It is almost impossible to exaggerate the exquisite quality of thoroughbreds produced by David Hains’s Kingston Park Stud during the height of its fame from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. Back then it was widely considered the most cost-efficient stud in Australia. We have already studied the first champion for which the stud was responsible in the shape of the 1980 A.J.C. Derby winner, Kingston Town. Just two years later the stud produced its second champion in Rose Of Kingston, a filly who would emulate the King by winning the 1982 A.J.C. Derby in David Hains’s famous colours, and in so doing become the first of her sex to take the classic in thirty-eight years. So, where did her story begin? Well, in the spring of 1977 the former high-class race mare Kingston Rose, one of the first horses to carry the conspicuous Hains’ ‘yellow jacket, red striped sleeves and cap’ was mated with the imported Italian stallion, Claude. On 17 September of the following year, Kingston Rose dropped a chestnut filly foal of no common quality on the grounds of the Kingston Park Stud, later to be registered as Rose Of Kingston. Sadly, it was soon after the foaling that the stallion Claude died, having snapped a foreleg while playing in his yard.
Much was expected, given her bloodlines. Claude, her sire was by the Hyperion horse, Hornbeam, and had been imported into Australia by David Hains in the spring of 1977. A homebred originally owned by the legendary Federico Tessio, Claude had won the Italian Derby before first standing stud duty at Tessio’s Dormello Stud on the banks of Lake Maggiore, in Italy, but his relatively late arrival in the 1977 Australian breeding season at Kingston Park saw him mated with very few mares in his first book. One of them, however, was Kingston Rose, a daughter of Better Boy that David Hains had initially raced with Bart Cummings and a filly that was out in the same season as those two classy females, Cap d’Antibes and Leica Show, also in the Cummings’ stable. Bart had much to do with the breeding of Kingston Rose, for she was the daughter of Sojourner, an aged broodmare he had bought from his father for $300. Initially, Bart shared the ownership with an Adelaide man who owned a cinema but when the latter tired of incurring costs without enjoying any return, Bart’s friend Malcolm Wuttke interceded and bought out the share of the picture-show man.
The Cups’ King was attracted to Sojourner for sentimental reasons as well for she, in turn, was a winning daughter of Wee Cushla, a prolific producing broodmare by Powerscourt bred by his father, Jim Cummings, and thereby a granddaughter of Cushla, a mare that Cummings senior trained to win both the Adelaide Guineas and Port Adelaide Guineas in 1937 and upon whom a young Bart learned to ride. Sojourner had previously been owned by Bart’s sister Teresa, and, as an aged mare, Jim Cummings had trained the horse to go over hurdles. Having bought the mare, Bart and Malcolm Wuttke sent her to be mated with the top Victorian stallion Better Boy and the resultant foal, Kingston Rose, was to be sold at the 1973 South Australian yearling sales. Just before those sales, David Hains approached Cummings about buying a yearling and the Cups King recommended the Better Boy – Sojourner filly. Hains, who was not attending the auction, authorised Cummings, who was, to bid as much as $15,000 for her. Cummings got her alright, but at $18,000 exceeded his limit at which Hains was a bit miffed. After all, there was a conflict of interest at work here for Bart was not only the bidder but the part-vendor besides. Nonetheless, looking back years later, Hains observed: “She was my greatest buy ever!”
Perhaps the price wasn’t surprising as four seasons before Kingston Rose, Sojourner had thrown Pilgarlic, trained by Bart to win three stakes races besides finishing runner-up in the S.A.J.C. St Leger and Port Adelaide Cup. Moreover, Sojourner herself was a half-sister to Proud Miss, that sensational two-year-old speedster of the 1961-62 racing season. Kingston Rose was no slouch on the racecourse either and although a length or two short of top class, she herself won six races from 1000 to 1600 metres including the V.R.C. Grey Smith Stakes and was a very unlucky third in the 1976 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap. Handicapped in the latter race with 50 kg, she was beaten a neck and a short head by Authentic Heir and Leica Lover in a time of 1 minute 35 seconds over the Randwick 1600 metres after she had been transferred into T. J. Smith’s stables.
Rose Of Kingston represented the exact opposite of Kingston Town, in terms of the sprinting and stamina genes brought by their respective sires and dams to their breeding partnerships. Whereas Kingston Town inherited his stamina from his stout German-bred dam and his brilliance from Bletchingly, Rose Of Kingston inherited her stamina from her stout Italian-bred sire and her brilliance from Kingston Rose. Rosie, as the foal came to be known, matured at the Kingston Park Stud into an imposing and unusual individual, a strapping filly of almost seventeen hands but possessed of the sweetest of temperaments. “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion”, wrote the essayist and philosopher, Francis Bacon, some four hundred years ago. It was true of Rosie. A fairly tall and well-topped filly, this body mass gave the misleading impression that she was rather light of bone beneath both knee and hock, something that the world-class equine artist Michael Jeffery later commented upon when he painted her Derby portrait. In seeking out a trainer for Rose Of Kingston during 1980, David and Helen Hains looked beyond the usual suspects of Smith and Cummings and instead placed her in the Epsom stables of Robert Edward Hoysted. One of the true gentlemen of the Turf, Bob had a racing pedigree every bit as impressive as the young lady now being entrusted to his care. Born in June 1925, he was the son of the legendary Victorian trainer, Fred Hoysted, and we briefly met him in our 1950 chapter in relation to another champion filly in True Course.
Bob was one of Fred’s five sons from his first marriage, a marriage which ended only with the death of Ellen, who was the wife and mother when Bob was but six years old. Father Fred married again the following year and in so doing the children gained a second loving mother in Mary, a fully qualified nurse. Bob attended Mentone State School and thence went to Mordialloc High before transferring to the newly opened St Bede’s College in 1938. The move to St Bede’s was encouraged by Mary in the mistaken belief that being a Catholic religious college, Bob’s fellow students wouldn’t pester him quite so much for tips about his father’s runners. Nice try, Mary. A good athlete and bright student, Bob rose to be College Captain in 1941, his last year of schooling. I suppose that growing up in stables and bearing the Hoysted name all but guaranteed that he would enter the training ranks although it wasn’t a career move that his parents necessarily encouraged.
Bob had done well academically and with Fred’s financial clout behind him could have enjoyed a wide choice of professions. But racing was in his blood and he left St Bede’s at the age of fifteen to go into Fred’s Mentone stables, where his older brother Bon was already the stable foreman. Bob’s apprenticeship was rudely interrupted by World War II and the Japanese attacks in the Pacific Ocean. Having reached an eligible age, he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy in August 1943. Brother Bon, because of his Klippel-Feil Syndrome, a rare skeletal disorder characterised by abnormal fusion of two or more bones of the spinal column within the neck, could not join Australia’s war effort. Accordingly, he stayed on to assist his father in keeping the Mentone stables going in the midst of the chronic labour shortage triggered by the hostilities. Bob served on a number of ships during the war, perhaps most notably the Warramanga. Demobbed in February 1946, Bob resumed work with his father to help him out while Bon went off to train on his own licence.
In those years immediately after World War II, racing boomed in Australia and Fred Hoysted, then at the peak of his career, was to enjoy one last golden flourish, which included hosting the champions, True Course and Rising Fast. Bob Hoysted assisted his father in the training of both gallopers but grew especially close to Rising Fast during that record-breaking spring of 1955 as old Fred was quite ill at the time. It almost broke Bob’s heart when Rising Fast, having won the Caulfield Cup, failed by three-quarters of a length to win the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double for the second time in unlucky circumstances. The following year as father Fred wound down his numbers due to continued illness, Bob Hoysted finally took out a trainer’s licence in his own right to assist him, a decade or so later than brother Bon.
It was Bon who was the more successful trainer while both brothers lived: with horses such as Lord Gavin (Moonee Valley Cup), Ray Ribbon (V.A.T.C. Underwood Stakes), Eld (V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes) and King Of The Stars; and wealthy clients such as the Creswick family. In contrast, Bob never really had a top horse until that brilliant two-year-old Scamanda came along in the 1973-74 season. That same season the Hoysted brothers made racing history when Bob trained Robert to win the Grand National Hurdle and the week after Bon trained Fire Sun to win the Grand National Steeple, echoes of their father’s success with the likes of Redditch and Rakwool. In a sense, Scamanda’s triumphs as an older sprinter in Melbourne kept Bob Hoysted in the game there. He had been thinking of selling up his stables and moving to the sunnier climes of Queensland.
Just as well that the flying son of Prince Of Baden came along when he did because Manikato was just around the corner. Only a matter of weeks after winning both the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes and S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes with Manikato, a gelded son of Manihi, Bon Hoysted suffered a massive heart attack and died suddenly at the age of 58 in the early hours of 1 May 1978. Mal Seccull asked jockey Gary Willetts about brother Bob as a prospective replacement trainer. Willetts replied: “Nobody does it better. If you gave a good horse to Bob Hoysted and asked him to get it ready for a race, nothing would be left to chance.” Nothing ever was. Bob Hoysted took over the training of Manikato and over the next five seasons won 25 races with the champion including the Caulfield Guineas, Doomben Ten Thousand, Futurity Stakes (four times) and the William Reid Stakes no less than five times. And Gary Willetts largely remained as Manikato’s regular jockey.
Indeed, it was Hoysted’s heroic achievements with the giant, cranky, unsound gelded son of Manihi, complemented by his own reputation for absolute integrity, that first attracted David Hains to him as Rose Of Kingston’s possible trainer. A coup de foudre struck Hoysted the first time he ever saw the filly, which only grew as he witnessed just what the daughter of Kingston Rose could do in track gallops. Hoysted thereafter proceeded upon Rose of Kingston’s first preparation with the most scrupulous circumspection. Rosie made her racecourse debut in the Debutante Stakes over an unsuitably short 1000 metres on a grey and overcast Caulfield Stakes Day in 1980 with the regular stable jockey Gary Willetts in the saddle. David Hains was to have bittersweet memories of the afternoon. While Kingston Town confirmed his aversion to Caulfield by finishing a disappointing second to Hyperno in the weight-for-age contest, after casting a plate and having to be re-shod at the gates; Rose Of Kingston lightened Hains’s step by making up many lengths to finish just behind the placegetters in the race won by Bocada. The owner’s nonchalant indifference when Rosie returned to scale was most certainly assumed. Two further unplaced runs followed at Caulfield and Flemington in the Merson Cooper Stakes and Ottawa Stakes respectively, before Rosie was sent out for a summer spell.
Rose Of Kingston (40/1) then resumed to easily win the Bloodhorse Breeders’ Stakes over 1400 metres at Flemington on the first Wednesday in March. Rosie’s win might have come as a surprise to many in the ring but not to Hoysted, who enjoyed a nice betting clean-up that day. The performance was all the confirmation that Hoysted needed to start plotting a course towards the S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes and the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. Neither of the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington and Randwick was on the radar for the simple reason that Rosie’s sire, Claude, had not been nominated for them. In her lead-up to the Slipper, Rosie raced twice at the tricky Rosehill circuit, finishing unplaced in the Sweet Embrace Stakes and second, beaten over five lengths, one week later in the Reisling Slipper Trial. Until the Reisling, Gary Willetts had been on the filly’s back every time but that week in between her Rosehill runs was tumultuous in the trainer-jockey relationship. On the day the Reisling Slipper Trial was run, Willetts elected to stay in Melbourne instead to ride for trainer Bill Warke the promising three-year-old Glenson who was resuming from a spell and upon whom he’d taken the Moonee Valley Stakes in the spring.
Hoysted, who valued loyalty, fired up and warned the jockey that he would sever the stable connection, which he did. For the remainder of that calendar year, the mount on Rose Of Kingston seemed something akin to a game of musical chairs as jockeys came and went. It was Brent Thomson who gained the mount on Rosie in both the Reisling and the Golden Slipper. In the latter event the pair went to the post at 50/1 and on a slow track thundered home after being fifteenth on the turn to take the minor placing. Rose Of Kingston suffered two checks in the Rosehill straight and many racegoers believed she should at least have finished second and might well have troubled the winner Full On Aces had she enjoyed an uninterrupted passage. The winning time of 1 minute 13.1 seconds was the slowest since Sweet Embrace had taken the race as a maiden at 40/1 in 1967.
Full On Aces was decidedly the best two-year-old seen out that season. A $92,000 purchase at the Melbourne Yearling Sales, he was the top-priced colt offered there. A handsome brown, he was by the all-conquering Kaoru Star and was the first foal of the former high-class race mare, Better Draw, the third top-weighted filly on the 1976 Three-Year-Old Free Handicap. The colt was purchased by John Ingleton, a bloodstock breeder who owned the Glen Appin Stud at Avenal, in Victoria, and was later syndicated amongst seventeen of Ingleton’s friends who were breeders like himself. Placed in the Caulfield stables of the veteran Angus Armanasco, Full On Aces broke his maiden status when he made a one-act affair of the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes in defeating the expensive Anyone Home and Fearless Pride into the minor placings.
In winning the Golden Slipper, the rangy brown colt had shattered a hoodoo that had haunted Armanasco for years, the trainer having previously saddled up two unplaced odds-on favourites in the race in Biscay (1968) and Tolerance (1971), while other disappointments had included Hamden’s fourth in 1975 as the 3/1 second-favourite and Lowan Star’s eighth as the 9/4 equal favourite in 1979. And yet even starting Full On Aces in the race had been something of an afterthought for Armanasco, who believed the six furlongs would be too short and that the prospective Derby colt would be better placed in the longer A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes. While Full On Aces proved a winning hand in the Sires’, knee trouble forced the colt to miss the Champagne and retire hors de combat for the season. In the absence of Full On Aces, the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes cut up into a three-horse field. Unsurprisingly given the numbers, the race was run at a farcical speed with the gun apprentice Wayne Harris newly partnering Rose of Kingston, and guiding the chestnut to a bloodless victory over Birchwood and Neptune’s Court in a time fully six seconds outside Vivarchi’s race record. Although the winning time was none too flash, Hoysted optimistically regarded the result as the sweet harbinger of success in the classics the following season. The filly then returned to Melbourne for a well-earned winter spell with Hoysted setting his sights firmly on the V.R.C. Derby and Oaks in the spring.
At Caulfield, ten miles north of Hoysted’s Epsom stables, in the late winter of 1981, yet another shrewd horseman was preparing yet another promising early season three-year-old to challenge for the classics. One of the great English writers – I think it was Thackeray – described the occupation of racing men as “the business of overreaching less informed rogues”. It isn’t a bad way to introduce that Caulfield racing man extraordinaire and likeable, well-informed rogue, Geoff Murphy. Murphy was born in 1926 in the town of Bacchus Marsh, some thirty miles northwest of Melbourne. Situated in a rich and fertile valley through which both the Lerderderg and Werribee Rivers pass, it was a wonderful district in which to grow up even during the Depression years for any horse-mad boy, with no shortage of available mounts to indulge his passion. As a youngster riding about the countryside, Murphy entertained visions of becoming a jockey when he grew up. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would find his way into the local stables of trainer Tom Glennon. The Glennon name in racing has come down to us in posterity but not through the training achievements of the father Tom, but rather the riding achievements of the son, Pat.
Geoff Murphy and Pat Glennon were friends of a similar age and each as thirteen-year-olds sought apprenticeships with Tom, a former Victorian jumps jockey who had won the 1925 Great Eastern Steeplechase on Dundalk. It might have happened too, had World War II not intervened. As this chronicle has shown, international hostilities saw most country stables close down as Australia girded its loins for battle. Whereas Pat Glennon went off to become apprenticed to Harry Wolters at Mentone, Geoff Murphy got a job as a stable lad with Ron Sweetenham, a one-time hurdle rider who trained out of Caulfield. Alas, unlike Pat, young Geoff not only grew up, but he also grew out, and soon became too tall and heavy for any career in the pigskin and began to set his cap at training instead.
Murphy continued working for Sweetenham until well after the war, but in 1948 he transferred his services to the prominent Caulfield trainer, Basil Conaghan, whose Station-street stables were adjacent to the racecourse. Murphy was to spend twelve years with Conaghan, becoming his stable foreman and learning much during an epoch that saw him saddle up such top gallopers as The Orb (1956 V.A.T.C. Futurity Stakes), Summalu (1957 V.R.C. St Leger) and Prince Lea (1959 V.A.T.C. Caulfield Guineas). But Station-street was only ever intended to be a stop on the journey. Murphy’s next destination was obvious. He knew where real opportunity lay. It was soon after Prince Lea’s classic triumph at the heath that Murphy elected to cut the umbilical cord with Conaghan and branch out on his own, applying for his trainer’s licence in 1960. Basil was none too pleased when Geoff announced his decision. “You’ll go broke inside six months,” Conaghan predicted. And he was very nearly right.
It was while Conaghan was overseas on one of his regular visits to Europe that Murphy resolved to find stables of his own. As fate would have it, there was a small establishment consisting of seven boxes in Booran Road, Caulfield, on the market, previously leased for a number of years by the trainer Albert ‘Red’ Garton who had decided to get out of the business. The premises weren’t up to much but they were all Murphy could afford at the time and he reasoned that at least the place would give him a start. Murphy sought out the real estate agent who held the listing, as well as his own bank manager and the deal, was done. The irony of the transaction was that it transpired the principal and owner of the premises for which the sales’ agent was acting was none other than Conaghan himself, who was apoplectic when he found out. To lose his right-hand man was one thing, but to inadvertently furnish him with readymade stables was another. Nonetheless, Conaghan was to remain a firm and supportive friend of Murphy well into the future and long after Conaghan himself had retired into the Queensland sunshine.
Rarely bothered by self-doubt, Murphy got away to a roaring start as a trainer in his own right when he was desperately unlucky to lose the A.J.C. Derby with Blue Era, whose story was told in the 1961 chapter of this chronicle. Such a reversal might have destroyed a lesser man on the threshold of his training career. Not so Murphy. Indeed, few trainers have been more blessed with any trio of horses with which to kickstart life as a trainer. Blue Era notwithstanding, Murphy also prepared Welkin Prince and Hansie at the outset. Less than six months after losing the A.J.C. Derby in the stewards’ room at Randwick and finishing runner-up in the Victoria Derby with the same colt, Murphy enjoyed a wonderful V.R.C. Autumn Meeting. On the first day, he won the St. Leger with Hansie, who beat Marco Khan, with Blue Era an even-money favourite, finishing back in third placing. Blue Era had earned his favouritism by narrowly winning the Stanley Plate from Hansie at Caulfield just the week before.
Then on the second day of the V.R.C. Meeting, Murphy produced the 3/1 favourite Welkin Prince, with W. A. ‘Billy’ Smith and 7st. 8lb in the saddle, to score a thrilling half-head win in the Australian Cup. Of course, the Australian Cup in those days wasn’t a weight-for-age contest but rather Australia’s longest handicap flat race run over 2 miles, 1 furlong and 110 yards. Welkin Prince was by Welkin Sun, who himself had run second in the 1953 Australian Cup after finishing second at 200/1 behind Dalray in the Melbourne Cup the previous spring. Welkin Sun’s short pedigree denied him and his progeny the status of ‘thoroughbred’ and it was partly because of this that the Gippsland owner-breeder, M. R. (Sonny) Macrae, had offered to lease Welkin Prince to Murphy to help start his training career. It proved a real boon too, for the horse, who was raced under lease by one of Murphy’s friends, Peter Vilimek, won the Australian Cup again in 1963, this time with 3lb more and Les Coles in the leathers. Geoff Murphy was now on the march and he knew it. People began to sit up and take notice. Who was this brash man from Caulfield?
If he had not been so able, Murphy’s early cockiness might have made him insufferable. To rise in his profession, Murphy recognised that he needed patronage. He was aggressive in seeking it, in finding it and in using it. Moreover, despite his love of mystery and intrigue, he thrived on press coverage and was aggressive in using it too, to his own advantage. Now, some leading trainers specialise in winning two-year-old races; others forge their reputations with sprinters or older stayers. Geoff Murphy was to make his name and fortune with high-class spring three-year-olds. Ever since he had burst upon the scene in 1961 with Blue Era, few seasons had gone by in which Murphy’s Caulfield stables hadn’t sheltered a high-class colt or filly for the classics. In 1965 there was Diocletian and in 1966 there was Pharaon. Diocletian, a son of Kingroy part-owned by Andrew Ramsden, ran the minor placing in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and then in the spring ran third behind Tobin Bronze and Midlander in the Victoria Derby. Pharaon in 1966 was unlucky enough to run into Storm Queen in both the Moonee Valley Stakes and Caulfield Guineas before finishing third in the Caulfield Cup. Sent out as the 9/4 favourite for the Victoria Derby, Pharaon, part-owned by Murphy’s wife, found one too good in Khalif and went under by a half-length.
Come 1970 and Geoff Murphy caused an upset when he trained Abdul to win the W. S. Cox Plate for owner Ray Wilson. The following year he won the Moonee Valley Stakes and Caulfield Guineas with another New Zealand-bred colt in Beau Sovereign. Whereas Abdul made it into the Victoria Derby field but failed to stay the trip, Beau Sovereign never got there – breaking down in the W. S. Cox Plate the week before. Yet even with Beau Sovereign hors de combat, Murphy’s second-string Column, finished runner-up in the Victorian blue riband to Khalif while a couple of weeks later his Andros won the V.A.T.C. Sandown Guineas. In the following spring of 1972 came Longfella’s serenade of victories in both the Memsie Stakes and Rosehill Guineas, before he went on to run second in the A.J.C. Derby and third in the Victoria Derby for the Caulfield stable. In these times of success piled upon success, it seemed Murphy’s luck would never fail, nor his sure touch in the ring. One could only conclude that the good fairies at his cradle had certainly given him a shrewd eye for appraising a horse.
But, just when Geoff Murphy’s blushing honours were thick upon him and he personally thought, good easy man, full surely my greatness is a-ripening, there came a killing frost of censure from the V.A.T.C. stipendiary stewards in the spring of 1973. The occasion was the Second Kilsyth Handicap, a 1400-metre race for three-year-olds at Sandown on October 3rd. An inquiry was subsequently held into the running of the Murphy-trained Tambaran, ridden by jockey Alan Trevena, with the result that both Murphy, aged 46, and Trevena, aged 32, were disqualified for twelve months. The irony was that the horse hadn’t been long in Murphy’s stables, having been previously trained by Angus Armanasco. The appeals to the V.R.C. committee of both men fell upon cold, stony ground and they were left to serve out their sentences. Trevena was even president of the Victorian Jockeys Association at the time. Murphy had fallen foul of the stewards before and would do so again. In June 1965 he had been fined £25 at Seymour for attempting to use “prickers” on Bluer in a maiden there.
The V.A.T.C. stewards’ frost might have nipped at the root of Murphy’s stable, but the stable didn’t fall. Indeed, within a year of his comeback ‘G. T.’ had managed to get his hands on the best racehorse he was ever destined to train in that wonderful filly, Surround. She was yet another of the famous progeny of Sovereign Edition and followed up on the success Murphy had already enjoyed with the breed including Abdul, Andros and Beau Sovereign. Surround wintered in Queensland as a late two-year-old before sweeping all before her in that fabulous spring campaign of 1976 which saw the Ascot Vale Stakes, Moonee Valley Stakes, Caulfield Guineas, W. S. Cox Plate and the V.R.C. Oaks fall to her lot. Moreover, in Savoir, yet another grey daughter of Sovereign Edition, Murphy’s stable happened to shelter the second-best filly of that year as well. In the absence of Surround, Savoir managed to credit Murphy with both the V.A.T.C. One Thousand Guineas and the V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes; while in the presence of Surround, she gave Murphy the quinella in both the Moonee Valley Stakes and V.R.C. Oaks. The trainer had been busy before his 12-months suspension, but now he became busier still.
Fashion Beau also trained by Murphy was a colt seen out in the same season as Suround and Savoir, and many thought he was named after his famous trainer. Murphy on the racecourse was always sartorially resplendent in tailored suits complemented by colourful ties and belts often matching the red jacket and white and black striped sleeves of his racing silks. The whole ensemble was invariably offset by a stylish Akubra set at a rakish angle. Geoff Murphy won the Rosehill Guineas with Fashion Beau; he subsequently ran unplaced in both the A.J.C. and Victoria Derbies, in the former as favourite and in the latter as a 33/1 outsider. Then, in 1977 along came Lefroy. He, too, won the Rosehill Guineas only to also fail as the A.J.C. Derby favourite but was unlucky not to win the Victoria Derby when he filled the minor placing in a tight three-way finish.
Thus far it can be seen that when it came to Derbies, for Murphy, the glory always fell short of the dream. It almost seemed to him that Schumacher’s high jinx back in 1961 had cast a permanent blight over his stables insofar as any blue riband was concerned. However, Lefroy eventually broke the spell when he won the 1978 Queensland Derby. The Murphy stables were bare of good three-year-olds in the spring of 1978 while High Play, winner of the Geelong Derby Trial Stakes was the best of the 1979 bunch. But in the spring of 1980 came Sovereign Red, who, as we have seen in our previous chapter, won both the Caulfield Guineas and Victoria Derby before achieving further glory in Perth and Brisbane later in the season. This brings us to the early season three-year-old that Geoff Murphy was putting through his paces in August 1981.
It was none other than the younger brother of Sovereign Red, a rangy chestnut gelding registered as Gurner’s Lane. How he came by the horse is an intriguing story. Some turning points in racing history may be the consequence of irresistible forces and have a kind of inevitability about them; others come by chance. As we have seen, Geoff Murphy had bought Sovereign Red at the 1979 Waikato sales for just $5,500 and he was from the first crop of the imported Sir Tristram. It was in the late autumn of 1980, after the New Zealand yearling sales and before Sovereign Red had made his debut on the Turf, that Patrick Hogan telephoned Murphy and told him he was sending over the colt’s younger brother and sought the trainer’s assistance in finding a buyer. Hogan only wanted $7,500 for the gelding, who was a windsucker and had injured a coronet on a fence when only a weanling. Despite his best efforts with a number of prospective clients, Murphy couldn’t find anybody to take the horse. Of course, at this juncture in history, the wonder of Sir Tristram had not yet been revealed.
And then in late May 1980 one of the trainer’s longest-serving clients, Andrew Ramsden, a future chairman of the V.R.C., telephoned seeking a horse for a syndicate that he and his friend Tom Borthwick were organising on behalf of forty members of the Australia Club in Melbourne. Ramsden had enjoyed an interest in a number of successful horses down through the years with Murphy including Diocletian, Fair Sentence, Royal Guardsman and Andros. Murphy mentioned the Taiona yearling by Sir Tristram that he had on his hands and Ramsden agreed to take him on behalf of the syndicate. When a couple of weeks later Sovereign Red landed some big bets winning on debut over 1000-metres at Flemington, Ramsden and Co. felt rather pleased with themselves. Siblings don’t always share a common ability and the whole subject of heredity remains an entrancing mystery, but better to be a brother to a winner than a loser! Ramsden and his clubbable friends proposed to register their newly acquired colt after the name of the lane that ran between Collins St and Little Collins St at the rear of their Australia Club.
When Gurner’s Lane ran second to his stablemate Platan over 1000-metres at Moonee Valley at his first start in mid-February, the Australia Club members suspected that they were in for some fun over the next couple of seasons, all going well. Just how much fun, admixed with not a little frustration, they could never have guessed. Gurner’s Lane provided Murphy with more headaches than enough during that first season, with niggling physical problems seeing the horse entered for races only to be scratched on the day. However, after a couple of more public outings at Sandown and Caulfield in May, Gurner’s Lane had shown Murphy enough to convince him that he was a worthy travelling companion for his older brother as part of the trainer’s team for the Brisbane winter carnival. The horses were kept at Southport where Murphy had newly built stables, Paradise Lodge, run by his son, Barry.
While Sovereign Red duly delivered the B.A.T.C. Rothman’s “100,000”, Gurner’s Lane paid the expenses by coming with a late run to land the Q.T.C. Ross Stakes (1400 metres) at Eagle Farm on the last Saturday in June with 52 kg. As satisfying as that victory proved to the man in the saddle that day, Mick Dittman could never have guessed that just over sixteen months later, Gurner’s Lane would deliver him the best first Tuesday in November of his life. Such, then, were the first-season stirrings of Gurner’s Lane on a racecourse, the horse who would go on to become just the seventh horse to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cups double and the first since Galilee in 1966. I might add that seven weeks after Gurner’s Lane had broken his maiden, his dam Taiona was named joint-winner of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Broodmare of the Year Award with just two foals racing. She shared the award with the Mellay mare, The Pixie, and it was the first time in its history that joint winners had been declared. After a brief spell in the Queensland sunshine, Gurner’s Lane was soon back in his Caulfield box being readied for a spring campaign aimed fairly and squarely at emulating his older brother’s achievements in the classics of the previous spring.
Rose Of Kingston resumed from her winter layoff on the first Saturday in September with an unplaced run behind the imminent Caulfield Cup winner, Silver Bounty, in the weight-for-age Memsie Stakes at Caulfield. Willetts remained persona non grata at Hoysted’s Epsom stables and Dale Short warmed the saddle upon Rosie’s resumption. A week later and ridden by the Tasmanian, Max Baker, she caused an upset by coming from well back in a tightly-packed field to win the Ascot Vale Stakes at Flemington running away, relegating Copperama and Fire Thunder into the minor placings. In betting the filly had blown out from 14/1 to 20/1 because many doubted that she would have the speed to defeat the field of crack colts. After the event, David Hains confessed that he hadn’t ruled out a start in the Victoria Derby. Rose Of Kingston then ran a succession of thirds over 1600 metres in each of the Moonee Valley Stakes, Caulfield Guineas and One Thousand Guineas to get her ready for stepping up in distance and by now a confirmed assault on the Victoria Derby – Oaks double. In going for the Victoria Derby, Bob Hoysted was hoping that his filly, who would enjoy a 2.5 kg concession from the colts, could become the first of her sex to win the race since Frances Tressady did so in 1923.
In contrast to the dazzling but unlucky performances of Rose Of Kingston going into that Victoria Derby, the form of Gurner’s Lane going into the same race was distinctly pedestrian. The gelding had resumed on Show Day in late September over 1200 metres at Caulfield and finished unplaced in the Spring Stakes. Nine days later over the same trip at Flemington, he again ran poorly. Gurner’s Lane then failed to show up in the Caulfield Guineas and in his final public appearance before the Victoria Derby, he could only run a moderate fifth behind Birchwood in the Geelong Derby Trial Stakes (2200 metres). Such was his lacklustre form that Gurner’s Lane went to the post in the hands of jockey Gary Willetts at 50/1 for the Derby, or ten times the price available about Rosie. Geoff Murphy knew that he was a much better horse than his public form disclosed but throughout the spring campaign the gelding had been plagued by back trouble. Andrew Ramsden, who managed the Gurner’s Lane syndicate, had been born on Victoria Derby Day in 1934 and hoped that might have been a favourable omen. Alas, it wasn’t.
A capacity field of eighteen horses started for that Victoria Derby with Brewery Boy the 3/1 favourite on the strength of his five-length win in the $50,000 South Australian Derby before H. M. The Queen, and his sound fourth in the Caulfield Cup. Binbinga, the Caulfield Guineas’ winner was the second elect. Rose Of Kingston, with Brent Thomson renewing his acquaintance with the filly for the first time since their minor placing in the Golden Slipper Stakes, was on the third line of betting. Both Brewery Boy and Rosie had been well served by the barrier draw, starting from gates one and six respectively. Wayne Treloar gave the T. J. Smith-trained Brewery Boy the perfect passage from his inside stall and in the event ran out an easy winner by two lengths from Birchwood, with the heavily backed Binbinga three lengths away third. Rose Of Kingston ran fifth while Gurner’s Lane could only run a lacklustre twelfth. A colt by Lorenzaccio from the Latin Lover mare, Amatrice, Brewery Boy had been bred by T. J. Smith in association with the late brewery magnate, Bud Straub. It was the popular Treloar’s first Derby winner.
Alas, for Rose Of Kingston, the Victoria Derby wasn’t one of Brent Thomson’s best rides, and the filly lost her chance when the pace slackened coming towards the turn at the 800-metres and she clipped the heels of Binbinga. Thomson never rode her again. While Brewery Boy returned to the enclosure in glory, Rosie returned with a few superficial cuts and nicks on her hindquarters. And while the irrepressible Smith lost no time in declaring that Brewery Boy would be taken to Perth for the so-called West Australian triple crown, Bob Hoysted was concerned whether or not he could get Rosie fit for a more immediate engagement in the $125,000 V.R.C. Oaks on the following Thursday. But he did. Partnered by Roy Higgins for the first time and starting a warm 13/8 favourite in the V.R.C. Oaks, Rosie won with something in hand from the outsider Queen’s Road and the One Thousand Guineas’ winner Copperama. Upon dismounting from the filly, Higgins, who had just won the venerable fillies’ classic for the fifth time, told the waiting pressmen that in both temperament and action Rosie bore an uncanny resemblance to his favourite race mare, Light Fingers.
Now, most winners of the V.R.C. Oaks could expect to enjoy an extended break in a paddock over summer, but David Hains and Bob Hoysted had other ideas. The S.A.J.C. had introduced a new race called the Australasian Oaks to be worth $130,000 over 2000 metres and its inaugural running was to be at Morphettville on 10 February 1982. Rosie was guaranteed a ballot-free entry. And so, after an all too brief spell, the chestnut filly resumed, winning the V.R.C. Tauto Handicap in mid-January over 1400 metres with Gary Willetts returning to the saddle. The rapprochement between trainer and jockey had only been affected because of the intervention of David Hains, who threatened to remove his horses and transfer them to Tommy Smith if the two men didn’t sort out their differences. Considering all that was to come for David Hains with Rosie and beyond, it was just as well they did!
Accordingly, it was all sweetness and light as the merry party went off to Morphettville. As a tune-up, the daughter of Kingston Rose first won the S.A.J.C. Queen of the South Stakes over 1600 metres giving weight all around in the thirteen-strong field. Four days later came the Australasian Oaks and in a distinguished field, Rosie scored a thrilling last-stride victory after appearing to be in a hopeless position at the top of the straight. Gary Willetts was seen at his best as he weaved his way between runners and then dived back to the inside rail on the line to win by a short half-head from Voli Dream and Copperama. So close was the finish that there was a three-minute delay before Rose Of Kingston’s number was semaphored. The next stop was Canterbury and the Guineas. I might mention here that David Hains possessed a handy second string filly to Rose Of Kingston that same season in Salire. By the French stallion Realgar, out of the Italian mare Ursula Lauderdale, who had also produced Lowan Star, Salire too, was trained by Bob Hoysted. On the first day of the season, she had won the V.A.T.C. Elsternwick Stakes and three days after Rose Of Kingston had won the Australasian Oaks, Salire won the V.R.C. Fentona Handicap as well. Set for the classics, Salire however, never quite measured up in the top company.
Three days after Rose Of Kingston won the inaugural S.A.J.C. Australasian Oaks, the Sydney colt that hitherto was the focus of most media attention for the three-year-old Triple Crown resumed racing from his summer spell in the 1200-metres A.J.C. Royal Sovereign Stakes. In winning in a race record time of 1 minute 9.7 seconds, Best Western took his career earnings to $281,015 and made it 7 wins in 8 starts. Originally trained by Neville Begg at Randwick, Best Western was something of a shooting star in his first season. He had made his racecourse debut just over a year earlier at Rosehill in a 1200-metre handicap for two-year-old colts and geldings on the last day of January 1981. He won by a couple of lengths from Calm Joe and Appleseed Jack in a six-horse field. Four weeks later the chestnut stepped out over the same course and distance to win again – this time by five lengths in a field of sixteen. Within a matter of days, breathtaking bids from competing stud-masters were being offered for a piece of the action about this new wonder colt and his potential as a stallion. The Best Western circus had come to town! Bred and initially raced solely by the Junee grazier Eugene Maloney, Best Western was from the third crop of the sensational Bletchingly, while his dam, Grease Paint, a poorly performed race mare by Raimondo, nonetheless hailed from a good-producing family and was herself a half-sister to the 1976 A.J.C. Expressway Stakes winner, Avellino.
Much of the buyers’ attraction to Best Western derived from his sire Bletchingly and his extraordinary first-season son Kingston Town, who was busy re-writing the record books. During the same week that Best Western was being sold, one share in Bletchingly was on the market at $105,000 and two at $110,000 each. Moreover, it came on top of a dizzying escalation in recent yearling and stallion prices that saw the good sprinter Elounda Bay change hands for $900,000 and the Ingham brothers knock back an offer of $1.5 million for their two-year-old, Crown Jester. When it came to Best Western, in the end, John Kelly from Newhaven Park bowed out and Best Western was sold to a syndicate whose principals were John Singleton and Gerry Harvey of advertising and retailing fame. The colt was eventually syndicated into 44 shares for $748,000 or $17,000 per share with Eugene Maloney retaining a majority 25% holding.
The real cost of the sale insofar as the general sporting public was concerned was that Best Western never raced again as a two-year-old and was subject to just a handful of carefully handpicked races against his own age group as a three-year-old when trained by Bart Cummings. There never was any gunfight at the O.K. Corral for this Best Western, who was missing in action whenever the big guns such as Full On Aces and Rose of Kingston came to town, and he certainly never ventured out of town to meet them. Indeed, the Royal Sovereign Stakes proved to be Best Western’s last start and he was retired to Gerry Harvey’s Broombee Stud at Armidale after slightly injuring his tendon during Randwick trackwork a few days later. Sadly, it was a sign of the times and it was to become an all too familiar pattern of behaviour in the years ahead. Commercial breeders were slowly taking over the game, snapping up promising well-bred young colts and retiring them to stud early, lest their reputations be sullied on the racecourse. Of course, one can’t blame hard-nosed businessmen for protecting their investments, but the Australian Turf became so much the poorer for it. Tongue in cheek (at least, I hope so), Tony Arrold later included Best Western in his book “More Champions”, which together with his earlier “Champions” was supposed to be a compilation of over 140 “of some of the more outstanding thoroughbreds seen in competition in over a century of racing in Australia.” Best Western? Really?
Yet another colt that the A.J.C. Derby aspirants didn’t have to worry about was Brewery Boy. After that horse’s win in the Victorian blue riband, the irrepressible Smith immediately announced that Brewery Boy would be taken to Perth for the so-called West Australian triple crown of the $100,000 West Australian Derby, $50,000 Western Mail Classic and the $250,000 Australian Derby. A $250,000 bonus awaited any horse that could win all three. Alas for Tommy, Brewery Boy pulled up lame after racing erratically and finishing only third as the 8/11 favourite in the first of the treble just a fortnight after winning the Victoria Derby. After an inglorious failure in the Western Mail Classic, Brewery Boy was a scratching from the Australian Derby because of a weakness in his forelegs. By way of contrast, Gurner’s Lane kicked off his autumn campaign with a good first-up third to Getting Closer over 1600 metres at Moonee Valley in early February. On the last Saturday of the same month, he followed it up with a scrambling win at a good price over the 2000 metres at Caulfield against his own age group in the V.A.T.C. Stanley Plate, a race that Murphy often targetted. Although he only fell in to beat Enquentro and Dry Wine, with Mick Goreham in the saddle, it was enough for Murphy to set him for Sydney.
Rose Of Kingston was a tough filly and her trip to Morphettville hadn’t been without its moments. Two hard races in the enervating Adelaide heat, followed by the journey home had taxed her, but Hoysted freshened her up beautifully for the trip to Sydney. Stabled at Rosehill, which Hoysted preferred to the bustle of Randwick and the poor condition of its training tracks, Rose Of Kingston’s lead-up to the Derby consisted of the Canterbury Guineas, Rosehill Guineas and the weight-for-age Tancred Stakes against the older horses. A big filly, she always seemed to be better balanced on right-handed courses. However, first-up at Canterbury, she was all at sea on the tight and tricky turning track and despite being superficially cut up about the hind legs by Bourke’s Law upon going out of the straight the first time, still managed to run a gallant second to Rare Form in the $75,000 race.
A fortnight later in the $125,000 Rosehill Guineas on the slow ground, Rose Of Kingston was outstayed by Isle Of Man, going under by a half neck, with a long neck to Galleon in the minor placing. Rosie might have been slightly underdone for that race as the wet tracks in Sydney had restricted her training in a manner that hadn’t interfered with the winner, who was being prepared out of town. Seven days later in her final race before the Derby, Rose Of Kingston finished an impressive third, beaten two lengths, behind the older horses, Prince Majestic and Allez Bijou, in the $200,000 S.T.C. Tancred Stakes over the 2400 metres after appearing a winning chance at the hundred on the firm ground. She would go into the A.J.C. Derby as the highest stakes-winning filly or mare in Australian racing history.
Fifteen horses accepted for the A.J.C. Derby and Rose Of Kingston shared favouritism at 3/1 with the New Zealand colt, Isle of Man. A sixteen hands bay by the Habitat horse Habitation, out of the Trictrac mare Full O’ Tricks, Isle Of Man was trained by 30-year-old Davina Waddell on an isolated beach at Muriwai on New Zealand’s west coast, just north of Auckland. Davina had only received her owner-trainer licence some eighteen months before and had been given a half-share in Isle Of Man in exchange for training him. The other half-share was held by Ron Langford, whose wife, Val, had bred the horse. Catalogued for the Waikato Sales, the colt had been withdrawn at the last moment. Davina, a former show rider and amateur jockey, had been riding trackwork for the Langfords ever since she had been a schoolgirl. It wasn’t until Isle Of Man won the New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie on Boxing Day, 1981, that Davina felt confident enough to submit her notice and resign from her full-time job as a cashier clerk at the Rodney County Council, although her husband, Steve, a computer programmer, at least, still guaranteed a regular household income. In winning the New Zealand Derby, Isle Of Man covered the 2400 metres in 2 minutes 28.89, slicing 0.3 of a second from Mansingh’s race record. Still, it was only when Isle Of Man won the Wellington Derby after previously throwing his rider Bob Vance and galloping 400 metres before the start, that Davina Waddell resolved to chance her hand in Australia and bring her putative champion across the Tasman.
Consistent with the beach training in New Zealand to which the colt was accustomed, Davina Waddell stabled Isle Of Man not at Randwick or Rosehill, but at Shoalhaven Heads, near the Seven Mile Beach at Gerroa on the N.S.W. South Coast where the legendary reinsman Kevin Robinson prepared his team for astute betting coups. Like Robinson, Waddell understood the therapy of beach training and generally worked her charge in a straight line an hour before low tide and an hour afterwards when the sand was firm yet soft. In winning the Rosehill Guineas, Isle Of Man had become the first New Zealand-trained-and-bred horse to do so since Nigger Minstrel took the race in 1924. Isle of Man had rounded off his Derby preparation 48 hours before the race with a hard gallop over 1400 metres on the beach on Saturday morning.
For those enterprising journalists seeking a romantic tale of struggling trainer meets classic racehorse, the possibilities in the A.J.C. Derby were not exhausted by the charming Davina Waddell and Isle Of Man. The third favourite for the race, Binbinga, offered even greater scope. A gelded and plain-looking son of the undistinguished American stallion Round And Bold, he was out of a Better Boy mare who never won a race when prepared by D. H. Smerdon. Binbinga had cost the battling septuagenarian trainer Roy Quan just $1,000 as a yearling. Quan, a former jockey, taxi driver and odd-job man raced Binbinga in partnership with his son, Frank, and the gelding was just one of three horses he had in work at Flemington. When Quan accepted with Binbinga for the Caulfield Guineas in the spring, it seemed to remind many sportsmen of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. But Quan had the last laugh when his 15/1 gelding upset a good field in the hands of Peter Cook. Since then, Binbinga had been placed in the W. S. Cox Plate, Victoria Derby and West Australian Derby and had won the S.T.C. Tulloch Stakes when he relegated Gurner’s Lane and Rare Form into the minor placings. Accordingly, our $1,000 yearling had already returned Roy and Frank Quan some $190,025 in stakes going into the A.J.C. Derby.
Sharing the fourth line in Derby betting at 8/1 was Gurner’s Lane. While the son of Sir Tristram, had only plodded to finish tenth in the Canterbury Guineas and seventh in the Rosehill Guineas, it was his powerful but unlucky finish for second behind Binbinga in the S.T.C. Tulloch Stakes that had promoted his Derby prospects. As Murphy legged Neville Voigt into the saddle, he thought to himself as far as the A.J.C. Derby was concerned: “It’s now or never.” And he was right. Following the scratching of Lancelotto, the T. J. Smith stable had two Derby runners, Our Planet and Lordship. Neither appealed as strong chances. Our Planet was a homebred owned by John Foyster and was by the Foyster family’s stallion, Planet Kingdom, out of their former top race mare Gypsy Moss, runner-up in a Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap and winner of a Queensland Tattersall’s Cup. As such Our Planet was a full brother to the former good galloper, Gypsy Kingdom. Lordship was a bay colt by the 1976 French Two Thousand Guineas winner, Red Lord, and was part-owned by Tommy Smith and Brian Freyer together with Lady Fisher. In the previous spring, Lordship had shown promise by winning the V.A.T.C. Norman Robinson Stakes. Alas, both Our Planet and Lordship had poor recent form having been outclassed in both the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas.
Another interesting galloper in the classic was the powerfully-built gelding, Rare Form, attempting to achieve what his sire Bogan Road had failed to do back in 1962. Rare Form was only the second A.J.C. Derby candidate saddled by trainer Brian Mayfield-Smith on behalf of Millie Fox, following upon Brindisi in 1980. An unlucky third behind Best Western and Brewery Boy in the A.J.C. Spring Champion Stakes, Rare Form went into the Derby with mixed form. Early in his campaign, he had won both the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes and the S.T.C. Canterbury Guineas, coming with a storming run from the rear of the field in the latter race to win running away from Rose of Kingston to set a new race record of 1 minute 57.2 seconds for the 1900 metres. However, after the sacking of his usual jockey, John Duggan, at his two most recent appearances, each at Rosehill, Rare Form had failed when the race favourite. In the S.T.C. Rosehill Guineas, he had finished last after refusing to settle for his first-time jockey Bob Skelton. And then at odds-on in the S.T.C. Tulloch Stakes, Rare Form had pulled hard in the hands of another first-time rider in Larry Olsen to finish only third behind Binbinga and Gurner’s Lane. Brian Mayfield-Smith, while harbouring doubts about Rare Form’s capacity to stay the Derby trip, given his breeding, believed he would be much better suited by the wider stretches of Randwick. Rare Form was destined to create a major upset at Randwick in 1982 against a hot favourite carrying the David Hains’ colours, but it wasn’t to be on Derby Day.
Rarely has the trainer of any A.J.C. Derby favourite, gone into the race in a more confident frame of mind than Bob Hoysted did that year. While he respected Isle Of Man as the main danger, the usually discreet and circumspect horseman told David Hains and anyone else who was prepared to listen: “Everything is just perfect. The weather is right, the track is right and she is right. This is her race. I can see her dictating the Derby just as she did when she won the V.R.C. Oaks last spring.” While Rosie was only enjoying a 1 kg advantage from the colts, Hoysted wasn’t in the least bothered by the supposed hoodoo on fillies in the classic. In the birdcage on the big day itself, Rosie moved around with the fine air of unstudied elegance. So, too, did her jockey Gary Willetts, who knew he enjoyed the advantage of being drawn in 3 while Isle of Man and Gurner’s Lane were out in gates 15 and 13 respectively. Rare Form occupied the rails with Binbinga in 2 while Our Planet was the widest drawn runner of them all.
Willetts fulfilled his part of the bargain with consummate skill, for he rode the perfect race. Fifth on settling, and seventh from the 1600-metres to the home turn, Rose Of Kingston was always travelling sweetly. Around the home turn and Willetts eased the filly to the outside. No-fuss, no abrupt movement. Willetts then gunned her engine soon after straightening to launch his challenge four wide with nothing but clear air and fast ground ahead of him. Rosie was a horse inclined to loaf if she hit the front too soon but Willetts continued to drive her hard with the whip to ensure that she never slackened, even after sweeping past the leaders with barely a sideways glance at the 200-metres post. She went on to win by one-and-a-quarter lengths from Our Planet, with one-and-a-half lengths further to Gurner’s Lane, who came home strongly to take the minor placing having played truant near the rear of the field. The most colourful call of the race undoubtedly belonged to Des Hoysted, Bob’s cousin on 2UE. Des almost blew a gasket when Bob ran fourth in the 1979 Melbourne Cup with Hauberk, but Rose Of Kingston’s Derby was something else. All that his 2UE listeners heard in that final furlong was Des yelling: “Go, Rosie! Go, Rosie!” The Hoysteds were nothing if not a loyal clan! Perhaps the only real hard luck story to emerge from the race was Isle Of Man, who suffered at least four severe checks before finishing ninth. Peter Cook later told the stewards: “He ran into so much trouble that it knocked the stuffing out of him.”
Most Derby-winning jockeys spend their childhood years riding ponies; few arrive having never sat on a horse prior to their apprenticeship. And yet the latter was true of Gary Willetts. Born in 1943, he grew up in the city of Auckland but from an early age would attend the races with his parents at Ellerslie and Avondale. The colour and magic of the racecourse transported him as a child and all he ever wanted to become was a jockey. Even before he was eligible to be apprenticed, Willetts worked during his school holidays at the Takanini stables of the veteran Fred Smith, the greatest New Zealand trainer of classic winners since Dick Mason. Willetts was apprenticed to Smith for five years although he always attributed the leading Matamata trainer Bill Ford later with having a more significant influence on his career. Willetts was first attracted to Matamata because of a certain young lady, Raewyn, the daughter of Terry Alcock who trained out of Banks Road. Ford wanted Willetts as his stable jockey but the latter demurred, observing: “There’s a lot of jockeys in Matamata.” Bill Ford countered: “Son, you come here and you’ll be eating duck and they’ll be eating feathers!”
Bill Ford was right. Gary Willetts settled in Matamata after marrying Raewyn in 1965 and they were to eat duck for the rest of their lives. The couple bought a farm there, where their two daughters, Tracy and Louise, were born. It was at Matamata that Willetts first befriended the Morrinsville farmer Tim Douglas which led to him gaining the mount on that champion veteran galloper, Battle Heights. When Douglas brought the six-year-old brown gelding to Randwick for the 1974 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Willetts came along for the ride winning both the Sydney Cup and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Ironically, Willetts very nearly turned the opportunity down as he was in the running to win the New Zealand jockeys’ premiership at the time and he had never been the leading rider. It was the great Bill Skelton who told him to forget all about premierships. “Go to Australia, ride a champion, and get the cash,” was Bill’s hard-bitten advice. I might add that it was during that first visit to Randwick that Willetts first made the acquaintance of Bob Hoysted, who engaged the jockey to ride a fast two-year-old named Scamanda in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. Alas, the race was postponed because of a heavy track and Scamanda was ultimately scratched. Nonetheless, Hoysted and Willetts had struck up a friendship that was destined to be renewed later in more rewarding circumstances.
Both Battle Heights and Gary Willetts returned again in the spring of 1974 to win the W. S. Cox Plate at their first appearance in Melbourne. Such was Willetts’s success in Australia that in the spring of 1975 he relocated to Melbourne on a two-month trial. His sheer professionalism and work ethic soon saw him securing rides from our leading trainers including Bart Cummings, Colin Hayes and George Hanlon. In the space of a couple of weeks he won the Moonee Valley Cup for Bart on Holiday Waggon; the Wakeful Stakes for Colin on How Now; and the Flemington Stakes for George on Family Of Man. Oh! And presaging a wonderful partnership not without its moments, the Linlithgow Stakes for Bob Hoysted on Scamanda! At the end of that V.R.C. Spring Meeting, Willetts telephoned his wife Raewyn in Matamata and instructed her to lease the farm forthwith, pack her things, grab the girls and come on over! Henceforth, Melbourne was to be their home city, albeit with regular trips back to New Zealand. Indeed, Willetts was one of the first of the top New Zealand jockeys to migrate to Australia in the 1970s and he was soon to be followed by Midge Didham, Bob Skelton, Brian Andrews and a young Brent Thomson.
When it came to Rose Of Kingston, Gary Willetts fell in love the very first morning that he rode her in trackwork. He marvelled at her big stride and delightful temperament. “I’d come home and talk about Rosie – I think Raewyn thought that I was having an affair with someone,” says Willetts. In a sense, he was. It was a shame that he and Bob Hoysted ever had that falling out in the autumn of 1981, as I’m convinced that Rose Of Kingston’s record would have been even better with her regular jockey imparting discipline down the reins instead of the succession of riders that dallied with her during much of that calendar year. Certainly, Gary Willetts was the right choice of a jockey at Randwick, a racecourse on which he enjoyed far more success than most Melbourne-based jockeys. Apart from his ground-breaking wins on Battle Heights there, Willetts back in 1979 had also won the A.J.C. Oaks on Valley Of Georgia (33/1) for trainer Pat Courtney and The A.J.C. Metropolitan on Earthquake McGoon (40/1) for trainer Geoff Murphy, in successive rides on the course, some six months apart!
Accosted by well-wishers as he awaited the official A.J.C. Derby presentation, Bob Hoysted was modest about his achievements with the champion. “This filly is so relaxed that she is a delight to train. Anyone could train her to be a great racehorse.” David Hains was keen to miss the A.J.C. Oaks and instead start Rosie in the $150,000 Sydney Cup to be run the following Saturday, depending upon how the filly pulled up. After all, three-year-olds had won the past three Sydney Cups and he would have loved his latest champion to emulate Kingston Town’s achievement as a three-year-old two years earlier. While Rose Of Kingston was handicapped at 49.5 kg for the 3200-metres event, she now automatically incurred weight-for-age, taking her handicap to 51.5 kg. Hains wasn’t going to be around to watch his champion in the Sydney Cup as he was flying out to England on business the day after the Derby. In Rosie’s absence, the A.J.C. Oaks, run two days after the Derby, fell to the Bart Cummings-trained Sheraco, a stylish chestnut daughter of Lord Dudley, who was in cracking form during that Sydney autumn. Yet as good as Sheraco was, few doubted that, but for the priority of the Sydney Cup, the Oaks would have been there for the taking by Rosie.
It was just as well that David Hains didn’t delay his flight on account of the Sydney Cup because as events transpired, Rosie never did take her place in the field. Alas, the champion filly collided with a motorcycle on her way to her final gallop at Rosehill on the Thursday morning before the race. The accident happened at the traffic lights on James Ruse Drive. Although she escaped serious injury, stitches were required in some rather deep wounds in her off fore and hind legs. And so, the A.J.C. Autumn Carnival that promised so much ended in a dispiriting ennui for Hoysted and the Hains family as our Derby heroine returned to the arcadian splendour of Kingston Park to regain her strength for the spring. Rose Of Kingston’s season might have been over, but Gurner’s Lane was yet to peak. While the gelding was still immature and backward and not quite 16-hands – Murphy still likened him to a foal – the trainer could sense the gathering strength within.
Twelve days after the Derby, Gurner’s Lane displayed real stamina to outstay the Derby runner-up Our Planet in the A.J.C. St Leger over the 2800 metres at Randwick with Neville Voigt in the saddle. The winning margin might have only been a long neck with a further length and a quarter to Mr Digby, but the manner of the victory revealed the wiry gelding was the genuine staying article. Murphy rushed the chestnut back to Melbourne and the following Saturday Gurner’s Lane, with Mick Gorham warming the saddle, emulated Shogun’s efforts of two years earlier by taking out both the A.J.C. and V.R.C. St Legers, and in doing so defeating yet another Smith-trained galloper in King Arthur. Yes, the company might only have been moderate but the style was emphatic. Murphy then transported the son of Sir Tristram to Southport as part of his Brisbane winter team of gallopers. But unlike the previous year, Gurner’s Lane wasn’t going there to race.
Rather, the horse was travelling north to mature in the Queensland sunshine as Geoff Murphy made plans for the spring. The truth was that the canny Caulfield trainer had finally come close to solving the back problem that had blighted the gelding’s career. Hitherto, the horse had been treated by chiropractors and had endured acupuncture but much to no avail. Murphy was now treating him with a therapy machine and the results seemed promising, particularly when supplemented by the tennis ball treatment for bruised and displaced muscles administered by Albert and Alf Mottram, the father and son Sydney based chiropractors. Perhaps Gurner’s Lane might be as good as his older brother after all, not as brilliant as Sovereign Red certainly, but seemingly possessed of greater stamina. And not having won Derbies, Murphy hoped this second son of Taiona might sneak into the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups with no more than 53 kg. Or so he began to dream.
Considering all that had gone before, the respective fates of Rose Of Kingston and Gurner’s Lane as four-year-olds could not have been more different. Nor the achievements of their respective trainers during that same season. Bob Hoysted and Geoff Murphy was each firmly convinced that in the mare and the gelding their stables respectively sheltered the potential Caulfield and/or Melbourne Cup winner. Unfortunately, Rose Of Kingston was destined to race only four more times and while all those starts came during the spring of her four-year-old season, none were in the major Cups. She returned to Hoysted’s stable from Kingston Park a much bigger and stronger mare. Unplaced in the J. J. Liston Stakes upon resuming at Sandown in late August, Rosie then stepped out to win the V.R.C. Craiglee Stakes, run second in the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield, and then again over the same course and distance, take out the Coongy Handicap by narrowly beating her stablemate Lady Ice.
By the time the Coongy had come around, David Hains, much to the chagrin of Hoysted, had his sights set not on the Cups but the W. S. Cox Plate and V.R.C. George Adams Handicap instead, to be followed by the Japan Cup. After all, Hains had a generously-weighted Kingston Town to represent him in the Melbourne Cup whereas to win the race with 53 kg, Rosie would have had to set a weight-carrying record for a mare. Hoysted, who had trained both Midlander and Love Bandit to run minor placings in the Melbourne Cup, had been rather hoping that Rosie would offer redemption at last in Australia’s most famous race. Unfortunately, any debate over a future program proved academic for in winning the Coongy the champion mare had suffered a bad injury to her off-fore joint, which Willetts felt go as she swung around the Caulfield home turn. Subsequently, the injury failed to respond to magnetic treatment and Rose Of Kingston’s retirement was announced even before the V.R.C. Spring Meeting had ended.
While Bob Hoysted had endured a Melbourne spring that he would rather forget, Geoff Murphy on the other hand enjoyed one that he’d always remember. Gurner’s Lane’s path to the Cups began in Sydney where he was stabled at Randwick. First up, came the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes in late August in which he ran seventh at 100/1 in a ten-horse field behind the 4/7 favourite Kingston Town, who also resumed racing that day. Next came the infamous Chelmsford Stakes (1800 metres) at Randwick a fortnight later in which Kingston Town’s unbeaten sequence of wins on Sydney racecourses came to an inglorious end. While The King finished a distant fourth after Malcolm Johnston got trapped in a pocket, Gurner’s Lane (66/1) under Neville Voigt, ran a strong second, beaten one-and-a-half lengths by Rare Form. Geoff Murphy then took the son of Sir Tristram north to claim the $54,500 first prize in the N.J.C. Newcastle Gold Cup as the 2/1 favourite, winning by a half-length from Port Carling in a fifteen-horse field. It was Murphy’s first feature Cup of the spring but it certainly wouldn’t be his last!
Gurner’s Lane, as we shall see, would clash with Port Carling in more sensational circumstances later in the spring. After finishing in the minor placing in the Listed A.J.C. Colin Stephen Handicap, Murphy opted to start the gelding in The A.J.C. Metropolitan in which he was weighted at 55 kg. Again, ridden by his usual Sydney jockey, Neville Voigt, Gurner’s Lane came from well back on the home turn to finish a nice fourth in the race won by the Colin Alderson-trained Nicholas John. One studious on-looker at Randwick on that Monday was Jim Bowler, the V.R.C. handicapper who confidently declared afterwards: “There was not a Melbourne Cup trial in the race with the winner, not an entry.” Geoff Murphy wasn’t so sure. Gurner’s Lane was just coming into his own and while still underdone, Murphy had never had the gelding going better. There was a lot to like about his Metropolitan run. Back to Melbourne, it was, and for Geoff Murphy, the best four weeks of his training life in what would prove to be a tour de force!
Murphy’s winning sequence kicked off when Grosvenor in the hands of Mick Dittman won the Caulfield Guineas and was followed seven days later by Gurner’s Lane and Brent Thomson ploughing through the mud to win the Caulfield Cup by five lengths. Prior to the Cup, some commentators questioned whether the son of Taiona would handle the mud. As Bert Lillye humorously put it post-race: “his win suggested the gelding was born in a swamp and reared on watercress”. Not only did Murphy win the Caulfield Cup but he took the quinella as well with Gala Mascot. Yet Murphy’s full flush of success wasn’t over. The following Saturday Grosvenor and Brendan Clements went under by just three-quarters of a length to Kingston Town in that famous third W. S. Cox Plate and a week later the colt won the Victoria Derby with Dittman back on board. Then came that famous Melbourne Cup when Gurner’s Lane, also in the hands of Dittman, managed to beat Kingston Town in a classic finish that had Tommy Smith and David Hains labouring under the strange delusion that they had actually won.
Murphy didn’t actually see Gurner’s Lane go past the post. He later said: “Tommy Smith and David Hains were jumping up and down in front of me and I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t know what was happening. Smith and Hains were congratulating each other and I thought Kingston Town had won. Then Gurner’s Lane’s number went into the frame. I went up to Tommy and said, ‘Sorry, Tom, but that makes up for the Cox Plate.” During 1982 Smith had trained the runner-up to Gurner’s Lane in each of the A.J.C. and V.R.C. St Legers, the Newcastle Cup and now the Melbourne Cup. For Murphy, that 1982 Melbourne Cup was the supreme hour of triumph, such as one cannot look for twice in a lifetime. There were numerous moments on Australian racecourses in the 1970s and 1980s when our “G. T.” was possessed of a swaggering insouciance after landing a nice touch in the ring. It often put me in mind of Mr Toad. The swagger was there on that Tuesday afternoon at Flemington too, along with a grin like a Cheshire cat. Yet, perhaps Murphy’s greatest challenge at that 1982 Cup Carnival only came when it was over. The normally garrulous Geoff had to undergo a minor throat operation in hospital and he was under strict doctor’s orders not to speak for at least a week afterwards!
A feature of Gurner’s Lane’s journey to his Cups’ triumphs had been the sheer number of top jockeys that had ridden the horse during his brief career viz. Brent Thomson, Mick Goreham, Mick Dittman, Gary Willetts and Neville Voigt. Both Goreham and Voigt had won St Legers on Gurner’s Lane and yet Thomson was the preferred jockey for the Caulfield Cup, and when he was unavailable for the Melbourne Cup because of his commitment to Triumphal March and Colin Hayes, Dittman, who had only ridden the horse once in that first victory at Eagle Farm, became the preferred rider. Perhaps it was just as well for it is hard to imagine any other jockey giving the horse a better or luckier ride. Napoleon Bonaparte when choosing his commanders reputedly asked: “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?” Something of the same spirit animated the superstitious Murphy at times when choosing jockeys and in Dittman on that first Tuesday in November, he got the luckiest jockey of them all! Mind you, it wasn’t all about luck. In squeezing for a run, Dittman caused serious interference to Port Carling, which saw the V.R.C. stewards out him until December 1st. As Dittman later confessed: “I did chop off Port Carling slightly, but when you see the winning post and the Cup is in your sights, it is not possible to think of everything.”
Geoff Murphy’s prickly relationship with jockeys is a fascinating subject. Their behaviour at times only confirmed his belief in the fallibility and self-interested nature of man. It was often said that Murphy’s bark was worse than his bite but there were a few riders who would have found that observation was somewhat unconvincing. When you rode for the Murphy stable, the last thing you worried about was long service leave. Nor did you pay much attention to the latest yearlings that Geoff had purchased at Newmarket or Trentham, for the chances were that you wouldn’t be around long enough to ride them. Fine jockeys like Mel Schumacher, W. A. Smith, Paul Jarman, Rod Dawkins, Alan Travena, Darby McCarthy, Brian Andrews, Mick Gorham, Peter Cook, Neville Voigt, Gary Willetts, Kevin Forrester, Darren Gauci and company came and went at a furious rate over the years. Indeed, Murphy seemed to quarrel first and last with every jockey he ever had both before and after major racing carnivals. When asked about his revolving door policy with jockeys and the cavalier fashion in which he dispensed with them, Murphy would snap: “I put my own money up and they don’t!” Nonetheless, from the very beginning, he liked to leg up the very best available as demonstrated by Mel Schumacher and George Moore riding Blue Era in the 1961 A.J.C. and Victoria Derbies respectively.
Murphy was quick to spot emerging jockey talent and take advantage of it, too. When the teenage sensation Darren Gauci first burst upon the Melbourne scene in 1983-84, it was Murphy who supplied much of the early horsepower. There were the famously explosive trainer/jockey disputes but also those moments when Murphy managed somehow to contain his anger and frustration. Who could ever forget Roy Higgins’ infamous ride on Hyperno in the 1978 Moonee Valley Cup? Hyperno was going to win the race for sure until Higgins dropped his hands nearing the line to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and thereby enable Clear Day to triumph. Higgins was subsequently suspended for ten city meetings but that didn’t compensate ‘G. T.’ for his losing wagers and lost prizemoney. Yet as Murphy remarked at the time: “It’s unbelievable. What’s the point of going crook?” Murphy asked. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” One would laugh, did not one cry.
The Caulfield trainer was similarly rueful and measured when Ron Quinton got snookered on the fence in the 1980 W. S. Cox Plate on Sovereign Red. The son of Sir Tristram just cantered down the last furlong and a half to the winning post at three-quarter pace with a hapless Quinton helpless. When Quinton brought the colt back to scale, Murphy just grimaced a little. But a couple of hours later and after the last, Murphy entered the jockeys’ room and presented Ron with a compass! Quinton self-deprecatingly retailed the story when he was the accomplished guest speaker at the 1984 Golden Slipper luncheon hosted by the Carbine Club of N.S.W. But the story had a twist. Seven days after that defeat, Sovereign Red stepped out at Flemington in the hands of Mick Gorham and won the Victoria Derby, as a subdued Quinton, without a mount, watched the classic from the jockeys’ room. Later that same afternoon, Quinton congratulated Murphy but couldn’t resist a parting quip: “It was just as well I gave the horse such a soft run in the Cox Plate!”
Some owners didn’t fare much better than jockeys with Murphy, although he always recognised on which side his bread was buttered. A loyal coterie of owners stuck with Murphy to the very end despite his occasional explosions. As he explained to Max Presnell: “Look, I tell them, ‘I’m yours between 9 a.m. and midday on Sunday. Come to the stables, see your horses, and pay your accounts. I will answer your queries, no matter how bloody stupid. But I don’t want any telephone calls, particularly at night. Nor do I want you turning up at the stable without an appointment. You wouldn’t expect me to bowl into your office at 10 a.m. on Monday when you’ve got an important board meeting.'” In writing the above, Max sanitised Murphy’s words. Few trainers in Australian Turf history could squeeze more profanities into a single sentence than Murphy when he was on the warpath. Andrew Ramsden was one owner to stay the course with Murphy longer than most others and he’d been there almost from the very beginning. I might mention in passing that Murphy even trained a few horses for David Hains, including that smart two-year-old Kingston Heritage.
There was no little irony in the fact that for all of the great three-year-olds Murphy had ever trained, it was with one of the less talented that as an older horse, he won the Melbourne Cup. In winning, Gurner’s Lane joined Poseidon, The Trump, Rivette, Rising Fast, Even Stevens and Galilee as the only gallopers up to that time to win the Caulfield – Melbourne Cup double. Gurner’s Lane’s post-Melbourne Cup career was largely undistinguished. Lameness and recurrent osteoarthritis saw to it that he never won another race, thereby joining a long list of Melbourne Cup winners condemned to a similar fate. Although twice he made comebacks after his racing days seemed over, the horse finally retired with a career record of 7 wins and 10 placings from 41 starts for $558,400 in stakes. Gurner’s Lane spent his last days on a Victorian country property before being put down at the Werribee Veterinary Clinic in February 1985 when complications developed after an operation for a twisted bowel. Regrettably, on the day following the gallant horse’s death, the Australian Club’s notice board blandly stated: “Gurner’s Lane is dead.” Not much emotion there.
While the Melbourne Cup with Gurner’s Lane was to be the apotheosis of Murphy’s career, there were still a number of high-class racehorses to come in the last decade of the trainer’s life. In 1984 he won the V.R.C. Australian Cup with Admiral Lincoln and his first S.A.J.C. South Australian Oaks with Neliska; in 1985 there was a Q.T.C. Queensland Derby with Tristina; in 1987 he won a second S.A.J.C. Oaks with Marmalitre and the V.A.T.C. Caulfield Guineas with Marwong; in 1989 came the last of his feature races with Triumphal Queen in the Q.T.C. Queensland Oaks. Sydney always did remain the city of his discontent and Randwick was the racecourse where, more than any other, the Murphy magic failed to cast its spell. Yes, he did win the A.J.C. Oaks there with Surround in 1977 and the A.J.C. Metropolitan with Earthquake McGoon in 1979, but the litany of beaten favourites he saddled up at headquarters told its own tale. I always thought it was a shame that the A.J.C. didn’t do more to accommodate a satellite stable for Murphy at Randwick as it did for Bart Cummings. Too often, Murphy experienced problems in finding sufficient stabling for the team that he wished to bring to Sydney.
Geoff Murphy was a fixture at Caulfield for more than forty years. He was in his element there at trackwork courting the early morning breezes and barking out orders across the course. He had a fund of both subtle and ribald humour and drollery that won a man over, although while such bon mots lighted the dawn scene among his fellow trainers, Murphy often used his wit to conceal rather than reveal. It was in 1992 and in ill health that Murphy finally vacated his Caulfield stables and the Freedman brothers moved in to use the stables as a supplement to their Flemington base. Death claimed Geoff Murphy at the age of sixty-six on Good Friday, April 9, 1993. In the last years of his life, blood circulation issues, rather than bookmakers, had forced the amputation of several of Murphy’s toes. Later there was to be heart bypass surgery as his health continued to decline. On that last Good Friday, Murphy underwent two futile operations, but this time, sadly, there was to be no rising from the dead. Caulfield and the wider Australian Turf were much the poorer for the passing of this colourful and entertaining horseman and raconteur.
Perhaps more than any other Melbourne trainer since World War II, Bob Hoysted acquired his champions relatively late in life when he may have thought that his best days were behind him. He was fifty-three when Manikato came along and another three years older whence came Rose of Kingston. While he never again trained any thoroughbred quite as good as that pair, a number of other top gallopers later passed through his stable gates including the Caulfield Cup winner Sydeston; the champion sprinter River Rough; the V.R.C. Oaks winner Spirit of Kingston; and the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes winners Aare and Love A Show. Those Blue Diamond victories by Aare (1980) and Love A Show (1983) at Caulfield were certainly memorable days for Bob Hoysted because Manikato afforded him the rare honour of taking the Futurity Stakes on those same two days as well. While all trainers love fast horses, not all trainers are necessarily horse-lovers. Bob was and it showed. He never stopped worrying about those thoroughbreds in his charge. A measure of his love for Rose Of Kingston was the fact that when she was leaving for the U.S.A., Bob Hoysted went to see her off!
But there was more to Bob Hoysted’s contribution to the Australian Turf than his training skills alone: he was a major player behind the Australian Trainers’ Association and served from 1985 to 1997 as its federal president working to get a fair deal from the industry for less successful trainers. Fittingly, Bob Hoysted was appointed a “Member of the Order of Australia” in 1993 for “services to racehorse training and the industrial welfare of trainers.” After retiring from the Turf in 1986, Hoysted relocated to the regional Victorian city of Castlemaine. He died there at the age of 88 on the 9th of May, 2014, survived by his loving wife Iris and his daughters Merilyn and Rhonda. His family’s famous racing colours of ‘red and black hoops, white cap’ he had passed on to his niece Margaret and her husband Ross MacDonald. The V.R.C. honours the memory of Bob Hoysted with the running of the Listed Bob Hoysted Stakes over 1000 metres at their annual autumn meeting.
After overseeing Kingston Town and Lowan Star foaled in the same 1976 season, David Hains soon became recognised as one of Australia’s premier thoroughbred breeders with his boutique Kingston Park Stud located at Merricks North on Victoria’s picturesque Mornington Peninsula. It was as far back as 1959 that David and Helen Hains had bought what was to become their famous farm, not far inland from Western Port Bay. It was originally a cattle property set amidst rolling hills and enjoying generous rainfall and was to prove Hains’s very own “valley of decision” when it came to making his move into bloodstock at Norman von Nida’s suggestion. Most of Australia’s famous studs, particularly those in the Hunter Valley, boast historic homesteads and pedigrees going back a hundred years. Kingston Park carries a modest, weatherboard farmhouse that might be mistaken for the gatehouse by any passer-by. “It is only a weekender, after all,” says Hains. A down-to-earth bolthole that was intended as a place to take the Hains’ children on weekends as they enjoyed their adolescence.
Rarely has any thoroughbred stud garnered a reputation for quality more quickly. Hains was fastidiously professional in his approach to his Kingston Park Stud. Having laid out this modern farm with the best of fencing, stabling and grasses, Hains, together with the revered veterinary surgeon Percy Sykes, formalised a complete operations policy for the place, articulating everything from hazards reduction to specific feeding programmes for the different classes of thoroughbreds residing there viz. stallions, broodmares, weanlings, yearlings and spelling racehorses. And in appointing Neville Pepper to manage the overall breeding operation he got the right man for the job. By the time Rose Of Kingston came along, there was already a sense that Australia alone couldn’t contain Hains’s vaulting bloodstock ambitions.
Just the year before his champion filly won the A.J.C. Derby, David Hains had signalled his international ambitions in thoroughbred breeding by purchasing a stud property in the heart of Bluegrass country, near Lexington, Kentucky, in the U.S.A. Formerly a tobacco and cattle property, this sister branch of Kingston Park with its black-railed fences and generous, native, shady she-oaks was situated close by Keeneland and historic Calumet Farm but wouldn’t be properly incorporated until August 1983. Remember, this was the age before the regular international shuttling of top European and American stallions to Australia and apart from just a few, Hains found the then-current supply of available Australian sires wanting. Accordingly, if the right match wasn’t to be found here, Hains reasoned, he must relocate his best broodmares to where such could be found. And that place was Kentucky. Apart from Rose Of Kingston, other of his best mares that he ultimately consigned to the Bluegrass country included Ada Hunter, Ursula Lauderdale, Salire, Spirit Of Kingston, and Kingston Rose.
The intention was to match them with the best stallions the northern hemisphere had to offer including Roberto, Secretariat, Green Dancer, Seattle Slew, Alydar, Nureyev, Secreto, Theatrical and Risen Star. Hains mated half of them to northern hemisphere time and half to Australian time. The former resulting progeny were offered at Keeneland and either sold or retained to race in Europe; while the latter were repatriated to be sold or raced in Australia. It all seemed like a good idea at the time. David Hains committed very few missteps either in business or bloodstock during his successful life but Kingston Park Inc. in Kentucky was to prove an expensive misadventure, albeit not without some compensations as we shall see. Some of the horses, bred to northern hemisphere time, proved successful of which the best example would be Mystiko. Foaled in 1988 and by Secreto from Caracciola, Mystiko, who was sold as a yearling at Keeneland, won the English Two Thousand Guineas in the green and brown colours of Lady Beaverbrook when trained by Clive Brittain.
By comparison, however, the Kentucky horses, bred to Australian time, proved unmitigated disasters. As individual specimens of the thoroughbred, they were prepossessing enough in the saddling paddock but failed to measure up to the demands of the racecourse itself. As David Hains admitted to the racing writer Les Carlyon: “They wouldn’t just perform ordinarily or run poorly, they would finish right down the track, second last or last. It stuffed up our broodmare band to some degree because we sent our best mares over there and in a sense destroyed their pedigrees.” There were probably two main reasons for this international failure. Firstly, there are difficulties in young horses acclimatising properly when moved to a different hemisphere. Hains’s American-bred gallopers often never settled here until they were rising four and by then the two and three-year-old classics were well and truly over. Secondly, some of the American and European stallion choices, seen retrospectively, seemed poor in that their subsequent progeny couldn’t handle the fast, hard ground in Australia, so different to the racing conditions pertaining in America and Europe where those same stallions had forged their reputations. A similar miscalculation would afflict many of those much-hyped European invaders that came in quest of our Melbourne Cup in the late 1980s and 1990s until their trainers wizened up and sent forth more suitable representatives.
Rose Of Kingston’s career as an international broodmare neatly demonstrates the dilemmas and challenges canvassed above. Within a matter of weeks after arriving in America and serving her thirty days of quarantine in Los Angeles, Rose Of Kingston was sent to the Gainesway Farm near Lexington to be mated with Green Dancer, a son of the English Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky. The match afforded access to the Northern Dancer line that David Hains so anxiously sought. The resulting foal was the colt Kingston Dancer, a failure both on the racecourse and in the stallion barn. I might say it was a nice touch by David Hains and Bob Hoysted that during her journey to America and her first season at stud, Rosie was cared for by the 21-year-old Steven McKinnon, who had been the mare’s strapper throughout her racing career. Indeed, McKinnon had worked for Bob Hoysted since leaving school and enjoyed a real affinity with horses.
During the years 1983 to 1991 while in America, Rosie would be mated with a succession of distinguished stallions and produce foals to Green Dancer, Secretariat, Alydar, Nureyev and Seattle Slew before she returned to her homeland. Only two of her foals in general, Superbid and Rose Of Portland, and one in particular, Kingston Rule, need concern us here. It was the latter foal resulting from her mating with the great Secretariat in 1985 that made her reputation as a broodmare but not in the manner initially envisaged by David Hains. A flashy and aristocratic chestnut with a white blaze on his face, complemented by two white stockings on his front legs, Kingston Rule was very nearly a copy of his famous sire. Born in Kentucky on March 18, 1986, the colt was retained by David Hains and sent to the Chantilly stables of the leading French trainer Patrick Biancone, who supervised a number of Hains’ northern hemisphere horses at the time.
Biancone struggled to get the son of Secretariat to the racecourse. As impressive as the colt’s international pedigree might have been, it was worthless in America or Europe if he lacked the racing credentials to back it up. Accordingly, Hains resolved to bring Kingston Rule to Australia to see if he could make it on the racecourse here, and if not, to serve as a stallion in a land where his bloodlines might be more truly valued. But first, he sent him to the Bowral-street stables of Tommy Smith who had achieved so much with Kingston Town. Kingston Rule’s Australian debut came on heavy ground at Warwick Farm on May 9, 1989, in a race over 1400 metres for three-year-old colts and geldings in which he was weighted on the limit and ridden by Neil Paine. In the betting ring, he eased from 20/1 to 60/1 before some specking saw him firm back into 40/1. Kingston Rule was never sighted in the race won by Ordained and failed to beat a runner home in finishing some 35 lengths in arrears. The performance, or rather the lack thereof, was reminiscent of Kingston Town’s debut at Canterbury just over ten years before. Smith’s blunt advice to Hains now, was the same as it was then: “Geld him!”
However, much had changed during that intervening decade. Australian bloodstock was now more highly valued and owners of particularly well-bred colts – and they didn’t come much better bred than this heavy-shouldered fellow – were far more reluctant to have recourse to the surgeon’s knife at a trainer’s capricious behest. Wisely, Hains, remembering the $100,000 fee for Secretariat’s services, decided upon a second opinion and transferred Kingston Rule to Bart Cummings. There was both a certain irony and symmetry at play in this transfer. After all, the colt’s maternal granddam had once been transferred from Cummings to Smith. Hains and Smith had different recollections of the conversation that led to the stable transfer of Kingston Rule. After the Warwick Farm debacle, Hains got the impression that Smith didn’t want to see the colt again if he wasn’t gelded. Much later, after Kingston Rule came good under Cummings, Smith was to tell people that Hains took the horse from him. Indeed, the magical transformation that the Cups’ King was able to effect upon this son of Secretariat was a wonder to behold.
Just 16 months after that fiasco on debut, Kingston Rule was to step out and win both the Moonee Valley Cup and the Melbourne Cup, the latter in a new race record time of 3 minutes 16.4 seconds! After the misfortune of Kingston Town’s defeat in the 1982 Cup by Gurner’s Lane and Rose Of Kingston’s failure to even make it to the starting gates for the race that year, David Hains now had his first Melbourne Cup. By way of contrast, Bart had secured his eighth! A bowed tendon the following autumn put an end to Kingston Rule’s racing career and hastened his retirement to stud. David Hains must have remained forever thankful that he never followed Tommy’s advice to geld Kingston Rule, for apart from his Melbourne Cup, the successful stallion later sired Kensington Palace, who won the 1997 V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes and Oaks Stakes for the famous owner of the Kingston Park Stud.
In 1993 David Hains moved to pull the plug on his Kingston Park Inc. in Kentucky and either sell or repatriate his American bloodstock. If the original justification for the venture was that it was the only means of gaining access to champion international stallion lines, it no longer held true as the shuttling of northern hemisphere sires to Australia gathered pace. Rose Of Kingston, together with her rising two-year-old daughter Rose Of Portland, by Seattle Slew, returned here in 1994. Apart from Kingston Rule, Rose Of Portland was the only other progeny of Rose Of Kingston to win a principal race, which she did on two occasions at Flemington in 1996 when she took out both the Group 3 Hardy Brothers Classic and the Listed Let’s Elope Stakes. Moreover, the Hains family had the satisfaction of racing Rose Of Portland in partnership with Norman von Nida. However, before I leave the subject of Rosie’s foals entirely, perhaps there is one other that I might mention in passing and that is Superbid, her 1987 foal by Alydar. Again, he was one of those colts bred to Australian time in Kentucky and brought across the water. Superbid’s significance and indeed his name derived from the dramatic manner of his ‘disposal’ as a yearling at the famous or rather infamous 1989 William Inglis Easter Sales.
It was Tuesday, 28 March, the opening day of those sales and the magnificent-looking Alydar colt was Lot No.177. Just moments after he entered the ring, from under the giant, spreading fig tree at Newmarket came Tommy Smith’s opening bid of a cool $1,000,000. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen there before. Yes, Tommy had tried to stop rival bidders in their tracks at past auctions with a bold opening gambit but nothing on this scale. It stunned the crowd into silence. No further bid was forthcoming and the gavel quickly fell. The stylish but skittish colt had come and gone in a minute. Smith afterwards declared: “I knew a lot of people wanted him so I tried to knock them over as quickly as I could. Alydar is a champion sire and this colt will develop into a magnificent stallion.” Curiously, the usually voluble Smith was unusually coy as to the identity of the mystery buyer on behalf of whom he had been acting. Perhaps some context is necessary here. Those Easter Yearling Sales proceeded to break every Australasian sales record that existed up to that time. The aggregate totalled $47,113,108 while the average per lot was a staggering $106,832, a massive 67% increase on the year before.
The first and hitherto only million-dollar yearling sold in this part of the world had been transacted at the same sales just the year before. In 1989 there were five such yearlings and David Hains’s Kingston Park Stud sold two of them. The other one was a colt by Biscay from Tommasina Fiesco, yet another of those classic Italian bred fillies imported by Hains and herself a granddaughter of Claude; he was knocked down to Bart Cummings for $1.5 million, the highest price realised at the sales. It was Cummings who had bought the most expensive colt of the year before as well, the non-performing Fortunino, by Bletchingly. Persistent leg problems had kept Fortunino away from the racecourse and twelve months on from his sale, he still hadn’t faced the starter. One thought that Bart might have learned his lesson. Kingston Park won the distinction of being the leading vendor at those 1989 Easter sales with their three lots averaging $933,333.
Bart Cummings bought no less than 42 lots that cost him more than $12,741,000, and we all know how that finished some months later under the euphemistically titled ‘Night of the Stars’. I attended those original 1989 Easter sales with my 11-year-old nephew. I can remember that after the gavel fell on the Tommasina Fiesco yearling, he turned to me wide-eyed and asked: “How can that man afford them?” It turned out, he couldn’t. Following the collapse of the syndication group formed to bankroll Bart’s bidding, the Tommasina Fiesco yearling was sold a second time at Newmarket just a few months later and only realised $750,000. Now, most expensive yearlings are renowned for losing their value quickly, but usually, it only happens after they’ve actually raced! Later registered as Ken’s Regards, the colt managed to win just four ordinary races and about $32,000 in prize money before going on to prove an absolute dud at stud!
But back to Superbid. Like a number of the very expensive yearlings ‘sold’ at those 1989 Inglis Easter Sales, Superbid actually never changed hands and when he did belatedly sport silk in his all too brief career, it was in the yellow jacket and red striped sleeves of David Hains. The horse never raced for Tulloch Lodge. Gelded despite his flashy pedigree, Superbid was then transferred to the young David Hayes in Adelaide where he notched one third and $400 from four starts. After being beaten by some thirty lengths at Victoria Park in March 1992, the horse was sent for a spell before joining the Bart Cummings’ Melbourne stable. Now, Bart was a wonderful trainer but there is only so much that any man can do with a galloper of no ability. Anybody who was expecting a resurrection in the manner of Kingston Rule was to be sorely disappointed. Superbid disappeared from sight after finishing dead last in a big field behind Te Akau Nick in The A.J.C. Metropolitan of 1992 when handicapped with just 47 kg on his back.
Hitherto I’ve charted the remarkable good fortune that David Hains enjoyed with his small band of imported broodmares. Alas, the same good fortune didn’t always attend the few imported stallions that he brought out to the Kingston Park Stud. Claude, the sire of Rose Of Kingston is a very good example. Many bloodstock breeders were highly sceptical when Hains bought the then 13-year-old stallion from Italy’s Dormello Stud. Claude wasn’t fashionably bred, being by the English horse Hornbeam, a son of Hyperion, and the winner of the 1956 Great Voltigeur Stakes, out of Aigue-Vive, a French mare by Vatellor. Claude had sired Cerreto, the winner of the 1973 Italian Derby while at Dormello, but he hadn’t overly distinguished himself. Yet Hains saw something in him and was proven correct in Claude’s brief but ill-fated life in Australia. Claude reportedly ran into a fence at Kingston Park in November 1978 and broke a leg before having to be destroyed. But not before he’d left behind both Rose Of Kingston and Chiamare in successive seasons. Chiamare was a wonderfully tough stayer trained by Tommy Smith for David and Helen Hains and among other good races won both the A.J.C. Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Brisbane Cup in 1984.
Claude was also the maternal grandsire of Lowan Star, who had carried the Hains’ colours with such early distinction. Indeed, on the very day that Claude’s life ended, Lowan Star staked her claim as one of the best juveniles in the land when she won the Byron Moore Stakes at Flemington by four lengths. And yet Claude wasn’t the only unconventional stallion that Hains brought to these shores. Raise A Cup, an American-bred son of Raise A Native was another and from him, David Hains bred Riva Diva, Russian Tea Room, Raising Kentucky and Kingston Spirit, all winners of principal races on the Australian Turf. Alas, Raise A Cup had problems with mares and was despatched to Queensland in the hope that warmer weather might help his condition, but he contracted colic and died. Exit Five B was yet another American-bred stallion that Hains stood at Kingston Park, for just $2,000 a service, and from him, the Hains family bred Muirfield Village and Love Comes To Town. However, due to lack of interest Exit Five B exited Kingston Park for Tasmania where he died very soon after while still a relatively young horse.
Following up on the debacle of the fallout from the 1989 Easter Inglis Sales and the subsequent collapse of yearling prices, Hains resolved to change his modus operandi as regards his bloodstock investments. He elected to breed and race privately instead of operating his Kingston Park Stud as a commercial venture. Moreover, within a year or so he had moved to wind down and eventually abandon his breeding activities in the U.S.A. Rationalisation became the operative word as Hains sought to reduce his bloodstock holdings and return the stud to a core of about fifteen broodmares while he held an interest in about half a dozen young stallions at stud in Australia and New Zealand. As he stepped back, Hains passed the reins of his thoroughbred enterprise to his daughter, Cathy. While Kingston Park would never again reprise its remarkable golden era from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, the winners carrying the yellow and red colours kept on coming from the Mornington Peninsula. In 1989 came victories in the V.R.C. Bloodhorse Breeders’ Plate and the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes with Reganza, a filly that Hains had bred at Kingston Park. Hains had bought her dam Stravaganza, an unraced young daughter of Busted, for 27,000 guineas in England. On her way to Kingston Park, she stopped over in New Zealand for a match with Vice Regal and Reganza was the result.
In 1992, David and Helen Hains won the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes with Riva Diva (Raise A Cup – Tommasina Fiesco) as well as the S.T.C. Hill Stakes with Muirfield Village (Exit Five B – Song Of Kingston), the grey gelding they owned in partnership with Norman von Nida. In 1996, came the Victoria Derby with Portland Player. In 1997, Kensington Palace, the result of a match between Kingston Rule and Reganza, won the V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes and Oaks double. In 1998 came Coup De Grace (Roi Danzig – Kingston Coup), a granddaughter of Spirit Of Kingston to win the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. In winning that race, David and Helen Hains became the first owners in Australia to win the complete set of two and three-year-old classics conducted at both Randwick and Flemington i.e. the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes, the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Derbies, and the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Oaks. Some racing purists might quibble that I’m excluding the A.J.C. and V.R.C. St Legers from my list of classics but the two principal race clubs have so mangled the conditions, distance and prize money of those two races that it is a travesty each still carries the St Leger name.
The Melbourne Cup notwithstanding, the other important race on the Australian Turf in which Hains had longed to see his famous yellow and red colours carried to victory was the Victoria Derby, the blue riband of his home state. Kingston Town had been desperately unlucky not to win the classic in 1979 when he went under to Big Print, while Rose Of Kingston herself as we have seen, was the victim of a chequered passage in the 1981 renewal of the classic. In 1984 Spirit Of Kingston could only finish fifth behind Red Anchor while in 1992 Hains owned both minor placegetters in the race, Muirfield Village and Raising Kentucky trained by Bart Cummings, who ran second and third respectively behind Redding. But just as David Hains’s Kentucky breeding program ultimately placed a Melbourne Cup on his mantelpiece, the same program brought home the Victoria Derby trophy of 1996 with Portland Player. A colt by Theatrical, the Irish-bred son of Nureyev, out of Spirit Of Kingston, Portland Player was bred in Kentucky to southern hemisphere time, born and reared in New Zealand, and educated and trained in Australia by Lee Freedman. Troubled by soft feet, the Victoria Derby was the colt’s only important victory.
Before I leave the subject of the vast influence that David Hains and his Kingston Park Stud have had on the Australian Turf down through the years, there is perhaps one other broodmare that I should mention and her acquisition had nothing to do with Norman von Nida. I refer to the Danish grey mare, Love Song (Warpath GB – Folk Song GB, by Tudor Melody), that Hains purchased on his own judgement in 1981 and who remains one of the few Danish entries listed in the Australian Stud Book. As we have seen, Hains was always seeking stout European blood to outcross with the speed pedigrees so readily available in Australia. Love Song’s pedigree wasn’t overly stout but her racing credentials were sound having won the Danish Oaks and finished second in the Swedish Oaks. Hains bought her around 15,000 pounds. Love Song dropped only two filly foals at Kingston Park in Song Of Norway and Song Of Kingston to the stallions Vain and Bletchingly respectively, although neither raced. The mare was then sold on (much to Hains’ later regret) and she had just one more filly, Lover’s Chariot, who was placed.
Love Song insofar as her progeny was concerned, turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. Song Of Kingston when served by Exit Five B at Kingston Park foaled Muirfield Village in 1989. Lover’s Chariot, in other ownership, dropped Bit Of A Ride whose match with Flying Spur resulted in the 2017 Caulfield Cup winner, Boom Time. Yet it was the unraced Song Of Norway that trumped them both in the matron stakes. Song Of Norway threw Scandinavia, who in turn threw Helsinge, the subsequent dam of Black Caviar, All Too Hard and Naturale. The last-named ultimately produced the Caulfield Guineas winner Ole Kirk. I might add that Scandinavia didn’t just produce Helsinge but four individual winners of principal races besides, including that smart sprinting colt Magnus, who later became a prolific stallion at the Widden Stud. What a remarkable legacy and all because David Hains was prepared to chance his hand on a Danish broodmare. As Hains later ruefully admitted: “If I had known then what I know now, I would never have sold Love Song or her progeny.” Still, it wasn’t as if the Hains family didn’t derive some benefit from the subsequent progeny of Love Song. They won listed races with both Frosty The Snowman and Russian Tea Room, each a son of Song of Norway, but it was as nothing to what might have been…
There was one mare that David Hains never sold, of course, and that was his second champion, Rose Of Kingston, mother of a Melbourne Cup winner and grandmother of a V.R.C. Oaks winner. After giving foal for the last time in the spring of 1995, Rosie was pensioned off to spend the rest of her days in idyllic splendour at the Kingston Park Stud, sharing a yard with Spirit Of Kingston. Our 1982 A.J.C. Derby heroine died at the place of her birth in early June 2002. Rosie is remembered today with the annual running of the V.R.C. Rose Of Kingston Stakes (1400 metres) at Flemington on Turnbull Stakes Day in early October, a Group 2 race for mares four-year-old and over with set weights and penalty conditions.