In the winter of 1965, Tommy Smith again made his regular pilgrimage to Europe, this time in the company of Ken Cox, the proprietor of the Stockwell Stud, Victoria. Cox was in the market for a well-bred English stallion, one with speed in his pedigree, and he was relying on Smith’s expertise to make his choice. Their itinerary included taking in the glamour and excitement of Royal Ascot, and it was there that Smith was struck by the four-year-old Infatuation stallion, Showdown, in finishing second in the prestigious Queen Anne Stakes (1m). After the event, Smith approached the horse endeavouring to obtain a close view of his conformation and physique only to be rebuffed by an overzealous panjandrum acting as gate-keeper. Nonetheless, the master horseman had seen enough. After inspecting several more prospective stallions over the next few weeks, his mind kept coming back to Showdown, and he recommended that Ken Cox make an offer for the showy chestnut son of Infatuation by Nearco, and who was out of the wonderful European broodmare, Zanzara, a granddaughter of Fair Trial. Cox offered $80,000 but was unable to close the deal, and while Smith continued on his holiday, the owner of Stockwell Stud returned to Australia empty-handed. It wasn’t until three months later with Showdown still unsold and Cox persisting with his offer through the British Bloodstock Agency, that a settlement was finally agreed and the horse transported to Australia.
Showdown had been widely regarded as the best two-year-old in England in 1963, with an annual Timeform rating of 133; and two seasons later as a four-year-old, he’d matured into the country’s champion miler. In sixteen race starts the chestnut had won six times and only finished out of a place on three occasions. In clinching the deal, Cox had been acting as principal on behalf of a syndicate of Victorian breeders. The Stockwell Stud where Showdown was to be installed, was located at Digger’s Rest, 22 miles northwest of Melbourne. Consisting of 725 acres of soft, rolling grasslands the stud farm had originally belonged to Ted Underwood. When Cox purchased the initial holding in 1958, he did so because of a desire expressed by his 16-year-old son, Tim, to work on the land rather than follow his father into the family business of reinforced concrete. Few fathers are wealthy enough to indulge a young son’s nascent yearning for a career as comprehensively as Ken Cox was, but the indulgence was to prove remarkably successful.
Ken Cox initially intended a cattle and sheep property to satisfy his son’s pastoral ambitions, when, in a chance conversation in 1958 with Bill Stutt, manager of the Wright Stephenson Bloodstock Agency Melbourne, he became aware that the famous Digger’s Rest property of Ted Underwood was on the market. Underwood had suffered a heart attack and was looking to wind down his bloodstock activities.
Although initially reluctant to commit to a thoroughbred venture, despite having raced a few horses on the side beginning with Hoogli in 1954, Cox was eventually convinced by Stutt to buy the property for £36,000. Stutt, in turn, promised his own support in the enterprise while Underwood agreed to overview the breeding operation besides installing one of his most trusted colleagues, George Smith, as manager. Smith had worked as the general stallion groom and prepared yearlings on behalf of Underwood’s Warlaby Stud for almost ten years. It was to prove a most serendipitous arrangement for all concerned except for Underwood, who was to die of a heart attack less than twelve months later.
The property on Toolern Vale road was duly registered as a partnership, and the Stockwell Stud came into being with Ken Cox and his two sons, Tim and Peter, as the principal shareholders. Later on, Cox was to add a further thousand acres holding at Kyneton. At the time of the original purchase, the hugely expensive import, Landau, was the resident stallion there – having been bought by Ted Underwood a few seasons before – and he proved a sound foundation upon which the Cox family was to build one of Australia’s great stud farms.
At the time of his purchase, Landau was the most expensive stallion ever imported into Australia, Ted Underwood having paid 20,000 guineas for him at the December Sales in England and landing him in Melbourne in 1954. A beautifully-bred brown horse of uncertain temperament, he had a pedigree to die for, being by Hyperion from the great Sun Chariot. Landau carried the colours of Her Majesty The Queen unsuccessfully in the 1954 English Derby but later redeemed his tarnished reputation by winning the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. At Stockwell, he sired some good horses in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s including Anonyme, Reinsman, Chaise, Impulsive, Nicopolis and Cendrillon. When Cox took over from Ted Underwood, some well-bred matrons sired by Landau were acquired in the process and one, in particular, was Joelma, a half-sister to Underwood’s 1953 Melbourne Cup winner, Wodalla.
Given that Landau was part of the stock-in-trade acquired with the stud, the first real foray by Ken Cox into the stallion market came later when he purchased the English horse, Arctic Explorer, a son of Arctic Prince out of a winning daughter of Big Game. A first-class racehorse in England, Arctic Explorer had won stakes amounting to £15,752 from just thirteen starts, and his five wins included the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and the King Edward VII Stakes at Ascot. Alas, his coming to Stockwell coincided with those years that saw a pronounced trend away from stamina lines in Australia, in favour of speed and precocity in juveniles. Reluctantly, Ken Cox recognised the imperatives of the yearling market and in February 1965 sold Arctic Explorer to New Zealand, a country that still valued stamina. However, the timing of the sale was ironic for it occurred just as the stallion’s best son, Tobin Bronze, was on the threshold of becoming Australia’s greatest racehorse. But at least the paddocks of Stockwell were replete with comely daughters of the son of Arctic Prince, and in time they would prove a marvellous nick with Showdown, the stallion chosen to replace him. One such mare was Snowline.
It is remarkable how often one trainer, in particular, becomes associated with the stock of a successful stallion. Jack Green’s luck with the early Star Kingdoms is an excellent example, and it was a pattern to be repeated now by Tommy Smith with Showdown. By a curious coincidence, Showdown’s first yearling draft was offered to the public in the same year that saw Star Kingdom’s last, the grand old King of Baramul having died there on April 21st, 1967 from inflammation – the result of a thickening bowel. Having recommended that Ken Cox acquire Showdown, it came as no surprise that Australia’s leading trainer was in the vanguard of buyers when the stallion’s first progeny came up for auction at the Victorian Yearling Sales in March 1969, conducted by Wright Stephenson and Co. Ltd at their Flemington stables opposite the racecourse. Smith had inspected Showdown’s first yearlings from the early days of their foaling on intermittent visits to Stockwell and two bay colts, in particular, had taken his eye, and yes, Joelma and Snowline were their respective dams.
The first of the colts, and indeed Lot No. 1 in the catalogue was only the second foal from the distinguished Joelma; a late September foal, Smith got him for $2500. The second colt that Smith went after, Lot No. 187, came along on the following day and cost him half as much again. This fellow, a late October foal, was Snowline’s produce, and a half-brother to Snowtop, winner of the 1968 V.R.C. Edward Manifold Stakes. Snowline herself had only been lightly raced when trained by Phil Burke and had been retired to stud at the end of her three-year-old season without winning any prize money in eleven appearances. Whatever Snowline’s shortcomings on the racecourse, her pedigree on the distaff side shimmered with class; Waltzing Lady, her dam, had won both the Oaks and AV Kewney Stakes at Flemington, while her granddam Waltzing Lily had won the 1933 V.R.C. Newmarket and Standish Handicaps at the same course. Moreover, given that Snowline had already produced a stakes winner, the bidding was spirited for this her latest offering, and when the gavel fell at $3750, it was a little more than Smith had expected to pay. Nonetheless, Australia’s leading trainer felt well pleased with both acquisitions. Not that either horse had been purchased to a specific commission from any of the stable’s clients; rather Smith bought yearlings of his choice and then on-sold them to clients on a first-come basis; and such was his reputation by now, that his speculative selections didn’t remain without owners for long.
One of Smith’s most prominent clients by this time was Tony McSweeney, the popular Tattersall’s Club identity and future chairman of that club, who had raced a string of successful horses in partnership with his charming wife Mollie, and close friends. McSweeney’s association with Smith had already seen his colours carried by the likes of the ill-fated 1956 Canterbury Guineas winner, Movie Boy and the 1958 Oakleigh Plate winner, Dubbo, while Versailles had given him a taste of classic success with the red riband in the 1965 V.R.C. St Leger. But it was the blue riband of a Derby victory that McSweeney really yearned for in his trophy cabinet, and the two Showdown colts invited the prospect. Which to choose? McSweeney’s initial fancy was for the Joelma colt, but after seeking out the opinion of respected bloodstock agent John Inglis, McSweeney switched his allegiance to Snowline’s son because of the strong female line in the pedigree. McSweeney retained half-ownership together with his wife, Mollie, and son, John, and convinced his good friends, Sydney solicitor John Murray, and popular Melbourne hotelier Jack Ross, to take quarter-shares each. The syndicate registered the colt as Silver Sharpe. Eventually, two relatively new clients of the Smith stable snapped up the Joelma colt with the trainer himself retaining a share, and the trio proceeded to register that youngster as Royal Show. As a stallion Showdown was to make the most sensational debut on the Australian Turf since the legendary Star Kingdom, and these two thoroughbreds from Tulloch Lodge were to be largely responsible.
Confirmation of Showdown’s quality as a stallion came on the first day that his progeny appeared on a racecourse. On that first Saturday afternoon in October 1969 when Divide and Rule annexed the Derby at Randwick, a filly and a colt by Showdown stepped out for their racecourse debuts at Flemington in separate divisions of the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes at set weights for two-year-olds – the first two races on the card. Dual Choice, a stylish chestnut trained by Ken White for owner Norm Gillham that had cost $9,500 at the Melbourne sales, won the fillies’ division; while Prodromus, a colt trained by Tony Lopes and raced in partnership, by Ken Cox and George Smith, gave the Stockwell stallion a rare double in the colts’ division. A week later, Dual Choice won the prestigious Debutante Stakes at the Caulfield Spring Meeting to underline her sire’s potential. Dual Choice went on to be one of the best juveniles in a quite remarkable season, winning six of her eight races including the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and running third in the Golden Slipper.
In fact, Dual Choice was the second-best juvenile sired by Showdown in his first season: the best turned out to be none other than Royal Show. In seven starts that season Royal Show won two minor handicaps before finishing runner-up in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington and the Golden Slipper at Rosehill and then claimed the minor prize in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes at Randwick. But for a highly controversial ride by George Moore on Baguette in the Golden Slipper against whom Kevin Langby, partnering Royal Show, unsuccessfully protested, the son of Showdown would have won the richest juvenile prize of all. Baguette that year became the first horse to win the juvenile ‘Triple Crown’ in Sydney of the Golden Slipper, A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes. A chunky son of Rego, he was built upon sprinting lines, but he still loomed as a threat to Tommy Smith’s ambition of a sixth A.J.C. Derby in the spring.
How Tony McSweeney must have regretted his choice of Showdown yearlings as that 1969-70 racing season unfolded. Silver Sharpe had still failed to make his racecourse debut by the time the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting was over whereas Royal Show by then had already completed his first season hailed as a budding champion. Silver Sharpe did finally make it to the racecourse in early May when, after running minor placings in juvenile handicaps at Randwick and Rosehill, Smith thought highly enough of him to include the bay gelding in his team for the Brisbane winter carnival. Silver Sharpe served notice of his classic pretensions on that trip when he finished third and within a length of the winner, Mr Consistency, in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Eagle Farm, run that year in record time. Silver Sharpe’s slow development notwithstanding, with the likes of Royal Show, Dual Choice, Intention and Prodromus to represent him, Showdown unsurprisingly became the champion first-season sire in Australia in 1969-70.
The intriguing question for sportsmen at the beginning of the new racing season was just how far the hitherto invincible Baguette could extend his speed. The answer wasn’t long in coming. Although the seven-furlongs Hobartville Stakes proved a cakewalk for the colt upon resumption, the longer Canterbury Guineas was another matter. Sent to the post a 4/9 favourite and ridden by a young Ron Quinton seeking to secure his status as the leading senior rider in the absence of George Moore overseas, Baguette suffered his first defeat in nine appearances. In a ride marred by indecision, Quinton ran into a traffic jam when the eventual winner Royal Show sprinted past him at the three and only claimed the minor placing when even Red God overtook him. A Derby start for Baguette was comprehensively abandoned when the colt was beaten again by Royal Show in the Rosehill Guineas, with substitute jockey Des Lake decidedly declaring the chunky son of Rego a non-stayer even though the margin was but a half-length and the stewards rejected the jockey’s protest against the winner.
The 1970 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Come Derby Day at Randwick, and sixteen horses were paid up for the classic with no less than four of them – Royal Show, Silver Sharpe, Red God and Rough ‘N’ Tumble – trained at Tulloch Lodge. Royal Show was the most highly rated of the foursome having won at his previous four starts including apart from both the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas, the weight-for-age Warwick Stakes and A.J.C. Stakes. Melbourne’s leading jockey, Roy Higgins, had been summoned forth to accept the mount. Rough ‘N’ Tumble owed his prominence in the market to a runaway eight-lengths win in a ten-furlong handicap at Rosehill the previous week when carrying nine stone. Red God, at $27,000 was one of the most expensive yearlings sold at the Sydney Easter Sales in 1969; he had already won good races and only lost the Canterbury Guineas by a short half-head when the camera preferred his stablemate. Silver Sharpe although still a maiden, had nonetheless only twice finished out of a place in his eight career starts, the most recent when an eye-catching fifth in the Rosehill Guineas after coming from near last on the home turn.
The horse that seemed most likely to stand between the Smith juggernaut and the Derby prize was a big, strong, raw-boned, grey colt from Queensland, trained by Bill Wehlow on behalf of a syndicate of four businessmen from the small township of Goondiwindi on the N.S.W./Queensland border. The horse in question, Gunsynd, bore a most unlikely pedigree for a Derby favourite. His sire, Sunset Hue, was a son of Star Kingdom, and he had managed to win only three races before breaking down in the Victoria Derby, although he did show class when he finished runner-up behind Time and Tide in the 1963 Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick. Retired to stud, Sunset Hue was standing at John Clift’s The Dip Stud, near Breeza in northern N.S.W. when he got Gunsynd to the poorly performed mare, Woodie Wonder, a twin daughter of Newtown Wonder, who had struggled to run third in a weak country maiden at her only racecourse appearance. Although both sire and dam had combined to produce a smart stakes winner in Sunset Sue the season before Gunsynd came into the world, to most bloodstock men it seemed a strange misalliance of blood to usher forth a Derby favourite. Gunsynd had won five of his six starts at two, his only defeat coming when he finished unplaced behind Baguette in the Golden Slipper Stakes; he had served early notice of his Derby pretensions when at his last start as a juvenile, he carried 9 st. 6lb to easily win the Fernhill Handicap at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. The parochial public of Queensland took him to their hearts and early on it seemed to me that he was the biggest thing to hit the Queensland tabloids since the well-endowed Norma Sykes (aka ‘Sabrina’) had officially opened the Gondolier Espresso coffee bar in Ipswich circa 1960.
That Gunsynd had wintered handsomely in the Queensland sunshine was shown when he resumed in the new season to win two good sprint races at Doomben and Eagle Farm before being brought south of the border. The long-striding colt was all at sea on the tight Canterbury circuit when unplaced there in the Guineas at his first outing. However, Gunsynd was much more at home on the expansive stretches of Randwick, where he redeemed his reputation as well as Derby favouritism by finishing powerfully to land the Chelmsford Stakes at his next start in a time within 0.7 seconds of the race record set by Advocate in 1956. Although beaten into third place in the Rosehill Guineas, most observers agreed with jockey Hilton Cope that he was a good thing beaten. Oklahoma, prepared by Jack Denham at Rosehill for Stan and Millie Fox, was, at two points longer in betting than Royal Show, the third fancy for the Derby being the only one of the sixteen runners to have previously won over the classic distance.
Planet Kingdom, trained by Neville Begg at Randwick for the free-spending Lloyd Foyster, shared the next line of betting with Rough ‘N Tumble; and having cost $32,000 at the Sydney Yearling Sales, the colt was bidding to give the legendary Star Kingdom one last posthumous classic. Planet Kingdom had filled the minor placing behind Gunsynd and Roman Consul in the Chelmsford Stakes and finished just behind the place-getters in the Rosehill Guineas. Royal Guardsman, a Victorian colt trained by Geoff Murphy, was the only other runner less than double figures. I have fond memories of the Derby that year because I had followed Silver Sharpe in his Brisbane campaign. Early on Derby Day, I sallied forth to the old horse stalls adjacent to the main entrance gate to inspect Silver Sharpe and satisfy the ardour of my curiosity as to his condition. Shortly afterwards I boldly repaired to the betting ring to invest my modest capital on the bay son of Showdown at the generous odds of 12/1.
The big field of sixteen ensured a genuine pace and from the inside barrier, Roy Higgins afforded Royal Show what seemed the run of the race, never being worse than fourth while Silver Sharpe raced well back in the field. The outsider, Royal Coach, set a merry clip until the half-mile when he quickly compounded as the field bunched. At the home turn, Red God led from Royal Show, with both Gunsynd and Planet Kingdom, who had always been well-placed, immediately behind and poised ready to make their challenge. Meanwhile, Silver Sharpe had gradually improved his position but a bad check at the three-and-a-half furlongs prevented his jockey, Neville Voigt, from being any closer than eighth as the big field swung for home. As the field topped the rise it seemed, momentarily, that first Gunsynd, and then Planet Kingdom would win the race, but inside the distance, Silver Sharpe easily overpowered the pair of them, and though lugging badly in the last fifty yards, won running away. Royal Show, who wilted from the Leger, finished a well-beaten fourth. Oklahoma, the only other fancied runner, languished in third last place, always having been among the tail-enders and continuing Stan Fox’s abysmal luck in the classic.
There was a sense of déjà vu for leading trainer Tommy Smith in winning the Derby with Silver Sharpe, for, like his first winner, Playboy, 21 years earlier, Silver Sharpe was a maiden going into the race and carried the same No 11 saddlecloth. The leading trainer saddled four candidates, and, as with Prince Grant in 1965, won with one of his least-fancied runners. The race itself was conducted in a manner more conducive to stamina than speed, and Neville Voigt on Silver Sharpe had wisely permitted his mount to relax well back in the field upon settling down before gradually working his way into the race. Gunsynd, the well-backed favourite, was afforded every chance by Hilton Cope, being a handily placed fifth for most of the trip, and challenging at the rise. But the distance proved beyond him although he ran on gamely into the minor placing. Planet Kingdom belied his powerful conformation more suggestive of a sprinter and stayed on strongly to beat all but the winner. Royal Show, Smith’s most fancied runner, was probably inconvenienced by his inside barrier in that the colt was ridden much nearer the lead than suited his natural running style. Although Silver Sharpe eased in course betting from 7/1 to 12/1 in the wake of the heavy support for Gunsynd, the gelding landed some good wagers on the day. Later in the afternoon, A.J.C. stewards suspended Melbourne jockey Roy Higgins until the end of October, for causing interference in the Derby at the three furlongs on Royal Show.
For popular owners Tony and Mollie McSweeney the victory fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition; their frustration during the previous twelve months at having preferred Silver Sharpe over Royal Show in their choice of yearling was all but forgotten now. Besides, the McSweeney family boasted a racing pedigree that more than matched that of any classic-winning thoroughbred. Tony McSweeney’s mother, May Delaney, was the sister of the three famous, riding Delaneys, William, Austin and Jack who enjoyed so much success in the saddle during the last decade of the nineteenth century – the brothers rode the three place-getters in that famous 1896 Doncaster at Randwick won by Courallie – while Austin had partnered Picture in her A.J.C. Derby victory in 1898. Mollie McSweeney, Tony’s wife, was the only daughter of the former prominent Randwick horseman Pat Nailon, who, before moving to Sydney had been the leading trainer in Brisbane, and whose clients included the likes of E. J. Watt, Walter Brunton, and Bunny Nagel.
Although Nailon had never won the A.J.C. Derby, he was no stranger to big-race victories, and among the good horses he trained before his death at the age of 68 in July 1950 were Bachelor’s Persse, Valparaiso, Waikare, Pah King and Lady Aura. Indeed, Silver Sharpe carried Pat Nailon’s old colours. Nor did the McSweeney family’s links with racing end there, for among the excited group awaiting Silver Sharpe’s return to scale, was Tony and Mollie’s glamorous young daughter, Angela Belle, ravishing the multitude with her beauty and charm. Indeed, the excitement of the moment rendered the young lady careless of the homage that her loveliness attracted. Sigh! Those cognoscenti of fashion in attendance might have taken special note of her stylish pastel double-breasted pants suit and matching hat. Just a few years later Angela Belle would be successfully conducting Randwick’s ‘Revival of Elegance’ fashion campaigns that did so much to recapture the chic and éclat for which the famous old racecourse once had been so renowned.
Silver Sharpe’s victory was the first of two Derbies at Randwick to fall to the popular lightweight jockey, Neville Voigt. It was a lucky ride, and he came by it only after Des Lake had preferred the mount on Oklahoma. The son of a country trainer from Quirindi in northern N.S.W., Voigt served his apprenticeship at Randwick with Harry Plant, the man famous to posterity as the trainer of Bernborough. Voigt’s apprenticeship coincided with another golden epoch in Plant’s life, for they were the years during which the former buckjump rider trained those brilliant chestnut brothers, Fine and Dandy and Time and Tide, gelded sons of Star Kingdom and the Brueghel mare, Shading. Voigt strapped and rode each of them to victory and while he was generally unseated in preference for a senior jockey in the rich handicaps and weight-for-age races, his handling of the champions in lesser races attracted the respect of knowledgeable horsemen. Darby Munro for one was impressed, and after Voigt had ridden his colt Port Fair to a series of victories, he entrusted the ride to the seventeen-year-old apprentice in the 1963 Doomben Ten Thousand.
While Voigt never won either the Sydney apprentices’ or jockeys’ premierships, he was dux of the A.J.C. Apprentices’ School in 1963. However, it was his winning habit when picking up spare rides from the T. J. Smith stable in Sydney’s rich handicaps for which he became best known. Smith would generally assault such races with numbers, much the same as he did the 1970 A.J.C. Derby and Voigt was often the beneficiary, winning for the Randwick maestro among other races the 1969 Doncaster and the 1973 Epsom on Bye Bye and Lord Nelson respectively. Voigt was just as adept in the rich distance handicaps over the Randwick course, and his triumphs included The Metropolitan twice on Tails (1969) and Hayai (1983), and the 1970 Sydney Cup on Arctic Symbol, a son of Arctic Explorer. Upon his retirement from the saddle, he became the trainer of a small string at Randwick and among other races trained Balciano to win The Metropolitan in 1987.
Both Silver Sharpe and Royal Show were part of the large team that Tommy Smith campaigned in Melbourne that spring although neither gelding started in the Caulfield Guineas, which in their absence went to that other brilliant galloper from Showdown’s first season crop, the flying filly Dual Choice. Each did start in the Caulfield Cup, but as outsiders, and once again Royal Show was preferred in the betting – a status he justified when dead-heating for third with the eventual Melbourne Cup winner that year, Baghdad Note, in the race won by Beer Street. Silver Sharpe, again partnered by Voigt, finished a distant tenth although the jockey remained optimistic about the Victoria Derby. Alas for Voigt, fate intervened a week later in the guise of A.J.C. stewards who suspended the likeable hoop until late November for careless riding after winning a race at Canterbury on a horse for his old master, Harry Plant. The suspension proved costly, for before the month was over Silver Sharpe had become only the fourth horse to win all three Derbies conducted on Australia’s eastern seaboard.
In the Victoria Derby at Flemington with Melbourne jockey Pat Hyland substituting in the leathers, Silver Sharpe outclassed his seventeen opponents to win in dashing style by three lengths from Melbourne three-year-old Gay Icarus – who denied trainer Tommy Smith a quinella in the classic when he relegated Royal Show into the minor placing by a head. A week later, after having been flown from Melbourne on the following Wednesday night, Silver Sharpe won the Queensland Derby in heavy ground at Eagle Farm. This time, Ron Quinton warmed the saddle, and though the margin might have been reduced the result was no less emphatic with Sunset Gem and Gunsynd filling the minor placings. It was a result that gave Mollie McSweeney particular satisfaction for it was a race her much-revered father had won in 1933 with Waikare. In winning the triple crown of Derbies, Silver Sharpe emulated the achievements of Florence, Tulloch and Royal Sovereign.
In the wake of a triumphant spring that saw Silver Sharpe and Royal Show dominate the three-year-old classics, it seemed certain that particular crop as older horses would enable the T. J. Smith stable to extend its domination to the rich handicaps and weight-for-age races in the next season or two. Such domination would come to pass, and the horse to achieve it would be drawn from the 1970 A.J.C. Derby field, although at the time that race was run he wasn’t even sheltered within Tulloch Lodge. But I get ahead of myself. Glittering as the prospects seemed to be for both Silver Sharpe and Royal Show as the spring of 1970 extended into summer, the careers of both Showdown horses were to be very soon blighted by recurrent leg problems. Smith demanded much of his horses and some of the Showdown stock did suffer constitutional shortcomings. Silver Sharpe began to develop a weakness in his offside suspensory ligament as he was being prepared for an autumn campaign intended to culminate with the Sydney Cup. Although Smith managed to get the bay gelding to the starting gates three times, the heavy bandages sported on both forelegs betrayed the horse’s underlying weakness.
The moment of truth came within the shadows of the Flemington winning post in the St Leger Stakes, a race for which Silver Sharpe started a 4/7 favourite. Seemingly with the race at his mercy inside the distance, he faltered, losing both his stride and the race to finish third in a blanket finish behind Trader and Dario. A series of operations were subsequently performed under the supervision of the renowned Percy Sykes, which saw the Showdown gelding absent from the racecourse for twenty months. When he did resume as a spring five-year-old, it was for one race only before the leg gave way again. Smith made one last attempt to train the triple Derby winner as an autumn six-year-old, and although he managed a couple of minor placings, the leg again proved troublesome after just three appearances – his last coming in the 1974 S.T.C. Rawson Stakes. And so, this gifted racehorse, who only ever won three races – all of them Derbies – in a nineteen-race career, passed from the racecourse to become a celebrity boarder at Joe Manning’s Cootamundra property, where he was treated as a much-loved family pet. Nor was the post-Derby story of Royal Show any more inspiring, for he too, broke down at Flemington in the autumn of his three-year-old season – when winning the Queen’s Plate. He then underwent an operation to have a fractured splint bone removed from his near foreleg. As so often happens when a racehorse favours one bad leg, a weakness develops in the other. Although Royal Show did make it back to the racecourse after a seventeen-month absence, he ran just four more times, breaking down again after finishing fourth in the 1972 V.A.T.C. Underwood Stakes behind Sobar.
In the absence of Silver Sharpe and Royal Show, it was left to Gay Icarus, the horse who had chased Silver Sharpe home in the Victoria Derby, to emerge as the staying sensation of the 1971 autumn. After finishing unplaced in two unsuitably short sprints when resuming from his summer spell, Gay Icarus then proceeded to reel off six wins from seven starts including both the V.R.C. Australian Cup and the A.J.C. Australasian Champion Stakes. This distinctly unfashionable gelding by Icarus, trained by an equally unfashionable but shrewd natural horseman in Cyril Beechey, seemed set to become the greatest galloper in the land. If nothing else, it served to emphasise just what a remarkable crop of three-year-olds had happened along in that 1970-71 racing season. So remarkable in fact, that even as that wonderful season drew to a close, the very best of them remained underrated as he gambolled in a paddock enjoying the Queensland sunshine.
The breakdown of both Silver Sharpe and Royal Show in the space of just a few weeks certainly darkened the prospects hanging over Tulloch Lodge that winter. Still, it is said that every dark cloud has a silver lining and the master of that Bowral Street establishment was nothing if not one of the world’s leading optimists and salesmen, and a man with a very keen eye for silver. Thomas John Smith had spent a lifetime triumphing over adversity, and when he lost the services of his two best three-year-olds, he simply went looking for another with which to replace them. And few men were more determined than T. J. when he really wanted something; under that effervescent surface, Smith could be as hard as flint. Ever since witnessing the Queensland colt, Gunsynd, hump 9 st. 6lb to win the Fernhill Handicap over the Randwick mile as an autumn two-year-old, Tommy had been hatching plans to lure the horse into his stables believing that he could transform him into the greatest miler and weight-for-age horse in the land. Gunsynd’s fortunes as an autumn three-year-old had been decidedly mixed: he did win three of his six starts but could only finish third behind Gay Icarus and Baguette in the Champion Stakes at Randwick. Moreover, the horse had bled at his last appearance when finishing fourth in the Moreton Handicap at Eagle Farm. During the winter months, Smith again renewed his overtures to the four-man syndicate that owned Gunsynd. The initial knockback would have sufficiently deterred most trainers. Not so Smith. For him, such resistance acted less as a cause for disappointment than as a spur to a renewed endeavour. In due course, the Master of Tulloch Lodge won the Goondiwindi syndicate over.
In mid-September the bold-striding grey resumed from his winter spell to win a flying handicap at Doomben and then just a week later Bill Bishop, the Goondiwindi newsagent and one of the four principals who owned the horse, visited the stables to advise Wehlow of the impending transfer. Rumours had already surfaced in some newspapers, and the trainer was more angry than surprised. “Gunsynd cost only $1300 as a yearling and yet I won twelve races with him from twenty-two starts and more than $38,000 in prize money”, an indignant Bill Wehlow exclaimed, “I developed him into a good horse.” He had, too. But Tommy was about to develop him into a great one! Gunsynd had been in Tulloch Lodge less than a week, and the great trainer hadn’t had time enough to work his magic when the horse ran second in a flying handicap at Rosehill. The grey stallion then proceeded to win nine of his next eleven starts including the Epsom, Toorak and George Adams Handicaps, Sandown Cup, Futurity Stakes and Doncaster. A more dramatic and consistent improvement in a racehorse had seldom been witnessed in modern times. Overnight, Gunsynd became a sensation, and allied to his remarkable galloping ability and courage was an imposing physical presence and a quirkiness of character that seemed to play to the crowd. Although by the early seventies’ greys were more commonplace on the racecourse than in the days of Martello Towers, they were still not so numerous as to have dissipated their special charm and Gunsynd liked adulation every bit as much as any matinee idol. Nicknamed the Goondiwindi Grey in acknowledgement of the little town from where his four co-owners hailed, the horse became celebrated in song and verse. Indeed, after he became famous, one window of the Goondiwindi T.A.B. was reserved exclusively for bets on Gunsynd.
Gunsynd never regained the consistent dominance as a five-year-old that he had exerted in his first season at Tulloch Lodge, although his eighteen starts at that age still yielded eight victories including the W.S. Cox Plate, Colin Stephen Stakes, Caulfield Stakes, Blamey Stakes and V.R.C. Queen Elizabeth Stakes. However, two defeats that season arguably embellished the Gunsynd legend more gloriously than any of his string of victories. The first of these came at Randwick, when, burdened with 62 kg on the decidedly heavy ground in the Epsom Handicap, he went under by a half-head to the champion New Zealand miler, Triton. The second famous defeat came thirty-eight days later in the Melbourne Cup. In what many regard as Tommy Smith’s finest training performance, the master horseman coaxed the son of Sunset Hue to carry 60.5kg into third place, beaten less than a length-and-a-half, over 3200 metres – a distance double the grey’s favourite journey! Gunsynd bowed out of racing after finishing second to Apollo Eleven at Randwick in the 1973 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. His complete racing record was 54 starts, 29 wins, 7 seconds, and 8 thirds. The horse that had cost a mere $1300 at the 1969 Brisbane Yearling Sales returned stakes of $280,455 – eclipsing Tulloch as Australia’s highest money winner. How fitting that when Tulloch’s record finally fell it was by a horse trained at Tulloch Lodge!
George Ryder, overlooking the shortcomings in Gunsynd’s pedigree, secured the grey at the cost of $270,000 on behalf of a syndicate of breeders for the Kia Ora Stud, where he joined stallion duties with another champion colonial-bred seen out in the same season, Baguette. Ryder entertained exaggerated notions that Australia’s grey champion might match the achievements of Showdown on the Australian breeding scene. It wasn’t to be. Gunsynd might have defied his pedigree on the racecourse; he didn’t do so in the breeding barn. Despite countless opportunities with well-bred mares he only ever managed to sire four individual stakes winners at stud, and relatively ordinary stakes winners at that, with the best of them being Bensynd, winner of the 1979 S.T.C. Frank Underwood Cup. I might mention in passing, however, that the 1970 A.J.C. Derby field did include two colts that were to make a reasonable contribution to the ranks of Australian-bred stallions, namely Planet Kingdom and Red God. The two best sons of Planet Kingdom were Ming Dynasty and Mighty Kingdom who between them won three Caulfield Cups beside a host of other top races; while Red God sired Demus, Pacifica and Red Cat among other good gallopers.
Gunsynd’s stud career might have been stillborn, but Showdown’s went from strength to strength. His initial service fee set at $1,500 soon escalated to $4,000 in 1973, to $7,000 in 1975, to $8,000 in 1976, to $10,000 in 1977 and thence to a new Victorian record in 1978 of $12,000. Showdown was to be the leading sire of two-year-olds in 1972-73, thanks to the brilliant Tontonan, and again in 1974-75, thanks to the flying Toy Show. In 1975-76 Showdown became champion sire on the general list – an achievement he repeated in 1977-78. In 1980 the all-conquering son of Infatuation was distinguished as the first stallion standing in Australia to sire the winners of over $4 million. This muscular, compact chestnut was to prove a goldmine for the popular Ken Cox in more ways than one. Mounting service fees apart, Cox was to destined to race some Showdown’s best progeny in his own right and during the decade of the 1970’s his colours of ‘cerise jacket, and yellow cap’ were to become as famous as any in the land.
Moreover, most of the high-class Showdown progeny retained to race by the Cox family such as the likes of Toy Show (1975 S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes and A.J.C. Sires Produce Stakes; 1975 V.A.T.C. One Thousand Guineas; 1976 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap), Kiss Me Cait (1971 V.R.C. Oaks Stakes) and Show Ego (1977 V.R.C. Oaks Stakes and W.A.T.C. Australian Derby; 1978 Q.T.C. Queensland Oaks) were trained by the man who was mostly responsible for bringing the champion stallion to Australia – none other than Tommy Smith. Indeed, Ken Cox was to enjoy the rare good fortune of seeing his colours carried to success in the rich Golden Slipper Stakes twice in three years by the progeny of Showdown. For apart from Toy Show, there was the success in 1973 of Tontonan, a horse trained by Bart Cummings that Cox raced in partnership with his son, Tim.
Showdown never did establish a dynasty of sire sons although a few of his progeny such as The Judge and Ease The Squeeze managed to get some good gallopers. However, Showdown was done proud in the breeding paddocks by his illustrious daughters, so proud that in 1982-83 he became Australia’s champion broodmare sire for the first time and his daughters eventually went on to produce over 60 stakes winners. The great stallion died at the Stockwell Stud in October 1985, and his death saw the Cox family eventually sell the stud to veteran racing identity, Jim Moore, and a syndicate of breeders. Ken Cox, who had made such a valuable contribution to the Victorian thoroughbred industry, died at the age of 86 in a Melbourne nursing home in early 1997. The link forged between Tommy Smith and the Stockwell Stud was to prove remarkably durable in an unforeseen way. George Smith, the original manager under Cox’s ownership, was to remain at the stud until 1983. Much later he became the revered judge of yearlings for Tommy’s daughter, Gai, after she had graduated to become the Mistress of Tulloch Lodge.