Racecourse life has its rituals and traditions, like muddy car parks in winter and cold pies in summer, not to mention overzealous panjandrums in charge of course parking and access gates all year round. However, never underestimate the capacity of the racecourse for throwing up the unexpected. Ever since seeing Tulloch stroll away with the 1957 Rosehill Guineas as a very young boy, I’d impatiently waited for another champion galloper that was Tulloch’s equal to come along. Of course, what I didn’t realise in my adolescence, was that real champions are almost as rare and as fleeting as a transit of Venus.
Now, let me say this. I think that there is a propensity in each of us to exalt the past and to deprecate the present, particularly as we reach our more senior years. Perhaps I’m guilty of it now, but I don’t think so. It took almost twenty-two years after Tulloch’s Rosehill Guineas for it to happen, but brace yourself for a legend. The thoroughbred in question made his first public appearance under dull, grey and overcast skies at Canterbury Park on the second Monday of March 1979 and there were a mere 7,225 people to witness this second coming. Racebooks of the day, which rarely come up for auction, now command high prices. The relevant race in the book was the S.T.C. Alfalfa Handicap over 1250 metres for two-year-old colts and geldings, worth $3,700 to the winner, and it had attracted a field of thirteen starters.
The horse who in the fullness of time was to be acclaimed by many as the best horse to race in Australia since Tulloch and arguably his equal, was a near jet-black son of the sensational stallion, Bletchingly. He was out of an imported German mare named Ada Hunter and carried the soon to be familiar ‘yellow, red striped sleeves and cap’ of Melbourne financier, David Hains. Neat, well-proportioned and full of quality, Kingston Town was a handsome, athletic specimen and, as fate would have it, was being trained out of Tulloch Lodge by the same man that had put the polish on the famous son of Khorassan all those years before. Weighted on the limit with 48 kg and drawn in barrier eleven, Kingston Town was partnered in his racing debut at Canterbury by Mal Johnston. Although uneasy in the market, at flagfall the colt went off as the 5/1 second favourite in the race. However, unlike those written by Geoffrey Chaucer, this was to be a cautionary Canterbury tale. For in racing as in life, big things often have small beginnings and the opening event at Canterbury Park on that March afternoon would be a case in point. Seemingly suffering from pernicious pig-rooting, Kingston Town was slow out of the barrier, last to the turn, and finished last – and a bad last at that – in the race won by The Skite. Uncharacteristically, Johnston was lost for words upon returning to scale. It was a reminder that while history happens at once, legends sometimes take a little longer.
Kingston Town’s price in the betting market that afternoon at Canterbury reflected the stable’s ambivalence about the colt’s chances. After all, he had already run last in two barrier trials. Certainly, Ernie Smith hadn’t imbued those close stable followers with any sense of inevitability about the winning prospects of the well-bred son of Bletchingly. For in truth the colt was proving something of a puzzlement to his famous brother. According to trainer T. J. Smith: “When the youngster first came into the stable he was a holy terror. He would walk in his box and then try to climb up the wall, roaring all the time. He had speed but he just refused to go one yard.” Prior to that Canterbury debacle, Tommy had been urging owner David Hains to agree upon a gelding operation for the horse. Understandably, given Kingston Town’s distinguished international bloodlines, Hains had resisted. Not so now. Within the week Kingston Town had suffered the unkindest cut of all and been sent out for a spell.
Tulloch Lodge sheltered some talented two-year-olds in that 1978-79 racing season but Kingston Town wasn’t rated amongst them. Early season winners included the likes of Charity, Snowing, Hard To Forget, Granite King and Rocky Top. However, Tommy Smith’s best juvenile of the year was a diminutive chestnut son of the stallion, Planet Kingdom. Just six days after Kingston Town’s ignominious debut at Canterbury, the colt in question, Mighty Kingdom, won his fourth race on the reel when he took out the $50,120 V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington. He showed great fight in the hands of Wayne Treloar to defeat the top Victorian youngster, Bold Diplomat, by a neck. An early October foal, Mighty Kingdom had been bred at the Gooree Stud, near Mudgee, by Lloyd Foyster and was out of Madam Borough, an unraced daughter of Mossborough, one of those distinguished English broodmares that resided at Gooree during that profligate era of the Foyster family’s free-spending on bloodstock.
Offered on the third day of the Inglis Newmarket Yearling Sales in March 1978, the colt had been knocked down to a $17,000 bid from Sydney’s leading trainer. Smith had trained some of Madam Borough’s previous progeny including King’s Mistress and Small Favour and was only too happy to get the yearling. However, in one of those curious ‘buyback’ deals that so often shroud yearling sales, Lloyd Foyster and his brother, John, finished up owning one-third of the colt each, with the other third being shared between T. J. Smith and B. H. Heavener. After an inauspicious debut over 900 metres at Rosehill in early November when he was let go at 50/1, Mighty Kingdom stepped out at Randwick on the last day of the same month to win a juvenile race over 1000 metres after having been heavily supported in the ring. Three days later, he backed up again, and, despite a 3 kg penalty, won just as easily at Canterbury against his own age group. Smith quipped to nearby pressmen: “I think Mighty Kingdom is the best two-year-old who has been seen out so far this season.”
A viral infection impeded Mighty Kingdom’s preparation for the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes run on the first Saturday in March. In his absence, the unbeaten Star of Heaven colt, Star Shower, trained by Tony Lopes and ridden by Roy Higgins, exhibited great courage to win the event despite cutting the tendon sheath on his near hind leg. Sadly, after just five appearances on the racecourse, this fast colt, who had cost $11,500 as a yearling, was then promptly retired to a successful stud career. With Star Shower indisposed, Mighty Kingdom quickly returned to Randwick after his Sires’ victory at Flemington to be set for the Sydney triple crown of two-year-old races i.e. the S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes and the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes. Dispatched as the 5/1 third-favourite in the Golden Slipper he could only manage seventh behind Century Miss, although he was unlucky, while in the Sires’ Produce Stakes he failed to run a place as the 6/4 favourite behind Zephyr Zip. However, Mighty Kingdom did redeem something of his reputation on the last day of the Randwick autumn carnival over the 1600 metres of the Champagne Stakes when second to his stablemate, Charity. Moreover, that performance suggested that as a three-year-old, 2000 to 2400 metres might well be his forte.
As the dust settled on the rich autumn racing carnivals of Sydney and Melbourne and the days shortened into winter, racing men around the country canvassed the various Derby and Cup prospects for the spring. Unbeknownst to all, the best galloper in the land still lay undiscovered in Tulloch Lodge. Returned to training in late May and given a run in a barrier trial the following month, Kingston Town resumed racing at Rosehill in a 1200 metres race for two-year-olds on the last day of June. I was there that day and watched Malcolm, who had already ridden the first two winners on the card, walk across the birdcage to mount up. As a matter of fact, he was almost kicked by another runner as he did so. I can remember being struck by just how handsome the black gelding looked in his white bridle and breastplate. Moreover, the bright yellow jacket and red-striped sleeves sported by Johnston, colours that weren’t overly familiar to me at the time, somehow completed the ensemble wonderfully.
I thought about backing him but one glance at the totalisator board convinced me otherwise. Drawn two in a field of fifteen, and despite the presence of the treble-seeking Johnston in the irons, Kingston Town had blown out in the betting ring from an opening quote of 6/1 to start at 33/1. Nobody was ever to be offered those odds again. It was to be a red-letter day for the dashing 22-year-old jockey whom the media had begun to refer to as Miracle Mal. Johnston’s first two winners had been Daniel’s Idol and Miss Entertainer. And he would proceed to win the next three on Kingston Town, Biscapol and Bi-Centennial, which had racegoers, including me, riffling through our racebooks to see if the new wunderkind could ride the card. He couldn’t. Indeed, he didn’t have mounts in the last two races and anyway, Bidden Time, his ride in the sixth race, another two-year-old from the Smith yard, failed to run a drum. But there was no prize for guessing just which of his first five winners fired Mal’s imagination most.
In that third race, Kingston Town confounded the market when he jumped smartly from his inside draw, sat on the pace and then dashed past Point High, the early pacemaker, rounding the home turn. Eased down in the final furlong, he still had almost three lengths to spare at the post. Given his starting price, the flashy black gelding returned to scale and a somewhat muted reception. Neither trainer nor owners were there to receive him. Tommy Smith was in Brisbane, and David and Helen Hains had only just returned to Melbourne from England the day before. Nobody knew it then, of course, but Kingston Town’s victory was to be the first in an unbroken sequence of twenty-one on Sydney racecourses that would last until Chelmsford Stakes Day in September 1982.
Early season three-year-olds can sometimes blossom overnight. Such was the case with Kingston Town in the late winter and early spring of 1979. As the days lengthened and the sun strengthened, Kingston Town seemingly ‘grew another leg’. Tommy Smith was never one to underestimate his charges but this son of Bletchingly kept surprising him. Four weeks after his first win, Kingston Town stepped out over the same course and distance in a three-year-old handicap. This time he had only a head to spare over Bemboka Yacht, getting up in the last stride. When Bemboka Yacht came out to win the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes at his very next start, on that same Warwick Farm card Smith opted for an easier 1200 metres race for Kingston Town’s hat-trick. It is a rather curious fact that instead of running him in the prestigious Hobartville Stakes, Tulloch Lodge instead depended on Spear and Granite King, who each disappointed in finishing third and fourth respectively. It was the last time that Smith sold Kingston Town that short. In quick succession, the black gelding snaffled both the Peter Pan Stakes (1500 metres) and the Gloaming Stakes (1850 metres) at Rosehill, stepping up in distance on both occasions. It was after the Gloaming that Smith conceded: “He could be the best three-year-old I have had for some time. I can’t fathom the heights he may reach.” Next stop was the $100,500 A.J.C. Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick.
Meanwhile, during the weeks of Kingston Town’s emergence, Tommy Smith’s best two-year-old of the previous season had indicated that he had come back better than ever. Mighty Kingdom might not have grown much since the autumn but he had surely strengthened and after a sound second first-up to Salaam in the S.T.C. Premier Stakes, he ran a course record to win the Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick. Peter Cook, who partnered him that day in a superb tactical display, was so impressed he was prepared to starve himself in an attempt to retain the mount in the spring weight-for-age races. Hitherto, Smith had managed to keep Kingston Town and Mighty Kingdom apart, but the Spring Champion Stakes changed all that. It might have been only the second running of the race but the clash of these two classy three-year-olds made it a worthy substitute for the transferred A.J.C. Derby. There were eleven starters and Mighty Kingdom (10/9) just shaded Kingston Town (7/4) for favouritism.
Peter Cook retained the ride on the former; Malcolm Johnston stuck with the latter. Added spice was afforded by the fact that the pair were drawn together in barriers three and four. Best backed to beat the Tulloch Lodge representatives were the Bart Cummings’ trained Lloyd’s Consul and the New Zealand colt Young Shaun. If the betting ring had difficulty separating Smith’s two putative champions, the race itself didn’t. Johnston trailed Peter Cook on Mighty Kingdom most of the way to the home turn, and then cleverly pocketed Cook soon after straightening. However, it was the devastating crack of acceleration that Kingston Town exhibited when he topped the rise that had racegoers agog. Sweeping clear, the King had five lengths to spare over his stablemate on the post, with a further length-and-a-quarter to Young Shaun in the minor placing. While Kingston Town’s previous wins at Rosehill had won him an audience, this was the performance that won him a following. As the black horse returned to scale with a dignified swagger, Bart Cummings, who also trained for David Hains, approached the lucky owner and said: “Congratulations, David. You have a champion there.”
Forty-nine-year-old David Harold Hains had become one of Australia’s leading bloodhorse breeders in just a few short years. He was born in August 1930 at Fairfield, inner Melbourne, quite close to the Yarra River and an area that still retains some of its natural bushlands. Hains’s father at the age of twenty-three had been wounded during the Gallipoli landing in 1915 and after the war, worked for the State Electricity Commission. Young David always had a practical engineering bent of mind and from his early years wanted both to build things and understand how they were built. Indeed, his father constructed him a work shed in their suburban backyard when David was aged just ten. His youthful imagination was fired in his early teens when he watched the film ‘Valley of Decision’ starring Gregory Peck, and thereafter like the Peck character in the film, he harboured visions of running a manufacturing complex. Hains left school and started work at the age of fifteen attending technical college.
Perhaps the seminal moment in David’s life came in 1947 when his father died at the age of fifty-five and he was seventeen. Two years later, in 1949, Hains launched his own manufacturing company, Oriole Industries, designing and marketing his very own washing machine and clothes-dryer, branded as the ‘Hydromat’. Just imagine, this was an era when Australia’s population was much less than it is now but actually manufactured things! The business prospered and around 1952, he moved his white goods factory to Footscray before selling Oriole Industries in 1954, soon after his marriage to the charming Helen Monsborough. David Hains was on his way! He continued to grow by buying, restructuring and selling businesses. In 1958 he founded Portland House, which henceforth became his investment vehicle for real estate, merchant banking and mineral exploration ventures, and today is one of Australia’s largest private hedge funds with offices in London and New York. Its head office is in the ‘Paris End’ of Collin St, Melbourne, in one of those nineteenth-century heritage buildings that Hains bought in 1963.
It was Hains’ friendship with Norman Von Nida that first introduced him to the sport of horseracing. Von Nida, arguably Australia’s greatest golfer never to win a major tournament, persuaded Hains back in 1971 to buy a half-share in John Knox, a son of the 1957 English Two Thousand Guineas and Derby winner, Crepello. Trained by Tom Kennedy in Sydney, John Knox only managed to win once in six starts in Australia – a lowly middle distance handicap at a mid-week Canterbury meeting when ridden by Bill Camer. Nonetheless, David Hains was hooked. His second horse was Kingston Lad, trained by Angus Armanasco, and he managed to return his merchant banker owner $280 when he won a two-year-old handicap at Pakenham. Derby triumphs and Melbourne Cups seemed the stuff of dreams at that stage.
The turn in fortune’s wheel for Hains’ bloodstock adventures came when he converted a farm he owned on the Mornington Peninsula into a horse stud. Kingston Park, some seventy kilometres south of Melbourne, originally produced stud cattle and prize sheep for David Hains and had done so for the best part of twenty years until Norman von Nida one day in 1969 insisted that it was fertile real estate for breeding thoroughbreds. Never mind the fact that Hains had no family background in breeding and raising thoroughbreds. Antecedents don’t count here or anywhere else when success comes. And my, how success did come! While the farm was being refurbished, Von Nida recommended to Hains the broodmare Major Bargain, who had a foal at foot and was in foal again. This daughter of Major Portion set Hains back $7,000 but it was to be the making of him as an owner-breeder. The foal at foot by Natural Bid turned out to be Kingston Bid, who won eight races for the Hains family while the foal that Major Bargain was carrying at the time of purchase, turned out to be Kingston Star, that smart two-year-old filly that carried Hains’ yellow jacket and red-striped sleeves and cap to victory in the 1973 Byron Moore Stakes at Flemington. In those days, Angus Armanasco, whose reputation as a trainer of two-year-olds was legendary, prepared their horses at Caulfield.
Initially, a boutique stud, rich infusions of international blood and money soon saw Kingston Park Stud expand to become a highly commercial operation and propel David Hains into the sporting headlines. If a man’s position on the Turf is marked by the number of top-class racehorses that carry his colours in any given epoch, David Hains would quickly come to stand at the very pinnacle! I shall leave a more complete discussion of the Kingston Park Stud to our 1982 chapter, the year in which the Hains’s colours were carried to triumph in the A.J.C. Derby for a second time. However, permit me to sketch the initial details here. From the start, Hains together with Norman von Nida acting as his bloodstock adviser and Neville Pepper as his studmaster sought to breed high-class thoroughbreds, and their magic formula was to acquire stoutly-bred European mares with which to cross with the speed sires readily available here in Australia.
Perhaps the success of Kingston Park Stud was due to the advice of Von Nida, Pepper and others, more than Hains’ own judgement, but at the very least Hains had the judgement to take their advice. It was in the Australian autumn of 1975 at the instigation of Von Nida that Hains completed negotiations on a package deal of six mares from Italy, sourced from the famous Dormello Stud founded by that great bloodstock breeder, Federico Tesio. The 85-year-old Tesio, the breeder of Nearco and Ribot, had died in May 1954, but his famous Dormello Stud in Dormelletto on the banks of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy still exercised a significant influence on European breeding. Hains negotiated his package deal of broodmares with the Marchesa, whose father, the Marchese Mario Incisa Della Rocchetta had been Tesio’s partner at Dormello.
Ada Hunter, the dam of Kingston Town was one of the mares; Ursula Lauderdale, the dam of Lowan Star was another. Ada Hunter was due to have her first race at the track in Milan on the day that Von Nida clinched the deal and the filly was scratched. Accordingly, Ada Hunter landed in Australia in May 1975 as an unraced mare. Ada Hunter’s sire, Andrea Mantegna, was by Ribot, widely considered the greatest European racehorse of the twentieth century. Andrea Mantegna had been bred in France but proved to be a tough galloper in Italy where he won both the Premio D’Este and the Premio Roma Vechia over fourteen furlongs in 1965. Ada Hunter’s dam was Almah, a daughter of Alycidion, and it can be seen that Almah complied with a quirky rule of the German Stud Book that foals must have a name starting with the same letter as their dam. I might add that Hains later made further purchases from the Dormello Stud including the ill-fated Italian stallion, Claude, sire of Ursula Lauderdale and Tommasina Fiesco.
Bletchingly, the sire of Kingston Town, was a somewhat plain, stocky, near-black horse bred and raced by that man with the Midas touch when it came to thoroughbreds, Stanley Wootton. By Star Kingdom’s most influential son in Australia, Biscay, who was also raced by Wootton, Bletchingly was out of the imported English mare, Coogee, the winner of three races as a juvenile in England in 1961, and closely related to Rockfel, winner of the 1938 English One Thousand Guineas and Champion Stakes at Newmarket and the English Oaks Stakes at Epsom. Bletchingly was the fifth live foal produced by Coogee, who earlier at stud got those prolific winners, Beaches and Seaman. Trained by Angus Armanasco at Caulfield, Bletchingly fractured a sesamoid bone before he ever appeared on a racecourse, and this, together with a persistent mouth infection, restricted his career to just five starts. Beaten only once, Bletchingly didn’t race at two and raced only once at three, winning a minor race at Bendigo. At four, he equalled the 1000 metres’ course record at Flemington of 56.8 seconds when he won the V.R.C. Moomba Handicap and he ended a long Sydney winning drought for his Melbourne trainer that same season when he won The Galaxy at Randwick at his final start. Immediately upon the horse returning to scale after The Galaxy, Wootton announced the horse’s retirement. Ron Quinton, who partnered the son of Biscay on that occasion, declared him to be the fastest horse that he’d ever ridden.
It was ‘Bim’ Thompson, owner of the Widden Stud, who announced the details of Bletchingly’s stud syndication into forty shares. While Stanley Wootton retained a significant interest in the horse, one man who bought a slice of the action was David Hains. In the winter of 1975 when Hains and Neville Pepper were considering potential speed sires to mate with some of their stamina mares, both men agreed that Bletchingly seemed a good match for the fraulein Ada Hunter, and the booking at Widden was made. It was on August 31st, 1976, in the Widden paddocks where Ada Hunter was waiting to be served again by Bletchingly, that Kingston Town was foaled. Just what an inspired choice the matching was, would only become clear with the passage of time. Thanks to this, his greatest son, Bletchingly would become the champion Australian sire for three successive seasons i.e. 1979-80, 1980-81 and 1981-82. At Widden, Bletchingly would go on to sire 61 individual stakeswinners of 176 stakes races. In the years to come his outstanding progeny would include Emancipation, Best Western, Canny Lad, Star Watch, Spirit of Kingston and True Version.
However, Bletchingly’s contribution to Australian bloodstock was not to be confined to the deeds of his own progeny alone. Time would reveal him as among our best broodmare sires as the likes of Boardwalk Angel, Canny Lass, Classic Victory, Dancer’s Choice, Kilmarie, Regina Madre, St Klaire, Sydney’s Dream, Tennessee Magic, Tennessee Morn and Verocative attest. Moreover, as the years went by, Bletchingly’s credentials as a sire of sires became more blatant. Just consider the influence at the stud of his three brilliant sons, Canny Lad, Lord Ballina and Star Watch not to mention a supporting cast and the likes of Best Western, Opera Prince, Take Your Partner and Cossack Warrior. What might Kingston Town have achieved at stud had he not been subject to the veterinarian’s snip early in life? We shall never know.
When Bletchingly, rising twenty-three, died of an internal haemorrhage shortly after being let out of his stall on July 13, 1993, the curtain came down on a remarkable career. The old boy had remained fertile to the end, covering no less than 44 mares in his final season and leaving behind one more black-type winner in Duchy’s Pride. From an original service fee of $1500 in his first season, Bletchingly’s stream of winners saw that amount increase more than tenfold at the peak of his fame. The Widden Stud has never forgotten him. Consistent with the recognition the Thompson family extend to their finest stallions, a headstone was erected along the roadway there that leads to the stables complex. The series of headstones trace all the way back to the great Maltster.
I suppose it is easier to be likeable and friendly when you own a champion racehorse and a succession of rich victories just fall into your lap, but David Hains was a kindly and genuinely approachable man during his golden days on the Turf. Neither he nor his lovely wife, Helen, ever became nonchalant about their good fortune in owning Kingston Town. Every triumph was greeted by them with absolute delight and on those rare occasions when the King was deposed, David and Helen Hains were gracious to the end. In a very real sense, a champion racehorse quickly becomes public property and the lucky owner has a choice of being either a churlish curmudgeon, denying the public access and information, or a generous philanthropist sharing his good fortune with all. It was the singular luck of the Australian sporting public that David Hains was the man who raced Kingston Town.
It might so easily have been otherwise. As a yearling, he was offered for sale in March 1978 through the auction house of Wright Stephenson and Company at Flemington. David Hain’s bloodstock company, Commercial and Rural Estates Proprietary Limited, Victoria, had placed an $8,000 reserve on the colt on the day and the bidding fell short. Perhaps it was the collective doubt of potential buyers present that Bletchingly, as an unproven first-season sire, could cut it as a successful stallion. Or it may have been that when it came to the distaff side of international pedigrees in yearling catalogues, Australian buyers then were unsophisticated and chary. Whatever the reason, the bidding on Lot No. 4 moved slowly towards $5,000 and stayed there.
It wasn’t the only lucky break that Hains enjoyed at those sales. During the night session on March 16, Hains offered a brown, almost black yearling filly out of another of his Italian-bred broodmares, Ursula Lauderdale. An exquisite daughter of Biscay foaled in early October, Hains had slapped an official reserve on her of $18,000. At least, she was by a proven stallion, while her maternal third dam, Picture Gallery, was a full sister to the 1949 English 1000 Guineas and English Oaks winner, Musidora. However, just like Ada Hunter’s yearling and probably because of similar ignorance or doubts about the distaff side of the lineage, bidding stopped well short at $12,500. After both the colt and the filly were broken in by Neville Pepper and allowed to develop at Kingston Park, Hains sent the filly, registered as Lowan Star, to Angus Armanasco at Caulfield; and, as we have seen, the colt to Tommy Smith at Randwick to be trained. Hains had enjoyed previous success with both men. Armanasco had been training his horses from the very start, while in Smith, Hains had been most impressed when Sydney’s leading trainer had managed to win for him the A.J.C. Warwick Farm Stakes (2200 metres) with the poorly performed maiden horse Kingsky back in August 1975.
Whereas Kingston Town was slow to find his stride in his first season, Lowan Star had been a revelation from the start, winning the V.A.T.C. Debutante Stakes and the V.R.C. Byron Moore Stakes during the spring and the V.R.C. Bloodhorse Breeders’ Plate and the S.T.C. Reisling Slipper Trial Stakes during the autumn. Indeed, so good was Lowan Star that she started the 9/2 equal favourite with Century Miss in the latter’s Golden Slipper, in which she ran unplaced, while her last two appearances as a juvenile saw her narrowly beaten into second in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and third in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. What were the odds at the end of that A.J.C. Autumn Carnival that Kingston Town, like Lowan Star, offered and rejected as a yearling in the Melbourne sales ring, and having run a bad last in his only race, would ultimately emerge to win thirty of his next forty starts and earn almost ten times as much prizemoney as this classy filly for the same lucky owners?
For twenty-two-year-old jockey Malcolm Johnston, victory in that Spring Champion Stakes represented his first major success on the Turf. His second came just forty minutes later at Randwick when he partnered the T. J. Smith-trained Imposing in the prestigious A.J.C. Epsom Handicap. While Johnston’s success in Australia’s richest races had been delayed, his ascendancy in the saddle had not. Born in Parramatta in 1956 and the eldest of seven children to a truck-driving father, he had been raised in Forbes, a country town some 240 miles west of Sydney on the Lachlan River. Despite growing up in the country, horses were never part of his early life. As a boy, he was more interested in playing different codes of football. Rugby league was his great love and he spent many years in the local 4 stone 7 lb team. He even had a year at the Forbes Soccer Club in the under-eights, although he was fourteen at the time! Nobody could tell the difference. Despite, or perhaps because of his small stature, there was a larrikin streak in Malcolm from the start, a good-natured cheekiness that made him a natural paperboy around the streets and pubs of Forbes from a young age. It was his stature or lack thereof, and the fact that his uncle was Les Coles, the Melbourne Cup-winning jockey of Even Stevens fame, that led to Malcolm’s grandfather, Reg Coles, telephoning the Rosehill trainer, Theo Green, about an apprenticeship for the boy.
There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in, as Graham Greene famously observed, and for Johnston, that moment came in 1971 when Theo Green agreed to give the lad a three-month trial as a stable hand. Ron Quinton, another graduate of the Green Apprentices’ Academy and some eight years’ senior to Malcolm, took one look at him and said to Theo: “I think we’d better take him, Boss. He makes us look big blokes.” At the time, Malcolm had to stand on a bucket to groom a horse. Some eighteen months later, he became formally indentured to Green as an apprentice. Given that Green had already schooled the likes of Gordon Spinks and John Duggan as well as Quinton, it was a prize apprenticeship. Although he’d hardly sat upon a horse before coming to Rosehill, Johnston was a natural. Gifted with almost perfect balance, a neat seat and a wonderful judgement of pace, Johnston’s reputation preceded him before he even made his riding debut. Besides all this, there were his fresh-faced good looks and bubbling personality that soon made him a darling of the media.
Given the distinguished alumni that had already graduated from Green’s alma mater, racing journalists – Bert Lillye and Keith Robbins among them – were already spruiking the kid’s talent. Moreover, so were some of Green’s former leading apprentices who were now top jockeys. It is not unusual around racing stables for a trainer, after producing a horse to win a race, to claim that he has a better one at home. It is not a boast generally made about jockeys. However, although Quinton, Spinks and Duggan – champion apprentices all – were riding winners aplenty, not to mention other Green proteges, Peter Stanley, Bill Prain and John Powyer, the usually taciturn and diplomatic Green began to hint to close stable confreres that in Malcolm Johnston, he had just indentured the best apprentice ever to pass through his hands.
There was one particular incident early in their relationship that convinced Green the boy from Forbes was going to make it, and make it all the way. It came during morning trackwork at Rosehill in the winter of 1972. Partnering a horse named Pacolet in a gallop, Johnston fell off when his mount swerved rather sharply. He got up and hobbled over to trainer Ted Stanton, who then helped him off the course. When he saw Theo he said: “Boss, I think I’ve hurt myself.” He had a broken ankle and needed ten stitches in the back of his neck where Pacolet’s hoof had struck him. Ten weeks later, he was back at the track. Yet, only 3 stone 12lb when he first came to work for Green at the age of fifteen, he was still too small to ride in races and needed to build up his weight and strength.
The lad’s first ride in a race finally came aboard Lord Antrim in a Kembla Grange maiden in June 1973; he finished third behind Ron Quinton’s mount. His first winner, Ritual, came at Newcastle on September 1st. It was at a Wednesday meeting later the same month at Rosehill that Johnston rode his first metropolitan winner when he partnered Sasha, a three-year-old filly by Sir Dane, in the S.T.C. Annandale Handicap. The stable didn’t forget to back her either as she firmed in the market from fives into threes. The filly proved a favourite of Johnston’s during the early days of his apprenticeship and he won a number of races on her for his master, Theo Green, and the Bradshaw family, long-established clients of the stable. In fact, the Bradshaw family had lived opposite the Green family in Dunning Avenue, Rosebery, when Theo was a boy. Much later at stud, of course, Sasha foaled the brilliant Shaybisc that Green trained for the brothers, John and Garry Bradshaw.
Pray, dear reader, before we return to the fascinating journey of Kingston Town and Malcolm Johnston across the Australian Turf, permit me the self-indulgence of a brief excursion into the life and times of the man who made a champion jockey of Johnston, among so many others. Just how did Theo Green arrive at his particular station in life as a legendary master of apprentices? Born at Rosebery, N.S.W., on November 19, 1925, Theo Green was educated at the Gardeners Road School on the Botany road, at a time when the great Rupert Browne held sway there as a teacher and sports master. The school was perhaps best known for producing footballers, but in young Theo, there came a sportsman of a different kind and by the age of ten he was already riding racehorses in exercise for Ernie Rawll around Rosebery and Victoria Park. Shrewd but not bookish, Theo quit school at the age of thirteen to join George Price’s Randwick stables and his official apprenticeship began on his fourteenth birthday. It was ten bob a week and a half-Sunday off once a month. Maurice McCarten and George Young were doing much of the stable riding then and Theo observed and listened. However, it wasn’t so much McCarten or Young that influenced Green at the time but another champion jockey in Jim Pike, who by then had retired from the saddle and was training out of Randwick.
Green’s first race ride came on February 8th, 1941, when he ran second last on the 33/1 shot Grand Fils in an A.J.C. Maiden at headquarters. Grand Fils wasn’t a bad horse to be going on with for one’s first race ride as the following season this son of Beau Pere won The Metropolitan and later in life two Anniversary Handicaps at Randwick, although Theo played no part there. Green’s first winner came on Path King in an Improvers’ Handicap at Wyong at the end of May 1941 where his 6lb allowance came in handy. But life was hard and rides were few. One lasting legacy of his apprenticeship days was deafness in one ear as a result of succumbing to the mumps. At the age of sixteen, Theo didn’t realise that he had contracted the disease and was intent on savagely wasting to reduce his weight to meet a riding commitment. He collapsed and almost died. When he emerged from the hospital, he had lost half his hearing. Like many people suffering a similar affliction, for the rest of his life, Theo talked loudly.
Theo’s apprenticeship proved itinerant as he moved between masters including both A. H. Farrow and Charles Stephenson. These were the dark days of World War II and opportunities were slim, besides which he had suffered some internal injuries in a training accident in October 1941 that saw him finish in South Sydney hospital. However, Theo was nothing if not tough and he bounced back to score his first metropolitan victory on a twelve-race card at Canterbury on January 31st, 1942 on the 20/1 Blue Gala. The win came after he had transferred his indentures to Farrow although he had to survive a frivolous protest to keep the race. Green struggled to secure mounts afterwards and all told only rode some nine winners at Gosford and up the line at obscure country courses. Theo’s riding career came to an abrupt end at Muswellbrook on June 30th, 1945, when he was disqualified for 12 months for not trying on Lord Ivan. By the time he had served out his disqualification, his weight had climbed and though he relocated to Brisbane chasing rides, he was ultimately forced to seek a new vocation.
After briefly working on a peanut farm in Queensland and a shale mine in Wallerawang, Theo opted to fall back on his family’s traditional trade of pugilism. After all, the hempen square had been the place where the fighting Greens had made their name. Theo’s father at one time held the N.S.W. bantamweight championship, while his uncles, Jack and Teddy, had been national bantamweight and flyweight champions respectively. Theo proved a top flyweight himself, although his boxing career all but came to an end in May 1948 when Jimmy Hogg stopped him in the sixth round of their twelve-round contest at Leichardt Stadium. Theo would carry scars over his left eye for the rest of his life.
Having dispensed with the Marquis of Queensbury rules, Theo then went to work full-time on Sydney’s wharves for seven hard years, putting together a grubstake that eventually enabled him to buy a plot of land at Rosehill. For the truth of the matter was that racing had entered his blood. The land was swampy and cheap but Theo set about building a house and three boxes for his horses, all the while employing contract tradesmen while he did the labouring himself. Meanwhile, in order to make ends meet, he worked as a strapper for the Rosehill trainer, George Musson. Theo believed he could be master of his own fate and that faith sustained him. At the age of thirty-one, Green successfully applied to the A.J.C. committee for a training permit on May 30th, 1957. A No. 2 training licence was issued to him for the start of the 1957-58 racing season and among his first clients were Jim McGirr, Vince Parker and Hal Lashwood, who had known him from his boxing days, as well as S. J. Reynolds, a Mudgee grazier.
Initially, Theo had just three horses in work at Rosehill and it would be almost two years before he trained his first winner, Dorothy June, at Gosford on April 23rd, 1959. However, just three months following that success George Daniels gave him the rising five-year-old Compass to train after the horse had failed in the Doomben Cup. Formerly prepared by Tom Kennedy, a neighbour of Theo’s at Rosehill, this son of Channel Swell had won both the S.T.C. Christmas Cup and A.J.C. Summer Cup the previous year but suffered from bad forelegs. Theo managed to get a couple of wins out of the horse, including his first feature race when Compass, in the hands of Tommy Hill, took out the Lord Mayor’s Cup at Randwick by a short half-head from Bill Bradshaw’s Polo Prince. Theo and the crowd had to wait nearly five minutes that day before the judge, Claude Martin, was satisfied with the second print of the finish he received.
Almost from the start, Theo Green indentured an apprentice to his stable, although unlike many trainers, he never sought to exploit them as cheap labour. The child is father to the man and Theo had been a child in the years of the Great Depression. He knew what it was to struggle. Accordingly, as a master, Theo was distinguished not less for his humanity and integrity, than for his horsemanship. “Kids didn’t get many opportunities when I was an apprentice. The older jockeys bought their rides, by that I mean they gave back the riding fee to the trainer just to get the mount. Apprentices could not do this because the clubs banked our money. I got three rides in the last year I was apprenticed. I was not happy. I swore that what happened to me would never happen to my boys.”
At times, there was anger as well as wistfulness when Theo spoke about the art of jockeyship: of what he once might have been, but never had the chance to become. Theo took his tutelary duties as a master very seriously and tried to impart a life education to his apprentices, giving them something to fall back on if they couldn’t make it in the saddle. He was a man who could create a sublime atmosphere of belief and gave his young charges heroic visions of what they were and might become. He was tough and hard but fair, imposing both his will and imagination on his lads. He might have demanded respect and loyalty but he gave it back in spades. Given his own record in the saddle – one metropolitan winner from over a hundred rides – it perhaps brings to mind George Bernard Shaw’s maxim for revolutionists i.e. “he who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”
Be that as it may, a quiet revolution in the art of jockeyship was something Theo was to bring about. The first winner Green saddled-up to be ridden by one of his own apprentices came at Wyong in May 1961 when a fresh-faced, 16-year-old English lad, Michael Rhymes, partnered Dorothy June to victory in a novice handicap at 20/1. Keen students of racing should have noted three lessons from that Wyong event. Firstly, Theo Green was a trainer who would back his own apprentices with his own horses. Secondly, if the horse was ready, then so too was the apprentice. And thirdly, when both boy and beast were ready, so too was the stable’s money in the betting ring. Don’t be fooled by the 20/1 starting price of Dorothy June. The Wyong ring was strong in those days and Theo’s backers had specked her.
The 1960s was to be a decade which witnessed a seemingly endless stream of talented apprentices emerge from Green’s tutelage viz. Frank Powyer, Gordon Spinks, Ron Quinton, Billy Prain and Peter Stanley. In truth, the boys were much better than the horses. Still, among the Green-trained gallopers that gave these young apprentices their early winners and experience were Larego, Travel On, Lepidux, Brandy Queen, Loona Boy, Persian Comic, Deldah, Colisee Star, Ratheon and Perfect Lass. Indeed, after Compass, Theo Green would have to wait until very near the end of that decade before another high-class galloper walked through the stable gates in the shape of that very smart filly owned by Norm Williamson, Gaelic Spirit. Among other races, Theo Green would win the S.T.C. Silver Slipper Stakes and V.R.C. Edward Manifold Stakes with her and see her run minor placings behind Vain in both the Golden Slipper Stakes and Champagne Stakes. Green’s success with both horses and apprentices was such that on 30th June 1965 he was granted a No. 1 trainer’s licence along with Harold Riley, Stan Davidson, Albert McKenna, Colin Papworth and Ron Shirtliff.
Perhaps the key to Green’s phenomenal success with apprentices lay with his friendship with the great Jim Pike. Although Pike had drifted out of racing by 1965 and only had another four years to live, Theo Green had never lost touch with him. It was in the autumn of 1965 that Green began to invite Pike to his Rosehill stables to give practical tuition to both Gordon Spinks and Ron Quinton. The old man might have been approaching his 73rd birthday, but he was still able to mount Theo’s horses and give an exhibition of balance and weight distribution to the promising young apprentices. Moreover, he inculcated in them the virtue of patience in race-riding. Pike died in October 1969 but not before he’d seen both Spinks and Quinton establish themselves as first-class jockeys. Once the mould of jockeyship was established in Theo’s premises, it was never really broken. He may no longer have had Jim Pike to fall back on but in Ron Quinton, he had a ready replacement. While there may have been keen competition between the graduates of the Green riding academy with no quarter asked or given in races, there was also a wonderful camaraderie and mutual respect among them. And over the years they never lost their admiration for their one-time master. As each new young apprentice came along, Green’s successful older boys pitched in to help. And so it was that when Malcolm Johnston started in Theo’s Rosehill yard in 1971, Ron Quinton and John Duggan quickly became his role models.
In his first full season of race riding in 1973-74, the wunderkind with the short stirrups rode 40 winners on Sydney tracks. There was no shortage of trainers prepared to give Johnston a leg-up on their horses and apart from Theo, he rode winners for Ken Montgomery, Arthur Bentley, Vic Thompson Jr, Syd Brown, Jim Greenwood and Norm Williamson among others. In the latter half of that season, Theo Green sold his house and Rosehill stables to Pat Quinn and took three months’ furlough to manage his property near Inverell in northern N.S.W. Johnston also had his papers temporarily transferred across to Quinn, who had previously been the foreman for fifteen years to that fine gentleman and trainer, Bert Lyell, at Rosehill, who had died the year before. Theo Green suffered badly from asthma at times and sought a break from racing before re-locating to on-course stables at Randwick, which the A.J.C. were then constructing. As it transpired the Randwick stables did not become available until the winter of 1975 and during the interim Green trained out of Warwick Farm. Even that temporary relocation had significance for the 17-year-old Malcolm Johnston, for it was during that period he met his future wife, Gail, who was riding trackwork there, although the marriage wouldn’t take place for another nine years.
In that 1974-75 season, Johnston, now weighing around 6 stone 12lb, emerged as something of a comic-book hero as he established a post-war record as the leading apprentice with 65 wins and finished third behind Kevin Langby and Ron Quinton in the Sydney jockeys’ premiership. One of his winners, as we have seen, was Rosie Heir in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. At a presentation ceremony held by the Sydney Turf Club at Rosehill between races on August 2nd, 1975, to mark the previous season’s premierships, T. J. Smith, who had just won his 23rd Sydney trainer’s title, paid Johnston the ultimate compliment. He rated him the equal of Billy Lappin, with whom Smith had roomed for a time when they were both boys. In the 1975-76 season, Johnston seemed invincible and his total of 107 ½ wins garnered him both the apprentices’ and the senior jockeys’ premierships and broke the great Jack Thompson’s record of 106 wins set as an apprentice in 1940-41. In just three short seasons this happy-go-lucky Jack the lad had gone from inexperienced apprentice to the Sydney jockeys’ crown!
The following season, Johnston made it a hat-trick of apprentices’ titles when he posted 67 ½ wins. At first glance, that tally seems relatively light, at least compared to the previous year, but when one considers injuries, suspensions and the fact that Johnston spent virtually the last two months of the season riding for Ian Balding in England, the result is impressive. Now, you know that you are dealing with something quite remarkable in any sport when the men who make the rules have to change them in order to contain it. Such was Johnston’s dominance that the A.J.C. was forced to amend its Rules of Racing. The rules existing at the time permitted apprentices to claim an allowance of 1 ½ kg until the completion of their indentures. The new rule provided that apprentices would lose their claim when they had ridden 60 metropolitan winners. Johnston had already won 195 metropolitan races before the A.J.C. adopted the change.
Malcolm Johnston completed his apprenticeship in October 1977 but in the months before he did so, he had a brief experience riding in England where his sponsor was Wilfred Sherman. Indeed, Mal rode at Epsom Downs in the last race on the day that Robert Sangster’s The Minstrel won the English Derby. Back in Sydney and on his first day riding as a senior jockey, at Randwick on October 15, he won the feature event. It came on board King’s Favourite, owned by Jack and Bob Ingham, in the City Tattersall’s Lightning Stakes and was most appropriate as no owners (firm clients of Theo Green) had done more to promote Johnston’s career from the very start than the brothers Ingham. Malcolm’s ascendancy during those early months as a fully-fledged jockey coincided with a decline in the 31-year-old Kevin Langby’s fortunes. As we have seen, Langby had won four successive jockeys’ premierships from 1972-1975, but the crown had slipped during the next two seasons when he could only finish runner-up respectively to Johnston and Quinton, despite being the No 1 rider for Tulloch Lodge. Tommy Smith had always prided himself on being the kingmaker when it came to Sydney’s jockeys and Johnston’s ascendancy and Langby’s fall from grace gradually caused the premier trainer to reconsider his stable retainer.
Malcolm Johnston was already riding quite a few horses for Tommy Smith at trackwork and during the months of November and December 1977, as Langby struggled to ride winners, the latter found himself being jocked-off a number of Smith’s prize mounts with the rides falling mainly to Johnston, although others went to the likes of Ron Quinton and Peter Cuddihy. Johnston won the Villiers Stakes and Hawkesbury Cup on Hot Diggity and the Tattersall’s Club Cup on Cold Steel for Smith, which served to further ingratiate him with Sydney’s leading stable. The point of no return for the Smith-Langby partnership came after Langby fell from Ballasalla, the 5/4 favourite trained by Smith in the opening race at the Tattersall’s New Year meeting at Randwick on January 2nd. Langby sustained minor injuries and, after being discharged from hospital, promptly went to Lord Howe Island for a holiday. While he was there, a copy of a Sydney newspaper arrived reporting rumours of his replacement at Tulloch Lodge.
Sure enough, upon his return to riding at a midweek meeting at Canterbury on January 18, his name wasn’t semaphored against any Smith runner. A measure of his bitterness at the break and the circumstances leading to it was revealed the following Saturday at Rosehill when he brilliantly steered Our Cavalier to beat the T.J. Smith-trained Ready O’Ready in the Parramatta Cup by a head. Revenge is sweet and at the official on-course presentation ceremony, Langby, generally a man of few words, told the crowd: “It was nice to ride the horse. My condolences to the Smith stable.” It wasn’t quite the end of Langby’s triumphs in big races – he won the Doncaster on Maybe Mahal for Bart Cummings just nine weeks later – but his days of tilting for jockeys’ premierships were well and truly over.
Malcolm Johnston’s elevation to No. 1 jockey for Tulloch Lodge was a remarkable achievement for someone in just their twenty-second year. The biggest job in Australian racing had found him. However, therein lay the risk. For all of his abilities, he lacked one vital quality. In a word, maturity! And it would be that lack of maturity that would see the Smith-Johnston relationship unravel after five years as the pressure increasingly took its toll. When the Smith offer came, Malcolm sought the advice of his former boss, Theo Green. Green, who knew his riding prodige better than anyone, believed it had come too soon and cautioned against acceptance. Still, it was Malcolm’s decision and opportunity alone and nobody could blame him when he grabbed it. What a scintillating journey across the Turf those five years proved to be! And at the centre of it all was Kingston Town and a supporting cast of gallopers that included the likes of Mighty Kingdom, Iko and Imposing.
Fourteen days after the Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick, both Kingston Town and Mighty Kingdom stepped out at Caulfield. Arguably the best two three-year-olds in the land, Smith’s intention was to avoid the pair clashing before the Victoria Derby. Accordingly, on this opening day of the V.A.T.C. meeting, the more brilliant Kingston Town was engaged in the Caulfield Guineas whereas the more lightly-framed Mighty Kingdom was engaged in the weight-for-age Caulfield Stakes. Given the ambitious program that Smith had in mind for both horses during the Melbourne spring and Perth summer, he’d gone easy on them in the first few days after he arrived at Flemington in the immediate wake of their Spring Champion Stakes quinella. Then just when Kingston Town, in particular, needed a couple of hard gallops on the grass to fit him for the Guineas, the V.R.C. authorities closed the grass courses as a result of heavy rain and only made the sand track available. Thus the King wasn’t really primed for the Caulfield race in which he’d drawn nine in the field of fifteen.
Johnston could feel the race slip-sliding away from Kingston Town the moment the gates opened. Of all the tracks upon which the brilliant son of Bletchingly raced, Caulfield was the one to which he had a distinct aversion. In the end, he could only finish third – four lengths away – behind Bold Diplomat and Runaway Kid, although there was a sensation after the race when stewards upheld a protest by Pat Hyland on the runner-up despite a two lengths’ winning margin. It was one of the more contentious protest outcomes in Melbourne that I witnessed during those years. At the time Bold Diplomat was being trained by Kel Chapman but the following year the horse would be transferred to Tulloch Lodge by the owner, John Hoare, and would win the Epsom Handicap in the hands of Malcolm Johnston. In so doing, he would give Smith his 250th win in an A.J.C. feature race.
Whatever Smith and Johnston’s disappointment with the Caulfield Guineas, the pair were smiling again forty minutes later after Mighty Kingdom’s exhibition gallop to lead all the way from a wide gate in the $30,000 Caulfield Stakes. The son of Planet Kingdom was a lightly-framed little colt who came to hand quickly and the unavailability of the grass courses at Flemington hadn’t really affected his preparation. Smith’s preference for circumventing a head-on clash between his two putative champions prior to the Victoria Derby remained. He wanted Mighty Kingdom in the $163,500 Caulfield Cup and Kingston Town in the $175,000 W. S. Cox Plate. However, what really put Smith in a quandary was the Melbourne weather. He observed: “If I could depend on the weather staying good, the Cox Plate would be an ideal race for Kingston Town. But the long-range forecasts indicate there could be more rain next week and we may find ourselves with a heavy track for the Cox Plate. That’s no use.” (He was certainly right about the W. S. Cox Plate as an ideal race for Kingston Town – just not that year!)
Thus more than anything else, it was the vagaries of the southern capital’s climate that saw his two prize three-year-olds contest the Caulfield Cup to the exclusion of Dulcify’s W. S. Cox Plate. Given his choice of mounts, Malcolm opted for Mighty Kingdom and the bookmakers initially followed his lead. However, on raceday itself, Kingston Town with Wayne Treloar, the lightweight Melbourne hoop in the saddle, went off at 8/1 with 10/1 on offer about Mighty Kingdom. The pair were drawn alongside each other in gates fourteen and fifteen. Smith’s misty misgivings about the Melbourne weather evaporated in a glow of assurance and sunshine on Caulfield Cup Day. Malcolm had wasted strenuously during the week to make Mighty Kingdom’s handicap of 47 kg. In a superb exhibition of horsemanship that perhaps owed something to his mount’s predilection for Caulfield, Johnston jumped smartly and angled across to be in front of the eighteen-strong field as they made the turn out of the straight the first time. Thereafter, he eased back slightly to be in third or fourth position. Only as the field galloped towards the home turn did he light the fuse. Once into the straight, Mighty Kingdom exploded away, going on to win the race by a length-and-a-half from Warri Symbol with a further three-quarters-of-a-length to his stablemate, Sonstone. Kingston Town, although never comfortable on the Caulfield circuit, finished a respectable fourth. Such was the physical demands of the ride and the wasting, Johnston had to be assisted onto the scales by Jim Ahern, the chairman of stewards. Exhausted but exhilarated, Johnston missed the race presentation.
A fortnight later at Flemington found seventeen horses contesting the $150,000 Victoria Derby with Mighty Kingdom the 5/4 favourite. Malcolm Johnston had stuck with his Caulfield Cup winner, which freed up the mount on Kingston Town for Roy Higgins who went to the post as the 9/4 second-favourite, with 12/1 and better available about each of the other runners. I might add that T. J. Smith himself also lent towards Mighty Kingdom. What desperate bad luck denied Kingston Town victory that day! The big-striding black cast his off-fore plate and met with a check just before the home turn and then changed stride several times down the straight, yet still would have claimed the winner, Big Print, in one more lunge on the line. The pair came away from their rivals over the last two hundred metres and the minor placegetter, Runaway Kid, finished three-and-a-half lengths adrift.
I always regretted that Johnston preferred Mighty Kingdom in that Derby, and no doubt after the race, he did too. The little son of Planet Kingdom wasn’t really up to carrying the Derby weight and while he seemed a chance at the top of the Flemington straight, he compounded quickly. Johnston on Kingston Town I believe would have produced a different result. “Horses for courses, and jockeys for horses” is an old racing adage and it applied here. There was a symbiosis about Kingston Town and Malcolm Johnston that was already apparent, and their intimate communion would become even more pronounced during the following autumn. No disrespect to Higgins, but he was in the twilight of his career and riding a horse he didn’t know. Still, at least the performance dispelled all vestigial doubts as to the staying ability of Bletchingly’s gelded son.
Big Print (20/1), an unfashionably bred son of My Friend Paul, provided a change of fortune for both his trainer, Andy White, and his jockey, Paul Jarman. Each man had won the Victoria Derby once before, White with Craftsman in 1963; and Jarman with Savoy in 1967. Jarman, thirty-one, was a former champion Victorian apprentice but the Derby represented his first big-race victory since he scored on Abdul in the W.S. Cox Plate nine years before. During the running of that Victoria Derby, Kingston Town sustained some jarring and a bump, which led to an infection in his fore fetlock joint. Thankfully, in the circumstances, David Hains resisted the temptation to send the black horse to Perth for both the W.A.T.C. West Australian and Australian Derbies. Instead, he convalesced at Hains’ stud on the Mornington Peninsula.
In his absence, Mighty Kingdom and Malcolm Johnston flew the flag for Tulloch Lodge in the Golden West, together, winning both the Western Australian Derby and the Marlboro ‘50,000’ and finishing third behind Lloyd’s Gold and Brava Jeannie in the Australian Derby. In failing to take the last of that treble, apart from the additional prize money, Mighty Kingdom cost his connections $250,000, which was the amount the W.A.T.C. had offered as a bonus on the three races. Mighty Kingdom didn’t fail by much as the margins were a half-length and a head. However, that trip to Perth cost Smith and the Foyster family a lot more than that. In returning to Sydney via Melbourne in mid-January by float, Mighty Kingdom succumbed to travel sickness and had to be treated for shock with intravenous injections of fluids and antibiotics. It denied him an autumn campaign and forced him into the spelling paddock for months.
Kingston Town did well during his six weeks laid up in lavender at the Kingston Park Stud. He’d grown taller and thickened in the shoulders, while his large chest and girth seemed even more impressive. And of course, there was that handsome head, with features that could have been chiselled by Praxiteles. Not that it was perfect. After all, there was the ragged piece missing from one of his ears, not the result of any racecourse encounter with an equine Mike Tyson, but rather a cut of a surgeon’s scalpel removing a wart. And there was the telling scar tissue on his nose, evidence of his argument with a fence when just a weanling. Still, such blemishes often serve to accentuate the perfection of beauty. However, there was one aspect of the horse’s physiognomy that hadn’t changed during his time away from the racecourse – and that was his hooves, always relatively small and elegant. Indeed, the athletic Kingston Town put one in mind of a principal ballet dancer with The Royal Ballet – a veritable equine Rudolph Nureyev. And during this particular preparation, Rosehill and Randwick were about to become his very own Covent Garden!
Tommy Smith mapped out an ambitious campaign for Kingston Town that autumn. The A.J.C. and S.T.C. had got together to promote a $250,000 bonus for any horse that could win the triple crown of three-year-old classics i.e. the $75,000 Canterbury Guineas, the $125,000 Rosehill Guineas and the $200,000 A.J.C. Derby. The dates of the races were Saturday, March 8; Saturday, March 22; and Monday, April 7. The cumulative first-prize money for the three events amounted to $260,000, and the bonus virtually matched that sum. It was an enterprising promotion by Sydney’s two race clubs, whose committees had negotiated an acceptable premium with Lloyds of London and the respective insurance underwriters. While only three horses had ever won the treble since the Canterbury Guineas was first conducted in 1935 viz. Moorland (1943), Martello Towers (1959) and Imagele (1973), the brooding shadow of Kingston Town suggested that perhaps history wasn’t the best risk guide for the actuaries.
The famous son of Bletchingly resumed at Randwick in early February with Mal Johnston aloft to win the A.J.C. Expressway Stakes, running a brilliant 1 minute 9.7 seconds for the 1200 metres and easily beating his nine rivals. As he waited for the champion to return to scale, Tommy Smith remarked to the nearby racing writers: “I’ll bet those insurance blokes are worried about having to pay the bonus out after that!” No doubt they were, although Malcolm Johnston was even more concerned. Before the day was over the A.J.C. stewards had slapped him with his nineteenth suspension for careless riding over his mount, Miss Budweiser, in the second race on the card, which ruled Johnston out for twelve city meetings. Accordingly, it was John Duggan who substituted in the saddle when Kingston Town won the S.T.C. Heritage Stakes at Rosehill a fortnight later and was booked to ride him in the Canterbury Guineas as well.
Any bonus worries the Lloyds of London underwriters suffered in the wake of the King’s facile victory at Rosehill disappeared just six days later when the horse was found to be lame in the near shoulder following Friday morning trackwork. In order to treat the injury, and thus get the horse to the post for his Rosehill commitments and the A.J.C. Derby, a course of antibiotic drugs was necessary. However, given the time constraints, such drugs rendered the horse ineligible for his Canterbury Guineas’ assignation given that trace elements remained in his system. It was a measure of the strength of Tulloch Lodge that despite Kingston Town being sidelined, the stable still managed to quinella the Guineas, run that year at Rosehill. Rocky Top, a $13,000 yearling by Mt Hagen and one of the few horses raced by Robert Sangster through Tulloch Lodge, beat Zephyr Zip and Prince Ruling in a three-way head-bobbing finish. Zephyr Zip, the hero of the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes the previous season when in the Queensland stable of Eric Kirwan, had joined T. J. Smith after his client Cliff Vincent bought the son of Zephyr Bay for big money. While Vincent never recouped his cash on the racecourse with the horse, he more than did so when the black entire eventually went to his Charleston Stud at Braidwood.
However, whatever excitement was engendered by the Guineas’ finish that day, it paled into insignificance with the running of the last race on the card. For it was in the Birthday Card Handicap that Theo Green’s latest gun apprentice, David Green, suffered the fall that ultimately cost the nineteen-year-old lad his life. Riding Bold Rachel, who was running second last at the time, the filly inadvertently clipped the heels of another runner and fell, dislocating her shoulder. In threshing about trying to regain her feet, Bold Rachel struck Green in the forehead, his skull cap offering no protection. Rushed to Parramatta Hospital and ultimately transferred to specialist surgeons at Westmead, Green never regained consciousness and died the following Tuesday. Hailing from Quirindi, young David had joined Green’s stable in early 1977 and promised fair to augment Theo Green’s well-established reputation as the supreme master of apprentices.
Indeed, David had already done so having ridden more than thirty winners, including Geoff Chapman’s Time To Fly in the Rosehill race immediately prior to his fall. Moreover, he had partnered the flying two-year-old Shaybisc, all 14.3 hands of her, in three of her four wins including the A.J.C. Widden Stakes. He was slated to ride the filly, who was trained by his master, in the Golden Slipper Stakes. David’s death hit Theo hard. Something changed in the 54-year-old ex-fighter that day, and although his best training days still lay ahead of him, the racecourse would never be quite the same again.
Kingston Town (4/5) categorically dismissed any lingering effects of his jarred shoulder when he continued on his winning way in the $125,000 S.T.C. Rosehill Guineas on the second last Saturday in March. Tommy instructed Mal to use his speed and, never worse than third in the thirteen-horse field, Kingston Town dashed away to score impressively by four lengths from Polo Player, with a scramble for the minor placing. Immediately afterwards in post-race interviews, the Master of Tulloch Lodge pontificated that he now regarded Kingston Town as the equal of Imagele. Seven days later it was a similar procession against the older horses in the $200,000 weight-for-age Tancred Stakes at Rosehill over the 2400 metres, when Kingston Town (4/7) breezed home by four-and-a-half lengths from Double Century, with the former Melbourne Cup winner, Gold and Black, taking the minor money. David and Helen Hains enjoyed a prestigious double that day when their three-year-old filly, Lowan Star, beat a good field to win the S.T.C. Ajax Stakes with Malcolm Johnston virtually making the pace from the start.
Kingston Town’s suite of ten successive victories in Sydney saw him installed the 2/9 favourite for the A.J.C.’s blue riband. The fact that eleven sets of other owners had chosen to challenge him for the classic wasn’t so much evidence of group folie de grandeur as it was a testimony to the value of the consolation prizes on offer. I thought Kingston Town looked magnificent in the parade ring that day; his black coat gleaming like ebony. To quote Coriolanus, here was a steed of steeds. Best backed to beat the King was his Victoria Derby conqueror, Big Print. Andy White had brought the colt to Sydney at the beginning of February and after flashing home to finish fifth in the Expressway Stakes first-up, his subsequent form in three runs at Rosehill had been disappointing, including his most recent fifth in the Rosehill Guineas. To see him winning the Derby on that performance demanded a vigorous effort of the imagination. Next in the betting was Farewell Chime, one of two representatives of the Bart Cummings stable, the other being Red Kilt. Neither appeared serious prospects in a season when the strength of Bart’s three-year-olds was distinctly below par.
Polo Player, a half-brother to Muros, winner of both Perth and Brisbane Cups, was the sole representative of the C. S. Hayes Angaston establishment. An easy winner of the Schweppes Cup over 1600 metres at Caulfield in late February, Polo Player had overcome a chequered passage to finish second in the Rosehill Guineas. Queensland boasted two challengers in the race in Prince Ruling and El Laurena. Prince Ruling was a half-brother to those two good New Zealand fillies, Rosie’s Girl and Lavender Hill, and at his most recent start had won the S.T.C. Tulloch Stakes over 2000 metres at Rosehill. El Laurena, hailing from Deagon, came into the race as the winner of his three previous starts in Brisbane, including an easy win against older horses at Doomben over 2000 metres in late March. Tom Smith’s second string to Kingston Town in the race was Shogun, a gelding by Boucher out of Smith’s former good filly, Winking. While Shogun would ultimately fail in the A.J.C. Derby, he would garner himself a small measure of fame by winning a re-constituted A.J.C. St Leger at his very next start and then eight days later add the V.R.C. equivalent to his haul.
In the field of twelve, Kingston Town had drawn barrier four. He might have been the 2/9 public elect and as such the shortest-priced favourite to go around in the A.J.C. Derby in the twentieth century, but to triumph, he had to do it the hard way. It wasn’t one of Mal’s best rides, although in fairness every other jockey was riding to beat him. Smartly away from his inside gate, Johnston and the black were enjoying the run of the race until nearing the 2000 metres when some tightening saw the gelding crash against the running rail. Kingston Town promptly dropped back through the field. Johnston got shuffled again a little later but he then bided his time before setting his mount alight, and, in a twinkling, Kingston Town raced from the rear to be poised behind the pacemaker, Polo Player near the eight hundred. Thereafter it wouldn’t have mattered in which order the various players in the game chose to reveal their hands. In holding up the King, Johnston always knew he possessed the trump card. When he finally decided to cut from the pack and declared his flush in the straight, this particular Derby jig was up. It was left to two relative outsiders in Mr Independent and El Laurena, each at 33/1, to run on into the minor placings thereby satisfying their respective trainers, Jim Moloney and Geoff Burns, with the consolation prizes.
Amidst the paeans of praise and thunderous applause that rolled down from the crowded grandstands, it seemed as though the common man in attendance that day was pledging fealty to a new King of the racecourse. Their equine hero returned to the enclosure with white paint besmirching his flanks, evidence of his collision with the running rail after half a mile. The 31,035 racing enthusiasts that crowded into Randwick racecourse that afternoon fully realised what they had just witnessed. It was the investiture of a new champion as the Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowan made the presentation to connections. Moreover, this crowd especially was ready for it. Just forty minutes earlier the assembled multitude had been stunned into silence after another champion, the mighty Manikato, returned to scale with rills of blood trickling from both nostrils when despatched the 4/9 favourite in The Galaxy. Manikato, the winner of $710,610 in stakes, was chasing his eighteenth win from twenty-five starts when trainer Bob Hoysted sent him to the gates that afternoon. And yet he was a beaten horse at the top of the straight. Now confronting an automatic three-month ban from racing and his health in jeopardy, Manikato’s future seemed bleak indeed. Not so Kingston Town. If a week is a long time in politics then forty minutes is a lifetime on the Turf. It seemed very much a case of: “The King is dead. Long live the King!”
In the wake of his blue riband triumph, the superlatives flowed for Kingston Town. In his post-race interviews, Malcolm Johnston confirmed what everybody had seen: “He is so relaxed. That is the secret of his greatness. When I hit the fence I went from having the run of the race to being in trouble. But he got himself out of bother with sheer speed, then he dropped the bit and cantered behind the pacemaker, like a prize show-hack.” In contrast to the bubbling and babbling Johnston, trainer Tommy Smith, by his own standards, was both reflective and subdued. Smith, who that day achieved no less than his ninth A.J.C. Derby and his twenty-sixth Derby overall, as well as passing the $2,000,000 mark for prize money won in a single season, seemed in awe of what he had just witnessed. As his eyes twinkled and he flashed that famous grin, he admitted to the crushing scrum of journalists surrounding him that no horse had ever surprised him more. He thought back to that day just over twelve months before and Kingston Town’s inglorious debut at Canterbury Park. And now this. It really was a case of…from a Jack to a King!
Amongst the welter of congratulations, backslapping and bonhomie surrounding owners David and Helen Hains and their family as they stood awaiting the presentation ceremony, a few journalists and committeemen expressed sympathy that Kingston Town could not be used as a stud sire. Indeed, a generation later and in a world of international pedigrees and shuttle-service stallions, it is sometimes difficult to understand the willingness of Australian owners in those not so far-off days to accede so readily to the veterinary surgeon’s scalpel. Tommy Smith was unabashed, chirruping: “You can’t have it both ways. All horses are different. He might not have won a race if he had been left entire.” Never one to look backwards, Smith now had his eyes firmly fixed on the $161,900 Sydney Cup in five days’ time and the A.J.C. handicapper in allotting Kingston Town just 52.5 kg or 8 st. 4lb for the race, had virtually invited the gelding to start.
It was a far cry from the 9 st. 7lb that Ken Goodwin had given the three-year-old Tulloch for the same race in the autumn of 1958. Back then, Tommy dodged the Cup, judging the handicap too harsh and restricting Tulloch to weight-for-age contests at the meeting. There was no chance of that happening this time. Carbine held the weight-carrying record for a three-year-old in the Sydney Cup with his 9 st. in 1888 while his son Wallace humped 8 st. 12lb to victory seven years later. Kingston Town was merely being asked to carry the same weight as Carbon Copy did when he won in 1948! Recognising that there was a historical resonance here while history was actually happening, bookmakers in the wake of his Derby victory didn’t hesitate to install the King as the 11/8 favourite. Smith entertained no worries about the son of Bletchingly getting the Sydney Cup distance. “It will be the easiest win of his career,” boasted T. J. “He has yet to be extended or put at top pressure in a race. He is so relaxed in his races that the Sydney Cup should be a working gallop.”
And so it proved. The bloodthirsty pirates of old Kingston town in the Carribean were never as ruthless in their pillage and plunder as Malcolm Johnston and the 11/8 favourite were in that Sydney Cup. Fastest into stride from the widest gate, Johnston never had Kingston Town travelling worse than fifth in the seventeen-strong field. Among the many attributes of this wonderful racehorse was his ability to relax no matter how slow the tempo of a race. It was a quality in stark demand in that Cup when time hung heavy. The first 1600 metres went by in a funereal 1 minute and 51.1 seconds. Johnston could have kept a diary of the trip. Clearly, a majority of the jockeys were riding merely for the minor money, because their only chance of deposing the King was to try his stamina over an untried distance. But, relishing the ground with his giant strides, the race was all over when Malcolm allowed Kingston Town his head soon after turning for home. He raced away to beat Double Century (5/1) by three-and-a-half lengths, with Marlborough (200/1), another one-and-a-half lengths away, third. The time for the race was 3 minutes 28.2 seconds, fully 9.2 seconds outside the race and Randwick record set by Apollo Eleven in 1973.
Now, let us pause for a moment and just consider Kingston Town’s achievements in that Sydney autumn campaign. Not only was he unbeaten in his six races, but he had won against the best horses in the land over distances ranging from 1200 to 3200 metres. True, all six races had been conducted on good or fast ground and the King hadn’t posted time records in any of them. But then he hadn’t been asked to break the clock because he was winning so easily. Any racehorse that can run 1 minute 9.7 seconds for 1200 metres to beat a field of top-class sprinters first-up, and then sixty-three days later spreadeagle a Sydney Cup field over 3200 metres – a field that included Double Century, the previous year’s seven-length winner of the same race – is a truly remarkable animal. It was a campaign that illustrated not just the versatility and virtuosity of the horse, but of the man who trained him. Then again, for Tommy, all his life the impossible wasn’t something that couldn’t be done; it was just something that hadn’t been done before.
David and Helen Hains enjoyed a dream carnival that autumn at Randwick. Three days before the Sydney Cup, the proprietors of the Kingston Park Stud had witnessed their high-class filly, Lowan Star, win the A.J.C. Oaks. After her brilliant juvenile season, this daughter of Biscay had lost her way in the spring when her only placing in three appearances came as runner-up to Stage Hit in the V.R.C. Edward Manifold Stakes. Lowan Star’s spring campaign was aborted shortly after she ran sixteenth in the V.A.T.C. One Thousand Guineas. During the filly’s summer spell, David Hains decided upon a change of stable. And in the wake of Kingston Town’s successes, what better place to send her than Tulloch Lodge? In the A.J.C. Oaks, Malcolm Johnston – who else? – had allowed Lowan Star to get balanced before accelerating around the field along the back of the Randwick course to assume the lead. Thereafter the other eight runners couldn’t run the flying filly down and she went on to win by more than a length in a time of 2 minutes 32.1 seconds, which was 0.2 seconds faster than Kingston Town’s Derby two days before.
As impressive as David Hains’ haul was during that week, Smith and Johnston trumped it. Trainer and jockey had also combined to annex the Doncaster Handicap and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with Iko, not to mention a series of lesser races. Now, most trainers would have been content to see Kingston Town and Lowan Star rest on their laurels until the spring. Not Tommy! The Q.T.C. and B.A.T.C. carnivals beckoned in the Queensland sunshine and before the season had ended Kingston Town had added both the Q.T.C. Grand Prix Stakes and the Queensland Derby to his tally. As he wintered in readiness for the spring, Kingston Town’s record stood at 14 wins from 18 starts and he was named the Australian Racehorse of the Year for the first time. Lowan Star proved a worthy second string for David and Helen Hains during that Brisbane winter carnival, too, winning both the Koomeela Stakes and Haig Handicap at Doomben and the Q.T.C. Oaks at Eagle Farm. However, that Queensland campaign spelt the end of Lowan Star’s racecourse career. A few months later, just as she was being prepared to be served at stud, she died during emergency surgery. Having won in the best feminine company over distances ranging from 1000 to 2400 metres, her full racing record stood at an impressive 27 starts, for 11 wins, 3 seconds, 3 thirds and $176,440 in stakes.
The balance of Kingston Town’s racecourse career had a curious symmetry in that he never again campaigned in the autumn, only during late winter and spring as a four, five and six-year-old. I don’t think the general public ever quite realised what a delicate balancing act it was to get Kingston Town back to the racecourse at all after his three-year-old season. The horse’s forelegs were suspect, even though he had never broken down and those three spring campaigns showcased Tommy Smith’s judgement at getting the balance right. Moreover, the three campaigns all bore a remarkable similarity, not least because, in each of them, he won Australasia’s greatest and most prestigious race, the W. S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. Kingston Town’s four-year-old season encompassed just six races, and with the exception of the Caulfield Cup, all were conducted at standard weight-for-age. In 1980 the son of Bletchingly resumed from his winter hiatus to score hollow wins at Randwick in the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes (3/1 on) and the Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes (20/1 on) two weeks apart. Although there was a virus prevalent at Tulloch Lodge at the time, Kingston Town was mollycoddled and managed to avoid it. A fortnight later he completed his Sydney commitments with victory in the S.T.C. Cup at Rosehill over 24oo metres. It was then off to Melbourne and the city of his discontent.
One horse that Kingston Town didn’t have to worry about that spring, or ever again for that matter, was Mighty Kingdom. The latter had resumed racing in late winter to win the Eye Liner Stakes impressively at Ipswich over 1200 metres and had then been sent directly to Melbourne by Smith, thereby avoiding any clash with the King in Sydney. The words of Shakespeare in relation to another King come to mind here: “Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere.” Nonetheless, despite moving to another sphere, Mighty Kingdom wasn’t to keep his motion for much longer – at least not on the racecourse. After an unplaced effort in the Freeway Stakes and finishing second in the J. J. Liston Stakes, Mighty Kingdom was abruptly retired to Lloyd Foyster’s Guntawang Stud at Gulgong. However, it was for a good reason. In an aberrant paddock accident in late August 1980, Planet Kingdom, the resident stallion at Guntawang and Mighty Kingdom’s sire, shattered the cannon bone of his off-hind leg and had to be put down, despite desperate efforts to save him.
The stallion had just finished runner-up to Bletchingly in the General Sires’ List for the 1979-80 season, having been represented by 50 winners of 106 races and 149 placegetters, whose aggregate earnings were $729,683. Given that Planet Kingdom had already been booked to serve some 60 mares at a fee of $12,000 each in the coming season, which began on the first of September, the Guntawang Stud needed a replacement, and in a hurry. The fact that Lloyd Foyster owned a significant interest in both Planet Kingdom and Mighty Kingdom, made the substitution relatively seamless, although time would show the son was no match for the father in the breeding barn. Mighty Kingdom’s complete racing record was: 20 starts; 10 wins; 3 seconds; 1 third; and $343,080 in stakes.
But let’s get back to Kingston Town and the Melbourne spring of 1980. Despite an aversion to the Melbourne way of going in general and an aversion to Caulfield in particular, Kingston Town ran second in the Caulfield Stakes at weight-for-age to Hyperno, going under by a neck. He then backed up at the same course a week later to finish third in the Caulfield Cup behind Ming Dynasty and Hyperno, beaten less than one-and-a-half lengths in a time of 2 minutes 28.7 seconds. Whereas Ming Dynasty and Hyperno, both seven-year-olds, carried 58 kg and 59 kg respectively, Kingston Town, a four-year-old, carried the topweight of 60 kg. Considering both that the King merely ‘scrambled around the turns’ to quote Malcolm Johnston, and his weight concession to the two high-class horses that beat him, it was a marvellous performance.
Kingston Town’s last appearance that year came a week later in the W. S. Cox Plate. Although an inferior horse on an anti-clockwise circuit, he went to the post as the 6/4 favourite in the field of thirteen. The result was never in doubt. In the words of Malcolm Johnston: “I had them covered 1600 metres out. I was minding my own business and Kingston Town was bolting. He handled the Valley as if he had been foaled on the track.” Indeed, he did. Kingston Town’s trademark acceleration was there for all to see. When Malcolm set him on fire coming to the turn, he simply bounded up behind the leaders, Our Paddy Boy, Prince Ruling and Yir Tiz. Once into the straight, he careered away to beat Prince Ruling by five lengths with Our Paddy Boy securing the minor placing a length further back. As Johnston observed upon returning to scale: “It’s strange. He has had only one gallop here yet he was so much happier than at Caulfield.”
Handicapped with 59.5 kg in the Melbourne Cup, it was always the intention of David Hains and Tommy Smith to start him. Alas, upon returning to Smith’s Flemington stables that night and cooling down, Kingston Town’s off-foreleg filled. It seemed reminiscent of the problem that emerged after the previous year’s Victoria Derby and Darcy Christie, Tommy’s Melbourne foreman, worked on the injured leg late into the night with salt packs and poultices. Percy Sykes inspected the horse in the following days and a course of butazolodin, an anti-inflammatory injection was administered. The V.R.C. authorities afforded Smith until the Sunday and a track gallop to declare his intentions, even after the horse had been a final acceptor for the Cup. However, the gallop never took place when the swelling flared again. The trouble, rather than being the tendon which had already thickened from his previous injury, was, in fact, the suspensory ligament. A despondent Smith declared: “If he stands another preparation, I will train him for the Sydney autumn carnival.” The injury ran deeper than that and Kingston Town was off the scene for more than nine months after having been pin-fired. He recuperated at Kingston Park by exercising in the sea some five days a week and having ray treatment to his off foreleg every afternoon. He was back in stables for light work in June.
At five, Kingston Town’s spring program comprised nine races, all at weight-for-age except for the 1981 Melbourne Cup. He resumed a fortnight earlier than the previous spring to win the S.T.C. Premiere Stakes at Rosehill. Then it was a series of hollow victories in the same races that he had won twelve months before i.e. the Warwick Stakes, Chelmsford Stakes and S.T.C. Cup. Before sending the horse to southern climes, Smith also let him go round in the George Main Stakes against seven opponents on the first day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Kingston Town clipped 0.2 seconds off the race record in posting his 20th straight win on Sydney courses. It was at his next start a fortnight later that the black horse finally cracked his Caulfield hoodoo. In the $35,000 Caulfield Stakes, Mal shepherded him around the tricky circuit with a little help from the 1000/1 no-hoper, Moist. By racing on the King’s outside, Moist kept him on the straight and narrow – well, sort of – to beat Sovereign Red and Hyperno. A week later just as Mal was licking his lips at the prospect of a second Cox Plate, he copped his 22nd suspension for causing interference at Randwick in the George Negus Stakes when crossing too sharply on the 5/4 favourite Parados.
Ron Quinton was then catapulted into the hot seat on the King at the Valley. And a hot seat it proved to be. For all the thousands of rides that a champion jockey has in a lifetime, he is perhaps remembered for just a handful. Quinton’s booking for Kingston Town in that 1981 W. S. Cox Plate ensured that this would be one such ride. The master horseman, who would go on to win eight Sydney jockeys’ premierships before hanging up his saddle, had been here before. As a young hoop seeking to assume the mantle of George Moore, he had ridden the champion Baguette, previously unbeaten in eight starts, to defeat as the 4/9 favourite in the 1970 Canterbury Guineas. It had been a ride marred by bad luck and indecision on the tight Canterbury circuit where all rival jockeys were riding to beat him.
Now on Kingston Town (4/6) at the Valley, he faced a similar set of circumstances on an even greater champion racehorse widely expected to win. Quinton’s inside barrier draw at the Valley that day proved more of a curse than a blessing. The Sydney horseman found himself with a whole lot of horse under him but locked in a pocket for much of the journey but in particular, in the run towards the home turn. I can remember watching the race with a friend of mine who had liberally helped himself to the odds-on in the betting ring to such an extent that his hands and binoculars were shaking. As Kingston Town came down the side of the course trapped in a pocket with nowhere to go, I heard him mutter despairingly to himself: “Moment of truth, Ronnie!”
No sooner had he said it than before our very eyes, Ronnie was out. Harry Houdini couldn’t have done it better. Quinton managed to extricate himself by pushing Silver Bounty, the Caulfield Cup winner, out of the way just in time. Kingston Town did the rest. The black horse winning by three-quarters of a length from Lawman with the three-year-old surprise winner of the Caulfield Guineas, Binbinga, in the minor placing. One week later in the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes, and despite Quinton’s best efforts, the King was never comfortable when Belmura Lad (50/1) staged a major upset to beat him a length and a half. That disappointment was compounded three days later when Kingston Town (13/2), with Mal back in the irons, raced like a tired horse throughout to finish third last in the Melbourne Cup won by his stablemate, Just A Dash. Thus a campaign that had begun with a flourish of trumpets ended on a sour note and the King retired to the Kingston Park Stud for some much-needed rest and recreation.
Kingston Town’s six-year-old spring campaign consisted of eight starts, all at weight-for-age with the exception of that unforgettable Melbourne Cup, although the campaign hardly unfolded according to the expected script. At least the first race went according to plan when the horse made it a hat-trick of wins in the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes beating Rare Form comfortably. No sooner had the champion breezed past the winning-post that day than the on-course totalisator semaphore lights flashed the message: “The King is Back”. Nonetheless, there were disconcerting signs in the Warwick Farm straight as Kingston Town changed stride and ducked in towards the running rail. But Sydney racegoers were now so enamoured of the black horse after twenty-one successive victories on Sydney racecourses that it almost seemed sacrilege to entertain defeat. Yet that is what they got at his next two starts.
In the Chelmsford Stakes at the Randwick Tattersall’s meeting a fortnight later, Johnston was kept in a pocket from the top of the straight for far too long and could only finish fourth – beaten three lengths – in the race won by Rare Form.
A fortnight later and the King had to strike his colours again at Rosehill in the Hill Stakes when, in a four-horse field, the three-year-old Cossack Prince beat him a neck, with a short head to Rare Form in the minor placing. The infirmities of age seemed to be catching up with the six-year-old gelding. The brilliant acceleration no longer seemed to be there, at least not in slowly run events up to a mile. Nonetheless, Kingston Town did at least win what proved to be his last race in Sydney a week later when he staged an exciting duel with Northern Reward down the Randwick straight in the George Main Stakes to prevail by a neck. It was a memorable day for Malcolm on two counts. Firstly, he became the initial jockey to win a million dollars in stakes on a single horse in Australia; and secondly, he incurred his twenty-sixth suspension for careless riding, which kept him out of the saddle until Melbourne Cup Day. In his absence, Peter Cook was requisitioned.
And so we arrive at Kingston Town’s last Melbourne spring campaign, and my goodness – how it looms large in the memory! Like a flame about to go out, it was at this moment that the King’s glory shone its greatest light. Even the dreaded Caulfield proved a playground when Cook produced a cheeky ride to land the Caulfield Stakes. Then it was off to Moonee Valley in quest of a hat-trick. Who could ever forget that third W. S. Cox Plate? I didn’t go down to Melbourne that year but contented myself to watching the race on a television monitor underneath the members’ grandstand at Rosehill, huddled together with hundreds of other true believers. In fine weather and on good ground, Kingston Town went to the post as the 7/4 race favourite in a field of fourteen. It was the longest price he had started in twenty-one weight-for-age contests and he was in awful trouble right from the start. Sluggish out of the gates, Kingston Town was under the whip very early on. Tommy Smith had given riding instructions to keep the champion within touch of the leaders from the jump. So much for the intention of a plan suddenly transmuted into the reality of chaos.
Despite drawing barrier four, Cook and the King were forced to race three-deep going out of the straight the first time. There was some respite, however, along the back of the course when the favourite was only outside one horse, although he wasn’t really travelling well. This tremulous choreography continued for a couple of furlongs more. Then, coming down the side, when the crack three-year-old Grosvenor went past him at the school, Kingston Town looked gone. Certainly, both Cook in the saddle and Smith in the stands thought he was beaten. Cook, whose sangfroid always coursed best in a crisis, was riding vigorously but going nowhere. The horse was trying to sort out his legs on the saucer-shaped track without much luck and was being crowded for room by other runners as shown in the photograph below.
The course broadcaster was the smooth and urbane Bill Collins and his promotional nickname was ‘The Accurate One’. It was at this moment that he uttered those immortal words: “On the turn 500 out, Fearless Pride and My Axeman together, a length and a half Lawman, Kingston Town can’t win…” No amount of revisionism can change the truth of that comment at the moment it was made. Nonetheless, there was one young man intently watching the telecast from the lounge room of his comfortable Edgecliffe Avenue home in Coogee who thought The Accurate One might just be a tad premature in his judgement. Malcolm Johnston, after no less than twenty-four triumphs atop the champ, knew better than anyone the explosive acceleration that Kingston Town could muster once he was balanced and saw daylight.
Mind you, the cameraman responsible for the course telecast from Moonee Valley clearly agreed with Bill Collins. As Fearless Pride and My Axeman swung around the turn, with Grosvenor joining in on the outside, the camera zoomed in to focus on those three horses to the exclusion of most others. A split second later, however, and the camera was zooming out again. Instinctively, I and the Rosehill faithful knew deep in our hearts that there was only one horse in that field capable of coming from nowhere to challenge, and which the television camera was now trying to accommodate. When we glimpsed Kingston Town charging home on the outside in that wide-angle vision there was a roar that shook the very course itself. Let’s return to Bill Collins’ call: “… And Kingston Town flashing…he might win yet, the champ. Grosvenor took the lead…Oh! Kingston Town swamping them. What a run!” So fast did the King finish that at the post he had three-quarters of a length to spare over Grosvenor, with My Axeman in third place, one-and-a-quarter-lengths away. Federico Tesio, whose breeding theories had contributed heavily to Kingston Town’s pedigree, once famously pronounced: “A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character.” All who saw that 1982 W. S. Cox Plate understood just what he meant.
After a coloratura performance such as that the Melbourne Cup was always likely to be an anti-climax. And it was. Unlike the previous year, Tommy Smith was advised to miss the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes on the first day of the V.R.C. Spring Carnival and sent Kingston Town directly into the Melbourne Cup on the following Tuesday. The advice emanated from the esteemed veterinary surgeon, Percy Sykes, who told Smith that the horse’s forelegs could withstand either a run in the Mackinnon or the Cup but not both in the space of four days. In other words, the champion had one shot left in his locker. Missing the Saturday race was out of character for a Cup horse from Tulloch Lodge. After all, Smith’s two previous Cup winners, Toparoa and Just A Dash had both gone around in the Hotham Handicap, while the likes of Tulloch and Prince Grant had each started in the Mackinnon Stakes on the first day of the meeting in those years they unsuccessfully contested the Cup.
Handicapped with 59 kg, Kingston Town wasn’t even top-weight for the race, that honour fell to his stablemate, the previous year’s winner, Just A Dash. Drawn four at the gates in the twenty-three horse field, Kingston Town was smartly away and on the fence running sixth until an opportunity presented itself to get off the rails at the 800 metres’ mark. Mal seized it. He poked outside and then gave The King a touch of the whip on straightening. Kingston Town kicked two lengths clear at the 300 and looked home for all money. By comparison, his nemesis that day, Gurner’s Lane, in the hands of jockey Mick Dittman, who had drawn the 23 marble at the barriers, fell out of the gate like a drunken sailor. Dittman claimed after the race that he didn’t even see the starter climb to his stand. Whereas Dittman’s original intention from his wide draw was to use some early speed to get across and be in the first third of the field, he was left with little choice. Accordingly, the Queensland horseman cut clean across the back of the pack to take up a position on the inside fence near the rear, where, in the famous words of commentator Bert Bryant, he was looking at more tails than Hoffmann. Thereafter, however, it was to prove the ride of a lifetime.
Gurner’s Lane remained on the rails and enjoyed a saloon passage for the entire journey. The only blemish to the run and the ride came when Dittman necessarily checked Port Carling, a stablemate of Kingston Town, rather badly near the 100 as he smelt blood and charged up on the inside fence to stalk his quarry. For Gurner’s Lane, it might have been a matter of tails at the start, but it was to be a matter of heads at the end. The finish had the 91,552 racegoers at Flemington and millions more around Australia on their feet! At the post, Gurner’s Lane, with Dittman riding so desperately that his skull-cap lost its silk covering, beat the King by a neck. In this gallant display of lese majeste, Gurner’s Lane had become only the seventh horse to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cups double in the same year and the first to do so since Galilee in 1966.
For quite a few moments after the horses had flashed past the post, Smith and Hains were euphorically congratulating each other in the mistaken belief that Kingston Town had triumphed. In those days, the section of the Members’ Stand set aside for owners and trainers and where the two men were seated, was more than a hundred metres from the winning-post. From that dubious vantage, any horse finishing along the inside fence was largely camourflaged. Moreover, on this occasion, the roar of the massive crowd had drowned out the course commentator, Frank O’Brien, and his call of the finish. Tommy Smith, who was ill with influenza and had clambered out of a sickbed to watch the race, soon felt even sicker when apprised of the true result.
Malcolm Johnston was to incur widespread criticism for going too soon on Kingston Town in that famous Melbourne Cup, but I believed then, and I believe now, that the criticism was unfair. Johnston gave Kingston Town the perfect ride to the home turn and when he hit the front in the straight, victory seemed inevitable. Yes, he went a bit wide on the turn and perhaps he did draw the whip a little too early, but all things considered, it was a good ride. Problem was, he was beaten by a great ride, albeit a reckless one that in many other racing jurisdictions would have seen the race taken away. Nonetheless, Mick Dittman walked off Flemington racecourse that evening a much richer man despite the interference he had caused Port Carling. The month-long suspension that he had incurred from V.R.C. stewards for careless riding was a small price to pay for having secured for himself, trainer Geoff Murphy and the Andrew Ramsden syndicate their first Melbourne Cup.
The unpalatable truth was that Kingston Town – notwithstanding his Sydney Cup – was not quite a genuine two-miler whereas Gurner’s Lane was. Before the Cup but in the wake of Kingston Town’s sensational third W. S. Cox Plate, the V.R.C. handicapper, Jim Bowler, had come in for considerable criticism that he had been too lenient in handicapping Kingston Town with 59 kg for the race. Curiously enough, there had been no such criticism when the weights were first issued on July 26. In defending his handicapping, Bowler argued that only two six-year-olds had won the Cup with more weight than Kingston Town was being asked to carry viz. Archer (10 st. 2lb) in 1862 and Poitrel (10 st.) in 1920. Moreover, Bowler emphasised that the previous year with 60.5 kg, Kingston Town was never in the race.
In the 1982 Cup, Kingston Town was now a six-year-old and his handicap represented 1 kg under weight-for-age. By comparison, Gurner’s Lane was a four-year-old and his handicap of 56 kg also represented 1 kg under weight-for-age. Thus according to the time-honoured weight-for-age scale, Kingston Town and Gurner’s Lane were pitched into that 1982 Melbourne Cup on level terms and yet Gurner’s Lane took some five lengths off the great horse in the last 350 metres of the race. Had Tommy been able to adhere to his traditional Cup preparation and get another run into his charge in the Mackinnon Stakes, perhaps the result might have been different. We will never know.
The 1982 Melbourne Cup proved to be Kingston Town’s penultimate race. I might observe here and now that there is a law of inertia in history: whatever happens usually seems to have been inevitable. Once the decision was announced that Kingston Town would be taken to Perth for the W.A.T.C. Summer Meeting and a crack at the rich treble of the $130,000 Western Mail Classic, the $50,000 C. B. Cox Plate and the $225,000 Perth Cup, I, along with many others, wondered whether the gelding’s legs would withstand the grind. After all, the Golden West had proven to be a graveyard for top gallopers from the eastern seaboard in recent years where the Ascot course was as hard as the heart of a rich relation. Moreover, many of those good horses went there in better physical shape than the King. Yes, the prizemoney was enticing, for apart from the value of each of the individual races that made up the abovementioned treble, the W.A.T.C. was offering a $300,000 bonus to any horse that could win all three events.
However, only a matter of weeks before, Percy Sykes had warned Smith and Hains that a Mackinnon Stakes start would cruel the King’s chances of even running in the Melbourne Cup, let alone winning it. And now this. What would prove to be Kingston Town’s last race came on Saturday, 27 November 1982 on the reshaped Ascot course over the 1800 metres of the Western Mail Classic. In many ways reminiscent of his recent Cox Plate heroics, Kingston Town was forced wide and despite being under the whip on the home turn, still surged to the front inside the final half-furlong to win by one-and-a-quarter lengths from Getting Closer and a top local three-year-old, Rare Flyer. Now, nothing arouses curiosity and favours equivocal reports on a racecourse more than absence, whether it be man or horse. Kingston Town’s absence from the training tracks in the days thereafter, saw rumours sweep Ascot racecourse that all was not well with the champion. And the rumours had substance. Once again the King’s near foreleg suffered swelling but this time recourse to the electric therapy machine failed to reduce the fluid. Kingston Town returned to the Mornington peninsula facing an uncertain future.
Malcolm Johnston, too, was facing an uncertain future, at least insofar as retaining his No. 1 jockey status with Tulloch Lodge was concerned. The efforts of Kingston Town notwithstanding, Smith’s stable had disappointed throughout much of the 1982-83 racing season. Indeed, during Tommy’s long, unbroken reign of thirty-three successive premierships as Sydney’s leading trainer, beginning in 1952-53, the 1982-83 season was the closest he ever came to losing the title. Smith’s tally of wins at the end of July was 81 ½ – a margin of just three over his runner-up, Neville Begg. By means of comparison, for sixteen of those successive premierships, Smith trained at least double, and sometimes treble, the number of metropolitan winners of the next nearest trainer. It was also a season when most of Sydney’s richest races eluded him. He even failed to have a starter in the Golden Slipper Stakes, which along with the A.J.C. Derby was his signature event.
Moreover, that year the negative headlines for Tulloch Lodge were not restricted to activities on the racecourse but off the racecourse as well. During 1982 the N.S.W. Arbitration Commission ordered T. J. Smith to pay $14,000 to his stablehands in a case brought by the Australian Workers Union. The Sun-Herald, quoting Arbitration Commissioner Brack, reported: “I have no doubt that the management were (sic) aware that the stablehands were not being correctly paid. It is obvious to me that the stablehands have collectively been deprived of many thousands of dollars apart from the $14,000 which is now to be paid.” Commissioner Brack continued: “There is no doubt in my view that had the missing records been available (the wage records had been stolen during a burglary), a similar pattern of underpayment of stablehands would be disclosed for the period prior to August 1980, back to 1976 when the award was made.”
So, there seemed to be some professional disarray in Bowral-street. In racing, as in life, it is not unusual for two men who have worked together in fabulous prosperity to fall into quarrels and recriminations in darker days. In truth, Smith had not been happy with Johnston’s riding since a barrier mishap at Randwick in late July. On that occasion, Johnston was partnering a flighty two-year-old madam trained by Smith, named Take Over Lady. The filly reared in the stalls and the A.J.C. stewards ordered the horse to be withdrawn. Malcolm returned to the saddling paddock by virtue of a ride with the ambulance officers instead and promptly forfeited his six later mounts on the card. There was also the matter of a losing sequence of forty-five rides during July/ August that included an ugly demonstration at Canterbury when Johnston was roundly abused by punters for getting beaten on the 8/11 favourite, Zapotia. And, of course, there was the infamous occasion of the Chelmsford Stakes. As for Johnston’s Melbourne Cup ride, while Smith wasn’t publicly critical of his handling of Kingston Town at the time, privately he fulminated.
When Johnston rode Kingston Town to victory at Ascot in what proved to be the last time these two champions partnered in a race, he was already facing an adjourned inquiry into his riding of another Smith-trained runner at the Canterbury midweek meeting just three days earlier. The race in question had been a 1400 metres handicap and Johnston’s mount, At The Top, who eased in course betting from 5/4 to 11/4, had been last to the home turn before finishing second – beaten a neck. When the inquiry resumed at the A.J.C. offices on the following Tuesday, Tommy Smith, who hadn’t been in Sydney on the day of the race, was called to give evidence.
Smith told the committee: “I have been going crook at him [Johnston] at the races and have had him in my office three times to work things out. He seems to be missing the speed, not reading a race as well as he should.” Smith continued: “I told him I would not have him anymore unless he improves. I also abused him for going wide on horses. You cannot win like that. I think he has lost all confidence. I just can’t work him out.” Johnston was stunned to find himself suspended for six months. In explaining the relative ‘leniency’ of the six months’ suspension, A.J.C. chief steward John Schreck told the jockey: “We’ve given you the benefit of a very grave doubt whether you allowed this horse to run on its merits.” When questioned by journalists upon leaving the A.J.C. office, Smith replied: “I don’t want to comment on the six months. I will stick with him, just like before.”
Johnston subsequently appealed and although the ten-man committee after a six-hour hearing ultimately dismissed Johnston’s appeal, the sentence was reduced by half. It was Johnston’s 27th suspension in his brief but brilliant career and it kept him out of the saddle until March 1st, 1983. During his absence, Smith used a number of other jockeys but mostly Peter Cook and Mark de Montfort. Upon Mal’s return, there was a truce of sorts between trainer and jockey, although Tulloch Lodge and Johnston were still light on winners. The stable had a particularly poor Sydney autumn carnival, even if Johnston did manage to win the Frank Packer Plate on the David Hains-owned Chiamare. Johnston seemed to be surviving faute de mieux at Tulloch Lodge but a change was in the air. In May 1983, no longer sure about his future let alone his destiny, Johnston announced that he had accepted an eight-week riding contract in Singapore for millionaire owner, Mohamed Ismail.
Meanwhile, Smith was negotiating with the ace Queensland hoop, ‘Mick’ Dittman to re-locate to Sydney at the beginning of the new 1983-84 racing season and take over as the No. 1 jockey at Tulloch Lodge. Dittman, aged thirty-one and the winner of five premierships in Brisbane, the first at seventeen, was Queensland’s outstanding rider and enjoying a bumper season with Strawberry Road. Dittman had already ridden extensively for Smith in the past when Tulloch Lodge was campaigning horses at the Brisbane winter carnivals and his victories for the stable went back as far as the 1973 J. H. S. Barnes Plate (Analie), 1974 Brisbane Cup (Igloo), 1976 Q.T.C. Derby and B.A.T.C. Doomben Cup (Cheyne Walk) and the 1976 Q.T.C. Oaks (Denise’s Joy). It was to prove a fruitful collaboration.
Perhaps the fissure in the Smith-Johnston partnership was inevitable, given the concourse of circumstances and difference in personalities. During his five years as the stable rider, Malcolm only won the Sydney jockeys’ premiership once, and that came with 115 winners in the 1977-78 season after his first months in the job. Interstate riding commitments and regular suspensions thereafter conspired to beat him, not to mention Ron Quinton’s singlemindedness in retaining his title, although Johnston did finish runner-up three times. In the end, the pressure of being the No. 1 jockey for Tulloch Lodge told. The cavalier insouciance with which the young Malcolm had ridden when he first burst onto the scene had given way to a hard grind. It just wasn’t fun anymore.
The miracle that was Mal began to melt into a morass of bad publicity in those closing months of Kingston Town’s racing career. In a sense, he was the moth to his own flame. There were the fast and flashy cars; the nightlife and discotheques; the twenty-seven suspensions in just under a decade; John Schreck’s dark insinuations; rumours of card games and gambling losses; the prospective civil suit from Glen Frazer for damages in the 1978 Wyong Cup…Looking back in October 1985 Johnston observed: “I was under a lot of pressure when I was riding for Tommy Smith and I don’t think a lot of people realised just how hard it was. I was just twenty-one when I took the job and people tend to forget that I was trying to cope with a job that George Moore coped with at thirty-two. Really, I couldn’t handle it.”
The Singapore/Malaysia experience was to be a mixed blessing for Johnston. The initial two-month stint was extended and he later based himself in Kuala Lumpur and rode there until September 1985. While he won some 130 races, there was also the savage incident in August 1984 when he was attacked by four thugs with iron bars in his hotel carpark and left with a broken nose, broken cheekbone and broken left-hand. Johnston eventually returned to Sydney permanently in September 1985 a more matured, married man of twenty-nine, with a family on the way, and picked up the reins once again. Despite a strengthening in the riding ranks since his departure with the arrival of the likes of Dittman, Compton and Cassidy, success came immediately when he won the Epsom Handicap on Magnitude and the Breeders’ Plate on Pre Catalan at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting.
Johnston sold his home at Coogee and relocated to Castle Hill, basing himself at Rosehill. It was a shrewd move, given the trends in Sydney racing. Against all odds, Malcolm showed real character and went on to win his third and final Sydney jockeys’ premiership in the 1986-87 season with 92 ½ winners – much of the horsepower being supplied by Paul Sutherland and to a lesser extent, Ray Guy. In Johnston’s own words: “A bloke once told me I was hit in the arse with a rainbow when I was born. I believe him.” Malcolm Johnston officially retired from race riding at the age of thirty-seven on George Main Stakes Day in September 1993. The popular A.J.C. chairman Bob Charley made a special presentation in front of the crowd acknowledging the occasion. The gift? A portrait of Mal and The King!
Kingston Town’s hours of importance on the racecourse seemed to have passed. Or had they? In January 1984 it was announced that the champion would be sent to the U.S.A. to see if the recent advances in veterinary science there could get him back to the track. North America had a more liberal drug regime in relation to thoroughbreds than allowed in Australia and Hains wanted his horse to be given every chance. Kingston Town went into the Hollywood Park stables of 71-year-0ld Charlie Whittingham, who had enjoyed previous success with the Australasian horses, Tobin Bronze and Daryl’s Joy. Alas, ligament weakness again proved his downfall and the black horse was returned to the Kingston Park Stud in Victoria after nine months without racing.
Yet such was the spirit and life in Kingston Town when he returned to the Mornington Peninsula that one more attempt was made to return him to the racecourse. During the winter months of 1985, Neville Pepper exercised the horse slowly and patiently in a paddock at the Kingston Park Stud. In mid-September, Mal and the King were reunited at Rosehill as part of an S.T.C. promotion to lead out the field for the running of the Kingston Town Stakes. The leading Sydney veterinary surgeon, Trieve Williams, inspected the champion that day and told David Hains that a comeback might be possible. Even Tommy thought it worth a try while at the same time observing that he believed Kingston Town had grown an additional two inches since his last race in November 1982.
David Hains then proceeded to issue a press statement: “It is on the advice of Tom Smith and the veterinary surgeons Trieve Williams and Ross Tiezel that the risk of preparing him for racing is no different than it was at any other stage of his career. Kingston Town had not had a recurrence of the problems which affected him in his racing career since December 1982. The problem experienced in America was a strained check ligament which was of a minor nature and totally unrelated to previous problems. We, and the public, love Kingston Town. He enjoys being in training and racing and the racing public enjoys seeing him race. It is for these reasons we are going to try this preparation. We are deeply conscious of our responsibilities to the horse and have made this decision on the best advice available. In the event that there is any sign of recurrence of his old problems the horse’s preparation will stop immediately.”
Accordingly, in early October, after a three-year-furlough, the nine-year-old gelding was returned to T. J. Smith’s Melbourne stables. At the Breakfast with the Stars prelude on Tuesday morning prior to the Saturday Cox Plate meeting in 1985, Kingston Town covered 1000 metres in a neat 66 seconds, coming home the last 400 in 24.5 seconds. It seemed a gallop to sustain a dream and the V.R.C. Linlithgow Stakes (1400 metres) on V.R.C. Oaks Day was announced as the King’s comeback race. And why not? After all, Gloaming had won at his last eight starts as a nine-year-old. But then again, he hadn’t been off the scene for three years. Alas, it wasn’t to be for Kingston Town. Having drawn the outside gate in a field of eleven and with heavy rain in the days preceding the race that had seen the Flemington course deteriorate, the black horse was a race-morning scratching.
By November 22nd he was back at Tulloch Lodge at Randwick and there was talk of a comeback at Rosehill in the $25,000 Festival Handicap in early December, but it too proved to be moonshine. Galloping between races at Rosehill on the last Saturday of November with Mick Dittman in the irons against his stablemate Fair Verdict, Kingston Town disappointed by changing stride several times and hanging towards the inside rail. The large crowd stood ten deep around his raceday stall and clapped him both before and after the gallop. However, upon cooling down there was some swelling and heat in his forelegs. Tommy Smith after consulting with his veterinary-surgeon, John Peatfield, announced that he would be returning the horse to the Kingston Park Stud immediately. It was the end. There would be occasional guest appearances such as at the Boorowa picnic race meeting and the William Inglis Sales in 1986 but his galloping career was over. Although the old horse had never strictly broken down, by now age had wearied him and the years condemned. The tendons and suspensory ligaments – those bits of ‘string’ that hold a horse’s legs together – could no longer take the strain.
Kingston Town’s complete racing record was 41 starts: 30 wins; 5 seconds; 2 thirds; and $1,605,790 in prize money. He spent the rest of his days in luxurious retirement in the paddocks where he was reared, Kingston Park Stud. In December 1990 while gambolling in a paddock there with his playmate, he injured the stifle in his off-hind leg. Get-well cards flooded in from admirers around the country. A veterinary surgeon kept him alive but when the fourteen-year-old gelding aggravated the injury again in March 1991 there was no choice other than to put him down. The Hains family, together with countless thousands of horse-lovers throughout this sunburnt country, were deeply saddened by the news. In all my years of racing in Australia, I’ve never seen any horse that could match the King’s sublime acceleration. It was a privilege to have borne witness.