Few families have played a more significant role on the Australian Turf than the Dangars of the Hunter Valley in N.S.W. The patriarch of the clan, Henry Dangar, first arrived in the colony of New South Wales from Cornwall as a confident 24-year-old in April 1821 aboard the Jessie, having been supported in his intent to settle here by his influential patron, the first Earl of St Germans. Shortly after his arrival, Dangar presented his impressive credentials to the Surveyor-General John Oxley, and upon Oxley’s recommendation found himself appointed as an Assistant Government Surveyor in July of the same year. After an initial experience surveying Crown land in the Camden district, Henry Dangar was directed to the Hunter River where he surveyed and laid out the future town of Newcastle before making an entire survey of the Hunter Valley, and later, a route over the mountains to the fertile Liverpool Plains.
In gratitude for his services, Henry Dangar received a land grant of a thousand acres on the Hunter River about four miles from Singleton, where he established the justly celebrated property of Neotsfield. The valley narrows near there, quickly rising in little foothills, which continue to struggle upwards on the eastern bank until they merge into the greater hills of Mount Royal and its surrounding peaks. To the south rise the Wollombi Hills and westward lay the Rothbury Ranges and north-west the rugged scrub-covered Bulga mountains, from which in the old days, cattle-duffers and bushrangers would emerge on their raids. The original holding was later significantly extended to the other side of the river, but it was on the right bank around 1824 that Henry Dangar built the house, which still stands today. In 1825 two of Henry’s brothers, William and Thomas, arrived in Sydney aboard the Cumberland and joined him in the Hunter region, while three more, Charles, John and Richard, came out at later intervals.
It was a solitary and patriarchal life in those early days. To reach Neotsfield and Singleton one either had to undertake a hard ride from Sydney over the mountains involving at least three days travel, or one might ship from Port Jackson to Newcastle, and then complete the journey on horseback. Frequently the sailing packet could not venture outside the Heads on account of contrary winds, and on one occasion the delay extended into a fortnight; but at least by the year 1831 a more reliable steamer had replaced the sailing packet.
However, despite the disadvantages of geography, each of the brothers prospered in turn by extensive land grants and aggressive acquisitions but none more so than Henry, who exploited his unique knowledge of the region to the full. Such were his riches and status in colonial society that in 1853 the 56-year-old Henry purchased the extravagantly ostentatious Grantham, Potts Point, for his Sydney residence – one of a small number of distinguished villas along the rocky ridge then known as Woolloomooloo. Curiously enough, Caleb Wilson, who established the Tocal Stud, had originally built the mansion. Constructed in the same Gothic Revival style as the new Government House (1837-1845), it was a somewhat pretentious edifice of proliferating turrets and crenellations that was subsequently dubbed ‘Dangar’s Castle’ by Sydney’s hoi polloi.
Henry Dangar died in 1861, but had five surviving sons from his marriage and three in particular – William John (born 1829), Henry Cary (born 1830) and Albert Augustus (born 1840) – were to play prominent roles in forging the family’s firm links with the Australian Turf. Although the Dangars imported, bred and raced horses down the years, it wasn’t until 1869 that they made their first real mark in Australian racing for it was in that year that Albert Dangar, in conjunction with the Hon. James White, imported Grandmaster, then a yearling, into Australia.
Bred in England in 1868, he was by the French champion Gladiateur, who was dubbed the ‘Avenger of Waterloo’ by the French press when he won the English Derby in 1865 for his owner Comte Frederic de Lagrange, a son of one of Napoleon’s generals. The dam of Grandmaster was Celerima, a daughter of the renowned Stockwell. Albert Dangar had bought the colt for 450 guineas out of the Middle Park Stud while travelling in England and his brothers subsequently bought out James White’s share after the horse landed in Australia.
For a time, Grandmaster was in Etienne de Mestre’s Terrara stable but did very little racing and after running a weak race in the 1872 Sydney Cup, in which he carried 6 st. 1lb and Albert Dangar’s colours, he retired into his owner’s Baroona Stud, where he stood three seasons. It was while he was there that William Dangar bred Sussex from him, a horse later raced by F. C. Goyder that was almost invincible under big weights in the popular Corinthian races of the day, and who eventually won the 1881 Grand National Steeplechase at the V.R.C. Winter Meeting under 13 st. 1lb when ridden by Bob Batty. By the time Sussex had established himself, the Dangars had already let Grandmaster go to Richard Rouse Jnr for 600 guineas, and the stallion subsequently stood at Biraganbil in the Mudgee district. Nonetheless, the Dangars continued to patronise the horse there, and in 1885, Bruce Lowe – who was instrumental in breeding Sussex for William Dangar and both bought and matched many of his mares – bred him Highborn, who won the 1891 Sydney Cup in the colours of free-spending owner, W. T. Jones. That 1885 crop was Grandmaster’s finest, for apart from Highborn, it included the champion miler Bungebah, and Ensign, who lowered Carbine’s colours in that famous Victoria Derby. Although William Dangar was credited with breeding these good horses, he generally bred to sell and this pair, like Highborn, raced in the ownership of other men.
John Allsop, who trained William Dangar’s racehorses, enjoyed retailing the story of his chance meeting with Bruce Lowe in the spring of 1886. “Where are you off to Mr Lowe?” he called out. “I’m going up to Neotsfield to mate their mares, and I’ll send you down a Derby winner to train”, was the reply. One of the mares he matched with Grandmaster that year was Algeria, a well-performed daughter of Blinkhoolie that Dangar had imported into Australia as a yearling from England in 1874. Stockwell blood was well represented on both sides of her pedigree, as her sire was a son of Rataplan, a brother to Stockwell, while her dam, Adrastia, was by St Albans, a son of Stockwell. Moreover, Algeria had already proven herself in the paddock. Her first foal, Queensberry, a filly by Hawthornden, had won William Dangar the valuable Mares’ Produce Stakes at the local Wallsend Turf Club meeting; while Anglesey, a full brother to Queensberry, and a brilliant horse when in the humour, had won S. G. Cook a number of good races including the V.A.T.C. Brunswick Stakes at three and the A.J.C. Waverley Handicap at six. However, Algeria’s best foal had been Algerian, a colt she dropped to Goldsbrough in 1882, a horse raced by George Osborne and who had started a well-supported second favourite in the 1887 Melbourne Cup.
The result of Bruce Lowe’s matching of Grandmaster and Algeria that spring turned out to be a strapping big colt built like a rock that William Dangar registered as Gibraltar. Dangar had the habit of naming his yearlings before offering them for sale, a privilege that most other studmasters extended to the purchasers, although in this case at least the name was appropriate. Dangar included Gibraltar among the five yearlings he consigned to Bruce Lowe to sell on his behalf at Randwick in April 1889, but the colt’s imperfect legs and rather too straight pasterns seemed unsuited to carry his already considerable bulk and deterred would-be buyers as much as the high reserve price. Suspect legs might have hinted at problems to come but there was no denying the colt’s potential strength and when a buyer was not forthcoming William Dangar came to an arrangement with his younger brother, Henry, to race the colt in his name. Backward and immature in his first season, Gibraltar’s racecourse debut was delayed until the Randwick Autumn Meeting where he appeared twice in the week without attracting the least bit of notice from the judge.
Anyone who follows the glorious Sport of Kings even in a cursory way will realise that our gentlemen of the press are prone to acclaim this or that particular racehorse as the greatest of the century with monotonous regularity. Whether such expressions arise merely from the fevered imagination that seems an indispensable part of a racing writer’s character, or from a post-race report filed from the notoriously unreliable environs of the racecourse bar, the quadruped in question seldom seems to live up to the tag. How much more galling is the hyperbole when it is applied to a mere two-year-old. And yet that is what the 1889-90 racing season brought forth in Australia in the guise of the famous Titan, who was both literally and figuratively head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Titan was bred by James White at the Kirkham Stud, and was by the famous Chester from that sterling mare Tempe, a daughter of imported Somnus and White and Blue, and who as a four-year-old had won the Tattersall’s Cup and Anniversary Handicap for the Newmarket stable. It wasn’t unusual for White to castrate all but the most likely of his colts in those days and the young Titan was such a giant of a horse that the decision to cut seemed sensible.
Kept back until the Christmas and New Year holiday season for his debut, Titan won the S.T.C. Challenge Stakes before being taken to Melbourne where the giant gelding created a huge impression in taking out the V.A.T.C. Oakleigh Handicap, V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes and Sires’ Produce Stakes. Such was the speed he mustered that many sportsmen believed he would have won the Newmarket Handicap easily enough were two-year-olds not kept out by the conditions of the race. Brought back to the Newmarket stables, Titan simply cantered in for the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes from Donald Wallace’s good filly Wilga, but on Cup Day, with 9 st. 1lb he suffered a short half-length defeat by the same filly in the Champagne Stakes. Hales was blamed for that failure, but shortly after the start, he had been deliberately run right out across the course by a rival. Tom Payten took the unusual step of reporting the incident to the chairman of the A.J.C. committee. It was a different story on the third day of the meeting in the A.J.C. First Foal Stakes (6f) when Titan put up a 10lb penalty and cantered home.
The following day and all of James White’s horses in training went under the hammer. Speculation was rife as to the price Titan would bring. After all, the economy in general and racing, in particular, were enjoying an unprecedented boom and prizemoney was burgeoning. Just a few weeks before, the V.R.C. had announced their intention of subscribing 10,000 sovereigns for the next Melbourne Cup. The opening bid on Titan was 2000 guineas, and after that climbed rapidly until Ernest Brodribb, the Broken Hill mining magnate clinched the deal at 4600 guineas. It was an astounding price to pay for a gelding at the time but might easily have been more. William Leonard had instructions to buy the horse for Martin Loughlin of Ballarat at any price, but once the bidding reached 4000 guineas, Leonard exercised his discretion and walked away. A few short months later, Loughlin must have felt well pleased with the initiative shown by his commissioner.
E.S. Chapman, ‘Augur’ of The Australasian, commenting on the sale in his weekly column, said it was indeed risky to give that kind of money for a horse that might be in a hansom cab before long. Ernest Brodribb, meeting Chapman, complained that it was unkind to suggest that Titan might end up between the shafts of a cab. By then Brodribb had backed his charge at short prices quite publicly for some fabulous sums in the rich spring races, and Chapman quipped: “If you don’t take a pull you might be driving him in the cab.” In a bid to boost his luck, Brodribb changed his colours from ‘all rose’ to a blue jacket, tan sleeves, blue cap, and retained Ernie Huxley at £300 a year to ride Titan and his other horses, which were trained by Walter Hickenbotham at Flemington. Throughout the winter Brodribb continued to plaster the money on Titan for the Derby at Randwick as well as the Melbourne Cup, for which he headed the three-year-olds with 7 st. 11lb while Gibraltar, not surprisingly, was on the limit.
To breed the winner of the A.J.C. Derby had been one of William Dangar’s life ambitions, and while Gibraltar’s only two appearances as a juvenile hardly presaged classic success the following season, trainer John Allsop was more than hopeful as the son of Grandmaster furnished into a splendid specimen of the thoroughbred during the winter. Alas, William Dangar never lived to see the big chestnut colt realise his potential as he died in August 1890 at the age of sixty-one – a little more than a month before Gibraltar’s finest hour. William Dangar died without leaving an heir, and the full ownership of Gibraltar passed into the hands of his year-younger brother Henry Cary Dangar, in whose name Gibraltar had always raced, while Neotsfield in due course went to Henry’s eldest son, Richard.
The twenty years from 1870 to 1890 had seen unprecedented growth in the prosperity of the Australian Jockey Club, and significant changes had been made to the Randwick course since Singapore had triumphed just twelve months earlier. The course had been lengthened from a mile and two to a mile and three and was now 100 feet wide at its narrowest point. A new six-furlong course had been constructed, and the main grandstand had been extended with public tea and luncheon rooms underneath. There had been an increase in the St. Leger stand, and there was now seating accommodation in all three structures for some 13,000 people. The new course, which was used for the first time at the A.J.C. Summer Meeting on Boxing Day, encroached upon the old steeplechase course, at least in the straight, and this had enabled the club to extend the lawn and weighing yard. Narcissistic, pavonine ladies, young and not so young, now had greater scope to promenade their fashions. Moreover, it was an age in which the corset or girdle was often the difference between facts and figures. Turnstiles had been erected at the new main entrance gates and at the special tram gate to facilitate the collection of entrance money. However, timely arrival at the racecourse gates that year was denied many by the ongoing construction of the tramline in Cleveland St and the resultant heavy traffic.
The 1890 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
From the original sixty-six entries for the Derby, only seven horses went to the post and Titan, despite a slight stoppage in his work, retained his domination over betting right up to flagfall, while Gibraltar, on the strength of some impressive gallops at Randwick and the stature of his 16.2 hands, was the well-supported second favourite. Next in line was another son of Grandmaster in Paris. Bred at Havilah by Henry Charles White, a younger brother of the Hon. James White, Paris was trained by James Monaghan and had shown promise at two although many considered him – given his lack of size – more suited to handicaps. Gatling and Whimbrel were two interesting runners who had each been brought across from New Zealand by Dan O’Brien for the autumn meetings six months earlier. Each had performed well too, with Whimbrel running second to Titan in the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes while Gatling, a fine upstanding son of Nordenfeldt, created a big impression at the Randwick Autumn Meeting in the First Foal Stakes when he missed the start badly but still managed to run second, again to Titan.
When O’Brien returned to New Zealand after that meeting, he left both Gatling and Whimbrel to be sold by Tom Clibborn through Fennelly’s Bazaar in Pitt-street. Neither colt changed hands at the fall of the hammer, although William Gannon created a sensation shortly after that by agreeing to pay 2000 guineas for Gatling after he had been passed in, and the horse went into the stables of Harry Rayner. Here then was yet another example of Dan O’Brien’s clever horse-trading, for old Dan had originally paid only 260 guineas when he bought the colt as a yearling out of the Sylvia Park draft at the New Zealand sales. Whimbrel, at his reserve price of 1000 guineas wasn’t sold either, and O’Brien retained ownership but put the horse into John Allsop’s stable. It was generally understood that Whimbrel was in the Derby field to make the pace for Gibraltar.
Whimbrel cut out his pace-making duties with gusto in the bright sunshine, and although time comparisons were invidious given the reconfiguration of the course, only Trident had recorded a faster time in the race. The prolonged duel up the Randwick straight between Whimbrel, Gatling and Gibraltar saw the tension in the stands rise with every stride. Tom Nieriker conjured a brilliant finish from Gibraltar and played his hand so late there was no chance of trumping his card. The pretensions of the much-boomed Titan had been settled before the turn, and he finished in a slightly distressed state. As for Gibraltar, good judges predicted that if a suspicious-looking splint didn’t tell against him, the strapping son of Grandmaster might well develop into the finest horse in the land.
As a memento of the victory, Henry Dangar commissioned the leading equine artist William McSherry to capture on canvas that moment when Tommy Nieriker, sporting the colours, prepares to mount Gibraltar before the race, with John Allsop holding the reins and the Randwick course in the background. Gibraltar only appeared once more at the meeting when on the third day he carried a 7lb penalty and ran an exciting dead-heat with Gatling for the Second Foal Stakes (10f) and then in the run-off, which was conducted after the last race, Gibraltar forced the pace and won easily. There is a story to that run-off. In the race that resulted in the dead-heat, Tommy Nieriker had mufflers on his spurs. However, he decided to remove them for the run-off and more than a furlong from home when he struck Gibraltar with his heels the big horse responded as if he had been shot out of a gun and bounded away to win by some ten lengths.
Apart from Gibraltar’s emergence, that 1890 A.J.C. Spring Meeting was distinguished by the fact that it was the Governor, Lord Carrington’s last appearance following his recall to England and he was entertained at a farewell luncheon by the A.J.C. committee on the fourth day of the meeting. During his term of office extending from December 1885 until November 1890, he and his wife, Lady Cecilia Carrington, were immensely popular and proved to be wonderful patrons of the Turf. Born in Middlesex, England, in 1843, and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Lord Carrington had a natural love of horses and had been a captain in the Royal Horse Guards at the age of twenty-six. His governorship spanned a tumultuous period in the history of the colony, although his support of horse racing helped win him wide popularity with the general public. Very soon after arriving in the colony and just a few days before Christmas, 1885, he had made a private trip by special train to Richmond to inspect Andrew Town’s Hobartville yearlings, accompanied by among others, the Chief Justice and the Premier.
His Excellency and Lady Carrington first attended Randwick on Summer Cup Day, 1885, and quickly agreed to be the patron of the club. Moreover, his patronage meant more than merely lending his name to the sport but assumed a practical dimension. The month after inspecting the Hobartville yearlings both he and Lady Carrington attended their sale and spent about a thousand guineas buying the handsome colt by Maribyrnong from Sapphire for 400 guineas as well as two fillies by Maribyrnong and Grand Flaneur. Establishing stables at Randwick under the supervision of a Mr Day, who had been numbered among the Governor’s entourage brought over from England, Lord Carrington’s buff jacket and light blue cap were seen out at both Randwick and Flemington on several occasions during his tenure but were never carried by a high-class racehorse. Lady Carrington, too, played an active role and on more than one occasion donated silverware to the value of a hundred guineas for presentation to the winning owners of races such as the Sydney Cup and Summer Cup, having arranged for the prizes to be made by Messrs Elkington, manufacturing jewellers of George-street.
Taken to Melbourne Gibraltar failed to get to the post for the Victoria Derby for which he was a pronounced favourite after badly jarring one of his forelegs in a track incident. In his absence, Sam Cook took out the slowly run race with The Admiral, a handsome bay son of Richmond that William Blackler had bred at Fulham Park Stud in South Australia. In winning, The Admiral became the first horse in nineteen years to conquer the hoodoo of the Maribyrnong Plate and Victoria Derby double; and, having won the Caulfield Stakes as well – such was the impression created by the colt that spring – many believed him superior to Gibraltar.
Their faith was put to the test the following autumn in the St. Leger at Flemington, and for once the contest was a close one. Few sportsmen who looked at Gibraltar in the saddling paddock that afternoon believed he was fit enough for the challenge and the son of Grandmaster got out to 8/1 in course betting. John Allsop knew his charge well enough though, and Gibraltar, with Tommy Nieriker in the leathers, got up to beat The Admiral by a half-head with the minor place-getter fully five lengths away. In winning that red riband, Nieriker brought to an end a marvellous sequence of victories in the event by Tom Hales, who had won the previous five runnings for the Hon. James White on Matchlock, Trident, Abercorn, Volley and Dreadnought. Backed up for the Australian Cup a couple of days later, Gibraltar broke down badly during the running but managed to be saved for stud purposes at Neotsfield. Gibraltar spent his entire stud life there and standing at a fee of 20 guineas proved quite a useful sire. Probably his best horse was Leonidas, who achieved fame in India by annexing the Viceroy’s Cup, the Cooch Behar Cup and the Bangalore Cup. Other good performers though included Rock Gun, unlucky in the Victoria Derby and the winner of the C.B. Fisher Plate, and The Watchdog, whom William Forrester bred and trained to win the V.R.C. Newmarket in 1900. Gibraltar never made much of a mark as a sire of broodmares although one of his daughters did produce the 1905 Maribyrnong Plate winner in Oreillet, and another the Adelaide Birthday Cup winner, Juan Fernandez.
Theodore John (‘Tommy’) Nieriker might have only ridden one winner of the A.J.C. Derby that being Gibraltar, but for a half-century, he was a conspicuous figure in the environs of Randwick. Born in Tamworth in 1864, he was just fifteen when he left Gunnedah with the trainer, John Kerr. One of Kerr’s team, Prosperine, proceeded to win numerous events in the northern districts at meetings of the Newcastle Jockey Club, Northern Jockey Club, Patrick’s Plains Jockey Club and the Hunter River Amateur Jockey Club and on tracks as varied as Singleton racecourse and the Eales’ racecourse in West Maitland. At that time in the colony’s history, country racing in the north was an important feature, as there was no Sydney suburban sport of particular status, and of course, no apprenticeships as such. Kerr was a wily trainer and he had a formula for mixing his own physic for his horses which invariably resulted in them being tonsorially perfect on raceday. Tommy Nieriker won some thirty-five races at Randwick during his career and his earliest winner came at the 1881 Spring Meeting when he partnered John Kerr’s Queensberry in the A.J.C. Free Handicap on the fourth day. Queensberry’s handicap that day was 5 st. 10lb and little Tommy didn’t declare overweight! At the A.J.C. Summer Meeting in 1882 Nieriker won the second running of the Summer Cup on the outsider The Gem, a colt by Kelpie.
The crack lightweight jockey, Donald Nicholson, who died in the melee of the 1885 Caulfield Cup, did much of Kerr’s riding in those days and he became something of a role model for Nieriker. Tommy was one of that long-standing triumvirate that rode at the first meeting at Moorefield on October 13, 1888, along with Bill Kelso and Jack Noud. Another of Nieriker’s notable victories in the saddle came aboard J. G. Clarke’s classy galloper Battalion in the Queensland Cup, a horse that was later sold to J. E. Brewer for shipment to England. When Tommy Nieriker gave up riding, he launched out as a trainer and his first good winner was Zenda, a tough old chestnut gelding that he leased from J. A. Buckland of Pine Ridge. An ex-picnicker, Zenda won a number of races for Nieriker including the 1907 Tattersall’s Winter Stakes. However, Nieriker’s principal claim as a trainer was that he prepared the five-year-old mare Belove, a daughter of Haut Brion, to run second at 33/1 to Posinatus in the 1913 Melbourne Cup for the bookmaker, Barney Allen.
Consistent winners proved hard to come by for Nieriker over the years although he did win the 1932 Newcastle Cup with the Spearhead mare, Circus Star. Just about the last horse to go through Tommy Nieriker’s hands as a trainer was that notable broodmare Urunalong. A daughter of Magpie and a full sister to the V.R.C. Australian Cup winner, Hurry On, she was bred by Percy Miller and wasn’t offered at the yearling sales. Rather she was leased out by Miller, as was his wont with well-bred fillies, and raced in the nomination of one of Tommy’s sons. Urunalong proved no disgrace to her family. Her first race yielded a third behind the doughty Homer at the Duke of Gloucester Meeting and she then won the A.J.C. Summer Nursery in the hands of Dave Lightfoot.
While she proved useful for Nieriker as an older horse, it was in the stud paddock that she came into her own, ultimately becoming the mother of True Course, Cherie Marie and Lilette. It was in September 1936 that Nieriker surrendered his No. 1 licence to go into an honourable retirement after more than fifty years in the racing game. No more would he assemble with other trainers at the half-mile post at Randwick in the early morning mist. A notable Randwick identity for almost sixty-two years, Nieriker continued to reside in his Young-street home until he slipped the bridle in February 1947 at the ripe old age of eighty-two.
And what of the beaten brigade in that 1890 Derby? Titan’s post-Derby career was almost as fascinating as that before the classic. Ernest Brodribb wasn’t convinced that the Derby was the horse’s true form and proceeded to plunge on Titan for the Caulfield Guineas in a bid to recover his Derby losses. James Scobie believed that he could win the race with Annesley for his long-time patron, William Bailey, and both trainer and owner shared a £500 wager on the horse. Scobie urged Bailey to warn Brodribb to have a saver on Annesley, and when the owner proffered the advice, Brodribb responded: “I have put £11,000 on my horse, and would not care to back another to save myself.” After flattering his supporters as he entered the straight, Titan melted out of it to run fourth behind Annesley, with Scobie winning his first big prize for Bailey. Titan never carried Brodribb’s colours again. The horse pulled up lame after a gallop a few days before the Victoria Derby, which prevented him from getting to the post, and after that V.R.C. Spring Meeting Brodribb cut his losses by putting the giant gelding up for auction. Donald Wallace, who was flush with funds following Carbine’s Cup success, gave 650 guineas for him and James Scobie took Titan to Ballarat. Eventually, the horse recovered some form.
As a five-year-old, he won the Spring Handicap at Glenloth’s Melbourne Cup meeting, while the following season he appropriated five races viz. V.A.T.C. Toorak Handicap, V.R.C. Railway Handicap, V.R.C. All-Aged Stakes, Farewell Handicap, and A.J.C. Cumberland Stakes. Titan failed in the V.R.C. Newmarket when weighted with 10 st 1lb, an event worth mentioning because it was the only metropolitan flat race in which his trainer Jim Scobie figured as a jockey. The gelding’s victory at Randwick in the Cumberland Stakes got people talking. The common opinion was that Titan couldn’t stay and yet in that race over two miles at weight-for-age, he beat a field that included Marvel, Light Artillery and The Admiral. The Brobdingnagian monster’s demise, however, came unexpectedly.
James Scobie in his book “My Life on the Australian Turf” wrote: “I was getting Titan ready with a view to winning the Adelaide Cup of 1894. He showed me a great trial at Dowling Forest but dropped dead after the gallop. Heart trouble was the cause. No; we didn’t hold a post-mortem. I saw the old fellow quiver as he lay on the ground. That satisfied me as to what was wrong.” The manner of the horse’s passing probably explained a good deal of the in-and-out running that had puzzled sportsmen for so long. Titan wasn’t the only expensive racehorse in that 1890 Derby to subsequently disappoint his owner. Gatling, too, provided a salutary lesson in paying an exorbitant sum for a juvenile. Apart from his dead-heat with Gibraltar, Gatling never won a race in William Gannon’s colours, although on occasions he did flatter to deceive such as when gaining the minor placing in The Admiral’s Victoria Derby. Nor was he blessed with a long career on the Turf; Gatling died of a stoppage of the bowels – quite the opposite of the effect he had on those hapless punters who backed him – in Rayner’s stables in the autumn of his four-year-old season.
Whereas William Dangar’s active involvement with the Turf had been perfunctory – he was more renowned as a breeder than an owner – Henry C. Dangar, who so fortuitously inherited Gibraltar on the death of his brother, was a racing man through and through. Although he had spent his formative years at Neotsfield, at the age of sixteen, Henry followed the pattern of many scions of wealthy pastoralists in Australia by sailing to England to complete his education. Henry was advised to steer clear of slow horses and fast women on departing these shores, and his years in the Old Country coincided with some vintage fare on the English Turf, as this was to be the era of The Flying Dutchman/Voltigeur clashes and champions such as West Australian and Stockwell. It fired the imagination of young Henry, and while such distractions didn’t stop him from graduating Trinity College, Cambridge, with a B.A. and M.A., the proximity of the University to Newmarket guaranteed a lifetime passion for the sport.
After completing his degree, Henry joined his parents on an extended tour of the Continent. In 1854 he was admitted to the Middle Temple and Bar, although he was never to practice in Australia as a barrister. Rather, upon his return to Australia, Henry became actively engaged in politics representing both West Sydney and East Sydney for one term each as an M.L.A. before becoming an M.L.C. in 1883 and remaining in that chamber for the last thirty-four years of his life; and at the same time, he continued to successfully run his pastoral property, Yallaroi, in the Hunter. Henry Dangar was arguably the most successful owner and breeder of racehorses of all his brothers, and while Gibraltar and Positano were the best horses to carry his colours, he also had the distinction of having been the breeder of another A.J.C. Derby winner in Bob Ray. Other gallopers that raced in his name were the unlucky Attalus, who was placed in both the V.R.C. Ascot Vale Stakes and the Tattersall’s Carrington Stakes and who unfortunately broke a blood vessel in Camoola’s A.J.C. Derby; and Euston, a brilliant two-year-old by Grafton in the 1901-02 racing season. Henry Dangar still holds the distinction of being the longest-serving committeemen in the history of the A.J.C. First elected in 1860, then 1863, 1864 and 1865, he proceeded to serve continuously from that year, including seven years as chairman, until shortly before his death in April 1917.
I mentioned that when William Dangar died in 1890, Neotsfield passed to Henry Cary Dangar but was soon settled upon Henry’s eldest son, Richard. The choice of stallions by the Dangar family to stand at Neotsfield hadn’t always been as inspired as that of Grandmaster, and even with him, as we have seen, they let him go before his stock had really been tried on the racecourse. Perhaps the most unfortunate stallion importation by the family had come in 1874 with Hawthornden, winner of the 1870 English St Leger and a son of Lord Clifden. A heavy-topped horse, his stock proved quite useless in Australia and for all of the good Neotsfield mares stinted to him, he produced just one stakes winner in Sunset, who won the 1881 V.R.C. Essendon Stakes for Sir Hercules Robinson.
Whatever the heartburn caused by Hawthornden, it was more than compensated by another English importation twenty-three years later in the shape of Positano. I shall leave the full story of that stallion to a later chapter, but it was Henry C. Dangar through the offices of William Cooper, then living in England, who was responsible for getting Positano on behalf of Neotsfield for his son Richard Dangar. Positano would go on to sire no less than four Melbourne Cup winners including the champion Poseidon. It was in the autumn of 1904, just as the greatness of Positano as a sire was being recognised that Richard Dangar decided to disperse all of Neotsfield’s mares and young stock and devote the property to Ayrshire and shorthorn cattle, although Positano was kept on as a public stallion. It was at that sale that the future Poseidon was sold as a foal at foot together with his dam to the Moses brothers.
Gibraltar was the first of two winners of the A.J.C. Derby trained by John Allsop, the second coming with Trenchant in 1893, although the Allsop name was to be prominent in Sydney racing for the next 75 years through three generations. Born at Goulburn in 1856 about the time that the Tiranna Picnic Race Club came into being, young Allsop rode at the local meetings there. Ambitious to acquire knowledge of training, Allsop associated himself with that able mentor, Albert Cornwell, who was then at Richmond in charge of Andrew Town’s horses – including at the time, Cap-a-Pie – as well as those horses owned by that other Richmond identity, Ben Richards. After a couple of years in the Richmond stable, Allsop went back to Goulburn and began on his own account; and it was only after he decided to try Hubert on the metropolitan courses in 1878-1879 that Allsop resolved to become a public trainer at Lower Randwick, or as it was then known, ‘Struggle Town’.
Securing comfortable quarters in Wilton House, in Barker-street, Lower Randwick, the enterprising young trainer quickly made his reputation by winning a number of races with Hubert, whom he trained for Dick Warn. Allsop rode Hubert when he won the Farewell Handicap at the special Randwick meeting held in honour of Sir Hercules Robinson in January 1879, and later that year travelled Hubert to the Bathurst Turf Club meeting where he won both the Bathurst Cup and the Autumn Stakes. In the spring, Hubert ran second to the great Chester in the A.J.C. Spring Stakes and Allsop then partnered him unsuccessfully two days later in the A.J.C. Great Metropolitan. Hubert proved a good calling card for Allsop and among his first clients were P. J. McAlister and S. Knight. The Wilton House stables soon extended to encompass an acre of ground including two nice, soft and sandy paddocks together with thirteen stable boxes including eleven in a row. There were separate bedrooms for the stable boys and extensive feed and saddle rooms.
At the 1882 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Allsop won the Doncaster with his own mare Stella handicapped with just 6 st. 8lb and took out the Sires’ Produce Stakes with the Kelpie filly, Jessie, for P. J. McAlister in a three-way head-bobbing finish from Hecla and Navigator. Such successes attracted patrons like Tom Clibborn and Henry Dangar, while later owners included James Mitchell, William Gardiner, Henry White, Francis Foy, James Macken and Hunter White – men who raced for the love of the sport rather than for the purpose of indulging in betting coups. Over the years Allsop repaid their faith handsomely by training a string of high-class gallopers to win the Turf’s richest prizes. Mention of Francis Foy, the founder of the famous Sydney department store, Mark Foys, brings to mind how close he and Allsop came to winning the 1899 Melbourne Cup with Voyou.
An imported son of the Irish stallion, Bendigo, winner of the 1887 Champion Stakes at Newmarket, Voyou came to the colony in the ship as Positano and was set and backed for that Melbourne Cup. Weighted with 8 stone and Frank Kuhn in the saddle, the six-year-old stallion led around the home turn and then staged an epic struggle with the three-year-old Merriwee up the Flemington straight only to weaken slightly within the shadows of the post. Allsop then produced Voyou on the last day of the meeting and won the V.R.C. Handicap over one-and-three-quarter miles in brilliant style with 9 st. 2lb. Two months later Voyou broke down in the A.J.C. Grand Stand Stakes run on the last Saturday before Christmas. However, the stallion was saved for stud duty. Allsop more than made up for it in 1905 when he won the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap and Australian Cup double with those two good mares, Playaway and Lord Ullin’s Daughter, for the same owner.
Other top-class racehorses Allsop trained, included Paris for Mrs H. C. White (Caulfield Cup and a Metropolitan), Cremorne for James Mitchell of Tabletop (Doncaster Handicap and Caulfield Cup) and Uabba for John Dyke (Epsom Handicap). Another feature of John Allsop’s training career was that it was bookended by winning two royal races, thirty years apart. In 1881 on the occasion of the visit of the ill-fated Prince Albert Victor and Prince George (the future King), Allsop won the A.J.C. Princes’ Stakes at Randwick for Mr Knight. And then in 1911 Allsop had the honour of training A. G. White’s horse, Safrano, to victory in the Coronation Handicap at a special Rosehill meeting conducted to commemorate the ascension of King George V. Something that is often forgotten in discussions of Allsop’s training career was that for James Mitchell he trained Grand Canary, the future dam of the champion Trafalgar. Not that he had much luck with her as she was a hopeless failure on the racecourse. Among other famous performers prepared at Wilton House stables was Sir Modred.
The New Zealand champion was taken in hand by John Allsop for the 1884 Hawkesbury Spring Handicap. He was given a splendid preparation and was heavily backed by patrons of the stable, but was scratched just prior to the race. One of the backers “took the knock”, and to evade his liabilities endeavoured to escape in the guise of a priest. Unfortunately for him, he failed to act the part, as he made the fatal error of ordering mutton chops for breakfast on a Friday morning! The general public was none too pleased when some days after that Hawkesbury fiasco, The A.J.C. Metropolitan was conducted. As the Sydney Mail correspondent wrote poetically: “Much interest was taken in the Metropolitan Stakes, especially after the hoisting of the numbers showed that Sir Modred was to start. When that horse came in a winner by several lengths, strong and quick, a dead silence fell over the crowd, and people turned away right and left, with their balance all down on the side of disappointment and disgust. It was not a spring day after all. That scratch from the Hawkesbury opened again; it was the little bit of frost that came from the winter and nipped the shoot.”
Just before the First World War, John Allsop’s eyes began to fail him, and Sydney specialists advised that they could do nothing to prevent blindness. Francis Foy, however, knew of a German eye specialist with a worldwide reputation and it was as a last resort that Foy financed a trip there together with his trainer. At the same time, Foy was taking five of his best mares over to Pau in France, to be mated with the great French stallion, Prestige. Allsop’s prescribed course of treatment had only just begun when the war broke out, and as citizens of the British Empire, Foy and Allsop were compelled to leave the country. Soon after his return to Australia, Allsop did, in fact, go blind but this in no way diminishes the generosity of Foy’s heartfelt gesture. Despite his blindness, which ended his training career, Allsop still attended Randwick races regularly for much of the rest of his life. He died in February 1931 at his Botany-street home, Greenheys, in his seventy-fifth year. A long and happy marriage to his beloved wife, Rebecca, had resulted in four sons and a daughter.
During John Allsop’s absence, his son Dudley had assumed responsibility for the team. Ironically, although Dudley was keen on horses from boyhood until then his father had tried every means until his eyes began to fail, to keep him away from racing. Dudley followed the calling for about seven years, during which time he turned out numerous winners, although the best was probably Kandos, raced by Hunter White. An overgrown two-year-old by the 1902 A.J.C. Derby winner Abundance out of the 1900 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes winner Fulminate, Kandos was rather straight in front and wouldn’t stand training until he stopped growing. Accordingly, he wasn’t ready for the Derby but in the autumn he won both the A.J.C. Ledger relegating Cetigne and the Melbourne Cup winner Patrobas into the minor placings. After landing the St. Leger, Kandos went amiss and didn’t race again for a long time.
Ulva’s Isle, Secret Service, Dessert and Franco were other winners trained by Dudley Allsop. Ulva’s Isle was a useful handicapper and stayer, winning in the best of company and running the minor placing in behind Posinatus and Belove in the 1913 Melbourne Cup. Ulva’s Isle and Kandos each won the A.J.C. Plate, which gave father and son the unique distinction of training four successive winners of the race because John Allsop had previously prepared Harpist and Cagou in 1913 and 1914 respectively. A vacancy on the board of the Associated Racing Club stewards 1n 1920 tempted Dudley to try his skills in a different branch of the Turf and he secured the position under the chairmanship of Frank Morris. After about two years as a steward, Dudley was appointed to the position of judge at the Ascot, Kensington and Rosebery Clubs and served for the best part of ten years before donning the King’s uniform in World War II.
Later Dudley Allsop was induced to relinquish his trainer’s ticket to become the officiating judge at the A.R.C. courses of Ascot, Rosebery and Kensington, a position he filled for many years. He did make a brief comeback to training, in the months after World War II, but that was more about easing the way for his own son, Fred, to inherit a readymade team upon his discharge from the Australian Army. Dudley Allsop died in the winter of 1948, and a youthful Fred Allsop found himself the following season elevated to a No. 1 licence and moving into the famous stables of Bayly Payten, following that trainer’s premature death. If Dudley’s training fortunes in big races paled in comparison with those of his father, Fred Allsop went some way towards redressing the imbalance with the likes of High Law (Epsom Handicap), Beaupa (The Metropolitan) and Brimses (Flight Stakes and VATC One Thousand Guineas). In 1962 Fred Allsop became the first trainer to occupy the new stables constructed by the A.J.C. on Randwick racecourse. Perhaps it was only fitting, considering the patronage that three generations of the family had given the hallowed Turf there.