Kings of the Turf

A History of the AJC Derby From 1861 to 1984

1986 – Bonecrusher!

Where do I begin the story of Bonecrusher? It seems to me that the Claudelands Yearling Sales at Waikato in 1984 is as good a place as any. Peter Mitchell, an Auckland businessman cum gambler who conducted his own finance company, was in attendance with his trainer, Frank Ritchie. Mitchell had a background in racing and gambling in that his father had once been a capable owner-trainer based in Ellerslie who had enjoyed high-level success with Misere. Now Misere in solo whist is a bid by which a player undertakes to win no tricks. Contrary to the name, Mitchell pere who, like his son was no stranger to a pack of cards, proceeded to win any number of tricks with this nondescript brown gelding of ordinary breeding, including both the 1965 A.R.C. Newmarket and Royal Stakes, as well as the W.R.C. Telegraph Handicap the following year.

Peter Mitchell  was now hoping to win a few tricks of his own and intended buying a chestnut colt by Pag-Asa out of the Oakville mare, Imitation at the sales. It was the only yearling in which he was interested. Like Misere, this colt’s breeding was none too flash either, and Mitchell was confident that he would fall to him rather cheaply. However, Mitchell enjoyed an advantage over rival bidders that day. Twelve months earlier he had acquired the colt’s older brother out of the same sale. Registered as Superbrat and named after the controversial tennis player John McEnroe, the horse was a bit of a ratbag and yet to race but had shown genuine speed in some of his track trials. As it transpired, a serious virus ruined his career before it really began. It would be tempting to speculate whether Mitchell shared his intention to buy Superbrat’s brother with anyone other than Frank Ritchie, and if so, whether on the basis of the colt’s bloodlines that third party responded with McEnroe’s most famous quote when disputing line calls: “You cannot be serious.”

Peter Mitchell

Ah! But Mitchell was serious! This latest yearling out of Imitation, a rich copper chestnut with a white star on his forehead, although athletic, was no oil painting; he bore an unsightly scar on his nearside shoulder, the result of an argument with a concrete post and a barbed wire fence when just a weanling. At  the time, he was going through a gateway from one of his breeder’s paddocks into another with three or four other weanlings, when he struck himself. It was a nasty injury but never cut quite to the bone.  The question then was: To put him down or to stitch him up? Stitched up he was, and he developed a splendid walking action which was on display that day at Claudelands even if he didn’t look much like a Star Kingdom-type from behind. Against little opposition and with brisk bidding, Superbrat’s brother was acquired for just $NZ3,250.  In the weeks after the sale when Mitchell was casting about for a name, the American heavyweight boxing champion, James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith, administered Frank Bruno’s first professional defeat at Wembley Arena in London. Smith’s nickname appealed to Mitchell and seemed rather appropriate for his latest yearling, given the scar he bore from his earlier fight with the fence. Bonecrusher it was to be! Frank Ritchie later admitted that he didn’t like the name at first. But once the horse had started to race and shown his courage and grit in tight finishes, his sheer grinding will to win, the fact was that the bones he was crushing weren’t his own, but his opponents. Ultimately, the name added fame to the legend.

If Superbrat explains Mitchell’s purchase of Bonecrusher, what explains his purchase of Superbrat? The answer was the research and analysis done by a wizened old man named Harold Hampton, London-born, he was a retired New Zealand postmaster who seldom went to the races and rarely placed a bet. However, for more than thirty years, he had been a keen student of thoroughbred pedigrees and the New Zealand and Australian Stud Books. Hampton published “The First Scientific Principles of Thoroughbred Breeding Part I” in 1954 and followed it up with Part II in 1956. Whereas Part I detailed his research and findings on the great blends in thoroughbred history, Part II analysed the origin of speed and the different breeding types affecting speed. It was Hampton who recommended the Pag-Asa/Imitation nick to Mitchell and Mitchell had the good sense or good luck to listen and to act.

Hampton’s theories on a desired pedigree involved intricate line breeding and a critical mass of distinguished common ancestors on both sides of the pedigree chart that led to a sense of balance. Ideally, he believed, a distinguished duplicated ancestor within a pedigree should come via a son and a daughter. Going back seven generations for both the sire and the dam of Bonecrusher, Ross du Bourg in his magisterial ‘The Australian and New Zealand Thoroughbred’, observes that Pag-Asa shared 57.03% of his ancestors in common with Imitation. In turn, Imitation shared 56.25% of her ancestors in common with Pag-Asa. Obviously, the closer-up the common ancestor is in the respective pedigree i.e. first remove, second remove etc., the greater its percentage weighting. These common distinguished ancestors in Bonecrusher’s pedigree include Hyperion, Bahram, Nearco, Dastur, Pharos, Blenheim, Phalaris and The Tetrarch. A rollcall of the good and great!

Of all the New Zealand yearlings on offer in 1984 in Peter Mitchell’s price bracket, Bonecrusher was the only one Hampton recommended. I might add that despite all the breakthroughs of modern science, the world of genetics still remains something of a sweet mystery. When it comes to the world of the thoroughbred, there seems to be as many breeding systems as there are betting systems, with breeders and bettors alike stumbling about in the dark, gambling, with only the flickering light of a lantern to shine the way. Bonecrusher proved to be the triumph of Harold Hampton’s life of bloodstock breeding theories and the old man lived long enough to witness the horse’s entire career. Hampton died at the age of 80 in August 1992.

However, even with the wisdom of hindsight, it is hard to see what attracted Hampton so keenly to the pedigree. Yes, Pag-Asa was a son of Kaoru Star and thus a grandson of Star Kingdom, arguably the most successful thoroughbred stallion ever to set foot on Australian soil, as his biographer Peter Pring maintains in his book ‘The Star Kingdom Story’. And yes, as Peter Pring also observes, there never has been a stallion in Australia who has remotely approached his deeds as a sire of sires. Indeed, twenty-four of Star Kingdom’s sons sired stakes winners in Australia including Sky High, Todman, Shifnal, Biscay, Kaoru Star, Planet Kingdom, Faringdon, King Apollo, Star Of Heaven and Sunset Hue. In turn, these sons proved themselves as sires of sires as the likes of the following grandsons of Star Kingdom demonstrate viz. Bletchingly, Zephyr Bay, Marscay, Luskin Star, Marceau and Imposing. The difference between those six grandsons and Pag-Asa, however, was that each of them had won races at the highest level.

By comparison, Pag-Asa, trained at Randwick by Neville Begg for Eduardo Cojuangco, had managed just three wins from sixteen starts and a paltry $20,920 in stakes. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame on the racecourse was filling the minor placing in the Q.T.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes behind Karaman and Parade, albeit six lengths away. Named after the Philippine word for ‘hope’, I can remember backing Pag-Asa to win a juvenile handicap at Rosehill in May 1978 with Ron Quinton in the saddle when he was the favourite, and he only just fell in. An August foal bred at Arthur Baxter’s Macquarie Stud, Wellington, Pag-Asa had been sold to Begg for $37,000 at that disappointing first annual Selected Breeder Yearling Sales of William Inglis back in May, 1977.

After Bonecrusher’s triumphant Sydney campaign as an autumn three-year-old had ended, Begg observed: “I don’t know how Pag-Asa could have sired a horse like that. He really was not of much account, but he was well bred and of the Star Kingdom sire line. His genes just might go straight back to Star Kingdom.” It was Owen Larsen who was responsible for importing Pag-Asa to New Zealand. A small-time breeder with a property at Newstead, Hamilton, Larsen was a long-time committeeman of the Waikato branch of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. Although Larsen bought Pag-Asa to stand as a stallion in New Zealand, the horse had only just come out of training and so he gave him a couple of starts through the Dave O’Sullivan stable when he first arrived. Pag-Asa proved equally unsuccessful on that side of the Tasman and after an adverse cardiograph, Larsen sold the stallion on to the former Melbourne Cup winning jockey, Ron Taylor, to stand at the latter’s El Ganador Stud in Cambridge. So much then for the sire line of Bonecrusher’s pedigree, what about the distaff side?

Imitation traced directly through the maternal line all the way back to Eulogy, the legendary foundation mare of New Zealand who was imported from England in 1915 by G. M. Currie for his Koatanui Stud. Alas, until the coming of Bonecrusher this particular branch of the Eulogy family had seemingly run out of puff. Oakville, the sire of Imitation, was a son of the dual (1950 and 1951) Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, Tantieme, and had been a modestly successful stallion, getting eleven individual stakeswinners of twenty-three stakes races, including a Wellington Cup winner in Timon and a New Zealand Cup winner in Oak Vue. Snow Bird, the dam of Imitation, was an undistinguished maiden daughter of Arctic Explorer. Imitation herself failed to win in her two New Zealand starts.

Hobby breeder Bill Punch had bred both Superbrat and Bonecrusher at his Te Kuiti property in the King Country, a region of the western North Island of New Zealand. It comprises hill country, large parts of which are forested. Better known for its timber, sheep and farming, it is looked upon as something of a backwoods insofar as bloodstock breeding is concerned. Still, none of this bothered the septuagenarian Harold Hampton nor Peter Mitchell. As Mitchell later reflected: “When Hampton looked at the pedigrees of Pag-Asa and Imitation, he told me that this was the ‘perfect nick’ that he’d been waiting for in a horse for a long time. I took notice. I respect the old man’s opinion. You can’t study pedigrees for fifty years and not come up with something.”

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Bonecrusher entered the Ellerslie stables of a 39-year-old man who had just started training on his own after co-training with his father, Merv Ritchie, for quite a few years. Although originally from a farming background, Merv Ritchie had become one of the most respected and popular horsemen in New Zealand in a career that spanned over forty years. Merv got bitten by the racing bug at the age of fourteen when a friend took him to the races for the first time. Almost immediately, he became apprenticed to Stan Bagby, who had High Caste and Kindergarten in his team. Ritchie soon put on weight which forced him into the jumping ranks. But he had talent. In the 1940-41 season, Merv Ritchie tied with A. E. Lord for the title of leading jumps rider in New Zealand, while his greatest successes in the saddle later came with J. T. Crawford’s Dauber in the 1945 Great Northern Steeplechase and the 11-year-old Surpeen in the 1947 Grand National Steeplechase when sporting the colours of Okoroire owner-trainer Gordon Campbell. By the time of his Grand National success, Ritchie had already transitioned to training a small team of horses and young Frank was a toddler.

Ellerslie Racecourse (N.Z. Herald)

Merv Ritchie eventually occupied the Ellerslie stables of his old boss, Stan Bagby, and while he never vied for premiership honours as a trainer, given his relatively small numbers, he invariably had a good horse. The first and the best of them was that great sprinting mare Yahabeebe, a daughter of the 1937 English Derby winner, Mid-day Sun. Foaled in 1953, Yahabeebe won 13 races from 22 starts in New Zealand and held the N.Z. record for 7 furlongs from 1959 until metric distances were introduced in 1973. Yahabeebe was brought to Australia a few times by Merv Ritchie as an older horse and was even trained for a time at Randwick by Tommy Smith; she ran second to Wiggle in the 1958 Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap, although she never showed her best form on this side of the Tasman.

The season after Yahabeebe was foaled came Ganymede, and it was with her that Merv Ritchie in fact made his first visit to Sydney. Although the top juvenile filly of her year in the Land of the Long White Cloud, she came up against a couple of good ‘uns in the Land of Oz that season in the shape of Tulloch and Todman. Athol Mulley partnered Ganymede in that very first Golden Slipper won by Todman, when unplaced in the field of eleven. The next top galloper that Ritchie trained was Blyton, cleverly named by her owners Sir James and J. C. Fletcher, as she was by Chatsworth II out of Bedtime Story. The top two-year-old filly of her year, Blyton won six stakes races in the calendar year 1962 and finished second in the Great Northern Derby behind Tatua after starting a warm favourite, but was never brought to Australia. No, the next class horse and the one with which Ritchie gained most notoriety in Australia was Terrific, owned by his long-term client, Dr Alex McGregor Grant.

By the time Terrific came along, Merv was training in partnership with his son, Frank. As the winner of both the Great Northern St Leger and the New Zealand St Leger, Terrific crossed the Tasman with a terrific reputation and campaigned in Melbourne in the spring of 1966 and 1967. This son of Gigantic after being well supported in early betting markets, ran unplaced in both the 1966 Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. Those failures puzzled Merv Ritchie and it wasn’t until afterwards that he discovered a ‘wolf’s tooth’ under the gum had been bothering the bay on that first visit. Perhaps more relevant for young Frank Ritchie’s future was Terrific’s second Australian spring campaign in 1967 in which, after flopping as a well-backed third favourite in the Caulfield Cup, he showed something of his true form when he ran a good second to the great Tobin Bronze in the W. S. Cox Plate. Of course, neither father nor son could know that redemption would be in store for the family in that very same race some nineteen years later!

During the decade of the 1970s, Merv Ritchie became a regular visitor to the Melbourne Spring Carnival. In 1970 and 1971, he campaigned here with Not Again, yet another son of Gigantic raced by Dr Alex McGregor Grant. He was unlucky in 1970 in that Not Again finished second in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup, Caulfield Stakes and C. B. Fisher Plate but failed in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. In 1971 while Not Again failed yet again in the Melbourne Cup, he did at least win the V.R.C. Hotham Handicap. Back again in 1973, Merv Ritchie won the Wallace Stakes at Caulfield with the three-year-old Lord Metric and the following year returned to take the Moonee Valley Gold Cup with the same horse. In 1977, he brought over (Lord) Silver Man to win the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes at Warwick Farm although the colt later lost form and failed to make the A.J.C. Derby field.

It is little remembered now that back in the winter of 1979, Merv Ritchie relocated to train in Sydney, in a venture that was to last a little over a year. Merv Ritchie explained the rationale for his relocation at the time: “I have decided to settle in Sydney so that Gary can get the credit that he is entitled to back home; but our New Zealand stable will keep me supplied with horses at Randwick. My sons, Frank and Gary, are well-established trainers in Auckland but my name kept rubbing off on their successes. They were not getting the credit they deserved, so I decided to get out of their way”. Merv Ritchie first rented a few boxes next door to Tommy Smith’s Tulloch Lodge at Randwick after being granted a visitor’s permit by the A.J.C. Ritchie started with just two maiden performers in Azranee and Cassoman and soon demonstrated his training skills, for within five months he won the 1979 A.J.C. Summer Cup with Azranee.

I was at Randwick on that occasion and remember it well as it was the first time in his career that Peter Cook had ridden four winners at headquarters and Azranee was one of them. Merv Ritchie stayed at Randwick for five months and was then forced to seek stable accommodation at Rosehill, which ultimately didn’t suit him. It was during Merv’s stay that a 35-year-old Frank Ritchie made his first trip to Australia, bringing with him the four-year-old Shahman. The stallion gave young Frank his very first group race in his own right when he took out the 1980 N. E. Manion Cup at Rosehill. Although Shahman later failed in the Sydney Cup, the visit awakened in Frank Ritchie a taste for triumphs at the highest level in Australia. He resolved to come again, but to bring a better horse next time.  The better horse arrived on his doorstep in the autumn of 1984 in the shape of Peter Mitchell’s newly acquired Pag-Asa colt.

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Bonecrusher & Frank Ritchie (N.Z. Herald)

In temperament, Bonecrusher was a nervous horse and not much time was wasted in gelding him, particularly given Mitchell’s and Ritchie’s previous experience with his highly-strung, year-older brother. Bonecrusher’s racecourse debut came at Avondale in The Kindergarten on heavy ground on the last day of August. In a field of twelve, the chestnut gelding finished just behind the placegetters. Eased in his work, Bonecrusher’s second public appearance saw him break his maiden status in a two-year-old race for colts and geldings at Ellerslie in late October before running the minor placing in the mud at Pukekohe in a quality handicap eight days later. Hitherto, Bonecrusher’s three races had all been at distances less than 900 metres and two of them had been on unfavourable heavy tracks. Frank Ritchie already knew that he had a promising galloper on his hands and set him aside until the late summer and the prospect of further and firmer ground. In February, Bonecrusher won his next two starts at Te Aroha and Ellerslie, each race being over 1200 metres and on good to fast going. Indeed, the event at Ellerslie was the Group 3 A.R.C. Eclipse Stakes, and Bonecrusher only got the race in the stewards’ room after being second across the line, beaten a nose, when it was adjudged that his brilliant finish had been checked by the winner Star Board, ultimately rated as the leading juvenile in New Zealand that season.

The performance was enough to convince Ritchie to transport the son of Pag-Asa across the Tasman and pursue a Golden Slipper dream. Gary Stewart, Bonecrusher’s only race jockey up until now, also made the journey. Ultimately, Bonecrusher failed to qualify for the Slipper and the trip yielded just three unplaced runs, starting with the Brambles Classic at Kembla Grange when Stewart partnered him, and ending with two minor handicaps at Randwick during the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting when he was ridden by Ron Quinton and David Walsh respectively. Ritchie came to believe that he might have trained the gelding too hard at the time. Bonecrusher returned to New Zealand for a winter spell with a record of three wins from eight starts. When the Australia-New Zealand classifications for two-year-olds emerged some weeks later, Bonecrusher was rated equal fourteenth in the listings on 53.5kg. The Golden Slipper winner Rory’s Jester topped the rankings with 58.5kg while Star Board came in fifth on 57kg.

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Bonecrusher commenced his three-year-old season with four consecutive placings as he gradually stepped up in distance. Resuming at Hastings in mid-September, he ran second in a 1200-metre handicap before running third and second respectively in the Winstone Guineas’ Trial (1400m) and the Winstone Guineas (1600m) on his home course of Ellerslie. Bonecrusher was then off the scene for a month after he injured himself on the track, and went to Riccarton for the N.Z. Two Thousand Guineas somewhat underdone as he had missed a lot of work. Although Bonecrusher could only finish third behind Random Chance and Field Dancer on holding ground – beaten a nose and two-and-a-quarter lengths, Ritchie was always convinced that first trip away to the South Island was the making of Bonecrusher as a racehorse. “I thought at the time the race would either flatten him or bring him on and thankfully it was the latter,” said Ritchie. The trainer may not have quite realised it, but Bonecrusher was now on the verge of greatness and would win his next seven starts on the reel.

A fortnight after the Guineas, Bonecrusher won the Bayer Classic (1600m) at Levin and then the Avondale Guineas (2000m) and New Zealand Derby (2400m). The New Zealand Derby in particular, gave Frank Ritchie immense satisfaction as it was one race that had eluded his father. The closest that Merv Ritchie ever came to winning it was in 1965 when Terrific and Grenville Hughes were beaten in a bob of the heads by Peterman, a Le Filou gelding partnered by Noel Riordan. After the Derby, Bonecrusher went on to defeat some good older horses such as Eva Grace, Abit Leica and Lacka Reason over 2000-metres in the Waik.R.C. International Stakes (N.Z. record time) and the A.R.C. New Zealand Stakes at Ellerslie. By now, Gary Stewart had discerned Bonecrusher’s preferred style of racing. The trick was to drop him out of the race and then after negotiating the home turn, unleash Red into the channel of fresh air down the middle of the course.  Clearly, the time had come for Messrs Ritchie, Stewart and Mitchell to return to the Harbour City of Australia, but they were bringing a different horse now. Bonecrusher landed in Sydney on Tuesday, 18 March, on his A.J.C. Derby quest, being hailed by Kiwis as better than Balmerino. The son of Pag-Asa was one of seventeen horses in the biggest airlift of New Zealand bloodstock in the history of Australasian racing.

All were being lured here by the big money – $4,485,000 – on offer on the last day of the S.T.C.’s autumn carnival and the entire A.J.C. Easter meeting. Trainer Frank Ritchie had chosen the relatively quiet atmosphere of Kerry Jordan’s Rosehill stables, with its large wooden boxes shaded by trees, for Bonecrusher’s home away from home. The rangy gelding had grown since his failure in three juvenile races here the previous autumn. He now stood fully 16.1 hands, high at the wither and with his long barrel and rein, looked every inch a stayer. Bonecrusher’s most notable physical characteristic, apart from his rich copper coat, was just how deep and flat he was in the shoulders. Given his relatively plain head, he may never have won a beauty contest, but he was a very athletic specimen. Although initially off his food upon landing, Bonecrusher soon regained his appetite. He and his regular jockey, Gary Stewart, were here for two races: the weight-for-age $500,000 S.T.C. Tancred Stakes and the $500,000 A.J.C. Derby. And the first of them came at Rosehill just four days after they landed.

Only 26,400 people attended that last day of the 1986 S.T.C. Autumn Carnival, less than normal because of the construction work on the partially built public/members grandstand. But nobody that was there on that Saturday, ever forgot what they witnessed. I rarely missed a Rosehill meeting back in those days, and Bonecrusher’s finish to come from last on the home turn in the sixteen-horse field to win going away was one of the finest performances I’d ever seen at the track. Peter Mitchell, Bonecrusher’s owner, loved the betting ring and his modus operandi in New Zealand was to have just one wager a day after telling both trainer and jockey how it was to be done. He brought the same philosophy to Rosehill. Sent to the post as the 5/2 favourite, Bonecrusher unleashed a tremendous burst of speed in the straight to defeat fellow three-year-old Rant and Rave by three-quarters of a length, with fellow Kiwi, Abit Leica, a further one-and-a-quarter lengths away. Bonecrusher was even eased up by Stewart before hitting the line.

The winning time of 2 minutes 31.1 on good ground was 3.7 seconds outside Trissaro’s race and course record, but that fact only served to emphasise the sheer quality of Bonecrusher’s performance even more. It was a race of two halves. While the first 1200 metres went by in a leisurely 1 minute 19.4 seconds, so slow that Stewart could have kept a diary of the trip, the second 1200 metres was 7.7 seconds faster. It is almost impossible to come from last in a big field in a slowly run race. Just how quickly Bonecrusher must have covered those last four hundred metres, suggested the Derby at Randwick wasn’t even going to be a contest. While Frank Ritchie might have suspected it before, it was the Tancred that ultimately convinced the trainer he had a champion on his hands! Reminiscing years later, Ritchie admitted: “I was in awe of him that day.” What struck me most was the gelding’s wonderful galloping action and his large stride, bringing his hindlegs right up underneath his stomach when he stretched out. Sheer poetry in motion!

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A.J.C. Derby Day dawned cloudy with a very light shower that quickly cleared. Although the skies remained largely overcast, there were occasional sunny periods in the afternoon, but the easterly winds rewarded those seasoned Randwick racegoers wise enough to sport an overcoat. A crowd of 35,445 was in attendance, and wagered $3.5 million on the Totalisator, creating an Australian on-course record. The off-course T.A.B. turnover was $14.8 million, a slight decline on the previous year’s $15.4 million. The A.J.C. Derby was the fourth race on the card and the field is shown in the table below:

A.J.C. Racebook

After his barnstorming finish to win the Tancred Stakes at Rosehill, Bonecrusher was sent to the post for the Derby at 6/4 on, Kingston Town apart, the shortest priced Derby favourite since Fair Summer in 1965. The second elect in the betting market was the expensive Khamacruz, the only Bart Cummings-trained runner. By the all-conquering stallion Sir Tristram out of the Sovereign Edition mare Lavender Hill, herself the winner of the 1978 W.R.C. Cuddle Stakes,  Khamacruz had sold for $NZ220,000 at the 1984 New Zealand National Yearling Sales. The price wasn’t surprising, for apart from Sir Tristram, the chestnut colt boasted a distinguished distaff side to his pedigree. Rosehill, his maternal granddam, had dropped both the brilliant Prince Ruling, winner of the 1981 S.T.C. George Ryder Stakes, and Rosie’s Girl, winner of the A.R.C. Great Northern Oaks. Khamacruz carried the ‘green, gold V and cap’ of the music publisher, record label owner and one-time Australian pop star, Rob (E. G.) Porter. Originally hailing from the working class Sydney suburb of Ashfield, for a brief time in the late 1980s, Porter made an expensive splash in Australasian bloodstock. Khamacruz had only been lightly-raced before the Derby and his ten starts had yielded two wins including the V.A.T.C. Schweppes Cup.

Victoria Derby: Handy Proverb & Acumen (Pinterest)

The Victoria Derby winner, Handy Proverb, a $7,000 yearling purchase at the 1984 ABCOS National Yearling Sale in Adelaide, was on the third line of betting. Two relative failures in both the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas had seen this son of Twig Moss fall from grace and he was one of three runners in the race from the Brian Mayfield-Smith yard, the others being Agent Provocative (50/1) and Indian Raj (60/1) who both carried the colours of Robert Sangster’s Swettenham Stud. Ironically, Periscope, at the time arguably the best performing three-year-old of Robert Sangster’s trained by Mayfield-Smith, wasn’t in the field. Periscope, the winner of both the S.T.C. Phar Lap Stakes and Tulloch Stakes at Rosehill in recent weeks and a half-brother to Bonecrusher’s sire to boot, hadn’t even been entered for the classic because he wasn’t showing enough at the time the A.J.C. entries closed.

Drawn, a diminutive colt by Star Shower and trained at Randwick by Les Bridge, was on the fourth line of betting. An early October foal, he had been bred by C. P. Tobin in Victoria and had been sold for $6,500 at the 1984 Sydney Easter Yearling Sales. In the spring, Drawn had narrowly won the V.A.T.C. Caulfield Guineas and then ran the minor placing in the W. S. Cox Plate behind Rising Prince and Roman Artist, finishing just over three lengths behind the winner. Drawn had not been persevered with in the Victoria Derby. Nonetheless, Drawn’s half-length victory over Khamacruz and Rant And Rave in the Rosehill Guineas, suggested he was a live chance in this Derby. T. J. Smith’s Tulloch Lodge had two starters in the homebred gelding Easter, which the trainer raced in partnership with the media tycoon Kerry Packer, and Beelbangera, a bay colt by the Canadian stallion Grand Chaudiere, who had run second in the W.A.T.C. Australian Derby in the summer. Only one filly contested the Derby field and that was the Frank Lewis-trained Dolcezza, winner of the S.T.C. Canterbury Guineas.

Drawn – Winner of the 1985 Caulfield Guineas (Pinterest)

Those hardy souls that succumbed to the siren calls of the bookmakers and laid the red about Bonecrusher suffered a rather anxious two and a half minutes before being able to redeem the value of their betting tickets.  For this was a race in which the favourite struggled toughly.  Going out of the straight the first time the crowding field forced Bonecrusher to crash into the running rail, as the tell-tale stains of whitewash on his off-hind quarters confirmed after the race. The raw-boned gelding was twelfth on settling down as the big field went about its business at a somewhat muddling pace.  The only consolation for Gary Stewart at that stage of proceedings was that the Victoria Derby winner, Handy Proverb, perhaps his greatest danger, was even further back. The first 1200 metres was run in 1 minute and 21.7 seconds and at the halfway stage Stewart eased Bonecrusher off the rails because of excessive crowding by rival jockeys.

Coming towards the home turn Bonecrusher had moved into seventh position.  The favourite assumed the lead just inside the 200 metres post and proceeded to outstay his rivals with true grit although the result seemed never really certain until within the shadows of the winning post. Gary Stewart surprised many after the race when he claimed that he was never worried about the outcome. Bonecrusher thus became the first New Zealand-trained horse to win the A.J.C. Derby since Classic Mission in 1971 and only the ninth to do so since 1900.  Handy Proverb was perhaps the unlucky runner in the race.  From his outside barrier of 15 the colt was never on the course yet finished strongly from thirteenth on the turn to claim second, beaten only a half-length.

Bonecrusher Winning the 1986 A.J.C. Derby (Pinterest)

When one considers that the last 1200 metres was run in an ordinary 1 minute 13.9 seconds, Brian Mayfield-Smith’s contention that with a stronger pace Handy Proverb might have beaten Bonecrusher had some substance. Handy Proverb’s stablemate, Agent Provocative, by taking third, just a long head away, gave the Master of Nebo Lodge the distinction of training both minor placegetters in the classic. Bonecrusher (53kg) was entered for the Sydney Cup to be run seven days later and would have started a short-priced favourite had he gone around in the race given the good record of three-year-olds in that race in recent years, but Peter Mitchell and Frank Ritchie had no hesitation withdrawing their champion. The hot and humid weather in Sydney had taken its toll and during the week between the Tancred and the Derby, a veterinary surgeon had even taken the precaution of administering a saline drench to preclude the gelding’s dehydration. In Bonecrusher’s absence, the Sydney Cup fell to the lightly-weighted import, Marooned, trained for Robert Sangster by Brian Mayfield-Smith, thus giving the owner and trainer some compensation for their misfortune in the Derby.

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Gary Stewart, the 23-year-old Derby winning jockey, was an Auckland city kid brought up in Avondale and had ridden roughly a hundred winners over five seasons. Stewart had served his apprenticeship at Takanini under trainer Brian Deacon, who was also the master of both Maurice Campbell and Greg Childs. In 1982, a severe head injury suffered during a training accident had seen Stewart condemned to a two-year absence from the saddle. When he first tried to come back he suffered blackouts and stewards had hesitated before reinstating his licence. Like Mr Micawber, he was waiting for something to turn up when on that August day in 1984, Frank Ritchie telephoned and offered him the mount on an unraced Pag-Asa gelding in The Kindergarten at Avondale. Bonecrusher thus came into Stewart’s life at precisely the right time. As a laidback and modest Stewart himself reflected on A.J.C. Derby Day: “Oh, at best, I was an average apprentice. I suppose it can be said that Bonecrusher has made me as a jockey.”

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The Annual Dinner of the N.S.W. Bloodstock Breeders’ Association took place at the Regent Hotel in George St on Derby night and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. Arnold Kirkpatrick, a past president of the Kentucky Jockey Club and a former publisher of the U. S. Thoroughbred Record was the guest speaker. During his address, he observed: “There is a serious decline [in breeding standards] at home. I think we are getting back to reality. There has been too much greed, chasing the almighty dollar and the industry has suffered. We are there to raise better horses. We have defied the laws of nature for years. Too many yearlings and mediocre stallions. A false security developed. It has gone bust now.” Kirkpatrick warned of the dangers of owner/breeder bonus incentives. “Danger lies in the subsidising of mediocrity. Breeding programs and incentives tend to do that.” The irony of his latter remark was that it was being addressed to an audience which had only recently established just such a bonus scheme, financed by themselves, which provided generous sums for victories in major races. Just seven days earlier, Bounding Away’s success in the Golden Slipper, had seen a breeder’s bonus of $120,000 go to her owner/breeder/trainer, Tommy Smith. I also couldn’t help but  wonder whether Pag-Asa, and in turn Bonecrusher, would have survived in a world where Kirkpatrick’s dictum about too many mediocre stallions and yearlings held sway.

Still, the former president of the Kentucky Jockey Club leavened his critical remarks by entertaining his audience with an apocryphal anecdote on English racing: “The late Duke of Norfolk once accosted a trainer he noticed giving a horse ‘something’ an hour or so before a race at Newmarket. “My good man, you should not do  that, it could have a deleterious effect on racing, that sort of thing,” said the Duke. The little cockney trainer replied that the ‘something’ was merely sugar cubes. “Quite harmless, Your Grace.” The trainer reassured him: “I’ll have one and you eat one too, they’re nice and sweet.” The Duke, not to be churlish, accepted the offer. Upon which the trainer and the Duke departed to go their separate ways with the trainer having backed his horse, walking towards his jockey, whom he advised: “Now look, son. If anything passes you on this horse it will be either me or the Duke of Norfolk!”

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Back to the top three-year-olds of 1985-86. While Bonecrusher was shipped home after the A.J.C. Derby, Handy Proverb backed up a fortnight later to easily win the A.J.C. St Leger from Rising Fear and Agent Provocative, before heading to Brisbane where in his only three starts, all at Eagle Farm, he won the Q.T.C. International Cup, Grand Prix and Queensland Derby before going for his winter spell. The stage seemed set for a fascinating clash in the spring in the W. S. Cox Plate and perhaps even the Japan Cup, among other races. However, it wasn’t to be. At least not with Handy Proverb. Brought back into training in the winter, the dual Derby-winning son of Twig Moss damaged ligaments in his near side front pastern and failed to respond to treatment. Indeed, he began to show signs of pressure on the joints of his other front leg, which he was clearly beginning to favour in trackwork.

Put away until the following autumn, Handy Proverb was being aimed at the S.T.C. Tancred Stakes. However, during an exhibition gallop at Rosehill with his stablemate Colour Page on the last day of February – the very day that Prime Minister Bob Hawke was officially opening the new $22 million J. R. Fleming Stand, Handy Proverb again injured his front leg when clocking 60.9 seconds for a 1000 metres. Overnight swelling upon the stallion’s return to Nebo Lodge prompted trainer Brian Mayfield-Smith to announce the horse’s retirement the following day. Handy Proverb left the racecourse with a record of 9 wins, 2 seconds and 3 thirds from 22 starts and $712,265 in stakes. Handy Proverb was sold to stand at the Blandford Park Stud at Murrurundi, where he proved a most disappointing failure.

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In the weeks immediately following Bonecrusher’s Sydney autumn campaign and his return to Ellerslie, there were rumours that the gelding would be sold for $NZ1.5 million and do his future racing in America and Europe. The interest came from Emmanuel de Seroux’s Narvick International, which had recently bought the impressive New Zealand filly Scotch And Dry and the S.A.J.C. Australasian Oaks winner Miss Clipper. In the end, the negotiations thankfully came to nothing, which left Bonecrusher free to resume racing and begin his four-year-old season at Ellerslie on August 23. On unsuitably heavy ground, our champion ran a first-up third in the 1200 metres Admiralty Handicap. The margins between the three placegetters were a short head by a neck and the race was won by an impressive Star Way gelding by the name of Waverley Star.

A big chestnut out of an English mare named Super Show, and therefore a half-brother to the 1983 Moonee Valley Stakes winner, Albany Bay, Waverley Star had cost his owner Russ Hinze, the self-serving and corrupt National Party politician from Queensland, $NZ25,000 at the 1984 Trentham yearling sales. Waverley Star was being trained by Dave O’Sullivan and his elder son, Paul, at Matamata, a town in the shadow of the Kaimai Range Mountains in the Waikato region of the North Island. Long renowned for its thoroughbred industry, Matamata is perhaps better known now as the home of the Hobbiton Movie Set created for Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ films. Back in the eighties, Dave O’Sullivan had long proven himself to be a Lord of the Sales Rings in his judgement of yearlings and Waverley Star was but the latest example. However, the Star Way colt had been a slow developer, not making his racecourse debut until appearing at his home track in May 1985. That day, in his only race as a juvenile, he claimed the minor placing and soon after was gelded because he was getting difficult to control, a trait that he shared with his owner according to Wayne Goss and Queensland Labor.

That unkind cut transformed the horse in more ways than one and if Waverley Star’s two-year-old season was modest, his three-year-old season was anything but. The chestnut gelding won his way through the grades and his only defeat in eight starts came in the Group One A.R.C. Easter Stakes at Ellerslie when beaten a nose by the year-older mare, Cosmetique, coincidentally on the very same day that Bonecrusher won the A.J.C. Derby. He closed out his season with a five-length victory over Solveig, the previous season’s New Zealand’s Filly of the Year, in the Group 2 A.R.C. Television New Zealand Stakes. When the Australian-New Zealand Classifications for Three-Year-Olds came out at the end of that 1985-86 year, Waverley Star was rated equal third (60.5kg) with only Bonecrusher (63kg) and Handy Proverb (61.5kg) above him. Clearly, the O’Sullivan-trained gelding was going to be worthy of Bonecrusher’s steel at weight-for-age in the coming spring!

After their season’s opening clash at Ellerslie, these two gun four-year-olds went their separate ways. While Bonecrusher ran second a fortnight later at Wanganui in the Group 3 Tim Rogers Stakes before then crossing the Tasman, Waverley Star lingered longer in New Zealand, winning the listed West End Stakes at Avondale and the Matamata Cup by seven lengths in track record time, with an unplaced run in the listed Metric Mile at Awapuni sandwiched in between. Meanwhile, Bonecrusher stabled at Epsom, and under the watchful eye of his 16-year-old strapper, Shaune Ritchie, was able to relax with a swim and a stroll at nearby Mordialloc Beach. Shaune, Frank’s son, had left Penrose High School to further his racing education across the Tasman and watched his charge snaffle both the Underwood Stakes and the Caulfield Stakes (by 5 lengths!) at weight-for-age, thereby continuing the gelding’s winning sequence in Australia from the previous autumn.

Two days after Waverley Star had won the Matamata Cup and two days before Bonecrusher won the Caulfield Stakes, both horses were officially invited by the Japan Racing Association to be the southern hemisphere representatives in the Japan Cup (2400 metres) in Tokyo on November 23, with Tristarc as the official emergency. Handy Proverb’s injury had made the J.R.A.’s choice an easy one. To put these invitations in perspective, first prize for the Japan Cup was $1,070,000 compared to $489,600 for the W. S. Cox Plate. When (Our) Waverley Star touched down at Melbourne airport on Thursday, October 16, his record stood at 13 starts for 10 wins and 2 placings. I might add that while racing in Australia, the gelding had an ‘Our’ prefixed to his name to differentiate him from an obscure Small Risk filly foaled in 1976, who, registered as Waverley Star, had achieved nothing either on the racecourse or at stud.

For the next ten days the publicity in the press and on television surrounding the imminent clash between these two putative champion racehorses was unprecedented. Never in the history of the W. S. Cox Plate had the market been so dominated by two Kiwi-trained gallopers to be ridden by two Kiwi-based jockeys.  It bore all the razzmatazz and hullabaloo of a world heavyweight championship title fight. Nor did that boxing analogy seem far-fetched. There is a famous black and white composite photograph published by The Age newspaper at the time of Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star eyeballing each other while being held by their respective ‘seconds’, Frank Ritchie and Dave O’Sullivan. It puts one in mind of similar antics at the official weigh-in before those famous world heavyweight boxing contests of the 1960s and 1970s. Moonee Valley might not have been Madison Square Garden but in size, shape and atmosphere there were remarkable similarities.

Our Waverley Star with Dave O’Sullivan & Bonecrusher with Frank Ritchie (The Age)

Moonee Valley on Cox Plate Day is a ‘cauldron’ as the sporting commentators Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson would say. There is no other way to describe it. The inner-Melbourne course in the once working class suburb of Moonee Ponds is built on just a small pocket of land. The seating is limited in this amphitheatre but remarkably close to the compact, saucer-shaped track. It is this closeness and tightness of space that creates an intriguing intimacy, both within the crowd itself, and with and between the protagonists on the course proper. In 1986 a raucous throng of 24,126 were in attendance. Some had ringside seats; others standing room only. One journalist subsequently likened the atmosphere to another October day eleven years before: the third and final slugfest between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World. It took place on October 1, 1975, and had been described rather poetically by Ali himself, as “the thrilla in Manila”.

Now another slugfest of epic proportions was about to unfold in what might have been colourfully described as the Rally at the Valley but with more hyperbole has come down to us in history as the Race of the Century. Neither Gary Stewart nor Lance O’Sullivan had ever ridden the Moonee Valley course before W. S. Cox Plate Day, but each had walked it a few times the previous week. Each, too, had educated himself by watching various videos of Cox Plates past. On paper at least, Waverley Star had the more accomplished stable of horsemanship behind him. Dave O’Sullivan had won his first New Zealand trainers’ premiership in 1978-79 and then in conjunction with his son Paul, had gone on to win another two of the past three New Zealand trainers’ titles. Indeed, Waverley Star would help them win their third title together as a team in 1986-87. Lance O’Sullivan, Dave’s younger son, had become the leading jockey in New Zealand when he posted a record 143 wins to take the jockeys’ premiership for the first time the previous season. A wonderful horseman in the brilliant audacity of his youth, Waverley Star would help him, too, win a second successive jockeys’ title in 1986-87. By comparison, Frank Ritchie and Gary Stewart were neophytes, never having had a good horse between them until the coming of Bonecrusher. Each, at this stage of their respective careers, could be said to be a one horse-wonder!

During the preceding Thursday and Friday, light rain had fallen on Melbourne and on Saturday, October 25, the Moonee Valley track was officially rated as dead. Thirteen horses confronted the starter. Almost from the moment they arrived at the racecourse for their rendezvous with destiny, Bonecrusher and Waverley Star were never to be very far apart, or so it seemed. In the raceday stalls while Bonecrusher waited in stall 102, Waverley Star was his near neighbour in 99. Both had drawn relatively poorly at the barriers, with Bonecrusher in gate 10 and Waverley Star as near as gate 12. As it transpired, the barrier draw may well have affected the result. Bonecrusher went to the post as the 9/10 favourite with Our Waverley Star at 3/1. All the other acceptors were at double figures and more, with the three-year-olds Drought and Society Bay, sharing the third line of betting with Drawn.

It was always going to be a two-horse race and bookmakers and punters alike could feel it in their very bones. For those that weren’t present on that famous occasion, a video of the race is readily available now at the click of a button on YouTube. But as any modern cinephile will tell you, so often the soundtrack is as integral to the story as the action on the screen itself.  And the only authentic soundtrack to that 1986 W. S. Cox Plate comes courtesy of Bill Collins’ famous call of the race. Collins remains for me the greatest racecaller of my lifetime and perhaps more than any other race, his description of the clash of the giants on that October afternoon in 1986 demonstrates why.

When the starting gates crashed open at 2.55 pm, both Bonecrusher and Waverley Star jumped well enough. But whereas Stewart was inclined to shepherd his mount across to find a place near the inside rail at the expense of a more forward position, O’Sullivan on Waverley Star was trapped three wide as he endeavoured to be nearer the front. When Roman Artist set out to establish a fair pace, Bonecrusher settled near the rear while Waverley Star threw his head about and even indulged in a cat leap in the run to the first turn; he eventually settled around seventh but covering extra ground as he was nowhere near the inside running rail. He remained there all the way to the 1100-metre mark with The Filbert and Drought keeping him out. It was this that then prompted Bill Collins to quip: “Our Waverley Star will want to be Phar Lap…” But his words trailed off and he never finished the sentence. For just then, Gary Stewart, seeing Our Waverley Star’s predicament, had flushed out Bonecrusher at the 1000 and set him alight to go around the field.

“Here’s Bonecrusher!” declared Collins as if channeling Jack Nicholson’s famous line from ‘The Shining’; and in truth Bonecrusher loomed into view with the same menacing presence as Jack Torrance breaking down the door of the Overlook Hotel. As the favourite moved up on the outside of Waverley Star, O’Sullivan decided instantly to cut loose and go with him to keep the ‘Crusher wide. The thousands watching on-course and the hundreds of thousands listening off-course, on both sides of the Tasman, were transfixed. Nobody, but nobody, ever takes off at the five in a Cox Plate against the best weight-for-age horses in the land. The race was now on. There would be no prisoners. All of the other runners were instantly relegated to their intended roles as mere bit players. As Waverley Star and Bonecrusher charged to the front approaching the 600, Collins speculated: “Have they gone too early?”

It seemed a fair question. After all, neither gelding was now floating like a butterfly nor stinging like a bee. The pair, racing abreast of each other and a yard or so apart, were digging deep, down, and dirty. O’Sullivan was carrying the whip in his right hand; Stewart in his left. Clearly, it was going to be a brutal contest of slather and whack all the way to the end of the line! Gary Stewart and Frank Ritchie had conjectured between themselves before the race that Waverley Star might be suspect over a truly run 2000 metres and Stewart was now intent on making it as truly run as possible. Another Muhammad Ali quote came to mind as I watched: “The will must be stronger than the skill.”  Waverley Star got a half-length on Bonecrusher as the pair swept down the side of the course. Let’s return to Bill’s call: “He’s gone for the whip on Bonecrusher, three lengths to Drought followed by Dinky Flyer and Drawn. But the two great New Zealanders have come away on the turn. Our Waverley Star a half-length Bonecrusher. The Big Red won’t give in…Bonecrusher responds to the whip. The roars of the crowd… He races up to Our Waverley Star a hundred out. Bonecrusher, Our Waverley Star, stride for stride, nothing in it, Our Waverley Star the rails, Bonecrusher the outside. And Bonecrusher races into equine immortality!”

Close to the Bone: Bonecrusher & (Our) Waverley Star: 1986 W. S. Cox Plate Finish

And then for one brief moment a hush settled over Moonee Valley. Not only were both horses and both jockeys exhausted when they hit that line, but so was the crowd and an emotional Bill Collins, his voice breaking as he uttered that last memorable phrase. Thousands of hardened racegoers were left shaking their heads as they looked at each other in a communion of joy and disbelief at what they had just witnessed. It was a privilege to have been on the racecourse that day when, in one of the greatest moments of our Sport of Kings, time stood still. Let’s take up Bill Collins’s reflections immediately after the horses had crossed the line and The Accurate One, along with everybody else. had caught his breath. “One and a half million dollars as he photo finishes Our Waverley Star…The crowd is roaring its head off; the judge has called for the photo. These two giants of New Zealand, Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star, fortunes fluctuating, they’ve gone to the post in a photo. What a dream finish! The Big Red, and he’s earned the title today!”

The Filbert was third, three lengths further back. The race had been run in a time of 2 minutes and 7.2 seconds on the dead track. Bill Collins restating the placings, observed: “So, it’s New Zealand, New Zealand, New Zealand. Fourth, Dandy Andy bred in New Zealand, and fifth, Drought, bred in New Zealand. By gee, they might as well run some of these races over there, save them taking the Cup back.” It was true. Such had become Australia’s madness with the Golden Slipper and two-year-old racing in general, together with our obsessive greed for speed, we’d effectively crowded out the attractions of middle distance stamina – the very best the sport has to offer. As an aside, it’s worth observing that at this juncture in our bloodstock breeding affairs, Australia couldn’t even produce a single horse for the Japan Cup with Bonecrusher and Waverley Star set to represent the entire Oceania region.

Beyond measure, the sixty-fifth running of the W. S. Cox Plate had lived up to all expectations. The twenty-four thousand strong crowd accorded the two gladiators one of the most sustained ovations ever heard at the Valley as these absolute thoroughbreds returned to scale. Bart Cummings observed: “That is the greatest race I have ever seen.” Too often in the past, the Australian sporting press has delighted in jingoistic criticism of visiting New Zealand jockeys in comparison with their Australian counterparts. The criticism of Ron Taylor’s ride on Red Crest in the 1967 Melbourne Cup is but one example. But there was no criticism of Lance O’Sullivan’s ride that day. O’Sullivan had been a victim of circumstance, as the barrier draw and the rival tactics of Gary Murphy and Darren Gauci on The Filbert and Drought respectively in keeping him wide, may have cost him the race. Certainly, Dave O’Sullivan, whose judgement of men and events was sure, knew that Lance had no cause for compunction. Even before he had dismounted, the father walked up and consoled the son: “You’re a gun, Lanny – you rode the race of your life. There are no excuses, are there?” And there weren’t. Our Waverley Star’s owner, the 67-year old Russ Hinze, who had fallen into fatness and a fermenting self-assurance with age, looked shattered. He knew that his one best chance to win Australia’s greatest race had come and gone.

I suffer more than a touch of poignancy when I now look back and watch that famous 1986 W. S. Cox Plate and listen to Bill Collins’s evocative call, because of the knowledge of what came after. Neither Bonecrusher nor Waverley Star was ever to be quite the same racehorse again following that October afternoon. Just consider these statistics. When Bonecrusher crossed that finishing line at Moonee Valley, his racing record read 24 starts for 13 wins, 2 seconds and 5 thirds. For the balance of his career, he would have another 20 starts and yet win just 5 more races. Waverley Star’s statistics are even more damning. When Waverley Star crossed that same finishing line, his record read 14 starts for 10 wins, 2 seconds and 1 third. For the balance of his career, Waverley Star would have another 21 starts yet win only 3 more races and retire with career earnings of a mere $850,000.

Shaune Ritchie’s fondest memory of that glorious afternoon was the presentation ceremony itself. As he reminisced years later: “In New Zealand, nobody cares less. There are more people on the dais than listening to the speeches. When Bonecrusher won, there were 24,000 people there and I reckon everybody stayed and watched. Yet Australians are known for getting back in the betting ring and betting on the next in Sydney or Adelaide.” The fact was that to every man and woman on course, they knew that they’d just witnessed history. As the sun set on Moonee Valley on that memorable afternoon, Dave O’Sullivan, although gracious in defeat, was left to ruefully ponder the runners-up cheque for $148,800 that Waverley Star had earned and yet another near miss in his own unsuccessful quest to train the winner of a major race in Melbourne. His was a character that rationed emotions carefully but there was no mistaking the result was a bitter pill to swallow. Waverley Star’s second came on top of a previous second with Shivaree behind Dulcify in the W. S. Cox Plate of 1979, besides O’Sullivan’s two Melbourne Cup seconds with My Blue Denim (1980) and Koiro Corrie May (1985), and another runner’s up prize at Flemington from Mapperley Heights in the 1983 V.R.C. Oaks sandwiched in between.

There would be yet more heartache to come in the W. S. Cox Plate for the O’Sullivan clan with Horlicks’ finishing the runner-up two years later. However, family redemption would eventually arrive in the race, and when it did, it would be with another classy galloper who had been beaten as the 10/9 favourite in the A.J.C. Derby earlier that same year. However, that tale must await its proper place in this narrative.  Dave O’Sullivan and Russ Hinze may have been disconsolate at Moonee Valley on that October afternoon in 1986 as they commiserated themselves, but Frank Ritchie and Peter Mitchell were over the moon. The raucousness of race day was matched by the raucousness of race night, when Mitchell generously shouted a party for a large number of family, friends and supporters at the Flower Drum, Melbourne’s premier Chinese restaurant in Market Lane. It might have been jiaozi and Peking duck that night, but on the back of their minds was the knowledge that tempura and sushi would soon be on the menu in Tokyo. Meanwhile, the N.Z. Sports Minister Mike Moore, in the light of Bonecrusher’s sensational run of triumphs, had declared the gelding an official N.Z. sporting ambassador. Shades of Caligula and his appointment of his horse as a Roman consul…

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Neither Bonecrusher nor Waverley Star made an appearance at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, something that would have been unheard of in the days of yore. The heroics of the so-called Race of the Century had taken a great deal out of both horses. It was never intended to start Waverley Star at Flemington, although Peter Mitchell and Frank Ritchie had briefly contemplated a run in the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes for Bonecrusher, but quickly scotched the idea. ‘Red’ was a horse that preferred his races spaced, something his subpar win in the A.J.C. Derby seven days after his Tancred bravery had seemingly confirmed. Waverley Star flew out of Melbourne for Tokyo a week before Bonecrusher and had served his seven-days of quarantine before the ‘Crusher had even arrived. The Quarantine Centre where both horses were staying was located on the premises of the J.R.A. Horseracing School, some fifty kilometres from the Narita International Airport.

The facility accommodated a dirt training track of about seven furlongs in circumference. Bonecrusher had travelled well in the eleven-hour flight from Sydney and had arrived early on Saturday, November 8. Over the next week, he would be let out each day for a half-hour of light exercise on the track. Although Bonecrusher didn’t get dehydrated on the flight, his appetite was affected. By comparison, the day after Bonecrusher arrived, his erstwhile rival, Waverley Star, stepped out and in the hands of Lance O’Sullivan, won the Fuji Stakes (1800m) at Tokyo Racecourse by three lengths from seven others, which suggested he was in rude health for the Japan Cup. Bonecrusher’s appetite slowly picked up the following week and his track gallops soon suggested he was at his absolute peak. However, within seventy-two hours of the big race, the chestnut gelding was found in his stall shivering and in pain, having contracted a severe viral infection.

The bacterial virus, diagnosed by a trio of J.R.A. veterinary surgeons, as pulmonary lung inflammation caused Bonecrusher’s heart rate to increase and his temperature to rise by almost 3 degrees from a normal 38. Physically, he was tied up with muscle soreness in his hindquarters, and later, swelling in his neck. His breathing became painful. Clearly, the Japan Cup dream was over. Now it was more a matter of keeping the horse alive. Listless, Bonecrusher’s coat fell away overnight. Frank Ritchie was anxious lest the virus develop into pneumonia. But veterinary supervision and the antibiotic injections did their job and Bonecrusher slowly came back from the brink. Meanwhile, Jupiter Island, a seven-year-old trained by Clive Brittain, became the first British raider to win the Japan Cup after an inspired ride from Pat Eddery, in a race that saw Waverley Star finish a decent fifth. Bonecrusher eventually landed back on Australian soil on December 8 in the company of Gary Stewart and was sent to Werribee where the horse spent some twenty-eight days in quarantine, being checked out by the Werribee Veterinary Clinic before receiving a clean bill of health in respect of his upper-respiratory tract and his lungs. He then returned to Ellerslie. Whether there would be any long term effects of the virus remained to be seen.

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At Talaq (rails) & Bonecrusher (outside): 1987 V.R.C. Australian Cup Finish (Stuff)

Bonecrusher returned to racing in the Group 1 Lion Brown Sprint at Te Rapa in mid-February and finished a promising fourth behind Courier Bay. He was back in the winner’s circle on the last day of the month when he comfortably won the Flying Mile at Avondale. It was now time for another autumn campaign in Australia and first stop was Flemington and the Australian Cup just nine days later, before a crowd of 22,300 people. It was a rather hasty turnaround for a horse whose record suggested that he didn’t relish quick backups. In a sub-standard field of ten, Bonecrusher’s reputation saw him go to the starting gates as the 4/9 favourite with his only serious rival considered to be the previous year’s winner of the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes and Melbourne Cup, At Talaq. The rest of the bunch were offered at odds ranging from 20/1 to 200/1. It proved a roughhouse affair for Bonecrusher and Gary Stewart, but the game chestnut after being squeezed back in the field, got up in the last stride to beat the second favourite. Stewart returned to scale ashen-faced and angry, declaring: “It was very rough. I copped plenty.” It came as no surprise when V.R.C. stewards outed Michael Clarke for careless riding. The scene was now set for Sydney and a return bout with (Our) Waverley Star in the $175,000 S.T.C. Rawson Stakes (2000m) and the $500,000 H.E. Tancred Stakes at Rosehill.

The Sydney Turf Club in those days under the leadership of visionary chairman Jim Fleming, was second to none when it came to the promotion of racing. The prospect of a re-match between the gladiators from the previous year’s W. S. Cox Plate sent the club’s publicity team into overdrive. The spotlight was focused on the big three, each of which had a new jockey i.e. Bonecrusher (Shane Dye), Waverley Star (Mick Dittman) and At Talaq (Ron Quinton). Gary Stewart was an absentee because he had just had an appendix operation on Black Friday, March 13, four days after the Australian Cup, while Lance O’Sullivan and Michael Clarke were suspended. There were unnerving rumours as to Bonecrusher’s bodyweight and diet leading into the Rawson Stakes although the stable denied that anything was amiss.

In a bid to avoid the heat and humidity of Sydney that had led to Bonecrusher’s dehydration the previous autumn, Ritchie elected to keep the horse stabled at Epsom, and only brought him to Sydney on a commercial Qantas flight the day before the race. Waverley Star on the other hand was well and truly settled here, having easily won the weight-for-age A.J.C. Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm a fortnight earlier. All was not well with Bonecrusher despite his Australian Cup victory. Most racing aficionados had expected him to beat At Talaq far more convincingly at Flemington than he did, despite his rough passage. Moreover, Bonecrusher had lightened off in condition since that race and a disheartened Ritchie was experimenting with the gelding’s oats and corn intake.

Still, at least in outward appearances, the Bonecrusher camp retained their confidence. Bookmakers’ markets clearly regarded the Rawson Stakes as a two-horse race in an eight-horse field, with Bonecrusher at 9/10 and Our Waverley Star at 11/8. Remember, at this stage in his career, Bonecrusher had never been beaten in any race beyond 1600 metres. The only other horse under double figures was At Talaq at 7/1. Only one three-year-old was accepted for the race and that was Myocard, an Ivory Hunter colt who had won the listed Brambles Classic as a two-year-old and was a recent eight-length winner of the listed Autumn Classic at Caulfield. Under the weight-for-age conditions, he enjoyed a 4 kg advantage and he was racing on his home course.

The S.T.C. Barnum and Bailey publicity machine had attracted a 25,837 crowd to the suburban racecourse. In the newly opened J. R. Fleming Stand they were hanging from the rafters; in the Members’ Stand they were sitting in the aisles. For all who came to witness, unlike at Moonee Valley, this two-horse race proved a huge anti-climax. Bonecrusher was never travelling on the bit and was under pressure and a beaten horse after going just 800 metres. Meanwhile, Mick Dittman was affording Our Waverley Star the sweetest of rides, settling down fourth before moving forward to be second turning for home. But no sooner had Our Waverley Star hit the front at the Leger to be acclaimed the winner, than Mark de Montfort on Myocard dashed past him to win going away by three lengths in a time of 2 minutes 2.9 seconds on the dead track.

It seemed that the ghost of Ajax had struck again. After all, it was forty-eight years earlier in the same Rawson Stakes that Ajax’s winning sequence of eighteen had come to an end. The son of Heroic was beaten at 40/1 on in a three horse race. I didn’t have a bet on that day in 1986, but I can remember sitting in the Members’ Stand feeling empty and gutted afterwards. I wasn’t alone. We racing people love our champions and never like to see their records besmirched. Given the failure of the two favourites, I was caught asking myself two questions: Had we been so seduced by the theatrics at Moonee Valley back in October that we mistook style for substance? Or had another high class three-year-old colt in Myocard landed in our midst? Perhaps the truth lay somewhere in between.

Frank Ritchie and Peter Mitchell were dumbfounded. Yes, the temperature was 33 degrees that day at Rosehill and the track was dead from recent showers, conditions which didn’t suit Bonecrusher. But his performance was ordinary to say the least. Dave O’Sullivan was more philosophical: “A three-year-old in Myocard’s class always has an advantage in a 2000 metres race like this, but I did not think he could do what he did. Then again, I didn’t think that Waverley Star was capable of beating Bonecrusher by three lengths.” Dr Geoff Chapman, the medico turned racehorse trainer who prepared Myocard at Rosehill, had believed his colt was capable of winning and said as much before the race based on the horse’s impressive gallop on the previous Tuesday morning. Myocard was a clever name for a horse out of a mare called Double Game and being trained by a qualified medical doctor. The name is an abbreviation of myocardium, an anatomical term referring to the muscular tissue of the heart. There was also a certain irony in the name when the results of Bonecrusher’s medical examination and biopsy were revealed much later.  Myocard certainly showed plenty of ticker that afternoon, even if he may have induced a myocardial infarction (heart attack) in those desperate punters who had succumbed to the odds-on Bonecrusher.

In the wake of his embarrassing defeat, Bonecrusher was subject to the inevitable blood tests, which proved largely negative apart from a slightly high haemoglobin reading. Sydney’s renowned veterinary surgeon, Percy Sykes, was asked to examine the horse. He detected T-wave changes suggesting myocarditis or an inflammation of the heart muscle. A frustrated and stubborn Ritchie kept the son of Pag-Asa in Sydney and pushed on with the intention of starting the horse in the H. E. Tancred Stakes a fortnight later. But something was wrong and rumours persisted. On the Wednesday leading into the Tancred, Bonecrusher was subject to an inspection by two veterinary surgeons following a 1600-metre working gallop on the Rosehill course proper. Acting on stewards’ instructions and in the public interest, Craig Suann of the A.J.C. and John Carruthers of the S.T.C., could find nothing amiss with the chestnut.

But Bonecrusher’s gallop was substandard and the following day he was withdrawn by Ritchie from the signature Rosehill weight-for-age event and quietly returned to New Zealand. It had proven an unsatisfying Rosehill autumn carnival all round for the Ritchie clan as Frank’s brother, Gary, had also campaigned his smart Straight Strike colt, Injustice, here, but ridden by Gary Stewart in the Golden Slipper, he could only run tenth in the race won by Marauding.  Advanced plans to campaign Bonecrusher in the U.S.A. and Europe, in which the horse and Shaune Ritchie, were to be sponsored by the Troy Corporation and dressed in the corporation’s colours by the famed Australian fashionista, Prue Acton, were abandoned. In Bonecrusher’s absence, Myocard proved the Rawson was no weight-for-age fluke when he humbled Our Waverley Star yet again, enroute to a two-and-a-quarter lengths victory in a ten-horse field in the H. E. Tancred Stakes a fortnight later. While Bonecrusher’s four-year-old season might have ended on a controversial and sour note, he was named Horse of the Year in both New Zealand and Australia for the 1986-87 season, the first horse to be awarded both titles. Moreover, he became the first four-year-old since Kingston Town to be named topweight in both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. The V.R.C. handicapper Jim Bowler allotted him 58 kg in the former and 57.5 kg in the latter, 1.5 kg and 2 kg respectively more than Handy Proverb in each race.

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Bonecrusher would race on into his seven-year-old season, but would never again be held in the same magnificent regard as he was in that calendar year of 1986. After a frustrating spell of almost eleven months when niggling injuries and illnesses kept Bonecrusher from the racecourse, he resumed to win his first two starts as an autumn five-year-old viz. the Group 3 White Lodge Handicap (1600m) at Wingatui and the Group 1 Air New Zealand Stakes (2000m) at Ellerslie, by a head and a short head respectively. Whatever Bonecrusher may have lost, it certainly wasn’t his courage in tight finishes. The Otago Racing Club and Wingatui racecourse, nestled in the softness of Three Mile Hill, inland from Dunedin, accommodated a multitude three times its usual to witness Bonecrusher’s comeback. Peter Mitchell and Frank Ritchie deserved congratulations for affording southern racegoers the opportunity.

Bonecrusher Winning the 1988 Air New Zealand Stakes

The Ellerslie triumph was particularly gratifying as this was Bonecrusher’s home course and the heart of his fan base. Indeed, ‘Red’ was accorded a hearty ovation as he entered the birdcage prior to New Zealand’s richest weight-for-age event, and sheer adulation after it. And he did it the hard way with his trademark finish coming from last on the turn. Stewart barrelled the brilliant three-year-old Golden King sideways when angling for a tight gap halfway down the straight and then drove Bonecrusher to the post to win by a short head from Horlicks, with another short head to Sounds Like Fun in the minor placing, a nose in front of Derriana. As Peter Mitchell quipped to journalists as ‘Red’ returned to scale: “He always gives more than he’s got.” It was the very essence of why racegoers loved him! But it was to be his last Group 1 victory. Brought across the Tasman in an attempt to win his second successive Australian Cup, he was most disappointing when a plodding third, six lengths away, behind the 125/1 outsider Dandy Andy, and the new front-running weight-for-age sensation, Vo Rogue. A Sydney autumn campaign was forsaken and ‘Red’ returned to Ellerslie where Horlicks gained a measure of revenge by relegating him to second in the Group 1 Television New Zealand Stakes.

Bonecrusher then made a second crossing of the Tasman that autumn in a bid to restore his reputation and to meet royalty in his final start as a five-year-old. H. M. Queen Elizabeth II was in Canberra to open Australia’s new Parliament House and a specially convened race meeting was being staged in the capital on the Sunday afternoon of May 8, the day preceding the ceremony. The feature race was the $100,000 Queen Elizabeth Bicentenary Stakes over 2000 metres at weight-for-age and the Queen would be presenting the trophy. It was described as a race fit for a queen with Bonecrusher meeting Australia’s latest wonder horse, Beau Zam. The Bart Cummings-trained three-year-old was coming off a winning sequence of four races viz. the S.T.C. Rawson Stakes and H. E. Tancred Stakes, and the A.J.C. Derby and St Leger. Indeed, such was his form that he went to the post in Canberra as the 1/3 favourite, with Bonecrusher at an unfamiliar 7/2 and Dandy Andy the next best at 4/1 in the six-horse field. The dead ground was against Bonecrusher and very much in favour of the young Zamazaan colt. It proved a grand contest too, when the three-year-old just caught our hero on the post to win by a head. In the saddling paddock afterwards, Ritchie remarked: “That is the first time any horse has come from behind to beat him when he has been right.”

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Bonecrusher’s six-year-old season was to prove disappointing when he managed to win only once in nine starts and that over a weak weight-for-age field at New Plymouth in the spring. Still, it was enough to induce Mitchell and Ritchie to travel to Melbourne in quest of a second W. S. Cox Plate in which he ran third, beaten by two Kiwis in Our Poetic Prince and Horlicks. A trip to Japan followed where he finally made an appearance in the 1988 Japan Cup, only to run a disappointing eighth in the race won by the American horse, Pay The Butler. Bonecrusher’s season then petered out with just two minor placings from his last four starts. Ellerslie’s favourite racehorse then came back for two more races as a spring seven-year-old, both on his home track in December.

Michelle Farrell’s Bronze of Bonecrusher at Ellerslie Racecourse

Bonecrusher’s final race came on December 28, 1989 when he finished unplaced in the Waikato Stud King’s Plate (1600m). Tendon trouble in the gelding’s front legs saw Ritchie announce his retirement a few weeks later.  Bonecrusher’s complete racing record from 44 starts was 18 wins, 5 seconds and 12 thirds for prizemoney of NZ$674,225 and A$1,679,495. He had been the first New Zealand bred, owned and trained galloper to win over one million dollars in prizemoney and in so doing had elevated Peter Mitchell, Frank Ritchie and Gary Stewart into folk heroes. I think Peter Mitchell summed up the public’s fascination with Bonecrusher best: “He always gives more than he’s got!” I ask you: What’s not to love about a racehorse that does that?

One question that hauntingly hangs over both Bonecrusher and Waverley Star in the light of their respective loss of form following that famous Race of the Century, is the extent – if at all – that their exertions in the race contributed to such loss. Each horse was a superb equine athlete and at their very peak of fitness for the Moonee Valley contest. I think that we can dismiss it as the immediate cause of each horse’s relative demise.

In the case of Waverley Star, at his very next appearance fifteen days later, he won the prestigious Fuji Stakes (1800m) in Tokyo by three lengths from his seven opponents. A fortnight later, Waverley Star then ran a very respectable fifth against some of the world’s best in the Japan Cup (2400m) over a distance that was arguably beyond his best. But while the W. S. Cox Plate may not have been the immediate cause of Waverley Star’s fall from grace, it may well have been a contributing factor. The demands at the Valley followed quickly by the massive dislocation of his removal to Japan, two races on foreign soil without proper acclimatisation and one over a distance beyond his best, and the indirect return flight to New Zealand, clearly all took their toll.

Yes, upon resuming in the new calendar year, Waverley Star did win at his first two starts, the Koru Club Handicap at Ellerslie and the Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm. At Ellerslie, Waverley Star even smashed the 1400m course record carrying 58.5 kg to run it in 1 minute 21.01 seconds, but he was a few lengths off his best by the time he crossed the Tasman and Myocard got the better of him twice at Rosehill. And then the gelding was a complete flop when sent to the post as the 2/9 favourite in an eight-horse field for the 1987 A.J.C. Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) in which he could only run fifth behind Dinky Flyer. We should remember that it was the only Group 1 race that Dinky Flyer ever won in her life! Would Waverley Star have lasted longer on the Turf had he been restricted to races up to 2000 metres and never been asked to run in the Japan Cup?

In the case of Bonecrusher, the virus that almost cost him his life complicates the matter. Frank Ritchie swears that the horse would have won that 1986 Japan Cup, such was his sensational trackwork in the days leading into the race after he came out of quarantine. Yet perhaps the demands at the Valley and the dislocation of his removal to Japan rendered him susceptible to contracting the virus in the first place. Yes, he too, returned to win races early in his next campaign viz. the Flying Mile at Avondale and the Australian Cup at Flemington. The latter event was particularly demanding and perhaps there remained traces of the virus in his system. Certainly, Bonecrusher’s heart rate was never again capable of pumping the quantity of blood that sustained those long bursts of acceleration that he demonstrated so spectacularly in both the Tancred Stakes at Rosehill and the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley in 1986. For the balance of his career, Bonecrusher always raced best when fresh. Who can say?

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Peter Mitchell continued to race horses through the Ritchie stables for the rest of his life. A regular at North Island race meetings he loved nothing more than a bet, particularly on one of his own. While he never came close to owning another as good as Bonecrusher, he did part-own the Tavistock horse, Excalibur, who sported the famous cream and brown silks. Trained by Shaune Ritchie, in the 2016-17 season he promised to be a Derby prospect but ultimately disappointed. A strong personality possessed of his own opinions, Mitchell could be inflexible at times but had the greatest quality that any trainer could ask for in any owner – loyalty! Despite the glamorous image, racing can be a dog-eat-dog world, particularly when an unproven trainer happens to find a potential champion sheltering in his stable. Once Bonecrusher’s preternatural ability was revealed, there was no end of established older trainers trying to lure the horse away from Frank Ritchie’s Ellerslie yard. But Mitchell was not for turning. Despite the vicissitudes of Bonecrusher’s career, Mitchell stuck with Ritchie like shit to a blanket. The popular 73-year-old owner died suddenly in May, 2018.

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Frank Ritchie’s training career prospered after the coming of Bonecrusher. The early eighties were a bit of a struggle and but for his wife working, Ritchie might have given the game away. Bonecrusher changed everything. “I was battling away and while I had trained a Group winner in Australia, it was when he arrived that it really changed my life.” New clients beat a path to Frank Ritchie’s door and he was able to afford to buy a better class of yearlings. In October 2005 with the closure of the Takanini training track, he moved to a 30-acre property at Cambridge. Among the good horses that came his way after Bonecrusher were Showella (1999 South Australian Derby and A.R.C. Lion Red Stakes), Bluebird The Word (2000 Waik.R.C. Whakanui Stud International Stakes and the Waikato Gold Cup) and Showcause (2010 New Zealand Cup, 2011 A.R.C. Avondale Gold Cup and City of Auckland Cup). Frank Ritchie has continued to train horses into the 2020s. Like his father before him, Frank was always obliging with the Australian media and a true gentleman who understood that in a very real sense, a champion racehorse becomes public property.

Shaune Ritchie & Bonecrusher (N.Z. Bloodhorse)

Shaune Ritchie was just sixteen and still at Penrose High when Bonecrusher first came to Australia. You realise that a racehorse is famous when the general public even knows the name of the horse’s strapper. Shaune joined an exclusive club that perhaps began in Australasia with Tommy Woodcock and Phar Lap and later continued with Claire Bird and Sunline. Bonecrusher opened doors for Shaune Ritchie too, and he was fortunate to gain invaluable experience working for the respected English trainer, John Dunlop. Shaune trained in partnership with his father after Bonecrusher’s retirement, before branching out on his own; he even had a stint in Sydney, spending three years at Rosehill before his then partner got homesick and they returned to New Zealand to set up stables at Cambridge. Although racing is a much diminished sport on both sides of the Tasman now compared to when Merv Ritchie was in his prime, Shaune Ritchie is enjoying a training career that arguably may eclipse not only his father but his grandfather as well.

In 2007, Shaune even returned to Moonee Valley with a W. S. Cox Plate starter of his own in the shape of Magic Cape, winner of the New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas. While unsuccessful in that race won by El Segundo, there were plenty of Group One victories awaiting the then 37-year-old trainer in the future. In 2010 he emulated his father when his Military Move scored an upset win in the $2.2 million New Zealand Derby. While Merv Ritchie had lived long enough to enjoy his son’s triumph in that race, he wasn’t around for his grandson’s, having died in July, 2003. Indeed, Merv’s ashes were scattered on Ellerslie hill, and Shaune thought deeply about his grandfather’s lasting legacy that day. Indeed, Military Move annexed that Derby less than 24 hours after Shaune had spoken at the Ellerslie ceremony that saw Bonecrusher inducted into the N.Z. Racing Hall of Fame.

2010 was to be something of an annus mirabilis for Shaune, for not only did he win the New Zealand Derby but the New Zealand Cup (Showcause) and the New Zealand Oaks (Keep The Peace) as well. In the years since, Frank’s son has continued to prosper with another two Oaks’ winners in Miss Artistic (2012) and Jennifer Eccles (2020); a New Zealand Cup and an Auckland Cup with Mahrajaan; two winners of the Maori Stakes with Keep The Peace (2011) and Devise (2018); a Mudgway Stakes with Keep The Peace (2010); and an A.R.C. Championship Stakes with Hidden Asset. An impressive haul with much of his training career still ahead of him. Who knows? Shaune Ritchie may yet come across the Tasman and win the Derby at Randwick and the W. S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

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For the young New Zealand jockey Gary Stewart, Bonecrusher proved to be the ride of a lifetime. He partnered the champion in all but one of his 18 victories. The exception was the Bayer Classic at Levin when he was serving a suspension and Jim Cassidy warmed the saddle in his place. Speaking of Bonecrusher and his own relative inexperience in riding in Group 1 races, Stewart observed: “I never felt intimidated riding Bonecrusher because I knew how good he was. I have a lot to thank him for, not just financially – he helped me get other rides and really jump-started my career. His best attribute was his ability to relax in races.” It was an attribute the horse shared with Stewart himself. Increasing weight, just a couple of years after Bonecrusher’s retirement, saw the jockey reluctantly hang up his saddle at the age of 30, but not before he had won the Hong Kong Cup on Grey Invader trained by Alvin Clark. The last six months of his riding career was spent plying his trade on Queensland’s Gold Coast and his last winner came at Doomben.

After an extended overseas holiday, Stewart soon began training on the Gold Coast but struggled to break through, achieving his greatest success with Capestad at the 1993 Tattersall’s winter meeting. Stewart later moved on to the business of landscaping. But he found it very hard to stay away from horses. Stewart was asked by Shaune Ritchie to accompany Magic Cape to Hong Kong in 2007 after the W. S. Cox Plate but the horse injured himself in the latter. Nonetheless, Stewart still made the trip but with the another New Zealand galloper in Sculptor. Stewart continues to live on the Gold Coast having now transitioned to the role of horse chiropractor and massage therapist. He still makes the occasional pilgrimage to Moonee Valley on W. S. Cox Plate Day as a guest of the Moonee Valley Race Club and has proven to be a great trans-Tasman ambassador for racing.

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Having been gelded as a yearling, Bonecrusher of course had no future at stud. But it is fascinating to speculate on what may have happened had he been kept an entire. Perhaps the only clue we have here is with the racecourse and stud career of his full brother Counterfeit, born only a month before that famous Race of the Century. Four years younger than Bonecrusher, Counterfeit, a mahogany bay with black points, was bought on the first day of the 1988 Wrightson National Yearling Sales at Karaka for $230,000, after bidding had started quietly at a modest $30,000. Purchased by Tommy Smith on behalf of Stan Dumbrell, Counterfeit won on debut at Canterbury and then won three more races from his next six starts, including the V.A.T.C. Norman Robinson Stakes leading into the Victoria Derby in which he dead-heated for fourth behind Stylish Century. Counterfeit failed to win another race and when Dumbrell retired him, no major stud was interested. Accordingly, Dumbrell stood the stallion at his own Junee property, Lauriston Park. Few broodmare owners were tempted to send their matrons to that cold hole and Counterfeit eventually went on to sire polo ponies at the Garangula Polo Club at Harden. Counterfeit reminds me of another uncut full brother to a champion gelding in Private Thoughts. However, Kingston Town’s younger brother did at least manage to sire a Group Three winner.

Bonecrusher lived out the rest of his days gloriously contented on the Mitchell family farm being cared for by Peter Mitchell’s wife, Shirley, and their daughter Sharlene. In retirement, the old fellow loved nothing better than a handful of peppermints and devil’s claw, a medicinal plant native to South America that possesses anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Bonecrusher frequented the celebrity circuit during his retirement, with appearances and exhibition gallops at various racecourses apart from his own Ellerslie, where the Mitchell family sponsored a race in his name. In 1991, Bonecrusher was even a guest of the Moonee Valley Race Club during the week of the W. S. Cox Plate. Not only did he turn up in magnificent condition for the Breakfast With the Stars leading into the race but on raceday itself, he led the W. S. Cox Plate field onto the track before galloping down the straight while a recording was played of his epic struggle with Our Waverley Star five years before.

Bonecrusher’s final public appearance came in 2003 when he led out the field at Ellerslie for the New Zealand Derby. The old fellow contracted laminitis some two months’ shy of his 33rd birthday and was euthanised in June, 2015. Bonecrusher lies buried beside the saddling paddock at Ellerslie racecourse. It is a fitting resting place for it was here that he won his first race, his first group race, and all three of his New Zealand Group One races. The champion racehorse in action is immortalised in a life-sized bronze statue by Michelle Farrell, set above him and unveiled in March 2018. Such is the detail in the bronze  that it includes Big Red’s famous shoulder scar and his protruding tongue. At the end of the plaque below the statue, it simply reads: ‘Bonecrusher: The Pride of Ellerslie’.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you Ian! You’ve produced yet another classic gem of epic proportions. I not in this case you acknowledge only the name of the horse (Bonecrusher!) in the title bar? In all other cases you include extra identification. Nominative determinism?

    I enjoyed your references to Harold Hampton, Ross Du Bourg and the late Peter Pring (a close personal friend). I was privileged to attend a n HTBA meeting at Widden Stud in the late 1970s hosted by Peter Pring’s great school friend ‘Bim’ Thompson. The guest speaker was Monsieur Jean Romanet. He postulated similar philosophies to those of Arnold Kirkpatrick (USA TBA). He was a strong believer in ‘Line Breeding’ to produce the ‘perfect’ individual. However he said the current Thoroughbred Breed could be improved by the introduction of a good
    ‘running strain’ of the Arab Horse! Heresy?

    I note Arnold Kirkpatrick (USA) stated:

    “There has been too much greed, chasing the almighty dollar”.!

    “Danger lies in the subsidising of mediocrity. Breeding programs and incentives tend to do that.”!

    I note your analysis of the titanic struggle between ‘Bonecrusher’ & Waverley Star and its possible influence on subsequent performance. The old time breeders (Stanley Wootton, Reg Moses, F K ‘Darby Mackay, Vet Murray Bain) all stuck by the overarching premise: “Don’t go too often to the well”. (Quote)

    • Ian Ibbett

      Hi Bill, Thanks for your feedback on the Bonecrusher chapter. Nominative determinism, indeed! I trust that you are well and that your book on the history of Scone in progressing nicely. I look forward to reading it in due course. I should have the 1985 chapter of ‘Kings of the Turf’ out there within a month.

  2. John Heyes

    Hi Ian another great article . Eagerly awaiting your next.

    • Ian Ibbett

      Hi John, Great to hear from you again! I know that you still attend the races regularly as I was talking to Graeme Leggo on Monday and he said that you were keeping well. Red Anchor/(Tristarc) will be next!

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