When the legendary figure of George Gatenby Stead passed from the scene in 1908, and his stud was dispersed, many feared that the last had been seen of the famous ‘yellow jacket, black cap’ carried by Noctuiform and so many other grand gallopers. But although his bloodstock was sold, George’s two sons, Wilfred and Gerald, each decided to continue their father’s sporting legacy, albeit on a more limited scale. The year 1916 saw each of the brothers in possession of a top class three-year-old, Wilfred with Sasanof and Gerald with The Toff; the former was by George Stead’s great champion, Martian, while The Toff was by Martian’s half-brother, Boniform.  The Toff had proven himself one of the best juveniles in the Dominion as a two-year-old by winning the Great Northern Foal Stakes, while Sasanof had run the champion mare Desert Gold to a length in the Challenge Stakes at Trentham.  Alas, being geldings neither horse was eligible for the Derby at Randwick.  Whereas Gerald decided to keep The Toff at home during the spring for a tilt at the New Zealand Derby, a race still open to geldings, Wilfred embarked on an ambitious programme in Australia aimed at the big Cups and weight-for-age events with Sasanof and Eligible, together with four other horses.  In the middle of August, Stead’s Hastings trainer of three years standing, Tom Quinlivan, arrived with the team and took up stabling in William Duggan’s establishment at Randwick.  Stead’s horses didn’t get off to the most auspicious start when, within a couple of weeks of arrival, the classy Eligible injured his shoulder and had to be shipped home without a race.

Quinlivan wasn’t the only New Zealand trainer to have arrived in Sydney during the winter with a team in preparation for the rich races of the spring.  Murray Hobbs, the veteran Riccarton trainer, had taken up residence about a month before on his first visit to Sydney, and the premier horse in his charge was a smart colt that was very much eligible for the A.J.C. Derby and already had been heavily supported for the race.  The horse in question was Kilboy, and he crossed the Tasman with quite a reputation that year.  A rather heavy-topped bay of medium height, Kilboy wasn’t offered on the New Zealand market as a yearling but was retained to race by his breeder, Mr J. B. Reid of the Elderslie Stud.  Reid was also the breeder of Sasanof, but whereas he had sold that horse as a yearling for 400 guineas at the Christchurch annual bloodstock sales, Kilboy was a late-season foal from a first season sire, and as such Reid hadn’t thought he would realise his real value in the ring.  The horse wasn’t asked to do much in his first season and only started three times, but showed considerable promise in the autumn when beaten a whisker in the Champagne Stakes at the Canterbury Jockey Club meeting and then three days later on the same course scattered a good field in the Challenge Stakes.  Now, it rarely happens that a horse carrying seven pounds overweight in a prestigious race is successful, but that’s just what Kilboy did in that Challenge when Ashley Reed couldn’t meet the original weight of 6 st. 10lb.  Little wonder then, that during the winter Reid had decided to send Kilboy to Australia where the market for bloodstock was more affluent, particularly given the retrenchments in New Zealand racing brought on by the War. The intention was to sell him if the required price was forthcoming; but if not, then the colt was to take his chance in the A.J.C. Derby in Reid’s livery.

The Sydney racing public got its first opportunity to assess the respective merits of Kilboy and Sasanof when each was started for the Chelmsford Stakes.  They say money talks on a racecourse and it was positively humming a tune at that Tattersall’s meeting when, after being backed in from 12/1 to half that quote, Sasanof, a mean, spare gelding, gave the lie to his plebeian appearance in the paddock with an aristocratic performance on the course to deny Woorak the main prize by a head.  Legally, the bookmaker was an extinct species in New Zealand, explicitly outlawed with the introduction of the Tote in that country.  Of course, in practice, the bookmaker still existed there but merely operated more furtively. Nonetheless, our Kiwi friends that day at Randwick enjoyed the gay abandon of being able to support Sasanof with the bagmen right out in the open, and they carried more than moonbeams away from the course that evening.  Kilboy, on the other hand, had been unwanted in the betting and was unsighted in the race after floundering at the tapes, although he did manage to make up ground stylishly over the last half-mile to just miss a place for the first time in his life. Handicapped at 6 st. 12lb in the Melbourne Cup, Sasanof was already emerging as a strong prospect for the race, while Kilboy’s Derby support by no means waned in the wake of his failure.

SASANOF (Sydney Mail)

Unfortunately for Murray Hobbs, Kilboy wasn’t an easy horse to train. Although a handsome colt, he was heavy in front, his fore-joints were suspect, and he needed time to recover from his gallops.  Hobbs would have liked to start him again before his Derby engagement but wasn’t able to do so.  His preparation consisted of corking track gallops followed by intermittent soreness.  It was an unusually wet spring that year in Sydney, and elsewhere for that matter, and while Kilboy might have been a better horse on top of the ground, the soaking rains on Randwick’s training tracks certainly lessened the jarring impact on his legs.  The risk of unsoundness, however, was one of the reasons his owner was willing to meet a buyer if the price was right.  Enter His Highness, the Rajah of Pudakota.  A wealthy Indian sportsman, he instructed Chisholm and Company to cable Reid in New Zealand with an offer of three thousand guineas for the horse, and a contingency of two thousand more if he won the A.J.C. Derby.  The offer was subject, of course, to the routine veterinarian’s inspection.  Reid cabled back accepting the offer, and Chisholm’s arranged for Tom Doyle to vet the horse.  The sale fell through when Doyle wouldn’t issue a certificate of soundness, although he considered that Kilboy might well remain sound if certain precautions were taken when the horse was being shod.  Such professional equivocation was somewhat less than compelling, and the good Rajah resolved to keep his money in his pocket.

WILFRED G. STEAD (Weekly Times)

Into the breach stepped Wilfred Stead. Flushed with ready money after landing some good bets in the Chelmsford Stakes, Stead decided to act as his own vet.  Back in New Zealand he was the proprietor of the Flaxmere Stud in the Hawke’s Bay district and had known his way around horses all his life.  He already owned Kilboy’s younger brother, Kill ‘Em, a horse he had purchased as a yearling for a mere hundred guineas and who was showing distinct promise in private, back in Maoriland.  The prospect of emulating his father by winning the A.J.C. Derby with a horse carrying the very same colours that Noctuiform did eleven years earlier, was one too rich to resist.  He looked Kilboy over, liked what he saw, and promptly offered two thousand guineas for him, with an extra three thousand thrown in if he won the A.J.C. blue riband – a clever variation on the first deal that had fallen through.  Reid accepted the offer, and the colt changed hands as late as the Tuesday before the Derby was due to be run.  Mr E. S. (Sydney) Luttrell, an architectural engineer and a close friend of Stead for many years, joined him in the purchase.  Despite the presence of his own trainer in Sydney, Stead rather pointedly left Kilboy in the charge of Murray Hobbs.

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Bill McLachlan had already been booked to ride the horse in the Derby before the sale; Murray Hobbs had lined up Mac back in the middle of September, well before the colt had changed hands.  It was Luttrell who confirmed the diminutive hoop would retain the mount despite the change in ownership, and McLachlan was left in no doubt that the free-spending New Zealand owners considered the prize already in the bag.  Luttrell told the jockey that he was on £500 to nothing if he won.  Ah, but then came the shenanigans!  Mac was more than a little surprised when Luttrell turned up at his Randwick home a day or so later and doubled the promise.  Such largesse often betokens simple generosity, while at other times it may mask a darker interpretation.  Eventually, Luttrell confessed that rumours had reached him during those last days that Kilboy was to be stopped from doing his best in the Derby.  Mac, who had fallen out of fashion as a rider, dismissed the rumour and innuendo insofar as he was concerned, while Luttrell declared that he was satisfied. The £1,000 promise still stood.  I might mention that after the race, McLachlan’s handling of the colt did invoke a certain amount of criticism from at least one-quarter of the press.  Curiously enough, the Derby also happened to be the only race that McLachlan won at headquarters during that entire 1916-17 racing season.

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1916 was a bad year for the Allied forces in World War I for it was the year of Verdun and the Somme. It was the year when the armies of Britain, France and Germany were bled to death. It was also the year in which Australian divisions finally joined the British Army in France and Belgium – the main theatres of battle in World War I. It was a year of dreadful sacrifice for little or no gain. Just consider this: on the first day of the battle of the Somme, July 1, there were 60,000 Allied casualties.  In just one day! It was the year of Fromelles and Pozieres. And it was the year that Australia rejected, albeit by a narrow margin, the first referendum on conscription. Indeed, that vote occurred just twenty-five days after the A.J.C. Derby was run. Truth be told, by Derby Day that year Australians finally recognised the heavy burden of the conflict, and despite draconian censorship, something of the inept political, and especially military leadership, of the Allies was seeping out along with the blood and guts. The excitement, enthusiasm and sense of adventure so misplaced at the time of Gallipoli were gone. Almost everyone knew some young man killed in the War. The losses intruded into many racing families. But for a stray bullet, how different might have been our subsequent Turf history. Let us take two examples from the thousands available. 1916 was the year that Lieutenant Harold Thompson died in France while serving in the artillery. Harold was the youngest of three sons of James Thompson of Oakleigh and Widden Studs and a knowledgeable bloodstock man. 1916 was also the year that a young man, a former jockey, was sent home to England from the front, suffering from shell shock and injuries to his wrist, having taken part in heavy fighting and winning the Military Cross.  His name was Stanley Wootton.

STANLEY WOOTTON RECUPERATING IN ENGLAND WITH FAMILY (Referee)

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The mud and the blood, the sweat and the tears, weren’t just restricted to the killing fields of Flanders. Heavy rain caused the postponement of Derby Day twice in 1916 – the first time in the history of the race. Racing was initially delayed from the Saturday until the Monday when a further deluge caused the club to defer it again until the Tuesday. Although Tuesday was fine and bright, the racecourse going remained something of a quagmire, particularly for about two furlongs at the top end. Charles Cropper arranged for more than thirty loads of sand to be carted and piled on the training track, while a gang of men worked along the affected parts of the course during the afternoon. After each race, the men filled in the indentations and levelled the surface.  There was only one fall all day and that came in the Kensington Handicap without any real casualty.  The Derby prize was worth £4,597 to the winner that year, the largest amount given by any club in the British Empire for a classic race for three-year-olds and more than the French Jockey Club gave for its Grand Prix de Paris.  By comparison, for example, The English Derby of 1916 was worth only £2,900 to the winner.  The generous prize money had attracted a field of sixteen starters for the A.J.C. blue riband – equalling the previous best – that of 1911.  The attendance did not match such record numbers: the weather and postponements had their inevitable effect on the crowd, and only around 28,000 people witnessed the racing.

Still, those visitors that did make an effort to get to Randwick on Derby Day would have noticed some changes since the previous A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Bookmakers were now far easier to locate, with the erection of posts beside every bookmaker’s stand stating in plain letters the name of the occupant and the number of his pitch. While the Holman Government had continued to resist the introduction of the Tote, the financial imperatives of the War had seen the beginning in December 1915 of a tax on bookmakers.  Fielders at Randwick had to pay the Government an annual fee of £50 for the Paddock; £20 for the Leger; and £5 for the Flat.  Bookmakers betting in the Paddock at Rosehill, Moorefield, Canterbury Park and Warwick Farm only paid one fee of £20 for those courses and another £20 for the pony courses.  Such payments were beside the penny tax on each ticket issued in the Paddock, and a halfpenny on each in either the Leger or the Flat on any course.  In effect, the racing clubs had to pay a quarter of the amounts received from bookmakers in the way of betting fees, as Government Betting Tax.  One of the strange anomalies of this new legislation was that bookmakers operating at meetings just outside the forty-mile metropolitan radius escaped taxation, apart from their contribution in stamp duty. The new taxation regime came into effect at the beginning of 1916, and while the amounts raised far exceeded expectations, it only served to defer, rather than deny, the inevitable coming of the Totalisator. Later in the year, Victoria, which was also procrastinating about the introduction of the Tote, followed the N.S.W. example of taxing bookmakers.

 The palpable sense of gloom and depression of a War not going well was evident on the racecourse.  Posters were being displayed in the Paddock, Leger and Flat, appealing to sportsmen to donate their field glasses for the Front, with the club willing to receive them in their Bligh-street offices.  In February the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, had announced that he would no longer attend race meetings because of their diversion of energy and money from the war effort. Understandable as the Governor-General’s decision was, the A.J.C. was making a considerable contribution to the war effort. In the financial year ended June 1916, the club had given £37,370 to the Patriotic War Funds. This notwithstanding, the general shortage of money was evident at the Sydney Yearling Sales in April with depressed averages and only one yearling reaching four figures – a colt by Mountain King from the imported Caserta’s Daughter.  It had become highly unusual to see any course betting conducted in gold – even half-sovereigns rarely changed hands now.  All business was done in notes or silver, and though some bookmakers in the Paddock declined to lay the odds to less than ten shillings, cash wagers as a whole were much lighter than at meetings before the War.

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The 1916 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:

1916

The field for the Derby included Australia’s best two-year-old of the 1915-16 racing season in Wolaroi, and he was regarded as Kilboy’s greatest danger.  A little black colt by Kenilworth from Widden Lass, he was only small but full of character, quality and courage and was the best servant on the greensward to ever race in Dan Seaton’s orange and green.  In size, he took after his dam who was only a little mare sired by Maltster during his first season at the stud.  In fact, she was so small and marred by a twisted leg that she wasn’t considered good enough to include in the Widden draft of yearlings in her year.  However, Dan Seaton discovered the little thing on a visit to Widden Stud and was able to acquire her for a trifling sum – something like £20 from Alfred Thompson.  Not bad for a mare that was a sister to a V.R.C. Oaks winner in Mint Sauce and whose maternal granddam was a sister to Abercorn.  Seaton put Widden Lass to stud as early as her three-year-old season, sending her to Merton on successive visits to Flavus, to whom she threw two speedy customers in Rose o’ Merton and Fortrait. Rose o’ Merton proved a class galloper on the Queensland Turf, while Fortrait in his first five starts carried Seaton’s colours to success on four occasions and was beaten a head in the fifth. Fortrait was then sold for 500 guineas but failed to retain form.  Thence came Wolaroi, of whom it must be said favoured Maltster in every way except his head carriage.  Wolaroi was put up at the sales with a reserve of 250 guineas but when no business was done Seaton decided to race the little fellow himself, placing him into Quinn’s stable.  The colt took his name from a western school at which Mr Seaton’s son, George – a future barrister, was a scholar at the time.

wolaroi sm 1916

WOLAROI (Sydney Mail)

Wolaroi made a winning first appearance on the racecourse and caused something of an upset when he came with a terrific burst of speed wide-out to beat a field of thirty-four in the 1915 Breeders’ Plate, worth the tidy amount of £2,500 that year. He ran unplaced a few days later with the full penalty in the Gimcrack.  I might mention in passing that Wolaroi was the last youngster to be able to attempt this juvenile double at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting.  In the following year, the club decided to restrict the Breeders’ Plate to colts and geldings, carrying 8 st. 5lb and 8 st. 2lb respectively, and reserved the Gimcrack Stakes for fillies while at the same time increasing the distance of that race to five furlongs.  Wolaroi came back later in the season to win both the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. Unfortunately, an oversight in nominations had seen him omitted from the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes.  In the Champagne Stakes, I might add Wolaroi beat the official race record by a second, although some doubts were raised as the electric current starting the club’s chronometer was slow to act on that day. Wolaroi had confirmed the potential of his juvenile form when in the new season he cleverly won the Rosehill Guineas in a time within a half-second of Bobrikoff’s track record.

Wolaroi was one of two representatives in the A.J.C. Derby carrying the ‘orange, green sash and cap’ of Dan Seaton; the other was Eastcourt, the first foal thrown by Lady Ruenalf, a mare that won Seaton several good races including the 1910 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes.  Eastcourt, like Wolaroi, was offered as a yearling, although in his case, the reserve placed on him was 500 guineas.  Although Seaton subsequently reduced the amount, the best offer made was 250 guineas, and old Dan decided to retain this fellow as well.  I might add that it was the same bidder that went highest for both Wolaroi and Eastcourt, so it was a particularly unlucky day for him when he failed to secure either. Eastcourt first emerged as a Derby prospect when he came with a long-sustained run to win a two-year-old handicap at Randwick in late May after having been backed into favouritism.  At his most recent appearance, he had appropriated the Hawkesbury Guineas in impressive style. Although owned in the same interest, Barney Quinn, an old Wilbetree identity, trained Wolaroi while Eastcourt lodged in the stables of Joe Burton.

TRESSADY (Sydney Mail)

William Brown, the proprietor of the Segenhoe Stud, was another with two horses carrying his colours in the race, the filly Thana, and the strongly made bay colt, Colbert.  Both were homebred and among the first of the progeny of Tressady, that big son of Persimmon, whom Brown imported to stand in Australia on the recommendation of Ike Earnshaw.  Tressady had been slow in making a winning start; but the summer meetings had brought to light some promising youngsters, most of which carried Brown’s colours, and from that time on the stallion’s stocks had soared.  The colt and the filly by Tressady contesting the Derby were each three-quarters blood brother and sister, as Chaste, the dam of Thana was a daughter of Eloping Lady, the dam of Colbert.  Thana, a low, lengthy chestnut filly was the more strongly fancied of the pair, having won the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick and carried a penalty into a minor placing in the Champagne Stakes during the autumn.  Moreover, she came from the same family as Perdita and Multifoil, both of whom were partial to a distance.  The stallion, Comedy King, was well represented and had four of his progeny in the race, the best of which was Stageland, the flag bearer of Jim Scobie’s establishment.

THANA (Sydney Mail)

What might have been had the rains held off may be left to conjecture, but I rather think our Kiwi cousins would have depleted the bookmakers’ satchels even more if they had been certain Kilboy was as good in the ground as he was on top of it.  It is rare for horses from the Dominion to be unable to accommodate soft going in this country, but Kilboy was such a heavy-topped colt that most felt sure firmer ground would have suited him even better.  Those who had taken the odds to Kilboy were not on good terms with themselves when he passed the stands the first time at the tail of the hunt, although he was in good company with Wolaroi and Mudros.  The first two favourites in the betting had drawn off the course, and neither rider had been prepared to hurry their mounts early.  But Kilboy’s connections wanted a stiff pace to bring his stamina into play, and they got it thanks to Thana’s pacemaker, Colbert.  However, once McLachlan got Kilboy balanced, and into a rhythm, the horse surprised everybody by dashing up to the leader between the mile and the seven. The favourite went from thirteenth to second in a little more than a furlong.

Many thought the tactic suicidal and had Kilboy lost, a lambasting would have been McLachlan’s reward in the wake of such extravagance.  But in making the move, he thereafter enjoyed a relatively trouble-free journey, not something that could be said for Wolaroi who saw nothing funny when Irish Comedy collided with him passing the nine, which very nearly brought the little fellow down and cost him many lengths.  Thana was another to suffer from scrimmaging.  McLachlan followed Colbert to the bend and then took charge on Kilboy.  For a moment in the straight, it appeared he might be run down but McLachlan had something up his sleeve and at the post won rather easily.

1916 A.J.C. DERBY FINISH (Sydney Mail)

The surprise of the Derby was the improvement of Colbert.  Reports from the home gallops had suggested that he wasn’t in the same class as Thana, although William Brown always had a high opinion of the colt and had insisted on running him.  He certainly measured up to his part of the bargain as the pacemaker, for he was only beaten a half-length by Eastcourt for second place and finished a neck in front of Thana, who was a length in front of Wolaroi.  Thus, of the two owners who had more than one runner, Dan Seaton and William Brown, their second strings proved superior to the stable fancy and filled the minor placings behind Kilboy.  But in each case, interference during running had cost Wolaroi and Thana dearly.

kilboy after the ajc derby 1916

KILBOY COOLING OFF AFTER THE AJC DERBY

Kilboy thus became the first New Zealand owned-and-trained horse to win the Derby since Noctuiform in 1905, providing the Stead family with a unique father and son double triumph.  It was the crowning glory of a long and successful career of training horses for 54-year-old Murray Hobbs. Born in Bristol, England, in 1862, Hobbs came out with his parents in the ship ‘Ivanhoe’. His father died on the voyage out, and the family decided to settle in Christchurch, where after receiving his education, Murray studied as an architect and a surveyor. However, he was fond of horses from an early age, and his interest in racing soon crowded out any real passion for architecture or surveying. In 1885 he owned and trained Moody to win the New Zealand Grand National although just a few years after that came the two stayers that effectively established Hobbs’ reputation, and I refer to Prime Warden and Lady Zetland, each of which he owned, as well as trained.  Each was foaled in 1887, although Prime Warden, the horse that so impressed a young Harry Telford and indirectly led to his purchase of Phar Lap, came to maturity more quickly. This son of the celebrated Miss Kate won the 1892 C.J.C. Great Autumn Handicap and in 1894 both the C.J.C. Canterbury Cup and C.J.C. Metropolitan Handicap. Lady Zetland proved even better, winning both the C.J.C Great Autumn Handicap and the Great Easter Handicap in 1894, and in 1896 both the Canterbury Cup and the New Zealand Cup.

MURRAY HOBBS (Standish and Preece)

Thanks to the winnings on these two grand gallopers, in 1896 Hobbs took over the Racecourse Hotel in Upper Riccarton, which faced the racecourse there. It was a handsome two-storied brick building with some twenty rooms exclusive of those reserved for the family. Boasting ornamental gardens and croquet and tennis lawns, and adorned with flowers, shrubs and playing fountains, it was a showpiece of Riccarton and a very profitable business. The land comprised ten acres, which were subdivided into dairy paddocks with large, double-walled brick stables at the rear. Even apart from the hotel, Hobbs was a director of both the Midland Saleyards Company in New Zealand and the Victoria Brewery Company. Indeed, such was the extent of his non-racing financial interests that when he came over to Sydney in 1916, it was principally with the idea of selling his own few horses in the Australian market and temporarily dropping out of the game until after the War. How ironic! Reid chose well when he decided to send Kilboy to Hobbs for a Derby preparation. Hobbs’ talent and long service to racing in the Dominion had been recognised by the Australian Jockey Club in late July when it extended a No. 1 trainer’s licence to him, allowing Kilboy and the rest of his team to be prepared at Randwick. Interestingly, the only other trainer to be promoted to the same status at the start of the new season was Barney Quinn, the man responsible for preparing Wolaroi. Quinn’s promotion wasn’t resented, but the ascension of a Kiwi with temporary residence rankled some of the diehards training on the periphery, although I believe the committee acted out of courtesy more than anything else.

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The victory of Kilboy in Australia’s premier Derby immediately served to focus attention on his sire, Kilbroney. Purchased by J. B. Reid while on a visit to England, Kilbroney got Kilboy in his first crop when standing at Reid’s Elderslie Stud, near Oamaru on the South Island.  A direct descendant of Stockwell through the champion Bend Or, Kilbroney was a particularly smart if highly-strung racehorse even as a two-year-old when he won the National Produce Stakes at The Curragh. As a three-year-old he ran second in the Irish Derby, being beaten by Aviator, although the winner was giving him six pounds.  I might mention here that Aviator also came halfway across the globe and stood stud duty at Russley Stud in the Scone district but failed to leave any progeny of note, not something that can be said of the horse he beat that day at The Curragh.  Kilbroney was a horse that simply got better with age, and as a four-year-old when trained by Charles Waugh at Newmarket, he won the Great Metropolitan Handicap at Epsom and the Goodwood Cup, before running the Epsom Derby winner, Lemberg, to a neck in the Doncaster Cup (2m 1f) when each carried ten stone.

When Kilbroney first took up his quarters at Elderslie, there were only a handful of mares that had been left over from the dispersal sale of 1912.  These, together with a few others purchased by Reid, gave him a restricted start.  Yet from such limited opportunities in his first season, he not only got Kilboy but the smart galloper Killena as well. Kilbroney tended to get big horses that generally needed time, but when given it, many developed into wonderful stayers.  As a result of Kilboy’s success in Australia, and to take advantage of the boom on his new stallion, the following year Reid sent a draft of nine yearlings, all by Kilbroney, to be sold at the Sydney Yearling Sales.  Kilbroney was consistently among the leading sires in New Zealand for quite a few years, and although he never actually won the title, he was twice runner-up.  Cyre, the dam of Kilboy, while not a principal winner on the Turf, came from a very distinguished maternal line, being a daughter of Miss Delaval, a top-class staying filly that had won the C.J.C. Oaks and A.R.C. Great Northern Derby, and whose offspring included a V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes winner in Sheriff Muir.  In the year previous to throwing Kilboy, Cyre had foaled Down, the winner of an Invercargill Cup.

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“LUCKY DAN” SEATON (The Australasian)

The year 1916 represented the chance of a lifetime for popular owner Dan Seaton in his quest to win the A.J.C. Derby. Alas, he had to settle for second placing with Eastcourt, which followed his unlucky minor placing with Westcourt the year before. Born at West End, Mudgee, in 1872, Seaton, although not given to ostentation, cut quite a dash on the Australian Turf from the beginning of World War I right up to the outbreak of World War II. When he was but three, his father bought a broodmare and filly foal by Old England. Seaton senior retained the mare but gave the filly foal to his young son and his love affair with horses thus began. He was never without a horse for the rest of his life. Daniel was a promising show rider during his teenage years and won the Galloway Jump event on his mare Flirt at the 1891 Sydney Royal Show. The following year he backed Wild Rose and Highborn to win the V.R.C. Newmarket- Australian Cup double, which they did, and he was hooked! Seaton made a fortune in life from his business as a master butcher. Established initially in Bronte Rd, Waverley, he added another shop at 412 Oxford-street, Woollahra, which later developed into an expansive meat market. Married at the Church of St Matthias, Randwick, in 1898 to Honora, an attractive young lady from Tasmania of convict ancestry, Seaton became a leading figure in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and for a time served on Waverley council. As a racehorse owner, his first important success didn’t arrive until 1910 when his mare Lady Ruenalf won the A.J.C. Villiers Stakes. I might add that Lady Ruenalf is one of the few racehorses to win two races at Randwick in the one day. It occurred at the Tattersall’s meeting in May 1908 when she won both the Flying and the Welter Mile. The Villiers victory kicked off a remarkable eight-year period of success for Seaton, which saw the newspapers bestow on him the soubriquet “Lucky Dan”. During these years it seemed that, had he tossed a racebook up in the air, it would as likely as not have rained down £10 notes.

Eastcourt might have finished runner-up in the A.J.C. Derby and Wolaroi fifth, but Wolaroi would prove to be the best horse ever to carry Dan Seaton’s livery. Incidentally, Eastcourt took his name from the grand, two-storied mansion with a tower that dominated the centre of Bondi Junction at that time.  Situated on Old South Head Road or the corner of Oxford Street and Waverley Street, it had been built in 1893 by a brewer and was renowned for its gardens and Norfolk pines. Seaton had bought it as his family residence in 1915, and it was to remain so until 1927. However, whereas Eastcourt the racehorse, despite being placed in both Derbies at Randwick and Flemington, was somewhat disappointing after that spring, Wolaroi proved a great money spinner. How lucky Dan was to have not only Wolaroi but a Melbourne Cup winner in Westcourt to sport his livery in those dark years of World War I and the early months of peace. He bred and owned Dame Acre as well, who won the 1918 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap in record time but he had leased the horse to the Rosehill trainer, Bill Booth.

Seaton had extensive pastoral and breeding interests as well.  His first breeding property was Eurunderee Stud, which he established in December 1915 after he had stepped back from his wholesale and retail butcher’s business.  The Lowe family initially owned Eurunderee, part of their considerable acreage in the Mudgee district as a result of squatting. Seaton’s Eurunderee Stud was some four miles from Mudgee on the Gulgong-road. Under Seaton’s management, it grew to a thousand acres of lucerne flats and limestone hills watered by the Cudgegong River and Pipeclay Creek which ran through the estate. During the War years, Seaton acquired some choice mares for the stud, and it was here that both Westcourt and Wolaroi stood stallion duties after being retired from the racecourse. While each got some handy gallopers, many of which carried Seaton’s colours, neither stallion got a racehorse approaching their own ability. Perhaps the best horse he stood at Eurunderee was the imported Sands of the Orient. In March 1929 Seaton paid £10,000 to acquire the 568 acres and homestead of Kingsfield Stud when it came up for auction upon Joe Brien’s retirement.  Only a couple of months after purchasing Kingsfield he sold his old favourite Wolaroi to the Longreach breeder, Mr J. McNally. In due course the 1934 A.J.C. Derby winner, Theo, stood at Kingsfield and crossed with Wolaroi mares but the nick didn’t succeed for Dan Seaton.

Seaton didn’t restrict his investment in the Sport of Kings to mere bloodstock and stud farms. For many years he was also the owner of Kembla Grange Racecourse. The racecourse, upon which some £17,000 had been spent developing it, was laid down along similar lines to Randwick  – a mile and three furlongs in circumference and 120-feet wide. It held its first meeting back in June 1912 before a crowd of some two thousand people. Such were the profits of proprietary racing in those balmy days that a company had been formed the year before to acquire the 125-acre site adjacent to the Kembla Grange railway station on the Illawarra line – then a couple of hours journey from Sydney. Although initially owned by a syndicate, Seaton accumulated enough shares in the proprietary company that when the other shareholders wanted to sell-out in March 1924, he purchased the lot for £25 an acre. In all, he paid £3,625 for the two tracks, eighty horse-stalls and four stables, while the fittings sold separately. Seaton enjoyed his last major success on the racecourse with Geebung, a horse of his own breeding, who carried the colours to victory in the 1939 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap.  ‘Lucky Dan’ Seaton died on the last day of World War II at his Witherington apartment in Wolseley Road, Point Piper, in August 1945.

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I seem to have gone off on a tangent in retailing the life story of Dan Seaton and thereby departed from the main narrative thread of the 1916 A.J.C. Derby. So let’s return to it. I titled this chapter ‘Hobbs, Stead and a Jump’ and readers are entitled to ask where the ‘jump’ comes in? Well, there was something of a sensation on the day immediately after the running of that A.J.C. Derby when Wilfred Stead jumped trainers. He sacked Tom Quinlivan, and transferred Sasanof together with his four other horses, then in Sydney, to Murray Hobbs.  On Tuesday that was the postponed Derby Day, Quinlivan had won the Spring Stakes with Sasanof, giving Stead a double; yet at an early hour on Wednesday, and in heavy rain, the horses were taken from Duggan’s stables, where they were being housed, and handed over to Hobbs who was renting boxes at Chisholm’s.  This transfer was not an exercise in studied diplomacy between owner and trainer as the exchange of letters in the press indicated; Quinlivan, who the previous year had finished second on the winning trainers’ list in New Zealand, expressed deep hurt at the abrupt termination of his services.  It wasn’t the first connection severed by Wilfred Stead during that visit. Earlier he had decided to dispense with the services of Queensland rider, P. O’Neill, who had a firm engagement to ride his horses during that A.J.C. Spring Meeting. O’Neill had complained to the club, which saw him awarded a winning percentage when Sasanof had won the Spring Stakes.

After Sasanof’s unplaced effort in the Craven Plate, Murray Hobbs departed with Kilboy and Sasanof and the rest of his team for Melbourne in search of more rich pickings.  Both Kilboy and Sasanof had been coupled extensively in Cups doubles, although Kilboy also had been the subject of massive speculation in the Victoria Derby. Sydney Luttrell, in particular, who was a heavy plunger in those days, had backed Kilboy to win both the Derby and Cup double for more than £25,000.  The rains that had so disrupted the A.J.C. Spring Meeting also played havoc at Flemington.  Indeed, the whole of the Eastern States of Australia had been subject to one of the wettest springs on record.  In Melbourne, except for those trainers located at Caulfield where the Stead team was based, training operations had been conducted with difficulties.  The grass tracks at Flemington had not been available after floodwaters from the Maribyrnong River in September caused about £2,000 worth of damage and resulted in enormous layers of silt left on the course; Ascot and Moonee Valley had then been patronised by those trainers who usually prepared their horses at Flemington.  There was heavy rain in the week leading up to the Victoria Derby and even on the morning of the race, a deluge prompted speculation that racing might be postponed.  It wasn’t, but the day was one of Stygian gloom on a course that served up the heaviest ground in years.

Kilboy had pulled up sore after running second in the Caulfield Stakes, and ominous whispers were rife at the time that all wasn’t well before the Victoria Derby.  The connections also sacked McLachlan from the ride.  At Caulfield McLachlan had dropped his whip on Kilboy after running to the front at the distance, and the owners weren’t happy. While the Sydney hoop wasn’t notified until a late hour that his services wouldn’t be required, the press had been full of it for some time, and Frank Dempsey was expected to have the mount in the classic.  I dare say Mac wasn’t entirely unhappy when Kilboy failed to run a place in the Derby although the colt was later reported to have broken down. The winner was Wolaroi, the horse that had been expected to trouble Kilboy most at Randwick.  Dan Seaton’s black colt improved wonderfully upon arriving in Melbourne that year. Whereas in Sydney he was given to excitability and sweated freely before his races, by the time he got to the southern capital, the experience of train travel and constant movement had worked wonders for his tractability. Nonetheless, in course betting on the Derby at Flemington he had blown from 9/2 to eights mainly on the theory that the little fellow had no chance of humping his 8 st. 10lb in such a quagmire while Kilboy was all the rage.  But in the race, Wolaroi was never off the bit.  The black colt revelled in the going, making the race a triumph for Dan Seaton, who bred and owned both the winner and the third place-getter, Eastcourt.  It was indeed a lucky day for him at those Easter Sales in 1915 when he couldn’t find a buyer for either yearling at the stated reserve.  There is an interesting sidelight to the ribbon that Seaton received for winning the Victoria Derby.  It seems the lady employed by the V.R.C. to make the sash had her mite on Kilboy, for worked faintly through it was the message: ‘Good luck, Kilboy’!

There aren’t many owners lucky enough to win the Melbourne Cup with one horse while having another scratched after being a one-time favourite for the race.  But such was the good fortune that attended Messrs Stead and Luttrell that year at Flemington.  Kilboy was the Cup favourite on the Friday before the event, but his Derby failure knocked him right out of the market.  As it turned out, after cooling-off from the Derby, the horse was found to be lame and scratched on Cup Day itself.  Wilfred Stead then generously extended a share in the ownership of Sasanof to his friend for the currency of the Melbourne Cup meeting, given Kilboy’s misfortune.  That year the Cup was postponed for only the second time in its history owing to the rain and was run for the first time on the following Saturday.  It proved an eventful week for the visiting owners.  After Kilboy pulled-up lame in the Victoria Derby, Sasanof sprung a curb on Thursday, two days after the Cup was scheduled to be run, and two days before it actually was.

Generally, such a swelling rendered a horse lame, but in Sasanof’s case, after a round of hot poultices, the hardy gelding remained sound enough to take his place in the field.  The injury caused some bookmakers to take liberties and Luttrell, in particular, helped himself to a generous serving as compensation for his lost doubles wager upon Kilboy’s scratching.  In winning at 12/1, Sasanof became the very first New Zealand bred, owned and trained horse to do so. Thus, for the second time that spring, Messrs Luttrell and Stead found themselves the happy beneficiaries of a major prize from a race postponed.  Some of the sporting public expressed regret that Tom Quinlivan, who had laid much of the groundwork for Sasanof’s Cup, gained nothing from the result.  Such was not the case, however. While the horse had been in Quinlivan’s charge the trainer was laid the tidy bet of £3,000 about him for the Cup and Wilfred Stead paid the money over to his representative on the Monday following the race.  It wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford it: Messrs Stead and Luttrell were to finish the season as the leading owners in Australia. In the space of just thirty days or so Sasanof had won £9,105; Kilboy £4,797; and Sweet Corn £250. Certainly, Messrs Stead and Luttrell had been sufficiently encouraged to come again!

SASANOF WINNING THE MELBOURNE CUP (Sydney Mail)

Kilboy only raced three more times after his Victoria Derby failure, for he was none too sound by now – something that confirmed the wisdom of Tom Doyle’s reluctance to issue a veterinary clearance at the time of his prospective sale to the sub-continent.  Just what a loss Kilboy’s forced retirement was to the Turf, is underscored by those last three races for he won them all.  In twelve days in April 1917, he managed to win the Great Autumn Handicap at Canterbury and then strolled up in the St. Leger at Wellington in very heavy ground.  But the piece-de-resistance came with his final bow in the prestigious Trentham Gold Cup at weight-for-age a few days later.  There may have only been four starters, but it was somewhat exclusive company – Kilboy, The Toff, Desert Gold and Sasanof.  This was probably the most brilliant quartet that had ever met in a race in New Zealand.

In those days Sasanof enjoyed the gelding’s allowance and received three pounds from Kilboy despite their being the same age.  Desert Gold was attempting the two miles for the first time, and a heavy track made her task even more difficult; but for Kilboy to win as easily as he did, emphasised his class.  I might mention that Mr Luttrell bought out Wilfred Stead’s share in Kilboy on the Saturday morning before the race at Trentham but Hobbs continued to train the horse.  Kilboy was brought across to Australia again in 1917 for The Metropolitan, but his intermittent rheumatism and front joints continued to prove troublesome, and the horse retired from the racecourse without appearing in public again. Sold to stand stud duty in the Hawke’s Bay district of New Zealand, he was a failure as a stallion.  Sasanof proved somewhat more durable than his classic-winning stablemate and gave his connections a second classic during that racing season when he took out the Great Northern Derby at Auckland.  He was a top-class horse; later in his career he won a New Zealand Cup with 8 st. 9lb for Wilfred Stead and was one of the few horses to beat Gloaming over weight-for-age, a victory coming appropriately enough for his owner, in the G.G. Stead Memorial Stakes at the 1918 Canterbury Jockey Club meeting.

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Excepting Kilboy, who had such a short career on the Turf, Wolaroi was unquestionably the best horse to emerge from the 1916 Derby at Randwick.  How Mr Seaton worshipped his gallant black, and is it any wonder?  By the time he quit the racecourse, Wolaroi had won thirteen races from forty starts and £20,062 in prize money.  The colt ran a mighty race in the Melbourne Cup as a three-year-old for fifth behind Sasanof.  He returned to scale that day with white marks all down his quarter and ribs, after being almost knocked over the rails in the straight.  The little fellow had his revenge a couple of days later when he came out and won the Linlithgow.  Having broken down in the autumn of his three-year-old season after running second in the V.R.C. King’s Plate, he proved difficult to train at four. Following blistering on his foreleg, he only appeared twice in public, failing to gain a place on either occasion.  But the next season he bought a good field in The Shorts at Randwick carrying 9 st. 7lb.  He covered himself with glory in that famous 1918 Craven Plate won by Cetigne when a head defeat in Australian record time guaranteed him no less renown than a victory. Wolaroi was in cracking form that spring, for later the same month he carried 9st. 3lb to be beaten less than a length into second placing behind King Offa in the Caulfield Cup after conceding 20lb in weight to his fellow five-year-old. And his winning career came to an end at his favourite course in the 1919 Epsom Handicap, when as a six-year-old and with 9 st. 8lb he beat Greenstead, Rebus and the best milers in the land.

As we have seen, when his leg gave way some months later, Dan Seaton retired him to stud at Eurunderee, near Mudgee, at an initial service fee of fifty guineas.  The best horse he got at stud was Venetian Lady who gave Darby Munro his first taste of victory in big races when she won both a Doncaster and a Challenge Stakes at big prices in 1930. Before closing this chapter, I might mention the good fortune that William Brown enjoyed later that season with the son and daughter of Tressady that he had started for the Derby.  With Kilboy off the scene, he managed to win both St Legers at Flemington and Randwick with Colbert and Thana respectively; but for Stageland splitting the pair at Randwick the proprietor of Segenhoe would have had the rare of honour of achieving the quinella in each race.  Thana was a top-class filly that season.  She gave a bold front-running performance in the Randwick red riband, establishing a big lead in the first three furlongs when spectators thought she was merely making the pace for Colbert, but she kept going to win in race record time; it complemented her V.R.C. Oaks triumph of the previous spring.  Thana was later sold for 3000 guineas to James Barnes at the Segenhoe dispersal in January 1918, the same sale that saw her sire, Tressady, knocked down for 6000 guineas.  Each proved expensive at the price.

I started this chapter by mentioning that both sons of George Stead owned cracking good three-year-old geldings in the year 1916 – the best horses either brother ever owned.  I might add that while Wilfred was carrying off the Melbourne Cup with Sasanof, The Toff owned by his brother, Gerald, was proving himself the best of his age in New Zealand winning both the New Zealand Derby and the Canterbury Derby.  Whereas Sasanof was to earn more money than any other horse in Australia that season, The Toff was to head the list in New Zealand.  The two of them clashed on New Year’s Day 1917 at Auckland in the Great Northern Derby; and in an exciting finish, Sasanof managed to gain the prize for Wilfred, albeit narrowly by a half-head from The Toff. The fact that three-year-olds of the calibre of this pair were ineligible for the A.J.C. Derby because of their being geldings, yet able to race in other Derbies and major Cups on both sides of the Tasman, served to renew criticism on the futility of the A.J.C.’s policy; the misguided and unilateral stand of the club in trying to improve our staying bloodlines without the support of other principal race clubs in Australasia.  I might add that even the A.J.C. was not entirely consistent in their philosophy for the St. Leger remained open to geldings. Although it was too late to rescind the ban on geldings from the 1917 running of the Randwick blue riband -given that the race conditions had already been promulgated, the deeds of Sasanof and The Toff effectively helped cause a reversal of the A.J.C. policy. Less than two months after that famous clash of the Stead horses in Auckland, the club announced the change, taking effect with the 1918 renewal at Randwick, although geldings were no longer to receive any weight concession from the colts.  As we shall see, it was a timely correction by the conservative gentlemen on the committee, for 1918 would witness the victory of one of the greatest geldings ever bred in the southern hemisphere – and, yes, he too, hailed from the Dominion!