When it comes to the training of racehorses, the good men emerge slowly over time; the great ones seem to arrive in an instant. It has always been thus. In the spring of 1885 when the health of Michael Fennelly failed, Tom Payten stepped into the breach at Newmarket and proceeded to win the Derby with Nordenfeldt, thereby launching his own successful career. In the spring of 1900 came the turn of Jim Scobie to step into the pages of history when he swept all before him with a stable brimful of champions, including victories in both Derbies and the Melbourne Cup with the likes of Maltster and Clean Sweep. The year 1920 marked the arrival of another man upon the scene whose genius for training, if not his thirst for ambition, warranted comparison with those two aforementioned greats. His name was Fred Williams.
Fred Williams hailed from one of the most remarkable families in Australian racing history, although the circumstances of his birth and the early years of his life are somewhat shrouded in mystery. He was born Frederick Charles Smith in 1881 at Hartley, NSW, the youngest of six sons of a sawyer, who cut and hauled timber around the Bathurst and Lithgow districts. Fred’s mother, Elizabeth Jane Gray, had been born in England but came to Australia when only a very young girl. Recognised as one of the finest horsewomen in the Bathurst district when she grew up, she passed her talent for riding on to all her sons. The surname changed from Smith during Fred’s early years, after his mother separated from his real father and adopted the name Williams on behalf of her children, William having been her father’s maiden name. Fred’s mother later married a certain George Brown, and from this second marriage came ‘Bunty’ Brown, one of the great Australian jockeys of the first two decades of the twentieth century. There were six Williams’ brothers, and although all rode winners, as regards major prizes won in the saddle, it was their stepbrother, ‘Bunty’ who trumped the lot of them.
William (‘Jerry’) Williams was one of the country cracks of his day, and among other races, won a couple of Wagga Cups. Jack counted among his triumphs a Birthday Cup at Flemington. Alf rode mostly at the ponies while the other brothers, George and Harry, confined their riding to country meetings. Most of Fred’s riding in Australia was done at the ponies too, both in Sydney and Melbourne where among other horses he was associated with that 14.2 champion, Minerva, owned by a future stable patron, in the colourful Ned Moss. Fred’s real education on the Turf, however, was garnered in India where he rode with success for some years. In so doing he followed something of a family tradition, as his older brother, Jerry, had ridden successfully there before him and was responsible for Fred’s initial contract to ride on the subcontinent. However, Fred finished his riding days in Australia, returning for the 1907-08 racing season. He managed a brush with fame in the main game when in 1908 he rode the ex-New Zealander, Pink Un, to victory in the Caulfield Stakes at the V.A.T.C. Spring Meeting. Williams retained the mount for the Caulfield Cup a week or so later for which he went to the post a 7/4 favourite. Alas, Pink Un couldn’t stay a yard beyond ten furlongs and he finished down the course. Increasing weight eventually forced Fred Williams to relinquish the saddle before the age of twenty-seven.
It was in 1910 that Williams elected for a change of career on the Turf when he decided to adopt the stopwatch and cob, and train one or two horses of his own. As luck would have it, the first horse he got was Milfoil, by Murillo (imp.), which he leased from Major Smith at Molong. Williams’ flair for training soon manifested itself, and he won no less than six two-year-old races with her, including the prestigious A.J.C. December Stakes. That string of victories provided all the impetus that Fred needed to hang out his shingle as a public trainer. Every young man, assaying to make his fortune as a public trainer, looks for that first good horse that can make a career. Fred Williams found his at the Melbourne Yearling Sales in 1916 when a colt by The Welkin, offered on account of young Archie Yuille, walked into his life.
Yuille wasn’t a prolific breeder by any means and the colt in question had come into the world quite by chance. Sometime earlier, Archie Yuille had compiled a modest affair of a stud book for the use of Ernest Clarke at his Melton Stud where The Welkin stood, but he refused to accept any payment for the favour. Clarke, in a typically generous gesture, insisted that Yuille send a mare for a free service to The Welkin, then just setting out on his prodigious stud career. Grateful for the kindness, Yuille accepted with the Harmonist mare, Tuning Fork, whom he had bought for 45 guineas. The resultant foal was the yearling that Williams got at those 1916 sales with his only bid of a hundred guineas. When the hammer fell, the battling trainer was hard-pressed to come up with the cash for the giant colt. The youngster might have had defective knees, but registered as Greenstead, he developed into one of the best horses The Welkin ever sired.
Even in his early days, Williams never made extreme demands on his juveniles before Christmas, and the first appearances of Greenstead in public were delayed until December when he maintained his anonymity in two races, the first at Moorefield and the second at Randwick on Villiers Day. Those two excursions taught Greenstead all he needed to know about the business of racing and convinced Williams to set out his stall for the race meeting at Wyong Park scheduled for the last Tuesday in January 1917. The date is a significant one in the history of the Williams’ family fortunes. Not only was Greenstead primed to win a race at the fixture, but so too were Tressamita and Kagal, two of his stablemates. Williams backed them all, and with Myles Connell responsible for steering, all three landed the money in successive races.
Greenstead then did so well in the days immediately after the race that Fred proceeded to back him up on the Saturday at Warwick Farm. Usually, a cautious gambler, Williams played up his Wyong bankroll and instructed Connell on this occasion not to cut it too fine. The jockey certainly kept up his part of the bargain. It might have only been a five furlongs scamper at the Farm, but when Connell saluted the judge, he had ten lengths to spare over his nearest opponent. From that day forth, the hard-bitten fielders on Sydney’s registered courses came to regard any tried horse put down by Williams with the utmost respect. Just what a good bet Greenstead was on that balmy summer’s afternoon was borne out by the horse’s subsequent career: though not in the top rank as a two-year-old, he was a horse that just got better with age.
In the 1916-17 season that saw Greenstead win at Warwick Farm, Williams finished the year with only two winners and £230 against his name on the Sydney Trainers’ List, the annual title that recognised the leading trainer of winners at Sydney metropolitan meetings. Greenstead served to keep his name before the public over the next couple of seasons on the metropolitan courses, but Williams continued to win most of his races at the provincials. Then came the fateful racing season of 1919-20! In early 1919, upon the retirement of Ike Foulsham through ill-health, Williams purchased the former ‘Kingsburgh’ stables, renaming them ‘Kagal’ in recognition of the boost his career gained by riding in India for the Chief of Kagal, one of that country’s leading owners.
In buying these prime freehold stables, Williams borrowed heavily and the Easter yearling sales that year found him somewhat proscribed when it came to extravagant bids for yearlings. The irony of possessing magnificent stables comprising eighteen loose boxes, yet only having five or six tenants to occupy them, wasn’t lost on Fred. So, he set about redressing the situation. As luck would have it, around this time, Myles Connell introduced Williams to Bill Manton. Manton was a wealthy man who had just retired from the world of commercial retailing, having had an interest in Sydney Snow’s, which he had later sold out to launch his own company, Manton and Sons, in Melbourne. He was interested in buying a few horses.
Fred inspected some yearlings on behalf of Manton at those 1919 Easter Sales and suggested that among others, a brown colt by Linacre from the mare Kummulla looked a likely customer. In the ring, the bidding on the youngster ceased at 250 guineas – a price that the Thompsons, who had bred him, refused to accept. Manton negotiated for him privately after the colt left the sales ring and got him for 400 guineas to race on behalf of himself and a friend, Lionel Bridge. So far, so good, insofar as Fred Williams’ eye for a horse was concerned. But there was another yearling at those sales Williams fancied, and which he also tried to buy on behalf of Manton, and this was a rather stylish, thickset, chestnut colt by the first season sire, Limelight. An early October foal, he wasn’t very tall but was both compact and robust. The dam of the yearling in question was Suffer, who was very much in the headlines that Easter when her daughter, Hem, by Featherstitch, won the Doncaster Handicap in the mud with a featherweight 6 st. 7lb. Not surprisingly, the breeders of this particular yearling, the brothers Hugh and George Main, who conducted their own stud, The Retreat, at Illabo, and stood both Limelight and Featherstitch there as stallions, held out for a reasonable price for this particular colt. Fred Williams went the highest of the bidders with a nod at 230 guineas but this colt, too, was passed-in.
Easter 1919 was a difficult time for sellers to dispose of horses. The Great War had ended just the previous November, and the affairs of the country remained unsettled and uncertain, and money was tight. Never one to give up quickly, however, Williams sought out Hugh Main and eventually negotiated a lease on the colt on behalf of Manton, with an option to buy at 500 guineas. Leases in those days were generally routine affairs of business, whereby the lessee was required to pay all expenses and pass on to the owner as rental a third of any prize money won by the horse. In the case of an unbroken yearling such as this fellow, the owner seldom agreed to give the lessee the option of purchase at a stated price during the currency of the lease.
In those unusual circumstances whereby an option of purchase was given, the price stated was generally quite high to provide for the prospect that the horse might turn out to be good. It says much for Williams’ skills of negotiation that with this colt the purchase price was pitched so low. Registered as Salitros, the horse would give both owner and trainer success in the A.J.C. Derby, with their very first runner in the race. But the Linacre colt that Bill Manton bought was no slouch either. Registered as Glenacre, he was arguably the best juvenile colt of his year and among other races won the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. It is rare indeed in the annals of Australian racing history for any first-time owner to be blessed with the singular good fortune that attended Bill Manton in 1920. John Brunton enjoyed similar conspicuous distinction with his classy filly Maltine, but there were few other precedents for such first-time success up to that period.
Each of the two colts opened their racing careers at the same fixture at Canterbury Park in the first week of December. Myles Connell warmed the leathers on both horses, engaged in different divisions of the nursery handicap. As a trainer, Williams rarely had his two-year-olds too forward in condition for their racing debut – the horses generally benefited from the education of a first foray and were then placed to win with stable support at their next start or two. That was very much the case with both Salitros and Glenacre, which each ran promising races at Canterbury to earn minor placings. Glenacre was then produced nine days later to win a juvenile handicap at Warwick Farm, while Salitros broke his maiden in a nursery handicap at the A.J.C. Boxing Day meeting after being backed into favouritism. It was after this win that Bill Manton exercised his option to purchase the colt outright. I might add that it was during the course of these summer fixtures at Randwick that the real depth of talent among Williams’s juveniles that year first became apparent, for apart from the two colts already mentioned, the emerging trainer won races with Victrola and Waitea as well.
As the season progressed it became clear that Glenacre was the most precocious of the bunch. Taken to Melbourne for the rich autumn meetings at Caulfield and Flemington, Glenacre demonstrated his class by finishing second in the Sires’ Produce Stakes, a length behind the filly, Gossine Hatan, and then running third in the Ascot Vale Stakes. Returned to Sydney, the colt was freshened up to join his stablemate, Salitros, to honour their engagements in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. The stable jockey, Myles Connell, naturally enough elected to ride Glenacre while Joe Killorn partnered the reject. The company proved too rich for the Limelight colt, but Glenacre gave the stable a victory by coming away at the bottom of the straight and winning comfortably in a fast time from another Linacre colt in Erasmus. It is interesting to reflect that each of these two colts by Linacre was sold on the same day at the Easter Sales – while Glenacre cost 400 guineas, Erasmus had set Bill Keogh and Ned Moss back 1000 guineas. Salitros was struck out of his engagement for the Champagne Stakes later at the meeting, while Glenacre took his place in the field. However, under his 10lb penalty, he failed to flatter in the race won by the favourite, Tressady Queen.
Fred Williams’ Kagal establishment managed to win ten two-year-old races all told that season. While that doesn’t seem much by today’s standards, in those times of smaller stables and fewer meetings, it was a remarkable achievement. Glenacre, Victrola and Waitea each won three times and Salitros once. It was a performance that had buyers rushing to Williams with yearlings to be trained after the 1920 Sydney and Melbourne sales. His haul of juvenile winners that season, allied to wins from his older horses, saw Williams for the first and only time in his career head the Sydney Winning Trainers’ List, breaking the monopoly that William Booth was beginning to exercise over the title. Williams beat the Rajah of Rosehill, as Booth had become known in the racing pages of the broadsheets, by two-and-a-half wins, although regarding prize money won, eclipsed him even more convincingly.
Thanks largely to Glenacre’s Sires’ Produce Stakes and Greenstead’s win in The Shorts, the stable earned £10,804/10/- for its patrons. I think the interesting feature of Fred’s juvenile winners that season was that Glenacre apart – each of the others was by a relatively unfashionable stallion. At one stage or another during the season, each of his winning juveniles was considered Derby material. But when it comes to racing, there is many a slip twixt promise and fulfilment. Midway through the season, Victrola was purchased out of the stable at a price of fifteen hundred guineas plus contingencies by Anthony Hordern and transferred to Tom Scully; while Waitea, a top-heavy colt with suspect legs, had to be gelded and pin-fired, and subsequently turned out of training indefinitely. As autumn mellowed into winter, Fred Williams’ seemingly full hand of classic contenders was fast diminishing.
Now, at the close of most racing seasons, there are usually a couple of juveniles, which, on form and pedigree, stand out as Derby prospects for the following season. Such was not the outcome of the 1919-20 season with a different colt or filly winning each of the major two-year-old prizes. Indeed, it was possible that the best of the youngsters was a filly, Tressady Queen, and fillies so rarely figured in Derby calculations that the market on the classic was wide open. Fred Williams at least had the satisfaction of knowing that Glenacre had won more prize money than any other two-year-old in Australia that season with earnings of £3,998, but he harboured doubts as to the colt’s stamina. Salitros, on the other hand, in nine starts might have only managed to win once, but he had run some nice races and, pedigree notwithstanding, struck Williams as the one colt in the stable most likely to stay.
Racing was enjoying an unprecedented boom in 1920 crowned in mid-June with a Royal visit to Randwick racecourse by the Prince of Wales for the two days of the A.J.C.’s Winter Meeting. Of course, at the time the public at large was unaware of the pathetic, selfish creature the Prince really was – the abdication crisis, his dereliction of duty, misappropriation of Crown jewellery, and pronounced Nazi sympathies, all lay in the future. Back in 1920, after the recent horrors of the Great War, the world was desperately in search of glamour. Prince Edward with his boyish good looks, his youthful sense of fashion and sheer joie de vivre seemed to fit the mood perfectly. Crowds in excess of fifty thousand were present on both the Thursday and Saturday that His Royal Highness attended the racecourse – and this, remember, at a winter fixture.
On Saturday when His Royal Highness attended, it was particularly amusing to note the manner in which the large crowd on the lawn turned their backs on the horses doing their preliminaries for the Hurdle Race, in order to witness the Prince’s entrance to the Vice Regal box. It was only when the noise of the gong announced that the race had commenced, their attention was diverted. The A.J.C. committee, falling over themselves in that familiar cloying sycophancy so evident from that body at the whiff of royalty, celebrated the visit by programming the Prince of Wales’ Gold Cup with its £2,000 added money and £100 trophy. As it transpired, the one trophy wasn’t enough when an exciting race saw Parkdale and Silverton dead-heat for the prize. There was no runoff and the club had to hastily arrange for another gold cup to be made. The Prince of Wales was actually a keen rider in point-to-points in England, although his enthusiasm exceeded his éclat in the saddle.
Cartoonists seized upon his frequent falls, and typical of the satire of the day would be the publication of a picture of a riderless horse with the caption underneath bearing the words ‘Picture of the Prince of Wales on Horseback.’ During his visit, he actually rode early morning work at Randwick and on this occasion managed to do so without being dislodged.
The boom in racing and the bumper revenues being generated by it were naturally enough attracting both State and Federal Governments, who each sought a piece of the action. Although racing was beginning to prosper again even before the introduction of the Tote, it was the latter that acted as the real stimulus. The establishment of the machine lent betting a certain respectability altogether missing when it was the exclusive preserve of the bookmaker and as a result, a new class of racegoer was being enticed to the course. Some idea of the growth in popularity of the Tote is given by the fact that Totalisator turnover at the twenty-race meetings conducted at Randwick during the 1919-20 racing season had increased to £1,130,892/15/-. At the A.J.C. general meeting later that year, the club announced its intention to increase the capacity of the saddling paddock Tote to administer one hundred ticket-issuing machines, double the previous capacity. The club’s admission money returns for the season were also 50% greater than for any previous year. In late April the Federal Taxation Commissioner had announced that the Government intended to impose a 13% tax on Tote dividends. With the exception of Victoria, the Tote was now operational in all States, although the deductions being made from the pools varied. In N.S.W. the deduction was 11% together with fractions, which practically amounted to another 1%. Thus, if the Commonwealth Government got their cut, the return to the public would have been reduced to £76 out of every £100 gambled through the machine. The race clubs lost no time in appealing to the High Court.
However slowly the wheels of the law might turn these days, in 1920 this sort of challenge saw the full bench of the High Court headed by the Chief Justice, Adrian Knox – no stranger to racecourse betting – meet the following week. The main point of contention was whether or not the Tote represented anything more than a form of a lottery with judgment playing no part in proceedings – this, at least, was the argument mounted by the Federal Taxation Commissioner. The learned judges found otherwise and the proposed tax burden was abandoned. The money coming from increased attendances and gambling that was pouring into the A.J.C.’s coffers wasn’t just going on increased prize money. As supportive as the A.J.C. had been during the Great War in raising funds for the military effort, the club also made their contribution to the rehabilitation of the fighting men. In January 1920 the A.J.C. opened Canonbury, their beautiful war memorial convalescent home at Darling Point. Purchased at a cost of £18,000 the year before, the mansion had belonged to the late vaudeville entrepreneur, Harry Rickards, and the club had spent almost £10,000 more in restoring it and its beautiful grounds overlooking Sydney Harbour as a home for disabled naval and military servicemen.
But allow me to return to the more immediate matter of the Derby prospects of 1920. Glenacre re-appeared in the Chelmsford Stakes at the Tattersall’s Club Meeting, in which he ran fourth. After an unplaced run in the Rosehill Guineas when Connell had tried to lead all the way, and then a disappointing third in the Hawkesbury Guineas, Williams abandoned a Derby programme and accepted the fact that the colt was more in the mould of a sprinter/miler, something confirmed later that same season when Glenacre won the rich Carrington Stakes. Salitros, on the other hand, began his Derby campaign earlier in the season and in the somewhat less-exalted company than his more distinguished stablemate, when he resumed in a three-year-old handicap in the latter part of August. Fred Williams then gave him one more run in public before the Derby, when he ran second in a seven-furlong handicap for three-year-olds on the same day that Glenacre failed in the Rosehill Guineas. Salitros was easily beaten in that race and the horse that won it, Etive, was conceding him more than a stone in weight. All things considered, it was hardly the exhibition of a classic horse. But Williams had been preparing Salitros for a trip much further than seven furlongs and in the fortnight leading up to the Derby the trainer poured the work into the colt with strenuous track gallops over the mile and ten furlongs – and Salitros was a colt that thrived on hard work. It might have seemed an unorthodox Derby preparation but Williams was laying down the template that would work so often for him in the years ahead.
The 1920 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Pleasant weather conditions on Derby Day encouraged a record crowd estimated at 75,000 people to attend the day’s festivities. Even the introduction of extra admission charges by the N.S.W. Treasurer, Jack Lang, and legislated only the week before – a tax of 2d on the Flat, 10d in the Leger reserve and 3/- for admission to the Paddock for each male and 1/7d for each female – could not deter the crowds. It was a day that would see a new record for Tote turnover set at £105,337. The newly enlarged official stand had been completed on schedule for the meeting as well, at a cost of £30,000. The absence of an outstanding colt that season saw sixteen horses accept for the classic – a number that equalled the record for the race initially established in 1911, and matched again in 1916.
The pronounced favourite for the race was Strathredole, a good-looking and massive Tressady colt, bred and raced by L.K.S. Mackinnon and trained at Mordialloc by Albert Foulsham. Although offered for sale as a yearling, the bidding failed to reach the 1500 guineas reserve placed on the colt by Mackinnon. Retained by him, the previous season Strathredole had won the Mimosa Stakes at the Flemington Spring Meeting. A backward colt that was still growing, he wasn’t persisted with for the rich autumn juvenile events. The dam of Strathredole was Perdita, an exceptionally beautiful chestnut mare, who in her year had carried William Brown’s colours into minor placings in the Derbies at Randwick and Flemington, and for whom Mackinnon had paid a stiff price to obtain as a broodmare. She had already produced a Breeders’ Plate winner in Bundella, and Strathredole promised to rise to even greater heights.
Although a bay or brown, Strathredole, like his dam, was a particularly striking racehorse. I suspect he owed his Derby favouritism more to such appearances and the rank and fashion of his aristocratic owner rather than anything that he had done on a racecourse. Admittedly, he had brilliantly won a mile handicap against his own age group at the V.R.C. August meeting, but upon coming to Sydney had failed in the Chelmsford Stakes and then run a disappointing third in the Rosehill Guineas. Yet the betting public still retained their faith. Next fancied in the betting was Syce Knight, who in a lifetime of training, represented the closest William Booth would ever get to the A.J.C. classic. Raced by his Queensland breeder, C. E. McDougall, Syce Knight after an unplaced effort in the Breeders’ Plate, had only started twice more as a juvenile without disturbing the judge’s repose on either occasion. He first emerged as a serious Derby candidate when he ran second in the Rosehill Guineas to Wirraway and a week later came out to win the Hawkesbury Guineas.
Erasmus and David shared the third line of favouritism. Erasmus, a rather stylish colt by Linacre from a full sister to Lord Cardigan, was purchased out of the Oakleigh draft of yearlings and had been placed in each of the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes. His improving second in the Chelmsford Stakes had ensured him of good support in Derby betting for a few weeks. David, by Baverstock, was arguably the most interesting runner in the Derby field. Purchased as a yearling for a miserly forty guineas by owner-trainer Bob Baillie, David had started in no fewer than 21 races in his first season on the Turf. Towards the mid-summer, he managed to win a race and run well in several others. But it was his slashing finish to win the Gibson Carmichael Stakes at Flemington that marked him down as something out of the ordinary. Some good track work moved a few shrewd judges to spec him in early Derby betting and he had retained a following right up to race day itself. Salitros was quoted at 14/1 for the race, a price he shared with Wirraway, the surprise winner of the Rosehill Guineas that carried the colours of Major Anthony Hordern, who that season bid fair to rival his brother, Sir Samuel, in the acquisition of expensive tried bloodstock. The high-priced Fingon’s presence in the field was solely for the purpose of ensuring a true pace for his stablemate, Strathredole.
At barrier rise in the Derby, Kilkenny Boy, who was drawn on the inside, wheeled around and was left at the post. The rat-tailed Fingon went off to make fast running on behalf of Strathredole, but he did his job rather too well, making it too hot for his mate, who was beaten a long way from home. When the field passed the half-mile Myles Connell allowed Salitros to stride to the front and he looked to have the race in his keeping even at the home turn. Malurys made a run in the straight but immediately began to lug out and Salitros was untroubled to beat him by a couple of lengths with Erasmus three lengths further afield. The merit of the win was emphasised by the fact that in leading for the last half-mile, Salitros had posted a new race record of 2 minutes 32 seconds, clipping a half-second off the time recorded by Noctuiform in 1905. The stable had always held a good opinion of Salitros, although the racing public at large seemed to regard him as more of a sprinter than a stayer prior to the Derby. Certainly, Williams and his confreres threw in for a good win on the colt at the attractive odds on offer.
As if winning the Derby with a well-backed outsider at his first time of trying wasn’t enough, Fred Williams teamed up with Myles Connell to win the Epsom Handicap, the very next race on the programme with the six-year-old Greenstead. Humping 9 st. 6lb but with the benefit of the number one post-position, Greenstead had to withstand a protest flag to retain the event. By equalling the Australian record for the mile, Greenstead further enhanced the reputation of Fred Williams for getting his horses to peak at the right time. Actually, the Randwick course was on fire that day; for apart from the records set by Salitros and Greenstead, a new race record was posted in the A.J.C. Hurdle as well. Fred Williams had the knack – like Jack Holt – of turning out his horses looking big and yet thoroughly fit. While Salitros didn’t run again at the meeting, Greenstead came out on the third day and annexed the Craven Plate – equalling the Australasian record for a mile and a quarter and ensuring Williams finished leading trainer for the meeting.
The Derby-winning jockey, Myles Connell, who enjoyed such wonderful success that spring with both Greenstead and Salitros, might have stepped straight from the pages of Banjo Patterson’s ‘Man from Snowy River’. Born in 1881 at Redbank, Araluen in NSW, he seemed destined for a career as a jockey given that both of his parents were champion show riders. Reared in the Cooma district where his father conducted a farm, Connell as a lad honed his riding talents by helping his father round up cattle in the high leases of the Snowy Mountains. Until the age of eighteen, his appearances in a racing saddle were restricted to the district of Cooma and the local bush meetings. It was in 1899 that he moved to Sydney to be licensed by the A.J.C. but he attracted so few mounts that the following year he switched his allegiance to the unregistered pony courses. During the next six years, Connell emerged as one of the leading riders on the circuit. When the senior club offered an amnesty to ‘pony’ jockeys in 1907, he decided to return to the A.J.C. ranks. The following season found him runner-up to Bill McLachlan for the Sydney jockeys’ title.
Connell’s big race wins included a shared Caulfield Cup in 1909 when he dead-heated on J. C. Williamson’s Blue Book, while in 1910 he won the V.R.C. Newmarket on Mala. In those days he seemed to enjoy as much success with the rich prizes in Melbourne as Sydney, the most notable wins in his hometown coming with Broadsword (1911) and Wedding Day (1917) in the Doncaster. The friendship between Myles Connell and Fred Williams dated from the days when each rode on the pony courses of Sydney. A strong rider who only had recourse to the whip as a last resort, Connell’s riding style and personality suited William’s method of training. As the Williams’ fortunes prospered so too did Connell, and he was to enjoy a rare partnership with Greenstead that saw the pair combine to win eleven races. The spring of 1920 represented the very zenith of Connell’s career as a jockey when his partnership with both Salitros and Greenstead saw him win no fewer than five major prizes.
The following year the jockey began to experience weight problems and paid a visit to England. It proved to be something of a busman’s holiday when the Australian expatriate, Etienne de Mestre junior, for whom Connell had ridden in Sydney when a lad, engaged him for two mounts at Sandown Park one day and he duly obliged by landing them both winners – one came in the rich National Breeders’ Produce Stakes. Upon his return from England, Connell settled in Glenelg in South Australia where the climate better suited his asthmatic son and he eventually retired from riding in 1924. A thoroughly meticulous man, Connell had recorded the details of his riding career in a series of diaries: out of 5,886 mounts, he had ridden 1,080 winners. Upon his retirement from riding, he proceeded to take out an owner-trainer’s licence and continued to train a small string of horses on Glenelg Beach until his retirement in 1954. Throughout his life, Myles Connell was a devout Congregationalist and averred the betting side of life on the racecourse, preferring instead to invest his earnings from the saddle in real estate around Randwick and Clovelly in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. When he died in April 1958 his estate was valued for probate at almost £80,000 – testimony to his skills in financial management.
Limelight, the sire of Salitros, then standing at a fee of 20 guineas, provides yet another example of a stallion siring an A.J.C. Derby winner in his first season at stud. Imported into Australia by George and Hugh Main, Limelight was one of a number of purchases made on behalf of the brothers by W. A. Alison at the December Sales in England in 1911. Although a non-winner on the English Turf, Limelight had run a series of good seconds in the Warwickshire Breeders’ Foal Plate, the Stud Produce Stakes at Newmarket, and the Hurstbourne Stakes. Apart from Limelight, who was a three-year-old at the time of his purchase for 500 guineas, Alison also bought eight mares and fillies for the brothers Main, and one of those mares was Suffer, by Rightaway. She was a mare who boasted an abundance of Stockwell strains in her pedigree and yet Alison was able to get her for just a hundred guineas. Considering the limited commission with which Alison had to work, the special commissioner, as he styled himself, did remarkably well in buying both the sire and dam of a future Derby winner – and both horses came to Australia on the same ship.
Although he was really bought as a stallion, upon his arrival in Australia, Limelight was put into the stables of Mark Thompson to be tried on the racecourse. Unfortunately, Limelight, a lovely red chestnut, suffered from shelly feet, a condition that was exacerbated by the long sea voyage here and was a particular handicap on the hard ground in Sydney. Nonetheless, whenever there was a sniff of rain in the air he ran some good races. Perhaps his best win came at the 1913 A.J.C. Spring Meeting when he won the Final Handicap, his fourth start within a week. He also worried Cider out of an A.J.C. Farewell Handicap later on, while Cisco only beat him a neck in an Anniversary Handicap. Although he carried something of a rogue’s reputation for pusillanimity on the racecourse here, I think his problems were wholly attributable to jarring on our hard ground rather than any lack of willingness. In all, Limelight earned George and Hugh Main over £3,300 in races in his adopted homeland. When he was finally retired and installed at The Retreat as a resident stallion with Featherstitch, he was only the second descendant of that splendid racehorse, Amphion, serving in Australia. It was the custom of the period to often exhibit valuable thoroughbred stallions at the Easter Show then held at Moore Park. Limelight was exhibited there in 1920 and was judged by none other than Leslie Rouse, officiating that year, as the champion thoroughbred.
George and Hugh Main first began as horse-breeders at the time of the break-up of Durham Court Stud, where the brothers purchased several mares. George became the more famous of the brothers in Australian racing chronicles because of his long service on the A.J.C. committee, first being elected to that body in October 1921 and then in September 1937 succeeding to the chairmanship upon the death of Sir Colin Stephen. But Hugh Main enjoyed a certain fame in elections himself, having been responsible for defeating the N.S.W. Premier, William Holman in the electorate of Cootamundra at the April 1920 N.S.W. State election. Salitros was certainly the best racehorse the brothers ever bred at their stud, The Retreat, near Bethungra on the southern line in N.S.W., although his half-sister, Hem, together with Featherstitch and Limelight, were arguably the best horses to actually carry their colours.
In his very next start after the A.J.C. Derby, Salitros, like so many others before him, failed to handle the course when he ran an unplaced second favourite in the Caulfield Cup. He then stepped out at Flemington, and, in a rough-house Victoria Derby, managed to survive the buffeting by leading for the last mile to win comfortably. This was enough to promote the colt to Melbourne Cup favouritism but he was the first horse beaten the following Tuesday after piloting the field down the back of the course. When he finished last in a field of three in the C.B. Fisher Plate on the following Saturday, his more captious critics were suggesting Salitros was over-rated while the more sympathetic concluded that the colt wasn’t quite a genuine stayer.
Rested at Richmond in N.S.W., Salitros was brought back in the autumn for a campaign aimed at both St Legers, but it was to be a campaign severely disrupted by a strike of ships’ stewards and a drastic coal shortage in Melbourne. As a consequence of the lack of fuel supplies, the Victorian Government shut down special race trains and practically placed an embargo on racing in the southern capital. No registered race meeting was held in Melbourne for a period of two months. The V.A.T.C. Autumn Meeting was abandoned and the V.R.C. programme postponed. All this was particularly detrimental to Salitros. The colt originally went to Melbourne by train along with his stablemates, Greenstead and Glenacre, but was brought back to Sydney as the strike continued. When the strike eventually ended and the delayed V.R.C. St Leger went ahead, Salitros made a third rail journey to take his place in the field. This series of interstate railway excursions was a less than ideal preparation and saw the colt, starting in the red, humbled in the V.R.C. St Leger by Nautical. But it was a different story when the horse returned to the more familiar surroundings of Randwick for the A.J.C. red riband. Salitros reversed the order with his Victorian conqueror. The colt completed his three-year-old season with an unplaced run in the Sydney Cup won by Eurythmic, together with minor placings in the weight-for-age Cumberland Stakes and A.J.C. Plate.
The A.J.C. Plate incidentally, was the first race in which it became clear that the baton of champion staying three-year-old of the season had in fact passed from Salitros to David. As deserving a Derby winner as Salitros was, it was regrettable that the Derby came too early in the season for David that year, for his name would have been a worthy one on the honour roll of the great race and would have enriched one of the great romances of the Australian Turf. After all, the story of David is one from which every hobby breeder or yearling buyer with a modest purse can draw strength and inspiration. When Baverstock, the sire of David, retired from racing, the chances were high upon his becoming lost as a country sire in a dairying district – such was the disdain for colonial sires. But as luck would have it, he fell into the hands of Albert Thompson at Widden. Thompson gave him a few mares and at the 1919 Easter Sales, one of the four lots offered by Thompson was the future David. Despite being the best looking, he was the least fancied of Albert’s yearling offering, and, as we have seen, fetched only 40 guineas in a bid from owner-trainer Bob Baillie. Baillie was never one to spare his horses and in his first season, David started in no fewer than 21 races! Those racing men, who fulminate against the heavy racing of juveniles as the ruination of stayers, generally turn a blind eye to this fellow. For just occasionally we are blessed with a youngster who happens to be so highly vitalised and as sound as bell-metal that he can withstand the demands made on his immature strength as a juvenile. David was just such a horse.
Although disappointing in both Derbies the previous spring, David had always done enough to suggest promise. And it came to fruition at that A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in 1921. Although he could only manage third behind Salitros and Nautical in the A.J.C. St Leger, his predilection for a bit of ground was apparent a few days later when he ran second in the Cumberland Stakes. He then came out on the last day of the meeting to easily beat Salitros and take out the A.J.C. Plate, then run over three miles. That year the race was run in particularly heavy ground. One of the conditions of the contest was that unless the event was run within 5 minutes and 45 seconds, the added money was reduced from £2,000 to £750. This seeming parsimony by the A.J.C. was imposed in some of their richest weight-for-age events to discourage the prospect of a farcical pace, rather than penalise a winner in adverse weather. On that occasion, the committee reviewed the condition and David kept the full prize. This was the race that heralded David as the next big thing in Australian racing and led to a series of splendid triumphs in both handicap and weight-for-age events over the next couple of seasons.
His owner-trainer, Bob Baillie, subsequently sold David to Norman Falkiner for 5000 guineas. The Victorian grazier redeemed the purchase price from four big, long-distance, weight-for-age races with the horse, although David failed him rather badly in the Melbourne Cup. Norman Falkiner tired of the horse when he failed in the V.R.C. Handicap and in turn, passed him on to his brother, Otway, at the same price he had paid, and David went into the Rosehill stables of William Booth.
Again, it might have seemed a large sum of money but David made the price look cheap when he slew the Goliaths of the 1923 Sydney Cup, carrying 9 st. 7lb to victory and leading most of the way, landing about £20,000 in bets. That was the year William Booth took out the feature autumn double, Doncaster and Cup, and the stable reaped a mighty harvest in the ring with the combination of The Epicure and David.
Albert Wood, who partnered David, alone was laid £2,000 to nothing. Booth trained David in the same manner as Bob Baillie, who did not use stables for his racehorses but rather allowed them to run in open paddocks. David was a horse who hated a loose box, and even rain could not induce him to use its shelter. It was just as well that he was hardy, for David experienced a rather arduous racing career that extended over eight seasons and 124 races. He was a much better horse in N.S.W. than Victoria, where he did not appear to be able to handle the left-handed running. Among other races, David won three A.J.C. Plates in all, as well as twice taking out both the Randwick Plate and the Spring Stakes. In one Metropolitan he was narrowly beaten with 9 st. 13lb on his back, and with 9 st. 8lb in another. In recognition of his achievements on the Randwick track, in 1925 Otway Falkiner presented an oil painting of David, executed by Martin Stainforth, to the Australian Jockey Club. Perhaps not surprisingly after the demands made upon him on the racecourse, David did very little at stud. His best horse was Santa Casa, winner of the V.R.C. Grand National Steeplechase.
When I look back on the field that started for the 1920 A.J.C. Derby, I’m reminded that David wasn’t the only Sydney Cup winner to emerge from its ranks. Prince Charles, that good-looking but diminutive colt bred and raced by John Brown, appropriated the 1922 race when appreciating a handicap of only 7 st. 11lb. Apart from David and Salitros, however, arguably the best horse to come out of the Derby field was Speciality. He later won both The Metropolitan and a Doncaster at headquarters and was the first really good horse to fall into the hands of Dan Lewis. Neither of the horses that ran the minor placings in the Derby at Randwick, Malurys or Erasmus, ever won a major race on the Turf although Erasmus ran a mighty race for Ned Moss and William Keogh when he beat all but his stablemate, Poitrel, in the 1920 Melbourne Cup for which he had been specked by Moss at big prices. Perhaps the most disappointing horse of that year’s Derby was Strathredole, with whom L.K.S. Mackinnon parted company for 1700 guineas at the conclusion of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting.
I started this chapter with the tale of Fred William’s rise to prominence, culminating in that memorable Derby Day that saw him win not just the blue riband but the Epsom as well. I might just add as a postscript that the Epsom winner, Greenstead, turned out to be a much better horse at stud than Salitros. Sold as an eight-year-old stallion to Herbert Thompson, he was used successfully for a few seasons before Thompson sold him – not because he failed to get many winners – but rather because he lost too many mares. A number of Greenstead’s foals were so big that quite a few mares died in foaling. I can’t think of another example in the history of Australian bloodstock where a stallion has been discarded for such a reason. Perhaps his best son was Greenline, although I must confess to a soft spot for the gallant Greensea who carried such big weights to victory over the hurdles. Salitros on the other hand, virtually sunk without trace in his short life as a stallion. He served his first book of mares in the spring of 1923 getting all his mares in foal at Mr W.L.P. Richardson’s Bereen property at Barraba where he was starting at the low service fee of 15 guineas. Sadly, he then died at the property from tetanus in September 1924.