One of the more unfortunate importations from England onto the Australian Turf in the nineteenth century was the declaration rule, whereby any owner starting more than one horse in a race was able to declare publicly for one in particular and have his others pulled to accommodate the desired result.  Such an arrangement may have had a place in the old days on the heath when racing was restricted to the aristocracy and side wagers between owners the only form of gambling, but it was an arrangement open to abuse once bookmakers emerged upon the scene and betting on a large scale by the general public became popular.

Admiral Rous was never in favour of the practice, and quite a few other prominent racing men agreed with him, but it persisted both in the old country and here far longer than was healthy for the sport.  In the spring of 1870, a controversy erupted over just this very practice in Australia and the man embroiled right in the centre of allegations of malfeasance was none other than ‘Honest’ John Tait himself.  Now there is an old racecourse saying that God sends the horses and the Devil sends the men to look after them.  It was a saying that had resonance in the Derbies that year and in particular, concerning just two horses, one a filly and the other a colt – Florence and Pyrrhus – and each happened to shelter within Tait’s Byron Lodge.

Florence was the more precocious of the two, and the more regally bred.  She was a daughter of the imported English stallion, Boiardo, and was the first foal of Rose of Denmark, the mare who had been famously conceived in England from a mating of Stockwell with Marchioness, before being imported into Australia ‘in utero’ by Hurtle Fisher. Rose of Denmark was the first youngster brought out at Maribyrnong; she had made her first appearance in the Ballarat Handicap (1 ½ mile), which she won when only 2 years, 6 months and 3 days old!  Her next appearance came in the 1863 Melbourne Cup, one month afterwards for which she went to the post as the equal favourite – the only occasion when a juvenile has started the favourite for Australia’s greatest handicap.

Weighted at just 5 st. 9lb, Fisher could only engage a boy, the future Derby-winning trainer Harry Tothill, to ride her at that weight, but for overpowering the lad and making all the running, she might well have won the race rather than finishing third, three lengths behind Banker in race record time. Rose of Denmark went on to win the Prince of Wales Stakes at Castlemaine a fortnight later; she won other races as an older horse and showed up splendidly in both the Champion Race and the Queen’s Plate at Launceston, before leaving off racing as a five-year-old.

Florence was Rose of Denmark’s first foal, and though bred during Charles Fisher’s time at Maribyrnong she was weaned and reared by his successor, George Petty. What a bargain Petty made when he purchased Rose of Denmark for 500 guineas and Florence as a foal for 115 guineas after they came up for sale following upon Charles Fisher’s lottery in April 1868!  In the two succeeding seasons after Florence, Rose of Denmark managed to produce both Hamlet and Horatio to the remarkable stallion, Maribyrnong.  As we shall see, Hamlet was arguably the top two-year-old of his year winning both the Champagne Stakes and Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick, and later maturing into a fine weight-for-age horse, while Horatio won the Great Metropolitan Stakes in 1873.

Orlando – The 1844 English Derby Winner & Sire of Boiardo

Boiardo, the sire of Florence, was a son of Orlando, the horse that had been awarded the 1844 English Derby in the most sensational of circumstances.  Orlando was beaten three-quarters of a length at Epsom by Running Rein but later given the race upon his owner, Colonel Peel, objecting as to the age of Running Rein.  It was a civil case decided by the Court of the Exchequer.  Boiardo himself won several good races in England when trained at Malton by John Scott, and started one of the favourites for the St Leger of his year but went lame during the running in the race won by Knight of St George.  Boiardo was a confirmed roarer and came from a roaring family, which was why few studmasters in England were prepared to stand him, but these were facts that did not deter James Purves from importing the stallion into Victoria.


Barwon Park Stables, Winchelsea (S.L.V.)

Whatever the shortcoming in his wind, Boiardo got some good horses in this country and spent most of his time at the venerable Thomas Austin’s Barwon Park stud, near Winchelsea in Victoria.  Austin was one of the founding fathers of the Victorian Turf, and his name is associated with the days of old Petrel and Bessy Bedlam before even the discovery of Bendigo and when Ballarat was better known as a sheep station. Born in Baltonsborough, Somerset, in 1815, Austin first landed in Van Diemen’s Land in 1831 with some of his brothers, before crossing the Bass Strait in 1837 and occupying the site of Winchelsea, near Geelong, in Victoria. It was there that he developed sheep runs which eventually devolved into Barwon Park, a freehold estate of 29,000 acres. Initially famous for its sheep, Barwon Park also became famous for its horses. and was one of those important Victorian breeding establishments even in the days before the advent of the Australian Stud Book.

Thomas Austin of Barwon Park

Thomas Austin was noted for his character as a very proper English gentleman and one whose sporting pursuits and princely hospitality were also very English. Austin first raced horses in those good old days when men loved the sport for its own sake and no colours were more familiar than the scarlet jacket and blue sleeves of the Squire of Barwon Park. Bessy Bedlam was certainly one of the best that ever carried his banner to the front as was the mare Enigma, who later dropped Brownlock at stud that won Austen the 1858 V.R.C. Derby and the 1859 V.R.C. St Leger. While Boiardo sired some good stock during his days at Barwon Park, he enjoyed more success with outside mares than perhaps Austin’s own, although Austin did breed Aruma from him and she won the 1863 V.R.C. Oaks. Apart from Florence, the best of Boiardo’s stock were the two full brothers, Banker and Barwon.

Barwon Park c. 2010 (National Trust of Australia)

Austin was an old man when he stood Boiardo at Barwon Park, but he gained a good measure of satisfaction from the horse’s progeny.  While Florence was his best, we shouldn’t forget those two full brothers, Banker and Barwon, both by Boiardo from that Australian-bred mare, Jeanette. Banker, of course, became famous as the winner of the third Melbourne Cup, and with just 5 st. 4lb, the lightest-weighted winner in the history of the race. However, what is often forgotten when that statistic is quoted is the fact that his older brother, Barwon, himself the winner of both the 1862 V.R.C. Derby and 1863 V.R.C. Australian Cup, was the topweight with 9 st. 5lb in that same Melbourne Cup. It is the only time that full brothers have started as the topweight and bottomweight in Australia’s greatest race.

While Thomas Austen is responsible for having introduced Boiardo to Australia, he is also remembered for introducing something else. As a member of the Acclimatisation Society in Victoria, Austen helped introduce many species from England for those sportsmen who enjoyed shooting, including pheasants, hares, thrushes, blackbirds and partridges. However, it was the twenty-four breeding rabbits that he brought on to his estate in October 1859 that ultimately won him infamy. Austen died in 1871, barely six months after the completion of his bluestone mansion at Barwon Park. Only a matter of months earlier in August 1871, Petty who then owned Boiardo, had disposed of him to Judge Cheeke, where the stallion was intended for Zoe, Clove and the other fines mares at Varroville. However, within days of landing in Sydney on the Balclutha, Boiardo was dead.


It was on the 6th of February, 1869, in The Australasian that the racing correspondent, ‘Playboy’ (W. C. Yuille), wrote: “I see by your advertising columns that on Monday week Mr Tattersall will submit to public competition, at Messrs McKersie and Rigg’s Bazaar, Mr Petty’s yearling filly by Boiardo, out of Rose of Denmark. This is a chance not to be missed by would-be owners of an Oaks winner, as the combination of blood in this filly is not often to be met with, and her make and shape give promise of something out of the common.” This, then, was a pedigree to die for – a crossing of Stockwell with Melbourne and Touchstone blood, and it was no surprise that as a yearling Florence cost John Tait the substantial sum of 460 guineas when George Petty offered her for sale at Kirk’s Bazaar in Melbourne the year before.

In fact, she was the first of the Maribyrnong yearling stock that Petty sold after taking ownership of Maribyrnong.  460 guineas was a tidy sum for a filly, especially one sixteen months old that had neither had a saddle on her back nor a bit in her mouth.  On the day of the sale – a Monday in late February 1869 – it was the general impression and rumour around the yards that Tait had merely taken the filly on terms from Petty.  Arranged beforehand, Tait would have her for racing only, and the whole elaborate façade of Mr Tattersall waving the gavel and declaring the bid had been no more than just that.  Indeed, the correspondent of The Australasian in attendance at those sales wrote his newspaper column in such terms, which excited Mr Petty’s indignation such that the studmaster in high dudgeon dispatched an impertinent letter to the newspaper office.

Whatever the truth of the matter – and I might observe here and now that George Petty and the Maribyrnong Stud reclaimed the filly at the end of her racing days – both the price brought and the attendant publicity surrounding it, aroused considerable public curiosity as to her expected ability on the racecourse.  In casting around for a name Tait looked to the sire, Boiardo, who had been called after the famous 15th-century Italian poet born near Florence in about 1434.  Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and the capital of Tuscany, seemed as good a name for the filly as any.  Boiardo in his Florentine environment had composed poems of chivalry and romance, although he is now best known as the possible inventor of the card structure that gave rise to the game of Tarot.  As we shall see, neither chivalry nor romance was to have a lot to do with Florence’s Derby; but an accurate reading of a Tarot pack would have foretold that, for Tait at least, a fortune lay in store.


No voluntary hallucinations ever blinded John Tait’s eyes to the true merits of his horses on the training ground, and by the spring of 1869, he’d had enough ‘good ‘uns’ through his hands to know real mettle when he saw it.  In Florence, he recognised the genuine article.  A slashing big filly, albeit with a rather coarse head and an excitable and volatile temperament; she was a young lady whose way of life was to cause Tait many moments of sharp anxiety.  Even in repose, there emanated from Florence’s dominant frame a palpable sense of power, and it was quick to translate to explosive energy at a gallop.  The master trainer gave Florence her first education in the spring of 1869 at Randwick where she quickly impressed the touts who awaited her racecourse debut with interest.  It didn’t come until the first day of the 1870 V.R.C. Autumn Meeting in the Ascot Vale Stakes.  Her arrival in Melbourne on board the Dandenong the previous Sunday evening had created a momentary excitement and curiosity in the southern capital. After all, she had been bred at Maribyrnong and then sold in Melbourne for such a controversially high price amid much tumult and shouting.

Eight went out for the Ascot Vale that year and odds were offered on the daughter of Rose of Denmark.  Alas, a poor start when she turned her head, cost her any chance of victory in a fast contest down the straight five that day; she was beaten less than a length into second place by The Roe, a daughter of Stockowner owned by Hurtle Fisher.  It was a different story the following day in the Nursery when Florence not only got 7lb from The Roe but a complimentary start of three lengths as well.  She was in rare humour that day, lashing out far and wide with her hind legs at the flag, distributing her favours to all and sundry before giving them all a galloping lesson.  However, much interest in the race was lost by the careless start affected by Herbert Power, who handled the flag for Mr Watson as he had also done in the Ascot Vale Stakes.  The reason for the switch was the wish to avoid a conflict of interest, given that Watson had a couple of youngsters of his own engaged.

There was a six-week hiatus between that Nursery at Flemington and the start of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. Tait returned the filly to Sydney and had her tuned to perfection.  In that week Florence was untroubled to win the Champagne Stakes with her usual jockey Charlie Stanley in the saddle, as well as managing a dead-heat for the second place – beaten a half-length – behind Tim Whiffler in the All-Aged Stakes.  In the latter event, Stanley couldn’t even get close to making her 5 st 7lb weight and instead, Florence was ridden by an inexperienced boy Kavanagh, who still had to declare 8lb over her allotted weight. Considering that she missed the start and was then hurried to dispute the lead with Barbarian before running about in the straight, it was a noble effort.

Impressive as those performances were, however, it was the manner in which the aristocratically-bred filly humped 9 st. 3lb with hauteur to take the Nursery with Jimmy Ashworth in the saddle on the last day of the fixture that convinced many of the racing public that they had seen the Derby winner.  Bookmakers immediately installed her at the head of quotations for the classic at 2/1, despite the race being more than four months away.  Mr E. T. Barnard, the V.R.C. handicapper, confirmed Florence’s dominance of the juvenile ranks and her obvious staying potential in late June.  In issuing his very first Cup weights in what was to be a 22-year career with the V.R.C., Mr Barnard, a former police magistrate at Beechworth, allotted Florence top weight among the rising three-year-olds of 6 st. 10lb or 7lb over the club’s weight-for-age scale.


Florence maintained her firm favouritism for the classic throughout the winter and even as far out as early July all that was on offer was 6/4. The only cloud on the horizon seemed to be the persistent rumours that, despite her successes in the autumn, Florence, like her sire, had been showing signs of roaring during track gallops.  If true, it was impossible that she could be good for anything involving weight and distance.  John Tait was never one to confide in pressmen, and when asked about the possible affliction was inclined to give Florence the benefit of the doubt, believing that, as Mark Twain used to say of Wagner’s music, “it’s not as bad as it sounds”.  Be that as it may, the cynics observed in the cold midwinter weeks of July that Pyrrhus, a stablemate of Florence, was coming in for sustained support in the Derby betting market and the demand had brought the son of New Warrior in as short as 5/1.  Rumours suggested that perhaps Pyrrhus was the Byron Lodge horse that was intended to win the blue riband.

After all, it wasn’t as if both the colt and the trainer didn’t have form.  A son of New Warrior and a brother to the useful Kaiser, Pyrrhus had enjoyed quite a reputation before his racecourse debut at the Homebush Autumn Meeting; but his easy defeat there by Lady Clifden and his unplaced effort behind his stablemate in the Champagne Stakes at Randwick had somewhat tarnished his character. Redemption, however, had come on Cup Day in the Sires’ Produce Stakes.  The redoubtable Jimmy Ashworth, who partnered the colt on that occasion, had kept him cold at the rear of the field until within fifty yards of the winning post when he came with a splendid rush, passing all but the favourite and very nearly snatching the laurels from Lady Clifden.  Although the racing scribes and the general public alike believed Lady Clifden on that performance had the measure of Pyrrhus, John Tait knew that the colt was a late foal and much would depend on how well he wintered.


The Randwick Spring Meeting happened to coincide with the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition, which resulted in a crowd of around twelve thousand in attendance on Derby Day, with the additional patronage of not just the Governor of N.S.W., the Earl of Belmore, and his party, but also Lord Canterbury, the Governor of Victoria.  Each was received at the Grand Stand Gate by the President and Vice-President of the A.J.C. and conducted to their private box.  A unique aspect of the gathering was that while Victoria’s Governor was in attendance, the southern colony was bereft of representatives in any of the races. The Victorian juveniles had not proved good enough to send up to Sydney the previous autumn where they generally remained to winter here in preparation for the spring; while the absence of the ubiquitous Hurtle Fisher overseas was yet another reason for the lack of Victorian representation.  On Wednesday prior to the opening of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, the rights to the gates, stands and various refreshment booths were auctioned by Mr Henfrey at Tattersall’s Hotel, realising on behalf of the club a total of £1,045/15/-, with the gates bringing in £655 of that total while the Derby Stand and St Leger Stands contributed £42 and £90 respectively.

The 1870 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:


1870 A.J.C. Racebook

On Derby Day, despite good support for Pyrrhus (carrying the second colours of a black jacket, and yellow cap) and Lady Clifden, who together with her stablemate Eli had changed hands since the autumn, Florence was dispatched as a warm favourite in the field of ten starters. Charlie Stanley was back in the leathers on Florence while Ashworth reunited with Pyrrhus.  In the paddock, Florence stood head and shoulders above her rivals bearing quite the regal appearance of a well-matured four-year-old.  After some minor infringements, the field was released on tolerably equal terms with Eli, Florence and Pyrrhus nearly abreast of each other in the lead until passing the Grand Stand the first time with Lady Clifden close upon their flanks.  The quartet continued in this order round by the Rocks, and past Johnny Cutts’s public-house, at which point Eli and Florence dashed to the front.  At the back of the course, just a neck separated the pair, with Pyrrhus about three lengths behind.

Racebook Extract (A.J.C.)

It was at this point in the race that Stanley allowed Florence to slip away and thereafter the favourite gave nothing else a chance.  At the trainer’s stand, Ashworth gave chase on her stablemate Pyrrhus, but the filly was six in front.  Coming down the straight it was obvious that Florence was in a league of her own while Pyrrhus was about the same margin superior to the rest.  The filly won in the commonest of canters hard held in a rather slow time, while Challenger managed to fill the minor placing.  For all of the racecourse rumours beforehand, it was clear that Florence was as sound in wind and limb as she had been during her juvenile season.  The only roaring on display had come from the other side of the running rail and those Turf scribes who pretended to know about the filly’s infirmity.  As sportsmen crowded the unsaddling paddock to inspect the Derby heroine, they were generally agreed on one thing at least: she may not have been beautiful to look at, but she was a wonder to behold.

It was a judgement that very soon came under review, for Florence’s reduction to common measure on the second and third days of the meeting in the Maiden Plate and Mares’ Produce Stakes respectively, came as an abrupt shock to those who had pronounced her the next big thing.  In fairness, there were mitigating circumstances, as heavy rain between the Saturday and the following Thursday and Friday had rendered the ground exceptionally testing, while her classic triumph had resulted in her being penalised best part of a stone in both races.  Nonetheless, a few of the Randwick crowd hooted Tait rather loudly after her failures while at the same time the Victoria Derby seemed to take on a more open aspect.


In the edition of The Australasian published immediately in the wake of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting and Florence’s Derby, a leading article expatiated on the uncommon virtues of her owner/trainer.  Probably no man knew better than Tait the weakness of that Derby field and how easily he could have manipulated proceedings by surreptitiously supporting Pyrrhus in the betting and then feigning lameness with Florence on the eve of the race.  When a horse has been the outstanding Derby favourite throughout the winter and starts with 5/4 laid on her, it requires no calculation to argue that having her lose may profit the owner more than letting her win.  In the hands of an unscrupulous owner, in league with a cunning bookmaker, such a plot might have reaped a fortune. After the race Tait, perhaps sanctimoniously, was heard to mutter: “I value the public’s esteem more than £10,000.”  The cheers that greeted both Tait and his filly upon her unsaddling acknowledged the worth of his reputation.  The praise from Australia’s leading racing paper was to be brought into sharp relief with the allegations the same journal hinted at in the wake of the Victoria Derby just a few weeks later.

In those years the Victoria Derby was worth so much more than its NSW equivalent by virtue of an additional reward of 500 guineas given to the successful breeder by the Victorian Racing Club – in contrast to the A.J.C. Derby where owners ran for their stake only.  Tait had taken both Florence and Pyrrhus as part of a small team to Melbourne by steamer and lodged at Chadwick’s Laurel Hotel in Essendon.  The Melbourne weather that spring was particularly unsettled, and training of the local horses somewhat retarded, as a result of the tan being the only viable means of exercising at Flemington.  Ten and a half inches of rain fell in the city during September/October, and the committee postponed the opening of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting for one week.  The superior condition of Tait’s horses, already coming off a hard campaign in Sydney, was a decided advantage.  When Victoria Derby Day did finally arrive, the track remained a bog as a result of intermittent, heavy rain.

Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh

Not only were the usual habitués in attendance that day but also H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, who was an honoured guest.  All were surprised to find the following notice posted on the board in the saddling paddock: “Mr Tait declares to win the Derby with Pyrrhus.” The declaration caused a measure of unease for it was known that Pyrrhus was at least a stone inferior to Florence on any disclosed form. Nonetheless, the Victorian public placed full confidence in the honesty of Tait and followed the stable’s lead, believing that either Florence had gone off since coming to Melbourne or that the rain-affected going was calculated to suit the strength of the colt better. In Sydney, the response to the abrupt telegram advising of the declaration was quite different, with the public’s anger knowing no bounds.  Florence had been backed to a very substantial amount for several weeks before the Flemington meeting in her hometown, and this about-face damaged Tait’s reputation for integrity.  In a seven-horse field, Pyrrhus went off even-money favourite with as much 2/1 freely available about Florence.  In the race, it soon became apparent that the Flemington Derby, like its Randwick counterpart, was a two-horse race.  The Byron Lodge pair gradually left the field in their wake and Florence appeared to bolt.

About two hundred yards from the post, Stanley gave the impression of attempting to pull Florence hard to allow the declared stable mate his victory, but Pyrrhus was unable to bridge the gap.  Florence went to the post a winner in a farce that prompted a furore in the grandstands. After passing the post was it exaggerated theatricality or exhaustion on the part of Stanley that saw the filly gallop close to the Saltwater River before being pulled-up?  Neither Florence nor Pyrrhus started in the Melbourne Cup, won that year by the dream horse, Nimblefoot.  Pyrrhus had been declared ineligible by the V.R.C. committee some weeks before because his original nomination had failed to include his alias or original registered name. Florence, on the other hand, was saved for the Victoria Oaks, run on the final day of the meeting, when, again in Stanley’s hands, she won rather easily from her solitary opponent.


However, it was the Victoria Derby fiasco that refused to go away.  The Australasian in a powerful leading article insisted that an investigation by the V.R.C. stewards was necessary to satisfy the public.  It contended that it was almost impossible to believe that two experienced jockeys like Ashworth and Stanley were unable to carry out their master’s orders.  “The result”, thundered the newspaper, “will not tend to raise Mr Tait in that public esteem, which he says he so highly prizes.” The finger of suspicion immediately fell upon Stanley, and the general impression was that Tait himself had been ‘sold’.  There were dark mutterings that the partner of Florence had won a considerable stake.  The controversy stood starkly against Stanley’s ascendancy over Ashworth as the leading jockey for the stable during the previous five years, a period in which he had proven a remarkably good servant to the Byron Lodge establishment. Stanley’s victories in the ‘yellow and black’ included the Derby, Champion Stakes and Sydney Cup on The Barb besides three Derbies on Fireworks – not to mention the Melbourne Cup on Glencoe.

Nonetheless, there had been stories circulating in the press before about a rupture between Tait and Stanley, most recently as April 1869 and just before the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, although these had been smoothed over at the time. Tait in the weeks immediately after the Victoria Derby imbroglio was unwilling to believe the worst about his jockey, attributing the result of the race to the waywardness of the filly and the slipperiness of the reins as a result of the wet.  In fact, while Tait returned to Sydney by steamer with some of his horses, he left Stanley in Melbourne in charge of The Earl and Detective.  This apparent endorsement antagonised Tait’s critics in the press even more.  The Australasian questioned: “What, we may ask, would men like the late Lord Derby or Lord Glasgow have done in a similar case?  How long a time would have elapsed after the finish of the race ere Stanley would have been ordered to send in his jacket and cap, unless he could satisfactorily explain his conduct….”  Stanley had assured Tait that he hadn’t received a penny from anyone for winning the Victoria Derby and in the absence of ready evidence to the contrary Tait was prepared to believe him.  In retrospect, Stanley compounded his casuistry with brazen effrontery, continuing to ask for the best of the stable rides.

But rumours have a way of surfacing on a racecourse.  The vanity of being known to be trusted with a secret is, as Dr Samuel Johnson famously observed, generally one of the chief motives to disclose it. And in this case, there were just too many parties with knowledge of the crime.  It wasn’t long before Tait became aware that two well known Sydney racing men, Dick Bryant, a Glebe Point butcher, and Robbins, a prosperous Pitt-street jeweller, had thrown in for a large stake over Florence, and the malapert Stanley had received a sizeable dividend. Tormented by suspicion, it was just before Christmas that Tait finally received information that convinced him Stanley had wilfully disobeyed instructions.  Incandescent with anger, he dismissed him from his service.  Charlie Stanley was never destined to ride for Byron Lodge again with Tait henceforth relying more on the staunch and faithful Jimmy Ashworth.  Tait’s rhadamanthine treatment of Stanley, as far as one may judge, seems to have been no more than the latter’s treachery and ingratitude warranted.

There was talk that Tait would try to have the flagitious Stanley disqualified altogether, but nothing came of it, and although he continued to ride for other trainers such as John Lee and Tom Lamond, he was fatally compromised. Stanley’s days of glory in the saddle were effectively over.  Even Tom Lamond despaired of him when he failed to ride The Prophet in the St. Leger according to instructions. Upon retiring as a jockey a few years later, Stanley offered his services as a public trainer, setting up horseboxes on his Campbelltown property and holding the licence to the Sportsman’s Arms, which stood on the opposite corner of Cordeau-street to Mawson Park.  Not surprisingly, he seemed to lack the conviction and energy necessary to make a success of his new vocation.

Moreover, his misadventures as a jockey caught up with him and owners were rather chary of any dealings; as Groucho Marx once famously observed: “time wounds all heels”.  Stanley died at Bondi in February 1914 at the age of sixty-nine and is buried in St Peter’s Cemetery at Campbelltown.  The declaration rule lingered for a while longer in the colonies, and, as we shall see, a few years later there was another celebrated case of the stable outsider upsetting the declaration. This incident, too, involved an A.J.C. Derby winner in Navigator, although not in the blue riband itself. Rather, it was when that colt defeated Solitude in the 1883 V.R.C. Normanby Stakes much to the embarrassment of trainer Etienne de Mestre.  It was soon after that incident that steps were taken by the A.J.C. and V.R.C. to repeal a rule that had proven so inimical to the morality of the Turf in the colonies, although it continued to obtain in England for a few more years.


The 1870 V.R.C. Spring Meeting was to be Florence’s high-water mark on the Australian Turf.  Given a brief let-up, Florence and Pyrrhus were both taken across the Bass Strait in early February for the Launceston Champion Meeting.  Whether it was the testing four-mile gallop given to the filly on the training grounds in Melbourne prior to embarkation, or the result of an accident in her box during the voyage as Tait maintained, Florence went lame and withdrew from all engagements on that trip.  Pyrrhus did manage to fulfil his commitments winning the Maiden Plate and running second in the Leger.  Prior to Florence’s breakdown, the A.J.C. St Leger had been regarded as a shoo-in for the filly but Tait lost the battle against time to get her ready and belatedly put the scratching pen through her name on the eve of the meeting.

The Sydney press was highly critical of Tait’s delay in declaring his intentions, particularly given the volume of public money that continued to go on the filly.  There was the whiff of a suggestion that Tait delayed in order to load some money on another of his three-year-olds, The Count, in the same race at longer prices.  Whatever the truth, in Florence’s absence, the domination of the fillies continued with Lady Clifden winning the race at Randwick with comparative ease, notwithstanding a gallant attempt by Jimmy Ashworth on The Count, to deprive the favourite of her victory.  The race was noticeable for the fact that Tait fired in a bitter protest against Charlie Stanley for running Tait’s colt, The Count, out at the last turn, although the stewards dismissed it.

The scratching of Florence from the St. Leger became even more puzzling to the grumbling pundits when less than three weeks after the Randwick meeting, John Tait went to the expense of transporting the filly to Queensland and back, a distance of a thousand miles, merely to compete for the first running of the Q.T.C. Derby and a stake worth no more than £150.  The recently founded Queensland Turf Club had just taken over the race from the Gayndah Club, and it was run at the newly laid course of Eagle Farm.  That the daughter of Boiardo won by several lengths in a common canter didn’t say all that much given that she only had one solitary opponent to beat and a rather ordinary one at that.  Nonetheless, in so doing she became the first horse to win all three of the Derbies on Australia’s eastern seaboard.  Florence raced on for one more season as a four-year-old but failed to win in seven appearances; she went to the Maribyrnong Stud at the close of the 1872 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting after running last in a field of four for the All-Aged Stakes.

I might mention that Pyrrhus, the colt that had caused Tait such heartburn in the spring of 1870, never did succeed in winning a principal race on the Turf.  He did run well-supported in the 1871 Melbourne Cup won by his stablemate, The Quack; his best win came in the Waverley Stakes at the 1871 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting where he also finished runner-up in the Rous Handicap.  As a four-year-old, he did manage to take out the Grand Stand Plate with 9 st. 3lb at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting.  Afterwards, Pyrrhus went to the Boyne River in the Port Curtis district of Queensland and sired some splendid saddle horses on Sir Maurice O’Connell’s station.  Interestingly enough, it was another son of New Warrior, Tait’s third-string three-year-old of that 1870 season, The Count, which proved the better performer as an older horse, winning both the Cumberland Cup and The Shorts at Randwick in 1871 and the Epsom Handicap the following year.

However, by then more interest was focused on Florence’s ability to reproduce her own quality as a broodmare.  The Barb was the first to breach her virtue at stud in the spring of 1872 but the resultant filly, Soldene, proved a disappointment.  When George Petty sold the Maribyrnong Stud back to Charles Fisher in April 1874, Florence along with the other stock went with it.  Fisher mated the triple Derby winner with The Marquis over successive seasons but their resultant progeny, too, proved worthless.  Florence came into William Long’s hands when Fisher finally disposed of the Maribyrnong Stud the second time around in December 1877, bringing 700 guineas together with a colt foal by The Marquis.  Alas, although she continued to produce foals to the likes of Maribyrnong and Julian Avenal after she went to Richmond, neither William Long nor later on, Andrew Town, bred anything worthy of her name.  After missing in three successive seasons from 1882 to 1884 Florence died at Richmond.