Few men came to have more influence on racing in Australasia in the last two decades of the twentieth century than Robert Edmund Sangster. Born 23 May 1936, Sangster grew up in a mansion near the Hoylake Golf Club, Liverpool, England, the only child of Vernon Sangster who had founded the Vernons Pools Company ten years earlier. Robert was educated at the exclusive Repton School in Derbyshire, the school featured in the acclaimed 1939 film ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ and apart from Sangster, numbers amongst its notable and eclectic alumni Roald Dahl, Harold Abrahams and Jeremy Clarkson.
Category: AJC Derby
“The future belongs to those who plan for it.” It is a simple philosophy of life and one that Adelaide horseman Colin Hayes lived by every day. When he eventually realised his dream and first established the Lindsay Park Stud, nestled amidst the rolling green hills and massive, majestic redgums of the Barossa Valley in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Hayes had that philosophy inscribed on an iron plaque and placed on the grand entrance gates to the property. Colin Sidney (C. S.) Hayes, gentleman and racehorse trainer extraordinaire, might be regarded as the third man of Australian racing in the second half of the twentieth century. Together with Tommy Smith, seven-and-a-half years his senior, and Bart Cummings, three-and-a-half years his junior, Hayes came to exercise a disproportionate influence on the Australian Turf that lost nothing in comparison with the aforementioned pair.
In the 1869 chapter, I related the early story of the foundation of the Maribyrnong Stud. Its dispersal in April 1866 saw the property, and much of the stock, transfer from the hands of the Stud’s founder, Hurtle Fisher, into those of his brother, Charles Brown Fisher or ‘CB’ as he has become known to generations of the Australian sporting public. Curiously enough, the brothers, for all of their closeness in pastoral intrigues, never seemed to have been long-term partners in their Turf pursuits, although they could always manage to come to some arrangement with each other when it suited. Charles Fisher, like his brother, was one of a small group of Australia’s privileged and exclusive squattocracy, who though in a land quite different to England, persisted in adopting English styles of dress and custom common to the squirearchy of the old country.
No two brothers have made a more significant contribution to the Australian Turf than Hurtle and Charles (C.B.) Fisher. One of the pioneering families of South Australia, their father, was the first Resident Commissioner of South Australia and controlled the sale of land in that fledgeling colony during the first two years of its existence. In this role, Fisher senior was responsible to the Board of Commissioners in London and in many respects exercised more power than Governor Hindmarsh, with whom he worked in tandem.
When the A.J.C. began to transfer its attention to Randwick in 1858, the old trysting ground at Homebush was forsaken and fell into desuetude for some years. Despite the newfound splendour of Randwick in those early years, however, the holidaymaking public failed to engage with the new course as a place to combine the enjoyment of racing with that of a picnic. It was to satisfy this yearning for the atmosphere of a fete champetre that Homebush enjoyed a brief resurgence in the mid-1860s.
In September 1861 the grand broodmare Cassandra, dropped a stylish colt foal to the champion stallion, Sir Hercules, in the paddocks of the Ramornie Stud. A few evenings after the foaling, a Ramornie employee noticed Cassandra in a state of agitation and walked over to investigate, only to discover her foal at the bottom of a deep hole into which he had fallen and been trapped for some time. It was a close brush with the wings of the angel of death.
The 1862 chapter of our chronicle introduces us to a family that came to have a dominant influence on bloodstock in the colony of New South Wales in particular, and throughout Australia in general. The founding father of the Australian branch of the Town family came to the first colony in less than auspicious circumstances. John Town (1773-1846) was apprenticed to a Lincolnshire tailor when he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Warwick, England, in 1796; he arrived in Sydney on board the Royal Admiral in the year 1800.
The past is a mosaic of tiny pieces, each piece a fragment of a larger picture. Today, visitors who come to view the Derby each autumn at Randwick, happen to see one of the world’s great classics contested on one of the world’s great racecourses. It is and has been for more than 150 years, an established convention of the Australian Turf. It presents a very large picture, but is a mosaic nonetheless, made up of many tiny pieces from many people over many years. How, one might ask, did it all begin?
Why a book on the history of the A.J.C. Derby? Well, why not? Yesterday, when I was young, and first became interested in the noble sport of horseracing, I devoured all of the books on the history of the Australian Turf upon which I could get my hands. Alas, the supply was sparse. Unlike most other sports in Australia, cricket and football come to mind, the Australian Turf had been poorly served over the years regarding literature. Oh, back then in the 1960s and 1970s there were good works by occasional writers on specific races or horses.