In January 1964 Tommy Smith again made his annual pilgrimage to the New Zealand Yearling Sales at Trentham and, as Bob Dylan reminded us that same year, the times they were a-changin’.  The early 1960’s was a period in which New Zealand studmasters consolidated their domination over their Australian counterparts in acquiring bloodlines of stamina.  These were the years in which clear fault lines began to emerge between the two countries, as Australian studmasters became infatuated with the blood of Star Kingdom and Wilkes – fundamentally influences for speed in a pedigree, whereas New Zealand saw the confluence of stout bloodlines with the emergence of fine, young, imported stallions such as Summertime, Le Filou and Alcimedes.  In the high summer of 1964 it seemed to anyone intent on buying that elusive Derby winner, Trentham was the place to be; and given that Summertime had sired the three previous winners of the Randwick classic, his was the blood to buy.  It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that both in his discerning analysis of the sales catalogue, and detailed physical inspection of yearlings, the stock of Summertime came in for careful consideration by the Master of Tulloch Lodge.

One such yearling colt upon which Smith pondered long and hard was lot No. 5, a robust brown son of the stallion and the second foal from Fair Titan, a daughter of Fair’s Fair. The youngster was thus bred on the same cross as Summer Fiesta and the 1962 Victoria Derby runner-up, Bright Blend.  Neither Fair Titan nor her mother, Ticonundra, had raced, and the colt, which was being offered by Mrs R. M. Malcolm, had been reared at the Kinross Stud, a property with which the Sydney trainer was familiar.  Smith liked the colt’s conformation, with his good length of barrel and height from hip to hock, but eventually, even that wasn’t enough to overcome the trainer’s prejudice against the female line of the family, which hadn’t produced a good horse since 1918.  Smith scratched the horse from the list of yearlings for which he intended to bid.  He looked elsewhere for his prospective classic colt and finished up buying eighteen other lots at those sales for an aggregate sum of 39,275 guineas.

Easily the most expensive of them all at 7000 guineas was the Summertime colt out of Don’t Touch, and perhaps due caution should have been taken of the dam’s name because the colt did nothing of note.  However, amongst his other purchases was the first foal born to the new stallion, Alcimedes, as well as two chestnut colts by Agricola.  All three would find their way to the starting gates for the 1965 A.J.C. Derby.  So, too, would the strapping Summertime-Fair Titan colt that Smith had inspected and rejected.  Kembla Grange Turf Club committeeman, Clarrie Messiter, unlike Smith, was prepared to overlook the absence of winners on the distaff side of the colt’s pedigree and pay the 2100 guineas necessary to secure ownership.  In so doing he purchased the horse that would start the shortest-priced favourite in the A.J.C. Derby for more than eighty years.  Clarrie Messiter, who in the past had raced Blandster and the good two-year-old Hydrell, and whose Derby dreams had previously been thwarted, registered the colt as Fair Summer, and, after leaving him in New Zealand for four months to be broken-in, eventually placed him in the Canterbury stables of silent Jack Denham.

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JACK DENHAM (A.J.C.)

Jack Denham was a few months shy of forty when given Fair Summer to train but was already regarded as one of the shrewdest racehorse trainers in Sydney.  Born in June 1924, the youngest of five boys, he had been reared in the Sydney suburb of Campsie – not far from Canterbury racecourse – where his father, Joe, maintained cab horses as well as training a few gallopers out of a half-dozen horse stalls built at the back of the house.  It was a struggle to survive, particularly during the worst years of the Depression, but both Jack and his older brother, Mick, easily took to racing.  Mick Denham was a successful jockey during his apprenticeship days with ‘Sop’ Miller at Canterbury and later with Bayly Payten at headquarters. Alas, Mick lost his battle with the scales early in his apprenticeship and was forced to switch to training.  Jack decided to follow suit and become an apprentice jockey as well. Initially indentured to his father, his papers were transferred over to brother Mick, when the latter took over the family stables upon the death of their father a few weeks before the outbreak of World War II.

Granted his ticket to ride in the spring of 1939, Jack Denham was a contemporary of Jack Thompson although unlike the latter, his tenure in the saddle was all too brief, with the scales eventually proving an intractable enemy.  Nonetheless, like his own son, Allan, more than thirty years later, Jack was a talented rider with a winning double coming at Gosford within his first ten rides when he weighed all of 6 st. 10lb.  They were the days when a jockey would ride work at Kensington, Ascot and Randwick all in the one morning, and still not be guaranteed any race mounts. Moreover, Jack could boast winning a close finish against Bill Cook at Ascot in July 1940 aboard his brother’s horse, Article, at the juicy odds of 33/1. The Denham brothers backed it, too!  Not for nothing was the Denham family home named ‘Article’ as the horse proved a real breadwinner during the dark days of the War.  Horse and jockey combined to win a useful race at Canterbury in March 1941, although not long afterwards as the war took hold, Mick closed down his stables and enlisted.

JACK DENHAM (rails) BEATS BILL COOK IN A TIGHT FINISH JULY 1940 (Daily Telegraph)

Jack, just sixteen, enjoyed the odd ride meanwhile but mostly worked at miscellaneous jobs to help the war effort until his brother returned to training upon the cessation of hostilities.  It was to be a short-lived resumption, however, for Mick Denham was one of the first to run afoul of the A.J.C.’s random swabbing policy when in May 1948 he was disqualified for life in the sensational Frontal Attack inquiry.  Although the club later relented and reduced the ban to three years, his career as a trainer was effectively over. However, brother Jack’s had scarcely begun.

Jack obtained his training permit in the 1948-49 racing season, and after first securing a post as a private trainer in Somerton, he prepared the first of what were to be many hundreds of winners over an active training career that would last more than sixty years.  The place was Newcastle; the date August 1949.  Ironically, given the trainer’s stony silence when confronted by the racing press, the horse was called Eloquent.  Jack Denham gradually built a reputation as a clever conditioner of racehorses, albeit, mostly sprinters and two-year-olds, which was matched with the guile to tickle-up the ring when the occasion suited.  In December 1953 he won his first feature race, the Festival Handicap at Rosehill, with the injury-plagued Bronze Peak and by this time he had teamed up with jockey Doug Weir to become the bane of the bookmaking fraternity on the provincial circuit.  It wasn’t unusual for the pair to regularly pull-off doubles and trebles at tracks like Gosford and Wyong.

DOUG WEIR (The Sun)

In May 1956 Denham trained a treble at Canterbury, his first on a metropolitan course, and in the spring of the same year conditioned Mandingos, a son of Masthead, to win seven races in succession in Sydney.  He was the first quality galloper that Denham had the pleasure to train and the following year the horse ran placings in both the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap and the B.A.T.C. Doomben Ten Thousand.  1956 was also the year that the stewards made it clear that the Denham stable’s venal worship of the cashbox and the ledger and its machinations in the betting ring were the special focus of their attention.  At a December meeting at Hawkesbury, stewards ordered a change of jockeys after Flag Top, trained by Jack Denham and intended to be ridden by Doug Weir, had blown from 3/1 to 20/1 in the ring.  Stewards interposed when the horses were on their way to the barrier and ordered that Neville Sellwood substitute for Weir.  The race was held up while the horse was unsaddled and Sellwood weighed-out.  Despite a copybook ride, Flag Top was beaten by the odds-on favourite Pipes of Pan.

By 1957 Jack Denham had one of the largest stables in Sydney with over thirty horses in training at Canterbury.  Actually, there were two stables about a mile apart, one in Adam St and the other in Croydon Ave; and his brother, Mick, still retaining a No 2 trainer’s licence, lent a hand.  The winners continued to flow, and the occasional form reversal seemed de rigueur.  It was hard for the A.J.C. to refuse Denham promotion to a No 1 licence, which ultimately came in August 1959. Denham’s secretive nature and the greater number of horses passing through his hands inevitably led to a greater number of clashes with stewards, an occupational hazard at a time in the late fifties and early sixties when prizemoney was modest but the betting ring was grand.  Twice Denham was disqualified for twelve months, first over the doping of Omorphe at Warwick Farm in May 1957; and secondly, over Lord Gene at Gosford in June 1962 for not allowing the horse to run on its merits.  Denham escaped both counts subsequently on appeal.

A conspiracy of silence pervaded the Denham establishment, and from the very beginning the trainer regarded pressmen as his natural enemy; he believed the only intimacy he owed was to his owners.  It was loyalty that was fully reciprocated down the years by some big-betting owners; while a certain mutual hostility set in between Denham and the gentlemen of the press, who nicknamed the grim-faced trainer ‘Happy Jack’.   The pressmen might ask him questions but Jack generally just stared back with blinking, imperturbable detachment.  Fred Imber of The Sun drily observed that there was some truth in the story that Denham got rid of a budgerigar from his stable precincts because the bird was learning to talk; and Bert Lillye once sardonically remarked: “If you want a few words after the race, you’d stand more chance with the horse.”  Pat Farrell of The Mirror so antagonised the trainer with one of his newspaper columns that in July 1964 he issued writs claiming £50,000 in damages from Mirror Newspapers Ltd and Farrell himself. Still, for all of the bad press that came his way, Denham’ integrity with his owners ensured that he had no trouble attracting and retaining good clients. By the early sixties, his days of making do with sub-standard bloodstock were over.  At the Easter Sales in 1963, he had been the underbidder on Eskimo Prince while in 1964 he paid 9000 guineas for a brown colt by Star Kingdom from Renegade, later registered as Secret Service.  It was the third highest price of those sales and marked Denham’s arrival in the big league of buying bloodstock.

This, then, was the man to whom Clarrie Messiter entrusted his fine, strapping Summertime colt.  The horse that was destined less than ten months later to start the shortest-priced favourite in an A.J.C. Derby since His Lordship won in 1884, stepped out for his first start in a five-furlong juvenile handicap at Canterbury in early December.  Fair Summer finished third to Grand Challenge, beaten less than a length, but the experience taught him all he needed to know about racing and a week later, at odds-on in the hands of George Moore, he effortlessly won a similar handicap at Rosehill.  After one more race, in which he ran third, Denham sent the upstanding brown colt to the spelling paddock for an extended break, and he didn’t resume until after the fall.  All told, the colt made five appearances as a juvenile and never once finished out of a place; his final appearance for the season in mid-July saw him lead all the way to easily win the Macarthur Quality Handicap (7f) at Rosehill, with Des Lake, the young, boom jockey recently relocated from Victoria, warming the saddle for the first time.

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Meanwhile, as Fair Summer was suggesting he was a galloper above the ordinary, and a likely Derby prospect, the man who passed him over on pedigree at the New Zealand Sales was pondering his own team of prospective classic colts at Tulloch Lodge.  When the 1964-1965 racing season closed on 31 July, Tommy Smith claimed his thirteenth successive Sydney trainers’ premiership with 101 metropolitan wins, or more than three times the total of the runner-up, Jack Green.  However, for all of his much-vaunted battalion of New Zealand-bred yearlings purchased in January 1964 with pedigrees of stamina, the irony at the close of the season was that his best Derby prospect seemed to be a Pipe of Peace colt purchased at the William Inglis Easter Sales in Sydney for 3500 guineas on behalf of long-time stable client, Harry Porter and his wife.  Peace Council, the colt in question, was a half-brother to the flying Jan’s Image with whom Smith had won an A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes for owner Justice Dovey; he demonstrated the family’s gift for galloping when he won the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate upon debut, which incidentally was Smith’s first win in the race. Subsequently, he took the Silver Slipper Stakes at Rosehill, and the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick in facile fashion by five lengths after racing around the leaders approaching the home turn.

That 1964-65 racing season was a rare one for talented juveniles, albeit one dominated more by fillies than colts.  The week after Peace Council took out the Sires’ Produce Stakes there occurred the much ballyhooed £15,000 Champagne Stakes at Randwick, the richest two-year-old event ever contested in Australia, which brought together for the first time that season the cream of the juvenile crop.  Touted as the ‘Race of the Decade’ – as Warwick Hobson drily observed, there is one every year – it was nonetheless a promoter’s dream.

EYE LINER (Queensland History of Racing)

The odds-on favourite for the race was the Queensland filly Eye Liner, a daughter of the prolific Lyndhurst Stud stallion Smokey Eyes, and unbeaten in eight starts in her home State.  Her greatest rival appeared to be the glamour Sydney sweetheart, Reisling, the flying Rego filly that had won seven races on the reel with the most recent being the Golden Slipper Stakes in which she clipped 0.3 seconds of the race record previously shared by Todman and Birthday Card.  Under the special weight conditions, Eye Liner only carried 8 st. while Reisling was burdened with 10lb more.  The high-priced Citius, the best filly in Victoria and the winner of the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes carried the same weight as Reisling while Peace Council, the highest rated colt in the field had the top weight of 9 st. 3lb.  So often on the Turf, the hype turns out to be nothing more than tripe.  Not on this occasion.  It proved a gripping contest and at the finish Eye Liner had a neck to spare over Reisling, with a half-neck to Citius in third placing.  In failing to run a place, Peace Council lost caste with some sportsmen.

Regardless of the result, many shrewd observers had already dismissed Peace Council as a serious Derby prospect, not just because of his brilliant speed, but because he was out of New Jan, a Newtown Wonder mare.  The effervescent Smith, with that sparkling optimism that was such a vital ingredient to his success through the years, wasn’t so dismissive.  Smith had not only trained New Jan but also her dam, Jan, and it was the maternal granddam in Peace Council’s pedigree that gave the Randwick trainer hope.  An Irish-bred mare by the 1943 Irish Derby winner, The Phoenix, Jan had been purchased by George Ryder while on a trip to England in 1950 and imported her to race in partnership with David Chrystal and his son before her eventual retirement to their Woodlands Stud at Denman.  Jan had won a good race over the straight mile at Doncaster, England, in Ryder’s ownership but did even better when she landed in Australia, running second in both the 1952 Brisbane Cup and The A.J.C. Metropolitan.  At the 1953 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Smith prepared her to win the famous treble of the Autumn Stakes, Cumberland Stakes and A.J.C. Plate, the last over a distance of two miles and two furlongs in which she erased Phar Lap’s name as the race record holder.

Whereas her only daughter New Jan was a tubby filly in the Newtown Wonder mould, Peace Council was the very image of the athletic Jan.  At least that was the comforting reassurance in which Smith sought solace throughout his European sojourn during Sydney’s winter.  When the Free Handicap weights were issued at the end of the season by the Bloodstock Breeders Association of Australia, it was found that, to some extent at least, the handicapper agreed with him.  Peace Council topped the list with 9 st. 5lb, one pound above the Queensland colt Maybe Lad, with another pound to the flying fillies Reisling and Eye Liner.  Of course, when one considered the 5lb sex allowance, Ken Goodwin, the A.J.C. handicapper, was ranking the two flying fillies at the top of the pops ahead of Peace Council. Fair Summer handicapped with 8 st. 11lb was rated equal ninth, while the best of Smith’s many New Zealand yearling purchases was Pyramus with a lowly 8 st. 1lb. The first foal born to the new stallion, Alcimedes, that Smith had bought as a yearling in New Zealand and been registered as Prince Grant, didn’t even rate a mention.

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The times they were a-changin’ indeed.  In all of the years since the inception of the A.J.C. Derby up until 1960 – in theory, the hundredth running if one accepts the dubious 1861 to 1864 Derbies in the sequence – New Zealand-bred horses, won the Randwick classic on just twelve occasions viz. Nordenfeldt (1885), Bonnie Scotland (1894), Noctuiform (1905), Kilboy (1916), Cupidon (1921), Ballymena (1923), Phar Lap (1929), Ammon Ra (1931), Theo (1934), Homer (1935), Monte Carlo (1956) and Tulloch (1957).  Contrast this with the next seventeen runnings of the race, i.e. up to 1977, the last time it was conducted in the springtime before being transferred to the autumn.  In just seventeen years New Zealand-bred colts won the race the same number of times as in the previous hundred, i.e. twelve, indeed thirteen if we consider that Royal Sovereign was conceived in the Shaky Isles.  Nothing more clearly demonstrates the clear fault lines that were developing in the early sixties between Australian and New Zealand bloodstock.  The death of old established bloodstock breeders such as Percy Miller and Herbert Thompson and the emergence of new men of business such as George Ryder and Alf Ellison saw Australian studs change philosophies and direction – turning their backs on stamina and substituting the greed for speed instead.

Enter the Golden Slipper Stakes.  The brainchild of George Ryder and the fledgeling Sydney Turf Club, the race was launched in 1957 with the victory of the great Todman.  The Sydney Turf Club at the time was struggling with an identity crisis and needed a significant race to promote as the centrepiece of its autumn carnival. The problem for the club was that the A.J.C. naturally held all of the important and traditional races conducted over any distance on the Sydney racing calendar due to its establishment status.  All of the feature races, whether the Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack Stakes over five furlongs through to the Doncaster and Epsom Handicaps over the mile; from the Oaks and Derby classics over a mile-and-a-half and on to the Sydney Cup over two-miles; or the principal weight-for-age races such as the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Craven Plate – all were conducted at Randwick.

The Golden Slipper Stakes run over six furlongs at Rosehill on the Saturday before Easter, came at a furlong less and a week or so earlier than the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick – hitherto Australia’s premier race for juveniles.  In retrospect, a race such as the Slipper was inevitable if for no other reason than the profound change in the economics of owning racehorses by the time of the centenary of the A.J.C. in 1960.  In the first hundred years of the club’s history, racehorses were predominantly owned by prominent graziers and pastoralists – men of the land with substantial fortunes to support a sporting life on the Turf.  As the cost of labour increased, and much of the world managed to do without Australia’s wool and wheat, the economics of conducting a racing stable and the pattern of ownership changed markedly.  The inevitable trend towards the economies of scale of large training complexes and syndicated ownership began.

Consider that in the hundred years up to the A.J.C.’s centenary in 1960 only nine winners of the Derby were in the nominal ownership of more than one male adult. Overwhelmingly, in most years the winner was owned by just one man; sometimes in the nominal interest of both husband and wife, once women were allowed to own racehorses; and only rarely by a group.  Compare this with the ownership of the seventeen A.J.C. Derby winners from 1961 until its last springtime running in 1977 when no less than twelve were owned by at least two independent adults.  Nothing demonstrates better the prohibitive cost of owning racehorses and the need to share such costs.  A concomitant of this increase in expenses was a desire for earlier revenues.  Hence the very real attraction of juvenile-racing where monetary returns are maximised within twelve months of purchasing a yearling.  The days when an individual could afford the luxury of allowing a stoutly-bred colt to fully mature, before taxing him too strenuously on a racecourse, seemed over.

This transition in Australian racing came gradually, but if any single year came to represent the watershed, then 1965 is as good as any to nominate for it was in 1965 that the Sydney Turf Club increased the Golden Slipper prizemoney from £10,150 to £12,650, a massive rise of 25%.  The Australian Jockey Club, not to be outdone, guaranteed prizemoney of £15,000 for its Champagne Stakes, then run over the same distance of six furlongs.  It was the Sires’ Produce Stakes that was to suffer as a result of the Slipper; its prizemoney of £10,960 together with £1,000 to the nominator of the winning sire in 1965 began to seem parsimonious.  In the eight years after the Slipper’s inception up to and including 1964, the winner of either the Golden Slipper or the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes had either won the A.J.C. Derby or started as the race favourite on no less than four occasions viz. Tulloch, Skyline, Bogan Road and Eskimo Prince.  In all the forty-odd years since only Octagonal and Miss Finland have won either race and then gone on to either win the blue riband or start the favourite.  Why this extraordinary transformation in fortunes?  Part of the answer, of course, lies in the exponential growth in the number of thoroughbreds foaled each season and the sheer weight of numbers, which renders the task more difficult with each passing year.  The decision by the A.J.C. to transfer the Derby from the spring to the autumn after 1977 is also partly responsible, guaranteeing that the race would be won by a more mature racehorse, thereby favouring genuine stayers over their more brilliant contemporaries.

Perhaps the real answer, however, lies with the changing nature of two-year-old racing, and the extraordinary demands that are now made on immature and precocious youngsters to even qualify for the Golden Slipper, let alone win it.  In the first eight runnings of the Slipper, the average field size was between nine and ten runners.  Provided the racehorse was nominated for the race, and the owner was prepared to pay the acceptance fees, it wasn’t difficult to obtain a start.  These days the field invariably consists of the maximum sixteen runners and competition to obtain a place is intense.  Burnout and premature breakdowns are frequent and, unlike the era when Australian-bred horses were spurned as stud prospects, precocious speed sires are now keenly sought after, and hence high-class two-year-olds are often whisked off to stud before their three-year-old season is even finished.  In short, Derby heroes were no longer sought amongst the leading ranks of the Free Handicap.  This, then, was the changing scenario when Fair Summer first stole upon the scene with a series of scintillating victories in July, August and September 1965.  The fact that his sire, Summertime, had also been responsible for three of the past four Derby winners at Randwick and the minor place-getter in the other, partly explains why both the men of Tattersalls and a credulous public cultivated a mystique of omniscience in the weeks leading up to that first Saturday in October.

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It is difficult to recapture that first, fine, careless rapture with which the general public embraced Fair Summer in the late winter and early spring of 1965 when he reeled off five successive victories.  Beginning with that quality handicap at Rosehill as a late two-year-old, and a novice handicap at Randwick on the second day of the new season, Fair Summer’s rampage encompassed both the A.J.C. Hobartville Stakes and the S.T.C. Canterbury Guineas, and culminated in an eight-length triumph in the S.T.C. Rosehill Guineas when the brilliant colt led all the way.

FAIR SUMMER (winning the Rosehill Guineas hard-held)

Wallowing twelve lengths in his wake that day was Peace Council; his master trainer finally having to accept the fact that this stylish son of Pipe of Peace lacked stamina and was clearly no Derby prospect.  Such was Fair Summer’s dominance on that fine, spring afternoon of Guineas Day that few racegoers were even aware just a few minutes later of a magnificent chestnut colt – white-blazed and with a coat shimmering like burnished copper – that strolled away with the Cumberland Handicap by eight lengths over the mile at Moonee Valley.  Trained by Grahame Heagney in Adelaide, Tobin Bronze – for that was the wonder horse’s name – was a son of the imported Arctic Explorer and the third foal of Amarco, the maiden filly that Geoff Lane had partnered to victory in the 1957 V.R.C. Oaks for his master Tommy Woodcock.  The good news for Clarrie Messiter and Jack Denham, however, was that Tobin Bronze wasn’t even coming to Sydney but being aimed fairly and squarely at the Victoria Derby.

 

Fair_Summer

FAIR SUMMER

In the fortnight after the Rosehill Guineas leading up to the Derby, extravagant panegyrics retailed in the sporting pages concerning the new wonder horse trained at Canterbury, that by now had won six of his nine starts and £7,665 in prize money.  There was the inevitable comparison with Phar Lap of course, while Bert Lillye regaled us with stories that Fair Summer stood fully seventeen hands and owned a twenty-foot stride.  Possessed of a healthy appetite and consuming no less than twenty-two pints of grain a day, this new Pegasus had to be bedded down on wood shavings rather than traditional straw, lest he devour his bed for supper.  We were told how the horse’s large frame corresponded closely to the Arabian ideal of perfect balance, which dictated that the measurement from the lip to the middle of the withers should match the length from there to the butt of the tail.  Fair Summer’s statistics were 67 ½” and 68 ½” respectively.

Whether or not it was arcane revelations such as these, the fact was that only eight horses were paid up as final starters for the Derby, with Tommy Smith supplying half the field.  Despite the favourite’s string of easy victories, the Master of Tulloch Lodge hadn’t conceded the blue riband to the son of Summertime by any means. After all, no Derby winner had been trained at Canterbury since Herb Andrews prepared Rivoli there in 1922.  Moreover, the favourite was not a relaxed galloper and prone to pull in his races unless allowed his head.  Smith harboured doubts that he was a genuine stayer at all and wanted the numbers to test his theory.  As Napoleon once observed, when it comes to battle, God is on the side of the biggest battalions. It was a philosophy to which Smith subscribed, and his battalion in this particular war consisted of four unlikely candidates in Conclave, Pyramus, Bahram Star and Prince Grant.

On-course, Fair Summer was a 2/7 favourite and the man charged with the onerous responsibility of steering this supposed good thing home in the blue riband was his 23-year-old jockey, Des Lake.  It had been a long time since any jockey had burst so dramatically onto the Sydney racing scene.  Born in August 1942 and the son of a small-time publican in Western Victoria, Lake had owned show ponies as a child and riding came naturally to him.  He began his apprenticeship in the Warrnambool district with R. J. Wallis and completed it in Melbourne following his master’s relocation there, although it was not an apprenticeship that was marked by any conspicuous success as Des seemed to run afoul of the stewards regularly.  Soon after completing his time, Lake relocated to Sydney in time for the 1964 rich autumn meetings, and his first ride in Sydney came at Rosehill on February 29, when he lost on protest aboard Florida Keys.  Perhaps it was appropriate, given their fierce rivalry after that, that it was George Moore aboard Rush Bye who successfully protested against Lake that day.  Trainers Morrie Anderson, Jim Barker and Pat Murray, were soon availing themselves of Lake’s power and his brilliant win on Top Missel in the 1964 Gosford Cup brought his vigorous and very physical style of horsemanship to the attention of a wider audience.  At the 1964 A.J.C. Spring Carnival dashing Des landed the rich Epsom-Metropolitan double on Toi Port and Piper’s Son to enhance his growing reputation as a ruthless money rider.  It seemed likely that his singular style of riding would sooner or later attract the attention of both the R.S.P.C.A. and Jack Denham, and he had been Fair Summer’s natural accomplice in the colt’s rampage through the semi-classics on route to the 1965 A.J.C. Derby.

Conclave and Pyramus were the only other runners besides Fair Summer quoted in the betting market at less than double figures.  George Moore had won on each of Smith’s acceptors during their lead-up races to the Derby and his choice of ride wasn’t an enviable one, although in the end, he plumped for Conclave.  The winner of two races as a juvenile, Conclave was a big, gross chestnut gelding by Pipe of Peace out of the daughter of a place-getter in the New Zealand Oaks.  The winner of a stakes race at Canterbury in the new season, Conclave’s latest two appearances had resulted in placings in restricted races and Moore’s acceptance of the ride owed more to his friendship with the owners, Hal Porter and his wife, prominent clients of the Smith stable who also raced Peace Council, than any intrinsic qualities of the horse itself.  Pyramus, a small and lightly-fleshed son of the imported English stallion Agricola, was the first foal out of Minaea, a Sabaean mare that was rated one of the best fillies in New Zealand in 1958, and he shared the second line of betting with Conclave; he owed his market prominence to a hollow win in the Chelmsford Stakes against just three rivals as well as his late burst in the Rosehill Guineas to claim the minor placing.  Smith’s other two runners, Bahram Star and Prince Grant, were virtually ignored in the betting.  The other horses making up the numbers were Attunga Way from Fred Allsop’s stables, Shoreacres, the Jack Green representative, and the despised outsider, By Error.

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The 1965 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:

1965

In a fast run race, Fair Summer wasn’t afforded a moment’s peace and ran much too freely in the early stages pulling hard and refusing to settle.  Going out of the straight the first time Fair Summer was trapped three wide with both Bahram Star and Pyramus on his inside.  The pace was fast and Des Lake eventually allowed the son of Summertime to stride to the front approaching the milepost.  But even then Camer on Pyramus did not permit the favourite to get too far ahead of him and kept up the pressure.  At this stage, Attunga Way was in fourth place with Prince Grant and Conclave running about fifth and sixth.  Just when it looked like Fair Summer might relax and find his rhythm, Camer moved up to the favourite’s girth nearing the five-furlong mark.  As the field moved towards the turn Pyramus began to weaken and in turn Conclave moved up to take second place.  Although Fair Summer led around the home turn, he was gone soon after.  Conclave raced a neck in front upon straightening for the run to the judge and had just managed to get the better of Fair Summer when Prince Grant, who had enjoyed the run of the race behind the leaders, swept forward with the indiscriminate fury of an avalanche. Stretching out like a really top stayer, the little Alcimedes gelding came right away for a very easy victory by eight lengths to Shoreacres with Conclave a further half-length away third.  In the last half-furlong, however, Shoreacres hung in badly and a subsequent protest by George Moore on Conclave was upheld and the minor placings reversed.  Fair Summer finished a badly beaten fifth with Pyramus coming again in the last half-furlong to beat him for fourth placing.

It was a result that was met with no little surprise by the assembled multitude. Mark Twain once famously observed that there are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it, and when he can.  Those in the crowd that had backed Fair Summer knew what he meant.  In the press box, the sweetest of eulogies were hastily being re-drafted as the bitterest of elegies for the beaten favourite.  This was Smith’s third winner of the race in four years, and he had done it with a 50/1 outsider.  And not only had he provided the winner but the runner-up and fourth place-getter besides!  If the training of racehorses was an art rather than a science – and Tommy never doubted that it was – he was now performing as a virtuoso.  The sixties were the years when Smith began to train more winners than the combined tallies of any other three or four Sydney trainers, and this Derby showed why.  He did not always follow the script, perhaps, but he always managed to be the leading character.  Rodney Dawkins, the successful jockey, thought so, too, and the mount had been a lucky late engagement for the popular Melbourne hoop, who had served his apprenticeship in the Caulfield stables of Ken Hilton, the private trainer for W. R. Kemball.  When Athol Mulley declined the ride, Smith had telephoned Dawkins in Melbourne and offered him the inducement of riding Count Radiant in the Epsom Handicap as well.

Prince Grant’s triumph capped a remarkable run of success in the Randwick classic for Sydney builder, Bill Bradshaw and his wife, who raced the son of Alcimedes in partnership with two of their daughters, Mesdames M. O. Kellett and P. Mason. Bradshaw and his wife had first won the classic in 1954 with Prince Delville trained by Stan Lamond and had followed it with a second win with Summer Prince in 1962, which they owned in partnership with their third daughter, Mrs J. Barnes. Prince Grant had now given them a treble – a remarkable achievement in an era when ownership was far less concentrated and the Derby far more competitive than in the years before World War II.  Although initially a client of Stan Lamond when he first went into racing, Bradshaw was soon patronising Tommy Smith as well after his emergence during the ‘fifties, eventually becoming one of his most prominent clients.  Rarely did a year go by that Bradshaw didn’t take a yearling or two from Smith’s annual purchases across the Tasman.  In the case of Prince Grant, pedigree apart, Bradshaw liked the look of the colt and his kind, intelligent eyes.

A loyal owner, Bradshaw continued to have horses with Lamond up to the time of that trainer’s retirement and even patronised A. J. ‘Skeeter’ Bentley, Lamond’s foreman who later took out his own licence.  Nor did Bradshaw’s interests end there, for over the years he had the odd horse in Tommy Woodcock’s Melbourne stables and in 1958 Woodcock won the Williamstown Cup for the Bradshaws with Droll Prince, a son of Comic Court.  Bill Bradshaw was a shrewd judge, both of a horse’s pedigree and conformation, and over an extended period raced horses in partnership with Jim Barnes, a committeeman of the Australian Equestrian Foundation.  If the quality was there in the bloodlines then rarely did the lack of size deter Bradshaw from buying a yearling.  Indeed, some of his greatest victories came with thoroughbreds lacking in inches – as attested by the likes of Prince Delville, Droll Prince and, yes, Prince Grant.  While most of his racehorses were acquired at the drop of the gavel, Bradshaw was a small-time hobby breeder as well keeping one or two mares at George Ryder’s Woodlands Stud.  One of his most satisfying moments came when Dark Briar, one of his wife’s homebreds, won the 1966 Rosehill Guineas and Queensland Derby.  Apart from the gallopers mentioned above some of the other good horses to carry his orange, white and red livery over the years included Polo Prince, Prince Regoli, Game Prince, Prince Okawa, Court Prince and Nikalapko.

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Hindsight always comes with 20/20 vision, but a glance at Prince Grant’s pedigree makes it easy to understand what attracted Smith to him as a yearling for 2700 guineas, provided one was prepared to take a chance on Alcimedes as a first-season stallion.  Prince Grant hailed from the family that traced back to Miss Kate, the imported mare whose descendants included two of the greatest racehorses ever foaled in New Zealand in Phar Lap and Kindergarten.  Offered by the Trelawney Stud, Cambridge, Prince Grant was an early August foal and a half-brother to Catania, by Pride of Kildare, winner of the A.R.C. Great Northern Oaks and Royal Stakes among other races; and Tawhiao, by Marco Polo, and winner of A.R.C. Great Northern Guineas and W.R.C. Wellington Guineas.  Babinda, one of Chubin’s daughters, was the dam of Cicada, who won nine races including the New Zealand Oaks and the Great Northern and Wellington Guineas.  Chubin, a Nizami mare, herself was the winner of six races and £3,635 and was a half-sister to eight winners including a New Zealand Derby hero in Al-Sirat and a Wellington Guineas hero in Bridge Acre. It was a pedigree that bristled with black type, and Smith had already trained two of Chubin’s earlier progeny in Wall Street and Grey Star.  While Grey Star, who Smith raced in partnership with Percy Sykes and Tony McSweeney, was still a maiden at the time he purchased Prince Grant, Wall Street by Khorassan had been a promising stayer when he sheltered in Tulloch Lodge a few seasons before. Wall Street had been retained by his breeders, Dave Blackie and Seton Otway, and won races at Warwick Farm and Canterbury Park during his three-year-old season, before going amiss.

 

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ALCIMEDES

Alcimedes, the sire of Prince Grant, was a brown horse bred in England in 1954 and was by the great Alycidon, winner of the stayer’s triple crown, i.e. the Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood and Doncaster Cups.  Honey Hill, the dam of Alcimedes, was herself the heroine of the Newmarket Spring Hall Stakes and the dam of eight winners while her half-brother, Callander, had already proven himself a useful sire in New Zealand in the late 1950’s with seven individual stakes winners.  Alcimedes raced in the colours of Lord Astor and managed to win six races and £10,427 including the Kempton Park Great Jubilee Handicap Stakes (10f) twice and the York Falmouth Handicap (10 ½ f).  Seton Otway imported him to New Zealand to stand at his Trelawney Stud in October 1960 following the sale of Pride of Kildare to Japan and Khorrasan to America, although Alcimedes arrived too late in the season to be of use during his first year of domicile.  However, when Prince Grant and Galilee came along in his first crop, Alcimedes’ reputation was made.

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By the early 1960’s Tommy Smith had a well-established programme for preparing a prospective Derby horse and Prince Grant’s road to the blue riband conformed to it rather nicely.  Having brought the yearling across the Tasman, Harry Meyers was entrusted to his breaking-in, and the colt was gelded soon afterwards.  Smith preferred geldings as they were more compliant in the stable and he believed that not only did they become better racehorses but that the operation gave them on average two more years of racing.  It was a policy that became increasingly widespread after the A.J.C. and V.R.C. announced in March 1956 the removal of the ban on geldings in their classic races.  Smith then allowed the cut young horse to potter about the stables for a week or so before sending him to the spelling paddock for a couple of months.  Prince Grant was then brought back to Tulloch Lodge for about a month’s work.

Smith always pushed his youngsters more than most trainers, but it was a policy that paid big dividends over the years.  It wasn’t unusual for him to have a horse in and out of work three or four times during his formative year and it was as early as August 1964 that he became convinced Prince Grant had the makings of a Derby horse.  As was usual in this programme, Prince Grant’s racecourse debut came in a two-year-old handicap during early February at Canterbury Park when he finished unplaced behind his stablemate and future Queensland Derby winner, Bahram Star.  Eighteen days later Prince Grant was runner-up over the same course and distance behind Betelgeuse. It was in a two-year-old handicap over six furlongs at Rosehill in mid-March that he broke his maiden status.  Prince Grant received a chequered passage under Athol Mulley that day and was forced very wide on the turn but still managed to swoop in the last furlong.  It represented the first victory for the progeny of Alcimedes in Australia.

Tommy Smith thought highly enough of Prince Grant to allow him to take his place in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick but at that stage of his development the 8 st. 10lb proved burdensome for the little fellow, and he could only manage fifth in the race won by his more glamorous stablemate, Peace Council.  Smith backed the gelding up a week later in the Fernhill Handicap over the mile for his seventh race as a juvenile and, although despatched an even-money favourite, he finished just behind the place-getters in the race won that year by the 100/1 outsider, The Gong. After a brief turn in the spelling paddocks, Prince Grant was brought back into Tulloch Lodge in May and given three runs in the new season to fit him for his Derby mission.  Although he did manage to win a modest novice handicap over the Warwick Farm mile in the hands of George Moore, the stable jockey effectively dismissed the little gelding as his Derby mount when a month later he could only manage third behind Kiltaza and Shoreacres in a three-year-old graduation stakes over ten furlongs at Rosehill in very slow time.  What a difference the fast pace, two extra furlongs, and seventeen days more of Tommy’s polish made in the Derby!

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Most of the gossip immediately in the wake of the Derby concerned the unwanted attention rival jockeys paid Fair Summer, and there were even suggestions in some quarters of a ‘team riding’ strategy devised by Tulloch Lodge.  It was to be regretted that the A.J.C. stewards immediately after the race, didn’t invite Tommy Smith to make public the riding instructions that he gave to the jockeys of his four runners, as I’m sure that some of the gratuitous harm done to the image of racing might have been avoided.  Let us be clear about it: any colt that can bolt in by eight lengths and run 2 minutes 29.9 seconds over the Randwick mile-and-a-half is a deserved winner of the classic.  Indeed, time would prove as much.  Moreover, a trainer of Smith’s stature would hardly thumb his nose at important and long-established clients with a scheme to cruel the chances of one, two or more of his runners – and each was owned in different interests – in a race worth £7,000 to the winner! And all this for the benefit of a 50/1 outsider that had been despised both by the stable jockey and the betting public! Nonetheless, any reflective analysis of the race left one to conclude that some jockeys were not seen to their best advantage.

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After the Derby, both the short-priced vanquished Fair Summer and the long-priced victor Prince Grant went to Melbourne.  Neither enjoyed any success, nor, indeed, much luck.  Fair Summer’s lacklustre performance in the Derby was overlooked in the betting market in the Caulfield Guineas as the sporting cognoscenti reasoned that the failure lay more in the colt’s inability to stay and that the mile of the Guineas would be more to his liking.  Alas, it proved fallacious reasoning and the big colt was never on the Caulfield track from his wide barrier in the race won in smashing style by Star Affair.

STAR AFFAIR & ATHOL MULLEY (The Star Kingdom Story)

The balance of Fair Summer’s southern campaign was aborted.  Prince Grant didn’t fare much better.  The Alcimedes gelding finished down the course in the Caulfield Cup and then failed in the Victoria Derby won by Tobin Bronze.  However, there were excuses for the latter performance as he was hampered over the last half-mile and galloped on from behind and superficially stripped on both hind legs. Nonetheless, the injury didn’t prevent Prince Grant from fulfilling his engagement in the Melbourne Cup three days later in which he ran a very respectable fifth in the race won by Light Fingers – the first in the collection of Bart Cummings’ Melbourne Cups.  That outing confirmed Tommy Smith’s faith in Prince Grant as a very fast stayer and a rather ambitious autumn campaign targeting the Sydney Cup was the immediate result.

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On the evidence of his Melbourne failures, many people didn’t share his trainer’s enthusiasm and were prepared to dismiss the gelding’s Derby victory at Randwick as something of a fluke.  Well, time would tell.  He was only a lightly framed little fellow but as tough as teak, and it didn’t take much work to get him fit.  I can remember him resuming in late summer in a ten-furlong handicap at Rosehill and Tommy legged up his young stable apprentice, Bobby Pearce, later a successful trainer at Randwick in his own right.  At that stage, Pearce hadn’t ridden a winner and was entitled to claim the full seven-pound allowance.  The wiseacres in the betting ring steered clear, sending the pair to the post at 33/1.  Not for the last time, Prince Grant proved the bookmakers wrong, giving Bobby Pearce his first success in the saddle.  It was the harbinger of a wonderful autumn for Prince Grant, which saw him successful at five of his seven appearances on the racecourse and acclaimed the weight-for-age champion of Australia. Taken to Melbourne, George Moore partnered him in a memorable St Leger at Flemington.  It was vintage George on a front-running stayer when he jumped Prince Grant to the front and then slowed the field, before dashing away to upset the odds laid on the local favourite Tobin Bronze by two-and-a-half lengths with a further five lengths to Midlander.  The winning time for this front-running piece of bravado was only 0.7 seconds outside the race record set by Reading in 1940.

That St Leger notwithstanding, a real feature of the racing during that autumn was the series of three clashes at weight-for-age between Prince Grant and the Victorian horse, Craftsman, a son of Better Boy and the winner of the 1963 Victoria Derby. The first of these battles royal came in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington, which Craftsman won by a matter of inches.  In so doing, Craftsman became the first horse to pass the $100,000 in prize money in Australia.  The return match came a fortnight later at Warwick Farm in the Chipping Norton Stakes and to fit Prince Grant for the task, Smith subjected his charge to some testing track gallops. I have observed before in these pages that Smith could be quite ruthless with his horses.  If an animal possessed the constitution to take the grind and punishment, then Smith would ensure the horse realised his full potential.  After all, the purest of gold is smelted in the hottest of furnaces.  Allow me to illustrate this by way of anecdote.  Eddie Kornhauser was a long-standing patron of Tommy Smith, who always seemed to have a horse in training. Now Eddie was as familiar with the local synagogue as he was with the ways of the racecourse.   He visited Tulloch Lodge one Sunday morning to inspect a horse he owned which had just returned from the spelling paddocks.  “Have a good holiday, horsey?’ inquired Eddie as he patted the horse’s forehead.  “Well, welcome back to the concentration camp.”  Enough said.

Prince Grant had an iron constitution that perfectly suited Tommy’s methods.  To fit him for the Chipping Norton Stakes, Smith subjected the colt to a fast nine furlongs gallop on the Thursday before the race.  This was a most unorthodox preparation even for an older horse within two days of a ten furlongs contest, let alone a three-year-old.  But the gallop did the trick, and he managed to reverse the result over Craftsman by the best part of a length after George Moore elected to lead all the way.  Then came Prince Grant’s victories in the Sydney Cup and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick during the 1966 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting that confirmed his status as the best three-year-old of his year.  I can remember Cup Day quite clearly.  I was there to witness my first Sydney Cup.  George Moore, who was booked to partner the gelding in both of his engagements during that week, snapped a stirrup iron in the first race of the day yet still managed to land the odds-on favourite, Great Trust – a stablemate of Prince Grant, a winner.  However, the leg cramps brought on by the discomfort of the journey forced Moore to relinquish his next ride.

 

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PRINCE GRANT & GEORGE MOORE

But there was no chance the champion hoop was ever going to pass up his engagement in the Cup itself on the 5/4 favourite.  And Prince Grant had the race in his keeping fully three furlongs from home.  It was a victory that had the effervescent Smith declaring the little horse the best stayer since Tulloch!  Two days later he backed up for his final race of the season, and his last showdown with Craftsman.  Craftsman was a relatively fresh horse while Prince Grant was backing up after the two miles of the Cup with 8 st. 2lb yet in a wonderful exhibition of courage, the little gelding after leading from the half-mile, came again in the straight to beat the son of Better Boy by a short half-head after a gripping final furlong duel.  That success brought Prince Grant’s earnings at the close of his three-year-old season to $71,910.  It was just as well Sydney boasted Prince Grant during that 1965-66 racing season because, his victories apart, few other Sydney-trained horses achieved any first-class success that year in Australia – arguably the poorest in all the years since the war.  Prince Grant’s glory at that A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, which saw him fairly acclaimed as the best horse in the land, was juxtaposed with Fair Summer’s shame; the prohibitive Derby favourite of the springtime, restricted to shorter journeys, ran an inglorious sixteenth behind Citius in the Doncaster Handicap.

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Prince Grant never quite recaptured that form in subsequent years, and despite his weight-for-age successes during that wonderful autumn of his three-year-old days, I always regarded him more as a high-class handicapper.  Moreover, his earnings in that particular campaign were immeasurably enhanced by the absence of Light Fingers from the scene.  The champion mare had been galloped on from behind at Caulfield when she won the St George Stakes and thrown out of work.  A major reason why Prince Grant was never again a dominant force on the Turf was his size, or rather lack of it, as he never grew much after his classic season.  In, this respect he suffered the same problem as Bill Bradshaw’s previous A.J.C. Derby winner, Prince Delville.

TOBIN BRONZE & JOHN MILLER (Racetrack)

On the other hand, his Victoria Derby conqueror, Tobin Bronze, furnished into a magnificent individual as a four and five-year-old and together with the mighty Galilee – like Prince Grant, another son of the all-conquering Alcimedes – the pair dominated the valuable weight-for-age races in the following seasons.  And by the time Tobin Bronze had been sold to race in America and Galilee had broken down, another consistent weight-for-age performer in Winfreux had emerged to frustrate Prince Grant’s pretensions.  But having said that, there was no doubt our little Derby hero of 1965 was a high-class racehorse. He won both the Craven Plate and Colin Stephen Stakes at Randwick in his four-year-old season, and after failing to win at five, he redeemed his reputation in his final season as a six-year-old with three wins including a second Craven Plate and the H. E. Tancred Cup.  Prince Grant won fourteen races from sixty-one starts and $111,298 in stakes.  Without a doubt, among the many, he was the best horse to carry the familiar orange, red and white livery of Bill Bradshaw and his family.

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And what became of Fair Summer in the wake of his abysmal failure in the Derby? The big strapping horse that quite often lacked barrier etiquette continued to race into his six-year-old season and from 65 starts won 13 races in all and $32,110 in prize money.  But he never looked like realising the overblown hopes invested in him on that famous Derby Day in 1965.  He never again won beyond a mile and at best proved a useful welter horse.  He finished his racing days in the Tamworth district.  Retired to stud in 1968 he stood at Rossmar Park, Quirindi, initially at a fee of $400 free return.  Unsurprisingly, he was a failure at stud.  For Jack Denham, the hapless trainer of Fair Summer, who had dreamed of Derby triumphs, the culminating hour was merely delayed rather than denied; it would be a long time coming though, – another thirty-five years in fact – but when that hour duly came, it arrived in style.