It all began simply enough – the idea was to buy a present for his wife. Stan Fox was sixty-one and his beloved wife, Millie, had recently lost her mother. He figured that a beautiful racehorse might be just the thing to lift her spirits and get her out of the house. It hardly seemed an extravagant gift. After all, the retired coal industrialist was worth a fortune having spent most of his adult life building up a coal mining and haulage company from scratch, and Millie had helped him every step of the way. Born in England on April 21, 1903, Stan Fox came to Australia when he was just five. Educated at Bankstown Public School, he left that little establishment to become a blacksmith and carpenter of sorts, actually specialising as a wheelwright. It wasn’t a line of work that was calculated to flourish as the twentieth century unfolded and modes of transport changed, but long before this came to pass young Stan Fox had tired of working for wages and responding to the whims of a capricious boss. The lustful germ of ambition fretted within him, and the adventurous young man borrowed money and bought himself a truck to begin hauling coal from mines in the beautiful Burragorang Valley, some sixty miles southwest of Sydney. The first coal had been mined in the valley in 1878 with the establishment of the Nattai Mining Company, but the industry had only really got going there when John Clinton opened his first mine named ‘Camden Colliery’ in September 1930.
It was a grimy and sweaty business, but Fox prospered, and his nascent trucking business began to grow. In 1932 he found his love match when he married the charming 27-year-old Millie Taylor, in the Canterbury-Bankstown district; and although not blessed with any children, it was to be a genuine partnership for life. The couple settled down to married life together with Stan’s father in a humble cottage in Chiswick Rd, Chullora. These were the Depression years, and although times were hard, Stan and Millie would look back fondly on these years of relative struggle and the birth of their company. It was no accident that the name of one of their earliest racehorses was Chiswick Road, after the very road in which they began their married life.
That first truck that young Stan bought led to a second and a third, and eventually to a whole fleet of more than a hundred and fifty. At the same time, he was developing a foundry at Bankstown which further supplemented his wealth and enabled him to buy into a new low-seam mine in the Burragorang Valley. By 1937 there were three major mines in the valley and Stan and Millie Fox were the owners of two of them. The third belonged to John Clinton who will come to figure in this chronicle in his own right, but I digress. Fox used to load his coal at Camden, but the primitive facilities put him at a disadvantage to the more impressive coal loader used by the Clintons at Narellan. It wasn’t until 1953, as business burgeoned, that Fox established his modern loading facilities at Campbelltown. The 1950s and 1960s saw a significant resurgence in the coal industry with the opening of new open-cut mines, but by around 1964 Stan Fox was seeking fulfilment and relaxation elsewhere.
It was Reg Allott who was responsible for introducing Stan and Millie Fox to the wonders of the Turf. Among other horses, Allott had owned Hoa Hine, winner of the A.J.C. Flight Stakes and the Q.T.C. Queensland Oaks in the 1961-62 racing season. One Sunday morning in late summer 1965 he took Stan Fox along to the usual parade of horses at the Midstream Lodge stables of his trainer, Dick Roden, in High-street on Randwick racecourse. A decent and honourable man, Roden had already experienced racing glory at the highest level, having trained Macdougal to win the Brisbane Cup, A.J.C. Metropolitan and Melbourne Cup during a memorable 1959. Roden now found the ideal stable client in the thoughtful and unassuming Fox.
There was a refreshing absence of cant and humbug about the man: he had none of that sense of patrician entitlement that was typical of so many that found their way into the ranks of ownership. The two men attended the William Inglis Yearling Sales a few months later in April 1965, and Fox spent more than £20,000 on three yearlings to race in partnership with his wife. His outlays were: 9000 guineas on a full sister to the 1964 Champagne Stakes winner, Farnworth, by Wilkes out of Carrus and subsequently registered as Miss Eve; 6500 guineas for a daughter of Chris from the 1948 Champagne Stakes winner, Wattle, later registered as Shy Gold; and 4000 guineas for a colt by Pipe of Peace out of Serenity that raced as Serene Peace. Paying those sorts of prices wasn’t for the faint of heart or the tight of wad, but Fox was a perfectionist and intended to go in for racing with the same determination to succeed that he had brought to his industrial enterprises.
As well as advising Fox, Dick Roden bought some yearlings in his own name at the time, including an athletic son of Wilkes for 1750 guineas. Just before the official two-year-old trials in early September, as fortune would have it, Fox’s horses went shin sore while the Wilkes colt owned by Roden, and registered as Nebo Road – after the main strip in the Queensland city of Mackay where Roden grew up – was setting the Randwick training tracks on fire. Fox telephoned his Randwick trainer and offered to buy the colt. The mining magnate caught the Master of Midstream Lodge at a weak moment. Just a few weeks before, Roden had gambled heavily on one of his wife’s horses, Gabador, in a Brisbane Welter. Although first past the post, Roden lost the race in the stewards’ room with none other than his father-in-law, Neive Frawley, the chief steward, finding in favour of Dream King, a horse that later proved his class by winning two Australian Cups. The reverse had left Roden temporarily financially embarrassed. Thus, it was with an admixture of necessity and sporting generosity that he sold Nebo Road to Fox at the same price he had paid for the colt as an unbroken yearling, plus training costs in the months since. As bargains go, it was a steal. Nebo Road won the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate at his first start by four lengths. Stan and Millie Fox were hooked!
Stan Fox had registered his racing colours with the A.J.C. as ‘grey jacket, purple seams’, the same colours painted on his famous trucking fleet, and very soon horses sporting those colours were to be as familiar on the racecourse as those trucks were on Sydney roads. At the New Zealand Yearling Sales in January 1966 Fox spent prodigiously, bidding up on some lots with the blind obstinacy of a hatchling cuckoo. It was a similar story at the Inglis Yearling Sales a few months later in April when he bought fourteen yearlings at a total cost of 55,900 guineas. The 1966-67 racing season, saw Stan and Millie Fox racing more than sixty horses, including twenty-four two-year-olds, shared between six different Sydney trainers in Dick Roden, Tommy Smith, Les Bridge, Jack Denham, Tom Kennedy and Jim Barker. Angus Armanasco in Melbourne even trained the odd horse for him.
From the moment he came into racing, Stan Fox retained Athol Mulley as his first jockey. In truth the two were as ill-matched as fire and water: one an ambitious and driven old man in a hurry, the other 21 years his junior and, though resigned to his twilight years as a jockey, renowned for both his insouciance and nonchalance. Before the predictable parting of their ways, Mulley would give Fox considerable heartburn. As P. G. Wodehouse might have observed, if not disgruntled with Mulley’s work ethic during their association, the old man was very rarely gruntled. Such was the extent of Fox’s burgeoning racing empire that one jockey, however, wasn’t nearly enough. Indeed, the coal magnate had to register no less than four different sets of racing silks with specific instructions to his team of trainers for the allotment of silks in racebook order.
It isn’t hard to understand what attracted Stan Fox in his quest for a Derby winner to the progeny of Alcimedes at those 1966 New Zealand National Yearling Sales at Trentham. After all, only a couple of months before, Prince Grant had given the stallion the blue riband with his first crop to race, not to mention a host of promising horses just then hitting the training gallops, including the great Galilee. Two yearlings by Alcimedes in particular attracted Dick Roden at those sales and each in their own way reminded him of the best horse on which he’d ever thrown a saddle – Macdougal. The 1959 Melbourne Cup winner had been bred by Seton Otway at the famous Trelawney Stud near Cambridge on New Zealand’s North Island and was by the great French stallion, Marco Polo out of a Foxbridge mare. These two yearlings on offer were from the same stud.
The first Alcimedes yearling that Roden sought to buy on behalf of Stan Fox was offered towards the end of the second day and was out of the well-credentialled mare, Beehive, whose dam, like Macdougal’s, was by Foxbridge out of a Romeo mare. Beehive was a half-sister to the 1949 Melbourne Cup winner, Foxzami, as well as the 1957 A.R.C. Great Northern St Leger Stakes winner, Bali Ha’I, who were each by Marco Polo. Roden was forced to go to 7000 guineas, the highest price of the sales, to get the colt, subsequently registered as Honeyland. The second Alcimedes yearling that Roden was determined to buy stepped out late on the third day. Karloon, the dam of the bay colt in question, was the winner of three good races as a juvenile and had finished fourth the following season in the Great Northern Derby at Ellerslie.
As reassuring as these racecourse performances were and the fact that Karloon had already thrown a couple of winners, it was the strong distaff line of the pedigree that appealed. A daughter of the great French stallion Marco Polo, Karloon was a half-sister to those three sterling racehorses that Foxbridge got in successive years viz. Bridge Acre (1944 W.R.C. Wellington Guineas and C.J.C. Challenge Stakes); Al Sirat, (1945 New Zealand Derby); and Lord Barwon, (1945 A.R.C. Great Northern Foal Stakes). Perhaps of even greater significance for Stan Fox’s ambitions for Derby glory was the fact that Karloon was also a half-sister to Chubin, by Nizami, who just happened to be the dam of Prince Grant. All of this made the stylish colt a three-quarter brother-in-blood to the putative champion that was just then emerging, albeit briefly, as the best racehorse in the land. Roden got the youngster for 3750 guineas – again the highest price paid on that third day of sales. Fox registered the colt as Karloon Pride.
All up, Stan Fox bought 23 yearlings during the summer and autumn of 1966 at the New Zealand, Sydney and Adelaide sales. Dick Roden prepared fifteen of them while Rosehill trainers Ted Stanton and Bert Lyell were initially each responsible for four. The first of the horses to win was Kurrajong Park at Rosehill in early November although he was quickly followed by the likes of Treble Talk and Coal King. Rarely did a week pass by in those heady times that the sporting-page readers of either of Sydney’s afternoon newspapers, The Sun or the Daily Mirror, didn’t confront the grim, bulldog features of Stan Fox. There he was replete with the period black-rimmed glasses and smart Akubra hat, his jowls hanging and jaw set clamped on a cigarette, glaring from the printed page, as an enterprising journalist retailed his latest bloodstock extravagance.
The Alcimedes stock, like good red wine, was best left to mature and neither Honeyland nor Karloon Pride appeared on a racecourse until midsummer. Even then their respective juvenile seasons weren’t replete with victories. Honeyland raced eight times during his first season, and the best he could manage was three placings – the last coming in the prestigious Macarthur Quality at Rosehill in late July when beaten a head by an unheralded colt from Newcastle carrying the name of Swift Peter. Karloon Pride’s two-year-old season, on the other hand, encompassed nine appearances and yielded two victories together with a series of placings that saw the rangy gelding hailed as a genuine Derby contender. A good fourth in the Fernhill Handicap at the Randwick Autumn Meeting, Karloon Pride broke his maiden status in a mile handicap at the Tattersall’s Club May meeting. However, it was his whirlwind finish to snatch victory on heavy ground in the seven-and-a-half-furlong Sandown Handicap at Rosehill in mid-June – his last start as a juvenile – that saw Roden publicly acclaiming him as the best staying prospect to pass through his hands since Macdougal!
As the days and weeks of autumn slipped by that year, and winter arrived, Stan and Millie Fox began to warm to the notion that the Derby might be within their reach. The 1966-67 racing season had been bereft of any genuine champion two-year-old colt that appeared to hold a mortgage on the blue riband. Indeed, each of the major Sydney two-year-old races that year, i.e. the Golden Slipper, Champagne Stakes and A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes had been won by fillies, namely Sweet Embrace, Giulia and Ruling Ways respectively, while the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes had fallen to a Sydney sprinting colt in Pratten Park. Sweet Embrace and Ruling Ways jointly headed the Free Handicap each with 9 st. 5lb – the first time two fillies had shared the honour – while Karloon Pride with 8 st. 12lb was rated equal thirteenth with the good Melbourne filly, Quezette.
No remarkable string of victories facilitated Karloon Pride’s road to Derby favouritism that year; it came about by a series of pedestrian placings in the semi-classics while his more-fancied and better-performed contemporaries gradually fell by the wayside. The bay gelding resumed racing in the new season during mid-August to take the minor placing in a head-bobbing three-way finish for a division of a Graduation Stakes at Rosehill. The second division of the same race that day was won by Jupiter, a son of Agricola out of Pink Pearl, who at $33,600 had topped the 1966 William Inglis Yearling Sales in Sydney. The price established a new Australasian record – $1,025 (500 guineas) more than was paid for Columbia Star as a yearling at the same sales some six years earlier.
A half-brother to the 1963 Doomben Cup winner, Maspero, he was the only lot on offer by Agricola at those sales and was sold on the first day. Pink Pearl herself was a full sister to Hot Drop, the best two-year-old of his year in New Zealand, and Ray Bowcock of Alabama Stud had bought her in New Zealand for 15,000 guineas in January 1965 when she had the Agricola foal at foot. It’s worth observing that he was the third sales topper offered by Alabama Stud in the space of nine years, following upon Matinee Idol (1958) and Noble Star (1959). Tommy Smith was the successful bidder for the colt, although given the price and subsequent racecourse performances, ‘successful’ doesn’t seem quite the right word. Smith was acting on behalf of Percy Uebel, a newly recruited client for his stable who owed his newfound wealth to winning first prize in the Opera House Lottery, and who hoped to reprise the same good fortune on the racecourse, but more on that anon.
After running the minor placing in the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes, Karloon Pride was involved in a three-way finish for the Canterbury Guineas in which no more than a long-neck denied the son of Alcimedes the prize. Karloon Pride only managed third after stumbling at the start, but the race proved a triumph for Stan and Millie Fox when their hitherto maiden galloper, Honeyland, emerged the victor. Great Exploits, a Pipe of Peace gelding trained by Tommy Smith, denied the coal magnate a prized quinella. Dick Roden, who never seriously considered Honeyland a Derby prospect but more suited to shorter distances, sent the colt to Melbourne to be prepared for the Caulfield Guineas instead.
Karloon Pride’s final Derby trial came in the Rosehill Guineas when on the dead ground he was beaten a long-head by the Melbourne galloper Grey Spirit, a son of the English stallion Grey Ghost, trained by Bill McNabb. Karloon Pride was unlucky in that race as he had been caught in a pocket on the home turn. However, Grey Spirit proved to have been even more unfortunate, bruising his heels during the running, which failed to respond to treatment, and necessitated his scratching from the A.J.C. Derby on Monday morning prior to the classic. At the time, the grey colt headed the betting markets. Grey Spirit wasn’t the only high-profile defection from the classic in the closing days that spring. The high-priced Jupiter – and the one-time favourite for the race – was another. Insofar as this son of Agricola is concerned, I might observe that rarely in the course of racing journalism have so many, written so much, about a horse that achieved so little.
It wasn’t Jupiter’s fault. The Sydney afternoon newspaper The Sun adopted Jupiter as its very own satellite and aided and abetted by a flurry of flattering articles from the said newspaper the public rallied to the cause. Of course, it was all bound to end in tears. Jupiter broke down on the eve of the Chelmsford Stakes for which he was a short-priced favourite, which effectively finished his spring campaign. Although he did recover and later developed into a useful open-class handicapper and even won a Grafton Cup, Jupiter was anything but the bringer of jollity to those that supported him, and he never looked like fulfilling the rapturous acclaim occasioned by The Sun in that spring of 1967. Percy Uebel, the owner of Jupiter, and Tommy Smith eventually fell out, and the high-priced colt is now best remembered as the cause of Tommy Smith’s disqualification for a month by the A.J.C. little more than a year later when the trainer failed to report a nosebleed. The 1967 A.J.C Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
In the end, twelve horses stood their ground for the Derby at final acceptance time, with Karloon Pride giving Dick Roden the dubious honour of training the Derby favourite in consecutive years, following the misplaced faith in Matariki the year before. Victory for Karloon Pride would see the total stakes winnings by Fox horses pass the magical $100,000 mark, the team already having won 29 races and more than $85,000 since Nebo Road’s Breeders’ Plate on Derby Day two years before. During that period Fox had spent more than half a million dollars on his racing dreams. Derby Day began rather fortuitously for Fox when his $16,800 yearling purchase, Red Pilot, won the Breeders’ Plate. It seemed to augur well for Karloon Pride. Next fancied in Derby betting was Roman Consul, the best of Tommy Smith’s four runners in the race.
The most sparsely-raced horse in the field, Roman Consul, a lightly-framed son of Agricola, had cost 1650 guineas at Trentham earlier on the same day that Karloon Pride had been sold. Jinks, the dam of Roman Consul, will be remembered by many sportsmen as the good filly that Maurice McCarten trained to win three races as a juvenile including the A.J.C. Easter Handicap, before claiming the minor placing in the 1957 A.J.C. Adrian Knox Stakes. Roman Consul’s racecourse debut had been delayed until April when he finished well back in a race won by Raad at Rosehill, after which he was rested and didn’t reappear until the new season. Roman Consul came into serious Derby calculations when he won the Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes beating Winfreux and Prince Grant among others. There were two coincidences associated with the horse: firstly he was bidding to give his sire Agricola a unique honour in that a horse of the same name by the sire had already won the C.J.C. New Zealand Derby in 1965; and secondly, with regular stable jockey George Moore absent and riding for Noel Murless in England, Roman Consul was being ridden by thirty-year-old Mel Schumacher, who was enjoying his first mount in the classic since being disqualified for his shenanigans aboard Blue Era in the race six years earlier.
Roman Consul was one of four horses that leading trainer Tommy Smith had engaged for the classic and the other trio were Court Prince, Great Exploits and Great Heart. Court Prince, a son of the imported Test Case and a 1300-guineas purchase from the Trelawney Stud at the New Zealand National Yearling Sales, was bidding to give prominent owner Bill Bradshaw his fourth victory in the classic. Although he had failed to win in seven starts as a juvenile, Court Prince had resumed in the new season to win two restricted races before finishing a decent third in the Rosehill Guineas. Great Exploits, an expensive $6,090 purchase as a yearling, was raced in partnership by Tommy Smith with the long-time stable client, Mrs Hal Porter. The winner of his first three starts as a juvenile, he was taken to Melbourne to contest the V.A.T.C. Merson Cooper Stakes but failed to adjust to the anti-clockwise circuit. Sent for a spell, Great Exploits had resumed winning both a six-furlong handicap at Rosehill with 9 st. 7lb and the Hobartville Stakes, beating the Golden Slipper Stakes winner, Sweet Embrace, by a neck; and these victories were followed by the narrowest of seconds in the Canterbury Guineas and a creditable fourth in the Rosehill Guineas.
Great Heart, the fourth and least distinguished of Smith’s runners was a home-bred, a first-season son of the imported stallion Sostenuto out of Lady, a full sister to the Victorian weight-for-age champion, Lord. A lightly-raced gelding whose racecourse debut was delayed until April, despite his distinguished bloodlines, he had only managed to break his maiden status at his latest and ninth start in restricted class at Rosehill over the Derby distance. Given the defection of Grey Spirit, Victoria’s challenge in the race was headed by Dark Purple, a lightly-raced son of the Australian stallion, Crown Gem. Dark Purple had won a Nursery at Flemington on the same day Nebo Road gave Stan Fox the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. The horse had since franked the form in the new season by winning the Warriston Handicap (9f) at Caulfield on heavy ground and finished runner-up to Winfreux in the Hill Stakes at Rosehill. Relatively unnoticed on the sixth line of Derby betting – and hardly considered a threat to either Karloon Pride or the might of Tulloch Lodge – was the little chestnut colt from Newcastle that had beaten Honeyland in the MacArthur Quality back in July, mounted by that master of the Randwick Derby course, Ray Selkrig.
Watching the Derby through his binoculars, Stan Fox had no reason to feel confident at any stage of the race, for Karloon Pride proved to be a wicked masquerade as a Derby favourite. Never well-placed from his wide barrier, the horse was third last when the field went out of the straight for the first time. The 50/1 outsider Faubourg Lad led for the first half of the journey with both Great Exploits and Roman Consul racing very near the pace in the time-honoured Smith tradition. Meanwhile, the Newcastle colt, Swift Peter, wallowed back last with jockey Ray Selkrig sitting motionless. Circumstances forced Schumacher on Roman Consul to assume the lead just after the half-mile as Faubourg Lad compounded, sooner than he might have liked, and he led the field for home. In a terrible moment of clarity, as the horses topped the rise, Stan Fox realised that his Derby dream was extinguished as Karloon Pride lumbered sluggishly near the rear.
Rather, it appeared to be another Derby in the bag for Tulloch Lodge as Great Exploits claimed his stablemate; but no sooner was this son of Pipe of Peace being hailed the winner at the furlong than Swift Peter swept upon the scene. Selkrig’s quiescence on the Broadmeadow-trained colt had lasted until shortly after turning into the home-straight where, together with Raad, he trailed the entire field. If art is defined as manual dexterity in the service of illusion, then Selkrig’s ride on Swift Peter that day was indeed that of an artist. Seemingly a non-stayer on pedigree, Selkrig rode the colt as cold as a mother-in-law’s kiss, and those in the grandstand that had speculated at the generous odds would have been tempted to discard their betting tickets on the turn. Once into the straight, however, while the favourite went backwards, Swift Peter came with an astonishing coup de main that gave nothing else a chance, relegating Smith’s two geldings into the minor placings. As far as conception and execution were concerned, Selkrig’s performance couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a cool-headed, cold-hearted ride.
To the chagrin of the faithful who worship the Derby as the ultimate touchstone of stamina, a victory by a colt bred on purely sprinting lines – and rather ordinary ones at that – seemed like sacrilege. For Swift Peter was one of those rare Derby winners that confound breeders and bloodstock agents alike. Perhaps it was just as well, or the small but well-made chestnut colt would never have finished in the Newcastle stables of 62-year-old trainer Arthur Beuzeville, who co-owned him with two of his friends. Born in Narrabri in the rich Namoi Valley of north-western N.S.W., Beuzeville had spent a lifetime among horses. Beginning his racing life as a jockey, he was eventually forced out of the saddle by increasing weight and turned his hand to training.
For a time, he conducted the Weona Stud at Yarramalong, but prior to winning the Derby with Swift Peter, he was best known as the man who travelled to the U.S.A. with Noholme and trained that horse to win two races over there. That opportunity knocked when the American oil magnate, Gene Goff, came to Australia and bought a large consignment of horses from George Ryder’s Woodlands Stud, including Noholme. It was Ryder that recommended Beuzeville to Goff, and the Australian horseman didn’t disappoint when he trained the winners of 65 races earning $US 410,000 in prize money during a stint of just over four years. Beuzeville returned to Australia in September 1964 and soon after that began training again on the Broadmeadow racecourse.
Surrounded by owners who were better at willing the ends rather than providing the means, Beuzeville had reached the stage of – if not despairing – expecting no more from his life in stables when Swift Peter suddenly and wonderfully re-ignited those unextinguished fires. And for a time, this new flame burnt brightly, erratically, giving out a different light to those of his other horses that had gone before. There were moments when the colt’s acceleration reminded him of Noholme himself. How did this native from Narrabri acquire a Derby winner? After all, feckless self-indulgence wasn’t Beuzeville’s style when it came to yearling sales, and he dwelt in an altogether different world to that of the free-spending Stan Fox and Tommy Smith. At those same Easter Yearling Sales where Fox had spent 55,900 guineas on no less than fourteen yearlings, and Smith had splurged an obscene $33,600 for Jupiter alone, Arthur Beuzeville had bought a Derby winner for just $997. To do so, he had to wait until the very last day, reserved for the stock of small, hobby breeders.
As Lot No. 566, the little chestnut colt was being sold on behalf of the Aluinn Stud, Roxburgh, and was a mid-September foal. Oscar Wilde once famously observed that only an auctioneer admires all schools of art, and the truth of the maxim was demonstrated yet again as this nondescript yearling stepped cautiously into the sales ring. As John Inglis began to sing the colt’s praises, it seemed that only Arthur Beuzeville was listening. Certainly, Beuzeville wasn’t drawn to him with any illusions of classic glory at three, for on pedigree alone, he held little appeal as a stayer. Peter’s Yarn, his sire, an imported English stallion by Vilmorin, although the winner of the Hurst Primrose Cup, the Newmarket Crawfurd Handicap and Newbury Beckhampton Stakes, had never won beyond seven furlongs; and Vilmorin himself was the descendant of strictly a speed line. Moreover, Swift Peter’s maternal line lacked any class winners as far back as his fourth dam. Yet his fourth dam was none other than Frances Tressady, the champion staying filly of her year, who not only won the 1923 Victoria Derby – V.R.C. Oaks double, but also finished a creditable fifth in the Melbourne Cup behind Bitalli. In comparison, Riola, Swift Peter’s dam, by the Doomben Cup winner Rio Fe, didn’t even race. As far as the Inglis sales catalogue was concerned, Frances Tressady notwithstanding, Swift Peter’s main claim to fame seemed to be the fact that his half-brother Patello had won a Tattersall’s Club Maiden Handicap during December 1963 over the Derby distance.
Swift Peter’s racecourse debut had come at his home course at Newcastle in late October when unplaced in a juvenile stakes race. He didn’t break through for his first win until April 1967 when creating a big impression winning a lowly midweek handicap at Canterbury Park. In all, he had twelve starts during that first season for two wins, and it wasn’t until his last appearance and his second victory, in the prestigious MacArthur Quality Handicap at Rosehill in late July that Beuzville realised he had a first-class racehorse. After all, in that race, he defeated Honeyland by a head, with Great Exploits among the beaten brigade. Swift Peter was given a brief let-up for four weeks. The horse then resumed in the new season with a fine third, beaten less than a length, in a restricted race over a mile at Warwick Farm after coming from last in a field of thirteen in the hands of Ray Selkrig. It was that performance that had nourished Selkrig and Beuzeville’s faith that, pedigree notwithstanding, Swift Peter would stay the Derby journey and that faith never faltered despite unplaced efforts in both the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas. A curious feature of Swift Peter’s classic victory was that he carried the allegedly unlucky ‘all pink’ colours of the A.J.C. Due to an oversight on Beuzeville’s part, his registered racing silks had inadvertently been left behind at his Broadmeadow stables. By the time it was recognised that the colours were missing, it was already too late to despatch anybody to retrieve them.
Time would demonstrate that the 1967 A.J.C. Derby field was somewhat sub-standard. Swift Peter did win some good races as an older horse such as the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes, Q.T.C. O’Shea Stakes and the Tattersall’s Cup in Queensland, besides running second in the Brisbane Cup of 1968 won in Australian record time by Prominence. However, his smallness of stature disadvantaged him in weight-for-age races while his Derby laurels compounded the same problem with handicaps. After winning stakes of $50,590 the gallant little horse bowed the tendon in his off-foreleg when being trained for the 1969 Brisbane Cup and was retired to stud. Alas, he failed to sire anything of note. Easily the best horse to emerge from that 1967 Derby field was Roman Consul, runner-up to Savoy later that spring in the Victoria Derby.
Unable to stay a genuine mile-and-a-half, this son of Agricola matured into a high-class weight-for-age galloper eventually winning eleven stakes or principal races on the Turf including the Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes (thrice), A.J.C. Craven Plate, Q.T.C. O’Shea Stakes (twice) and the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington.
Two of Tommy Smith’s other candidates in that Derby, Great Exploits and Court Prince, also went on to earn good stakes. However, waiting for Karloon Pride to win a decent race was like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt. After the Derby, the son of Alcimedes went to Melbourne where he failed successively in the Caulfield Guineas, Cox Plate and Victoria Derby but managed to recoup some travel costs when second in a ten-furlong handicap at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. It was his last hurrah in decent company. Like so many of the Fox horses during that period – Honeyland was another – Karloon Pride simply failed to redeem any promise that he might have shown in his two-year-old days. He only ever won another couple of races in the grey and purple seams: a nondescript Graduation Stakes at Canterbury and a mile handicap at Hawkesbury as a four-year-old; and after a succession of failures as an older horse, he was sold to finish his racing days in the Warrnambool district of Victoria.
However deep was the disappointment of Stan Fox with the career of Karloon’s Pride, it did nothing to curb his obsession with the Turf. Too often the crusading fires of youth flicker and flutter to become nothing but smouldering embers with age. That was never true of Stan Fox, who was proud of his early struggles in life and the fact that he had overcome humble beginnings. To the end of his days, he relished nothing quite so much as a challenge. In the wake of that 1967 Derby fiasco, Fox decided to concentrate all of his horses in the one complex rather than sharing them among a host of trainers, that by then included Roden, Tom Smith, Jim Barker, Les Bridge, Jack Denham and Tom Kennedy. Accordingly, in November 1967 Fox purchased “The Glades”, the elaborate and then modern Rosehill stables of Kennedy located at 123 Arthur St, which at the time consisted of thirty boxes. Fox had his first dealings with Tom Kennedy when he raced Royal Echo out of his stables in partnership with a close friend, Jack McKelvey. In addition to Kennedy’s original stables, Fox bought other surrounding property and proceeded to develop the extended complex – christened Nebo Lodge – into the finest training establishment in N.S.W.
Fox’s break with Roden, which involved the transfer of Nebo Road, Karloon Pride and Honeyland among others, wasn’t an easy decision, particularly after the loyal service Roden had rendered, but the coal magnate wanted all of his horses trained under the one roof for economic reasons. Fox’s initial intention was to retain Tom Kennedy to prepare his team, and he entered into a twelve-month arrangement predicated on that basis. The two men, however, didn’t see eye to eye on the issue of outside clients and in June 1968 agreed to go their separate ways. Kennedy, a future chairman of the Sydney Turf Club, moved to Warwick Farm with a small team to establish stables there, which opened the door to the appointment of the dour Jack Denham, who had only recently severed his trainer-owner arrangement with the Foyster family, as Fox’s private trainer later that same month. Denham most certainly had a team of horses with which to work for Stan and Millie Fox had spent $150,000 on twenty-three lots at the New Zealand Sales the previous January.
The adjustment to training a large string of thoroughbreds was a major step-change in Denham’s training life, and it took the gruff horseman, then in his early forties, a year or two to master the game. However, in choosing Denham for the task, Stan Fox had shrewdly recruited a man with whom he had much in common. Each had struggled toughly early in life, each reciprocated loyalty in spades, and each could be brutally honest in their interpersonal dealings. Paring the wings of Fox’s more imaginative flights of fancy and saving him from the risk of expensive absurdity in some of his bloodstock acquisitions was one of the more critical services Denham provided. Fox abhorred sycophancy in others, and toadying was a trait altogether absent in Denham’s character, while neither man embraced the frivolous frippery of the fashionable, that is so much part of the modern racecourse, particularly official presentations. “Jack Denham doesn’t say anything, and I say even less, “ Stan Fox once told the racing journalist, Bert Lillye.
At the same time as consolidating his large string in the hands of one private trainer, Stan Fox embarked on an ambitious programme of vertically integrating his entire thoroughbred business. He developed a 200-acre spelling property, Coolamon Park at St Mary’s, then on the outskirts of Sydney, which he had initially purchased in 1966, to accommodate 160 horses. Moreover, at his own expense of around $250,000 Fox built an equine hospital at Coolamon with state-of-the-art medical and veterinarian technology including a hydraulic, mobile operating table. The inspiration for the horse hospital had come when Fox had witnessed surgery performed on the great Galilee and was appalled that after administration of the anaesthetic, the champion just slumped onto a patch of grass and the leg operation executed on the spot. The risk of infection from the dust and the flies was such that Stan resolved there and then to go ahead and establish a facility that would be available to the entire racing industry.
In April 1969 Fox announced his intention to establish a stud farm and breed his own racehorses. From the moment that he had entered the ranks of ownership four years before, he had always intended to branch out into breeding. It was his raison d’être for acquiring well-bred fillies, and on his buying forays into New Zealand, he had never lost an opportunity to study the breeding methods and organisation of their leading studs. The location that Fox eventually chose for his stud property was Coolah, 55 miles northeast of Mudgee in the Warrumbungle region of central New South Wales. Fox had originally bought the 3,000-acre property in the early 1950s with the intention of running cattle. Situated on the picturesque Coolaburragundy River and nestled in a delightful valley of the Liverpool Ranges, giant grass trees and statuesque snow gums distinguish the landscape of undulating hills and fertile river flats, and it was here that Fox established Kurrajong Park and realised his bloodhorse breeding scheme. It was to become something of a showpiece establishment with the innovative Fox constructing a large stallion barn and a swimming pool for his horses, besides installing an X-ray machine for diagnostic purposes and employing a full-time pathologist to enable regular blood counts to be taken on his breeding stock. As his inaugural studmaster, he was fortunate enough to attract the services of Noel Hennessy, who had guided the fortunes of Baramul for twelve years until its disposal just a few months before.
It was also in April 1969 that Fox acquired Bogan Road to serve alongside Duo as his two resident Australian stallions. Now, Duo might have failed as a sire, but purchasing the runner-up and favourite for the 1962 A.J.C. Derby out of the William Inglis saleyards to serve at Kurrajong Park proved a masterstroke. By the time Fox bought Bogan Road, he had learned the hard way that his presence at ringside excited the notion among auctioneers and bloodstock sellers alike that there was money in the air – ever so much money, as Fagin might have observed. And human nature being what it is, there was never a shortage of unscrupulous characters who saw it as an opportunity to pick a pocket or two. Just how much Stan Fox overpaid in some of his early misadventures at bloodstock auctions is anyone’s guess; but by the late sixties when the opportunity came to buy Bogan Road, he cloaked his interest by commissioning Rosehill trainer, Herb Sampson, to do it for him. The son of Wilkes would have cost old Stan a lot more than the $5,000 Sampson paid had he chosen to bid in his own right.
Stan Fox acquired other stallions for Kurrajong Park as the stud expanded. In April 1970 he reverted to his old form when he paid an Australian record price of $80,000 for Village Square at the William Inglis Newmarket Sales after engaging in a spirited bidding duel with respected Adelaide trainer, Colin Hayes. The winner of four races in France, the horse had been trained there by Australian expatriate, Ernie Fellows. It was a shame for Fox that he won that bidding duel, for Village Square, who had originally been imported by the Bowcock family to stand at Alabama, proved a disappointment as a stallion, although he did manage to sire Brindisi, winner of the 1980 A.J.C. Metropolitan in the Fox livery, as well as Pink Posy, who, fittingly, won the fifth running of the prestigious A.J.C. Stan Fox Stakes. At the same sales, Fox parted with $24,000 to secure the 1968 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap winner, Speed of Sound. An Irish-bred son of Buisson Ardent, he had been imported to Australia by John Foyster but was to prove as equally inept in the stallion barn as Village Square.
There is no doubt that Jack Denham, with brother Mick as stable foreman, and son Allan as the stable apprentice, gave Stan Fox the best years of his life in racing. Not satisfied with just acquiring Nebo Lodge, Stan crossed the road and bought the Rosehill stables first occupied by the Rajah of Rosehill, Bill Booth. In more recent years the stables had been occupied by George Musson and Tom Lee, and it was Lee who sold the property to Fox. Fox demolished the existing house and stables and in 1972 proceeded to build a complex almost identical to the recently refurbished Nebo Lodge across the road. Upon completion, this dual establishment was capable of housing 110 racehorses as well as providing motel-style accommodation of 22 bedrooms for the Nebo Lodge staff. The objective, of course, was to see Nebo Lodge supplant Tulloch Lodge as the leading training establishment in Sydney. Tommy Smith had trained a number of horses for Fox in his early days on the Turf and achieved some decent performances – Red Pilot in the 1967 A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate and Del Charro’s second in the Metropolitan of the same year come to mind – but the pair fell out when Smith proposed an increase in training fees.
There was a sense that the rift over training fees was more the occasion than the cause of Fox’s decisive break with Smith. Each man was too much the autocrat and too little the diplomat to brook dissent for long, but after that, it remained old Stan’s burning ambition to harness the horsepower to dislodge Smith from his number one ranking. It wasn’t to happen in Stan’s lifetime though, and he never lived long enough to see his extravagant dreams for either Nebo Lodge or Kurrajong Park realised. The former coal magnate died in June 1974, as he was being flown back to Sydney from Gulgong. The awful shadows of mortality closed in on the millionaire owner on the drive to his 30,000-acre property, Kurrajong Park, Coolah. Complaining of persistent pains in the stomach he was admitted to Gulgong Hospital, but as the pain worsened the decision was made to fly him back to Sydney for specialist treatment, but he died during the flight. The man who had spent almost $4,000,000 in just over nine years’ involvement with the Australian Turf was 71-years-old. A widely attended funeral service was held at the St Stephen’s Church, Willoughby, and he was buried in the Lawn Cemetery, Northern Suburbs. At the time of his death, Jack Denham remained his private trainer at Nebo Lodge, Rosehill, while his stud boasted nearly a hundred broodmares and about the same number of weanling foals and yearlings, together with a handful of stallions.
When Stan Fox died, he was enjoying one of his best seasons with the stable saddling up the winners of 111 races, which had brought the total individual wins of the former coal magnate to 656 events during his nine-year career as an owner. Alas, neither the A.J.C. Derby nor the Golden Slipper was numbered among them and nor had he succeeded in dislodging Tommy Smith from his long reign as Sydney’s premier trainer. Nonetheless, Nebo Lodge had made its mark, and for the fourth season in succession, Jack Denham was to finish runner-up in the Sydney trainers’ premiership. Curiously enough, both Fox’s first starter, Nebo Road, and his last, Fine Style, were winners, the former in the 1965 A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate and the latter in the last race at Canterbury the day before Fox died. Obsessed to the very end, the millionaire had spent $160,000 for fifteen yearlings in February at the annual Adelaide Yearling Sales. Stan Fox had once boasted in a famous interview that he had built his commercial empire on the basis that every quid invested should repay him 22/6d and that his investment in the world of racing should be no different.
It was, of course, and the popular septuagenarian never came within coo’ee of earning that return on his lavish Turf expenditure. Indeed, at the time of Fox’s death, the trophy cabinet at Kurrajong Park seemed decidedly bereft of significant silverware. Of course, there was Nebo Road’s famous victory in the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap but after that, the pickings seemed slim indeed, with the likes of a Newcastle Cup (Chancellor); S.T.C. Lord Mayor’s Cup (Oklahoma); Canterbury Guineas twice (Honeyland and Egyptian); City Tattersall’s Cup (Brave Warrior); Silver Slipper (Jewel Thief); and a Hobartville Stakes (Outlook). The racing journalist Pat Farrell once suggested to Fox that he would have done much better had he not based his training operations at Rosehill but split up his stable of 150 or so racehorses around the capital cities of Australia. Fox’s response was blunt: “You can’t be every-bloody-where and what the bloody hell’s the good of feeding them if you can’t see them race!” Like many men, Fox’s character was a medley of curious impulses and contradictions. The same man, who gave generously to a host of charitable causes and paid extravagant sums for thoroughbreds, could at the same time quibble with veterinarians for a few dollars’ discounts for quantity when it came to gelding those very same thoroughbreds.
Millie Fox was distraught at the loss of her soul mate but, contrary to the response she had once given Stan when asked what she would do if he died, resolved to continue Stan’s thoroughbred legacy. After all, unlike many husband and wife teams that enjoyed a dalliance on the Turf, theirs had always been a partnership of equals. A gracious and elegant lady, Millie Fox was almost as passionate about the business of racing as her late husband, but she pursued it with quiet humility and equanimity that was to reward her with some beautiful moments during her extended widowhood. Jack Denham continued at Nebo Lodge in his capacity as the private trainer until March 24th, 1978, while Ken Ennever, a long-time and trusted employee in the Fox coal and foundry business, agreed to act as Millie’s racing manager. Included among the many racehorses that Stan and Millie Fox owned at the time of Stan’s death, was a rising four-year-old son of Pakistan out of Micheline, a daughter of the legendary broodmare Dulcie, that Stan Fox had bought at the New Zealand Sales.
Registered as Purple Patch, at the time of Stan’s death he was a promising galloper that had won his last five juvenile races in succession only to disappoint at three, although he ran placings in some high-class races. Exactly one month after Stan’s death, Purple Patch won the Winter Handicap at Rosehill with a youthful Allan Denham in the saddle. It was a performance that confirmed the talent of both horse and rider. Over the next three seasons, Purple Patch matured into one of the best gallopers in the land winning no less than nine stakes races including the A.J.C. George Main Stakes and Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick. Retired to Kurrajong Park Stud at the end of his six-year-old season, Purple Patch was to prove a useful stallion. Among his progeny to carry the ‘grey and purple seams’ of Millie Fox with distinction were Late Show, winner of the Sydney Cup, and Saloon Passage, winner of a City Tattersall’s Cup, along with lesser gallopers such as the likes of Dear Diane.
By the time the progeny of Purple Patch was ready to race, Jack Denham was no longer training for Millie Fox. In the summer of 1977-78, Denham decided to branch out once again as a public trainer and into his place at Nebo Lodge stepped a 31-year-old, laconic, former stockman from North Queensland named Brian Mayfield-Smith. It was a major promotion for the man who had arrived in Sydney with just one horse, Tiger Town, two years earlier. When offered the job Mayfield-Smith asked why? Millie Fox’s response was direct: “Stan would have liked someone like you.” The appointment, which began on April 15, 1978, was to prove another masterstroke although unbeknownst to either Millie Fox or her racing manager, Ken Ennever, the Queensland horseman had actually worked in Nebo Lodge before – ten years earlier – as a strapper there for Jack Denham. After prudently winnowing away the chaff among the older horses and reducing the team to about thirty gallopers, Mayfield-Smith set about concentrating on the seventy-odd rising two-year-olds.
In the three months or so remaining in that 1977-78 racing season, the stable won some 20 races and $70,000 in stakes. The following season Nebo Lodge enjoyed 42 ½ winners from 217 starters and Mayfield-Smith finished sixth on the winning trainers’ list. To seasoned observers, it seemed that the sluice gates had opened and the winners were coming with a rush. They were right. The partnership lasted more than six years winning over 300 races on metropolitan courses and as many again on both country and provincial tracks. It was in 1984 that Millie Fox sold Nebo Lodge for $2.3 million to Bob Lapointe, head of the Australian Racing and Breeding Stables (ARABS) and Robert Sangster. Brian Mayfield-Smith stayed on, and the stables underwent a million-dollar refurbishment. Harnessing the combined horsepower of Fox, Sangster and Lapointe saw Brian Mayfield-Smith in the 1985-86 racing season achieve the unthinkable – and realise the late Stan Fox’s impossible dream – when the taciturn horseman from Queensland ended Tommy Smith’s 33 year-reign as Sydney’s leading trainer. Such was the quality of the stable that it retained the premiership during the following two seasons.
Why does it so rarely happen that those who set the fire are allowed to light it? When Stan Fox departed this world, he had laid the foundations for a successful breeding farm, but it was his wife Millie who lived to reap the benefits. When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Randwick in February 1992, on the occasion that she graciously bestowed the ‘royal’ title on the racecourse, Millie Fox was introduced to her as one of Australia’s most prominent racehorse owners. Millie was asked by Her Majesty how many horses she had. “One hundred” came the reply. “How do you cope?” asked the Queen. “I find it difficult with thirty-five!” After Brian Mayfield-Smith relinquished the training ranks in 1995 for his quixotic quest to South Africa and its wildlife conservation, Millie Fox transferred her forty-plus horses to Ron Quinton, the former leading jockey who had established training stables at Randwick just two years earlier. Succumbing to old age and ill-health, Millie had already begun to scale down her racing activities having sold Kurrajong Park in 1994 for an undisclosed price and the 400-hectare Eurunderee property at Mudgee for $1.8 million. In 1998 Jack and Bob Ingham bought Coolamon Park for more than $2 million. The First Lady of Australian racing died, after a long illness, in January 1999 in her 94th year. Old Stan would have been proud.