Like true love, most romances of the Turf never run smooth and such it was with trainer Doug Bougoure and his champion galloper Strawberry Road, our winner of the 1983 A.J.C. Derby. Born in October 1922 in the rural town of Warwick, set amidst the rich Darling Downs some 81 miles southwest of Brisbane, Bougoure was the eighth child and fifth son in a family of ten children. His father, Daniel, was the manager of Risdon station, a sprawling sheep property just outside Warwick that later became a thoroughbred stud. Young Doug received precious little formal education but he could ride before most other children had left the nursery. From the moment he could walk, this fascination with horses saw him mustering at Risdon with his father early in life and later working with Jack Rademy at Yandilla.
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the exquisite quality of thoroughbreds produced by David Hains’s Kingston Park Stud during the height of its fame from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. Back then it was widely considered the most cost-efficient stud in Australia. We have already studied the first champion for which the stud was responsible in the shape of the 1980 A.J.C. Derby winner, Kingston Town. Just two years later the stud produced its second champion in Rose Of Kingston, a filly who would emulate the King by winning the 1982 A.J.C. Derby in David Hains’s famous colours, and in so doing become the first of her sex to take the classic in thirty-eight years. So, where did her story begin?
Few men came to have more influence on racing in Australasia in the last two decades of the twentieth century than Robert Edmund Sangster. Born 23 May 1936, Sangster grew up in a mansion near the Hoylake Golf Club, Liverpool, England, the only child of Vernon Sangster who had founded the Vernons Pools Company ten years earlier. Robert was educated at the exclusive Repton School in Derbyshire, the school featured in the acclaimed 1939 film ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ and apart from Sangster, numbered amongst its notable and eclectic alumni were Roald Dahl, Harold Abrahams and Jeremy Clarkson.
Racecourse life has its rituals and traditions, like muddy car parks in winter and cold pies in summer, not to mention overzealous panjandrums in charge of course parking and access gates all year round. However, never underestimate the capacity of the racecourse for throwing up the unexpected. Ever since seeing Tulloch stroll away with the 1957 Rosehill Guineas as a very young boy, I’d impatiently waited for another champion galloper that was Tulloch’s equal to come along. Of course, what I didn’t realise in my adolescence, was that real champions are almost as rare and as fleeting as a transit of Venus.
“The future belongs to those who plan for it.” It is a simple philosophy of life and one that Adelaide horseman Colin Hayes lived by every day. When he eventually realised his dream and first established the Lindsay Park Stud, nestled amidst the rolling green hills and massive, majestic redgums of the Barossa Valley in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Hayes had that philosophy inscribed on an iron plaque and placed on the grand entrance gates to the property. Colin Sidney (C. S.) Hayes, gentleman and racehorse trainer extraordinaire, might be regarded as the third man of Australian racing in the second half of the twentieth century. Together with Tommy Smith, seven-and-a-half years his senior, and Bart Cummings, three-and-a-half years his junior, Hayes came to exercise a disproportionate influence on the Australian Turf that lost nothing in comparison with the aforementioned pair.
The year 1977 finally admitted to the honour roll of A.J.C. Derby-winning trainers, the man who was commonly regarded as the finest trainer of stayers in Australia in the second half of the twentieth century: James Bartholomew Cummings! We first met the young Bart Cummings in the 1948 chapter of this book as the strapper of the 1950 Melbourne Cup winner, Comic Court, trained by his father, Jim. Intermittent appearances have come in later chapters, notably 1973 and 1975 when he trained the A.J.C. Derby runners-up, Leica Lover and Rafique respectively. However, it was in 1977 that Bart trained his first winner of the Randwick classic. So let’s recapitulate with a little history through the mouldy chronicle of time.
No race on the Australian Turf carried more sentiment with the great trainer Tommy Smith, the least sentimental of men, than the A.J.C. Derby. After all, when Playboy took the event in 1949 it was Tommy’s first major race success and the prize money won, and the bets landed, set him up for life. Moreover, it was that breakthrough that saw clients begin to beat a path to his door. However, Playboy apart, for all of the Derbies he had won during the intervening years, none gave him more satisfaction than his triumph with Great Lover in the 1976 renewal of the classic. A homebred, T. J. shared in the ownership of the horse with his brother, Dick. The story really began when Dick Smith went to New Zealand on a holiday trip back in the fifties.
On Saturday, March 8, 1975, at Rosehill racecourse a stylish chestnut colt foaled in New Zealand in the spring of 1972, stepped out to contest the S.T.C. Magic Night Quality Handicap over 1200 metres. Battle Sign, the colt in question, was a home-bred, trained and part-owned by a septuagenarian Kiwi by the name of George Walton. Walton, who had boarded the horse at Fil Allotta’s Randwick stables, was trying to qualify this son of Battle-Wagon for the $126,000 S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes to be run over the same course and distance a week later. Despite being bred on sound staying bloodlines, Battle Sign had shown brilliant speed to win his previous three starts before leaving New Zealand, the last victory being over 1200 metres at Wellington on January 20. Despite the lack of recent racing and the disadvantage of having drawn the widest gate in the fifteen-strong field, Battle Sign was specked in late course betting at 20/1 after as much at 25/1 had been offered. It was no ordinary field of juveniles and included the S.T.C. Silver Slipper Stakes winner, St Louis Blue, and a subsequent Q.T.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes winner in Skirnir.
The world of horse racing can seem small sometimes and with it the random collision of remarkable talents. It is a fact of which I’m reminded by the unlikely hero of our 1974 Derby chapter. In that year or two before the lingering effects of the Great Depression gave way to the frenzied activity of World War II, a young man guided a cart-horse pulling a bread van around the beachside streets of Glenelg and the shores of Holdfast Bay in Adelaide. George Maxwell Hanlon, at the age of twenty-one, didn’t want the job but it brought him a living wage. And as a child of the Depression, he understood the value of money. On his rounds, he indulged in his dreams of becoming a racehorse trainer.
History is lived forwards but is chronicled backwards, i.e. upon reflection. As such, we know the ending before we can ever truly appreciate the beginning and we can never wholly recapture the moment when it was to know the beginning only. And at the beginning of that 1972-73 racing season, there was Imagele. Even now, across the divide of some forty years and more, Imagele and what he promised still engender bittersweet memories for me. Permit me to take up the story on that April day in 1962 when the Gundagai grazier, Edwin John ‘Jock’ Graham, decided that he liked the look of a particular daughter of Nullabor at the Sydney Yearling Sales. Graham needed no trainer to second guess his choice, but when it came to bidding for her, he deputised the shrewd Johnnie Donohoe, for the grazier had a solicitor’s appointment to keep before the filly came into the ring.