Fred Hoysted in the early ‘fifties.
That Golden Slipper Day has become encrusted with the barnacles of legend, embellishing the myth of both winning horse and owner like no other. Eskimo Prince, guided by Athol Mulley, came with a brilliant sprint in the straight to put the race beyond doubt in a matter of strides, beating Farnworth by four lengths with a further two lengths to Star of Heaven. It was arguably the most popular victory in the short history of the race. The general public identified with Perce Galea and from the moment that the black colt returned to scale the crowd continued to chant the colourful owner’s name, almost drowning out the official trophy presentations and speeches. Invited by the S.T.C. directors for a drink in the privacy of the committee rooms, Perce was ascending the steps, which in those days were outside the stand, when he reached into his pocket and threw a handful of banknotes to the public below.
Pandemonium ensued, and the stipendiary stewards subsequently issued a mild rebuke to Galea for his impulsive action. As the large crowd subsided to reflect on that famous eighth running of Rosehill’s signature event, those perceptive racegoers that weren’t dazzled by Perce’s handful of tenners might have dwelt on the performance of a stylish brown son of Chatsworth II. Unfancied in the Slipper betting at 12/1, the second-longest priced horse in the field of eight, Royal Sovereign had stumbled out of the gates and dropped back to last, fighting with his jockey, Harry Molloy, until the home turn. Once in the straight, however, the colt began to race and worked home nicely into fourth place. Considering his breeding, it was a performance that beckoned springtime and the renewal of the A.J.C. Derby!
Eskimo Prince ended his two-year-old season a week later with a less than convincing win in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick. Starting at odds of 1/3 Mulley gave the colt the easiest of runs cantering past the post to defeat Park Lane by a length with Strauss a short half-head away. Cec Rolls recognised that his colt was coming to the end of his tether and as much as he would have liked a crack at the Champagne Stakes, worth £10,000 for the first time that season, Eskimo Prince wasn’t a horse with a constitution upon which any trainer could make great demands. In his absence, Farnworth, another Wilkes colt raced by S.T.C. chairman Bill Longworth, won the race beating Royal Sovereign by a neck. Farnworth, a three-quarter brother in blood to Longworth’s previous great gallopers, Wenona Girl and Grammar Lad, being by Wilkes out of Carrus – a daughter of Golden Chariot, had cost 7000 guineas at the same sales that later had seen Eskimo Prince knocked down for 6200 guineas – and it was the equal record price that year shared with another Wilkes’ yearling. Curiously enough, Perce Galea had intended to buy the Carrus colt until dissuaded by Cec Rolls in favour of Chicquita’s black son.
Eskimo Prince ended his first season with stakes winnings of £19,025, a new record for a two-year-old that marginally bettered the previous mark held by Fine and Dandy. Nor was Perce Galea long in spending it. The week after Eskimo Prince had won the Sires’ Produce Stakes, Galea attended the William Inglis Easter Sales in Sydney and paid the equal top price of 11,500 guineas for another Todman colt. This one was out of the mare, High Glory, and bred by Neville Sellwood’s widow, which he subsequently named Glory Prince. He also paid 6800 guineas for the Star Kingdom colt that raced as Cultured Prince. Each would prove expensive failures but again demonstrated Galea’s propensity for conspicuous consumption. At the end of the season, Eskimo Prince headed the list for the Free Handicap with a rating of 9 st. 5lb – six pounds better than Farnworth and Boeing Boy, who tied for second. Park Lane, the leading juvenile from the Tommy Smith stable, who had been first past the post in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington only to lose the race in the stewards’ room, was rated fifteen pounds inferior to Eskimo Prince. Royal Sovereign at 8 st. 1lb was only a pound above the minimum. Instead of sending Eskimo Prince to the paddocks for his winter spell, given the colt’s delicate constitution, Rolls resolved to keep him in his stables and try to build up his condition with special nutrients and attention.
The emergence of Eskimo Prince and Perce Galea’s plunges on the racecourse coincided with a year of profound change in the accommodation of race betting revenues off it. Nine days before the wonder colt’s explosive victory in the Golden Slipper, the N.S.W. Parliament had belatedly passed the third reading of the Totalisator Bill which was to see the legalisation of off-course betting in N.S.W. through the government-owned Totalisator Agency Board, or T.A.B. Victoria had established Australia’s first T.A.B. in 1960 and the burgeoning revenues going into its State coffers provided an irresistible impetus for all other States to follow suit. It is not without irony that 1964 – the year in which the T.A.B. first became operative in N.S.W. – was the same year that Perce Galea, Sydney’s most flamboyant gambler, dazzled the public with his daring tilts in both the betting and sales rings. The extravagant sums he wagered on bloodstock – almost wholly funded by illicit gambling profits – served as an effective counterpoint in the dialectic as to just how much revenue the new legislation might capture.
Russell Garbutt, the State’s Commissioner of Land Tax, was appointed the chairman of the newly created T.A.B. in March 1964. With the A.J.C. agreeing to contribute one-third of the T.A.B.’s establishment and operating costs, the roll-out proceeded apace. The first race meeting in N.S.W. at which punters were able to place a legal off-course bet was conducted at Canterbury on 9 December 1964. Just six branches of the T.A.B. were open for business viz. the Corso at Manly, Auburn, Parramatta, West Ryde, Maroubra Junction, and Charlestown in Newcastle, the minimum betting unit being 2/6d, having to be placed forty minutes before the start of the race and dividends paid within twenty minutes after. It seemed a modest enough development at the time, but the jolly green giant had been unleashed at last – and the consequences for racing and its administration in the years to come would be profound.
Eskimo Prince was never off the bit when successful at his seasonal debut in the S.T.C. Canterbury Stakes (6f w-f-a) in early August but was sensationally beaten at 2/5 in the rain-softened ground for the Canterbury Guineas by Strauss on a day when Perce Galea wagered heavily in the ring. A fortnight later Eskimo Prince again failed as an odds-on favourite when beaten by Toi Port in the Hill Stakes. The glamour was distinctly beginning to fade, and there were suggestions the colt was a sprinter, but both Galea and Rolls expressed outward confidence as they persevered with the colt’s Derby preparation. An emerging press baron by the name of Rupert Murdoch stepped in and recruited Galea to write a weekly column for the Daily Mirror. In typical fashion, Perce declared in his first bulletin: “The A.J.C. Derby’s mine, you can forget the Epsom!” Redemption of sorts did come with the Rosehill Guineas. Rolls assured Galea that Eskimo Prince was fit and the owner plastered a poultice on his flagbearer with the men of Tattersall’s. Having plunged £12,000 on the nose, Galea returned to Rolls in the saddling paddock for further assurance. Rolls didn’t demur, and Galea promptly returned to the betting ring and plonked down another £5,000.
The public followed the leviathan’s lead, and with much general rejoicing, the result was never in doubt. Not content with the slow pace in the first half of the race, Mulley dashed the black to the lead at the five-furlong post and then rode a waiting race from the front. Nothing could match him for acceleration in the straight, and the official margin was five lengths, although the crowd had started cheering and clapping at the furlong post. All was forgiven as the general public jumped aboard the gravy train en route to the Derby, but those that clambered to take the even money now available didn’t pause to study the tale of the clock in the Guineas. The winning time of 2 minutes 4 seconds was two-and-a-quarter seconds outside Pride of Egypt’s record and as such the race had been anything but a test of stamina. Moreover, the course had been fast that day with the older Piper’s Son smashing the course record in the S.T.C. Cup. The true believers, however, drew faith from the knowledge that the colt’s dam Chicquita and her full brother Double Blank, as well as her son, Comicquita, had all been placed in Melbourne Cups; while another of her brothers – Blankenburg -had won an Adelaide Cup.
The 1964 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
And so, the stage was set – the players ready. A field of ten accepted for the A.J.C. Derby and best backed to beat Eskimo Prince was Park Lane, the sole representative of the T.J. Smith stable. A son of the all-conquering Summertime out of a classic-winning Foxbridge mare, Park Lane had cost 2600 guineas at the New Zealand National Sales at Trentham, one of the most expensive knocked down, and he seemed the beau ideal of a Derby colt. He had been first past the post in the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn, only to lose the race in the stewards’ room to Boeing Boy after hanging badly in the final furlong. He then finished runner-up in the A.J.C. equivalent. In his lead-up to the Derby, he had run the minor placing in the Chelmsford Stakes won by Summer Fair before finishing powerfully for fourth in the Rosehill Guineas. In his final race before the Derby, Park Lane had won a ten-furlong trial handicap at Randwick by eight lengths.
Next fancied in the Derby betting was Strauss, a son of the imported English stallion, Pipe of Peace, whom Scobie Breasley had partnered into the minor placing in the 1957 English Derby won by Crepello. Strauss’s dam was Orchestra, a full sister to that good sprinter/miler of the forties, Victory Lad, and a half-sister to the champion early-season two-year-old Mighty Song. Jack Green trained Strauss for the Miller brewing family, and the colt came into the race as the winner of the Canterbury Guineas and runner-up in the Rosehill equivalent. Bunyula, a half-brother to Young Brolga, shared the next line of betting with Royal Sovereign. An interesting runner was the Maurice McCarten-trained Sun Prince, a full brother to the 1960 Caulfield Cup winner, Ilumquh, and a half-brother to the 1957 Melbourne Cup winner, Straight Draw. Like Straight Draw, Sun Prince carried the colours of tabloid newspaper proprietor, Ezra Norton, who had made a habit of buying the progeny of Sun Bride.
A relative outsider in the Derby field and a rare Derby entrant for the colourful Warwick Farm trainer, Jim Barker, was Royal Keys. A son of the one-time leading New Zealand sire Faux Tirage, who stood as the foundation stallion at Tom Lowry’s Okawa Stud, this son of Big Game was reputedly the most expensive stallion brought to New Zealand at the time of his importation. Royal Keys, raced in partnership by Ash Clugston and Jim Barker, didn’t have much to recommend him as a Derby prospect although he had beaten Sun Prince and Contemplation in a Three-Year-Old Handicap over a mile at his home course of Warwick Farm in mid-August. At his most recent start, Royal Keys had finished a distant third behind Park Lane at Randwick just the week before. The former Victorian jockey Des Lake, who was quickly making a name for himself on Sydney racecourses and who had teamed up with Jim Barker, warmed the saddle.
In an unusual piece of programming, the Epsom Handicap was conducted before, rather than after, the Derby mainly because of the involvement of H.R.H. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, in the post-race Derby presentation. The committee wanted to afford the Princess, who was on an official visit to Australia, the freedom to present the trophy in a leisurely fashion. Strong, gusty winds blew across the Randwick course on Derby Day, and those brave and hardy souls who had succumbed to the even-money about Eskimo Prince in the blue riband were not on happy terms with themselves at any stage of the race. Galea himself had taken £24,000 to win £28,000 in a series of bets. Although the black colt won the jump, Athol Mulley restrained him back in the field.
The race got away to a somewhat sensational start. Approaching the winning post the first time there was crowding of horses and Keith Banks, the rider of Cranleigh, was dislodged from the saddle. A subsequent stewards’ inquiry was satisfied that blame was not attributable to any particular rider; scant satisfaction I dare say for either Banks or those of the betting public who supported him at long odds. The impeccably-bred Sun Prince twisted its near fore plate upon jumping from the barrier. Although Eskimo Prince won the start and there was no early speed in the race, Mulley tried to restrain the flashy black behind the leaders rather than allow him to stride along. But the favourite pulled badly and wouldn’t settle.
Meanwhile Royal Sovereign was running eighth early and gradually moved forward to sixth at the half-mile, tracking Strauss. Employing the same bold riding tactics that had given him victory in the two previous runnings of the race, George Moore tried to steal the race on Park Lane, taking the lead at the mile and maintaining his advantage on the home turn. Strauss joined Park Lane upon straightening and then headed him halfway down the straight but could not withstand Royal Sovereign’s powerful sprint in the last furlong. John Page, confident the son of Chatsworth II was a genuine stayer, had instructed Selkrig to relax the horse in the early stages, and then make one run in the straight. Although the horse was inclined to run in under the whip in the last furlong, he overhauled Strauss in the shadows of the post to win by a short neck going away. Park Lane, who was rather pedestrian in the last half-furlong, was two lengths away third. Eskimo Prince, who showed no dash at all in the straight, finished a dismal seventh. Despite his fractiousness in the early part of the journey, the Todman colt simply could not stay.
Despite the eclipse of the hot favourite, Royal Sovereign was accorded a good reception and proved a popular victory for his youthful trainer, John Page, for whom it was his first A.J.C. Derby and the second for the effervescent jockey, Ray Selkrig. Although the colt started at 14/1, there had been some good support for him in the betting ring as he had got out to as much as 20/1 in on-course betting. The official presentation of the Derby prize was made jointly by the Governor-General, Lord De L’Isle, and H.R.H. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Apart from the normal blue riband, a London commercial firm of goldsmiths had donated a British Exhibition Cup as a trophy for the winner. Lord De L’Isle had made previous presentations to jockey Ray Selkrig on the occasion of him winning the 1961 Melbourne Cup on Lord Fury and the City Tattersall’s Club Cup on Travel On and when the diminutive hoop walked out for the presentation was met with a good-natured vice-regal greeting of “Oh, no, not you again!”
Royal Sovereign, an imposing, powerfully-built racehorse, was officially bred by Reay Pty Ltd of Aberdeen, in the Hunter Valley and the man behind that corporate identity who was responsible for the colt coming into the world was the one-time A.J.C. committeeman and vice-chairman, F. K. (Keith) Mackay. Born in April 1895 at Maitland, Keith was the son of William and Adelaide Mackay of Anambah, West Maitland. William, of course, had won fame as the owner of that great gelding Beauford. Keith Mackay’s formative years were spent on both his father’s Scrumlo property east of Aberdeen and that of his grandfather, J. K. Mackay at ‘Dungog’. Educated at Barker College and for a brief time at The Armidale School, Mackay, together with his three brothers all enlisted in World War I.
Mackay served in the Royal Field Artillery and later as a Captain was a member of the famous Dunsterforce that fought the Ottomans in northern Persia. Gassed in the trenches, the legacy of the war left Mackay with chronic respiratory problems for the rest of his life. Mackay returned from hostilities and settled down to the life of a pastoralist on the long-held and extensive family properties that specialised in the famous Scrumlo stock horses, poll Herefords and thoroughbred horses. It was this connection with thoroughbreds that is relevant to our chronicle and among the distinguished horses that he either bred or raced were Ensign (Canterbury Guineas), Dark Elegance (A.J.C. December Stakes and Kirkham Stakes), Magnetic (A.J.C. Villiers Stakes), Persian Prince (A.J.C. Champagne Stakes) Valerius (Q.T.C. Brisbane Cup), Nebo Road (V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap) and Sabah (A.J.C. Princess Handicap and Adrian Knox Stakes).
It is Sabah that concerns us here. A high-class mare she was both bred and raced by Keith Mackay in his famous family colours of ‘white, tartan sash, black cap’ and trained by the loyal Fred Cush. I think that Cush throughout his fifty-odd years in training always seemed to have at least one horse in his yard that was owned by the Mackay family. Sabah was one of those strikingly beautiful mares – a platinum blonde chestnut with a silver mane and tail – whose slashing looks were matched by an ability to gallop. Sabah first came to notice when landing a confident plunge in the Princess Handicap at Randwick with Bill Cook in the leathers. Sabah was in cracking form in the autumn of 1955 and a week later gave the former A.J.C. committeeman, Keith Mackay, his first classic win, again with Cook in the saddle, when she took out the Adrian Knox Stakes. That particular blood strain had long been in the Mackay family, and Sabah traced back through Diffidence, the 1899 Sydney Cup winner, to the great Etra Weenie, Nellie and Sappho.
It was a great bloodline that had continued to flourish down the years, perhaps not surprising when one considers that it included three strains of Canterbury Pilgrim, twice through Swynford and once through Chaucer, while Carbine featured twice through Spearmint and Wallace. Royal Sovereign was only Sabah’s second living foal, although three seasons later she dropped that good filly Talahi to Wilkes. Retained by Keith Mackay and trained by Harry Plant given Cush’s retirement, she won among other races the A.J.C. Reginald Allen Quality Handicap. I might mention that Sabah’s half-sister, Juani, by Midstream, was the dam of that champion sprinter of the mid-sixties, Nebo Road. In conceiving Sabah, Mackay had sent his broodmare Rezan to Melbourne to be mated with the imported Hyperion horse Empyrean. He had shown a similar imagination and willingness to travel his broodmares in conceiving Royal Sovereign when he despatched Sabah to New Zealand to be mated with Chatsworth II, who stood at the Fletcher family’s Alton Lodge Stud. At the time, such a journey was by no means common. In the following spring, Sabah dropped the future triple Derby winner in the Scrumlo paddocks.
Chatsworth II, the sire of Royal Sovereign, was a bay horse bred in England in 1950; he was a good stayer who could accommodate hard or soft ground, winning seven races and £9,024 including the Manchester Cup (1 ½ mile) on two occasions and the Kempton Park Great Jubilee Handicap. Edgar Britt rode in the Manchester Cup in which Chatsworth II carried 9 st. 7lb. and won in a fast time, and Edgar entertained the highest regard for his ability. A son of the great racehorse Chanteur II, Chatsworth II was out of the mare Netherton Maid who was also the mother of Pirate King and the dam of Hethersett. Imported into New Zealand in 1956 by Sir James Fletcher to stand at his Alton Lodge Stud at Te Kauwhata, Chatsworth II quickly made his mark as a sire. Apart from Royal Sovereign, his best progeny would probably be those good Kiwi mares, Blyton and Chantal, although other daughters such as Clipjoint and Our Fun won good races and later went on to become high-class broodmares. Soon after Royal Sovereign was foaled the Fletcher family dispersed their Alton Lodge Stud and Chatsworth II was passed in at 5000 guineas, although he was subsequently bought privately by Jack Foote for his Dee Lodge Stud at Drury, near Auckland. Unfortunately for Foote, Chatsworth II died prematurely in the 1962-63 racing season when just twelve, only a matter of months before his best son went through the sales ring.
John Page, the successful trainer of Royal Sovereign, was a young man of just thirty-three when he won the Derby, although he boasted a maternal pedigree for the Turf every bit as distinguished as the colt himself. John’s grandfather, Bert Bellingham, had been the stud groom at Kirkham for the Hon. James White in the late nineteenth century before much later becoming a notable trainer at Randwick. Born in Muswellbrook, the son of a railwayman, John’s father had shown little interest in racing although young John spent much of his youth around horses on his grandfather’s property, Lindisfarne, near Roxburgh. Now family traits and traditions do not die, even if they go unexpressed for a generation. John’s father might not have succumbed to life on the Turf, but at the age of fourteen, John knew what he wanted. He left school and began work as a strapper in Bert Bellingham’s Bowral Street stables, two doors away from the T.J. Smith establishment. The stable enjoyed its biggest success a few years later when Mercury won the 1951 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes.
However, it was Gallant Archer, a colt by Delville Wood that had run fourth in the Derby behind Deep River, which made Bellingham’s name as a trainer and John Page was stable foreman when the colt first walked into the yard. Page maintained that he learned more about horses from Gallant Archer than all the others combined. It was Page who travelled with Gallant Archer when the horse campaigned interstate, and such stays at other training establishments enabled the young man to observe at firsthand rival trainers’ methods. Page was granted his own licence at the start of the 1958-59 racing season, and he began with just three horses all owned by clients of his grandfather, whose stables he shared. Of that original trio of gallopers, one was the classy filly Weeamera, with whom Page won both an A.J.C. Flight Stakes and a V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes. Weeamera ran as the favourite for the V.R.C. Oaks only to be narrowly beaten into the minor placing in an exciting three-way finish, having suffered a scrimmage at the top of the straight. Denied a classic success so soon in his training career, Royal Sovereign was to more than compensate Page for the disappointment.
Page had purchased Royal Sovereign for 1850 guineas at the Sydney Easter Yearling Sales on behalf of Mr and Mrs Agini, relative newcomers to ownership and their only previous winner had been Empress Rego in a minor event at Hawkesbury in March 1963. The Aginis had only paid 750 guineas through John Page for Empress Rego, but it was that Hawkesbury victory by five lengths – and the resultant winning wagers associated with it – that gave the couple the ammunition and incentive to pay much more for a better-bred colt at the Inglis Sales held a month later. There were only two Chatsworths on offer in that catalogue, and after going through its pages a dozen times, Page kept coming back to Lot No. 87.
Royal Sovereign made his racecourse debut at the Tattersall’s Club meeting at Randwick in late December when John Page’s other budding young star, Neil Campton, the stable apprentice rode him. Campton was destined to share the Sydney Apprentices’ premiership with Kevin Langby during the 1964-65 racing season. The brown colt finished a nice second behind Saba King after being disappointed for a run in the straight. Royal Sovereign then stamped his staying credentials at his second start three weeks later. He got up to win a two-year-old handicap (6f) at Rosehill after being knocked back to near last in the fifteen-horse field shortly after the start. Ray Selkrig was the jockey on that occasion and upon returning to scale promptly expressed his faith in the son of Chatsworth as a high-class staying colt with whom he wished to be associated in the future.
In the days after this scintillating performance, there occurred the incident that in all likelihood denied Royal Sovereign his rightful place in Australia’s racing Valhalla. The colt became cast in his box when he put his foreleg halfway through his stable door and cut it severely. Page was forced to ease him in his trackwork, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the horse was able to race in the rich autumn juvenile events at all. Royal Sovereign completed his two-year-old season with a record of one win and three placings from his six starts, although he never finished further back than fourth in any of his races. John Page was only too aware that the incident in the box had severely weakened the horse’s leg and throughout his abbreviated three-year-old season the trainer was on tenterhooks.
Nonetheless, Royal Sovereign had been subject to a thoroughly rigorous Derby preparation; he had resumed winning a six-furlong trial handicap at the Randwick Bank Holiday meeting and then ran minor placings in the Hobartville Stakes, and Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas as well as an unplaced effort in the Chelmsford Stakes, to fit him for his tilt at the Derby. Royal Sovereign was the second of jockey Ray Selkrig’s four Derby winners at Randwick and Ray unequivocally rates him not just the best of his Derby winners, but the best horse he ever rode during his long career. “I have often pondered how good he might have been, had he not been cast in his box as a youngster. He was absolutely first-class even with his suspect leg.” Selkrig had enjoyed a rewarding partnership with Page over the years and partnered the trainer’s very first winner, Delfox, a gelding by Delta, back in December 1958; but the pair delighted in their most fruitful collaboration during that spring of 1964.
Royal Sovereign’s racing career was to be short-lived, but the brief glimpse afforded the sporting public in October and November 1964, suggested a racehorse very much out of the ordinary. A fortnight after the Randwick Derby and in the hands of leading Melbourne apprentice Harry White, with Ray Selkrig unable to make the weight, Royal Sovereign (25/1) carrying 7 st. 7lb went under by a head in the £20,000 Caulfield Cup to another more lightly-weighted three-year-old in Yangtze, who, in the field of twenty, led all the way – just as he did in winning the Caulfield Guineas the week before. It was a strange, eerie Cup that year. More than half an inch of rain had fallen at Caulfield the night before the Cup, and the weather contributed to a power breakdown that prevented a course broadcast of the event. Bookmakers, unaware, continued to bet for a time even after the race had started. John Page always believed that on a dry track Royal Sovereign would have won easily.
In the Victoria Derby a fortnight later, Yangtze wasn’t expected to be the most troublesome for Royal Sovereign to beat but rather Captain Blue, a rangy gelding by Blueskin that had fired the public imagination with his close third behind Contempler in the Caulfield Stakes, followed by a convincing win in the Geelong Derby Trial Stakes. Though the winning margin was but a neck by a neck over Strauss and Captain Blue, Royal Sovereign in winning overcame a check on the home turn to better Advocate’s 1952 race record with a time of 2 minutes 28.2 seconds. Selkrig, back in the saddle, applied the same tactics that had proven successful at Randwick, allowing the son of Chatsworth to relax near the rear in the twelve-horse field and he only began to stir the colt after passing the half-mile. Yangtze, the Caulfield Cup hero, could manage no better than fourth after being galloped on the off-hind leg shortly after the start. It was a first-class Melbourne Cup trial by Royal Sovereign and one that saw him go to the post the following Tuesday at 13/2 third favourite, despite the inability of any three-year-old to have won the race since Skipton in 1941. Alas, a near fall at the seven-furlong post put paid to any chance the colt had of breaking the hoodoo. Although he only regained his balance when George Moore cannoned into him on Piper’s Son, knocking him upright again, he was never really in the race and he finished a well-beaten seventeenth in the race won by Polo Prince.
Royal Sovereign took no harm from the Cup and was transported to Brisbane for the Queensland Derby run eleven days later where he met only four rivals. Mercy, so Shakespeare tells us, becomes the Sovereign better than his crown, But John Page’s colt showed no mercy to his Queensland rivals, winning by ten lengths in race record time. It was to prove his last victory on a racecourse. Brought back into training in the autumn, John Page’s ambitious programme, including both the Australian Cup and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Melbourne, was to be frustrated. Sadly, Royal Sovereign was destined for just one more appearance on a racecourse. The triple-Derby winner resumed in a six-furlong flying handicap at Canterbury Park in early February only to break down during the running to trail in second last. As is so often the case in a racehorse with one weak foreleg, it was the other foreleg that gave way, specifically the tendon running from behind the knee to the fetlock joint. If Royal Sovereign’s breakdown came as a shock, it wasn’t a surprise. The horse had both forelegs blistered and spent many months in the spelling paddock, but John Page soon aborted the attempt to train him in the autumn of 1966. Royal Sovereign was then promptly retired from racing with a record of 17 starts, 5 wins, 3 seconds, 4 thirds and £30,155 in stakes.
The rising five-year-old stallion was sold to Keith Probert and stood at the Boscabel Stud at Sutton Forest in the southern highlands of NSW. His first yearlings were auctioned at the William Inglis Easter Sales in April 1969 and a promising career was suggested when his first runner, Paper Gold, ran third to Baguette in the Breeders’ Plate at Randwick. Unfortunately, the Boscabel Stud could never provide Royal Sovereign with enough quality mares to establish their sire at a time when the prejudice against colonial stallions still lingered. When that stud was finally dispersed in 1978, Royal Sovereign sold for a miserable $2,000 to Malcolm Raabe who had the Golden Brook Stud at Crownthorpe, near Murgon in Queensland. After a couple of years, Raabe let Royal Sovereign go, first leasing and then selling the stallion to Lloyd Champney’s Dagraros Stud at Kingaroy in the heart of peanut country.
Considering the derisory sums paid for Royal Sovereign as a stallion there was a certain irony in the horse dying at Kingaroy in January 1982. Nonetheless, the son of Chatsworth was certainly not a failure at stud and he did manage to sire three winners of principal races in Sovereignito (W.A.T.C. Oaks), Acamar (A.J.C. Challenge and Stan Fox Stakes), and Mallet (A.J.C. Winter Stakes) as well as a number of other useful gallopers such as Currency Belle and Abbot. At the time of his death, Royal Sovereign’s progeny had won around $700,000 in prize money. The memory of this fine triple-Derby winning colt is celebrated with the running of the Royal Sovereign Stakes (1200 metres) at Randwick each autumn, and in one of those rare but perfect moments of symmetry that lends racing much of its charm, it was a son of Royal Sovereign in Acamar that won the race at its inaugural running.
Keith Mackay’s contribution to the Turf was even more profound and sustained than that of Royal Sovereign, and extended well beyond his activities as a bloodstock breeder. In April 1941 after a vacancy was created by the resignation of Dr Leslie Utz, Mackay was elected to the A.J.C. committee after outpolling the only other candidate, H. S. Thompson. He continued to serve on the committee (and for a number of years as vice-chairman) until 1955. In 1960 the A.J.C. inaugurated the Keith Mackay Handicap, a quality race for fillies and mares and conducted at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. Francis Keith (Darby) Mackay died childless in Sydney in June 1990 aged ninety-five. In 2014 the A.J.C. Keith Mackay Handicap was upgraded from Listed to Group 3 status but was renamed the Percy Sykes Stakes. Sic transit Gloria!
So much, then, for Royal Sovereign and his post-Derby career: what of that enigmatic Eskimo Prince and his flamboyant owner? It is now customary to regard the Todman colt as a brilliant flame that flared briefly, then guttered and died out, but the real story is more complex than that. Immediately after the Derby, Eskimo Prince was sent for an extended spell to the Minnaville Stud at Castlereagh, near Penrith, and didn’t resume racing until March 1965; and when he did so it was with George Moore in the saddle. Both Galea and Rolls believed that Mulley had erred in the Derby in being too far off the pace. Although some members of the sporting press began to question the colt’s ability, Galea stopped his ears against such Jeremiahs.
Eskimo Prince did manage to win twice in four appearances that preparation – two open flying handicaps – but he failed in his main mission when unplaced in the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap behind the emerging Winfreux after Galea had wagered as much as £40,000 on the race. It marked the last race for which Cec Rolls trained the colt. Less than a month later Perce Galea and Cec Rolls announced a cordial parting of the ways. Rolls, a sensitive man, who had suffered a nervous breakdown only twelve months earlier, had trained Galea’s horses for five years; but the strain of training for such a big gambler had finally taken its toll. Cec Rolls pottered on at Randwick for a few more years before selling his fifteen-box stables, adjacent to Randwick racecourse, to the Foyster family in May 1969.
Galea for his part came to believe that a change of trainer might change the fortunes of his enigmatic colt. Eskimo Prince along with Galea’s expensive two-year-olds, Cultured Prince and Glory Prince went into the stables of Fil Allotta; while Tommy Hill gained Elegant Prince, a brother to the Golden Slipper winner Magic Night and at 10,500 guineas the second most expensive yearling colt sold at the previous Easter Sales. Eskimo Prince returned to training as a four-year-old in another campaign restricted to just four races. He did manage to win the S.T.C. Hill Stakes but then finished thirteenth in the A.J.C. Epsom Handicap under George Moore and second last in the V.A.T.C. Caulfield Stakes under Athol Mulley when Moore, rather pointedly, preferred to remain in Sydney. When brought back into training during the summer it was found that the son of Todman was making even more noise than usual in his trackwork with a persistent coughing and breathing difficulty. It was an ailment with which many of the general public, who had so often blindly supported him in his odds-on failures, readily identified. Percy Sykes, the eminent Sydney veterinarian, inspected Eskimo Prince after trackwork in January 1966 and pronounced that although not broken-winded, one of the flaps in the horse’s throat that controlled breathing was paralysed.
Galea was advised to sell Eskimo Prince as a stallion and George Ryder, the managing director of the Woodlands Stud, was co-opted to act as agent for the sale. In February came the announcement that he had been sold to Rex Ellsworth of Los Angeles, who maintained the Chino Ranch in California. The specific sale price was never divulged for the horse had been sold together with twenty broodmares from Woodlands Stud for a total of US$150,000. Now then, here is a question for your next racing trivia quiz. Name the racehorse that started favourite in his first sixteen race starts, a close second favourite at his seventeenth and was only ever in any sense an outsider in his eighteenth – and last start when despatched at 12/1. The answer, of course, is Eskimo Prince. No statistic is more telling of the public’s infatuation with the slick, black colt and I might add that in exactly half of all his races in the famous ‘black and orange maltese cross’ he went to the post an odds-on favourite. In short, the public’s infatuation flourished under a disillusion continually deferred. The colt had seemed to possess some strange compound element within him, which for so long baffled analysis. Too often, smart track gallops were simply not reprised on race day. Eskimo Prince’s record in eighteen starts in Perce Galea’s ownership was nine wins, four seconds and one third for £26,510 in prize money.
Eskimo Prince was briefly tried on American racecourses but the same old respiratory problems soon emerged. A more sophisticated medical examination of the horse using modern American techniques was undertaken at Ellsworth’s behest, which not only confirmed the paralysed throat valve but revealed that Eskimo Prince had only one properly functioning lung. Little wonder then that the horse choked up when placed under sustained pressure over extended distances in his races. Retired from the racecourse once and for all, Eskimo Prince proved a dismal failure as a thoroughbred stallion. As Warwick Hobson in his excellent book “The Story of the Golden Slipper Stakes” observed: ‘In all, he sired 137 foals. Ninety-six raced and earned less than $1 million. His highest money winner was Molasses Drop who earned $33,000. Eskimo Prince spent the final five years of his life at Earl West’s quarter-horse ranch at Bowlegs, Oklahoma. He did well as a sire of swift quarter-horses but succumbed to illness and old age in 1979.’
Eskimo Prince actually outlived his flamboyant Australian owner, who eventually succumbed to his own cardiovascular problems, but not before enjoying some significant glories on the Turf. During the 1970s, Galea enjoyed multiple successes with two of the progeny of that good race mare and matron, Winged Beauty. Sticks and Stones, a smart sprinter by Faringdon out of Winged Beauty, carried Galea’s colours with distinction, although it was his two-year younger half-sister by Dignitas, Princess Talaria, who proved the more lucrative, winning the 1976 A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes at her first start and the following season the One Thousand Guineas, Edward Manifold Stakes and Marlboro Classic.
But for all of the occasional glories in some of the Turf’s rich races, ownership for Perce Galea held its catalogue of disappointments, too. The self-styled Prince of Punters only bought the costliest of yearlings and when they failed, as they so often did, the embarrassment could be palpable. Through all the vicissitudes of his life on and off the racecourse, Galea continued to gamble his life away. In February 1976 he suffered another heart attack and again the doctors despaired of hope only to see Australia’s most colourful gambler again defy the odds despite losing a stone in weight. But the Grim Reaper was stalking Perce with relentless remorse and the day of reckoning came on August 15, 1977. The gambler’s taunt of ‘three times proves it’ came true when Galea suffered a third massive heart attack and died in St Vincent’s Hospital at the age of sixty-seven.
In April 1977, only a matter of months before his death, Galea boasted that he had been made a Knight of the Order of St John by Pope Paul VI, the highest honour that can be bestowed on a lay Catholic and in recognition of his generosity to the church. It was the same generosity that this strange medley of a man, this larger-than-life character, had brought to his relations with hundreds of people and countless charities down the years of his prosperity and saw a record attendance of mourners at the Requiem Mass conducted at his local St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Coogee. In a sense, it was the passing of an era in the life of Sydney. As the power of the wowser and the church was waning in a more open and secular society; and as legitimate gambling venues and opportunities seemingly multiplied, the old illegal casino businesses began to close their doors.
Galea died a year and a day after Joe Taylor, another king of the illegal gambling rackets in Sydney during the post-war years, and like Galea, the owner of a Golden Slipper winner in Birthday Card. Just a few months after Galea died, the Police 21 Division raided his beloved Forbes Club. Perhaps one other postscript needs to be added to the fast life of Perce Galea. At the A.J.C. Spring Meeting 1977, just forty-nine days after Galea’s death, his four-year-old gelding, Sir Serene, on which Galea had gambled and lost an estimated $80,000 at the Q.T.C. winter carnival, won The Silver Jubilee A.J.C. Metropolitan carrying the famous black and orange livery for his son Bruce, and other executors of Galea’s estate.
What a great read, I worked at Boscobel stud in 1972, it was really sad to hear what happened to Royal Sovereign and there was another stallion called Indestructible, I haven’t searched to see what happened to him , it brings back a lot of memories! Kind regards Barbara
Hi Barbara, Thanks for taking the time to provide that feedback. I’m happy that the chapter took you down memory lane! Regards, Ian