When Carbine was sold for 3000 guineas in the wake of his defeat in the 1888 Victoria Derby, there was a body of uninformed opinion that believed the three-year-old colt was well sold at the price. As the bay was led into the ring that day, he was greeted with a round of applause. Archie Yuille, who was wielding the hammer, got a 2000 guineas-bid to begin proceedings, which quickly climbed to 3000 guineas, at which figure he was knocked down to Harry Ryan, buying for a patron of Walter Hickenbotham’s stable, the patron appearing afterwards in the person of Donald Wallace. Wallace had attended the auction half intending to buy Tradition, who had run second to his own horse Mentor in the Melbourne Cup a week earlier; but when he went for 3050 guineas, Wallace switched his choice to the year-younger Carbine instead. Tradition subsequently proved worthless on the racecourse whereas, in Carbine, Wallace was to enjoy the pleasure and privilege of seeing his magpie jacket sported on possibly the best horse ever to race in Australia.
As we have seen, before changing hands Carbine’s only loss in eight appearances had been in the Victoria Derby when unluckily beaten by Ensign. Having acquired ownership, Donald Wallace placed the colt in the Flemington stables of 40-year-old Walter Hickenbotham, who had passed his novitiate among horses with John Tait, and already trained for the likes of C. M. Lloyd. Over the next three seasons, Old Jack, as Hickenbotham affectionately christened the son of Musket, won 26 of his remaining 35 starts including a host of our best weight-for-age races, two Sydney Cups, and that famous 1890 Melbourne Cup as a five-year-old when carrying 10 st. 5lb – a record impost that will probably stand forever.
On four occasions Carbine ran twice on the same day in weight-for-age races – at each of the Flemington and Randwick Autumn Meetings in 1889 and 1890 – and won them all! On each occasion, his first race was the All-Aged Stakes at a mile while the second was in either the V.R.C. Loch Plate or the A.J.C. Cumberland Stakes over two miles. It was a trick that he almost pulled off a fifth time, too, when in his last campaign as an autumn five-year-old at Randwick, he completed a hat-trick of victories in the Cumberland Stakes but could only manage second to Marvel earlier in the day over the mile. Hickenbotham blamed himself for that loss, for the going was heavy, and Carbine was a better horse on top of the ground. Hickenbotham decided to run him shoeless, not a mistake he made in the later event when he took the precaution of putting light plates on the champion’s front feet. What proved to be Carbine’s last start came just two days later, on the final day of the meeting when he ran out an easy winner of the 3-mile A.J.C. Plate.
Weighted with 10 st. 12lb for the 1891 Melbourne Cup, Carbine broke down in mid-August on the Queenscliff course of his owner while being prepared for another spring campaign, the problem being a bruised suspensory ligament in the near foreleg, which filled after a gallop. Rarely does a racehorse recover from such an injury if it is severe, and yet the knowledge of the damage was not immediately made known to the public. Although Carbine was struck out of his Randwick engagements, Donald Wallace chose to leave him in the Melbourne Cup while reports circulated from the Hickenbotham stable that the horse was progressing favourably. When the inevitable happened, and the scratching pen was applied to Carbine’s name for the Cup, several newspapers were highly critical of the delay and suspicious of Wallace’s motives: the implication being that he had used Carbine’s presence in the betting markets to lay bets on the extended odds of his rivals. Given the heated controversy, Wallace thought it necessary to write a letter to The Australasian, denying that he had ever set out to delude the public. Carbine’s complete racing record was 33 wins from 43 starts, with 6 seconds and 3 thirds and only one unplaced run, having won over distances ranging from 5 furlongs to 3 miles and earned a record £29,676 in prizemoney.
Just a few months earlier – in July 1891 – Wallace had purchased 700 acres of land, next to the Broadlands Stud of Albert and Septimus Miller, on the Lerderderg River close to the pretty little township of Bacchus Marsh, at the cost of £20,000. It was dairy-land rich in lucerne and it had been the success enjoyed by the Miller Brothers in their thoroughbred breeding ventures that first attracted Wallace to the location. It was here that he proceeded to build his Lerderderg Stud and where he now installed Carbine as a stallion alongside his other Melbourne Cup winner, Mentor. Wallace had previously bred horses at his Ballark estate and for a time had used his 1883 Caulfield Cup winner, Calma, and Enfilade, the younger brother of Nordenfeldt, as stallions there, but neither had been successful.
Now, with Carbine in requisition, that pair became surplus to requirements and were sold off while the Ballark mares were transferred to the new property. The capable John Evans was appointed by Donald Wallace to manage the stud farm, and he took up residence in the snug homestead on the banks of the river. Carbine’s initial stud fee was announced at 200 guineas to selected mares – a price unheard of in the colonies at the time, the previous highest being the 60 guineas demanded for the imported English stallion, St Albans, a son of Blair Athol. Donald Wallace, along with the great majority of the Australian public, was now fascinated by the question as to whether the greatest racehorse ever foaled south of the line could make the successful transition from the post to the paddock.
Apart from everything else going for him, Carbine’s stud career was being plotted by one of the most successful men on the Australian Turf during the fin de siècle. Old Jack might have been Donald Wallace’s most spectacular achievement in a lifetime of buying and selling bloodstock, but as one of Australia’s leading pastoralists, he had cut a most conspicuous figure on our sunburnt landscape for many years. Born in 1844 at Ballark, he was the eldest son of John Wallace, one of the early Australian settlers in the district between Geelong and Ballarat. After finishing school young Donald had followed in the footsteps of his father, gaining his first station experience at the age of eighteen before setting out in 1870 to seek his fortune in a series of pastoral adventures in Queensland.
Initially, these ventures were in conjunction with Sir Samuel Wilson; but eventually, he went into partnership with his brother-in-law and future V.R.C. chairman, Richard Casey, becoming the owner of four large Queensland stations, Terrick, Normanby, Kilcumin and Coreena that between them covered over one-and-a-quarter million acres. Wallace left the everyday management of the properties to Casey, spending most of his time out of the colony, despite having been returned to represent Clermont in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. An exasperated Casey later complained that Wallace ‘disregarded the properties and seldom answered letters’. It was a dilatoriness matched in the Queensland parliament, where Wallace spoke no more than three sentences in four years.
Victoria was where Wallace’s heart lay, and where he spent most of his time after being elected to the V.R.C. committee in 1881 and inheriting his father’s estate in 1882. When it came to registering a set of racing colours, Wallace followed a trend common at the time in Australia of adopting a famous English livery. In his case, the ‘black jacket, white sleeves, red cap’ of Lord Falmouth, then the most dominant owner in England, and whose horses were usually ridden by the great Fred Archer and trained at Newmarket by Mathew Dawson. Australia might not have had a Fred Archer to call upon, but Donald Wallace found the next best thing in Mick O’Brien, a native of Geelong and a natural horseman whose initial master had been the great James Wilson. It was O’Brien who was aboard Wallace’s first good winner in Victoria when the five-year-old Napper Tandy won the two feature races at the Geelong Winter Meeting in July 1881. After that, O’Brien partnered most of the good horses Wallace raced, including winning the Melbourne Cup on Mentor and 16 races on Carbine, until tragically dying from asthma at the age of just 34. It was Bob Ramage who donned the magpie jacket upon O’Brien becoming indisposed during the winter of 1890.
Donald Wallace’s success on the racecourse may not have quite matched Lord Falmouth’s in England, but over the next decade or so he registered a string of victories with some first-class horses nonetheless. Apart from two Melbourne Cups and other races with Mentor and Carbine, Wallace owned the likes of Calma (Caulfield Cup); Le Grand (A.J.C. St Leger and Champion Stakes); Don Quixote (V.R.C. Grand National Hurdle); and Wilga (A.J.C. Champagne Stakes), albeit mixed with the odd expensive failure such as Megaphone and Titan. Wallace was a man, who, once he fancied a horse, would baulk at nothing to get him – as his purchase of Megaphone demonstrated. In 1890 Carbine and Megaphone were the talk of the town for the Craven Plate. Carbine won, but it was a tremendous duel up the Randwick straight and had Megaphone’s rider been the equal of Ramage the result might have been different. The performance of the Queensland colt certainly impressed Wallace, for on the spot he purchased him for 2500 guineas plus contingencies!
Now in establishing the Lerderderg Stud in 1891 to launch Carbine on his stallion career, Wallace had likewise spared no expense, and among the high-class broodmares gambolling in the sheltered paddocks were the likes of Clare, Marchesa, Ravenswing, Novelette, Forest Queen and Duenna. Having been in near racing trim when forced to retire, Carbine hadn’t had the opportunity of being properly prepared for a first full season at stud. Accordingly, in the late spring of 1891, Donald Wallace mated him with just a few mares of his own. Nonetheless, in a sporting and reciprocal gesture with William Wilson, the Squire of St Albans Stud, Wallace agreed to accept one St Albans mare to Carbine, while he in return would send one of his Lerderderg mares to Trenton.
Such then was the serendipitous arrangement that led to Carbine’s best and most influential Australian offspring coming into the world; for as fate would have it, the mare that William Wilson sent to Carbine was none other than Melodious, a daughter of Goldsbrough. In the St Albans paddocks the following spring she dropped a washy chestnut colt with a blaze face. In recognition of the generous gesture of the Lerderderg studmaster in accepting an outside mare to his champion, the Squire of St Albans promptly registered the colt as Wallace. It was somewhat ironic for old Dan, considering that Carbine missed with a couple of the Lerderderg mares with which he had mated in that first abbreviated season. In fact, Carbine only got two other foals that year in Cartridge and Creel, and each was rather ordinary – but then, that’s racing. Sporting the famous cardinal and white silks of the Squire of St Albans, Wallace was arguably the best two-year-old of his year and undoubtedly the best three-year-old – carrying off the likes of the Caulfield Guineas and Victoria Derby, and both the St. Leger and Sydney Cup at Randwick in one glorious season. Retired to stud after just one appearance as a four-year-old, as we shall see, he became one of the most influential stallions to ever stand in Australia.
Unfortunately, Carbine’s first few seasons at stud in Australia coincided with a severe economic slump on the land that forced many wealthy pastoralists, Wallace among them, to drastically curtail their financial commitments or run the risk of going under completely. Bad seasons, together with falling wool prices, meant Donald Wallace could no longer meet the capital payments and interest charges on his sprawling but highly-mortgaged pastoral empire. By 1890 – ironically the year in which Carbine won the Cup – the debt on Wallace’s Queensland stations alone had reached £650,000. Forced to dissolve his partnership with Casey, he sold off all of the Queensland properties, which realised little more than their liabilities. Wallace abandoned his ambitious plans for more extensive stabling and the completion of a sales ring with seating at his Lerderderg Stud. Moreover, his lavish bloodstock purchases became a thing of the past.
Carbine had just finished serving his fourth book of mares, and his son Wallace had only recently made his racing debut, when in November 1894 the Squire of Lerderderg resigned his position on the V.R.C. committee. Donald Wallace announced that Carbine, together with his splendid collection of racehorses, mares and yearlings, were to be sold by public auction the following March. Immediately there was widespread speculation as to the price the champion would realise in such hard times.
It was speculation abruptly ended when, weeks before the scheduled auction date, Donald Wallace declared that, following negotiations carried on by cable, Carbine had been sold to His Grace, the sixth Duke of Portland, for the astounding sum of 13,000 guineas! It was an amount that easily exceeded the previous Australian record at public auction of 5600 guineas paid by Samuel Hordern for Nordenfeldt. Welbeck Abbey, the Portland seat in Nottinghamshire, was one of those grand, ducal houses for which England was justly famous, and the stud and stabling at Welbeck were maintained on the same sumptuous scale as the house, which was only fitting, given the aristocratic lineage of the thoroughbreds residing therein. Carbine was destined for an establishment that already boasted the great St Simon as well as the sixth Duke’s two winners of the English Derby, Ayrshire and Donovan.
Unfortunately, at a cost to Australian bloodstock that we shall never know, on April 13th, 1895, Carbine left Australia’s shores on the Orient Company’s steamship Orizaba. To keep him company, the Duke of Portland had also purchased one of Carbine’s yearlings out of the mare Novelette, from the Lerderderg Stud. Ernest A. Day had been commissioned by His Grace to superintend the transport of Australasia’s champion racehorse, and under his direction, suitable stabling was erected on the upper deck of the Orizaba. As illustrious as the stallion company Carbine soon found himself keeping at Welbeck was, time would prove the palatial establishment to be Carbine’s natural milieu as well. The princely son of Musket was to found an English Derby-winning dynasty all of his own, beginning with his son Spearmint in 1906, and extending through him to Spion Kop (1920) and in turn to Felstead (1928).
It was only fitting that in the fullness of time, Carbine’s blood would heavily influence Australian breeding as well, and not just through the four crops that he left here before crossing the seas. Even more profoundly, his influence here came in the shape of the stallions Spearhead and The Buzzard, each of which was later imported into Australia from England. In due course, two of Carbine’s daughters would ensure his name became known the world over. I refer to Plucky Liege and Catnip. Plucky Liege became the dam of the champion sires, Sir Galahad III, Bull Dog, Bois Roussel and Admiral Drake; while Catnip became famous as the granddam of Nearco, arguably the most important thoroughbred stallion of the second half of the twentieth century.
Of course, all this lay in the distant future when on March 1st, 1895, the balance of Donald Wallace’s Lerderderg Stud was dispersed as originally scheduled. The withdrawal of Carbine notwithstanding, the remaining catalogue remained strong, and a large crowd descended on the Bacchus Marsh estate that day to witness Archie Yuille wield his gavel. A special train chartered from Melbourne’s Spencer-Street station was laid on to transport the horde of prospective buyers, with carriages waiting at Bacchus Marsh railway station to convey them to the stud for the auction beginning at 1 o’clock. The majority of the 66 lots that went under the hammer had been sired by Carbine, while several others had foals at foot by him. Considering that only a few of his progeny had been exposed on the racecourse, albeit including the highly promising Wallace, Carbine’s reputation as a progenitor was not yet fully proved, and so the sales aggregate of more than 10,000 guineas, including 3110 guineas for 16 yearlings, was highly satisfactory.
Among the coterie of distinguished bloodstock breeders in attendance on that day was the 71-year-old John Lee from Bylong. Although no longer the dominant breeder that he had once been in his prime when he imported the famous stallion Kingston into Australia, Lee had nonetheless retained a keen interest in the sport down the years. And of all the lots on offer that day at Lerderderg, one, in particular, attracted his fancy. It was lot No.5, the broodmare Duenna, a daughter of his old favourite Lecturer, the first progeny of the famous Sappho, out of the imported English mare, Signora. Signora had been selected in England for William Dangar by his long-time friend Bruce Lowe, on one of their regular jaunts to the Old Country. She had proven a good matron at Neotsfield too, as apart from Duenna her progeny included Cardigan, winner of The Great Metropolitan at Randwick in 1887, and Mantilla, the chestnut mare which William Duggan trained for Messrs Allen and McDonald when runner-up to Carbine in the 1890 Sydney Cup.
Duenna had carried Donald Wallace’s magpie jacket with distinction when trained by Phil Heywood, winning among other races the Sapling Stakes at Flemington. Meanwhile, at stud, she had already produced some winners for Wallace including Dryden, one of the best juveniles of his year and a place-getter in both the Maribyrnong Plate and Sires’ Produce Stakes. Now she was being offered for sale, together with her foal by Carbine and stinted to the great horse yet again. Was it the little fellow, by Carbine, that tickled Lee’s fancy, or was it the greyness of Duenna’s coat that rekindled fond memories of the great Sappho from his distant childhood? Nobody knew the value of Sappho blood or loved it better than John Lee. Whatever the reason, the Squire of Bylong on the spur of the moment nodded to Archie Yuille and for 220 guineas secured both Duenna and the Carbine foal by her side. A few days later the steamship Wodonga brought the valuable cargo to Sydney, where mother and son were transferred on to Bylong.
John Lee was no longer seriously active in the racing of horses at the time he purchased Duenna and her foal, and it came as no surprise when in April 1896 he leased the latter – by now a well-furnished yearling – to 37-year-old William Duggan, who was then emerging as a most promising Randwick trainer. Most of John Lee’s horses in the past that he had raced on lease, had been placed in the Lower Randwick stables of Tom Ivory, but failing eyesight had forced Ivory’s retirement a year or two earlier. Ivory had nominated Duggan as a most capable substitute, and he quickly registered the colt as Amberite – the name of a smokeless powder composed of guncotton, barium nitrate and paraffin – and a material that was popular at the time. It seemed a suitable name for a son of Carbine, and it only remained to be seen whether the colt would fire when struck. The answer wasn’t long in coming.
Although he proved hard to train as a juvenile because of a suspect near foreleg that caused Duggan much anxiety, he showed considerable speed in his track gallops. His racecourse debut came as early as the August Tattersall’s Meeting when he went off as the favourite in a field of twenty-four for the Two-Year-Old Stakes (4f). Alas, Amberite began badly and ran unplaced in the race won by Patriot. His next essay came in late November when he finished unsighted over five furlongs in a Randwick Nursery – again won by Patriot. Duggan knew that the colt wasn’t quite right and needed a somewhat longer journey to do himself justice; he lightened his work with a view towards setting him for the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting and a tilt at the Champagne and Easter Stakes double. Duggan confided to John Lee that, provided he could give Amberite a suitable preparation, he didn’t think there was a juvenile in Sydney capable of lowering his colours, while the following season’s Derby was well within his compass.
Duggan’s assessment of the depth of Sydney two-year-olds that season proved shrewd enough, but Amberite’s nemesis for much of the calendar year 1897 wasn’t to be drawn from the local ranks. As we have discovered previously in this study, every so often there comes upon the Turf a crop blessed not with just one outstanding racehorse, but two. 1897 was to prove such a year, for along with Amberite there came from across the Murray another quite exceptional colt in Aurum, who raced in the colours of his breeder, William Wilson of the St Albans Stud. A neat, compact, bay colt and never more than about 15.2 hands, Aurum was by the great Trenton from that wonderful broodmare Aura, and hence a full brother to the 1895 Melbourne Cup winner, Auraria.
Aurum had been disposed of during the famous St Albans lottery in October 1895 when a yearling, but the lucky drawer happily sold the colt back to Wilson for 400 guineas. Aurum had made his first appearance in the Nursery at the Caulfield Spring Meeting, and though unplaced, the scamper taught the little fellow all he needed to know about racing. Trainer Hugh Munro next stepped him out on the last day of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting when he easily won the Flemington Stakes (4f 82 yards). Aurum was then put by until late summer and produced first-up for the Oakleigh Plate and a betting sting that was to be denied by only a bob of the head. The little bay colt didn’t taste defeat again as a juvenile, reeling off six straight victories that began with the Sires’ Produce, Ascot Vale and All-Aged Stakes in rather facile fashion at the Flemington Autumn Meeting.
When Aurum was brought across the Murray for the Champagne Stakes at Randwick and a clash with the Sydney colts, it came as no surprise when he went off at odds of 1/3. In a race of just six starters that included Amberite in the hands of his regular jockey Mat Harris, the betting market wasn’t upset although the son of Carbine surprised many by actually getting to within a length of the St Albans crack at the post, albeit in receipt of 10lb. Alas, it was no better three days later in the Easter Stakes. Despite a furlong extra and a pull of a stone in weight, this time Amberite could get no closer than three lengths to the Victorian champion. It seemed to the racing public that these two – both grandsons of Musket – were set for some interesting clashes in the spring. The one consolation for John Lee and William Duggan as they reflected on those two defeats was that Aurum had not even been nominated for the A.J.C. Derby!
On a Derby Day at Randwick blessed with pleasant weather and a track in excellent condition, an estimated 15,000 people were in attendance. A notable feature of that spring meeting was the lack of support from Victorian owners. There were no Victorian-trained colts in the Derby field although the prominent Victorian, William Bailey, owned one, Metford. More remarkable still was the fact that for the first time in 24 years, there were no Victorian gallopers in either the Epsom or The Metropolitan. Despite the absence of Aurum, only four colts accepted for the 1897 A.J.C. Derby and all bar one of them were by Carbine. Amberite, although he had not improved markedly to the eye since the autumn, dominated the betting as he had all winter. Still concerned about the colt’s suspect joint, Duggan had not subjected him to a severe preparation, and his only appearance before the Derby came when he easily won the Hampden Stakes (9f) at the Tattersall’s August Meeting at Randwick.
Despite a little softness in Amberite’s appearance, by comparison, the pretensions of his three challengers appeared quite modest. Clarion, the best-backed horse to upset Amberite, was raced by H. C. White and had failed to run a place at his only three starts as a two-year-old although never fully wound-up, while at his only appearance at three he had been unsighted in the Hampden Stakes. Metford, the third candidate by Carbine in the classic, at least had won the V.A.T.C. Debutant Stakes at his racecourse debut, although it was his only victory in nine appearances that season. Neither as a stayer nor as a weight carrier did he fill the eye, although he was well-primed for the Derby. He had already started three times in the new season, including an easy win in a Rosehill flying handicap and a placing at his most recent start in the Hawkesbury Grand Handicap. The rank outsider of the four and the only colt not by Carbine was Patriot. Raced initially by Dan O’Brien before being sold during his two-year-old season, Patriot at least boasted two victories over Amberite, although he had done little since to suggest a reprise performance was on the cards, or that O’Brien had erred in selling out.
The 1897 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
As often happens in a small field, the Derby was a slowly run affair with the first half-mile taking 63 seconds. From that point on, however, they skipped along well, as Clarion was compelled to assume the unfamiliar role of the pacemaker in his own interest. Matt Harris was happy to track Clarion, with Metford and Patriot at length intervals behind him. Clarion kept his place until fairly well into the straight, but Amberite went to him easily and came away inside the distance – a comfortable winner by three lengths with the last mile covered in 1 minute 42 seconds. One interested observer among the privileged in the members’ enclosure on Derby Day was Leslie Macdonald, who had journeyed across from St Albans.
Whether or not Macdonald believed Amberite’s performance made Aurum’s claim to the Victoria Derby crown any less secure, we can’t be certain. However, he presumably enjoyed a measure of relief when William Duggan’s colt failed to run a place in The Metropolitan on the following Monday when asked to carry 7 st. 12lb in the race won by Survivor. The Metropolitan that year was run in smart time, and Amberite did remain prominent up to the home turn. If Macdonald was relieved, it was somewhat premature. For on the third day of the meeting Amberite stepped out in the Duff Memorial Stakes, a race for three-year-olds with special weights and penalties, and won contemptuously, despite the steady burden of 9 st. 10lb, which included a 14lb penalty.
With the conclusion of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, the action moved to Caulfield and Duggan let it known to some of his closest confidants that the Caulfield Cup was very much on his mind. As early as mid-August Duggan had secured odds of 100/3 and backed his charge to win a few thousand pounds. On the first day on the Heath, Aurum cantered up to win the Caulfield Guineas as a 5/2 on favourite by eight lengths and thereby extended his unbeaten sequence of wins to seven. In the first race on the same card, Amberite went off as the public elect for the Caulfield Stakes. This race was not then the true weight-for-age contest that it later became, in that it carried penalties and Amberite had incurred an additional 7lb impost for winning the A.J.C. Derby. Neither for the first nor the last time did a racehorse having his first run on that deceptive course fail to show his best and Amberite, who finished an inglorious sixth in a field of fifteen, blew out to 20/1 and more for the Caulfield Cup on the following Saturday. Duggan didn’t lose confidence, however, and stepped up once more to support his colt in the market.
Aurum wasn’t entered for the Caulfield Cup in which twenty-six horses eventually found their way to the post on a most oppressive October afternoon. It was only the second time the race had been started by machine rather than the flag, but from the moment the field was released Amberite was travelling beautifully. Matt Harris chartered an impeccable course to land the son of Carbine an easy winner by a length from the favourite Parthenopaeus. Amberite became only the third three-year-old to win the race, and his victory went a long way towards silencing those critics who hitherto had dismissed Carbine as a one-horse sire and a failure at stud. It seemed that Amberite had now earned the right to be bracketed with Wallace and that the Duke of Portland’s judgement was utterly vindicated. Further proof was not long in coming either. Amberite’s triumph resulted in the colt incurring a 10lb penalty for the Melbourne Cup, lifting his weight for that event to 8 st. 4lb or 2lb less than the glorious Aurum.
But before the Melbourne Cup, there was the matter of the Victoria Derby, and despite Amberite’s achievement at Caulfield, to most, it seemed that Aurum merely had to stoop to conquer. The parochial support for the local champion saw him start a 2/1 on favourite as against Amberite at 3/1 with a ‘write your own ticket’ invitation about the other four starters. It proved a rough and tumble affair, and some observers could have been forgiven for thinking that, apart from Amberite, the other horses were only there to run interference at Aurum on behalf of the bookmaking fraternity, whose obligations on the favourite – both in straight-out and Cups doubles wagers – were prodigious.
In the days leading up to the Derby, Aurum had split a hoof, and on race day it was bound round with wax. In what was the most serious of a catalogue of collisions involving Aurum, at about the five furlongs, the Tasmanian horse Eiridsdale struck the favourite on the near hind leg, below the coronet and the wound bled rather freely. It virtually put paid to the champion, and he struggled home in second place, four lengths in the wake of Amberite, with the notorious gang of four, finishing in single file behind the class pair at irregular intervals. The controversy triggered a renewed plea in the press for the appointment of a panel of stipendiary stewards to replace the hapless committeemen that served in that role in an honorary capacity. Another fifteen years would be required before that much-needed reform came to pass at Flemington.
Amberite might have won both Derbies and the Caulfield Cup but his claim to being the finest three-year-old of his year remained in dispute. It was left to the Melbourne Cup to resolve the puzzle. Aurum’s injuries proved superficial, and he stepped out on the Tuesday sporting the ‘white, cardinal seams and cap’ of his owner and 8 st. 6lb in the saddle having blown to 20/1 in course betting. In contrast, Amberite, carrying 2lb less, had firmed into a 10/1 equal third favourite. Neither before nor since have three-year-olds been so heavily burdened in a Melbourne Cup. Aurum proved himself much the better stayer, finishing third – beaten just over four lengths – in the race won by Gaulus from his stablemate and brother, The Grafter, who would go on and win the Cup the following year.
The true merit of Aurum’s performance can only be appreciated when it is understood that on the rain-sodden ground he carried a stone over weight-for-age, giving 12lb and three years to the winner and 13lb and one year to the runner-up. Moreover, Aurum, who suffered from bad feet, was disadvantaged by the big aluminium plates that he was forced to wear. By contrast, Amberite, feeling the effects of a demanding campaign and his considerable weight, failed to run on at all. It was the same story later in the week when Aurum trumped Amberite in both the Flying Stakes (w-f-a 7f), and the Spring Stakes (10f) and then for good measure took out the C.B. Fisher Plate (2m w-f-a) on the last day. The fixture ended with Aurum acclaimed the universal hero.
In December 1897 it was announced that Aurum had been sold to race in England after the fulfilment of his three-year-old autumn engagements. As it transpired, Aurum only raced twice more in Australia: once for a hollow victory in the V.R.C. St Leger and then a few days later finishing third in the Australian Cup, beaten four lengths in the race won by Ayrshire after running as a warm favourite. Upon cooling down that day, Aurum developed a crack in the near fore-hoof accompanied by slight inflammation and William Wilson would risk his champion no more. Wilson had left for England by ship immediately after the previous year’s Flemington Autumn Meeting and had stated beforehand that he intended to sell the colt in the Old Country provided the price was right. At the time, Australian bloodstock was very much in favour over there. This popularity derived from the string of successes by Paris in 1896 sporting the colours of Belltrees’ Henry White including the Great Northamptonshire Stakes, not to mention Merman’s more recent victory in the prestigious Cesarewitch and Maluma’s in the Lewes Handicap. Merman, a son of Grand Flaneur, and Maluma, a daughter of Malua and a full sister to the 1891 Melbourne Cup winner, Malvolio, had each carried the colours of the society actress Lily Langtry and landed a series of tidy wagers.
Parlaying some of her winnings the Jersey Lily, as Langtry was known, decided to try her hand once again with Australian bloodstock and through negotiations conducted by William Alison, the special commissioner of the London ‘Sportsman’, had agreed to purchase Aurum for 5000 guineas plus certain winning contingencies. Langtry, a voluptuous courtesan and one-time mistress of King Edward VII, was known to be generous with her favours, but equally ruthless with both men and horses that failed to perform. She had first become interested in racing in the early 1880s when she began an affair with the American Fred Gebhardt although she later moved on to George Alexander Baird or Squire Abington as he was known on the English Turf. Langtry was never lacking for racecourse mentors in the Old Country whether it was the likes of Captain James Machell or our very own king of the ring, Joe Thompson. Her trainers in England at one time or another included Sam Pickering, Fred Webb, Jack Robinson and a very young Fred Darling, whose first big success came with Langtry’s Yentoi in the 1908 Caesarwitch.
Sad to say, Aurum proved such a disappointment that, following a catalogue of failures after not acclimatising in England, he was peremptorily dismissed from Langtry’s stable. Aurum did stand for a time at the Cobham Stud in Kent alongside his sire Trenton, and compatriots Patron and Abercorn, at a fee of fifty guineas but with only an Australian reputation to recommend him he was largely ignored. Eventually, John O’Keefe intervened in 1907 and brought Aurum back to his native Australia, standing him in the Gippsland district with Traquair at a modest fee; but his initiative deserved a better fate and Aurum, who suffered from fertility problems, failed to sire the winner of a principal race.
Aurum’s departure from the scene cleared the course for Amberite in the autumn of 1898. The son of Carbine wasn’t nominated for the V.R.C. St Leger and resumed, instead, in the Newmarket Handicap, but failed to run a place with 9 st. 6lb although two races later on the same card, he ran a useful second to Battalion in the Essendon Stakes (w-f-a 12f). The following Saturday, Amberite bloodlessly won the Champion Stakes (3m), reduced on that occasion to a match with another son of Carbine in Bundook. Returned to his home course for the A.J.C. autumn fixture, Amberite was in cracking form when in four appearances that week he easily won the A.J.C. St Leger, Cumberland Stakes (w-f-a 2m), and A.J.C. Plate (w-f-a 3m) and finished a gallant second in the Sydney Cup won by the lightweight Merloolas, to which he was conceding three years in age and 18lb in weight.
Leg problems saw Amberite cast but a sad shadow of his former self during an abbreviated four-year-old season, and he was successful only once in eight appearances. That came in the 1898 Randwick Plate (w-f-a 3m) when he gained a measure of revenge by defeating his Sydney Cup conqueror, Merloolas, narrowly by a head. Duggan did manage to patch up the Derby winner for a start in the Melbourne Cup in which he carried top weight of 9 st. 11lb to finish eleventh behind The Grafter, but he was racing on borrowed time. The stallion’s last start came less than two months later at his home course in the A.J.C. Summer Cup. A bruised heel was troubling him more than the damaged ligament on the morning of that race, and Duggan decided to open it just before starting time to administer cocaine to deaden the pain. It enabled Amberite to walk onto the course jauntily enough, and he ran along for a mile. But when Harris asked him to go on with it, the horse tied-up badly in his action. Upon cooling down, he looked very seedy and was lame on both his bruised foot and his injured leg. Duggan announced Amberite’s retirement immediately, and the stallion was readied for the following stud season.
William Duggan, who trained Amberite throughout his career, was born in Wollongong in 1859, and as a very young boy used to ride in hack races near the Tom Thumb Lagoon where he caught the eye of the prominent owner, George Osborne. Osborne recommended the lad to his Sydney trainer, Tom Lamond, and within a matter of months, the 14-year-old Duggan had partnered Osborne’s good Yattendon mare, Vixen, to win the 1873 Sydney Cup. It was an achievement he matched the following year in the same race when he rode Speculation, also trained by his master. At the time Duggan joined Lamond, the latter was a public trainer whose clients apart from Osborne, included E. K. Cox and the Governor of N.S.W., Sir Hercules Robinson.
The Governor took a paternal interest in young Duggan when the boy showed promise and provided him with quite a few mounts including his well-bred FitzYattendon. Duggan’s career in the saddle was all too brief, and increasing weight by his late teens saw him accept a position as private trainer to George Osborne at Foxlow where he remained for about three years before returning to Sydney to establish his own ‘Danebury’ training stable at Randwick. Among his early clients was William Dangar for whom he trained Algerian, runner-up in the 1888 Sydney Cup; and John McLaughlin who owned Correze, the minor place-getter in Carbine’s Melbourne Cup and a horse with which Duggan won the A.J.C. St Leger the following autumn.
Amberite’s string of successes in the spring of 1897, supplemented by some astute wagers on the side, made William Duggan a wealthy man. In the wake of Amberite’s run of victories, he attracted other clients such as William Noake, Hamilton Osborne, J. C. Williamson and William Penn. Reserved and studious by nature, Duggan’s training career was brought to a premature close after he was viciously attacked one morning in 1904 while walking home from Randwick racecourse after trackwork. He never fully recovered from the assault while his assailant not only escaped punishment but also eventually attained a trainer’s licence. Duggan surrendered his ticket in July 1907, his stables being taken over by A. E. Wills who had trained Acrasia to win the Melbourne Cup in 1904. Duggan died at Randwick on New Year’s Eve 1915, at the age of just 56.
Matt Harris, who enjoyed such a rewarding relationship with Duggan and partnered Amberite in all but a couple of his thirty races, is also remembered for his association with those two great horses, Marvel and Melos. Later in his career, Harris travelled with his saddle and became one of a small group of horsemen who plied their trade in Australia’s Asian neighbourhood, for a time acting as trainer and jockey for the Brun brothers in Noumea and later tragically ending his career and life on the island of Java.
Old John Lee entertained extravagant hopes for his Derby winner when he installed him at his Yarralee property on the banks of the Macquarie River near Kelso, where a small number of his mares were brought from Bylong every season. The septuagenarian studmaster had spent a lifetime standing stallions on his various properties, and Amberite was to be his last shot in the locker. Sadly, he was to be disappointed. Tracing the stallion’s complete history at stud would be a task of which the labour would not be repaid by the advantage, for, despite his sound credentials, he proved a failure as a son of Carbine. His best horse was Cato, winner of a Hawkesbury Spring Handicap and Summer Cup and a place-getter in The Metropolitan of 1904, although he also got a dual June Stakes winner in Rose Ailie.
Amberite became more renowned as a sire of picnic gallopers such as Amberise, who accorded Mrs Anthony Hordern the unique honour of winning both the historic Tirrana and Bong Bong Cups, the first lady owner to do so. In later years Amberite’s reputation as a stallion received a minor boost when two of his daughters, Miss Muriel and Needle Gun, bred by the Lee family, produced three winners of the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap in the space of five years. When John Lee met his end in November 1909, brought about after a severe fall from a horse, he was almost 84 years of age. The owner of the well-known Bylong, Murrumbo, and Coggan stations, at the time of his death he still held down the position of the patron to the Bathurst Turf Club. At the Easter sales the following year Amberite, by then rising 17 years of age, was sold by John Lee’s executors to Ernie Green for a paltry 140 guineas.
Before I end this chapter, allow me a final word on Donald Wallace, the man responsible for breeding both Charge and Amberite – successive winners of the A.J.C. Derby. Wallace died suddenly at his Ballark estate in May 1900 at the age of just 58, worn out by the financial strains of his life and the death of his wife in January the previous year. Curiously enough, Wallace’s death coincided within just a few hours of that other great figure of the Australian Turf in the 1890s, William Wilson. And so, the two men responsible for the greatest son of Carbine ever to be foaled on Australian soil coming into the world – went out of it together. A year after selling the Lerderderg Stud and re-ordering his troubled finances, Wallace had regained his position on the V.R.C. committee, which he retained until 1898; but he never again cut the same dashing figure in the sport. Still, he lived long enough to realise that his great champion, Carbine, was destined to be a significant influence on bloodstock both in the Antipodes and on the other side of the globe. Consider the impact that Carbine had on the Australian Turf from just those four books of broodmares. Musket’s most distinguished son sired 14 winners of 41 principal races and, apart from Amberite and Charge, included the champion mare La Carabine, Wallace and Fucile. Wallace apart, Carbine failed as a sire of sires in Australia, although he did enjoy a measure of success as a sire of broodmares getting the dams of 16 winners of principal races here including the dams of Blague, Bobadil and Maranui.
It was on a damp and chilly winter’s night in June 1914 that the following rather cold, clinical cable came clattering across the wires to Australia:
“London, June 10 – Carbine, the famous Australian [sic] racehorse, owned by the Duke of Portland, was shot yesterday at Welbeck Abbey, Worksop. The old horse was worn out. He had led a life of laziness for four years, and it was decided he should be destroyed. He was 29 years of age. The skeleton has been offered to the Melbourne Museum.”