Occasionally we need reminding that the unlikely pageant of history was itself once everyday life. I was reflecting on this truism on a Saturday afternoon in 2009 when I deliberately strolled down Eleanor Street on my way to a race meeting at Rosehill. It is a quiet street on the south-western fringes of the racecourse itself, which terminates in a dead end near to where that busy and modern thoroughfare, James Ruse Drive, verily pulses with noise and speeding traffic.
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Anyone attending early morning trackwork at Randwick racecourse in the late 1980’s might have come upon a kindly little man performing the humble job of gateman. First-time visitors to the course wouldn’t have given the shuffling figure a second glance, but the regulars well knew both his history and his character, which was stamped of nature’s noblest metal. The diminutive individual in question was none other than Thomas Walter Hill, who, before tragedy intervened, had been one of Australia’s leading jockeys and trainers. Even more significantly for our purposes, however, he had been one of the two central characters in perhaps the greatest drama ever played out in a major race in Australia. The race in question was the 1961 A.J.C. Derby.
A tall, shapely and attractive young blonde with good legs and elegant comportment is guaranteed to turn heads wherever she goes. It has always been thus. And this universal truth was demonstrated yet again at the 1959 William Inglis Yearling Sales when a light chestnut filly with flaxen mane and tail stepped gracefully into the Newmarket auction ring. She was a daughter of the first season French stallion, Wilkes, from the outstanding race mare Golden Chariot, bred by John Kelly at his Newhaven Park Stud, Boorowa, northwest of Canberra.
A lone grey horse in any field seduces the eye, but it is also a seduction of the heart when the horse in question serves it up boldly from the front. In all the world of racing, I don’t think there is a finer sight than a big horse that attacks from the start, challenging the clock and opponents alike with every stride. In that glorious Sydney spring of 1959 Martello Towers did just that, becoming the only horse up to that time to complete the clean sweep of winning the Hobartville Stakes, the Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas, and then the A.J.C. Derby. The phrase ‘a colourful racing identity’ is one that racing writers employ as a euphemism in describing some of the more disreputable and dubious habitués of the racecourse. It is a phrase applied to people, not to horses. And yet if we accept both its literal and figurative meaning, surely no racehorse deserved the epithet more than our Derby hero of 1959.
While the report of Flight’s death when foaling at Woodlands Stud in early October 1953 was no exaggeration, the obituaries that dismissed her as a failed matron were decidedly premature. It is a curious phenomenon of racing folklore within this country that unless a champion race mare throws a foal whose deeds on a racecourse closely match her own, she is often dismissed as a disappointment at stud.
When Tommy Smith first took the A.J.C. Derby in 1949 with Playboy he was a young man with his way to make in the world; by the time Tulloch gave him his second success in the classic eight years later, the boy from Jembaicumbene had well and truly arrived. Indeed, as the man himself observed: “Playboy made me; he really got me going. People started giving me horses to train.” Smith’s abilities and his expanding clientele enabled the trainer to win the first of his Sydney premierships in the 1952-53 racing season with fifty-four wins, seventeen more than Maurice McCarten, who had been the leading trainer in the previous four years. Smith’s tally of wins and his margin of victory were the greatest since Sydney training records began. Once in a generation in every sport there comes a man whose genius is such that things can never be the same again.
Somewhere in the course of the 1950’s for me at least, this history starts to slip the confines of the State Library’s archives and the research facilities of the A.J.C. offices. The names begin to have faces and personalities; the races themselves stir memories. I recognise them as belonging to the playground of my own experience. I think it is the year 1956 that marks the first emergence of this consciousness in me for the winner of the Derby that year was Monte Carlo. It was a name that was bound to resonate with any child of those times and in my naive infant imagination, it seemed so right that my first champion racehorse should happen to be named after my favourite sweet biscuit. It was a year or two before I came to realise that the name had a far more sophisticated derivation and one altogether appropriate for the racecourse – after all, it was W. Somerset Maugham who had once famously described Monte Carlo and its principality Monaco as “a sunny place for shady people.” However, there was nothing shady about the two principals responsible for this colt’s rise to prominence, for Frank Dalton and Jack Thompson were two of the finest characters ever to venture upon the Australian Turf. One of the most successful trainer-jockey partnerships during the 1940’s and 1950’s in Australian racing, for all of their success in winning premierships and major races, the pair had never been linked together with a major classic contender until that 1956-57 racing season when Monte Carlo arrived upon the scene.
Among the most popular fixtures of the season for the real racing aficionado, are the two-year-old barrier trials held at Randwick in mid-September. Juveniles that have been seen galloping in home paddocks, or sold at the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer just months before, carry silk for the first time. It is an occasion only for the racing purist, with no bookmakers and no betting, and although the amenities of Randwick racecourse are freely available, the attendance is never large. Such trials have been a part of the club’s traditional racing calendar for many years but rarely has the fixture ever been more keenly anticipated than in 1954. For some weeks before the trials that year there had been a real excitement abroad as the cold, sharp days of winter mellowed and lengthened into spring. And the reason for it was the early promise being shown by a small group of colts and fillies by a first season stallion recently imported into Australia by Stanley Wootton. The stallion’s name was Star Kingdom.
By the time of the Easter Yearling Sales in April 1953, Delville Wood, with only three crops racing, was well on his way to winning the title of Champion Sire of Australia for that season – the first of five consecutive titles in that glorious reign of the new King of Kia-Ora. Buyers at those yearling sales on the quest for a prospective Derby winner were inclined to look no further than the various lots on offer by the champion stallion. The man whose fortunes on the Turf had become most closely aligned with the progeny of Delville Wood was Ernie Williams; and he had already enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing his livery sported on the likes of Hydrogen, Forest Beau, Lord Forest and Electro. Was it any wonder then that Williams spent many hours poring over the Kia Ora offerings in that year’s sales catalogue? One pedigree to which he was strongly attracted was that of a black colt from the imported mare Eternal City, whose female antecedents traced back to the legendary Canterbury Pilgrim, and whose first two foals, Fort William and Redeswood, had both shown promise. But upon inspecting the yearling, Williams was disappointed, as although he was a dapper little fellow, he wasn’t much bigger than a pony, and there seemed less of the Delville Wood about him than Williams expected. The big-spending owner resolved to look elsewhere among the stallion’s progeny, eventually paying the top price at those sales of 3500 guineas for the colt subsequently registered as Forestville.
But Williams didn’t restrict his purchases at those sales to the Delville Wood progeny alone. The tycoon had a penchant for the produce of mares that had proven themselves on the racecourse, and when Ted Hush drew his attention to the yearling by Nilo from Civic Pride, he needed little encouragement. Civic Pride had been a first-class sprinter – the first of the Ajax speedsters – and she had won the 1944 Gimcrack Stakes; she was a sister to Chaperone, another fast filly that at one time held the six furlongs record at Randwick.
Civic Pride passed through the hands of a few trainers during her racing career, including George Musson and Ted Hush, but Hush did manage to win a three-year-old handicap at Randwick with her, and also sent her out on the same course the day she ran second to Bernborough in the Carrington Stakes. Hush remembered Civic Pride as only a lightly framed filly, however, and was pleasantly surprised when he inspected the yearling and saw just what a fine stamp of a colt she had thrown. The stallion, Nilo, a three-quarter brother to the great Nasrullah, who stood at Lionel Israel’s Segenhoe Stud, had already created quite an impression with his first crop and there was keen bidding for this his second. But Williams managed to get the youngster for 2200 guineas, and at that price, he shared the distinction of being the most expensive lot sold by Nilo that year. Williams registered the youngster as Pride of Egypt.
Under the watchful eye of Ted Hush, Pride of Egypt emerged as one of the high-class juveniles of the season winning twice from five appearances. His racing debut, which was delayed until late January, came in a two-year-old handicap at Rosehill and was not without incident. Heavily supported at 11/8, the colt snapped his bridle on the home turn and gave jockey Bill Camer some anxious moments in the straight before winning handsomely. His next start came in the Kirkham Handicap, a race that attracted only three starters due largely to the presence of Adolph Basser’s crack colt, Indian Empire. Despite conceding 14lbs to Pride of Egypt, the slashing son of Dhoti for whom Basser had paid the top price of 4000 guineas at the Victorian Yearling Sales, justified the odds of two to one laid on him, although Pride of Egypt ran a gallant second. Five days later the colt gave Ernie Williams one of his proudest moments on a racecourse. The occasion was the presence of Her Majesty, The Queen, on her historic first visit to Royal Randwick on 6th February 1954. Before a huge crowd attending to pay homage to the young monarch, Pride of Egypt won the Westminster Juvenile Handicap, the opening event of the programme. He ended his juvenile season with two unplaced runs including a respectable fourth in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick behind Lindbergh after leading the field into the straight. A big-framed chestnut, Pride of Egypt had outgrown his strength, and his connections were confident he would develop into an even better three-year-old. At the close of the season, he was allotted 8 st. 5lb. in the Free Handicap, exactly one stone below Acramatis and Clear Springs, the two top-rated juveniles of the season.
Pride of Egypt did particularly well over the winter months, and when the horse made his seasonal reappearance at Warwick Farm in the Hobartville Stakes, Ted Hush advised Ernie Williams to keep his powder dry and wait for betting opportunities later in the spring, as he considered the gross colt was only half-fit. The chestnut had furnished into a fine big upstanding colt, albeit a touch heavy-shouldered. The bookmakers’ intelligence service at the Farm that day shared Hush’s opinion, and the son of Nilo was quoted freely at 50/1 in betting. Although an unwary stranger might have concluded he wasn’t on the job, horses don’t read betting boards. Every now and again on the track, a race unfolds in such a manner that it is more difficult to lose than to win, and the Hobartville that year was a case in point. With no expectations, Bill Cook simply allowed the big colt to find his own stride, and the easy eloquence of it found him in front soon after the start; seven furlongs later nothing had managed to run him down. The heaving of the colt’s flanks as he was being unsaddled after the race bore out Hush’s earlier caution, confirming the big fellow was nowhere near fully wound-up.
Few jockeys over the years have been more adept at partnering a natural frontrunner than Bill Cook. Those that missed the lesson at Warwick Farm, and some prominent bagmen were among them, were given another reminder at Canterbury a fortnight later in the Guineas, when, despite lugging badly on the tight turn near the six-furlong marker, Pride of Egypt defied all challenges in the straight to run him down. The win gave Ernie Williams his second Canterbury Guineas, having won the race with Forest Beau in 1951. The man from Woolworths knew a thing or two about value for money and when bookmakers opened the colt at 7/1 this time he freely supported his horse, seeing him firm into 11/2. The Rosehill Guineas fell to the big chestnut too, again in his now familiar pace-making role, and on this occasion, he equalled the Australian record for ten furlongs of 2 minutes 1 ¾ seconds previously established by Beau Vite in the 1941 A.J.C. Craven Plate. Ernie Williams wasn’t at Rosehill to witness that performance; he was attending Knox Grammar School and the service of dedication for the John Williams Memorial, a chapel and library that was a gift to the school by Williams to commemorate his son, who had been killed in action in World War II.
In his absence not only did he miss Pride of Egypt’s fighting victory but also the gallant effort of the runner-up Prince Delville, beaten a half-head. Prince Delville was the little colt by Delville Wood that Williams had inspected and rejected at the Easter Yearling Sales some seventeen months earlier. He had gone into Stan Lamond’s Kensington stables instead. Unlucky in the Canterbury Guineas, he had been set for the Derby some months before, although as Lamond now conceded, in the presence of Pride of Egypt, he would rather have sought the Derby prize in another year. But in racing, as in politics, a week can be a long time. Ernie Williams’ dream of finally winning the blue riband at Randwick, and exorcising the spectre of Hydrogen in 1951, was dealt a cruel blow when Pride of Egypt developed soreness in his shoulder in the week before the classic and had to be withdrawn. Williams was then forced to rely on Forestville, the expensive son of Delville Wood, trained on his behalf by Tom Smith, although the colt was regarded as a relative outsider.
In a bid to halt falling attendances, the A.J.C. committee had re-arranged much of the Randwick Spring Meeting. The running of The Metropolitan was deferred until the fourth day of the carnival, i.e. the second Saturday. The Epsom Handicap was removed from the Derby programme and conducted on Monday, the second day, switching places with the George Main Stakes, while The Shorts was also brought forward to the Derby programme. The Randwick Plate, which had experienced a chequered history since 1941 was finally dropped altogether. In delaying The Metropolitan, the club was also hopeful of attracting some three-year-olds into the race by providing a longer period of recovery after the Derby. The initiative wasn’t particularly successful: no colts accepted for the race and the aggregate attendance over the four days was just 190,800 – some 6,200 fewer than the previous year.
Still, 56,500 of them were there to see the Derby run. In the absence of Pride of Egypt, the favourite for the race in a field of ten was Telyar, a smallish brown colt from the first season crop of the Dominion stallion, Count Rendered, owned by New Zealand picture theatre magnate, Michael Moodabe, and trained by Maurice McCarten. Telyar had started the favourite in the Rosehill Guineas but had got a long way out of his ground that day before finishing strongly into the minor placing. Prince Delville occupied the second line of betting while El Carretero, owned by Bill Tyler of Puen Buen Stud and trained by Jack Green, was third fancy. Eight Bells, a big powerful colt carrying the well-known tartan jacket and red cap of the free-spending owner, Norman Fraser, was Frank Dalton’s representative and was the first of the New Zealand progeny of the English Derby winner, Midday Sun, while Dan Lewis ran Beaupa in the race. The cleverly-named Lindbergh, by Transatlantic from Dare, trained by Harry Darwon and winner of both the Breeders’ Plate and the Sires Produce Stakes at Randwick the previous season, was also in the field. However, at liberal odds, he wasn’t seriously considered a stayer.
The 1954 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Prince Delville enjoyed the advantage of the rails-position and jumped smartly before his jockey Ray Selkrig restrained the little fellow to allow Lindbergh to take up the running. The pace was rather muddling and Selkrig’s only real concern on Prince Delville, who was third throughout, was in being able to get a run in the straight. It came when Telyar made the first move topping the rise; Prince Delville’s acceleration was pronounced, and he dashed away to win the race by four lengths from Telyar, with a head to Eight Bells. Forestville, Ernie Williams’ flag bearer, was outclassed to run fifth. The smallest colt in the field had proven to be the best, providing a relative newcomer to the ranks of ownership with a Derby with his first runner in the race. In fact, Prince Delville was only the third horse ever to carry the colours of Bowral master-builder, W. J. (Bill) Bradshaw, who raced the colt in partnership with his wife and who had first become an owner only a year or two before. It marked the first of the many conspicuous victories that would fall to the famous ‘orange jacket, white sleeves, red armbands’ in the years ahead. After the Derby, Bradshaw told pressmen: “I am hard of hearing, I can’t attend movies or plays; accordingly, my medico suggested I take an interest in something I could see, without having to listen.” Prince Delville’s finishing burst would have been rather hard to miss even for the sight-impaired.
Prince Delville had made four public appearances as a juvenile, winning only a minor handicap at Rosehill on the final day of the season, although doing it in some style and setting a race record. There was some money for him in the ring that day, and astute racegoers marked him down even then as a Derby prospect. But Prince Delville was overshadowed in the headlines by the performance of another son of Delville Wood on that day – the Maurice McCarten-trained Belmont Park who won successive races on the same card for the owner, Bill Dawes. In the Free Handicap, Prince Delville had been allotted only 7 st. 8lb. or over two stone below the top colt. Stan Lamond had preferred the weight-for-age Warwick Stakes to the Hobartville Stakes to mark the colt’s seasonal debut at three, in which he ran a respectable fourth behind the imported mare, Tarien. It was then on to the traditional Derby route of the Guineas at Canterbury and Rosehill where the little Delville Wood colt was placed third and then second behind Pride of Egypt.
Whereas Prince Delville’s diminutive size as a yearling had deterred Ernie Williams from bidding, it was not so with Bradshaw. Prior to attending those sales, the newcomer had consulted widely with leading racing authorities on breeding and conformation and their universal advice was to buy a Delville Wood colt. Looking through a Turf publication one day he saw a picture of Tulyar, the Aga Khan’s English Derby winner of 1952, who, like Prince Delville, was a grandson of Bois Roussel. Bradshaw observed: “‘I was pottering around the stables at the yearling sales when I came across Prince Delville. It seemed to me that I was looking at a fair copy of Tulyar’s picture. The fact that the colt was small impressed me because Tulyar’s measurements showed that he was small. I determined to buy the colt, particularly because Stan Lamond, who was to train him, was most satisfied with the little fellow’s appearance.” I might mention that the stud fee for Delville Wood that spring had been raised to 500 guineas, which was then an Australian record, while his yearlings at the previous Easter Sales had been most eagerly sought – averaging around 2100 guineas.
Prince Delville was the 24-year-old jockey, Ray Selkrig’s first winner of the A.J.C. Derby. The popular young lightweight had been born in the saddle. His father, Frank, had served his own apprenticeship with Justin Curr at the same time as Billy Duncan, although increasing weight ensured it was a short-lived career. For a time, Frank worked for Hugh Denison at Sledmere Stud, before going on to serve as foreman to Bayly Payten at Randwick for nineteen years. Young Ray was riding horses at exercise at the tender age of fourteen while still a pupil at Randwick Marist Brothers’ College. “The teachers granted me a thirty minutes’ ‘early mark’ every day so that I could catch the bus to be on time to ride afternoon exercise.” The Selkrig family lived in Barker Street, Randwick, within a stone’s throw of Payten’s stables and Ray had enjoyed special dispensation from the A.J.C. to live at home during his apprenticeship. Another Payten apprentice at the time was Athol Mulley, who usually took his meals at the Selkrig home but had to sleep at the stables. Young Ray applied for a licence in January 1947 and rode his first winner in October of that year. When Bayly Payten died in September 1948, Selkrig finished his time under his own father, Frank, who applied for a trainer’s licence. Ray’s first ride in the Derby came less than a month later on Freedom, in the race won by Carbon Copy.
Selkrig’s rise to prominence in the saddle had been rapid. When only eighteen he rode a treble at Randwick; in April 1950 while still an apprentice he rode four winners in the one afternoon at Rosehill, while he scored his first big race win in the 1950 Doncaster Handicap on board Grey Boots for the trainer, Hal Cooper. Selkrig officially won the Sydney Apprentices’ title twice but was denied it a third time on a silly technicality. He held a commanding lead in the race for honours upon turning twenty-one in March 1951. He was still well ahead when the season ended but officialdom deemed the title to Brian Killian, a future A.J.C. steward, instead. Selkrig remembers Prince Delville fondly: “I was very confident about winning that Derby, particularly when Pride of Egypt came out of the race. I owned a new 16mm camera, which was quite rare at the time, and I had asked a friend to capture the race on film from the top of the public grandstand. Prince Delville had bottomless reserves of courage in that small frame of his.”
Prince Delville was the second winner of the A.J.C. Derby for the 62-year old trainer, Stan Lamond junior, following on his success with Moorland in 1943. Stansfield Robinson Lamond junior was a third-generation member of one of Sydney’s most distinguished training dynasties. Tom Lamond, young Stan’s grandfather, had trained four A.J.C. Derby winners in Kingsborough, Nellie, Wheatear and Charge, while his father, Stan senior had also been a successful trainer in his own right after taking over the Zetland Lodge stables upon old Tom’s retirement, although he had failed to add to the family’s tally of Derbies. Stan junior had now doubly renewed the family’s traditional links with the great race with winners eleven years apart. Born at Waterloo in 1892 and christened with his father’s name, young Stan was apprenticed at a young age to his grandfather. He had ridden his first winner, Coppertop, a chestnut colt trained by his grandfather for Walter Hall, in a Members’ Handicap as long ago as on the last day of the 1907 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Lamond junior only achieved modest success in the saddle although he did partner Frank McGrath’s lightweight, Ungarie, when that horse went under by a head in Trafalgar’s Sydney Cup of 1909.
Young Stan secured his training licence in May 1924 and initially trained out of premises at Clovelly while his father still prepared horses at Zetland Lodge. His first big race success came when he sent out the lightly-weighted Jacko to win the 1932 Doncaster Handicap for leading bookmaker Alec Williams. Later that same year he saddled-up the seven-year-old Magnetic to win the prestigious A.J.C. Villiers Stakes in his own colours. Lamond had so improved this seven-year-old by Rossendale, that keen sportsman began to take notice. The following year he confirmed a growing reputation when he prepared Regal Son, a big black horse by Rossendale, to win the 1933 A.J.C. Metropolitan as well as winning good races like the Carrington Stakes with Jacko, which by now he owned.
At the time of Prince Delville’s Derby, Lamond maintained his stable of a dozen boxes in Ingram St, Kensington and after the closure of Victoria Park, he prepared his string at Randwick.
Lamond was fond of using the old Randwick steeplechase grass in preparing stayers, and Prince Delville had a predilection for it. With only four furlongs of the steeple grass available, it hardly constituted a staying circuit, but Lamond believed the colt enjoyed the novelty of going twice around for two short sprints and as Lamond attested, the son of Delville Wood was capable of beating even the smartest sprinters in a short gallop on this track. When Bill Bradshaw first registered his racing colours in the 1951-52 racing season, he began a fruitful collaboration with Lamond that was to stay the distance. Although unlike Bradshaw, he was never destined to win the classic again, Lamond did saddle up both Polo Prince (3rd; 1959) and Prince Regoli (5th; 1961) in the A.J.C. Derby in their respective years on behalf of the loyal Bradshaw. Lamond retired as a trainer in April 1965, at the age of seventy-two, thereby ending a family connection with the Turf that had lasted for a hundred years.
Lamond backed-up Prince Delville in the weight-for-age Craven Plate on Wednesday after the Derby and the little colt ran a marvellous race to go down to the champion four-year-old Prince Cortauld in the closest of finishes. Prince Delville was then floated to Melbourne by road, where he again clashed with his archrival Pride of Egypt in the W. S. Cox Plate.
It was the latter’s first public appearance since his setback and forced withdrawal from the Derby, and as such he was not as forward in condition. The race easily went to the all-conquering Rising Fast, although the two Sydney colts filled the minor placings with Prince Delville confirming his Victoria Derby favouritism by finishing a length and a half ahead of the son of Nilo. That run brought Pride of Egypt on considerably and those that considered Prince Delville had been lucky to win the A.J.C. Derby given his enforced absence seemed to have their judgement confirmed seven days later when the big son of Nilo led all the way at Flemington in the V.R.C. classic after a masterly ride by Bill Cook.
The win gave Ernie Williams his second success in the race, following upon Hydrogen in 1951. Prince Delville, disadvantaged by a wide barrier draw that forced him to race on the outside of Telyar for much of the journey, also pulled badly in the slowly-run race and finished a disappointing sixth. Whereas lesser trainers might have hesitated in pursuing a Melbourne Cup start, Stan Lamond allowed his little black colt to take his place in the field on the following Tuesday although bookmakers extended his price to 40/1 for the race. Like many little horses, Prince Delville appreciated the drop to 7 st. 6lb that he was asked to carry in the Cup compared with the 8 st. 10lb Derby weight. He ran a most respectable race finishing a splendid fourth, just behind the placegetters in the event won by Rising Fast.
Pride of Egypt, who on breeding wasn’t expected to stay the Derby distance was never intended for the Melbourne Cup but did run second in the C.B. Fisher Plate on the last day of the Victorian Spring Meeting before being taken to Brisbane to run in the Queensland Derby a week later. Starting at the extraordinary price of 6/1 on, he was beaten rather easily by The Wash – a case of going to the well once too often. Prince Delville, on the other hand, was put aside immediately after the Melbourne Cup. When both colts resumed in the autumn, Pride of Egypt proved that he was the better horse, winning both St Legers at Flemington and Randwick by leading all the way. He also took out a new race introduced that year at Warwick Farm on the eve of the autumn meeting, the A.J.C. Champion Stakes. However, it was noticeable that Prince Delville could more than hold his own with his archrival in open weight-for-age contests against the older horses when the pair only had to carry lighter weights. Incidentally, on the subject of that A.J.C. Champion Stakes, this new race proved to be the shortest-lived innovation ever introduced into a Sydney race programme and didn’t even survive for a second running.
The background to this imbroglio lay in the ineligibility of geldings to run in the A.J.C. St Leger. During the summer of 1954-55, a couple of well-performed geldings in Belbeiys and The Wash had burst upon the scene, and the club was anxious to promote a contest that pitted them against the best colts and fillies. The Champion Stakes (12f) run at Warwick Farm a week before the A.J.C. St. Leger with £3,000 in added money was the result. The race proved to be a complete anticlimax when Belbeiys lost form and The Wash failed to appear leaving Pride of Egypt to beat Prince Delville and his other two rivals effortlessly. The A.J.C.’s initiative had another unforeseen consequence when all competitors, including Prince Delville, cried off rechallenging Pride of Egypt seven days later in the St. Leger. The son of Delville Wood was suffering from soreness in the stifle and Lamond decided to play for time and reserve him for the Sydney Cup instead. But for the A.J.C. chairman, Alan Potter, electing to run the moderate Roebuck, the red riband that year would have been a walkover for Pride of Egypt with rival trainers unwilling to oppose him. As it was, there were no Totalisator operations and the event was chosen to open the card, although the race book still rather pathetically designated the occasion on its front cover as St. Leger Day. It was an easy way for the 25/1 on favourite to earn £2,362. While the A.J.C. St Leger tottered on for a few years more: it is fair to say that the fiasco of that autumn contributed to its ultimate scrapping as an autumn classic.
Two days after the St. Leger – on the following Monday – Prince Delville ran an inglorious last in the Sydney Cup after being sent to the post as the third favourite, despite persistent rumours before the race that all wasn’t well with the colt. That was his last appearance for the season while his nemesis, Pride of Egypt, had one more engagement to honour, that being in the recently instituted weight-for-age Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1 ¾ miles) on the final day of the autumn meeting. The son of Nilo could only run second to Prince Cortauld on a holding surface, although the likes of Carioca and Prince Morvi did finish many lengths further behind. It proved to be Pride of Egypt’s final race on Australian soil. Turned out for a spell, he was due to resume in the Warwick Stakes in August 1955 but injured a foreleg while exercising. A gross horse, after that Hush was unable to get him to the track again on race day despite a couple of attempts after pin firing. This magnificent specimen of a racehorse was eventually sold by Ernie Williams to stand stud duty at Green Tops Farm near Descanso in California – yet another in the long exodus of Australian horses expatriated to America that included Nagpuni, Somerset Fair and Prince Cortauld. Pride of Egypt enjoyed some success there at stud before dying in 1969; his full racing record in Australia was 18 starts for 9 wins and £21,956 in total prize money.
As an older horse, Prince Delville suffered the fate of many small Derby winners, not quite a weight-for-age horse and yet struggling under big weights to win handicaps. But for all that, he was a wonderfully relaxed horse and still managed to win the odd good race. As a four-year-old, he annexed both the S.T.C. Christmas Cup and the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap while as a five-year-old he enjoyed his best season, running minor placings in both the Caulfield Cup and Moonee Valley Gold Cup besides winning a second Christmas Cup at Rosehill, and going down by only a half-head to Baystone in the A.J.C. Summer Cup. He crowned that season by then journeying to Queensland for the Winter Meeting and winning the B.A.T.C. Carnival Handicap and the rich Doomben Cup as a 5/1 favourite at his final two appearances. In those days the Queensland handicappers framed low weights to entice the quality horses from the southern States and the £7,200 first prize was not much less than he had won for the A.J.C. Derby. Prince Delville only carried 8 st. 2lb, in that Doomben Cup which was 3lb less than weight-for-age, although he did have to overcome the disadvantage of a wide draw. The natty little black never did grow much after his three-year-old days and as Stan Lamond wryly observed: “Prince Delville was a champion with eight stone.” The imposts he incurred after Doomben ensured that he never won again and Prince Delville was ultimately retired from the racecourse in his seven-year-old season.
Eternal City, the dam of Prince Delville, subsequently proved to be a wonderful broodmare for the Kia Ora Stud. Bred in Great Britain in 1943 and by the Son-in-Law stallion, Epigram, Percy Miller imported her to Australia in 1946, the same year that Delville Wood came over, and her regular meetings with that stallion in the breeding barn achieved a rare chemistry. Between the years 1949 and 1955 she produced five foals to the great stallion from as many meetings, and each of them, in turn, won at least one group or principal race on the racecourse. Apart from Prince Delville, her best foals were Caesar and Valerius. Caesar, trained by Tom Smith, was the most expensive yearling sold at the 1956 Easter Yearling Sales at 4000 guineas but more than justified that expenditure when he won the Autumn Stakes, Chipping Norton Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in 1959, having won the previous year’s A.J.C. Villiers Stakes. It was a tragedy when he broke a bone during a track gallop with Tulloch in January 1960 and had to be destroyed. Valerius, as we shall see, was himself a serious candidate for Derby honours in 1958 for whom Frank Dalton had paid 3700 guineas as a yearling, and he went on to win the Brisbane Cup and a string of good weight-for-age races before being sold as a stallion to America. But even the lesser offspring of Eternal City distinguished themselves. Some older Randwick habitués might remember when her sons, Roman Holiday and Prince Delville, fought out the finish of the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap in January 1956.
Ray Selkrig has good reason to fondly remember the offspring of Eternal City even apart from his association with Prince Delville. In 1952 the great matron’s annual love affair with Delville Wood was interrupted and she was paired with a new stallion at Kia Ora in Brimstone, a son of the English Derby winner Dante. A filly foal was the happy result, and she was subsequently registered as Flames. It was Kia Ora Stud’s policy at the time to sell the colts, but retain the fillies for breeding purposes though leasing them out for racing. Flames was not a particularly imposing specimen, and, despite her breeding, little interest was expressed in taking out a lease until Mrs Frank Selkrig – the jockey’s mother – agreed to sign the papers with her husband, Frank, to train the horse. It proved a most fortuitous arrangement for all concerned because the filly won seven races for the Selkrigs, with son Ray warming the saddle on each occasion.
There was another tradition broken with Prince Delville in that he was to be the fifth and last A.J.C. Derby winner bred at the famous Kia Ora Stud. After the death of its founder, Percy Miller, in 1948, a private family company had continued to conduct the horse stud. Although Percy’s widow and daughter were the principal shareholders, the management of the company was by no means harmonious as there were several other branches of the extended Miller family with shareholdings who held conflicting views. Tolstoy once wrote that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The extended Miller family was unhappy about its bloodstock policies. Now family squabbles are nearly always interesting to a voyeuristic public; and the richer the family, the bigger the squabble. The public looked on as the stud steadily declined and at the Sydney Yearling Sales in April 1958, for the first time in very many years Kia Ora did not head the list of aggregates – that honour passing to Segenhoe Stud. It was to resolve the imbroglio into which the stud’s affairs had steadily descended that the decision was taken to put the Kia Ora Stud up for auction in April 1959.
In a decision to purchase driven more by sentiment than reason, the successful bidder at £128,000 was Norman Wheeler, Percy Miller’s son-in-law, who was acting on behalf of a small syndicate that included both Percy’s widow and his only child and daughter. The stock of stallions, mares and foals were sold a month later at an auction on the property itself and realised 125,045 guineas. The highlight of those proceedings was the sale of Delville Wood, then 16-years-old. At the height of his fame, Delville Wood had sired the most expensive yearling sold at the William Inglis Sales in four out of five years between 1952 and 1956 inclusive viz. Nargoon (1952) 6500 guineas; Forestville (1953) 3500 guineas; Noble Archer (1954) 6500 guineas; and Caesar (1956) 4000 guineas. Although by 1959 he was a stallion in decline, a bidding duel developed between Norman Wheeler and Ray Bowcock of the adjoining Alabama Stud, with the latter eventually securing the prize for 12,000 guineas. Although Wheeler did salvage two of the stud’s stallions in Judicate and Double Bore and acquired a number of broodmares at the dispersal to continue the legacy of Percy Miller, the fortunes of the Kia Ora Stud never recovered from the fracture. The economic recession a couple of years later saw the once famous paddocks turned over exclusively to beef cattle when all the thoroughbred stock was sold in May 1961. Nonetheless, the contributions of this once great nursery to Australian racing was honoured for many years by the running of the Kia Ora Handicap, a race for three-year-old fillies and mares over one mile during the A.J.C. Spring Meeting.
During the years immediately after World War II, racecourse rumours were rife in Australia about the prevalence of horse doping. Some believed the stories to be highly coloured and imaginative; others saw dark conspiracies lurking whenever a short-priced favourite was beaten. That there was some doping taking place was certain and the problem, of course, was not confined to Australia. It was within this context that, after extensive consultations with the Jockey Club in Great Britain and other racing clubs around the world, the A.J.C. decided to engage its own analyst and establish a drug-testing laboratory. Accordingly, in 1947 the club appointed Jean Kimble, a science graduate from Sydney University, as Australia’s first full-time drug tester. In 1948 the A.J.C. constructed its own laboratory funded by £5,500 received from the liquidator of the Rosehill Racing Club and on Villiers Day 1947 the A.J.C. began to drug test horses at random.
It wasn’t until the twenty-eighth test that a horse returned a positive swab and it came from Frontal Attack, trained by Raymond Denham after it had finished a very close third in the James Barnes Plate on 8th May 1948. It was later in the same month that A.J.C. stewards announced the disqualification of both horse and trainer for life. Although the A.J.C. committee dismissed the subsequent appeal, it eventually lifted the life disqualification and a penalty of three years substituted instead. Other incidents were to follow, and by January 1949 four trainers had been debarred after traces of benzedrine and caffeine were found in the bloodstreams of horses they trained. Later that year the A.J.C. decided to enhance its drug-testing policy by swabbing every winner while continuing to test other horses at random. It seemed that the issue of drugs had been resolved, at least for the time being, when no further positive swabs emerged during the next two years or so. Then came the dramatic aftermath of the 1953 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting!
At that meeting, the respective winners of the Doncaster Handicap, Tarien, and the Sires’ Produce Stakes, Cromis, returned positive swabs. Tarien, an imported mare trained by Tom Smith, was owned by prominent N.S.W. sportsmen, R. O. Cummings and David Chrystal junior; and Cromis, a Victorian colt trained by Bob Sinclair, was part-owned by none other than Ted Underwood, the vice-chairman of the V.R.C. and proprietor of the Warlaby Stud. Underwood was one of the most prolific patrons of the Turf in Australia and raced his horses throughout the land. Bob Sinclair trained most of his big team at Flemington, although Maurice McCarten had kept some horses for Underwood in Sydney since the late 1940’s. Although the connections of the doped horses appealed, the appeals were dismissed in August 1953, and Triclinium and Royal Stream respectively were duly promoted as the winners of the Doncaster Handicap and Sires’ Produce Stakes. At the time of the dismissed appeals, A.J.C. chairman Alan Potter declared that the club was under no illusions as to the need for constant vigilance in its anti-doping crusade.
Tracing the five-year history of the campaign, Potter observed: ‘At first it was caffeine; next it was benzedrine, and now, after a lapse of two years during which no positive reactions were found, we find a sudden outcrop of doping by coramine.’ In the written findings of the appeals, the A.J.C. committee reprimanded Tarien’s trainer Tom Smith for leaving the horse unsupervised by anyone other than a part-time employee attendant for some fifteen minutes shortly before the race. It was the closest Smith came to a career-threatening disqualification in these his emerging years. The A.J.C. committee resolved that the respective owners were entitled to have the benefit of the stewards’ findings in favour of their trainers, Tom Smith and Bob Sinclair. The fallout from the affair was considerable. Apart from the negative publicity retailed in the newspapers and on wireless broadcasts, some of the Victorian racing establishment refused to bring horses over for the Randwick Spring Meeting.
Despite all of the damage done to the public image of horseracing by the affair, the relegation of Cromis in the Sires’ Produce Stakes refused to alter the general perception that Ted Underwood’s colt was the best juvenile of his year. Although the horse had won only once in nine outings, he had run second in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Ascot Vale Stakes at Flemington before his being first past the post in the controversial race at Randwick. At the end of the 1952-53 racing season, for the first time in Australia weights were issued on a notional Free Handicap for rising three-year-olds.
It brought the country into line with England and France by providing an official comparison of the leading juvenile colts and fillies before their classic year. Until then the only guide offered to the public of the handicapper’s opinion had come with the first release of weights for the big spring handicaps, the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, although with three-year-olds usually grouped there between 7 st. 6lb and 6 st. 7lb, the spread had been too narrow to be an effective guide. Cromis was accorded the honour of top weight of 9 stone in this inaugural year of the notional race over one mile framed within a maximum of 9 st. 7lb and a minimum of 7 stone. Cortauld (N.Z.) and Royal Stream were ranked next, both on 8 st. 13lb. Prince Morvi, the eventual winner of the A.J.C. Derby, was weighted on 8 st. 10lb. or equal seventh in the handicap.
Once again bookmakers reduced a big field for the A.J.C. Derby on the opening day of the 1953 Randwick Spring Meeting to one or two likely winners; the local colt, Prince Morvi, installed a warm favourite. However, Royal Stream, the Midstream horse that was the beneficiary of the positive drug test from Cromis in the Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn, also met with spirited betting on the course. Prince Morvi was a big powerful colt by Gaekwar’s Pride and trained by Ernie Fellows at Warwick Farm. Backward and lazy at two, Fellows delayed the colt’s racecourse debut until late March when, after a couple of educational runs in Sydney, he was taken north for the Q.T.C. Autumn Meeting and created a big impression winning his only two starts there, including the Sires’ Produce Stakes by four lengths. Since resuming from a spell, Prince Morvi had easily won the Canterbury Guineas landing some big wagers, before being controversially and narrowly beaten when an odds-on favourite in the Guineas at Rosehill.
In that race, won in a photo finish by the 100/1 Victorian interloper, Silver Hawk, jockey Allan Thompson on Prince Morvi had seen his horse fail narrowly after chartering a somewhat maladroit course in the straight – an error of judgement that resulted in the substitution of Neville Sellwood for the Derby. Sellwood had previously partnered the colt in Queensland and the Canterbury Guineas, but at Rosehill had been required to ride the Maurice McCarten-trained Cortauld (later Prince Cortauld), who after a disappointing performance there, wasn’t persevered with as a Derby prospect. Royal Stream, trained by the veteran Fred Cush, owed his market prominence both to his juvenile form and his annexation of the weight-for-age Chelmsford Stakes earlier in the spring. Moreover, his pedigree suggested he would stay, as he was a direct descendant of Bob Sievier’s celebrated mare, Sceptre, his dam being an import by Colombo from a half-sister to Tiberius, winner of an Ascot Gold Cup.
Silver Hawk, the massive grey colt by Star of Baroda, trained by veteran Harry Telford, was third elect. For many people, watching Telford saddle-up Silver Hawk stirred memories of another giant three-year-old the trainer had sent out in the same race almost a quarter of a century before. Australia’s leading owner, Ernie Williams, had two representatives in the field in Electro and Castillo while the Singaporean millionaire, Rumne Shaw, had the well-named Krakatoa engaged in the race trained by Tommy Smith, who also prepared Castillo. Another in the field – although not seriously considered – was the Maurice McCarten-trained Nargoon, who at 6500 guineas, had brought the top price at the 1952 Easter Yearling Sales. McCarten’s other representative, High Forest, out of a sister to Shannon, had also been an expensive yearling, setting Adolph Basser back 4,500 guineas at the same sales. Queensland and New Zealand were represented respectively by Callide River, the minor place-getter in the Rosehill Guineas, and Emphatic.
With an eye on the approaching visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Randwick in February 1954, the A.J.C. committee had appealed to its members to adopt formal dress on Derby Day, intending the occasion as something of a dress rehearsal. Very few responded to the committee’s unequivocal leap back to the Dark Ages, although some younger members compromised with bowlers and homburgs. In balmy spring weather the elderly that had accepted the committee’s sartorial challenge of tails and top hat, soon doubted the intelligence of their sacrifice. The question of dress fashion wasn’t the only controversy that concerned the committee on that first day of the meeting. The seeds of what would be the sensation of the carnival were sown even before any of the feature races had been run. It had come to the attention of the A.J.C. chairman, Alan Potter, that because of ‘doubles betting’ considerations, the public’s favourite horse Carioca, who had been heavily supported for both the Epsom and Metropolitan, might not start in the latter race if he failed to win the former.
Potter and the club secretary, W. N. Parry-Okeden, approached ‘Duck’ Hoysted, the trainer of Carioca, and informed him that the club expected he would keep faith with the betting public regardless of the Epsom result, provided the horse was fit and well. Burdened with 9 st. 7lb in each race, Carioca ran third in the Epsom after leaping a fallen horse and was subsequently declared fit to take his place in The Metropolitan by a panel of four veterinary advisers. After a magnificent duel with Hydrogen, Carioca triumphed in the rich staying handicap as a warm favourite. The pressure applied to Hoysted by the A.J.C. committee was the subject of considerable press coverage at the time and came to represent a celebrated if controversial precedent on the respective rights of owners vis-à-vis the authority of race clubs. It eventually prompted the A.J.C. to determine that all scratchings from major races after the declaration of acceptances would be at the behest of stewards. No such controversy attended the Derby, either before or after its running.
The 1953 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
In the race, Prince Morvi enjoyed a glorious journey. Sellwood ensured the bone-idle colt was fastest away at the gate, but with a genuine pace provided by others, he was able to restrain the big fellow back in fourth place in the run to the milepost, just behind Electro. He was content to remain thereabouts until coming to the home turn when the colt was still on the steel. Sellwood elected to take charge just below the distance, and after a brief tussle with Electro held on to win by three-quarters of a length from that horse, with a further length-and-a-half to High Forest, who was ridden back in the field and ran on fairly without ever threatening the first pair. The time for the race was the fastest since 1942, and the equal third fastest in its history, although still 2 ¾ seconds outside Beau Vite’s course record for the distance. Considering the overall time, the last half-mile in 49 ¾ seconds was rather slow for a Derby and didn’t suggest much of a staying future for any of those horses that had raced back in the field during the first mile. In winning, Prince Morvi managed to deny the new Kia Ora stallion, Delville Wood, his first Derby, relegating that stallion’s three representatives into second, third and fourth places. If the win provided heartburn for the Kia Ora studmaster on that score, it proved a tonic for big-betting owner Joe Harris, who remained at home, confined to bed with influenza, although he did manage to listen to the race on the radio. Harris was no stranger to winning, having raced Spear Chief many years before. In his enforced absence, his co-owner Stephen Blau organised a celebratory party at Romano’s that night.
Prince Morvi, by Gaekwar’s Pride, derived his name from the Maharajah of Morvi, an Indian prince who emerged onto the racing scene in England in the years after World War II. Immensely wealthy, the prince relished a tilt at the ring and thought nothing of wagering £20,000 on a horse. Edgar Britt supposed him to be the biggest punter for whom he ever rode. In the circumstances, it seemed to Harris and Blau a singularly apt name for a racehorse that would afford them both ample opportunities for a profitable dash at the men of Tattersall’s. Prince Morvi was the first of two A.J.C. Derby winners to be sired by Gaekwar’s Pride, who initially stood at the Marylands Stud of Arthur Meehan at Castle Hill. A bay horse bred in England in 1942, Gaekwar’s Pride had been the winner of nine races there, including eight handicaps over a mile. A son of Fair Trial and a half-brother to Ruthless, a successful sire in New Zealand, he was closely related to The Two Thousand Guineas winner, Garden Path, and Watling Street, the last of the 17th Earl of Derby’s three English Derby winners. A good weight carrier, Gaekwar’s Pride had once carried 12 st. 5lb to victory in a mile handicap at Salisbury. His first yearlings sold in March 1951 and Prince Morvi was amongst his second crop bred at the Marylands Stud.
Sincerity, the dam of Prince Morvi, was a brown mare by Beau Pere from an imported matron in Rossolis, and was bred and raced by Fred J. Smith who cloaked his racecourse activities under the nom de course of ‘Mr Constable’. As a two-year-old, Sincerity scrambled in to win a nursery handicap at Rosebery in the hands of Jack Thompson while the next season she ran a series of placings at Rosehill and Randwick before being sold by Smith in April 1944 for 800 guineas. While her racing record left something to be desired, Sincerity boasted a valuable distaff pedigree; her grand dam was a half-sister to the legendary matron, Scapa Flow, the dam of Fairway and Pharos. Retired to the Marylands Stud in the spring of her five-year-old season, Prince Morvi was Sincerity’s fourth foal. Generally, a Derby winner brings great distinction and prestige to a stud, particularly where the stud owns both sire and dam. Arthur Meehan didn’t enjoy the benefits that breeding a Derby winner usually bestows. The land of Marylands Stud was becoming much too valuable for bloodstock breeding, which saw the stock dispersed in September 1955, with the last of the stud’s yearlings sold at the April 1956 Yearling Sales; after that, the property was used mainly for dairying. The younger racegoers of today probably marvel that residential Castle Hill was ever the site of a successful thoroughbred stud as recently as the 1950’s.
But while Arthur Meehan was an active studmaster at Marylands, the Warwick Farm trainer, Ernie Fellows, frequently visited the place to inspect the mares and foals and how he came to buy Prince Morvi makes for an intriguing story. Fellows took a shine to the little fellow as a foal and grew even more enamoured of him as he matured into a yearling. Ernie Fellows was determined to buy him at those 1952 Sydney Yearling Sales. The bay or brown colt was one of three lots offered by the stud on the first day of the sales that April but at 1050 guineas Fellows was forced to go much higher for Lot No. 32 than he intended. Although he did have a buyer in mind, the client wasn’t prepared to pay that much for a colt by the unfashionable stallion, Gaekwar’s Pride. The trainer was making his way to the auctioneer’s rostrum to determine whether Meehan was prepared to go halves in the colt when he ran into the popular sporting figure of Joe Harris, who had just entered the William Inglis premises.
Harris and his partner, Stephen Blau (who raced under the nom-de-course of ‘H. Tanks’) had only the day before won the Sydney Cup and a fortune in bets when their horse Opulent ploughed through a sea of mud at Randwick to beat the hapless Dalray by a head. Although the prize money for the Sydney Cup was £10,000, it represented less than a quarter of their total winnings from having backed the Doncaster-Sydney Cup double of Prelate and Opulent. Harris and Blau generously proceeded to distribute some of their windfall amongst Sydney’s leading charities while at the same time buying a couple of yearlings at the Inglis Sales. When Fellows explained his dilemma to Harris, the latter agreed to take ownership of the Sincerity colt on behalf of himself and his partner, and leave Fellows to do the training. Although Prince Morvi was big and lazy and hadn’t earned any prize money by the time the following year’s Easter Yearling Sales came around, he had shown Fellows enough in private trials to convince the trainer to outlay 1800 guineas to acquire his younger brother on behalf of the same owners.
Taken to Melbourne after his Derby victory, Prince Morvi ran a most respectable race in the W.S. Cox Plate, despite a bad draw, when beaten a length into second place by Hydrogen, with Cromis, Victoria’s best three-year-old, relegated to third. This race then set up a wonderful return match between the two minor-place-getters one week later in the Victoria Derby. Cromis had been given just one run other than the W.S. Cox Plate to fit him for his tilt at the classic, and yet he staged a magnificent duel down the Flemington straight to go under to the Sydney colt by a head with the balance of the field trailing in their wake. That ended Prince Morvi’s highly lucrative spring campaign, which saw him ranked as the best staying colt of his year.
A troublesome foreleg marred Prince Morvi’s subsequent career on the racecourse following that brilliant spring. The problem, which was variously diagnosed as a form of arthritis, caused Fellows to miss the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, and particularly the A.J.C. St Leger, with the horse. But even without the services of his crack colt, the St Leger that year proved a triumph for the small Warwick Farm stable when Fellows won the red riband with his second string, Monarch. Monarch, who landed a nice touch in the ring, was ridden in the race by brother Billy, who had made a comeback to the saddle after surrendering his trainer’s licence only a couple of months before. Prince Morvi’s delayed preparation induced Fellows to freshen up the Derby winner for a crack at the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap. The trainer did manage to get Prince Morvi to the racecourse for two flying handicaps in late May although he failed to run a place on either occasion. Taken to Brisbane, the horse had been the subject of good wagering for the Stradbroke, only to be withdrawn on the Thursday before the race because of a recurrence of troublesome arthritis. Even the best of friends can fall out over the joint-ownership of a top racehorse, and a difference of opinion between Harris and Blau as to whether or not to retire Prince Morvi or persist on the racecourse saw the horse go under the auction hammer in August 1954.
Joe Harris was determined to retain possession of his Derby winner, albeit in his wife’s name, and McCarten, who was doing his bidding, was forced to go to 7800 guineas to get him in a lively session at the Inglis Sales. As circumstances panned out, it didn’t prove a bad bit of business for Harris. Maurice McCarten experienced difficulties in keeping the big horse sound with his leg splint, but he managed to get him to win four of his remaining eleven starts in Australia over the next two seasons, wins that included the S.T.C. Rawson Stakes, A.J.C. All-Aged Stakes and George Main Stakes. His last start here came in the A.J.C. Craven Plate at the 1955 Spring Meeting in which he ran second to the real star of McCarten’s stable that spring, Prince Cortauld. A little more than a week later Joe Harris announced that the big horse had been sold for an undisclosed price to an American agent acting on behalf of Frank Rand, a New York-based shoe manufacturer. Rand was the owner of a large string of racehorses in the U.S.A. prepared by a private trainer. In a period when an increasing number of Australian racehorses were finding their way onto American racecourses, Prince Morvi held a special appeal for American buyers because his dam was by Beau Pere, who had become a celebrity in America as the sire of their great champion, Swaps.
Air freighting horses all the way to America was a relatively new concept in 1955. The successful journey with Prince Morvi involved covering a distance of 16,000 miles in nine days, albeit with breaks in Singapore and London but it did open the way for a significant increase in the transporting of bloodstock by aircraft. Prince Morvi arrived in first-class condition and proceeded to win a few races on American soil, perhaps most notably the Sussex Turf Handicap at Delaware Park. Retired to stud, Prince Morvi promptly injured himself and had to be destroyed very early in his stallion career. Nonetheless, Prince Morvi’s racecourse successes encouraged Frank Rand to seek more bargains in Australian bloodstock, and his dealings with Joe Harris led to the latter acting as his Australian agent and brokering a number of deals.
Harris sourced quite a few of his purchases from McCarten’s own yard including the good horse, Knave, which carried Rand’s livery to success in the United States. Rand later emulated John Blois de Wack’s example with Deep River, and started to purchase well-bred Australian yearlings through Harris – Australian Star was an example of this policy, where the horses first proved their merit here with Maurice McCarten before incurring the additional cost of being transported to America.
Prince Morvi wasn’t the only good three-year-old from that season to find his way to stud in the States. Electro, runner-up in the A.J.C. Derby finished over there as well. After an eventful career that included winning a Sydney Cup and numerous weight-for-age races, as well as finishing second to Rising Fast in a Caulfield Cup, he was sold to Ferd Calvin as an eight-year-old stallion. Ted Underwood also collected a tidy sum for Cromis when he sold him to the well-known Californian, George Bucknam.
Ernie Fellows, who was responsible for first discovering Prince Morvi and trained him in his classic year, was eventually destined to find fame and fortune in faraway France. Sydney-born Ernie Fellows and his brother Billy, sons of a struggling trainer who also earned a few extra shillings teaching the trumpet at the Conservatorium of Music, each started life on the Turf as jockeys before becoming trainers themselves. Whereas Billy, apprenticed to “Roley” Griffiths, was the more successful in the saddle – his most famous victory being Foxzami in the 1949 Melbourne Cup, it was Ernie who was to shine in the training ranks. Ernie started his apprenticeship with William Kelso at Orville Lodge before transferring his indentures to Joe Cook and coming out of his time in September 1932. Never a particularly successful jockey in a most competitive era, increasing weight saw him gravitate to Harry Telford’s Braeside property in Victoria during the 1930’s where he was one of Telford’s trackwork riders.
The Braeside experience proved to be a transition to the training ranks, and Ernie took over his father’s establishment in Dowling St, Kensington in 1937, and younger brother Billy finished his apprenticeship with him. Granted a No. 1 licence at the start of the 1951-52 racing season, Ernie Fellows eventually relinquished Randwick in preference for the then semi-rural environs of Warwick Farm. Before Prince Morvi, the best horse to pass through his hands had been Melhero, whom he trained for Bill Hogan; Melhero was runner-up in a Rosehill Guineas, but his nervous disposition precluded an appearance in the Derby. Prince Morvi was the first horse Fellows had saddled up in the classic, and the colt served to bring much well-deserved attention to this most capable of horsemen. It was to Fellows that Maurice McCarten and Stanley Wootton turned for help when Todman broke down. Fellows’ Warwick Farm stables were close to the Georges River and the astute trainer determined upon a swimming programme to assist Todman’s convalescence. The same regimen was applied to another of McCarten’s crocks, Indian Empire, whom Fellows nursed to win the Festival Handicap at Rosehill in 1957 It was the subsequent friendship with Wootton during and after the Todman episode that saw Fellows, at the age of forty-six, leave Australia in August 1960 to try his luck in England, initially working for Wootton at Treadwell House.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Australian shores, for at the time he was preparing a rising two-year-old from Edmundo’s first crop, who was showing considerable promise on the training tracks and for whom he had paid 2000 guineas as a yearling. Her name was Indian Summer. But leave Australia he did, with his lovely wife, Mavis, and 13-year-old daughter, Susan, and 10-year-old son, John. During that visit, a serendipitous trip across the Channel to see George Moore, who was then riding for the Aga Khan in France, was to change Fellow’s fortunes. Impressed with Fellows’ skills, a prominent French owner invited the Australian to take over control of a small stable he was conducting at La Morlaye, four miles out of Chantilly. His success was immediate and thus begun Fellow’s brilliant career on the European Turf. Very soon his clients included among others Winston Guest (Sir Winston Churchill’s American cousin), Howell Jackson and Eric Coupy.
By 1964 Fellows had thirty-six racehorses in work for no less than seven different millionaires and success saw him residing on Chantilly’s swanky Avenue de Joinville at No.29. It was one of the best addresses in Chantilly with the racing headquarters of Prince Karim, the Aga Khan, very nearby and at the back of the Fellows’ home was the base of Marcel Boussac, a leading French owner and head of French racing’s famous Societe d’Encouragement. For a time, Neville Sellwood lived together with his family right next door. Having made a move across the globe, Fellows never looked back. French racing had boomed in the years after World War II, and the all-Tote system of betting applying in France ensured that prize money remained buoyant. Not that Fellows ever felt homesick for long.
There seemed to be a constant stream of visitors to No. 29 Avenue de Joinville from the Antipodes including Billy Pyers and Athol and June Mulley, while George and Iris Moore lived nearby with their family during the period of George’s retainer with the Alec Head stable. Such was the frequency of Australian visitors to No. 29 that Mulley nicknamed it ‘Australia House’. In 1964 Ernie Fellows won The Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket with Baldric II and the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the same year with Nasram II, each owned by Mrs Howell Jackson of the famous Bull Run Stud in Virginia. The Australian jockey, Bill Pyers was to establish his European reputation riding for the Fellows’ stable. Indeed, when Pyers partnered Baldric II in the classic at Newmarket it was his first win in Europe. Fellows’ son, John, later became a leading trainer in his own right in France.
For the successful Derby jockey Neville Sellwood, France was in due course to assume a much darker significance. Prince Morvi was Neville Sellwood’s second successive winner of the A.J.C. Derby, having been victorious on Deep River the year before. Prince Morvi wasn’t the jockey’s only winner on a memorable day, for he combined with Silver Phantom to take out the Epsom and with Hydrogen to win the Colin Stephen Stakes, thus sweeping the three feature events of the day. Sellwood was eventually to win six Sydney jockey premierships in all, including establishing a post-war record of 87 wins in the last of them during the 1959-60 racing season, but he was never destined to win the Derby again. During an era when there were far fewer race meetings, he captured the headlines on many occasions including riding five winners at one Randwick meeting in February 1954, all trained by Maurice McCarten, while at the 1960 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting he won ten races. It was a most lucrative career and one that enabled him in 1957 to pay £37,000 for an 840-acre property at Barragan Creek, Cudal, about 30 miles from Orange, which he used mainly to run sheep, although it was there that he also bred a few racehorses on the side.
In 1961 with little more to prove in the saddle in Australia he again considered the prospect of demonstrating his talent on European racecourses and accepted an offer from Alec Head, who trained in France for the Aga Khan among others. It was a strong stable, although that season lacked a champion. He returned to Europe the following year and in that 1962 season by a stroke of good fortune, the Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien offered Sellwood the mount on his second string at Epsom in the English Derby, the 22/1 outsider Larkspur. In a rough and tumble affair that saw seven horses lose their riders on the long downhill sweep to Tattenham Corner, Sellwood deftly managed to avoid the carnage to secure the prize on the Irish colt who was owned by Raymond Guest, the American Ambassador to Ireland. Post-race film footage showed just how close the Australian jockey had come for his mount to succumb in the pile-up.
Nevertheless, as fortunate as Sellwood had been at Epsom in June to avoid the melee, death was stalking him. The divine messenger came with quick but noiseless tread on the rain-sodden ground at Maisons-Laffitte only five months later. Sellwood was riding a filly named – ironically enough – Lucky Seven, owned by Madame Alec Head, in the last race on the card on November 7th. Through the mists and the vapours, by late afternoon the ground had become fairly muddy, and the filly had travelled about a thousand yards when, without any crowding, she crossed her legs and fell to the ground crushing Sellwood under her weight. The jockey was carried unconscious to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. He was just 39 and with 1,860 winners to his credit had been riding at the peak of his powers. That season, Sellwood, who had ridden 102 winners, seemed certain to be presented with the golden whip, the annual prize awarded to the French champion jockey, and he would have become the first foreign rider to win the coveted title. In fact, Sellwood had initially intended to return to Australia earlier in the week in which he died, to ride in the Melbourne Cup and only decided to stay on in France to make sure of the jockeys’ title.
As it was, the great French rider Yves St Martin went on to take it, but the Frenchman forwarded the whip to Neville’s widow, Alwyn, in a generous and moving tribute to his fallen colleague. Sellwood’s death deeply affected Ernie Fellows, and their firm friendship had continued in France where they had been neighbours at Chantilly. The jockey left an estate valued at £59,687, bequeathing his 840 acres property at Cudal to Alwyn, who for some years after continued to breed thoroughbreds there. An excellent ambassador for Australian racing, Neville Sellwood always exuded a certain glamour and won a lot of admirers both in Australia and during his brief visits to Europe with his friendliness and easy-going charm. An accomplished after-dinner speaker, he was keenly sought out for such engagements. An indication of the loyalty and friendship Sellwood was able to inspire, is that Adolph Basser, on his own death two years later in October 1964, bequeathed his collection of racing trophies to Sellwood’s son, Neville John, who was also Basser’s godson. Sellwood’s premature death was a sad ending to the life of a man who had made such a significant contribution on the Australian Turf.