It was in the year 1975 that the A.J.C. finally accommodated Bart Cummings with stables on Randwick racecourse. It had taken a while to get there. Only in June the year before, the club had overlooked Cummings in favour of local trainers Pat Murray and Kevin Graham when it came to reallocating the recently deceased Fred Allsop’s Connaught Lodge on Randwick racecourse. Now, however, it was the committee’s fervent hope that the Adelaide horseman would break the stranglehold that Tommy Smith had exerted over Sydney racing for almost a quarter of a century. Having burst upon the scene by winning the 1949 A.J.C. Derby with the maiden Playboy when a 33-year-old tyro, Smith had quickly consolidated his success, such that within four years he had dethroned Maurice McCarten as Sydney’s leading trainer and then retained the trainers’ premiership for an unbroken twenty-three years with another eleven premierships yet to come. In the recently completed 1974-75 season, the last before Cummings took possession of Leilani Lodge on the High-street fringes of Randwick racecourse, Smith had sent forth 153 winners onto Sydney metropolitan tracks from Tulloch Lodge, dwarfing the total of 59 winners of the runner-up, Jack Denham. In the following season, Smith’s domination became even starker when he trained over three times the number of winners of his nearest rival, who again happened to be Jack Denham.
Nor was the A.J.C. committee alone in wanting more competition among the Sydney training ranks. A number of leading owners were happy to see the Cups’ King relocate to Sydney as well as not a few former disgruntled Smith clients who had grown disillusioned with the dictatorial methods of the Master of Tulloch Lodge. And so, to Cummings’ Vaucluse home and Randwick office came a constant footfall of potential patrons. Moreover, a chirruping chorus of racing journalists and television sports presenters also chanted their enthusiasm for a more exciting battle for premiership honours of the sort that regularly occurred in the years before World War II. All of this, however, was to miss the point. Cummings was never relocating to our Harbour City in quest of the Sydney trainers’ premiership. Just like Tommy, Bart was money-hungry but he had a different modus operandi for satisfying that hunger.
Yes, Bart would quickly displace Jack Denham as Smith’s greatest rival in the number of winners trained in Sydney, but initially, he would be no more successful than Denham in bridging the gap. In both the 1976-77 and the 1977-78 seasons, Cummings would finish runner-up to Smith, but in the former, he trained just half the number of winners, and in the latter little better than a third of Smith’s total. Thereafter, in the next seven seasons, Neville Begg denied him even the honour of finishing runner-up. ‘Tis true that Bart would eventually take the Sydney trainers’ premiership, but only once, and that coming in 1989-90 by which time the 74-year-old Tommy had already entered the twilight of his training career. I might also note that in that same 1989-90 racing season, Bart would make history by winning both the Melbourne and Adelaide trainers’ premiership as well.
But it’s not as if Cummings hadn’t regularly won training premierships elsewhere in the land before then. After all, his first Adelaide trainers’ title had arrived as far back as the 1965-66 season, while in Melbourne he had won the first of what would prove to be five successive premierships there in 1967-68. However, given the dispersal of his team across Australia, in Sydney, he would never possess either the numbers or the stabling accommodation – Leilani Lodge notwithstanding – to seriously challenge Smith while the latter was at the top of his own game. Nonetheless, as Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst famously observed, the coming together of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. Bart Cummings’ relocation to Sydney was to have a transformative effect on both men.
The pair presented a fascinating contrast in character. Bart was a very patient, laidback man and horses were his friends. Tommy on the other hand could never be accused of being laidback, and horses were always commodities more than friends. Much more than Bart, he was impulsive, restless and mercurial. Whereas Tommy was a self-made man; Bart was a chip off the old block. Tommy’s first aim in racing had been to become a leading jockey. Bart’s only aim in racing had been to become a leading trainer. Tommy’s father broke in cart horses and raced at the odd picnic meeting. Bart’s father broke in thoroughbreds and had bred, owned and trained a V.R.C. Oaks winner before his son had even turned two.
And while the Cummings family had been hit hard by the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Bart was too young to understand the effects directly, being a month shy of his second birthday when Black Tuesday rocked the New York Stock Exchange on October 29, 1929. On the other hand, Tommy, eleven years older and the son of an itinerant labourer, fully understood poverty first-hand, having endured adolescence during the very worst years of the Great Depression. Whereas Tommy left home at fourteen vowing never to return, in a sense, Bart never really left home at all. However, there was something that both did have in common. Neither man’s name needed to be spelt out in full in the tabloid sporting headlines for the punters to understand who was the subject. Smith was always just “Tommy” or “T. J.” while Cummings was just plain “Bart”. Now, you know that you have made it big in Australian sport when you become mononymous. And until the arrival of Homer Simpson’s son, the errant student of Springfield Elementary School in 1987, in Australia at least, Cummings had the name “Bart” all to himself.
All this begs the question as to how their different life experiences, temperaments and philosophies informed their respective approaches to the training and racing of horses. The pattern was set early. Tommy won his first major race, the A.J.C. Derby, with Playboy in October 1949 at the age of thirty-three; Bart won his first major race, the S.A.J.C. Derby with Stormy Passage in October 1958 at the age of thirty-one. Tommy won his first Melbourne Cup in 1955 at the age of thirty-nine; Bart won his first Melbourne Cup in 1965 at the age of thirty-eight. Tommy’s second Melbourne Cup didn’t come for another 26 years; Bart’s second came the year after his first and his third came the year after his second. Tommy’s natural kingdom was Randwick; Bart’s natural kingdom was Flemington.
One thing that the two men did have in common was a determination at all times to have the best jockeys in the land riding for them. Tommy’s favourite during his rise to power was Sydney’s George Moore; Bart’s favourite during his rise to power was Melbourne’s, Roy Higgins. It is fascinating to recall that when George Moore announced his first dramatic retirement from the saddle after winning the Champagne Stakes on Baguette at the 1970 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Smith immediately tried to poach Higgins and induce him to relocate to Sydney. Smith declared: “I want Higgins because he is now the best in Australia.” Although no retainer was offered, subsequent discussions with Cummings and Angus Armanasco convinced Roy to remain in Melbourne. Something else that Smith and Cummings had in common when it came to jockeys, was that each believed it was their genius for training horses that made their jockeys look good, rather than their jockeys’ genius for riding horses that made their trainers look good. And neither man was shy about declaring it! Whereas the irrepressible Tommy invariably wanted his horses ridden up on the pace from the start, Bart generally wanted his horses relaxed and balanced, a bit like himself, before committing to the speed.
Another thing the two men had in common was to consult the very best veterinary surgeons in the land and for more than three decades there was none better than Dr Percy Sykes. Sykes had studied veterinary science in London before World War II and then served during hostilities with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in India. Sykes had migrated to Australia in 1951, establishing his practice in Sydney and it wasn’t long before Tommy Smith was beating a path to his door. Always at the cutting edge of veterinary science, Sykes was a pioneer in the field of blood testing of thoroughbreds in the 1950s. While Tommy was among the first to exploit this measure of a horse’s well-being as a means of fine-tuning diet, medication and training, Bart wasn’t far behind. Despite the disadvantage of Adelaide’s geography, Bart was soon sending blood samples by plane to Sykes’s Sydney laboratory for the same-day analysis with Percy telephoning the results.
Bart was the first Australian to win a million dollars in stakes in a single season, which he achieved at about 12.57 p.m. on Monday, 17 June 1974 when Hello Honey finished second in the A.J.C. Birthday Handicap, the first race on a lowly card at Warwick Farm. Tommy was the second man to do so, some two hours later and almost five hundred miles away when Igloo won the Brisbane Cup! Bart, hailing from a rather more assured and secure home life, was generally patient with his horses and wouldn’t over race them until they had properly matured. He would make long-term plans and set horses for particular classic or cup races far into the future. But early poverty bites deep and such patience was a virtue that a young Tommy couldn’t afford. And even when he could afford it later on in life, the die was already cast: he would always push his horses early. He would have short-term plans and win whatever he could on the way to whatever classic and cup races might lie in the distant future. Much more than Bart, Tommy subscribed to the pragmatic philosophy perhaps best expressed by the great heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammed Ali: “I don’t want pie in the sky when I die. I want a pound on the ground while I’m around.”
As the calendar year of 1982 opened and both men reviewed and heavily annotated their catalogues preparing to do battle at the upcoming New Zealand National Yearling Sales and the William Inglis Easter Sales, let us pause for a moment and compare the two men’s respective winning records in Australia’s richest races up to that time. Let us start in Melbourne. Not for nothing was Bart called the Cups’ King. As of 31 December 1981, Bart had won seven Melbourne Cups (Light Fingers, Galilee, Red Handed, Think Big twice, Gold And Black and Hyperno) and five Caulfield Cups (Galilee, Big Philou, Leilani, Ming Dynasty twice). This may be compared to Tommy’s two Melbourne Cups (Toparoa and Just A Dash) and four Caulfield Cups (Redcraze, Tulloch, Taksan and Mighty Kingdom). There is an even starker contrast in the V.R.C. Australian Cup, a race in which Tommy was never successful and yet even by 1981, Bart had trained no less than eight winners of the race (Arctic Coast, Gladman, Leilani, Lord Dudley, Ngawyni, Ming Dynasty twice and Hyperno).
It was a similar story when it came to Australia’s pre-eminent sprint race, the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. Bart had won it on six occasions (Crown, Century, Cap D’Antibes, Maybe Mahal, Better Beyond and Elounda Bay) whereas Tommy had won just two (Black Onyx, Toy Show). The one Melbourne feature race for older horses that bucked the trend was the W. S. Cox Plate which Tommy had won five times (Redcraze, Tulloch, Gunsynd, and Kingston Town twice up to that time), compared to Bart’s one win with Taj Rossi. But it’s worth remembering that it was only in the mid-1970s with a massive infusion of prize money that the W. S. Cox Plate displaced the Caulfield Cup in importance, and until then Bart had given Caulfield precedence with his season’s best. So much for Melbourne’s open handicaps and weight-for-age races.
What about the two and three-year-old classics in our southern capital? Tommy comes out on top when we look at Melbourne’s richest two-year-old races. Up to the end of 1981, he had won the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes twice with John’s Hope and Blazing Saddles whereas Bart had only won it once, with Lord Dudley. At this stage, Tommy still held a slight advantage over Bart in respect of the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes too, where the score was six (Tulloch, Travel Boy, Jan’s Image, Flying Fable, Imagele and Mighty Kingdom) compared to Bart’s five (Storm Queen, Century, Skyjack, Lord Dudley and Bold Zest). When it came to the richest three-year-old classics of the Caulfield Guineas, Victoria Derby and V.R.C. Oaks the picture is mixed. As of the end of 1981, Cummings had won the Caulfield Guineas twice (Storm Queen, Kenmark) to Smith’s once (Tulloch). As for the Victoria Derby at that time, Tommy held a slight lead with four wins (Tulloch, Travel Boy, Silver Sharpe and Brewery Boy) compared to Bart’s three (Dayana, Taj Rossi and Stormy Rex). It was the same in the V.R.C. Oaks which Tommy had won four times (Waterlady, Kiss Me Cait, Denise’s Joy and Show Ego) compared to Bart’s three (Light Fingers, Sanderae and Leica Show).
But let us now turn to a comparison of the two men’s records as regards Sydney’s richest races as of 31 December 1981, which is where Tommy comes into his own. Whether it be sprinting or staying, when it came to the rich handicaps at Randwick, Smith’s record was stunning. After all, the races were run on his doorstep and he would marshall the numbers to contest such handicaps, often winning them with one of his less fancied lightweight entries. At that stage, he boasted six Epsom Handicaps (Bold Diplomat, Imposing, Authentic Heir, Lord Nelson, Gunsynd and Speed of Sound) compared to Bart’s one (La Neige). Tommy also boasted six Doncaster Handicaps (Unpainted, Bye Bye, Gunsynd, Analie, Authentic Heir and Iko) compared to Bart’s three (Tontonan, Just Ideal and Maybe Mahal). Mind you, Bart had been unlucky in the big Randwick miles. Before finally winning the Epsom with La Neige in 1976, he had run a series of seconds with Galilee, Joking, Alrello, Martindale and Cap D’Antibes. Ditto in the Doncaster with seconds by Alrello and Century before Tontonan’s breakthrough. It was a similar dominance by Smith in the major Sydney staying races. Tommy had trained seven winners of the A.J.C. Metropolitan Handicap (Redcraze, Wiedersehen, Sir Serene, Bon Teint, Passetreul, Analie and Oncidon) compared to Bart’s pair (Belmura Lad and Ming Dynasty). The A.J.C. Sydney Cup was a closer tussle with Smith training three winners (Grand Garry, Prince Grant and Kingston Town) compared to Bart’s pair (Galilee and Lowland).
When it comes to the two and three-year-old classics in Sydney the comparison is also interesting. Smith’s domination is reflected in Sydney’s two-year-old Triple Crown i.e. the S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes, A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. While the score in the Golden Slipper was four wins each as of 31 December 1981 (Smith: Fairy Walk, John’s Hope, Hartshill and Toy Show; Cummings: Storm Queen, Tontonan, Vivarchi and Century Miss), Smith was far more dominant in the other two races. Smith had won the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes four times (Tulloch, Peace Council, Black Onyx and Toy Show) whereas Cummings had won it just once with Tontonan. In the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes, the score was five to two. Smith had won with Giulia, Rajah, Zasu, Parade and Charity while Cummings had won with Storm Queen and Vivarchi. While both men had each prepared five winners of the A.J.C. Oaks (Smith: Waterlady, Flying Fable, Waikiki, Analie and Lowan Star; Cummings: Light Fingers, Lowland, Gay Poss, Leilani and Invade), Smith’s record in the A.J.C. Derby was invincible. As we have seen through the course of this chronicle, Smith had trained no less than nine winners of the race (Playboy, Tulloch, Summer Prince, Summer Fiesta, Prince Grant, Silver Sharpe, Imagele, Great Lover, Kingston Town) compared to Cummings’s only winner, Belmura Lad.
Now you must admit that those statistics represent two very remarkable sets of training achievements by two very remarkable trainers. If anything, Cummings takes the palm because at this stage Smith had enjoyed eleven more years of seniority in compiling his record. Their rivalry brings to mind one of the great Irving Berlin’s most famous songs, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”. It was written by Berlin in fifteen minutes in the back of a taxi for the 1946 Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun”. The song is a duet performed by two feuding stage characters each trying to outdo the other in increasingly complex tasks. The famous opening lyrics, which determine the entire song’s refrain of challenges, are: “Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” In the musical, the song sets the scene for a climactic sharpshooting contest.
With a few subtle changes to the lyrics, it would have made the perfect soundtrack to the rivalry between Smith and Cummings who were engaged in a bit of sharpshooting of their own on Australian racecourses as the 1970s and 1980s unfolded. When it came to the two men, Tommy was the extrovert, the braggadocio, and the one more likely to be making the bombastic declaration. Bart was the introvert – the shy, quiet man responding to the challenge. Indeed, whenever he was asked to compare his record to Smith’s, Cummings enjoyed joking with racing journalists that he was too interested in the future to bother about the past. But there was no mistaking that he jealously guarded his reputation and that he constantly measured his success against his older and longer-established rival. And, of course, the corollary to their rivalry on the racecourse was their rivalry at the important yearling sales in Australia and New Zealand, which is where we shall now turn our attention, with a view to the 1984 A.J.C. Derby.
Given the madness that had engulfed yearling buyers at the 1981 William Inglis Easter Yearling Sales, epitomised by the $825,000 paid for the Luskin Star-Visit colt that raced as Paint The Stars, many wondered if the collective myopia of buyers would extend into 1982. The answer wasn’t long in coming. The first major yearling sales of the new year were the 56th New Zealand National Yearling Sales conducted by Wrightson Bloodstock at Trentham in late January and continued the trend. Twice, the record price for a New Zealand yearling went by the board at the two-day sales. On the first day, an Australian-bred colt by Biscay out of the outstanding race mare Analie sold for $300,000. Yet, this record price stood for just twenty-four hours when on the second day a filly by the first-season Australian-bred stallion Marceau, out of the broodmare Gold Heights, went for $360,000.
The former yearling was sold to Cyril Hurwitz of South Africa and was never heard of again; while the latter yearling was purchased by the English bloodstock agent, Richard Galpin, who was acting on behalf of the Sydney-based Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Association, a recently formed public company whose colourful chairman was none other than that future “bankrupt” and jailbird, Alan Bond. At the time of trousering the money, Hogan declared of the filly: “She is as close to perfect as you will find.” True, except she couldn’t run fast. Subsequently registered as Malarus, she proved a complete failure both on the course and at the stud. Then again, perhaps no surprises there, given the generally chequered history of record-priced yearlings down through the years.
The $360,000 filly was offered on behalf of Cambridge Stud’s Patrick Hogan and Mr and Mrs Tim Douglas of Battle Heights fame, who both bred and raced the dam. The absurdity of paying such astronomical prices for yearlings is well demonstrated by Malarus. The overarching reason why a handful of buyers were falling over themselves to acquire possession of her that year was the fact that she was a half-sister to the classic-winning Sir Tristram filly Noble Heights, who had sold two years earlier at the same sales for just $12,000! Given that the distaff side of the pedigree hadn’t changed, either the buyers had been wilfully blind two years before or were wilfully gullible now. After all, Patrick Hogan’s reserve on the filly had been a more modest $110,000. The Marceau – Gold Heights yearling filly embodied the two trends that made the 1982 N. Z. National Yearling Sales such a remarkable success: the unbelievable demand for the untried Zephyr Bay’s progeny; and the astonishing sale by Patrick Hogan’s Cambridge Stud.
All told, 378 yearlings were sold at Trentham in January 1982 yielding a gross of $10,076,000 at an average of $26,656, which represented an increase of 19% in the gross and 26% in the average over the previous year. Leading the charge was Patrick Hogan, who dominated all vendors by selling 27 yearlings for almost $2 million at an average price of $72,833. In just a few short years Hogan’s Cambridge Stud had become the most commercially successful thoroughbred breeding operation in New Zealand. No less than seven of his yearlings – all fillies – sold for $100,000 in January 1982, this, when only four yearlings out of the entire sale reached such a mark the year before. And remember: Cambridge Stud had topped those sales as well when it sold 20 yearlings for $709,000. What a difference a year makes!
Curiously, however, the all-conquering Sir Tristram didn’t top the stallion averages in 1982; his 22 yearlings sold at an average of $42,364, which placed the son of Sir Ivor only third behind both Zephyr Bay and Marceau. There was also something of a changing of the guard when it came to a list of the biggest spenders at Trentham in January 1982. This time the list was headed by Cyril Hurwitz, a South African butcher and beef farmer who had made his millions through his Bull Brand. The cigar-smoking meat magnate spent $965,000 on 11 yearlings and would have spent even more but for South Africa’s import restrictions. While Bart Cummings ranked second on the list of major buyers, his 9 yearlings for $527,500 still represented more subdued bidding than in his recent past. However, Tommy Smith was even quieter, finishing only sixth on the list of big spenders with his 16 yearlings for $412,000.
So, where did the clientele money of the Cummings and Smith stables go? Bart’s most expensive buy was the $220,000 grey colt by Zephyr Bay from Pre Empt, the first foal of the Battle Wagon mare, and subsequently registered as Zoning. A winner of four races in the metropolitan area including the A.J.C. Adam Lindsay Gordon Handicap, Zoning never collected black-type although three of Pre Empt’s next four foals did so, but for other stables. Bart’s second most expensive buy was the $80,000 he paid for a brother to those good New Zealand gallopers Silver Wraith and Silver Nymph. Registered as Silver Spectre, he proved an unsound ghost that was never seen in the winner’s circle. Other expensive failures from that 1982 Trentham buying expedition included Offnaway ($16,000), Lenvari ($35,000), Lady Chick ($32,500) and King Marceau ($34,000) as well as a $65,000 Sir Tristram colt out of Pooroo who was never registered. But one purchase at least did make the trip worthwhile and it came with Bart’s opening buy late on the first day. Lot No. 219 was a strong, well-conformed colt from the first crop of the New Zealand stallion Vice Regal out of Cordonniere, and as such was a half-brother to the 1977 Moonee Valley Stakes winner, Guns Away. Cummings got him for $30,000. Registered as Prolific, he would give Bart his second triumph in the A.J.C. Derby.
Compared to Cummings, Smith’s strategy at Trentham was to buy almost twice as many yearlings but at cheaper prices. It was true that on the first day, Smith did try to “steal” the Biscay-Analie colt with an opening bid of $200,000 but Cyril Hurwitz had immediately blitzed him with a bold counteroffer of $300,000 that silenced both Tommy and the ring. Thereafter the Randwick maestro contented himself with far more modest offers and his most expensive buy at $70,000 was to be the chestnut filly by Noble Bijou out of Cock Your Ear, subsequently registered as Smeralda, who, sadly, was to sink without trace. In general, the Noble Bijou stock were the yearlings that Smith was chasing at Trentham that year, and in particular, those bred from daughters of the great stallion, Mellay. Clearly, for Smith, an epiphany of sorts had occurred. After all, hitherto, Noble Bijou’s four best performers on the racecourse, The Dimple, Powley, Allez Bijou and Prince Majestic had all been bred on just such a cross.
An unraced American-bred stallion by the great Vaguely Noble and a half-brother to the champion European race mare Allez France, Noble Bijou had been foaled in Kentucky in May 1971. Sent to France as a yearling, his upright pasterns and poorly shaped hocks might have denied Noble Bijou a European racing career but ironically it was those very same physical blemishes that facilitated such an aristocratic blueblood becoming affordable to a New Zealand stud in the first place. Installed at Brian and Lorraine Anderton’s White Robe Lodge at Mosgiel, near Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island, Noble Bijou was destined to become New Zealand’s champion stallion on no less than four occasions, with his first premiership arriving in that 1981-82 season.
Noble Bijou had just six yearlings representing him in the Wrightson catalogue that year. Smith bought five of them, three being from the daughters of Mellay and another from a granddaughter, including an impressive chestnut colt out of Gem Flight for $50,000. Smith bought the latter colt on behalf of his long-term stable patron, Brian Freyer, who had previously raced the good gallopers Imposing, Integrity and Lordship among others. Gem Flight’s yearling colt would have cost a lot more if the potential of his half-sister-in-blood Our Flight had been revealed in public, but that was still a few months off. Registered as Alibhai and raced by the Freyer Bloodstock Company Ltd in partnership with long-time Smith client, Sir Tristan Antico, he would become the best three-year-old out of an ordinary bunch to emerge from Tulloch Lodge in his year. Just for the record, the one Noble Bijou yearling at Trentham that Smith spurned and was subject to a private sale for $30,000, turned out to be the best of the lot. Registered as Lomondy (or Mr Lomondy in Australia), he would win both the Adelaide and Caulfield Cups of 1986 as well as a number of group races in New Zealand.
Although the 1982 Easter Yearling Sales of William Inglis were the second-highest on record, the buyers had at least shed a measure of the irrational exuberance exhibited at the same sales twelve months before, even if the sellers hadn’t. Indeed, seven of the first ten yearlings offered were passed in. At one stage the bidding on a Kaoru Star yearling stopped at $120,000 only for an embarrassed auctioneer to sheepishly announce that the reserve was $250,000. One wag wryly remarked: “I think the Inglis family are making more money at the bar!” At the end of the 1982 three-day sale, the aggregate was $9,215,250 with an average sale price of $31,329 from 343 lots sold. This compared with the aggregate of $15,975,500 with an average sale price of $40,241 from 392 lots sold during Easter, 1981. Cummings, who spent $520,000 on two colts on the last night, was glad to see the market come back to earth. He quipped: “The prices were realistic this year, last year they were in fairyland.” Before the decade was over, however, Bart would find himself in fairyland at Newmarket yet again and on that infamous occasion, he would be playing the lead role of Oberon.
One measure of the more sober bidding was the price paid for the respective Luskin Star-Visit colts, full brothers on offer at the successive sales. In 1981 Robert Holmes a Court outlaid $825,000 whereas in 1982 the colt’s year-younger brother was knocked down during the final session to the Irish bloodstock agent Patrick Hogan for ‘just’ $190,000. Even the $190,000 was a disputed bid, with Hogan maintaining that his final bid had only been $170,000. The top-priced yearling at those 1982 William Inglis Yearling Sales was $300,000 paid by Tommy Smith for the full brother to Ming Dynasty sold on the first day, with Bart Cummings the underbidder. When either Bart or Tommy bought yearlings back in those days before the presence of international buyers became more pronounced, it wasn’t that unusual for the other to be the underbidder.
Smith purchased a total of 18 yearlings over the three days of the Inglis Easter sales for $1,250,000. It was a reduction in numbers compared to some previous years but he was now buying fewer yearlings on spec. Among his expensive purchases were Final Showdown (Bletchingly-No No Nanette) $70,000; Exocet Star (Kaoru Star-Silver Shell) $65,000; Norseman (Bletchingly-Beyond All) $105,000; Bilitis (Bletchingly-Cheeky Possum) $55,000; Ming Emperor (Planet Kingdom-Chow Mien) $300,000; Certainty (Biscay-Cinch) $90,000; The Challenge (Biscay-Flower) $75,000; Arctic Circle (Kaoru Star-Gamellie’s Dream) $100,000; and Try It Again (Baguette-Gretel) $60,000. Cummings wasn’t far behind either and his expensive Inglis yearlings included Battle (Biscay-Segal) $250,000; Zephyr Zest (Zephyr Bay-Slanting) $270,000; Breck Soeur (Bletchingly-Corinto Lass) $105,000; White Jewel (Biscay-Fiery Gem) $90,000; and Prime Asset (Biscay-Mescalita) $140,000.
If most of those names don’t ring a bell it is because the horses carrying them never won a race or ever did much at stud. How lucky was Bart to be the underbidder on the $300,000 sales topper, Ming Emperor? When the gavel came down on that yearling in favour of Tommy, the Randwick maestro gaily chirruped that he had saved $200,000. Some trademark hyperbolic auxesis followed. “That price is dirt cheap,” an excited Smith declared. “I would have bid to $500,000 without blinking an eyelid. I cannot understand why the colt went so cheaply.” Perhaps he understood better given the passage of time. Ming Emperor never won a race and four years after Tommy secured this “bargain” of a gelding, as he was by then, he had returned just $4,440 to his hapless owners.
In fairness, there were mitigating circumstances at Tulloch Lodge that partly explained the subsequent poor performance of Smith’s 1982 yearling purchases. The highly contagious bacterial disease of strangles ran through the stables that year and three-quarters of the yearlings succumbed. The bacteria itself, cross mucous membranes in the nose and mouth of a horse to infect and swell lymph nodes in the head and neck, which can compress the upper respiratory tract and obstruct breathing. Hence the name strangles. The lymph node abscesses may also rupture causing further problems. The younger horses are invariably more severely affected than the older ones. While the disease has a low mortality rate, it often leaves the victims with breathing problems. It certainly left quite a few of Tommy’s high-spending clients gasping for air when apprised of the subject matter.
For all of the money spent on yearlings at Trentham and Newmarket, neither Cummings nor Smith had an absolutely high-class two-year-old in their stables during that 1982-83 racing season. Cummings did manage to get one runner into each of the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes and the S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes in the disappointing Worth and Rose Diamond respectively, whereas Smith failed to have a representative in either of Australia’s two richest two-year-old races. The two men were no more successful in the A.J.C. or the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes either. Whereas Cummings failed to have a runner in those classics, Smith at least did qualify both The Challenge and Read All About It for Randwick, although the pair offered nothing. But at Flemington, just as at Caulfield, Smith had no representation. The man who seemed to hold all the juvenile aces early that season was the trainer Colin Hayes with Top Post, Brave Show and Solo Performance, a trio that collectively won almost $400,000. Although it was a different story by the time the juveniles reached Sydney in the autumn.
Easily the best two-year-old of the 1982-83 season was Sir Dapper, a neat, plain, well-balanced bay colt by Vain trained by Les Bridge at Randwick. At the same Inglis sales where Smith and Cummings had outlaid a king’s ransom on so-called bluebloods, Bridge had secured Sir Dapper on behalf of clients Peter Horwitz and Morrie McLeod and their wives for just $17,000. But even back then Bridge was a wizened soul who could spot value at a yearling sale, something he would prove repeatedly throughout his long and distinguished career. Peter Horwitz was a book publisher and owner of Graham’s retail book store in Sydney’s Hunter-street while Morrie McLeod was a government barrister. Sir Dapper proved liquid gold to everybody associated with him during his first season on the Turf when he won five of his six starts culminating in the $300,000 S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes.
The only time Sir Dapper failed to win that season came in the S.T.C. Todman Slipper Trial when his jockey Maurice Logue was cleverly outridden in a small field by Ron Quinton on the Century colt, Making Time. Quinton trapped Logue in a pocket approaching the home turn and while Making Time wasn’t good enough to hold him there, it was long enough for Daybreak Lover to swoop down the outside and steal the race. Logue’s imbroglio in the Todman Slipper Trial saw him lose the ride on Sir Dapper in the Golden Slipper to Ron Quinton, despite having successfully partnered the colt in his first four races. Nonetheless, Messrs Horwitz and McLeod were generous enough to pay Logue a winning percentage of $9,000 from the Slipper prizemoney.
By the end of that 1982-83 racing season, Tommy Smith had won his 31st successive Sydney trainers’ premiership although only by 3 wins from his Randwick rival, Neville Begg. It was the nearest that Smith had come to being eclipsed since winning his first title back in 1952-53. A large part of the explanation for the narrowness of the margin lay in the fact that Smith had cut back the number of horses that he had in full work to around fifty-five, some twenty or so less than in recent seasons. But part of the explanation was also the paucity of his juveniles that year, which translated into a relatively ordinary stable of three-year-olds the following season. It was true not just of his colts and geldings, but his fillies as well. For all the largesse of clients lavished by him at the yearling sales, the cupboard of prizes at Tulloch Lodge was relatively bare. A measure of Smith’s failure came with declarations for the A.J.C.’s signature three-year-old event, the Spring Champion Stakes, a race that he had previously won twice. Indeed, in every year since the race had been transferred to the spring, Smith had enjoyed multiple runners with the exception of 1982, when he had just the one starter in the 100/1 shot, Pattern Prince. But in 1983 Tulloch Lodge didn’t even send out a single runner.
Despite winning the odd race or two, neither The Challenge nor Read All About It ever really trained on after their appearances in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. The Challenge, as was typical of so many of the horses carrying Bernborough’s old colours under the ownership of Sir Tristan Antico, was more shadow than substance, while Read All About It never again hit the headlines. The best three-year-old that Tommy Smith believed he had on his books as the new season unfolded remained in the spelling paddock. Alibhai had made his racecourse debut in fine weather but on a heavy track at the Randwick Anzac Day Meeting in April 1983. A 20/1 outsider in the hands of Malcolm Johnston who would soon be replaced as the first jockey for Tulloch Lodge, Alibhai could only run seventh in a field of eleven in the El Alamein Handicap (1000 metres) won by the Bart Cummings-trained Noble Review. After running fifth behind the high-class filly La Caissiere at his next start over 1400 metres at Warwick Farm in mid-May, Smith had sent Alibhai out to pasture and the horse wouldn’t resume racing until November.
Meanwhile, Bart Cummings seemed to be faring somewhat better with his three-year-olds. In the five seasons since 1977-78 when the Cups’ King had won both the A.J.C. Derby with Belmura Lad and the V.R.C. Derby with Stormy Rex, he had enjoyed more luck with three-year-old fillies than colts and geldings. While during those intervening seasons he had failed to win either the A.J.C. or V.R.C. Derbies, he had twice landed the quinella in the A.J.C. Oaks with Invade and Sun Sally in 1978, and again in 1982 with Sheraco and Lady Ulla. Unlike Tommy, in the 1983-84 season, Bart was to bounce back again with some high-class three-year-olds and his two best-staying prospects, Prolific and Bounty Hawk, carried the stable’s hopes into the 1983 A.J.C. Spring Champion Stakes.
Prolific was the impressively built, New Zealand-bred colt by Vice Regal that Bart had bought for $30,000 in New Zealand. He was initially owned outright by the Adelaide chartered accountant Richard Gaffney, but he had later sold a half-share to the Sydney businessman Joe Gazal, the 60-year-old wealthy founder and chairman of the clothing and textile group, Gazal Corporation. Prolific had won his only two race starts in Adelaide as a late two-year-old. He scored first-up over 1050 metres in the Morphettville Handicap on July 2nd and then again in a 1350 metres Cheltenham Handicap on July 23rd. Brought across to Sydney, Prolific failed to win in three appearances in the new season including the S.T.C. Hill Stakes in which he finished second last in a field of seven behind Emancipation, before stepping out for the Spring Champion Stakes. At this stage of his preparation, Bart couldn’t quite work out whether Prolific was likely to be a better sprinter or stayer and until he did, he sought to restrict the colt to his own age group.
Bounty Hawk, on the other hand, was an entirely different proposition. A beautifully bred son of Balmerino out of Marie’s Daughter, he was a half-brother to that former good stayer Participator, winner of the 1976 A.J.C. Autumn Stakes, trained by Tommy Smith. Bounty Hawk, a late foal with a turned knee, was bred by J. P. ‘Jack’ Atkins who stood Balmerino at his Middlepark Stud at Cambridge and was retained by him and his wife Jean to race after the horse suffered several injuries as a youngster. Indeed, Jack and Jean Atkins had to resort to hand-feeding the little fellow as a foal. Unlike Prolific, Bounty Hawk was gelded early in life and he didn’t make his racecourse debut until mid-June 1983 when he finished a modest eighth in an ordinary handicap at Canterbury. Two further unplaced runs ensued before his first season was over. Bounty Hawk, ridden by John Marshall, scored his first victory in a 1600-metre race on the first day of the new season, at the A.J.C.’s Bank Holiday Meeting, conducted that year at Warwick Farm. The horse then earned minor money at his next three starts before saddling up with his stablemate Prolific for the A.J.C. Spring Champion Stakes.
The 1983 A.J.C. Spring Meeting was historic but for all of the wrong reasons. Let us for a moment revert to the previous autumn and the seven-day postponement of the Sydney Cup ultimately won by Veloso. Heavy rain during the preceding week had forced the postponement of the meeting due to a waterlogged section of the Randwick track near the home turn. I well remember waking up on that Saturday morning of 9 April 1983 to learn from the radio that the A.J.C. Sydney Cup meeting had been called off. I found it impossible to believe. It was a cool overcast day with a forecast of passing showers. Yes, Sydney had experienced heavy rain during the preceding week but nothing like a deluge in the past 24 to 36 hours that would normally be required for a Randwick meeting’s postponement. Things had clearly changed. Randwick, once the best wet-weather track in Australia, had now deteriorated to one of the worst. And the deeply conservative and complacent A.J.C. committee bore full culpability for its abnegation of responsibility, given the sheer ineptitude of its management as the problem had steadily worsened during the previous eighteen months.
Even now the club was slow to react. Instead of closing down the course immediately following the Anzac Day Meeting, the committee dallied for another seventeen days, arranging for a large quantity of sand to be spread 50 centimetres deep in an attempt to stabilise the undrained turf. It was only after a midweek meeting held there on 11 May when horses kicked up enough sand on the home turn for a remake of “Lawrence of Arabia” – thereby creating another health hazard of an entirely different kind – that the club took the historically unprecedented step of closing down the course. Jockeys and trainers alike had long been baying for remedial work. The most obvious problem was the troubled section from about the 700-metre mark to the home turn. It was announced that forthwith and for a period estimated at ten weeks, Randwick meetings would be switched to Warwick Farm while the unstable patch was dug up and re-turfed. Ten weeks? It took ten years and more, becoming something of a protracted saga before the problem was resolved, and even then, Randwick never fully returned to its glory days.
One doesn’t need to be a greenkeeper to know that grass doesn’t grow much in winter and it didn’t during June, July and August of 1983. Belatedly, on 2 September, the A.J.C. committee under the chairmanship of Sir James Carr announced the decision to transfer the first two days, 24 and 28 September, of the forthcoming A.J.C. Spring Meeting to Warwick Farm with the intention of reverting to Randwick for the historic Epsom and Metropolitan Handicaps over the holiday weekend on the 1st/3rd of October. They were kidding themselves. It was only after a test barrier trial on the Randwick course proper on 22 September and a subsequent two-and-a-half-hour deliberation by the committee, that the decision was finally taken to move all four days of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting to Warwick Farm. Rosehill would have been arguably the smarter choice but I suspect that money, pride and inter-club rivalry all played a part there.
The shift to Warwick Farm and the appropriate placement of barriers there necessitated a 100-metre increase in the distance of the Spring Champion Stakes, as well as a notional reduction in the maximum field number. Cummings certainly didn’t entertain exaggerated visions of triumph with either of his charges in the race. Prolific went to the post in the hands of Mark de Montfort at 33/1 while Bounty Hawk, partnered by John Marshall, went off at 20/1. Prolific finished seventh while Bounty Hawk finished last in the ten-horse field. The race was won brilliantly by the 7/4 favourite, Sir Dapper, who made it five from five in the new season having previously won the A.J.C. San Domenico Stakes and Up-And-Coming Stakes at Warwick Farm before snaffling the S.T.C. Peter Pan Stakes and Gloaming Stakes at Rosehill. In winning the Spring Champion Stakes from Been There and Tri-Flow, Sir Dapper returned to his breeder and owners the richest single prize in Australian racing history.
The total revenue derived by Sir Dapper’s connections for his Spring Champion Stakes triumph amounted to $282,350 although the race prize itself was only $81,600 plus trophies to the value of $2,700. But Sir Dapper also earned his owners a $100,000 bonus for winning the spring treble of three-year-old races that previously included the S.T.C. Peter Pan Stakes and Gloaming Stakes. Dan Buffier, the breeder of Sir Dapper wasn’t forgotten either, as he received a $100,000 bonus from the Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association. Sir Dapper had now won ten of his eleven starts besides $597,250 in prize money and seemed to be the most exciting racehorse in the land. He was already fifth on the list of Australia’s all-time top prize money winners! It had been a masterly training triumph by Les Bridge and it was altogether fitting that owner Peter Horwitz deferred to Bridge in returning the horse to the winner’s stall at Warwick Farm.
Tommy Smith looked on rather jealously as Sir Dapper returned to scale. How he must have regretted not chasing the colt as a yearling! The Master of Tulloch Lodge had trained some of Vain’s best progeny including the likes of Charity, Integrity, Paravane and Snowing but he hadn’t been tempted enough by Sikri’s plain, undersized youngster when offered during Easter 1982. Bart Cummings, too, was in a contemplative mood as the ten colts and geldings returned to scale, albeit for different reasons. Although Bounty Hawk had finished last, Cummings was far from disappointed. After all, the rangy gelding was being aimed fairly and squarely at the Victoria Derby and he was far from fully wound up. Prolific, on the other hand, was proving to be something of a conundrum and his attitude questionable. In the wake of his Champion Stakes failure, a spring campaign was abandoned with the big colt being gelded and sent to the spelling paddocks.
I attended three of the four days of that A.J.C. Spring Meeting at Warwick Farm but in most respects, it didn’t really seem like the genuine article conducted away from Randwick. It might have been an ordinary Saturday afternoon at the Farm for all the enthusiasm that the 17,511 racegoers brought to Epsom Day. It was filling but nonetheless unsatisfying, a bit like a meal in an ordinary Chinese restaurant. Still, Bart Cummings wasn’t complaining. His three-year-olds might have failed over the meeting but he did have the satisfaction of training a treble on Epsom Day: achieving a quinella in the rich mile with Cool River and Leica Planet and winning two lesser races with Farewell Chimes and Tillatury. John Marshall rode all three winners. Bart also trained a treble at the corresponding meeting at Flemington, thereby equalling his best performance on one day in the two States. In comparison, Tommy Smith experienced a dispiriting ennui during the carnival, failing to train a Group 1 winner. The closest he came was in seeing his Chiamare finish runner-up to Hayai in The A.J.C. Metropolitan.
While the Randwick course proper was deteriorating badly in full public view, some A.J.C. committeemen, along with the club’s secretary Jim Norrie, seemed more concerned about the propriety or otherwise of a certain racehorse’s name. Such circumstances bring to mind Nero’s fiddling and Rome’s burning. In the same month that all Randwick meetings were being transferred wholesale to Warwick Farm, a two-year-old filly trained by Dr Geoff Chapman called Merkin won the 1983 S.T.C. Silver Slipper Stakes. Within days the propriety of the name of the filly, who was by Imperial Prince out of the A.J.C. Fernhill Handicap winner Willowy, was being questioned. It seemed that the authorities had had the wool, or rather hair pulled over their eyes. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun, merkin, as “an artificial covering of hair for the female pubic region”. Mind you, it’s not as if risqué names hadn’t run the gauntlet of the A.J.C. Registrar before.
I particularly liked the name of the 1972 foal, Perfect Climax, which was by Lad’s Love from Moment Of Truth. It’s almost as if that broodmare’s owner deliberately sought out the mating with the said stallion just to get the naming rights. Another favourite of mine was Sirjonker (pronounced Sir John Kerr) for the foal by Imperialist from Mixed Reception. That name came at a time when the vain and pompous former Governor-General who sacked an elected Prime Minister in Gough Whitlam, was getting a right royal bollocking from demonstrators every time he appeared at a public function. That registration slipped through, for a time at least, because of the disguised spelling. However, as was the case with Sirjonker, the connections of Merkin were pressured by the A.J.C. to re-register the horse under another name and they came up with Giostra, which is Italian for carousel or merry-go-round, something that the A.J.C. committee must have felt they were on during that month of October 1983!
The three-year-old action now moved to Melbourne. The 103rd running of the Caulfield Guineas took place a fortnight after the Spring Champion Stakes and Sir Dapper went to the post as a warm 5/4 favourite. Like so many gallopers before him, Sir Dapper was anything but an elegant dandy the first time out on the tricky Caulfield circuit. Seemingly poised for an uncomfortable victory on the home turn, Sir Dapper was run down by the Colin Hayes-trained Beechcraft, carrying the famous colours of Robert Sangster, to win by a length, with Handsome Seattle a further one-and-three-quarter length away third. Confronted by the failure of his now three-year-old home-breds and yearling purchases, Sangster had faced the prospect of not having a representative in the 1983 Victoria Derby. It was for this reason that Colin Hayes had made a hurried trip to New Zealand and paid $400,000 to motel owner John Stubbs for a half-share in Beechcraft less than a fortnight before the Guineas.
A son of the Irish stallion Sea Anchor, victor of the 1976 Doncaster Cup in England, Beechcraft had won the Wanganui Guineas and Hawkes Bay Guineas at his two previous starts and the owners had forfeited a $78,000 triple bonus by quitting New Zealand for Australia. The ever-diplomatic Colin Hayes paid full tribute to Beechcraft’s former Takanini trainer, Kevin Crampton, in the wake of the Caulfield victory. Beechcraft represented just one of a trio of expensive New Zealand three-year-olds into which Sangster had bought. At the same time as acquiring an interest in Beechcraft, he had also bought a half-share in Fine Offer, who had run Beechcraft to a couple of close seconds in New Zealand but whose spring campaign would be disrupted after contracting a virus upon landing in Australia. Previously, Sangster had also bought a half-share in Mapperley Heights, after the giant filly, out of a full sister to Battle Heights, had been knocked down for $150,000 as a yearling at Trentham to Matamata studmaster Mark Davison. Indeed, Mapperley Heights was the first of the many gallopers to carry the famous emerald and blue Sangster colours on New Zealand racecourses.
No three-year-olds contested the Caulfield Cup won that year by Hayai, on what many regarded as a substandard and controversial Caulfield course proper. Clearly, the A.J.C. weren’t the only race club having trouble with course maintenance. Heavy overnight rain on the eve of the Caulfield Cup turned an already dubious track into a most unfair racing surface. Hayai, guided superbly by jockey Neville Voigt, ran out an easy winner after virtually leading all the way. The decision had already been taken by the Victorian Amateur Turf Club to dig up the course after the Caulfield Cup Meeting and the manner in which the Cup was run and won certainly validated that decision. In the following weeks, a new base was put down and the Caulfield track was re-banked, particularly on the troublesome home turn. The improvements to return the course to first-class racing condition and also incorporate a wood-chip training circuit would cost the club more than $1.2 million, but it would prove money well spent when racing resumed there with the running of the Oakleigh Plate at the end of February 1984.
The 1983 Caulfield Cup might not have had any three-year-old acceptors, but when it came to the W. S. Cox Plate the following week, five were saddled up in the shape of Sir Dapper, Albany Bay, Handsome Seattle, Fine Offer and Perfect Bliss. None were equal to running a place behind Strawberry Road on a Moonee Valley track deadened by rain. Thence, of course, came the Victoria Derby. Eleven horses were accepted for the classic, with not a filly in view. In the absence of Beechcraft, who had suffered a setback in training and was being kept for the George Adams Handicap on the last day of the meeting, it was his stablemate Fine Offer who became the 5/2 public elect. King Delamere, trained by Jack McGreal and like Bounty Hawk another son of Balmerino, shaded that horse for second favouritism, For the second time in two years since winning the race with Brewery Boy in 1981, Tulloch Lodge didn’t have a runner. And yet in the six years up to and including 1981, Tulloch Lodge had always enjoyed multiple representations in the Victoria Derby. Still, all those naysayers who believed Tommy’s relationship with Australia’s oldest classic might have ended would soon be proved premature in their judgements.
By comparison, Bart Cummings claimed two starters in Bounty Hawk and the improving Cobbobonee, the latter who firmed in course betting from 20/1 into 16/1. Harry White chasing his first Victoria Derby enjoyed the mount on Bounty Hawk while Midge Didham, the former leading jockey in New Zealand, partnered Cobbobonee. If Bounty Hawk was an aristocratic blueblood, Cobbobonee was far more plebian in his origins, being by Galeola out of an undistinguished Le Cordonnier mare. Galeola, a son of Oncidium, had won the P.A.R.C. Derby Trial Stakes and been placed in the South Australian Derby behind Dayana when trained by Mick Robins in Adelaide. Cobbobonee had been bred at the Ardrossan Stud in Victoria. The horse only emerged as a Derby prospect when he won over 2000 metres at Flemington on the first day of October but had blotted his copybook since, most recently when a poor thirteenth behind Centaine in the Herald Vase (1600 metres) at Moonee Valley the previous week.
But Bart knew what he was doing. On Derby Day blessed with fast ground Bounty Hawk, who was much more comfortable galloping anti-clockwise, and Cobbobonee achieved yet another famous Flemington quinella for the Cups’ King with the former running out an easy winner by two lengths and Cobbobonee enjoying a similar margin from the third-placed Albany Bay. It was the harbinger of a good week for Bart’s three-year-olds. Although his smart filly Taj Eclipse went under by a head to La Caissiere in the Wakeful Stakes in the very next race on the card after the Derby, the following Thursday she won the event that really mattered on V.R.C. Oaks Day when she had a neck to spare over the expensive Mapperley Heights to give Sangster heartburn and Bart a classic double. In so doing, Taj Eclipse, a daughter of Bart’s former three-year-old champion Taj Rossi and owned in the same interests, gave her partner, the 17-year-old whiz kid Darren Gauci his 60th metropolitan success and thereby the subsequent loss of his apprentice’s allowance. In Bart’s eyes whether men or horses, if they were good enough, they were old enough!
Neither Bounty Hawk nor Cobbobonee was spared after their Victoria Derby quinella. The son of Balmerino was the star turn in the Cummings’ team taken to Perth for the W.A.T.C. Summer Meeting, although his inclusion was more at the behest of the gelding’s part-owner and breeder, Jim Atkins, who was seeking a further boost to Balmerino’s stock prior to the 1984 New Zealand National Yearling Sales. Another attraction, of course, was the $300,000 bonus for any horse that could win the Ascot Triple Crown, namely the W.A.T.C. West Australian Derby, Western Mail Classic and Australian Derby. John Miller of Galilee fame had initially been booked for the ride on Bounty Hawk in the West but his suspension over a careless riding charge saw the mount default to Mark De Montfort who was in Perth on a three-month retainer for local trainer Len Morton.
It very nearly proved to be the biggest payout of De Montfort’s career. A fortnight after winning the Victoria Derby, Bounty Hawk as the 2/1 race favourite went within a short neck of winning the West Australian Derby, going under to Old Currency, who came from last in the field of fifteen to give trainer Tom Hughes his only Group 1 winner of the season. Bounty Hawk may well have won the West Australian Derby had De Montfort not resorted to the whip. That whip and the margin of a short neck proved costly to the Atkins family as Bounty Hawk proceeded to win the remaining two legs of the Ascot Triple Crown rather easily. Indeed, in the W.A.T.C. Australian Derby, he had five lengths to spare over the runner-up, Albany Bay. Promoted to favouritism for the Perth Cup coming at the end of his campaign, Bounty Hawk, having contracted a virus was a race day scratching. Still, all in all, the Golden West had furnished gold aplenty for the Cummings’ stable. Even Bounty Hawk’s stablemate, Cobbobonee, managed to pay his way there, winning the listed P.R.C. Pinjarra Guineas.
The tragedy of Bounty Hawk’s flight to fame during that spring and early summer of 1983 was that the man who bred, reared and owned him, Jack Atkins, was denied full sensibility of what he had achieved after a lifetime of trying to breed a champion. During Bounty Hawk’s best year on the racecourse, Jack Atkins was to suffer a series of debilitating strokes, each more debilitating than the last. Originally hailing from Sydney, Jack Atkins, a one-time secretary of the N.S.W. Democratic Labor Party, was a successful publisher of pulp fiction under the imprimatur of ‘Cleveland Publishing’ which specialised in the genre of crime, romance and particularly westerns. Bounty Hawk would have made quite a story himself but Atkins was past publishing by the time he came along. It was Atkins’ son, Les, who was the de-facto owner of Bounty Hawk during those glory days. On the Saturday night after the gelding had won the Victoria Derby, Les had taken the blue riband and placed it in his father’s hands at the Manly nursing home where the old man was a barely conscious invalid. Whether or not he understood its significance, Les Atkins was never sure.
In comparison with Bart, Tommy’s spring haul of Group races in 1983 was modest indeed. Yes, he had won the Newcastle Gold Cup with Chiamare and the A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes with Coming Closer, while at a Canterbury Park meeting in mid-October, he had trained 5 minor winners on a 9-race card, but all this was small beer in comparison to Bart’s champagne of Group 1 winners. Moreover, apart from suffering the chagrin of watching Sir Dapper, a yearling he had inspected and rejected, win the Sydney spring triple crown, he had also watched one of his very earliest clients, Les Walters, win both The A.J.C. Metropolitan and the V.A.T.C. Caulfield Cup with Hayai, prepared by a hitherto struggling young trainer in Jim Lee. Walters had achieved his first success as an owner as far back as April 1944 when Tommy Smith trained his Topline, a two-year-old filly by Harinero to win a nursery handicap at Rosehill. However, soon afterwards Walters began to patronise another Randwick trainer instead, Harry Darwon, and there wasn’t much love lost between Smith and Walters by the time Hayai came along.
Tommy’s restless, never-say-die energy was the fuel that kept Tulloch Lodge burning but he still needed the right horses. Nonetheless, even as the V.R.C. Spring Meeting drew to a close, the galloper upon which Smith was placing so much faith for the second half of the season was already back in work and progressing nicely on the Randwick training tracks. Alibhai, in the hands of jockey Ron Dufficy, resumed racing in mid-November in an unsuitable handicap over 1280 metres at Canterbury and finished just behind the placegetters. A fortnight later the lazy chestnut colt, united with Mick Dittman for the first time, ran the minor placing in a 1400 metres handicap for three-year-old colts and geldings that hadn’t won a race in a metropolitan area. Stepped up in distance to 1900-2000 metres in his next three starts, Alibhai scored a hat-trick of victories at Canterbury Park, Randwick and Rosehill, with Dittman doing the steering on each occasion. The jockey’s strength and power had Smith declaring him “another George Moore” and predicting certain success in the jockeys’ premiership. “His powerful style of riding suits my horses. I get all my horses fit and Dittman’s strength completes the job. It was the same when George Moore and I were on top of the racing world. People said that Moore got runs by blowing a whistle. What happened was that Moore, a great rider, found openings, held his position until there was room, and then drove them home to win. Dittman does the same.”
Tommy Smith again had a spring in his step given Alibhai’s form leading into the autumn of 1984. On the eve of the chestnut’s resumption in the Hobartville Stakes after an eight weeks let-up since completing his glorious hat-trick, Smith declared: “He is a champion stayer in the making. I’m setting him for the Sydney triple crown and the Sydney Cup this autumn.” Alibhai wasn’t the only reason for Smith’s bubbling optimism. Unlike the previous season, his two-year-olds were firing and, on paper at least, he had three strong Golden Slipper fancies in Quiet Little Drink and the Robert Holmes A’Court two homebreds, Pashenka’s Gem and Movie Maker. Indeed, when Quiet Little Drink won a 1200 metres handicap at Rosehill in early March, she posted the 3,500th Sydney metropolitan winner of Smith’s career. Moreover, in a declaration of confidence for even greater longevity in the sport, he had recently purchased Bruce McLachlan’s Brisbane stables.
As we have observed so often throughout this chronicle, the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes has traditionally been the race in which Derby prospects resumed from their spell. The year 1984 didn’t seem any different. Although it was expected to be a cakewalk for the 5/1 on favourite, Sir Dapper, the supporting cast of nine included Bounty Hawk, Beechcraft and Alibhai as well as the 1983 A.J.C. Warwick Stakes winner, Yoyangamble. On the fast ground, Sir Dapper made it 12 wins from 15 starts when he and Mick Dittman raced away to score by three-and-a-quarter lengths, smashing Kapalaran’s race record in the process, with a time of 1 minute 22.8 seconds. Bounty Hawk finished powerfully to take second, a half-length in front of Beechcraft. Alibhai, backwards in condition and unsuited at the distance, went out at 100/1 with Noel Barker in the saddle and surprised nobody by finishing seventh. Many in the crowd of 14,652 people at Warwick Farm that day believed that in Bounty Hawk they had seen the A.J.C. Derby winner. They hadn’t. The horse that was destined to wear the A.J.C. blue riband galloped just over an hour later down the straight six at Flemington in – of all races – the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap.
Prolific had been spirited down to Melbourne by Bart after falling in to win a Warwick Farm Welter first-up in mid-February. One of six horses representing Bart Cummings in the Newmarket, Prolific along with Royal Regatta, Sculptor, Worth, Leica Planet and Advert, all ran unplaced in Australia’s richest sprint race, won that year by the unheralded 33/1 outsider from Western Australia, Heron Bridge, who finished down the grandstand side of the Flemington course. Heron Bridge might have caught most racegoers unawares, but not Bart. Back in December 1982 when campaigning Forgone Conclusion in Perth for the Railway Stakes, he had first noticed Heron Bridge and told the horse’s owner, Strickland Gardiner, and its Bunbury trainer, Noel Donovan, that the gelding was a future Newmarket winner. Indeed, so sure was Bart that he offered to buy the horse but Gardiner refused to sell. Still, it spoke volumes for Bart’s judgement of a proven racehorse. Prolific was immediately returned to Sydney and set for the A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap.
Meanwhile, Bounty Hawk continued to be the Derby pea of Leilani Lodge. Heavy rain during the preceding week saw the $100,000 S.T.C. Canterbury Guineas postponed from Saturday until the last Wednesday in March. On an overcast day and a track officially described as dead, Bounty Hawk had lost none of his Derby glow in just going down to Beechcraft in a tight three-way finish that saw the Geoff Murphy-trained Tri-Flow take out the minor placing. It was trainer Colin Hayes’s first success in the Canterbury Guineas and it came with the Caulfield Guineas’ winner whose entire autumn campaign had been in doubt since suffering a virus in the spring and a debilitating throat infection in the weeks afterwards. Brent Thomson, who wasn’t always seen at his best on Sydney racecourses, had afforded Beechcraft a clever ride. Despite the defeat, Bart remained supremely confident about Bounty Hawk’s Derby prospects, at least until the running of the S.T.C. Rosehill Guineas.
Despite having his wings clipped at Canterbury, Bounty Hawk went to the post as a short-priced 6/4 favourite for the Guineas at Rosehill with John Marshall in the saddle. Tommy Smith was having none of it as he now believed he had Alibhai at his best and that no three-year-old would stand in the chestnut’s way. It hadn’t always been so. In the days immediately after the Hobartville Stakes, Alibhai had pulled up lame in a track gallop and the colt had been subject to constant veterinary attention in Tulloch Lodge for three weeks. The son of Noble Bijou had only re-emerged the previous Saturday and was grossly underdone when he fell in to win the S.T.C. Phar Lap Stakes over 1500 metres. In a capacity field of sixteen, half-heads had separated Alibhai, Mr Ironclad and Vite Cheval on that occasion.
Now, over 2000 metres in fine weather and on a fast track and with another week of trackwork under his surcingle, Tommy confidently expected the real Alibhai to show himself. Reunited with Mick Dittman, the jockey afforded Alibhai the perfect ride. Given an easy run just behind the leaders, Alibhai cruised up four-wide on the home turn and ran out an easy winner from Beechcraft. Struggling into third was a baldy-faced chestnut named Rising Prince. His time would come, and of that, his lady trainer was perfectly confident. Bounty Hawk finished a very poor eighth and there was the suspicion that his Western Australian campaign was beginning to take its toll.
In the wake of the Rosehill Guineas and the total eclipse of Bounty Hawk, Beechcraft and others, Tommy’s declaration that nothing that finished behind Alibhai would finish in front of him in the Derby, seemed incontrovertible. And as it transpired, nothing did. But Tommy should have been more concerned with the horse Bart didn’t start in the Guineas rather than the one he did. To be sure, he was not alone in such wilful unconcern for those horses that hadn’t pursued the traditional Derby programme. But two-and-a-half hours after the Guineas was run, Prolific and John Marshall stepped out to absolutely dominate the last race on the Rosehill card, a Welter over 1500 metres against older horses. It was the gelding’s third win in four starts during a preparation in which his only failure had come in the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap.
It was the manner of that victory and the smart time clipped by Prolific in achieving it that gravitated Bart towards the Derby rather than the Doncaster with the Vice Regal gelding. Until Rosehill Guineas Day, the Cups’ King believed in Bounty Hawk for the Derby but that colt seemed to be training off, perhaps not surprising, given his exhaustive summer campaign in Perth. Just seven three-year-olds had won the Doncaster since World War II, the last being Emancipation the year before, and previous to her, Tontonan, trained by Bart in 1973. Prolific was no Emancipation or Tontonan over the mile, and in what appeared a soft year for three-year-olds, the Derby against his own age group seemed the easier prospect. Besides, Bart had a classy four-year-old mare named Royal Regatta sheltering in Leilani Lodge; she had won both the V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes and S.A.J.C. Australasian Oaks the previous season and Bart fancied that she could win the Doncaster with just 52.5 kg.
While a week later Beechcraft and Bounty Hawk chased home Hayai and Trissaro in the weight-for-age S.T.C. Tancred Stakes in their final Derby trials, earlier on the same card Prolific sustained a strong finishing run to score impressively in the Tulloch Stakes over 2000 metres against his own age group. It was the gelding’s sixth win from eleven starts but it was the manner of the victory that impressed, with jockey John Marshal relaxing the horse midfield before coming seven-wide in his storming finishing run. While publicly Bart maintained an ambivalence as to whether it would be the Doncaster or the Derby, his delicate critical instinct had sensed that Prolific would stay. He was now convinced, as were the owners Richard Gaffney and Joe Gazal. As it transpired and much to Bart’s chagrin, a Vice Regal three-year-old would win the Doncaster, but it wouldn’t be Prolific.
The 1984 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Seventeen horses were accepted for the A.J.C. Derby although the late scratching of Not Declared saw only sixteen go to the post. On the strength of his Rosehill Guineas win, Alibhai opened as the 5/2 race favourite in course betting and remained at that price come starting time. Hitherto, Tommy Smith had achieved a remarkable 30 victories in the various Derbies conducted in Australia and it was a record that saw him tied with the great New Zealand trainer, Dick Mason. Mason, who, as we have seen in earlier chapters of this chronicle trained many top gallopers in New Zealand, won the New Zealand Derby 17 times, the Great Northern Derby 8 times and the Victoria Derby once. Added to this slew of triumphs were his four A.J.C. Derbies with Noctuiform (1905), Biplane (1917), Gloaming (1918) and Cupidon (1921). Smith desperately wanted another Derby to hold the record outright and believed that in Alibhai, he had the horse to do it.
Beechcraft, the Colin Hayes-trained colt and winner of both the Caulfield and Canterbury Guineas was the public’s second elect at 13/4. Englishman Robert Sangster was hoping to see his colours carried to victory in the classic for the second time in four years, following his 1981 success with Our Paddy Boy. Beechcraft’s form since arriving in Sydney had been first class and apart from his win at Canterbury included impressive placings in both the Rosehill Guineas and Tancred Stakes. Brent Thomson had been controversially given a stay of proceedings to enable him to accept the mount on Beechcraft, despite pleading guilty to a charge of careless riding on Nouvelle Star in The Galaxy on the previous Saturday. Thomson had lodged an appeal over the severity of the sentence. He was flying to the United Kingdom on the following Friday to begin a riding contract there for Sangster and his suspension had threatened to compromise the start of that arrangement.
Bounty Hawk occupied the third line of Derby betting. The Balmerino gelding’s last win had come in the W.A.T.C. Australian Derby in Perth on Boxing Day and many punters were sceptical that any horse subject to a gruelling summer campaign in Perth could be at his best for an autumn campaign in Sydney. And as we have seen, Bounty Hawk’s recent Sydney form had become decidedly ordinary. After impressive seconds in both the Hobartville Stakes and Canterbury Guineas when relatively fresh, Bounty Hawk had then failed miserably in the Rosehill Guineas. At his latest appearance, he had failed to run a place in the weight-for-age Tancred Stakes. Wayne Harris, who was sharing with Marshall many of Cummings’s Sydney mounts, had the ride. On the next line of Derby betting was the New Zealand galloper, Imaprince, trained at Levin by B. A. (Mick) Preston for the Californian bloodstock authority, John Bell. A son of the Waikanae sire Heir Apparent II, Imaprince boasted a five-length victory in the New Zealand St Leger, although it had occurred on a surface much heavier than that being served up at Randwick.
Prolific at 8/1 was on the fifth line of Derby betting, followed jointly by Mr Ironclad and Pleasant Star. Mr Ironclad was the narrow winner of the S.T.C. Phar Lap Stakes (1500 metres) at Rosehill on the last day of March before a disappointing second last in the S.T.C. Rosehill Guineas. At his only attempt over the 2400 metres, Mr Ironclad had finished sixth in the New Zealand Derby. He was the only horse in the race being partnered by an apprentice, Darren Beadman. Pleasant Star was the second string from Tulloch Lodge and carried the famous colours of international racing personality and leading Singapore trainer, Ivan Allen. The Silver Dream gelding had been purchased by Allen with the intention of transporting him to Singapore for the Derby there, but Allen soon had second thoughts believing the horse deserved his chance at Randwick. Accordingly, he was a relatively recent addition to Tulloch Lodge. Pleasant Star hadn’t been spared as a racing proposition and while he was having only his third start for Smith in the Derby, it was his twenty-third in a career that had yielded just four victories. Still, the gelding had run the minor placing in the Great Northern Guineas behind New Zealand’s crack galloper I’m Henry. For the fourth year in a row, the Geoff Murphy stable representative was a son of Sir Tristram, although Tri-Flow’s form had been disappointing since the Canterbury Guineas.
The decision to opt for the Derby in preference to the Doncaster with Prolific yet again demonstrated the Cummings’ trademark afflatus. On paper, it didn’t appear to be a strong year for three-year-olds and while there was a question mark at the classic distance about Prolific, Bart knew that the powerful gelding could unleash a sustained sprint at the end, provided the entire trip wasn’t a helter-skelter affair. Indeed, the ride that John Marshall was to give Prolific had Bart’s fingerprints all over it. It might be said that thirty years and more of Bart’s collective racing wisdom was packed into Marshall’s next two and a half minutes in the saddle once the barriers were released. In fine weather but on a track deadened by rain, Prolific had drawn gate sixteen but came in one stall closer to the rails with the race day scratching of Not Declared. Prolific had been significantly disadvantaged by the barrier draw, while his major rivals had been advantaged with Alibhai drawn in 9, Beechcraft in 7 and Bounty Hawk in 10. In their pre-race colloquy, Cummings urged Marshall not to put early pressure on Prolific to overcome his wide barrier in the relatively short run to the turn out of the Randwick straight.
Accordingly, as the field swept around that first turn, Prolific shared last placing one horse out from the inside running rail. By contrast, all of Prolific’s major rivals in Alibhai, Beechcraft and Bounty Hawk were racing far more forward together in the middle of the field. Prolific, despite his impressive build and strength, now relaxed beautifully into Marshall’s dextrous hands with the jockey sitting still in counterpoint to the more anxious tactics and footling manoeuvres adopted by some of his rival jockeys. The balance of the journey’s story may be told simply. Content with the pulse and rhythm of the race, Marshall bided his time, loitering with intent at the rear of the field when going up the Alison Road side of the course and around the back. Coming down the High-street side, Marshall slowly improved his position before his carpe diem moment arrived. Soon after passing the 800, he cut loose!
So quickly did Prolific make up ground as the congested field coalesced around the home turn, that Marshall’s mount was on the outside of a line of seven horses ready to pounce on the leader, Pleasant Star. Prolific may not have been blessed with indefatigable stamina, but given the pace of the race and Marshall’s early husbanding of the horse’s energies, he didn’t need to be. The irrefutable flair of his nostrils showed that Prolific was up for the fight; he maintained his finishing burst all the way to the post, drawing away to convincingly beat Alibhai, who had momentarily hit the front at the 200, by one-and-a-half lengths, with Beechcraft a further short half-head back in the minor placing. Bounty Hawk, hitherto the most highly-regarded staying three-year-old in Cummings’ stable, finished fourth and seemingly a tired horse. The winning time of 2 minutes 24.8 seconds, was well outside the race record on the dead surface. The only blot on Marshall’s ride came with a warning from the A.J.C. Chief Steward, John Schreck, that Marshall hadn’t properly cleared Beechcraft when charging past him in the straight, although no further action was taken.
For the jockey, John Marshall’s victory in the A.J.C. Derby came in only his fourth ride in the race. Born on 3 October 1958 and a native of Western Australia, when Marshall turned fifteen and resolved to become a jockey, he quickly realised that there was little future for junior riders in his home city of Perth. Encouraged by his supportive mother who was ambitious for her son’s sake, she had telephoned a friendly Roman Catholic priest, Father George Russo, who first asked the successful Randwick trainer and fellow member of the faith, Pat Murray, if he would agree to indenture Marshall. So, the lad packed his bags and headed east, taking lodgings with Pat and Margaret Murray in their Hay-street home. But papers couldn’t be signed until John had been accepted into a local school. Accordingly, he enrolled in Marcellin College in Alison Road, Randwick, an independent Roman Catholic secondary school not far from the racecourse. Marshall was only enrolled for a few days but it was enough to qualify him for indentureship and he soon swapped his school bag for a saddlebag.
John Marshall may have been raised in Perth, but he grew up at Randwick. The 15-year-old might not have fully appreciated it at the time, but in securing the gentlemanly and genial Pat Murray as his master, he had been gifted a golden opportunity in the fabulous Sport of Kings. Murray hailed from an old-school, established racing family. Pat’s father, Tom, for many years, had been one of the leading trainers in the Newcastle and Maitland district. Indeed, Tom Murray only left Newcastle to train in Sydney when the Broadmeadow racecourse was closed in 1935 and he was never to return. In what would become something of a family tradition, Tom had enjoyed his greatest success with stayers and his most notable achievement came in training Grand Fils to win The A.J.C. Metropolitan in 1942 and the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap and Tattersall’s Cup in 1944.
Two years later, Murray landed a good plunge in the 1946 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes with the Veilmond horse Native Son, ridden by Billy Briscoe, a horse Alf Ellison had bred in his backyard and which marked his first success as a hobby breeder. It was to Tom Murray that a promising, young Townsville apprentice, Bill Camer, had his indentures transferred from J. T. (Jack) Hughes in April 1950. Pat Murray was then serving as Tom’s foreman, a role he had taken up from the very moment that he left school. It was only when Tom Murray died of a heart seizure one morning in July 1951 while watching Randwick trackwork that his son Pat applied for, and was granted, a No. 1 A.J.C. licence in September of the same year.
Success wasn’t long in coming for the 24-year-old Pat Murray on the racecourse in his own right, and his first winner arrived with Great World at the 1951 A.J.C. Spring Meeting in the Final Handicap. Murray’s second metropolitan winner was Flywood, a Delville Wood colt bred by the Payten family at Alfalfa that Tom Murray had picked out as a yearling for the owner Stan Chatterton. Chatterton got him for just 650 guineas because everyone supposedly in the know at those yearling sales said the colt was a ratbag. Upon Tom Murray’s death, Flywood had been transferred briefly to Fred Allsop but once Pat got his licence and settled in, Flywood came back and it was said that Allsop was glad to get rid of the colt. Pat Murray gave racegoers a glimpse of his talent with stayers when he prepared Flywood as a 25/1 outsider to finish runner-up in the 1952 A.J.C. Derby behind the expensive Deep River. Sadly, it was as close as Pat would ever get to winning the Randwick blue riband and it happened in just his second season of training. While it wouldn’t be until November 1961 at Warwick Farm that Murray would train his first metropolitan treble, there were some good horses that would pass through his stables over the years including the likes of Bronze Peak, Karendi, Pharmacy, River Seine, Tea Biscuit, Pirate Bird, Tails, Flagrante, Go Fun, Sunset Red, Lord Randolph, Nourishing, Such Fun, Dandy Dresser and Great Klaire.
Pat Murray and his wife Margaret, the daughter of Randwick trainer Johnny Donohoe, made the shy John Marshall feel very much at home at ‘Heroic Lodge’. Pat Murray soon realised that in the Perth youngster, no ordinary apprentice had arrived upon his doorstep. Well-balanced both in and out of the saddle, Marshall revealed himself as a quietly studious and dedicated professional with a fine sense of timing on a racehorse. Murray, a wily trainer of stayers, appreciated more than most the value of a claiming apprentice who understood the difference between 15 seconds and 16 seconds to the furlong in any race but particularly in staying events. The master inculcated in his apprentice a capacity for hard work, encouraging the lad to ride as much trackwork for rival Randwick trainers as possible. And those seeds of accommodation sown in the early morning mists at Randwick soon fructified into race day mounts from some of Sydney’s leading trainers. Marshall’s first metropolitan double came in March 1978 at Warwick Farm, an achievement he matched at Rosehill three months later. At the end of that 1977-78 season, aided and abetted by mounts from most of Sydney’s leading trainers including Tommy and Bart, Marshall finished third in the apprentices’ premiership with 31 wins, behind Mark De Montfort (47) and Stephen Lake (32).
In December 1978, John Marshall was named the dux of the A.J.C. apprentices’ school. However, he was never destined to win the Sydney apprentices’ title given the emergence of the more precocious Wayne Harris over the next two seasons. Marshall finally lost his apprentice claim with his 60th winner on his master’s Great Klaire, an imported mare with a tender mouth, in the A.J.C. Furious Stakes in September 1979 and was soon riding as a fully-fledged jockey. Perhaps it was inevitable that Bart would eventually holler for the Marshall when seeking to recruit a No. 1 rider for his Sydney stable. Jockeyship apart, Marshall possessed the two qualities that Cummings most looked for in any gifted rider: patience and a willingness to follow a trainer’s instructions. Bart trained his horses, particularly his stayers, to be relaxed and patient in a race and he wanted his jockeys on top to be the same. Bart with his unhurried worldly wisdom on the racecourse found the ideal agent in the young man from the West possessed of an imperturbable temper and conciliatory manner.
Marshall was enjoying big-race rides from Cummings as early as 1979 when he partnered with Stormy Rex in The A.J.C. Metropolitan. Such was his faith in the lad from the West that Cummings even legged him up on La Zap in the 1980 Melbourne Cup, for which the mare was the 7/1 second favourite. The trainer traditionally had a strong penchant for Melbourne jockeys in Melbourne races, so the faith in Marshall was faith indeed. Alas, the pair could only finish sixth behind Beldale Ball. Marshall wouldn’t land his first Melbourne winner until his fifth ride there when he won the 1982 V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes aboard the Cummings-trained filly, Royal Regatta, claiming Rom’s Stiletto in the final stride. Cummings and Marshall first combined to win a big race when Cordon Rose took out the 1981 S.T.C. Rosemount Classic at Rosehill. Their next significant victory came in the very same race the following year with Sheraco. Marshall then made it an autumn affair to remember when he partnered the same chestnut filly, a half-sister to Stormy Rex, to triumph in both the S.T.C. Storm Queen Stakes and the A.J.C. Oaks in the following weeks. It was a partnership that even more firmly secured his position as Cummings’ number-one Sydney rider.
For all of Marshall’s success, the unfeigned humility remained and it was there for all to see on Derby Day. The jockey admitted to journalists that he had been disappointed when Bart had scratched Prolific from the Doncaster Handicap as he doubted the gelding’s capacity to run 2400 metres on the preparation he had undergone. Marshall might have underrated the gelding’s capacities, but he should never have underrated Bart’s. In many ways, the 1983-84 racing season was John Marshall’s breakthrough year into the big time. Too often in the past, his reflections on the major race meetings had been tinged with the self-reproach that came with the knowledge that he had chosen the wrong stable mount. Not so that season. Apart from having won the Epsom Handicap on Cool River and the Derby on Prolific, six days later Marshall made it an autumn to remember when he landed the Sydney Cup on Trissaro. The common element to all three gallopers, of course, was that each was trained by the Cups’ King who may have been unlucky not to win the Doncaster as well when Royal Regatta was defeated in both a close finish and a stewards’ room protest afterwards.
Prolific’s A.J.C. Derby triumph was also a triumph for his sire Vice Regal and that stallion’s remarkable first crop. A brown colt by the English-bred stallion Bismark II out of the Le Filou mare Kind Regards, herself the winner of the A.R.C. Great Northern Oaks, Vice Regal had enjoyed a distinguished career on the New Zealand Turf. The second-weighted colt on the Two-Year-Old Free Handicap of his year, he had won 5 of his 8 starts that season including the Ellerslie Sires’ Produce Stakes by eight lengths from Silver Lad. Vice Regal went on with the job as an early season three-year-old too, winning the Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes, 1ZH Guineas Trial, Great Northern Guineas, Wellington Guineas and the New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas in succession. Late in the season, he came across to Adelaide and won the S.A.J.C. St Leger.
As a four and five-year-old, Vice Regal intermixed his racing between Australia and New Zealand, winning the V.A.T.C. Liston Stakes and M.V.R.C. Feehan Stakes at four besides running the minor placing in the W. S. Cox Plate behind Family Of Man; and taking the M.V.R.C. Freeway Stakes at five. Having won or been placed in 43 of his 59 starts, Vice Regal was retired in 1979 to his owner-trainer Jim Campin’s Chequers Stud at Cambridge where his own sire Bismark II had been the foundation stallion. Vice Regal achieved a sensational start as a stallion when he got Prolific, Vite Cheval and Eva Grace in his first crop. Alas, Vice Regal never quite went on with the job and although he would eventually sire some 32 stakes winners of 65 stakes races including the likes of All Glory, Reganza and Sapio, he never again enjoyed a season quite like his first in 1982-83 when he was the leading first-season sire in Australia. Perhaps Vice Regal’s greatest legacy came through his daughters who collectively dropped 13 individual winners of Group One races.
How Bart must have anticipated the seasons to come with both Prolific and Bounty Hawk as four and five-year-olds! Alas, the subsequent glory fell well short of the dream. Prolific proved a profound problem horse after his achievements in the autumn of his three-year-old season and he soon dissolved out of media focus. After resuming the new season with an unplaced run in the A.J.C. Warwick Stakes in August, he was taken to Melbourne where he won the Group 2 V.R.C. Craiglee Stakes at his very next start. It was to be the only success in his post-Derby life. Despatched as a short-priced favourite in both the V.A.T.C. Underwood Stakes and Caulfield Stakes, he disappointed connections in both, before finishing a poor tenth in Affinity’s Caulfield Cup when sent out a 6/1 equal second favourite with his stablemate, Bounty Hawk.
Well-founded rumours persisted throughout that campaign that Prolific was suffering from inflammation of the back muscles. Returned to training in the autumn of 1985, the horse underwent an unorthodox preparation that saw him first-up attempt the V.R.C. sprint double of the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap. Disappointing in each, he returned to Sydney to take the minor placing in both the Rawson Stakes and Tancred Stakes at Rosehill before a poor fifteenth at his last appearance as a four-year-old in the A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap won that year by the outsider Row Of Waves. Following his failure behind Lord Of Camelot in the 1985 Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes and a difference of opinion with Bart Cummings, owner Richard Gaffney switched stables with Prolific and sent him to Rosehill to be prepared instead for a brief time by Paul Sutherland. Returned to Cummings in February 1986, the Cups’ King recommended to the owners that Prolific be sold to race in America where it was hoped that a more laissez-faire approach to administering the drug phenylbutazone might prolong the horse’s racing career. The new owners were to be disappointed.
Bounty Hawk proved a different proposition. Cummings had always regarded him as a high-class handicapper rather than a genuine weight-for-age horse and he was delighted when he got him into the 1984 Caulfield Cup with 54kg and the Melbourne Cup with only one kg more. From the moment weights were declared the lean and hungry gelding was set for the Cups’ double. Bounty Hawk resumed as a four-year-old with placings in the Warwick Stakes, Chelmsford Stakes and Hill Stakes before being taken to Melbourne where he won the Group 1 Underwood Stakes on a slow track at Caulfield. Although he failed when the 9/4 favourite in the V.R.C. Turnbull Stakes and Cummings was critical of Darren Gauci’s ride, the run topped him off nicely for the $327,000 Caulfield Cup for which his Victoria Derby-winning jockey, Harry White, was back in the saddle. How unlucky they were not to take the prize. Bounty Hawk almost fell when he blundered into the back of Colonial Flag at the 1800 metres mark. He recovered quickly and looked the likely winner when turning for home, only to be outstayed by the powerful finish of Affinity to go under by a half-length. The Caulfield Cup that year was a triumph for the veterans, Jim Moloney and Pat Hyland, the trainer-jockey team that had been together since Hyland joined the stable as a tiny fifteen-year-old apprentice.
Bounty Hawk posted a brilliant Melbourne Cup trial when he took the Mackinnon Stakes on the first day of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. In doing so Harry White only rode him out hands and heels to better his A.J.C. Derby rival Alibhai by a neck, but it saw him go to the post for the Melbourne Cup on the following Tuesday as the 4/1 equal favourite. Bart always looked back on that Cup as one that got away. After entering thirty-six horses for the race back in June, Bounty Hawk was his sole representative. But he was confident about this gelding who had won $654,620 going into the race, declaring: “I don’t think any of my Cup horses of the past have come through a preparation better than this.” Bart confessed that he had even prepared a short speech in readiness for the presentation.
Alas, Bounty Hawk was virtually knocked out of contention in the first 600 metres when the giant brown New Zealand gelding, Secured Deposit, pushed him over the heels of other horses, inconveniencing Alibhai in the scrimmage. The New Zealand jockey Neil Hain was later suspended for four weeks by V.R.C. stewards after an adjourned inquiry into the race. Bart and Bounty licked their wounds and waited for the Japan Cup later that same month in which the horse was Australia’s nomination. Bounty Hawk could only run eighth in the Japan Cup after being prominent early. Upon his return to Sydney, the gelding underwent a surgical operation for his wind-sucking, a habit that had worsened during the course of the recent campaign, and which involved a sizeable incision in his neck muscles.
Bounty Hawk never again regained his best form after the operation and the V.R.C. Mackinnon Stakes proved to be his last victory on a racecourse. Brought back by Cummings in the spring of 1985, Bounty Hawk was again aimed at the Cups’ double. However, after finishing a reasonable seventh behind Tristarc in the Caulfield Cup, he developed a bruised and infected hoof which forced his scratching from the Melbourne Cup three days before the race and thereby left the Cups’ King without a runner. It was after that failed campaign that Bounty Hawk was transferred into the stables of leading New Zealand trainer, Dave O’Sullivan, following a falling out between the Atkins family and Cummings. It was notable that when the family successfully raced some of Balmerino’s later progeny in Sydney, including Rajamah and Bountiful Star (a full sister to Bounty Hawk), they did so through the stables of Bart’s great rival, Tommy Smith.
And what of Alibhai and Tommy after that famous 1984 A.J.C. Derby? True to his word, Tommy sent the colt out for the Sydney Cup five days later, although the chestnut could only run third behind Trissaro and his stablemate Our Shout. Rested and brought back to racing as a spring four-year-old, Alibhai won the prestigious V.A.T.C. Caulfield Stakes, before finishing an unlucky fourth in the Caulfield Cup, and eighteenth in the Melbourne Cup after suffering interference. Returning in the autumn, Alibhai was in the best form of his career, winning both the S.T.C. Rawson Stakes and H. E. Tancred Stakes at weight-for-age and thereby earning a bonus of $75,000 offered by the club for any horse that could do the double. Alibhai finished off his four-year-old season and indeed his racing career when beaten a long head by Rising Prince in the A.J.C. Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Undoubtedly, the best horse to emerge from that 1984 A.J.C. Derby field was Rising Prince. A tough and rugged chestnut gelding with a prominent white blaze, he was homebred from the Rockleer Stud at Bathurst, by the American stallion Round Top who stood there. Husband and wife, Vince and Deidre Stein owned the Rockleer Stud and Vince’s mother Violet had bred the horse although he was raced on lease by a Lithgow syndicate of twelve, a mix of battling labourers, miners and publicans. As perhaps befitted such an unlikely gelding of unfashionable breeding raced by a team of plebeians from the coalfields, Rising Prince was that rare animal of the times in that he was trained by a woman. Deidre Stein, country housewife, mother and stud co-manager, was a remarkable horsewoman in both an era and a sport in which, until then, few women had ever provoked the sanctity of male authority and where the exclusively male principal race club committees remained the sole arbiters of that patriarchy.
As far back as June 1983, after Rising Prince had won a 1200-metre race for two-year-olds at Bathurst, Deidre Stein had then declared to local journalists: “This horse will run in the A.J.C. Derby!” He did, too. Although an 80/1 outsider in the race and only managing to finish eleventh behind Prolific, he was at least the first Australian-bred horse past the post. Rising Prince first emerged as a class racehorse during the A.J.C. Summer Meeting later that year when he became just the third galloper to ever win the Villiers Stakes-Summer Cup double at Randwick, matching the achievements of Carioca and Dear John in 1952 and 1978 respectively. As an autumn four-year-old, Rising Prince franked his summer form by winning both the Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes after a thrilling duel with Alibhai all the way down the Randwick straight.
As impressive as those victories had been, the best was yet to come. Transported to Queensland to spell during the winter months, Rising Prince resumed racing for a spring campaign that saw him triumphant in the holiest of racing’s grails, the W. S. Cox Plate. Ridden by his regular jockey, the redoubtable Kevin Langby, then in the twilight of his stellar career, Rising Prince, usually a natural free-going front runner, went to the post at 7/1 in the fourteen-strong field. Afforded the sweetest of rides by Langby, who on this occasion elected to sit behind the pacemaker Roman Artist, Rising Prince dashed to the lead on the turn to win by two-and-a-half lengths from the three-year-olds, Roman Artist and Drawn.
Yes, it might have been a sub-standard Cox Plate field but somehow that day Rising Prince, and the team of Aussie bush battlers behind him, transfigured the commonplace into a racing moment eternal. They all belonged at Moonee Valley! This tightest of Melbourne tracks which lies in the heart of Dame Edna Everage country, Moonee Valley had long been a club where Labor men and women felt more at home than, say, the rarefied environs of Caulfield or Flemington. Indeed, the more egalitarian M.V.R.C. had admitted women to full membership when the V.A.T.C. and the V.R.C. still debarred them from crossing a coloured line in their betting rings. Was it any wonder that Deidre Stein relished her moment of being Queen of the Valley? A week later at the more class-conscious Flemington, Rising Prince again defied his aristocratic brethren by adding the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes to his portfolio of triumphs, in what proved to be the last major win of his career.
The three-year-old colts of the 1983-84 season failed to make any significant impression on the Australian Stud Book when it came to stallion success. Sir Dapper seemed the brightest hope when he retired to part-owner Mike Willesee’s recently established and expanded Transmedia Park Stud at Cootamundra, formerly known as the Dawson Stud when owned by the late Ferd Calvin. Despite receiving a good supply of quality mares, Sir Dapper never lived up to expectations. He never sired a Group 1 winner although he did sire eight individual stakes winners of eleven races with the best of his progeny being that smart two-year-old, Dapper Magic, winner of the 1993 Silver Slipper Stakes. When one looks back on that A.J.C. Derby field of 1984, the colt who enjoyed the most interesting stud career was arguably Alibhai. Retired prematurely to stud after campaigning as an autumn four-year-old, Alibhai became the foundation stallion of the newly floated Blandford Lodge Limited. In a development that is difficult to understand now and was soon to prove a spectacular failure even then, it came about with the popular trend to help capitalise established studs and afford them the opportunity to acquire better quality bloodstock, by floating the studs as publicly listed companies during those bad, mad, rampant days of the 1980s stock market boom.
Blandford Lodge, located in the lush Matamata district on the North Island, had first been developed in the 1940s but had really taken off after being purchased by Sir Jack Butland in the 1950s, particularly after his coming together with Morrie Grogan as the stud manager. It was after Butland’s death in December 1982 that Blandford Lodge was acquired by Brian Freyer and associates and later launched as a public company, with Tommy Smith among others as a director. Some forty well-bred mares were acquired by the company to assist Alibhai on his stallion journey. Of course, it was all likely to end in tears for the general public and did so when Blandford Lodge Limited failed to survive the 1987 stock market crash. It was eventually dispersed in 1992 but not before quite a few people had lost quite a bit of money. Considering the quality of his harem, Alibhai must be adjudged a relative failure as a stallion. Although he did manage to get six individual stakes winners of ten stakes races, two of them were V.R.C. Grand National Hurdle winners and none of the others ever won a Group 1 race. His best performer was Silk Ali, winner of the S.T.C. Hill Stakes and the V.A.T.C. Sandown Cup. But, of course, all that lay in the future.
Let us return for a moment to those last cold days of winter as that 1983-84 racing season drew to a close. Tommy Smith could only look back ruefully and reflect. Yes, he had claimed his 32nd successive Sydney trainers’ premiership, and far more comfortably than he had the season before. This time Smith enjoyed a margin of 48 wins over the runner-up, Neville Begg, with their totals coming in at 109 and 61 wins respectively. But on the scoreboard that really mattered most in an era in which Australian racing had finally broken out of its narrow capital city parochialism, namely Australia-wide Group One wins, Smith had trailed his real rival rather badly. Whereas Smith’s only elite victories had come with Alibhai in the Rosehill Guineas and Chiamare in the Q.T.C. Brisbane Cup and A.J.C. Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Cummings’s tally for the season was impressive indeed.
Bart had trained six individual Group One winners (Prolific, Bounty Hawk, Taj Eclipse, Cool River, Ideal Planet and Trissaro) of 9 Group One races viz. A.J.C. Derby, W.A.T.C. Australian Derby, W.A.T.C. Western Mail Classic, V.R.C. Victoria Derby, V.R.C. Oaks, A.J.C. Epsom Handicap, S.A.J.C. Goodwood Handicap, A.J.C. Sydney Cup and the V.A.T.C. Underwood Stakes. Alibhai notwithstanding, Smith’s absence of high-class three-year-olds had cost him dearly. But as the Master of Tulloch Lodge surveyed the frosty, wintry landscape of Randwick racecourse during early morning trackwork and anticipated the new season to come, he had a pretty fair inkling that things were about to change. Never short of optimism even at the worst of times, Smith had just taken over the training of a rising three-year-old colt from the Paul Sutherland yard. A long-striding chestnut powerhouse by the French-bred stallion, Sea Anchor, Tommy was convinced that in his hands the horse – already the winner of the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes – would become the first three-year-old to win one million dollars in a season. But, of course, the telling of that tale will require a new chapter…
William (Bill) Howey
Thank you for another most engaging narrative, Ian. You refer to the Easter yearling sale of 1982? My spouse Sarah and I bred ‘Norseman’. In the encomium reproduced below there is reference to hoaxers. I was once the unwitting victim of a serious hoax. John Inglis was my salvation. I/we had just sold a yearling by ‘Bletchingly’ for the then enormous sum of $105,000:00 in 1982 knocked down to champion trainer T J Smith. My brown colt out of ‘Beyond All’ was lot number 13 in the Easter Catalogue. ‘Beyond All’ was a sister-in-blood to champion mare ‘Lowland’. ‘Kingston Town’ was at his peak and ‘Bletchingly’ was champion sire. Angus Armanasco had inspected him and declared “he was the most like ‘Bletchingly’ he had seen”. The planets were aligned. I was floating on air as I descended from the vendor’s box. I almost knocked over cold, steely, grey-eyed George Freeman who had the next lot in the ring. From there things started to go awry. The supposed purchaser, a Mr. Prosser came back to the stables with us and discussed possible names. The same buyer also bought a Biscay colt from Sir Tristan Antico’s ‘Baramul Stud’ for $80,000:00. I conducted an interview with a commercial TV station. The portents were excellent; until Mr. Prosser turned out to be a complete fraud! John Inglis tried to chase him down including through a local Synagogue, but the man was a charlatan without any money, capacity or intent to pay! John came to see me. He looked me in the eye and said: ‘Don’t worry Bill; Tommy (T J Smith) and I have been doing business for 40 years. You’ll get your money’. He was as good as his word. My colt raced as ‘Norseman’ and won a midweek race at Rosehill for co-owner Mrs. Darby Munro. Sir Tristan’s Biscay colt was more successful racing as ‘The Challenge’.
The work of a GENIUS !
Thanks for the compliment!