Few men came to have more influence on racing in Australasia in the last two decades of the twentieth century than Robert Edmund Sangster. Born 23 May 1936, Sangster grew up in a mansion near the Hoylake Golf Club, Liverpool, England, the only child of Vernon Sangster who had founded the Vernons Pools Company ten years earlier. Robert was educated at the exclusive Repton School in Derbyshire, the school featured in the acclaimed 1939 film ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ and apart from Sangster, numbered amongst its notable and eclectic alumni were Roald Dahl, Harold Abrahams and Jeremy Clarkson. Sangster distinguished himself more by his sports than his academic achievements at the school involving boxing, cricket and football. Upon finishing at Repton, he completed his Army National Service by serving in the Cheshire Regiment, although he never received a commission. Perhaps his most notable achievement while wearing khaki came when winning a brigade heavyweight boxing championship while based in Berlin. Soon afterwards he joined the family business of football pools at Aintree, a stone’s throw from the famous racecourse. At the time, Vernons were second to Littlewoods in the operation of football pools in the United Kingdom with about 30% of the market.
Sangster was introduced to thoroughbred racing through his friend, Nick Robinson. Robinson suggested that Sangster place a wager on a horse called Chalk Stream, owned by his father, Sir Foster Robinson, in the 1960 Lincoln Handicap. Chalk Stream finished unplaced but Sangster so enjoyed the experience that he later bought the horse for £1,000 as a wedding present for his fiancée and first wife, Christine. It seemed a good idea at the time. Sangster said: “I was about twenty-four and getting too slow to play football for Birkenhead Park and I wanted something to do on a Saturday.” Chalk Stream, trained by Eric Cousins, not far from Sangster’s Cheshire base, won the Liverpool Autumn Cup that year at Aintree, and the following April brought off a good gamble in landing the Jubilee Handicap at Kempton Park. Sangster never played football again. He was hooked! Attracted by the raffish glamour of the racecourse, the wealthy young man began acquiring well-bred fillies to establish his own stud which he did when in 1964 he bought the Swettenham farm of 200 acres, near Congleton, in Cheshire. Sangster’s first major win in a flat race came with Brief Star in the 1969 Ayr Gold Cup, also trained by Cousins.
Robert Sangster became the managing director of Vernons Pools at the age of thirty-five in 1971. It was in October of that same year at Haydock Park, the charming racecourse at Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, where Sangster’s family company were sponsoring the Vernons Sprint Cup, that Sangster first met John Magnier, the 23-year-old Tipperary stud owner, having been introduced by the Irish bloodstock agent, Jack Doyle. The pair struck up an immediate friendship based on their common interest in thoroughbreds. Magnier was the friend and soon to be the son-in-law of the great Irish trainer, Vincent O’Brien. In July 1972 Sangster paid his first visit to Lexington, Kentucky, for the famous Keeneland Sales, and it was where he first met O’Brien. That same year Sangster was elected to the Jockey Club in England becoming its youngest member and gradually he began sending horses to Ballydoyle to be trained by O’Brien while stepping up his investment in Magnier’s Coolmore Stud.
1974 was the year in which Sangster resolved to adopt an “all or nothing” approach to his involvement in horse racing. The hobby of part-time owning and breeding was all very well but the lack of returns frustrated him. After all, Vernon Sangster had inculcated in his son a sharp commercial instinct and it seemed to Robert that a new business model was needed. Sangster was due to inherit much of the Vernon fortune in 1975 and he faced a massive capital gains tax bill in England. He took himself off for six months to Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol to play golf, surf, swim and sort out his life, given that his first marriage was on the rocks. After some long and hard thinking, he resolved to become an international commodity trader, but unlike anybody else, except perhaps for the Texan oil billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt before him, his international commodity was to be racehorses. As a tax exile, he chose the Isle of Man as his base and moved there in 1975. The following year for a mere £100,000 in a sealed bid from the Manx Government, he bought The Nunnery, a rambling 150-year-old Victorian Gothic mansion together with its extensive parklands, just outside the island’s capital, Douglas. The Isle of Man had been familiar to him since childhood and was the closest tax haven to Vernon’s head office, Vincent O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stables, and all 61 racecourses of England.
Sangster believed in the market potential of horseflesh. He saw bloodstock as an international currency. “When sterling drops, horseflesh stays put. There’s always somebody prepared to pay extra for a horse that can run fractionally faster than most.” The price of yearlings in Europe and America had escalated by more than 200% during the previous decade. Prices had increased in Australia too, but to nothing like the same extent. “I realised I could put it all on a business footing and make a profit out of pleasure, or I could pull out,” he said. “I decided that racing was so important to me that I couldn’t think of any area that was so absorbing, that I had to go in in a big way. I needed to make a massive investment and I had to sell this idea of a self-contained operation to the bankers, who thought I was mad to talk about putting money into horses.”
To spread the risk in Europe, Sangster formalised a syndicate with three other men: John Magnier; Simon Fraser, a wealthy Scots landowner; and thirdly, the Master of Ballydoyle, Vincent O’Brien. So, the theory went, Magnier’s vision together with Fraser’s and Sangster’s money, and O’Brien’s genius, the syndicate would hit the jackpot. And they did! Although originally founded as a football pools company, Vernons, the source of Sangster’s wealth, by then had become a conglomerate with investments in businesses as diverse as lotto, industrial plant hire, air charter and transport. Vernons had £8 million invested in used cars with fifteen branches in the north of England. “We decided to close that down and convert the eight million from second-hand cars to first-class horses,” Sangster explained. I might add that Sangster’s involvement with Vernons became more distant after his move to the Isle of Man, although he remained the nominal deputy chairman. Magnier, Fraser and Sangster were stepping into a breach left vacant by the deaths of many of the old-style British owners-breeders, men such as the sixth Earl of Rosebery and the seventeenth Earl of Derby, Sir Victor Sassoon and Sir Humphrey de Trafford, as well as the likes of Viscount Astor. But it was now a new world, demanding a cosmopolitan outlook.
Long before Robert Sangster discovered the value in bloodstock Down Under, Nelson Bunker Hunt had stumbled upon it. To the extent that any man offered a template for what Sangster was about to attempt it was Hunt. And what the champion stallion Vaguely Noble had done for Hunt, Sangster was hoping Northern Dancer would do for him. It was in 1961 that the wealthy Texan stepped up his involvement in international racing. Hunt had approached his thoroughbred acquisitions with two principles in mind. The first was to adhere to the well-established canon that the horse should be able to run a mile and a half in good company; the second principle was that race performance was a more attractive attribute in any potential broodmare than a fetching pedigree. Hunt soon discovered that he couldn’t buy enough of the mares he sought in Europe or North America, so he cast his net wider including in South America and Australasia.
Employing Jim Shannon as his bloodstock agent here, Nelson Bunker Hunt was to acquire no fewer than five V.R.C. Oaks winners including Lady Sybil, Gipsy Queen, Farmer’s Daughter and Double Steel as well as other top Australian race mares such as Wiggle. Hunt bought a property at Jugiong in N.S.W. for breeding and also established the Waikato Stud in New Zealand in 1967 into which he imported Pretendre, Australasia’s first-ever shuttle-stallion. Pretendre, a son of Doutelle, had gone within a neck of winning the 1966 English Derby. Other stallions that Hunt stood at Waikato in the ensuing years included Decies, Ace of Aces and Zephyr Bay, and he was also responsible for importing Sharivari. At his peak, Hunt owned 2,500 square miles of Australian pastureland and had more than 100 thoroughbreds in Australia and New Zealand. Of course, it all went pear-shaped later when Hunt tried to corner the world market in silver but that’s another story. Still, whatever the imprint on Australasian racing made by Nelson Bunker Hunt, it was to be put in the shade by Sangster living on his island retreat.
The Englishman first came to Australia in early 1974 when Vernons was negotiating with the Victorian Government over the launch of Australian Soccer Pools into that State, with Vernons running them through Tattersall’s agencies. While here, Sangster inspected our Australian bloodstock, visited our racecourses, and saw an opportunity. He believed the possibilities were endless. Relative to Europe and America our thoroughbreds were cheap and our prize money generous. The sport of horseracing here was in a very healthy state following the introduction of the T.A.B., and public interest was widespread with media coverage intense. But it seemed to Sangster that here second division horses changed hands in an environment of first division breeding. He quickly resolved that Australia would become an integral part of his grand international plan that was already encompassing horses, stabling, and breeding facilities in England, Ireland, America and France. It was at the 1974 William Inglis Easter sales that he requested his English bloodstock agent, Richard Galpin, to bid on his behalf for the handsome chestnut colt by Red God from Pine Miss.
The colt boasted overwhelmingly American rather than Australian bloodlines and Sangster got him for $75,000, which briefly became an Australian-record price for a yearling, beating the previous year’s $71,000 given by Alf Grant for a Showdown filly. Clearly, there was now amongst us a new buyer prepared to roll the dice. The new record didn’t last long and was later beaten twice at the same sales by the $90,000 paid by T. J. Smith on behalf of the Indian shipping magnate Ravi Tikkoo for a filly by Wilkes out of With Respect who raced as Honey Queen, and $80,000 for a colt by Dignitas from Grande Brio that sunk without trace. Registered as Bronze God, the Sangster colt was anything but, and when put into training through Tulloch Lodge showed nothing on the racecourse. He was ultimately retired to stand as a nondescript stallion at James Merrill’s stud, where he was bred.
Robert Sangster made for an interesting case study when he first hit the Australian racing scene. He seemed a curious compound and medley of motives and impulses. I think it was as much the love of a challenge and the excitement of racing as any wholesale greed for gain that actuated him in his bloodstock ventures. A craving for the same transient elixir prompts other men to jump out of aeroplanes with a parachute or make an assault on Everest. Sangster quickly became a popular figure here. It helps, of course, when you arrive in any strange country with a planeload of money and a willingness to spend it, but Sangster was likeable and generous with an amiable tendency to regard luxuries as necessities. There was nothing of the traditional hauteur about him characteristic of so many of the well-heeled English. Yes, there might have been a plum in his mouth, but there was also a twinkle in his eye: the man was clearly here for a good time.
It was during 1974-75 that Sangster first got to know Susan Peacock, the ‘estranged’ wife of the popular but essentially lightweight Australian politician, Andrew Peacock. The Peacocks were in Sydney to watch their champion mare Leilani race; Sangster was in Sydney to attend the Randwick Autumn Carnival and buy bloodstock at the William Inglis Sales. An affair soon began between Robert and Susan which quickly became public knowledge. Of course, there were the predictably facetious references in the English tabloids to Sangster’s love of fast and flighty Australian fillies. The gossip columnists and social pages loved it as the romance played itself out on Australian and European racecourses and at high society restaurants and parties over the next few years. And so to The Nunnery, rather than a nunnery, Susan went in 1976, and somewhat quickly too, thereby mocking Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia. Once their respective divorces were finalised, the relationship eventually culminated in a second marriage for each of them on the Isle of Man in March 1978. Susan already had three young daughters from her first marriage, and Robert had three sons and a daughter from his. While the marriage was childless, so long as it lasted it served to bind Sangster even more closely to Australia.
This first Mrs Susan Sangster (not to be confused with the second, who will emerge in due course) opened doors at the highest level within Australia’s social and corporate network and Sangster walked through them loaded with his money. The warp and weft of Sangster’s bloodstock investments Down Under were breathtaking; he quickly became an increasingly lavish patron of the Australian Turf. Initially, his largesse was spread among a range of our leading trainers including Tommy Smith, Bart Cummings and Colin Hayes. Undaunted by the early failure of Bronze God, Sangster was at it again at the William Inglis Sales the following year when, in April 1975, Bart Cummings paid $31,000 on behalf of Sangster and N.S.W. grazier Claude Renshaw for the yearling colt by Baguette from Marjoram, and in bidding just pipped Tommy Smith. Marjoram was an unraced half-sister to Cummings’ recently retired champion, Taj Rossi.
Registered as Bagalot, he became the first winner that Bart Cummings ever trained for Sangster. It almost never happened. The horse fractured his off-hind sesamoid in a barrier trial at Flemington as an early-season two-year-old before he’d even started in a race and had to be completely immobilised for twelve weeks. When Bagalot finally did make it to the racecourse in August of his three-year-old season, he won his first two races at Canterbury and Randwick with ridiculous ease. A boom quickly developed around him, partly attributable to his price tag and golden ownership, which had racing writers reaching for the sky. That reputation of a coming champion saw him go to the post as an unbeaten 8/11 favourite for the $20,000 V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes in September 1976. Now, as it happened there was a champion in the Ascot Vale field but it wasn’t Bagalot.
Let’s revisit the scene in the Flemington mounting yard on that Saturday afternoon, September 22, which happened to be the colourful Caulfield trainer Geoff Murphy’s fiftieth birthday. Murphy had just legged jockey Alan Travena into the irons on a little grey filly by Sovereign Edition when Bagalot and Roy Higgins walked by in the mounting yard. As Warwick Hobson told the story: “Hey, Roy,” yelled, Geoff. “Take a good look at that filly’s rump, because that’s all you’re going to see in this race.” Higgins just laughed, but he wasn’t laughing a few minutes later after Surround recorded her seventh win from eleven starts and her fourth in succession. In doing so, she had carved out the journey in a smart 1 minute 10.3 seconds on a rain-affected track with Bagalot reeling one and three-quarter lengths in arrears. A fortnight later in the Moonee Valley Stakes, run that year at Sandown, punters remained beguiled by the Cummings-Sangster mystique and still hadn’t learned the lesson. Despite an even greater weight concession to the same filly, Bagalot went to the post as the 13/8 favourite with Surround at a very generous 7/1.
When Bagalot could only run fifth to Surround that day at Sandown the truth began to dawn. Bagalot wouldn’t bag very much at all; he was more hype than hope. Indeed, he only ever won one principal race on the Turf, that being the S.A.J.C. Wylie Handicap as a five-year-old and by then even Sangster had lost interest. But twelve months after buying Bagalot, Sangster returned to the fray at the 1976 William Inglis Sales when he outbid both Smith and Cummings and paid $51,000 for an Irish-bred filly by Thatch from Happy. Registered as Republican Gal and placed with Colin Hayes, she proved an unmitigated disaster and two years later when Sangster tried to off-load her at auction, was passed in at just $26,000. But not all of his yearling investments proved bad. In November 1976 Bart Cummings trained another Baguette two-year-old winner for Sangster in the shape of Tickuette at Sandown Park.
While Sangster’s buying of expensive Australian yearlings continued unabated, he began to realise that there was perhaps better value and greater guarantee in buying high-quality, proven racehorses. During the 1977 Melbourne Spring Carnival, Sangster successfully negotiated the purchase of Luskin Star on behalf of a syndicate that comprised his Swettenham Stud and Thoroughbred International Pty Ltd, headed by Brian Maher. The price was never properly disclosed because it involved contingencies in the case of Luskin Star racing successfully overseas. Indeed, Sangster had intended to race the horse in the U.S.A. but that became impossible after that country slapped a temporary import ban on both mares and stallions. Instead, Luskin Star was transferred into the Bart Cummings’ stable and in the autumn of 1978 did win The A.J.C. Galaxy before a deal was struck to stand the horse at John Kelly’s Newhaven Park Stud. As Australia’s first stallion syndicated to a value of one million dollars, Luskin Star proved a great success there and some of his best progeny, including Midnight Fever and Postage Due, later carried the Sangster colours.
Stage Hit was another of Sangster’s proven racehorse purchases, and he bought this daughter of Century and Oh Calcutta for $225,000 in the autumn of 1979. In 1980 Bart Cummings trained Stage Hit to win both the $20,000 S.T.C. Canterbury Stakes and the $75,000 S.T.C. Rosemount Classic in the increasingly familiar emerald green and blue before proving herself a very good matron at stud. The Melbourne and Sydney Autumn Carnivals that year were a real boon for Sangster as he was just beginning to hit his stride in Australian racing. The Colin Hayes-trained Sportscast carried Sangster’s colours to victory in the V.R.C. Lightning Stakes and was then desperately unlucky to go under by a half neck to the 33/1 outsider Dor Kon in the $101,000 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. Brent Thomson lost his offside stirrup iron 300 metres from the winning post that day and later protested unsuccessfully against the winner. In Sydney, Rocky Top carrying the Sangster livery and trained by Tommy Smith, won the S.T.C. Canterbury Guineas while another recent purchase in Gay Galaxy, which cost $75,000 and was trained by Colin Hayes, won the A.J.C. Analie Handicap. Suddenly, the Sangster colours were popping up everywhere! By now he had 16 horses in work throughout the country and when Gay Galaxy scored, she represented the twenty-seventh win from just forty-two events his horses had contested that season.
That run of success saw Sangster even more prodigal than usual at the 1980 Inglis Easter Yearling Sales. Among others, he bought three particularly expensive yearlings in a Baguette colt, Lord Diamond ($180,000), a Boucher colt, Anyone Home ($155,000) and a Vain filly, Ease And Comfort ($130,000). Lord Diamond proved a complete flop. Anyone Home did finish runner-up to Full On Aces in the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and won a W.A.T.C. Karrakatta Plate but ultimately disappointed both on the racecourse and at stud. Ease And Comfort though she never achieved anything herself on the racecourse, did ultimately prove a wonderful broodmare. At those same sales, Sangster was also the fortunate underbidder on the record-breaking $250,000 Showdown-Vain Queen filly that raced as Paraluman. Eduardo Cojuangco through trainer Neville Begg was the hapless buyer of that disappointing conveyance.
Sangster’s racecourse success in Australia mirrored an even more remarkable series of triumphs in England, Ireland and France. Already his initial three-year plan for international racing supremacy had produced two wonderful racehorses in The Minstrel and Alleged. The Minstrel, a Canadian-bred, Irish-trained son of Northern Dancer had given Sangster, Magnier and company the English Derby, Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1977. Originally bought for $200,000 at the 1975 Keeneland Yearling Sales, a half-interest in him was sold back to his breeder E. P. Taylor at the end of his racing career and The Minstrel was syndicated for $9 million. In 1977 Sangster also won the first of two successive Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes with Alleged. Bought as a two-year-old by him and his associates for $175,000, upon retirement at the end of the 1978 racing season, Alleged was syndicated for $16 million. Was it any wonder with that sort of money going around that Sangster believed Australian bloodstock was grossly undervalued given the disproportionately rich levels of our prize money?
As the stories of The Minstrel and Alleged demonstrated, the big money in racing now lay in international stallion syndication and service fees. Moreover, the whole nature of equine science and management of horse husbandry was changing profoundly. Where once forty mares were regarded as a full book for any young, virile stallion, modern science and the extension of the breeding season now meant books above two hundred became achievable. This extension of the breeding season had been made possible by the “harnessing of the hemispheres” – as modern jet transportation now enabled the shuttling of stallions from the northern hemisphere to the southern and back again as the breeding cycle rotated. And rather than any suspected deterioration in the fertility of these pampered equine lotharios, a change of scenery seemed only to enhance their procreative performance.
It was this that explained why Sangster’s real investment in Australia lay in broodmares and stallions and by now he boasted no less than 65 broodmares and interests in 14 top stallions. And it was this that explained why Australian stallions such as Luskin Star and Raffindale had now been propelled into million-dollar syndications. Robert Sangster had anticipated the zeitgeist of burgeoning bloodstock prices in Australia and the rest of the world as the decade of the 1970s expired. There was a time, not long before, when an overseas bloodstock agent was an entirely unknown presence at our major yearling sales. The arrival of Sangster and in his wake other prominent breeders and buyers such as Ravi Tikkoo, Charles St George, Souren Vanian, Viscount Petersham, Eduardo Cojuangco changed all that. World-class stallions became available to Australian breeders on lease to breed during England’s offseason, including Lorenzaccio, Deep Diver, Mount Hagen, and others. As John Kelly, the founder of Newhaven Park, said at the time: “We won’t exist on the type of stallions we used to import to Australia. We must now get the best on international standards.” As strange as it may seem, there were even some prominent Australian studmasters, tempted by the foreign interest that our bloodstock was now attracting, who agreed with Sangster’s advocacy of a change to Australia’s breeding season to bring it into line with the northern hemisphere i.e. February to June instead of the traditional August to December.
Still, Australasian-bred racehorses were one thing; high-class European and American racehorses another. Just like Nelson Bunker Hunt before him, Sangster intended to harness the hemispheres in his bid for global domination not just for breeding but for racing itself. As the great man himself said: “Mobility is the name of the game. In the jet age, you can move thoroughbreds around the globe like pawns on a chessboard.” Sangster set about doing so. He was a pioneer in sending out European-bred stayers in a bid to win our richest staying handicaps including the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. Australian racing’s obsession with speed over stamina had exposed a void in our staying talent and Sangster proceeded to take full advantage of it. The European-bred stayer was the superior article but it was a matter of finding the right racehorse for the tougher Australian conditions, particularly our warmer climate and firmer ground.
Lavache, an Irish-bred son of Levmoss, was an early Sangster success who won the 1978 S.T.C. Cup. Panamint, a half-brother to two winners of the Irish One Thousand Guineas, was another and this one-time Melbourne Cup favourite trained by Bart Cummings, gave Sangster his first significant Randwick victory in April 1979 when he claimed the A.J.C. Galilee Handicap. The following month he won the $75,000 Adelaide Cup. The American-bred Bohemian Grove came next and he won both The V.R.C. Dalgety and the S.A.J.C. Birthday Cup. Others such as Valley Forge and River Dane came over to Australia but quickly broke down. But in the spring of 1980 Sangster hit the jackpot with his imports when he won the Melbourne Cup with Beldale Ball. An American-bred grandson of Nasrullah through his great son Nashua, Beldale Ball cost Sangster just £18,000 and he bought him as a Melbourne Cup prospect after he had seen the horse run fifth in the Queen’s Vase (2 miles) at Royal Ascot.
Beldale Ball’s 1980 Melbourne Cup victory was both a milestone and a signpost for racing in Australia in a number of ways. While he wasn’t the first imported horse to win Australia’s signature event, he was the first bought specifically for that purpose to succeed and to be owned by a foreigner. We weren’t to know it at the time, but the whole ethos of the Melbourne Cup was about to change before our very eyes. The people’s race, one of the few sporting and cultural icons of this nation, was about to be transformed into a global international staying event in which good local stayers owned by Australians and trained by Australians would henceforth struggle to even secure a place in the field. Cup horses, bred and raised in Australia and New Zealand that had come down to us through history as the stuff of myth and legend, would be replaced by ‘smash and grab’ raiders owned and trained overseas, bearing names that most punters couldn’t remember and which others couldn’t pronounce. Historically, the charm of the Melbourne Cup lay in the fact that it was a rich handicap in which even a battler with the right horse at the right weight could triumph against the rich and the powerful. Australians, at both work and leisure, have never been known for their deference to the moneyed class. It was a brand of scepticism and irreverence rooted in our early convict origins and hitherto reflected on the racecourse – a land where Jack was as good as his master. Sadly, it was a culture that was beginning to change.
Now, in order to retain its group one status, the Melbourne Cup was set to become a quality handicap, with a corresponding compaction in the weights to suit racing’s rich and powerful international jet set. Anybody who thought that Australia’s cultural cringe was dead needed to think again. It was alive and well and incubating in the V.R.C. committee rooms. Sangster was just the first of a succession of foreign owners over the next few decades who would challenge the V.R.C. handicapper with a foreign galloper and walk away with Australian racing’s greatest prize. Interestingly, at the time Sangster won the 1980 Melbourne Cup, he wasn’t widely regarded as an outsider, but more like one of us. After all, he was married to a well-known Australian, had significant investments Down Under, and spent a large slice of each year here. He was at his diplomatic best on-course at the official Melbourne Cup presentation when addressing the crowd of 100,300 racegoers and was accorded warm applause. Afterwards, as he walked towards the waiting journalists feeling rather pleased with himself, he quipped: “I got a better reception than John Kerr, didn’t I?” Perhaps not the highest of benchmarks, but true nevertheless for there was a likeable devil-may-care dimension to Sangster’s character that resonated with ordinary Australians.
Sangster’s remarks to the racing pressmen on Cup Day weren’t patronising but heartfelt: “It is more exciting than winning the English Derby or the Arc in Paris – not as commercial, certainly, but far more exciting. Yours is the race of the people. I believe in everything I say about Australia. In fact, I’m more Australian than most of the people out there,” gesturing towards the crowd lining the enclosure fence at Flemington. The Melbourne Cup completed a remarkable month of international racing for Sangster-owned horses. On the first Sunday in October, his champion three-year-old filly, Detroit, had won the rich Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in race record time giving Sangster his third win in that famous race in four years. At the celebration of that victory, Susan Sangster had famously stood on the table at Castel’s, the legendary Parisian restaurant, and sang. Now, following Beldale Ball’s triumph, she was threatening that night to dance on the table and sing as well.
In the end, the gushing Susan did neither. Only the day before the Cup, trainer Colin Hayes had lost his beloved elder brother, Arthur, who had been like a second father to him during his formative years. Colin was returning to Adelaide for his funeral on the following day. As a result, the Cup night celebration was a somewhat subdued affair, consisting of a quiet dinner foursome of two married couples: Robert and Susan Sangster; Colin and Betty Hayes. It had been quite a day. Hayes had won six races – three at Flemington and three at Victoria Park and half of those winners had carried the royal blue and emerald green. Moreover, in the last race on Cup Day, Hayes had trained all three placegetters, the second time that he had achieved the feat in the space of four days, having scored the trifecta in The Dalgety on the previous Saturday. Beldale Ball’s Melbourne Cup success saw Sangster gravitate ever more closely towards the Adelaide trainer Colin Hayes, which was hardly surprising. As demonstrated with Beldale Ball, the pastoral countryside of Angaston was far more in keeping with European training settings and so much more familiar to Sangster and his imported gallopers than our big city stables.
Satisfying as winning the Melbourne Cup was for Sangster, as a genuine sportsman and racing purist, he hankered to see his colours carried to victory in a Derby at Flemington and Randwick. Indeed, he had spent big money at the New Zealand National Yearling Sales in previous years trying to achieve just that. But the best-laid schemes of racing men often go awry and such it was with the Derby prospects of Colin Hayes and Robert Sangster come the early spring of that year, 1980. Despite having acquired some well-bred three-year-old colts as yearlings from the sales ring such as Dulcify’s younger brother, Intentionally, and others from his own home paddocks such as Unaware’s younger brother, Belligerent, the Lindsay Park stables were looking distinctly bare of classic prospects at the end of September. So, in such circumstances what does a man as rich as Croesus do?
The answer, at least insofar as the capriciously prodigal Robert Sangster was concerned in the single-minded pursuit of his pleasure, lay in buying a readymade Derby colt. And it just so happened that there was one such at hand and available for sale, given the right price. The colt in question was a New Zealand-bred youngster named Paddy Boy. Bred by R. H. Rothbury Ltd in New Zealand, Paddy Boy was part-owned and trained by Paddy Payne, who conducted a dairy farm and trained a small string of horses at Hawera, near Mt Taranaki on the North Island. By the American-bred stallion Blarney Kiss, winner of the Fairmont and Michigan Derbys, Paddy Boy was the second foal of Grecian Jade, an unraced daughter of Hermes but a half-sister to four winners. Payne had bought Paddy as a weanling for just $1300 and broke him in on his dairy farm, even utilising the colt, mounted by his young daughter, to round up recalcitrant cows.
Paddy Boy emerged late in his two-year-old season when he won the A.R.C. Great Northern Champagne Stakes and dead-heated with Yir Tiz in the A.R.C. Ellerslie Sires’ Produce Stakes, which brought him a rating as the top colt in New Zealand’s Two-Year-Old Free Handicap. Such was his form that Payne even brought him across the Tasman for a crack at the Q.T.C. Winter Carnival. Once in Australia, Payne was compelled to race the horse as Our Paddy Boy, to avoid potential confusion with an Australian-bred horse of the same name. What was it with the Australian racing authorities’ obsession with possessive pronouns and determiners, titles or the indefinite article prefixing the names of New Zealand racehorses that crossed the Tasman? Our Paddy Boy was just the latest in a string of them that included the likes of My Blue Denim (Blue Denim), My Gold Hope (Gold Hope), My Good Man (Good Lord), Sir Silver Lad (Silver Lad) and Lord Silver Man (Silver Man). Other countries didn’t adopt the practice, so why did we insist on doing it?
Wouldn’t the Australian Stud Book policy of letters of the country of origin in brackets after the horse’s name have sufficed? I, along with almost every other racegoer in the land, was never aware of the other Paddy Boy, Good Lord, Gold Hope, Blue Denim, Silver Lad or Silver Man that somehow justified the abominable prefix in the first place. And yet we insisted on changing a superior horse’s name in deference to that of an inferior animal. Besides, the practice caused more confusion than clarification. How often did one come across an Australian-bred horse in those days with just such a prefix e.g. Our Maizcay or Our Cavalier, and wondered whether or not it came from New Zealand? I suspect that the policy sprang from deep-seated jealousy and a wish by some pompous committeemen of the A.J.C. and V.R.C. to put those pesky Kiwis in their place. After all, for years they had ransacked the rich staying races at our spring carnivals. But a little contrition might have been in order. We should never forget that there is still a provision in Australia’s 1901 constitution to allow New Zealand to join Australia as its seventh State!
But I digress. Although a final acceptor for the Q.T.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes, Our Paddy Boy was withdrawn from that race and his Australian debut was delayed until the $40,000 Q.T.C. Marlboro Stakes in which he was beaten one-and-a-quarter lengths by the Cyril Beechey-trained filly, Royal Paree, due to her superior fitness, with Playboy Prince filling the minor placing. Royal Paree was in cracking form that winter, having won the Q.T.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes as well. Following a third at Doomben behind Impish Prince, Paddy returned to the Robert Smerdon stables at Ballarat, which Payne used as his base during his Australian stay. The colt was then transported to Adelaide where he scored a sparkling victory in the S.A.J.C. Adelaide Guineas at Victoria Park when ridden by John Stocker. Stocker was one man impressed by the colt that day while Colin Hayes, an Adelaide-based trainer, was another.
Our Paddy Boy’s next appearance came in the Moonee Valley Stakes on the last Saturday in September at Melbourne’s saucer course. Rather fortuitously for Hayes, Sangster, and indeed his own sake, Mick Mallyon warmed the saddle that day and was suitably impressed when Our Paddy Boy finished a close and unlucky sixth in the field of fifteen. It was the last time that Paddy Payne ever saddled up his namesake for a race. Colin Hayes, having solicited the opinions of both Stocker and Mallyon, and then acting on his own impeccable judgement in collaboration with Robert Sangster, negotiated to buy the Blarney Kiss colt on behalf of his richest patron for $300,000 including contingencies. Not only did he buy Our Paddy Boy, but, given the horse was a ‘head job’, Hayes bought the colt’s inseparable little mate, Gentle Joker, a five-year-old horse by Kazakstaan, for an additional $25,000 as well. And so, for the moment at least, Paddy Payne disappears from these pages. He’d be back, of course, and the next time with a remarkable brood of teenage jockeys.
Just how much of a head job Our Paddy Boy was at the time of purchase, Hayes perhaps never quite realised. As was the case with many of the Irish, Paddy comprised two different characters and one couldn’t be quite certain whether it would be Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde who would turn up at the racecourse on any given day. And I don’t just mean race day. The training regimen itself became a nightmare. Paddy wanted to savage anyone who came near him. Perhaps he missed the Hawera dairy farm or the bucolic charms of Ballarat, but there were now mornings at Flemington when Paddy simply refused to go out onto the track. He couldn’t be intimidated; he had to be coerced or cajoled. Even when he did consent to walk onto the track, there was no guarantee that he would gallop. Gentle Joker, supposedly Paddy’s inseparable companion who kept his mind on the job, proved of no use whatsoever. A waste of $25,000, both as a companion and a racehorse, he finished up going over hurdles. Now, Colin Hayes was a kind and amiable horseman and not for nothing was he known as ‘Sugar Lips’ for the reassuring and soothing words that usually came out of his mouth. But even the Hayes vocabulary began to acquire fire and spice during the early weeks of October as his methods switched from persuasive to coercive regarding this troublesome colt.
Colin Hayes set Our Paddy Boy for three different races on three different courses during that Melbourne Spring Carnival viz. the Caulfield Guineas, W. S. Cox Plate and the Victoria Derby. Given the stout staying pedigree of Paddy, the Victoria Derby was the main game and the race for which the colt was specifically purchased. At Caulfield in the Guineas, Our Paddy Boy was inconvenienced by the late substitution of an unfamiliar jockey. Maurice Campbell, the former partner of Balmerino, replaced Brent Thomson, who had fractured his ankle when falling from Advance Party after that colt shied when pulling up in the earlier Debutant Stakes. It is very doubtful that Thomson would have made any difference to the Guineas’ result given his mixed later association with the horse, but Paddy after getting out of his ground early, loomed as a threat on the home turn only to tire and finish fourth in the race won easily by Sovereign Red.
At Moonee Valley and weight-for-age against the older horses, Our Paddy Boy was ridden by yet another New Zealand jockey in Bob Skelton, who took full advantage of the sturdy colt’s light impost by indulging in a bold attempt to lead all the way. Although he was ultimately run down by both Kingston Town and Prince Ruling, with margins of five lengths and one length respectively, it was a laudable performance and inspired the Hayes stable to believe that the Victoria Derby seven days later was still very much on the cards. Come Flemington and there was a third change of jockey in as many starts when Roy Higgins claimed the pigskin. Hayes had booked ‘The Professor’ for the ride believing that Thomson’s injured ankle would still have the young man sitting in the grandstand rather than the saddle. As it transpired, Thomson staged a remarkable recovery to be available on the day but Hayes stuck with Higgins, given that the latter had declined other mounts to keep the faith. On a Flemington track made wet by consistent rain, it proved a memorable Victoria Derby with Our Paddy Boy running a gallant race to take the minor prize money, a length behind Sovereign Red and Real Force, who fought out a torrid finish. In winning, Sovereign Red staged a superior staying performance and completed the prestigious Caulfield Guineas-Victoria Derby double for both trainer Geoff Murphy and jockey Mick Goreham, the first colt to do so since Coppelius achieved the same feat for Brian Courtney and Geoff Lane back in 1962.
Perhaps it was just as well that Beldale Ball did win the Melbourne Cup three days after that Derby to replenish the Sangster coffers with the $205,000 first prize and trophy, for Our Paddy Boy had certainly come up short, distinguished placings notwithstanding. How galling it must have been for Sangster to pay $300,000 in a bid to win the Victoria Derby a matter of weeks before the race, only to be beaten by a horse that had cost just $5,000 as a yearling! Yet that is all Sovereign Red had set back the Caulfield trainer, Geoff Murphy when he attended the Waikato sales in 1979. Mind you, Geoff did enjoy one dubious advantage over rival buyers at the time. He had trained Taiona, a daughter of Sovereign Edition and the dam of Sovereign Red, back in 1974-76 when she won a maiden at Yarra Glen and was placed at Caulfield and Flemington. But as Murphy confessed after the Caulfield Guineas: “Truly, Taiona wasn’t all that much of a racehorse.” Retired to stud for the 1976 breeding season and mated with Patrick Hogan’s newly imported stallion, Sir Tristram, Sovereign Red was her first foal. As we shall see, Taiona was to strike up a remarkable relationship with Sir Tristram and together the pair would produce no fewer than four individual stakes winners of eighteen stakes races. But Taiona didn’t need Sir Tristram to produce daughters who could drop stakes winners, as she proved in those rare seasons when she was mated elsewhere to the likes of First Consul and Danzatore.
When Murphy first brought home Sovereign Red, he struggled to arouse any interest from any of his clients in a horse by an untried first season stallion out of a poorly performed race mare. Sovereign Edition’s remarkable reputation as a sire of broodmares still lay very much in the future. Eventually, Tom Maltby, Geoff Tobias, and Barry Wicks stepped up to take shares and Murphy stepped down. The Victoria Derby boosted the chestnut colt’s earnings to $171,350 and there was clearly more to come. While Our Paddy Boy headed for a spelling paddock, Robert Sangster headed for the Isle of Man, and Colin Hayes headed for the drawing board, Sovereign Red himself headed for the Golden West. When it came to high-class three-year-olds competing against their own age group in the rich classics, Geoff Murphy subscribed to the Tommy Smith theory: Never put off until tomorrow, what can be won today. In Perth, Sovereign Red added both the W.A.T.C. Western Mail Classic and the Australian Derby to his owners’ bulging trophy cabinets.
Our Paddy Boy resumed racing in the first week of February 1981 in the V.A.T.C. Autumn Stakes over 1200 metres at Sandown, and with Mick Mallyon in the saddle, finished fourth behind Deck The Halls, a filly he would meet again later in the campaign. Brent Thomson then replaced Mallyon in the colt’s next two races which came at Flemington in the Blamey Stakes and the Australian Cup. On neither occasion did the temperamental colt cooperate with his jockey, finishing a poor sixth in the former and a bad last in the latter, each race being won by that reformed rogue, Hyperno. Colin Hayes was almost at his wit’s end. After forking out $300,000 to buy him, Paddy was now on the brink of becoming an Irish joke. New measures mixing both carrot and stick were called for to try and instil fresh enthusiasm into the difficult son of Blarney Kiss. Often sour in his work at Flemington, Hayes would take the horse to different racecourses for exercise, sometimes even as far afield as Geelong.
Given that the colt had a mind of his own, Hayes would generally avoid confrontations. Travelling to and from the stables for trackwork, Paddy would be led off a pony while on off-mornings, the saddle would be left off completely. Whereas Hayes had originally intended an assault on the Triple Crown of three-year-old races in Sydney, he now abandoned any thoughts of the Canterbury Guineas to afford Paddy one more chance at reformation in Melbourne before deciding whether or not to proceed to Sydney at all. Sangster’s expensive colt was accepted for The Curragh Handicap (1600 metres) at a Tuesday meeting at Moonee Valley in late March. Given his record, Paddy was conceding at least 5kg to every other horse in the field that day, but two things were different. Mallyon was back in the saddle and Paddy was sporting blinkers for the very first time. One of life’s genuinely uncomplicated characters was now paired with a blinkered psycho. They fell in to win by a half-head at even money. Sydney, it was to be!
Our Paddy Boy arrived in the Harbour City at midnight on Wednesday before the Rosehill Guineas was to be run, and, stabled at Randwick, went out for easy exercise on the following day. However, his race engagement was to be delayed. Heavy rain deluged Rosehill on Friday, which saw the Guineas’ meeting postponed from Saturday to Monday. In the 24 hours up to 7 o’clock on that Saturday morning, the course proper was soaked by some 330 points of rain. Drawn out in the widest gate for the Guineas, unsurprisingly, punters let Paddy go to the post at 20/1 in the sixteen-strong company. Ridden in midfield for half the journey, Mallyon moved the colt forward coming to the turn and then dashed to the lead 120 metres from the post. But the pair had no answer to the storming finish of another Victorian interloper in the shape of the aforementioned Deck The Halls, who won running away by two and a half lengths in a time of 2 minutes and 7.8 seconds in the heavy ground.
The victory of Deck The Halls was only the sixth by a filly since the inception of the race in 1910. The others of the fair sex to take the semi-classic were Carlita (1914), Furious (1921), Tea Rose (1944), Questing (1945) and Wenona Girl (1960). Of that select company, only Tea Rose had ever gone on to take the A.J.C. Derby. Accordingly, the grey filly’s triumph in the Guineas confronted connections with a conundrum. The owners, Messrs Vine and Collins, were in the enviable position of choosing between running their filly in the $200,000 A.J.C. Derby on Monday, April 20, or the $75,000 A.J.C. Oaks, two days later. The trainer Rob McGuinness admitted that before the Guineas he and the owners had been content to bypass the Derby. Back in 1944, with Tea Rose, there was no A.J.C. Oaks to choose and in the case of the last filly to win the Rosehill Guineas, Wenona Girl, while she attempted both the Derby and the Oaks, there was at least a five-day break between the respective classics. I might add that Wenona Girl could only finish sixth in the Derby won by Persian Lyric but did go on to win the Oaks. In the end, Messrs Vine and Collins chose both.
Deck The Halls was temporarily stabled in Sydney at Geoff Chapman’s Rosehill premises and her Guineas’ performance was even better than it looked as the filly had been wormed only a matter of days before. The result saw the price of the nondescript grey filly firm markedly in A.J.C. Derby betting, while her backstory promised to lend the classic all the enchantment of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. She wasn’t quite the ugly duckling, but there wasn’t much of her at 15 ½ hands and what there was, certainly wasn’t prepossessing. Jim Vine, the Victorian part-owner and hobby breeder of Deck The Halls, had originally bought her dam Royal Russet as a five-year-old in the autumn of 1977 for just $6,000. An Irish-bred daughter of Roan Rocket, Royal Russet had previously been served by the imported horse Father Christmas but was in a rather poor shape at the time of purchase. Vine, a prominent member of the V.R.C., was also the part-owner of the recently retired Lord Dudley and he bought Royal Russet intending to mate her with that stallion the following season.
Two veterinary surgeons inspected the mare when Vine got her home and declared that she was not in foal. Naturally, Jim Vine was rather pleasantly surprised when he received a call from his stud on the morning of 9 September 1977, to inform him that Royal Russet had dropped a tiny grey filly. Russet being a reddish-brown colour and the sire being Father Christmas, a son of Scobie Breasley’s 1964 English Derby winner, Santa Claus, Deck The Halls seemed as good a name as any to Jim Vine. It might have been autumn rather than yuletide when Deck The Halls won the Rosehill Guineas with not a sprig of holly in view, but for Vine, it truly ’twas the season to be jolly. For, on top of the Guineas’ prize, only weeks before in Melbourne the lucky owner had sold a yearling colt by Lord Dudley out of Royal Russet for a cool $35,000. Not bad coming from a $6,000 broodmare!
Jim Vine resolved to race the little filly with his good friend Dr Peter Collins and placed her in the Caulfield stables of young Rob McGuinness, stables that some years later would be occupied by Peter Moody and another famous filly, Black Caviar. A former school teacher and accomplished athlete – he was a Victorian 200 and 400 metres hurdle champion in the 1960s – McGuinness offered even more subtext to the Deck The Halls fairytale. He had first taken out an owner-trainer’s licence in the mid-1960s merely to train a few horses for a couple of his mates. Deck The Halls began her racing career in mid-January 1980 at Sandown Park in the Chicquita Stakes over 1000 metres. The race wasn’t without its sensation when Windrose, the medium of a solid betting plunge, suffered a heart attack and died during the running. Deck The Halls ran on well to fill the minor placing at 50/1 and suggest that she would more than pay her way. Alas, the balance of that first campaign yielded nothing more than a couple of placings at Flemington and Moonee Valley in March before the filly was sent for a spell.
It was a different story when Deck The Halls resumed in the new season in late August, landing a stable plunge in a 1200 metres midweek race at Flemington when she was backed in from 8/1 to 4/1. Deck The Halls took her place in each of the fillies’ classics that spring. Beaten only a neck in the Edward Manifold Stakes by the Hotfoot filly, Tynia, trained by Bart Cummings, after unplaced runs in both the One Thousand Guineas and the Wakeful Stakes, Deck The Halls was considered most unlucky not to win the V.R.C. Oaks. In the latter event, her jockey Roy Higgins got trapped on the rails and by the time he barged his way out, thereby incurring a later suspension of five metropolitan race meetings, the 9/4 favourite, November Rain, ridden by Ron Quinton, had flown. Deck The Halls finished second, beaten one and a half lengths, with the same margin again to Verdi in third place. In winning, November Rain completed a clean sweep of the fillies’ classics in Melbourne for popular Sydney trainer Neville Begg, for not only had November Rain won the Wakeful Stakes but his Milluna’s Gem had annexed the One Thousand Guineas as well.
Although only ever small and lightly-framed, Deck The Halls resumed in the autumn a much stronger filly. A wonderfully relaxed galloper, she would drop the bit as soon as she left the starting gate and then run along smoothly until her jockey made demands. First up, she surprised the stable by winning the V.A.T.C. Autumn Stakes, flashing home to beat Real Force by a half-neck. Although she then failed in the Futurity Stakes behind Manikato, Deck The Halls secured her passage to Sydney by decisively outstaying Tynia in the A. V. Kewney Stakes (2000 metres) at Flemington. On that occasion, Roy Higgins, reunited with the filly, compensated connections for his failings in the V.R.C. Oaks. Effusive in his praise for the grey, Higgins warmly encouraged trainer Rob McGuinness to challenge the colts in the Harbour City, although the filly’s handicap in the three-year-old classics would preclude the heavyweight Higgins from accepting the ride.
Queensland’s leading jockey Mick Dittman didn’t need to be asked twice to step into the breach. He hadn’t even ridden her in a track gallop before he mounted for the Canterbury Guineas. He was meant to have ridden her on the Thursday morning before the race, but his riding gear had got lost en route from Brisbane. Not that it mattered. Deck The Halls was an affectionate filly and a thoroughly generous racehorse; she and Dittman hit it off at once. In the Canterbury Guineas, the strong finish into third by Deck The Halls – beaten a long neck and half-head – was particularly eye-catching, considering that she was trapped wide for much of the journey, and it explained why she had been so keenly fancied for the Rosehill Guineas.
The 1981 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
A capacity field of eighteen horses confronted the A.J.C. starter, Bill Cooper, for the blue riband. The late scratching of the T. J. Smith-trained Cosmic Planet saw the first emergency, Poker Player, trained by Bart Cummings for Robert Holmes à Court, get into the game. The 4/1 favourite for the A.J.C. Derby in a remarkably wide-open betting market was the high-class New Zealand galloper, Ring The Bell. A stylish brown colt by the English stallion Rangong, he had been bred by Joyce Edgar-Jones of Matamata and bought for $3,000 at a Waikato yearling sale by Auckland businessman Hylton Mackley as a wedding anniversary present for his wife, Eileen. The couple also invited their married friends, Geoff and Barbara Wild, to join them in the ownership. Placed in the bucolic Waiuku stables of the young up and coming trainer Neville Atkins in the Franklin district of the North Island, Ring The Bell won three races as a two-year-old but then came into his own at three. He won the 1ZH Guineas Trial at Te Aroha, finished runner-up in the Great Northern Guineas, won the Avondale Classic and then finished second in the Waikato Guineas before defeating the older horses in the A.R.C. Alison Stakes over 2000 metres.
Returned to his own age group, Ring The Bell then won both the Avondale Guineas and New Zealand Derby. Perhaps he was a bit fortunate in the latter race as his regular jockey Nigel Tiley kicked clear soon after turning for home, thereby avoiding a bad scrimmage that bedevilled his major rivals. It was trainer Neville Atkins’ second New Zealand Derby, having won the race previously with Kaiser in 1978. Since landing in Sydney, Ring The Bell was obstructed for a run when finishing third behind Prince Ruling and Red Nose in the Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm, before beating Sovereign Red and Deck The Halls in a close three-way finish to the Canterbury Guineas. Despite finishing just behind the placegetters in the heavy ground of the Rosehill Guineas, Ring The Bell again confirmed his Derby favouritism with a sweeping victory in the S.T.C. Tulloch Stakes at his most recent start.
On the second line of betting in the Derby was yet another visitor from across the Tasman in the shape of the Noble Bijou gelding, Prince Majestic. A son of the dual New Zealand Cup winner, Princess Mellay, he had cost $22,000 at the National Yearling Sales at Trentham in January 1979. Ray Verner trained Prince Majestic at Takanini for his close friend and neighbour of thirty years, Bob Ross, and the pair had previously been associated with the good horse, Turfcutter. Prince Majestic earlier in the season had won both the Hawkes Bay Guineas and the Wanganui Breeders’ Guineas but he was more familiar to Australian racegoers as the horse, who together with regular jockey David Peake, had stolen the prize of the Spring Champion Stakes in a smash and grab raid at Randwick in October. Now, all of the same connections were hoping for a reprise in the Derby, following his minor placing in the Rosehill Guineas. Prince Majestic may well have started the race favourite had he drawn a more suitable barrier, but he was to jump from gate 17 with only Deck The Halls more inconvenienced at the start, her having drawn the extreme outside. By comparison, Ring The Bell (9), Our Paddy Boy (7) and Sovereign Red (2) had all been well served by the marbles.
Deck The Halls (11/2) despite the misfortune of her barrier draw shaded Our Paddy Boy (6/1) on the next line of betting while the two colts that fought out the finish of the Victoria Derby, Sovereign Red and Real Force, were at longer quotations than one might have expected at the end of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. Sovereign Red had resumed from his summer spell to be runner-up in both the Hobartville Stakes and Canterbury Guineas but appeared to have trained off on the strength of his poor performances in each of the Rosehill Guineas and Tancred Stakes. Real Force, who was the main contender from the Bart Cummings’ stable, was unlucky in the spring to go under by a head to Sovereign Red in the Victoria Derby, after starting from gate seventeen and being used up early in that race. However, since resuming after his summer spell, Real Force had disappointed. He had won the V.A.T.C. Schweppes Cup (1600 metres) early in his campaign but appeared to have since lost the simple art of being a good mixer with unsociable performances in the V.R.C. Blamey Stakes and Australian Cup as well as the Rosehill Guineas.
One interesting runner in the classic was Private Thoughts, the year-younger full brother to Kingston Town. David Hains, the colt’s breeder, had sold Private Thoughts as a yearling in Melbourne for just $13,500 only a matter of months before the remarkable athleticism of Kingston Town first began to be revealed. While Private Thoughts had shared victory in the S.T.C. Phar Lap Stakes (1500 metres) with Trench Digger en route to the Derby, he clearly had something to find based on his 3 ½ lengths arrears when finishing second to Ring The Bell in the S.T.C. Tulloch Stakes at his most recent appearance. Many critics, including Tom Smith, regarded him as a non-stayer. Private Thoughts might have sold rather cheaply as a yearling but he had changed hands in Adelaide the previous year for a rumoured $200,000 once Kingston Town began winning. After all, he had something that Kingston Town lacked, and that was a pair of testicles between his legs. Private Thoughts had already been syndicated into 40 shares at $13,500 per share with a view to his future stud career and even David Hains had bought into him. The syndicate managers were Jennifer Churchill and Gordon Ramsay of Bloodstock Australia Pty Ltd and Peter Bracken, of the Bracken (formerly Dawson) Stud at Grose Wold, near Richmond. Private Thoughts was in the Max Lees’ stable at Newcastle and was being ridden by John Wade i.e. the two principals associated with the rise of Luskin Star.
Bright Halo, a $50,000 yearling by Zamazaan out of that wonderful New Zealand race mare Chantal who had spreadeagled the Epsom field on Derby Day in 1966, was one of two representatives in the race owned by the brothers, Jack and Bob Ingham. Trained by Theo Green at Randwick and to be ridden by the gun apprentice Wayne Harris, Bright Halo was the winner of both the V.A.T.C. Norman Robinson Stakes and the Go.R.C. Gosford Classic in the spring although on his recent form he wasn’t expected to trouble the A.J.C. Judge, Colin Tuck. The Inghams’ other runner was Rio De Janeiro, a gelded son of Riverton whom they raced in partnership with the horse’s trainer, T. J. Smith. Rio De Janeiro’s most memorable exploit on a racecourse occurred earlier in the year at the Australia Day Meeting at Randwick.
As the 4/7 favourite, he attempted to hurdle the running rail in the home straight when leading by five lengths in the A.J.C. Botany Bay Handicap over 2000 metres. The horse had ducked in when struck by Mark De Montfort’s whip and took a huge leap and thrust his two front legs forward in a bid to jump the inside fence. Instead, he crashed into the aluminium running rail and rebounded back onto the track. Mark De Montfort who lost one stirrup iron when thrown high in the air, stayed with Rio in the best traditions of Stoney Burke and got him balanced again to finish fifth. The horse returned to the enclosure with blood flowing from a wound to the left side of his mouth where De Montfort had been forced to pull hard on the reins. Barring such theatrics, he wasn’t expected to trouble any in this Derby field. Rio De Janeiro apart, T. J. Smith had two other representatives in the race in Playboy Prince and Around The Traps. Apart from Our Paddy Boy, Colin Hayes had one other runner engaged in Find The Gold, raced in partnership by his breeder, the A.J.C. committeeman, Hugh Gage. Before coming to Sydney, Find The Gold had won his three previous races in Melbourne but had since disappointed twice at Rosehill.
I remember that Derby Day very well as it was one of those relatively rare Easter Derbies conducted in fine weather and on a good track. Randwick simply blushed with autumn colour on a golden afternoon. It was the first time that I had seen the high-mettled colt Our Paddy Boy in the flesh. Although pitched low, he looked every inch of the coming stallion, deep through the heart with a thick neck, strong shoulders and powerful hindquarters. His bay brown coat gleamed like well-polished mahogany when he walked into the paddock. I was tempted to back him based both on his appearance and the logic that if he was worth $300,000 of Robert Sangster’s money then surely, he was worth $50 of mine. Moreover, ten weeks earlier my nephew Patrick had been born and that too seemed a sound sentimental family omen, although I rarely indulged in apophenia on the racecourse. However, when I shared my wagering intention with a racing colleague seated next to me in the grandstand, he demurred, suggesting that any horse whose stable felt the need to fit with blinkers so early in his career, wasn’t going anywhere. He challenged me to name any champion racehorse that had ever worn the rogue’s hood. The Australian Cup winner of a few weeks before, Hyperno, immediately came to mind, but in my friend’s excitable state, I thought it best not to mention it. Still, it was difficult logic with which to argue.
I sallied forth into the betting ring to support Deck The Halls instead. The little grey filly had also taken my eye when she first entered the parade ring and I thought that she had come on beautifully since I had last seen her on Canterbury Guineas Day. True, when she came into the mounting yard at Randwick on Derby Day, she seemed suffused with a look delicately balanced between defiance and vulnerability. But then she felt the reassuring firmness of Mick Dittman on her back, as trainer Rob McGuinness legged the Queensland horseman into the saddle. Deck The Halls then pricked her ears and cantered on to the course, I thought, very much primed for victory. I managed to get just 11/2 for my money, which hardly seemed bookmaking benevolence about a horse with the widest of barriers and 37 years of gender bias to overcome. After all, it was that long since the fair sex had last claimed the classic at Randwick in the shape of Tea Rose. Moreover, unlike the Rosehill Guineas in which fillies received 3 kg from the colts, the weight concession in the Derby was just 1 kg. However, I harboured a pet theory that the transfer of the Derby from the spring to the autumn had now rendered it relatively easier for a more mature filly to win, provided it was a weak year for colts. Actually, my theory was quite sound, but, as I was about to discover, I acted upon it a year too soon.
Mallyon tried to keep the blinkered Our Paddy Boy relaxed and on the move as the big field mustered at the starting gates in front of the grandstands. When the stalls were finally released and the field thundered pell-mell towards the turn out of the straight, Mallyon allowed Paddy to slip to the lead with John Duggan on Playboy Prince challenging him on the outside. Despite Mallyon’s best efforts, the immediate presence of Playboy Prince wouldn’t allow Our Paddy Boy to settle and the colt kept tossing his head about. Neither Deck The Halls nor Prince Majestic was afforded any favours from their outside gates, with the former being trapped particularly wide as the field negotiated the turn. Even then, I realised that my betting voucher no longer held any commercial value. Our Paddy Boy raced with his mouth wide open for the first few furlongs, as he was followed by Playboy Prince, Ring The Bell, Around The Traps and Private Thoughts with about fifteen lengths covering the field. Perhaps the real turning point in the race came just before the 1600 metres mark when the rhythm of events was disrupted by the saddle slipping on Playboy Prince. John Duggan had no other option but to allow the Smith-trained colt his head as he strode to the front perched precariously on the horse’s withers.
The pulse of the race thereby quickened and Our Paddy Boy, enjoying the new leader’s slipstream, immediately relaxed into Mallyon’s kind hands. Begorrah! In the twinkling of an eye, Mr Hyde had transformed into Dr Jekyll. Playboy Prince led into the straight but quickly compounded as Our Paddy Boy dashed clear. The immediate challenge came from Ring The Bell who hadn’t been able to accelerate in third place coming towards the turn, and for a stride or two had even appeared to drop the bit. However, once over the rise, Nigel Tiley began to wield the shillelagh vigorously and the New Zealand colt responded gamely, heading Paddy some eighty metres from the post. But Mallyon on the inside fence wouldn’t be denied. Knowing that his colt would resent a prolonged struggle under the whip, Mallyon’s reaction had to be carefully calibrated. Carrying the persuader in his right hand and slapping his mount down the shoulder, he coaxed the very best out of Our Paddy Boy who fought back to have a margin of a half-length to spare on the line. Miraculously, Deck The Halls managed to finish third, three lengths further adrift.
As the eighteen thoroughbreds and their jockeys returned to the mounting yard amidst a crowd of crumpled smiles and tears, I recalled a quotation from Shakespeare’s play “Love’s Labour’s Lost”: “Often men do say, that the horse its mettle from the rider takes.” I suspect that the Bard had a man just like Mick Mallyon in mind when he penned those words. Even before dismounting, Mallyon pointedly lent forward in the saddle to thank Paddy’s awaiting 69-year-old strapper, Steve Laird, who had been the constant companion of this most difficult colt since his arrival in Sydney. The crowd of pressmen, noticing the sincere gesture, then quizzed Laird, who, like Paddy, had been foaled in New Zealand but now lived at Warwick Farm. Laird, who had been breaking in horses for over fifty years and working with the Hayes’ Melbourne Cup horses for the past five, observed dispassionately: “Patrick wants to savage anyone who comes near him. But I have his confidence and he has mine. We get on fine.”
What a final furlong it had been! A less committed jockey than Mick might have capitulated when Ring The Bell headed Our Paddy Boy. Sitting in the stands that day there was a sense of privilege at watching a real horseman at work in that last desperate hundred yards. It was a salutary reminder of the value of sheer determination in the saddle and that the measure of a jockey’s greatness is not always about big winners on willing horses. Mallyon’s exhibition deserved a better reception than it received, for both the trainer and owner weren’t even present at Randwick. Colin Hayes was back in Adelaide recovering from heart-bypass surgery while Robert Sangster had been asleep in The Nunnery over on the Isle of Man while the race was being run. In their absence, Hayes’s eldest son Peter had saddled up Our Paddy Boy while Bob Atkins was Sangster’s sole representative on course. Colin Hayes at least had the pleasure of listening to the Derby live on radio, and, soon after, talking about it with Peter via telephone. Colin told his son: “I must be cured. Normally I would have had an angina attack after listening to that.”
Sangster was also delighted to learn of the victory when he was finally aroused from his slumbers. Bob Atkins, who was in Sydney to represent Sangster both at Randwick and the forthcoming William Inglis Yearling Sales, telephoned the owner from the A.J.C. racecourse office but encountered an obstruction at the other end of the line. The housemaid at The Nunnery had been instructed on no account to disturb Mr Sangster and she only did so once Atkins had agreed to accept full responsibility. “I will wake up for that sort of news any time of the day or the night,” Sangster laughed. It was a shame that Messrs Hayes and Sangster missed the official presentation by the Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowan as well, for when the latter introduced the winning jockey to the crowd, Mick Mallyon delivered an impromptu speech every bit as good as his impromptu ride. “Ah! This has been a wonderful thrill to knock off this little race,” Mallyon said. “Colin Hayes has been a stickler to me, and, I’ll say this, Paddy is a wonderful little pony.” It was vintage Mallyon, to whom every bloke was a mate and every horse was a pony. The crowd of 29,464 people lapped up every single word of it! No doubt many remembered the last time Mallyon had ridden in the race and believed he’d won it on Double Century until a protest and subsequent stewards’ inquiry found otherwise. He could have been forgiven for humming the old Gershwin tune “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” as he stepped up to the microphone.
The gifted horseman who conjured that wonderful last furlong from Our Paddy Boy at Randwick in the Derby always seemed destined to be a jockey. Ronald Edward (Mick) Mallyon was born on May 30, 1940, at Tallimba, near West Wyalong in the central west of N.S.W. and had spent all of his life with horses. Mick’s father was a well-known personality among the racing men of the central west from Wyalong to Hay. Mick Mallyon began his apprenticeship at Darlington Point on the banks of the Murrumbidgee but quickly transferred to Alec Lawson’s stables at Flemington, Melbourne. The lad’s first metropolitan mount came as a 15-year-old when he partnered Gold Milla for owner-trainer Roy Roach, well-known in trotting circles, in the Anniversary Handicap at Flemington on 20 August 1955. It was on the day Cromis won the J. J. Liston Stakes. Mallyon’s first metropolitan winner had to wait almost a year more before he scored on Purella at Moonee Valley for owner-trainer Harry Myers.
Moonee Valley proved to be a lucky course for Mallyon in those early days, falls and suspensions notwithstanding. In December 1957 he rode the winners Delco and Quitos there on successive Saturdays. One man impressed by the youngster’s ability that month was Scobie Breasley. Back from England for Christmas, Breasley had just finished the 1957 season over there as the champion jockey with 173 winners. In surveying the Melbourne riding talent during that visit, Breasley nominated the apprentices Geoff Lane and Mick Mallyon as the two young men most likely to succeed in Europe. While neither jockey ever rode in Europe, the year-older Lane was to enjoy the more brilliant apprenticeship and early career, until weight cut it short. By contrast, Mallyon’s apprenticeship was to be nowhere near as distinguished and his full splendour as a senior jockey was delayed as falls and suspensions increasingly took their toll.
In April 1958 Mallyon rode his first double at Flemington when he scored on Tavua and Dual Vista for trainers R. J. Shaw and J. P. Mulcahy respectively. Mallyon’s first treble came at the same course twelve months later when on March 28 1959, he partnered both Tradfield and King of Trumps for R. J. Shaw and Foxley for R. G. Gray, to victory in the last three races on the card. But the months between that double and treble had been tortuous with two bad falls and a dislocated spine keeping Mallyon out of the saddle for much of the time. Tradfield’s victory was the 18-year-old Mallyon’s thirtieth winner in the metropolitan area. The lad suffered a third bad fall less than four months later at Flemington in mid-July on Grand National Steeplechase Day. The incident, which occurred two furlongs after the start of the Byerley Handicap, saw three horses killed and six apprentice jockeys injured. Mallyon suffered a concussion when he was the first to fall on the Jack Godby-trained Solarism in the race won by Dhaulagiri. Yet for all of his falls and suspensions, Mallyon kept bouncing back.
Towards the end of his apprenticeship, he transferred his papers to Flemington trainer, Roy Bones, who ultimately became his father-in-law. Mallyon married the boss’s daughter, Diane, on 11 November 1961, six months after completing his apprenticeship and four days after riding the Adelaide-trained Sometime into sixth placing in the Melbourne Cup. After coming out of his time, Mallyon’s former master, Alec Lawson, continued to supply him with mounts and one such was Gay Filou, the first of the great Micheline’s wonderful produce. Mallyon scored a double on Gay Filou at Flemington and Caulfield during his first month as a senior jockey. Trainers Joe Mulcahy, Tommy Woodcock, George Hanlon, and Richard Alsop all utilised Mallyon’s services in those critical early years. It was Alsop who saddled Mallyon’s first big winner when he legged him up on Bengal Tiger for the £6,000 1961 V.R.C. Craven ‘A’ Stakes. However, to the extent that any two trainers helped make Mallyon’s career in the leathers, they were Tommy Hughes and Owen Lynch.
It was Hughes who provided him with some of his richest rides including Heroic Stone (1964 V.R.C. George Adams Handicap), Rajah Sahib (1971 Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap), Altai Khan (1972 A.J.C. Metropolitan), and Grand Cidium (1973 V.A.T.C. Caulfield Guineas). It was also Hughes that afforded Mallyon his notorious association with Maritana. This brilliant sprinting son of Power House with Mallyon aloft landed one of the biggest plunges seen in Melbourne for years when he won the Dean Handicap by six lengths at Moonee Valley on the first Saturday in January 1965. It was the beginning of Mallyon’s reputation as a money rider. Maritana firmed from 33/1 into 6/1. At his only previous start, Maritana had finished ninth in a field of seventeen at Caulfield on December 5. On that occasion, Maritana lost considerable ground at the start, and at a subsequent stewards’ inquiry, Mallyon said that the horse had raced greenly.
It was just twelve months later and again at Moonee Valley that Maritana provided Mallyon with what became the darkest episode in his life as a jockey. On Saturday, 15 January 1966, in the Second Argyle Handicap, Mallyon partnered the even-money favourite into fourth place. Stewards opened an inquiry and after an extended hearing, on 24 January announced that Mallyon had been found guilty on a charge of improper practice in that he did not permit Maritana to race on his merits. Hughes and the horse’s owner Murray Pigram, a Melbourne haulage contractor, were also found guilty of improper practice in that each was a party to the offence. The horse was also initially included in the three-year disqualification and later sold into the Geoff Murphy stable.
While appeals subsequently cleared both Hughes and Pigram, Mallyon’s sentence remained, although the V.R.C. committee did later relent sufficiently to enable the jockey to resume his calling at the beginning of the 1968-69 racing season. Nonetheless, those two-and-a-half years out of the saddle were a lean period for Mallyon who had to support a wife and three children at the time. Despite his small physique, he worked some backbreaking jobs including as a labourer demolishing houses, a cleaner, and even a doughboy on a baker’s cart. Yet within three months of his comeback, the irrepressible Mallyon won the first of his three Caulfield Cups, in a bold front-running ride on the imported grey galloper Bunratty Castle, trained at Bendigo by Kevin Wynne.
The major significance of the Epsom trainer Owen Lynch in the Mick Mallyon story is that it was Lynch who was responsible for the jockey’s favourite racehorse, Red William, coming into his life. Every jockey, whether or not he admits it, has a favourite horse and it isn’t always just about money. Often it is about a generous galloper that comes along at a critical time. In the spring of 1965, after a spate of falls and suspensions, Mallyon was looking to establish himself and Red William put his name in the headlines for all the right reasons when the two of them combined to win both the Moonee Valley Cup and the Sandown Cup. Red William, a 270-guineas yearling purchase owned by the colourful bookmaker Tom Stewart, was Mallyon’s mount in that year’s Melbourne Cup too and was unlucky not to figure in the finish when he suffered badly from the famous three-horse fall that so marred the race won by Light Fingers. It was no accident when Mallyon named his Ascot Vale home, “Red William”.
Owen Lynch would provide other good mounts for Mallyon over the years, including Williamstown and Better Draw, but Red William would always remain on top. Still, if Red William was Mallyon’s favourite, Gay Icarus, Leilani and Grand Cidium weren’t far behind. Mallyon won Caulfield Cups and other good races on the first pair and might have won anything on the last had the horse only remained sound. A wonderfully laidback character, Mallyon reminded many Sydney racing men of Athol Mulley. Both natural lightweights, most horses relaxed well for each of them and like Mulley, Mallyon was essentially a ‘bushie’ at heart. Each had their own hinterland where they went to escape the pressures of race riding. What Wingham was to Mulley, Lancefield was to Mallyon, a 250-acre property, forty miles out of Melbourne, where he could push around a few cows.
Mick Mallyon was approaching the twilight of his career when he began his fruitful association with the Colin Hayes stable. It effectively started at the elite level during the autumn of 1977 when the jockey partnered both Eye Liner’s son, Pacific Ruler to win the S.T.C. George Ryder Stakes, and that good daughter of Atilla, In Pursuit, to win the A. V. Kewney Stakes and the Chipping Norton Stakes, before chasing home Surround in the A.J.C. Oaks. John Stocker was still the Hayes stable’s No. 1 jockey at that stage, although he was to be replaced by Brent Thomson before the following autumn. Hayes by then was ramping up his numbers and there was plenty of scope for a Melbourne-based lightweight of Mallyon’s ability and experience. Over the next few seasons what followed was arguably the most satisfying period of regular winners for Mick during his lifetime in the saddle. In 1978 he won the V.A.T.C. Easter Cup for Hayes on North Sea, while other winners for the stable included Proceed and Rumpus Room. In 1979 Mallyon’s association with Double Century, vis-à-vis, Dulcify, did stretch the friendship, but it rebounded through the years 1980 and 1981 with a vengeance. Mallyon won a string of races for Hayes on horses such as Bohemian Grove, Polar Air, Gay Tribo, Sovereign Rocket, Papal Bull, Tristino, Soldier of Fortune and Parisian Rump.
The A.J.C. Derby wasn’t Mallyon’s first major victory in the celebrated “green, dark blue sleeves, white cap, green spots”. The previous spring, he combined with Bohemian Grove to win The V.R.C. Dalgety Handicap for Robert Sangster, which saw the imported galloper firm decisively in Melbourne Cup betting. That Dalgety was particularly notable for Hayes’ achievement in training all three of the placegetters, with Beldale Ball and Gay Tribo filling the minor placings. On that occasion, Sangster was lavish in his praise of Mallyon, who boldly didn’t hesitate to slip Bohemian Grove to the lead approaching the home turn. In the month leading up to the Cup, Bohemian Grove, a four-year-old stallion, had soured in his work and Mallyon was credited with revitalising him on the track, a trick that he then repeated with Our Paddy Boy in the weeks leading up to the A.J.C. Derby. Our Paddy Boy wasn’t the first winner for the Hayes-Mallyon team at the 1981 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. On the opening Saturday, the pair had combined to win the Chairman’s Handicap with Gatcombe.
It was perhaps just as well that Our Paddy Boy demanded all of Mallyon’s energy and concentration at the Randwick winning post as it precluded one of the jockey’s more flamboyant and expensive victory salutes. Who could ever forget the likeable knockabout tossing decorum to the wind when he stood up in the irons and waved his whip in the air upon crossing the line on Gay Icarus in the 1971 Caulfield Cup? As Mallyon later explained: “As I went past the post, I thought, bugger it, I’ll give out a coo’ee for Ma.” He was referring to his beloved wife Diane, the mother of his now four children. Mallyon was that sort of bloke – one of Australian racing’s best-loved characters. He had indulged in the same exuberant antics when he won the 1979 Sydney Cup on Double Century.
There is something else I remember about that 1979 Sydney Cup and its aftermath in the stewards’ room. Mallyon was about to be suspended for causing interference in the first 800 metres of the race. With a look of injured innocence in his big, brown eyes, Mallyon addressed the A.J.C. chief steward John Mahoney: “I don’t know how to speak. I haven’t got a real good riding record but I guess that’s from trying too hard. I tried hard for you today, sir. I can’t explain my riding record, really, I can’t. I like to think that I’m pretty fair in a race. The other jockeys don’t seem to mind riding against me. I give an inch when it is needed.” After an honest, heartfelt plea like that, how could you not like the man? Indeed, I’m sure that John Mahoney did. But it never stopped him from outing Mallyon for three weeks!
Double Century gave Mick Mallyon his first Sydney Cup and five days after the 1981 A.J.C. Derby, Our Paddy Boy gave him his second. If Mick earned every cent of his riding fee in the blue riband, it was money for jam in the $150,000 Sydney Cup. Paddy was in fact the true staying article. When in the mood, he raced in the style of a genuine stayer, dropping his head and lengthening his stride at distances of 2400 metres and beyond. Weighted on 51.5 kg and drawn in gate seven of the fourteen-strong Sydney Cup field, Paddy (5/1) was given a ride reminiscent of Mallyon’s exhibition on Double Century. He had to use him up a little in the first 200 metres to clear the horses drawn inside him, but he then settled into a nice rhythm behind the leaders, Love Bandit and Gatcombe, all the way to the 800. Paddy and Mick then kicked clear over the rise to win running away by six lengths from the second placegetter the 5/4 favourite, My Blue Denim, with Gatcombe, also trained by Colin Hayes, a further neck away third. The tale of the clock was interesting with the first half of the journey taking 1 minute 44.2 seconds and the second half 1 minute 37.5 seconds. Accordingly, the backmarkers were given no chance and it completed a hat-trick of wins for three-year-olds in Sydney’s premier staying race.
After that 1981 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Mick Mallyon never again partnered Our Paddy Boy to a victory. The jockey was forced to sit out the big Sydney and Melbourne spring meetings later in the year after being suspended (yet again) by the V.R.C. committee, on this occasion because of improper use of the whip on Sangster’s imported Polar Air in a race at Moonee Valley in September. Still, it was a suspension that he could well afford, for only a matter of weeks before, Mick had been lucky enough to win $220,000 in Australian Lotto. Mallyon rode on for a few years more but his days of major victories were drawing to a close. A badly broken arm, the legacy of a race-fall at Moonee Valley in 1983 kept him out of the saddle for eight months. It was the worst injury of his later career and in a sense, he never fully recovered from it. Mick Mallyon retired from race riding in 1987.
Our Paddy Boy’s Sydney Cup completed the sheer domination of interstate and New Zealand trained horses at that year’s S.T.C. and A.J.C. Autumn meetings. At Rosehill, interlopers had won the Canterbury Guineas (Ring The Bell), Rosehill Guineas (Deck The Halls), Golden Slipper Stakes (Full On Aces) and Tancred Stakes (My Blue Denim). At Randwick, the invaders had snaffled the A.J.C. Derby and Sydney Cup (Our Paddy Boy), Doncaster Handicap (Lawman), Sires’ Produce Stakes (Full On Aces) and the All-Aged Stakes (Watney). Apart from the A.J.C. Oaks going to Neville Begg, the cupboard was bare and for the first time in living memory, the leading T. J. Smith stable had failed to send out the winner of a major race. I might also add as a footnote that Paddy’s successes brought renewed interest in his sire, Blarney Kiss, standing at Jack Cameron’s Grasslands Stud at Cambridge in New Zealand. Few stallions manage to sire two Melbourne Cup winners on top of a Sydney Cup winner but that’s what Blarney Kiss did when both Kiwi and Kensei won on the first Tuesday in November in 1983 and 1987 respectively.
Before I leave the 1981 Easter racing carnival, permit me a few paragraphs on the William Inglis Yearling Sales at Newmarket that opened on the very day after Our Paddy Boy had won the A.J.C. Derby and closed a day or two before he won the Sydney Cup. It was a large and distinguished sales catalogue that year and commercial studmasters and private breeders expected big prices for some of the lots. They weren’t disappointed. Any doubts that Robert Sangster had lit the touchpaper that would lead to an explosion in the prices of Australian bloodstock were well and truly extinguished that week. On the first day of the sales, Charlie and Vince Tobin, brothers, hobby breeders and dairy farmers from Wodonga in Victoria, hit the jackpot when they sold Australia’s first $500,000 yearling. By Kaoru Star out of the good race mare Better Draw, the yearling was a full brother to the Golden Slipper winner, Full On Aces. The Tobins were stunned when in just 90 seconds of drama, Tommy Smith secured the winning bid on behalf of Cliff Vincent and John Bayliss. Indeed, Smith’s opening bid of $400,000 itself triggered a roar of excitement from the crowd. Brian Maher of Thoroughbred International was the only other rival in the field. When the gavel fell, Charlie Tobin declared: “I’ll have to go and ring Mum and tell her the news!”
Evidently, Tommy genuinely believed he had secured a wonderful bargain as he later revealed that he was prepared to go as high as $600,000 – although, of course, it was with somebody else’s money. Sydney’s leading trainer trilled excitedly in his high treble voice: “I regard the colt as the finest young thoroughbred to go through any Australian sales ring for ten years. He has everything to make him a top racehorse and later on a champion sire.” Just for the record, the horse was subsequently registered as Top Of The Pack but might have been better named Busted Flush. He failed to win a single stakes race; while at stud, despite access to some high-quality broodmares, only four of his produce managed four black-type races between them and nothing higher than group-three. The $500,000 amount doubled the previous record price of $250,000 paid the year before at the same sales by Neville Begg for the Showdown-Vain Queen filly later registered as the disappointing Paraluman. On that opening day in 1981, Smith bought a total of twelve yearlings for $1,115,500. He paid $220,000 for a colt by Bletchingly out of Final Flight. Registered as Surrey Flight, he failed to get liftoff. Robert Holmes à Court spent $859,000 on eight yearlings including $280,000 for a colt by Luskin Star from Flirtatious. Registered as Dark Crystal, he too, proved a dark embarrassment. But Holmes à Court was only just warming up.
The big story out of those 1981 William Inglis Yearling Sales came on the last day, Thursday, when the Australian record price for a yearling was twice broken. Firstly, Neville Begg, acting primarily on behalf of Eduardo Cojuangco, paid $550,000 for the filly by Kaoru Star out of Promising, and thereby a sister to Luskin Star. But this record was easily eclipsed a short time later when Robert Holmes à Court paid $825,000 for the Luskin Star-Visit chestnut colt subsequently given the ostentatious name of Paint The Stars. The Perth tycoon had to beat off rival bids from Bart Cummings and Patrick Hogan to secure the yearling. Luskin Star, whose progeny was being offered for the first time, had a profound impact on those sales with fifteen of his progeny selling for a total of $2.4 million. What was it that Oscar Wilde said? There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Puffing contentedly on an imported Davidoff Cuban cigar afterwards, Holmes à Court pontificated: “I do not regard the $825,000 as excessive for the colt.” Perhaps not then, but very soon after he did!
Placed in the stables of George Hanlon, the colt never won a race. It wasn’t as if George hurried him along. Indeed, nothing could! At his first start at Flemington on 13 January 1982, Paint The Stars clearly demonstrated that he wouldn’t be painting anything, least of all the stars. He finished a furlong last. After just six starts and a couple of placings at Bendigo and Geelong worth some $800, he was transferred from Hanlon to Tommy Smith at Randwick. The Little Master couldn’t effect any improvement in the horse’s track gallops either and without another race start and showing signs of a wind infirmity (Paint The Stars that is, not Tommy!), Smith recommended that the expensive colt be whisked off to stud.
Paint The Stars stood his first season at Tony Downey’s Lynley Vale Stud in Modewarre, Victoria, where, to secure a full book of mares and maximum representation on the racecourse, he was made available to broodmare owners free of charge. In a bid to launch Paint The Star’s stud career, Holmes à Court even conceived of an incentive bonus for the broodmare owner that bred the horse’s first metropolitan winner and first group winner. Despite such encouragement and the fact that Holmes à Court sent the horse some of his own best mares, Paint The Stars enjoyed only very limited success as a stallion. When it came to black-type, he sired one group-three winner, and just two winners each of a single listed race. I might mention that Sangster wasn’t entirely left out in the cold at those 1981 William Inglis sales. At the second session of selling, on Wednesday night, the Irish bloodstock agent Patrick Hogan paid $390,000 on behalf of Sangster for the Planet Kingdom-Leica Show colt bred by the Cummings family trust. Registered as Leica Planet and later gelded, he did at least win the 1984 S.A.J.C. Goodwood Handicap.
As demonstrated by the foregoing, there was a dramatic change to the pricing and valuation of Australian bloodstock during the madcap decade of the 1980s, as we shall see during successive chapters of this chronicle. It took place against a background of complete deregulation of the Australian financial system with the floating of the Australian dollar and the removal of all exchange controls by December 1983 under the Hawke/Keating Labor Government. Yes, there was a momentary recession in 1983 but the recovery was rapid with the domestic banking system being opened to competition from foreign banks by 1985 and a more generous increase in tax concessions on a wide range of assets including bloodstock. Borrowing and credit became more readily available and the prices on most capital assets were bid up accordingly.
It was in this changing environment that a new generation of so-called Pitt-street farmers, fascinated by Robert Sangster’s stratagems in the bloodstock market, perceived an opportunity to make easy money by becoming overnight thoroughbred breeders. For many years the yearling market had behaved in a manner quite different to much of the normal Australian economy. However, the advent of cheaper money leveraged through extensive borrowing saw the yearling market align more faithfully with the markets of other Australian capital assets. There was a time when the prospective pricing of yearlings was based on future racecourse earnings and the levels of prize money offered by Australian racing clubs. Now, this mindset had given way to imputing a residual value at the end of the horse’s career on the racecourse. Never mind that the whole business of racing and breeding is just one big gloriously expensive lottery, this finely calibrated approach to valuations would have been comedic had it not been so tragic.
But let’s return to the three-year-olds of that 1980-81 racing season. Spare a thought for Rob McGuinness in the wake of that 1981 Sydney Autumn Carnival. Everyone was pleased to see him at last with a top galloper in his stable. Deck The Halls had enabled McGuinness to toss the gauntlet to the more powerful Hayes, Smith and Begg stables, and he deserved more than he had received. Yes, the little grey filly had won the Rosehill Guineas, been runner-up in the A.J.C. Oaks, and finished in the minor placing in both the Canterbury Guineas and A.J.C. Derby, but it might have been so much more. From the moment Deck The Halls arrived in Sydney, she was dogged by bad barriers and chequered passages in all of her races. In the Canterbury Guineas, she had drawn twelve and finished strongly to be beaten a long neck and a half head. In the A.J.C. Derby, she had drawn the extreme outside barrier in the field of eighteen and never got on the track for the first third of the journey. And with the Derby run on a Monday, Deck The Halls had but two days to recover to honour her commitment for the A.J.C. Oaks on the following Wednesday.
Dittman was incapacitated through illness and Harry White was requisitioned for the mount in the Oaks. In that fillies’ classic she drew gate fifteen in a field of eighteen, and trapped wide in the early stages, White was forced to slip Deck The Halls into an unaccustomed role as the pacemaker. It was no surprise when she was run down in the straight by her great rival November Rain. McGuinness, I suspect, would have preferred not to have subjected the filly to her A.J.C. Derby-Oaks campaign, but rather just concentrated on the latter. True, she earned $16,000 in place money from the Derby, but it didn’t compensate for either the difference between the first and second prize in the Oaks or the glory of being acclaimed a classic winner.
Afterwards, while Deck The Halls went to the spelling paddock, November Rain went on to beat the colts Bright Halo and Just A Dash into the minor placings for the A.J.C. St. Leger and then journeyed to Brisbane where she easily won the Q.T.C. Oaks to become the just the second filly alongside Surround to take the treble of Oaks Stakes at Flemington, Randwick and Eagle Farm. Neville Begg went to the well once too often in that campaign when November Rain wilted badly a few weeks later to finish sixth in the Queensland Derby won by Mr Cromwell. Nonetheless, when one considers that November Rain also won the V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes in the spring, it seems churlish to suggest that she wasn’t the best staying three-year-old filly of her year. But I don’t think she was. Given a touch more luck at the gates and in her races, and a more benign A.J.C. schedule that accommodated any three-year-old filly wanting to attempt the Derby-Oaks double, I believe Deck The Halls would have proven her superiority.
The two mares never clashed again. After the 1981 Q.T.C. Winter Carnival, November Rain was retired having won 6 races from 22 starts and some $185,000 in prize money. Originally a $12,000 purchase by Bob Lapointe at the Adelaide Yearling Sales, November Rain had an international pedigree being by the English stallion Estaminet that Colin Hayes stood at Lindsay Park, out of Clystalla, an American-bred mare. It was November Rain’s trainer Neville Begg who recommended her early retirement. This was partly because of the big weights that she would attract in the staying handicaps as an older mare but also because she suffered from anhidrosis or an inability to sweat. November Rain developed the condition during the very hot Australian summer of 1980-81. Many horses with anhidrosis lose form altogether, but Begg was able to manage the problem with this talented daughter of Estaminet by ensuring a shady and properly ventilated box supplemented with cold water hosing on the warmer days. Nonetheless, her early retirement was understandable.
In contrast, Deck The Halls did race into her four-year-old season but her bad luck never changed. In the spring she finished runner-up in the Liston Stakes, Craiglee Stakes and Turnbull Stakes before running a gallant third in the Caulfield Cup behind Silver Bounty and No Peer. In the Melbourne Cup, Deck The Halls finished a disappointing fourteenth but met with interference from the ultimate winner, Just A Dash which saw the winning jockey Peter Cook later suspended. It’s worth noting that the grey mare’s misfortune at the barrier extended from the Sydney autumn for she drew seventeen and eighteen gates in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups respectively. Brought back in the following autumn with the V.R.C. Australian Cup as her target, Deck The Halls damaged her off-fore tendon when unplaced in the Futurity Stakes and never raced again.
There was a curious symmetry to the achievements of Deck The Halls and November Rain at stud. Each produced the winner of one principal race and each produced two daughters who in turn dropped stakes winners themselves. Trainer Rob McGuinness having been denied a classic was never to get another as good as Deck The Halls. The closest he ever came again was with Lord of Camelot a few seasons later when he proved good enough to win the V.R.C. Gibson Carmichael Stakes at two and ran second in both the Moonee Valley Stakes and the Caulfield Guineas at three, each time behind Red Anchor. McGuinness eventually retired from training in the 1990s and for a time went to work for Lloyd Williams.
After his Sydney Cup triumph, Our Paddy Boy was returned to South Australia and rested with the Hayes stable plotting a spring campaign that would culminate with the Melbourne Cup. There was talk of an assault on the inaugural Japan Cup in Tokyo on November 22, something that the cosmopolitan Sangster would have enjoyed in his bid to straddle the globe. But the difficulties in air transportation posed by a temperamental and intransigent stallion such as Paddy, not to mention the challenges of quarantine on an indirect air route to Tokyo, militated against such an adventure. Instead, he was aimed at the Caulfield-Melbourne Cups double in which the V.R.C. handicapper Ian Bowler hadn’t missed him with the son of Blarney Kiss receiving 58kg in the Caulfield Cup and 57kg, or 3.5kg less than Kingston Town in the Melbourne Cup. Meanwhile, Paddy enjoyed a break of a few weeks in May and then some light conditioning at Murkbo on the Murray River in June before going into full training once again at Lindsay Park.
Our Paddy Boy was becoming even more of a handful about the stable as he got older. He made his seasonal reappearance at Morphettville in the weight-for-age S.A.J.C. Spring Stakes (1200 metres) at the end of August. Looking well above himself in condition there was even a flash of temperament as Jim Courtney mounted him that day before the pair finished seventh, seven lengths behind the winner, Bargambler. Our Paddy Boy was then brought across to the Hayes’ Flemington stables for more trackwork and even a barrier trial before journeying to Sydney for two races viz. the Theo Marks Quality at Rosehill and the George Main Stakes at Randwick. At Rosehill, Paddy impressed many when he came with a powerful finish to get within two lengths of Arbogast who ran the 1400 metres in the very smart time of 1 minute 22.4 seconds. Paddy was up to his old tricks when he bailed up at both Warwick Farm and Randwick during trackwork leading into the George Main Stakes and had to be hunted onto each course with a stock whip. The fact that Peter Hayes floated him to Warwick Farm is evidence of the lengths the stable was prepared to go to in a bid to vary Paddy’s routine and engender a pastoral atmosphere akin to Lindsay Park. As diverting as the excursion must have been, the horse in the hands of Roy Higgins, who was making a return to Randwick after an absence of over four years, could only run third in the George Main Stakes behind Kingston Town and Arbogast.
It was then back to Melbourne. Stewards insisted on scratching Our Paddy Boy from the Caulfield Stakes because of a perceived lameness, a decision with which the Hayes’ stable disagreed. Instead, Our Paddy Boy ran for the $30,000 Coongy Handicap (2100 metres) at Sandown four days later, and making light of his 59.5kg and the presence of Brent Thomson, finally shook off his Victorian blues by breaking through for a victory. Alas, the pairing failed the following Saturday in the Caulfield Cup when eighth behind Silver Bounty. Paddy’s final tune-up for the Melbourne Cup came in the Mackinnon Stakes when he led for a fading sixth to Belmura Lad. Handicapped on weight-for-age in the big two-miler, Hayes had him ready to run the race of his life. Our Paddy Boy again in the hands of Thomson, finished a gallant fourth after leading clearly soon after straightening. Only Just A Dash, El Laurena and Flashing Light went past him and each carried much less weight that day than Paddy. It would never be a glad confident morning again. Saddled up on the last Saturday of the meeting, the son of Blarney Kiss could only beat one rival home in the $40,700 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He was promptly sent for a spell.
Brought back in the late summer of 1982, Our Paddy Boy’s behaviour about the stable yard and on the racecourse worsened. Blinkers can only do so much for any wayward stallion and Paddy’s inconstancy began to reflect that of his colourful owner vis a vis Jerry Hall. Besides, blinkers are one piece of equipment that tend to be subject to the law of diminishing returns. Colin Hayes and Robert Sangster parted company with Paddy soon after he finished last – and a bad last at that – in the St George Stakes won by Lawman. There weren’t many pangs of regret from the stable staff when the son of Blarney Kiss walked out of the stables for the last time. Propinquity doesn’t always lend enchantment. Nonetheless, Our Paddy Boy, the winner of seven races from 1200 to 3200 metres, had collected $396,525 in stakes. Sold for stud purposes, Our Paddy Boy stood duty at father and son, Ted and Allan Bell’s Victory Park Stud at Mutdapilly, just outside Ipswich in Queensland. Ted Bell had raced the S.T.C. Tancred Stakes winner Our Cavalier and the good galloper Vigo, and his son Allan negotiated the deal that brought Our Paddy Boy to Victory Park, a 250-acre breeding and training complex. Paddy failed to sire a single stakes winner but did provide a few Brisbane metropolitan winners such as Tica, Blarney Gal, and Irish Lancer for the Bell stable.
So much then for the subsequent deeds of Our Paddy Boy and Deck The Halls coming out of that A.J.C. Derby. What of the other aspirants engaged that day? Undoubtedly, the best racehorse to emerge from the field was the New Zealand gelding, Prince Majestic. In the Derby Prince Majestic never really got onto the track from his wide gate and finished a poor thirteenth. It wasn’t his true form, something he proved when brought back to Sydney the following autumn to win both the S.T.C. Tancred Stakes and A.J.C. Queen Elizabeth Stakes at weight-for-age, relegating Allez Bijou into second place on each occasion. Prince Majestic, like Allez Bijou and quite a few of the other progeny of Noble Bijou, jarred up badly on firm ground, and even in the Tancred Stakes at Rosehill, he changed stride in the straight but proved too strong. In the five-horse Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Prince Majestic wore down Allez Bijou to win by a head in 2 minutes 1.9 seconds, or 0.2 seconds outside Blue Denim’s race record. What a rewarding autumn the New Zealand trainer Ray Verner had in Sydney that year! Prince Majestic apart, his Gold Hope won both the A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap and All-Aged Stakes as well. The following year Ray Verner brought Prince Majestic back to Australia as a late-season four-year-old to win both the O’Shea Stakes and Tattersall’s Cup at Brisbane’s winter carnival.
Sovereign Red was the other galloper to show that his form in the A.J.C. Derby was misleading. Neither the state of the ground nor Harry White’s ride did the bold chestnut any favours that day and White appeared to have lost his compass, so wide did he negotiate the home turn in the Derby. However, after the A.J.C. carnival, this stylish galloper went to Brisbane for the winter racing and demonstrated his versatility by winning the B.A.T.C. Rothman’s 100,000 and in the following spring established his weight-for-age credentials with victories in the J. J. Liston Stakes, Craiglee Stakes, and Underwood Stakes. The television journalist and producer Mike Willesee bought into the horse and later stood him at his Transmedia Park Stud, formerly Ferd Calvin’s Dawson Stud, at Cootamundra. The four-year-old was syndicated at a valuation of $1.68 million, a transaction involving 42 shares each at $40,000 and even Robert Sangster became a shareholder. Sovereign Red retired from the racecourse after 35 starts, resulting in 10 wins, 7 seconds, 4 thirds and $566,350 in stakes. Curiously, although he was successful in three different States, he failed to win in N.S.W. in 5 starts here.
Sovereign Red stood his first season at Transmedia Park in the spring of 1982 and was to enjoy many current affairs; he went on to sire 11 individual stakes winners of 25 stakes races with the best of his progeny being Red Express, Red Chiffon and Stoneyfell Road. Sovereign Red also proved a good broodmare sire and included among the good gallopers his daughters dropped were Dane Ripper, Princess Coup and Flavour. There is not much to be said about the other horses that comprised the Derby class of 1981. Despite his brave fifth in the blue riband, Private Thoughts was never a genuine stayer and only won one other feature race that being the Q.T.C. Fourex. At stud, Private Thoughts’ performance hardly gave rise to any additional angst over his older brother receiving the unkindest cut of all. He sired just one stakes winner in the South Australian galloper Jolly Good Thought.
In May 1982, Sangster signified his intentions of spending more time Down Under with his purchase of the six-bedroom waterfront mansion, Radford, in Wolseley Crescent, Point Piper, as his Sydney summer-autumn home. The first Susan Sangster renovated and renamed the property, Toison d’Or, and as such it would acquire some notoriety in the years ahead as Susan proved just how good a housekeeper she was. Sangster paid $6 million for the property, which was $750,000 more than the tycoon Bernard Lewis had paid for it only three weeks earlier. Real estate apart, Sangster’s investments in Australasian bloodstock continued unchecked, now all held under the umbrella of the Swettenham Stud imprimatur, and managed in Adelaide by David Coles. By 1983, Sangster had an interest in over 100 horses in training throughout Australia, three-quarters of which were prepared by Colin Hayes. However, he also had horses with Tom Smith and Bart Cummings in Sydney; Jim Moloney, Tom Hughes and Kel Chapman in Melbourne; John Hawkes in Adelaide; Bruce McLachlan and Jim Atkins in Queensland; and with Roy Edward, Vernon Brockman, Wally Mitchell and Ray Sweetman in Perth.
Sangster’s investment in stallions and broodmares was likewise staggering. So impressed was he with Without Fear that in October 1982 he bought a quarter of him. In June 1983, Sangster secured a deal with Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud in New Zealand to send at least fifteen high-class broodmares to Sir Tristram each season. There was a certain irony in this deal. Sangster had bought Isolt, the dam of Sir Tristram, back in 1976 as part of a package deal for $40,000 but sold her on again before Sir Tristram had made good as a stallion. Sangster then bought Isolt a second time – for much more than he sold her – but very soon after she died on him. Sangster wasn’t without his critics in Australia and there were three common complaints. The first was that he had forced up the price of Australian bloodstock and put it out of reach of the average hobby breeder that had supported the industry for years. The second was that he was dumping second-class European and American stallions Down Under. And the third was that he was continuing to lobby, together with some other influential breeders such as Ken Cox, for a change in the breeding season here to northern hemisphere time.
The first complaint was patently true but bloodstock like everything else was going global and if it hadn’t been Sangster, it would have been someone else, as the influx of international buyers and agents at our yearling sales surely proved. The second complaint might have had some basis in fact at the beginning with horses like Panamint, Valley Forge and Solitary Hail but it was a much harder argument to sustain against his later stallions such as Godswalk. As for the third complaint about falling into line with the northern hemisphere breeding cycle, some of the major commercial breeders here couldn’t rally the numbers to bring it to pass. Still, there was nothing to stop individual Australian breeders from going it alone on the issue with selective mares, as they had done since the days of the Hon. James White. It was just that they wouldn’t be carrying the entire industry with them.
Our Paddy Boy might have been the first starter that Robert Sangster ever had in the A.J.C. Derby, but he certainly wasn’t to be the last. As we shall see in the course of this chronicle, most years the Englishman would have a horse in the race, if not one that he had bought as an expensive yearling, then one that he had bought as an expensive proven galloper. A few weeks after Our Paddy Boy ran fourth in the 1981 Melbourne Cup, Sangster instructed trainer Colin Hayes to negotiate on his behalf for the purchase of the recent V.A.T.C. Sandown Guineas’ winner, Galleon, by the imported English stallion Buoy. Sangster not only bought the colt but in a package deal costing $750,000, bought the colt’s dam and younger sister as well.
As it transpired, Galleon turned out to be the only decent racehorse that the family ever produced. Melbourne trainer, Bill Allan, had formerly prepared Galleon but obviously lost him in the sale, and the colt was brought back in the autumn by Colin Hayes with the Sydney three-year-old Triple Crown in mind. Although a final acceptor for the A.J.C. Derby, he was scratched on the eve of the race. Alas, Galleon could go no further than the 1600 metres he covered at Sandown and while he went on to win a V.A.T.C. Futurity Stakes and a series of group-two races, he never really achieved top rank. It wouldn’t be until Beechcraft came along in 1984 that Sangster again would have a colt worthy of representing him in the A.J.C. Derby and we shall get to that chapter in due course. Nonetheless, before then Sangster would win some good races in Australia including the S.T.C. George Ryder Stakes (Pure of Heart), Moonee Valley Cup (Triumphal March) and the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes (Brave Show). He would also be responsible for breeding some high-class gallopers during this same period that raced in other interests of which Copperama was a fine example.
Excellent story as usual.
The 70’s & 80’s were a great era in racing.
I can remember attending the 1981 Canterbury Guineas meeting at Rosehill.
W. P. Howey
Thank you Ian! You’ve hit the jackpot; yet again! This issue evokes many memories for me. ‘Bagalot’ was bred by my late employer Murray Bain. Early on he looked like ‘he could be anything’. His full sister ‘Dark Eclipse’ won the 1980 Golden Slipper for Mrs Bain and her daughters Morag & Fiona when even Neville Begg thought ‘Fiancee’ would win for the Tait family!
I had little personal contact with the Sangster family but ‘middle son’ Ben attended a party at my house when escorted there by Peter Morris; then general manager of Derby King Ranch (DKR, Woodlands, Denman) for Lord Derby (UK) & Bob Kleburg (USA).
Thanks again for the feedback, Bill! I get so many referrals from your excellent website!