A certain nostalgia and sadness arise when documenting the history of the Randwick classic with the realisation that so many of those splendid and original colonial homesteads where Derby winners were foaled exist no more. Sprawling, pastoral estates that once flourished in the economic boom times of the nineteenth century along with their gardens and orchards, pictures and furniture, not to mention their unique architectural charm, were reduced or demolished when their proprietors fell upon hard times. Perhaps no establishment captures the poignant tragedy of this loss of colonial heritage more than Duckenfield Park House and Stud, the birthplace of our 1898 Derby heroine, Picture. Once situated a short sulky drive out of Morpeth on the banks of the Hunter River, Duckenfield Park was the property of successive generations of the Eales family.
It was John Eales senior who established the Australian branch of the family. Born into a farming-household in Devonshire, England in 1799, and as a young man learning of the prospects for free settlers in the fledgeling colony of New South Wales, the ambitious and adventurous John applied to the Colonial Office for the right to a grant of land. Rather, unsurprisingly, his application was successful, not least because the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Bathurst, was a family friend. John Eales landed at Hobart Town in October 1822 aboard the Francis and after a brief interlude in Van Diemen’s Land crossed the waters to Sydney. The land eventually chosen by Eales for his grant consisted of 2100 acres on the banks of the Hunter River about four miles from Morpeth, which he originally named Berry Park. Eales cleared much of the ground and planted wheat and was very soon enjoying a successful estate. It wasn’t until February 1828 that he married, Jane Lavers, the daughter of a sea captain, and three years later that his son, John junior, was born. Eales senior was an ambitious and determined man and by 1831 Berry Park was yielding 10,000 bushels of wheat a year. Backed by such growing wealth, Eales during the 1830’s moved from farming to grazing, and he both purchased and squatted upon extensive runs on the Liverpool Plains. Very soon he had prospered into one of the richest men in the colony. Before the effects of the depression of the ‘Hungry Forties’, Eales owned more than 15,000 acres of freehold land around Maitland alone, and about twenty pastoral stations throughout the colonies, the largest of which were Walholla and Queepolli.
Nothing seemed beyond him. Frustrated at the irregular and unreliable shipping service between Morpeth and Sydney, in July 1839 Eales convened a meeting of interested parties that ultimately led to the formation of the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company. Three steamers were commissioned from England and Eales built a dry dock for the use of the company’s vessels on the river at the bottom of his property. Eales acted as a principal shareholder and director of the new company. In the early 1840’s Eales pioneered pastoral pursuits in the Maryborough district of Queensland even if he never visited the region himself, sending his superintendent there and stocking the land with some 20,000 sheep, although attacks by aboriginals and the difficulty of receiving supplies forced him to beat a retreat to Moreton Bay. Around the same time, coal was discovered on Eales’ estate. Quick to recognise the potential of this find, he began mining in defiance of the Australian Agricultural Company’s monopoly, although soon after starting production Eales’s coal activities were legitimised by the Government. It proved a profitable enterprise for some years, but around 1859 Eales sold both his coal mine and the associated railway link to the Hunter River at Hexham, to the coal merchants, James and Alexander Brown. As we shall see in the later course of this chronicle, James Brown’s son, John, would largely become the beneficiary of this enterprise. He would garner both notoriety and envy in equal measure as Australia’s coal baron, while the black mineral itself would underwrite a sprawling racing stable that would shelter two winners of the A.J.C. Derby.
In 1853-54 John Eales senior began to sell off a number of his properties and stations and consolidate Berry Park. Then in his mid-fifties, he let much of his land to tenant farmers and invested much of his fortune in mortgages. At the same time, he resolved to have built a sprawling mansion, lavishly appointed to reflect his status as a man of mark in the colony. Thus, Duckenfield Park House came into existence, replete with fine furniture and works of art, together with a private racecourse, well-appointed stud and stables, and complemented by a set of stylish hunt club kennels. His connection with the Turf had always been active, and as early as 1833 he had organised the first race meeting held at Maitland in the Hunter River district. Indeed, his own racehorse, Chance, by Bay Cameron, won the Governor’s Cup on the third day. However, the completion of his personal, private racecourse down on the river flats of his property saw the beginning of monthly race meetings during the summer months at Duckenfield Park – a pastime that continued for years.
In 1856, soon after the completion of Duckenfield Park House, John Eales paid a visit to the Old Country. While there, he attended the sale of Her Majesty’s yearlings at Newmarket in London; he subsequently arranged to import the colts Eclipse (foaled 1853) and The Flying Pieman (foaled 1854) together with a couple of well-bred fillies in Days of Old and Cassia. Eales, in conjunction with his son John junior, enjoyed some success at stud with them too. Rose of Australia, who was a daughter of Days of Old, carried the family colours into second placing in the 1967 Sydney Cup won by Fishhook, and then in the following spring occupied the same position behind Tim Whiffler in his famous victory in The Metropolitan. Old England, a half-brother to the Rose by The Flying Pieman (GB), was also a good horse although he, too, had the family penchant for finishing runner-up. Vanderdecken, the only runner that John Eales ever started in an A.J.C. Derby was a full brother to Old England.
John Eales senior died on 1st April 1871 at Duckenfield Park House, and in due course, the house itself and most of the family fortune was inherited by John junior. It was a few years later, in 1875, that John recruited the distinguished architect, John Horbury Hunt, to transform the family mansion into an even more impressive stately pile. By the time Hunt had completed his commission, Duckenfield Park House was a vast pile of Pyrmont sandstone and cedar joinery containing no fewer than forty-five large and lofty rooms, including a beautifully appointed ballroom and a large billiard room. The house, together with its offices, was arranged around a large botanical garden and tile-paved courtyard in which was set an octagonal aviary containing hundreds of birds. The stables that Horbury Hunt constructed were particularly impressive and altogether fitting because by 1875 the property, which already had a significant association with the Turf, was enjoying a revival.
John Eales junior was, if anything, an even more enthusiastic sportsman than his father had been. A fine style of a man, standing over 6’3” and enjoying robust health, he led an active life. Although he had raced horses in his thirties in conjunction with his father, during the last years of the old man’s life and the first years of succeeding him at Duckenfield Park, he had virtually retired from the Turf. However, in February 1874 he once more became active, taking over the commodious residence and stables at Randwick formerly occupied by William Winch, after Winch announced that he was moving to Flemington, Victoria, for health reasons. However, John Eales’s popular racing colours – red jacket, black sash and cap – were never very successful on the racecourse, although, to be fair, his representatives very rarely ventured away from Randwick itself.
While he bred some excellent performers that won in the livery of other men, the horses that did duty for him seldom if ever emerged from mediocrity, and if they did, the Squire of Duckenfield had the unhappy knack of parting with them at low prices before their true abilities had been disclosed. I speak here of horses such as Myall King, Prince Imperial and Honeydew. Nonetheless, as a bloodstock breeder, he made his mark although it wasn’t perhaps as significant as his outlays might have justified. For during the next two decades John Eales junior set about improving the stock of broodmares at Duckenfield Park and price was rarely a concern when it came to securing quality mares. At the dispersal sale of Fitzwilliam Wentworth’s stud, for example, he paid 1020 guineas for the great Chrysolite, even though she was then 19-years-old. He gave Bruce Lowe a commission to purchase bloodstock on his behalf on one or two of Lowe’s visits to England, and he spent freely when important studs in NSW were dispersed, such as Hobartville in May 1890. Among the broodmares that the younger John Eales bought or bred were Legacy, Lalla Rookh, Hazeley Lea, Penitent, Genesta, Naomi, Sagacity, Paradox and Colors.
Eales was just as diligent, if unlucky, in seeking stallions to stand at Duckenfield Park. It was in May 1887 that he paid D. F. Mackay of Dalcalmah, Whittingham, 1200 guineas for the 19-year-old stallion Grandmaster. As we have seen, the horse had previously stood at Messrs Dangar’s Neotsfield Stud as well as Richard Rouse’s Biraganbil before going to Mackay. It seemed a stiff price to pay for a stallion of such senior years, and there were many who questioned his judgement. During his tenure at Duckenfield Park, the old fellow only got one really good galloper in Gipsy Grand, the winner of the 1896 DJC Dunedin Cup among other races, in New Zealand. Another stallion acquired by John Eales junior to stand at Duckenfield Park was The Australian Peer, who he bought rather cheaply for 600 guineas in October 1889. The son of Darebin proved reasonably successful, siring six individual winners of twelve principal races including Nobleman (1895 A.J.C. Metropolitan) and Australian Star (1899 V.A.T.C. Caulfield Stakes and Eclipse Stakes). Other sires stood at Duckenfield and were less successful such as Crown Prince and New Holland, but it is fair to say that during John Eales junior’s lifetime many fine gallopers first saw the light of day in the beautiful Duckenfield paddocks on the banks of the Hunter. It was in May 1894 that John Eales junior, a Member of the NSW Legislative Council for Duckenfield since 1880, died after a protracted illness. Despite being within death’s shadow, John Eales had stoically attended each day of the 1894 A.J.C. autumn meeting, occupying his usual seat in the balcony of the official stand. The Duckenfield estate, including all of his bloodstock investments, was subsequently bequeathed to his five surviving sons, John, Walter, Alfred, Frederick and Arthur, who promoted themselves as the Eales’ brothers.
Collectively the brothers were to achieve something that had eluded both their father and grandfather in their respective bloodstock adventures despite a lifetime of trying, and that was to breed the Derby winner. How Duckenfield Park came to produce Picture makes an intriguing tale. Russley, the sire of Picture, was got in England although foaled in New Zealand and was one of a remarkable trio of stallions that were all obtained in embryo at the same sale in England and subsequently proved such a boon for Australian and New Zealand bloodlines. It was at the Cobham Stud sale of mares on September 20th, 1881, that George Stead of Christchurch, New Zealand, gave 700 guineas for the mare Steppe.
A half-sister to the 1864 English Derby winner, Hermit, and covered by the 1873 English Derby hero, Doncaster, the foal she was carrying turned out to be Russley. It was also at that same Cobham sale on that very day that the dams of both Gozo and Lochiel were bought. Nelly Moore, covered by Prince Charlie, and carrying the future Lochiel, was sold to George Stead, for 150 guineas; and Maltese Cross, in foal to Wild Oats, and carrying the future Gozo, was sold to William Kite of Kelso, NSW for 350 guineas. All three matrons were shipped to New Zealand and Australia respectively, and early in 1882 each successfully gave birth to the three stallions that were to have such a profound influence on the Australian and New Zealand bloodhorse. I might also add that the fine broodmare, Rusk, who did such favours for the Hon. James White and Agar Wynne was another of the mares purchased at that Cobham Stud sale.
Russley did much of his early racing on the principal courses in Maoriland, winning among other races the Marshall Memorial Stakes at Dunedin. When four or five he was brought across to Melbourne with Medallion and other horses belonging to George Stead, although unlike the others, Russley wasn’t fated to make the return journey, having been sold to Dave Greenaway. It was in Greenaway’s livery that Russley won the 1889 Doncaster Handicap with no less than nine stone in the saddle. After the finish of his racing career, he was sold to John and William Thompson and in 1891 began stud duty at Widden where, among others, he got that famous old iron horse, Lucknow, and his younger sister, Bother. Seldom in the annals of Australian racing do a brother and sister win a feature double at an important meeting, but in 1902 the pair won the Challenge Stakes and Anniversary Handicap double. A clergyman in the Rylstone district bred them both and Lucknow did service in the clergyman’s buggy until his racy appearance – Lucknow’s that is, not the clergyman’s – attracted Bill Kelso’s attention. But I’m straying from the subject. It was when Widden were happy to cull Russley from their embarrassment of stallion riches – and the Eales brothers took a fancy to him – that he moved to Duckenfield Park.
The Hon. E. K. Cox at Fernhill had bred Queen’s Head, the dam of Picture, and she came from a very good producing family. Cox also bred her three brothers Burwood, Reprieve and Respite, as well as her sister Pardon. Burwood ran till he was twelve or thirteen and in his old age ran clean away with the Tattersall’s Cup. Reprieve was the great stayer who once ran the mighty Dagworth to a dead-heat for the Randwick Plate over three miles only to be beaten a short head in the run-off. Respite was a fine-looking horse to whom the crack of the day, Darebin, once tried at Flemington to give 10lb but Picture’s uncle carried Billy Yeomans home the easiest of winners. Pardon, of course, was the classic winner of the family, having won the 1877 V.R.C. Oaks. Queen’s Head herself had been quite a useful racehorse when trained by Tom Lamond for the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson.
Out in the same year as Robinson Crusoe, Briseis and Newminster, she had finished unplaced in the Derby at Randwick but had shown speed as a juvenile. She had run second to Robinson Crusoe in the Champagne Stakes at the 1876 Autumn Meeting after making the pace, and on the last day of that fixture had managed to win the Nursery Handicap with 8 st. 7lb. The nursery win had much to do with the kindness of the starter, who gave her about a half-dozen lengths the best of it when he dropped his flag. After all, there were certain perquisites back in the seventies when one sported the livery of the colony’s leading citizen. Queen’s Head wasn’t exhausted on the racecourse and, given her bloodlines, John Eales was happy to get her as a matron for Duckenfield Park. Even before Picture came along, she had already thrown a good galloper in Prince Imperial as well as Fujiyama, owned by W. T. Jones, who looked likely to win the 1891 Caulfield Grand National until he crashed at the last fence and was destroyed after breaking his back.
The Queen’s Head filly, well-grown and beautifully turned out, was sent down for the yearling sales conducted in the grandstand enclosure at Randwick racecourse in April 1897. Unfortunately, low prices seemed to rule in the case of the Duckenfield Park yearlings, sold late on the second day, and Mark Thompson bought her in for just 110 guineas. The filly went back to Duckenfield Park and only later did Thompson negotiate a lease agreement with the Eales’ brothers. As Thompson intended to nominate her for several classic events, he wrote to the brothers some weeks later to ascertain whether or not the filly had been named. The trainer received a reply in the negative but was informed that she looked ‘as pretty as a picture.’ It seemed as good a name as any with which to register her with the A.J.C. Picture made six public appearances in her first season and all of her races occurred before the New Year.
The daughter of Russley made her debut at Rosehill in early October when she finished unplaced in a nursery, but made amends at her next two starts within the month with victories at Randwick and Rosehill. Increased handicaps seemed to hamper her next two efforts at her home course, but Thompson had set her for the A.J.C. December Stakes, and with only 8 st. 5lb in the saddle and Austin Delaney as her partner, she was untroubled in the field of six to salute the judge first at 10/1. The five-furlong scamper hardly seemed the testing ground for a Derby tilt; after all, in the previous seventeen runnings of the December Stakes only one winner – Abercorn – had subsequently taken out the A.J.C. classic the following season. Nonetheless, Mark Thompson was convinced that, in Picture, despite the disadvantages attendant on her sex, he had the right horse for the Derby. The 40-year-old trainer resolved to forego an autumn campaign and instead turn the filly out on native pastures to strengthen with the Derby as her spring mission.
In plotting a spring campaign, Mark Thompson had little option but to challenge the colts in the A.J.C. Derby. It is too easily forgotten now how, for some years leading into the turn of the century and beyond, Randwick failed to cater properly to fillies with pretensions of stamina. It was only in 1885 that the A.J.C. Oaks was first conducted, run over a mile-and-a-half on the second day of the spring meeting and won that year by the Hon. James White’s filly, Uralla. Uralla had run second in the A.J.C. Derby three days earlier behind her stablemate Nordenfeldt and in the Oaks, itself, only had another stablemate in Percussion to beat. Thus, the club’s first essay in conducting a spring staying classic for fillies was supported by only one owner, and he the reigning chairman. Still, the club persisted in giving the Oaks a fair trial for ten years and only abandoned the experiment due to the scarcity of starters after the hollow victory of P. H. Osborne’s Acmena in 1894. In its place on the programme, the club substituted the New Stakes, a race that was open to both sexes and was first won by William Bailey’s Coil. After the axing of the A.J.C. Oaks, it would be another 27 years before the A.J.C. introduced a classic race for three-year-old fillies alone, and that was in 1922 with the Adrian Knox Stakes run over the mile in January and won by Vodka, by Buckwheat, owned by the popular Thomas Hannan. Hannan was to make his fortune from a company developed out of the Australian Margarine Factory. He was a committeeman of Tattersall’s and a director of both the Moorefield Racing Club and the Menangle Park Racing Club. Hannan won the second running of the race the following year as well, with yet another filly by Buckwheat in All Wheat. But, of course, I digress…
Sixteen thousand people including the Governor and Viscountess Hampden crowded into Randwick racecourse amid glorious spring weather for the 1898 renewal of the Derby pageant. Visitors to the course would have noticed some changes from Derby Day the year before. For one thing, the separate entrance made for members opposite the tramway station proved to be of great convenience. For another, the shilling patrons of the flat were now offered a measure of protection with the registration of bookmakers in that section of the course. The A.J.C. committee had been slow to move on welchers in the St Leger reserve for that matter, but after seeing the improvements in that enclosure brought about by registration, in December 1897 the authorities had extended the system to the flat. As the correspondent of the Sydney Mail ironically observed: “Though the excitement provided by an exhibition of speed on the part of a welsher (sic) and the commendable efforts of a justly incensed crowd of his clients to interview him, may be missing in the near future the patrons of the flat will be better satisfied to have their investments protected.”
However, the club’s largesse to that vast army of racegoers who, owing to either choice or circumstances, viewed racing from the flat, was still grudging. The committee had discussed the possible situation of a skeleton number frame in that enclosure to apprise racegoers of scratchings, starters, and riders, but resolved to take no action on the basis that one frame alone could not possibly service such extensive ground. Apparently, the idea of spreading a few such structures never occurred to them, but then the committee had always regarded such shilling patrons with a jaundiced eye.
The 1898 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
A field of eight confronted the starter, Mr Thomas Watson for the blue riband and Picture was a well-backed second favourite. Mark Thompson was hoping for a little more luck than his previous entry in the race, Solanum, enjoyed in 1893 when beaten a neck by Trenchant. On that day Solanum, owned by Humphrey Oxenham, had been partnered by William Delaney; Picture was to be partnered by William’s brother, Austin. The pronounced public fancy was Cocos, a flashy chestnut colt with a blazed face and two white hind stockings, who had been in the headlines ever since he was foaled at the Kirkham Stud, for he was by Abercorn out of the champion broodmare Copra. Copra, a sister to two A.J.C. Derby winners in Navigator and Trident, had already produced three classic-winning colts at stud in Camoola, Cobbity, and Coil. Little wonder, then, that he attracted the most attention when Tom Clibborn auctioned him at Randwick in April 1897. Tom Payten was forced to go as high as 1150 guineas, on behalf of Ballarat sportsman William Bailey – the most expensive yearling of his year. Certainly, Dan O’Brien gave Payten some keen competition for him, but Payten ran up bids too quickly as he hid his excitement behind a much-tried cigar. Bailey had consistently parted with big money in his annual quest for a Derby colt, but in Cocos, he appeared to have secured the genuine article. When Payten first put Cocos into work, he doubted the horse’s legs would stand the regimen, but in time he became quite sound and developed considerably more than either of his brothers.
Cocos made his debut at the Melbourne Hunt Club Meeting in early October and ran second in the Sapling Stakes (4f 82 yards); he then came out at his next start at Caulfield a few weeks later and landed the rich Debutant Stakes. It was to be his only win in seven races that season, although he ran an impressive series of minor placings in such events as the Oakleigh Plate, Sires’ Produce Stakes, Ascot Vale Stakes, Champagne Stakes and Easter Stakes. Perhaps the only juvenile rated superior to Cocos was Bobadil, but he was never coming across for the A.J.C. Derby. Accordingly, Mr Bailey’s colt headed the Derby lists throughout the winter and confirmed his status upon his reappearance when, despite a 10lb penalty, he went under by a head in the weight-for-age Hamden Stakes (9f). Alas for his Derby prospects, Cocos appeared fretful in the yard, and his temper wasn’t improved when his jockey, Powell, took him on his preliminary canter. Three of the runners in the A.J.C. Derby were sired by Carbine, including the two colts best backed to upset the favourite in Nevada and Lee Metford. Nevada, bred and raced by Henry White of Havilah, had failed to win in six appearances as a juvenile but had run a gallant second to Picture in the prestigious A.J.C. December Stakes. Lee Metford, sold for 200 guineas as a yearling and trained in Melbourne by James Wilson junior, was arguably the fittest horse in the race having raced through the winter; and though he seemed to lack class, he had won a minor handicap at Caulfield in late July.
Two interesting runners were Gauleon and Woodlark, both bred by John R. Smith at the Tucka Tucka Stud from his champion stallion Gozo. Both horses carried the yellow and black jacket of the free-spending, hard-drinking Richard Craven and were trained at Richmond by John Ristenpart. The 53-year-old Craven, whose considerable fortune derived from gold mining and the Brilliant reef around Charters Towers in Queensland, had become a liberal patron of the Turf since returning to Sydney some seven years earlier. Establishing himself in his stylish residence, Preston, in Waverley, he proceeded to spend prodigiously at yearling sales and engaged as a private trainer, William Muggridge. Success was slow in coming, and after a few years he replaced Muggridge with Ristenpart and purchased a large block of land adjacent to the Hawkesbury racecourse, known as the ‘Old Clarendon Gallop’ and upon which he erected a commodious training establishment.
Gauleon and Woodlark were his first representatives in the A.J.C. Derby. On bloodlines alone, Gauleon, who cost 450 guineas as a yearling, was the most interesting runner in the field for he was a full brother to two Melbourne Cup winners in Gaulus and The Grafter. Industry, the dam of all three, was a big strapping mare bred by the New Zealand Stud Company and was by Musket from the Lord Clifden mare, Pearl Ash, who was selected in England for the company by Sir Hercules Robinson. Industry was a three-year-old when she came to Australia, and Bill Kelso senior trained her and she won many races before Tom Ivory bought her for J. R. Smith. While Gauleon would fail in the Derby, his full sister Alemene would carry Humphrey Oxenham’s colours to success in the Epsom in the very next race on the card. Woodlark’s breeding from a Derby perspective was also intriguing for she was a was a younger sister to San Fran – arguably the best horse Smith ever bred at Yetman on the Macintyre – and had cost a hundred guineas less than Gauleon. It is just as well that we are unaware of what the Fates have in store for us. Both Richard Craven and his trainer John Ristenpart would be dead only four months after the Randwick Derby: Craven through cirrhosis of the liver and Ristenpart with pneumonia contracted during the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. But I get ahead of myself.
The prologue has been spoken; now for the Derby itself. Little time was lost at the post as the field went off at a canter with Nevada showing the way past the stand and out of the straight with Cocos reefing for his head. The rest of the field was bunched with Lee Metford in the rear. After passing Oxenham’s palatial mansion, Lelamine joined Nevada, and the pair almost together conducted the pack along the back of the course at a none-too-brisk pace. It was only when the seven-furlong post had been cast behind that the tempo began to mend, although the order hardly changed until after the sheds. Then Woodlark ran up to join both Nevada and Lelamine, and the trio swung round the bend in front of Picture and the favourite. The slow pace had played into Delaney’s hands, and it was at the top of the straight that he dashed Picture to the front to enjoy a length’s advantage at the distance, with Nevada and Cocos, her nearest attendants. Delaney’s initiative won the day, for coming on near the post Picture won cleverly from Lee Metford, who had sustained a powerful finish from the rear of the field at the half-distance and, despite running about under pressure, denied Cocos second placing by a short half-length.
It proved a popular result and Picture met with a hearty reception upon her return to scale. The cheering renewed when Viscountess Hampden invested the filly with the blue riband. While it was conceded that the race had been fairly run – at least from the five – William Powell, the rider of Cocos, came in for some criticism, particularly for dropping his whip at the half-mile post. It was significant that a few weeks later in the Victoria Derby the colt would be ridden to victory by William Delaney.
And so, for only the fourth time in the history of the race, following on the victories of Clove (1865), Florence (1870), and Nellie (1879), a filly had won the A.J.C. Derby. The significance of the achievement shouldn’t be underestimated. Although in the early years of the race those three other fillies had been successful, towards the turn of the century a keener competition existed on the Australian Turf. Accordingly, by 1898 the 5lb weight concession afforded fillies in the early spring was considered insufficient to counter the greater strength and stamina of the best three-year-old colts. In establishing the traditions of the Turf here in Australia, the various colonies had largely imported the weight scales used in the mother country. When the English Derby was first conducted in 1780, fillies enjoyed only a 3lb allowance over the colts, and when this proved inadequate, it was raised to 5lb in 1801, the year Eleanor became the first filly to win that race. Since then, only five others of the fair sex have managed to match Eleanor’s performance on Derby Day in England. Accordingly, when the A.J.C. inaugurated their Derby in 1861, 5lb became the weight concession for fillies.
But before we drop this comparison with the English Derby, one other consideration should be mentioned, and that is the maturity of the colts and fillies when they contest the race. In the northern hemisphere, the foaling season begins on January 1st, and that is the official birthday for horses. The English Derby is now run in late May or early June, although in the late eighteenth century it was run as early as May 4th. It can be seen that an early season foal contesting the Derby at Epsom as a 3-year-old may, in fact, be as old as three years and four months. By comparison, in Australia, the foaling season begins on August 1st and with the A.J.C. Derby run during the nineteenth century anytime between late August and the middle of September, it can be seen that three years and one month is the oldest any colt or filly contesting the race could be, although most would be much younger.
In itself, this difference in maturity is significant when considering whether the A.J.C. Derby was run too early in the season, regardless of sex. But it assumes an even greater import when looking at the respective chances of colts and fillies in the race. During the racing season, the gap between colts and fillies narrows, with fillies gaining in strength. This fact is reflected in the weight-for-age scale itself with mares enjoying a 5lb concession from the beginning of the season on August 1st until December 31st; 3lb from January 1st to March 31st; and 2lb after that until July 31st. It follows that the earlier in the season the Derby is run, the less chance that fillies have of winning it. This is borne out by the superior record of fillies in the Victoria Derby, which traditionally was run later in the season relative to its A.J.C. counterpart. In the period from 1855, when the Victoria Derby was first conducted, up to 1898, nine fillies had won the Derby at Flemington compared with only three at Randwick. The statistics are even more compelling in the A.J.C. and V.R.C. St Legers when each of those classics was a traditional three-year-old event and run in the autumn. Anyway, in 1898 a filly had won the A.J.C. Derby and it would be almost fifty years before it happened again.
Nonetheless, at the turn of the nineteenth century, if any man had been considered likely to train a filly to achieve the feat, that man was Picture’s lessee-trainer, Mark Thompson. Hitherto, Thompson’s life as a horse trainer had been marked by a conspicuous success with the ladies in general and one in particular, a nondescript mare by the name of Cerise and Blue. A native of Newcastle and the Hunter district, Thompson was a contemporary of such capable jockeys as Paddy Piggott, Bricky Colley, Danny Willis, and Donald Nicholson, who all found favour on the Newcastle – Maitland circuit. Thompson first came to Sydney in late 1871 as a 14-year-old lad to ride racehorses. After a short sojourn with the stables of Charles Roberts, he landed his first metropolitan winner on New Year’s Day 1872 aboard Johnny Smoker in the Tattersall’s Club Cup for Tom Lamond, and the latter had himself only recently settled at Randwick. Johnny Smoker, a grey gelding owned by Jack Osborne, carried only 6 st. 7lb that day.
So impressed was Lamond with Thompson’s horsemanship that a few months later he legged-up the boy in the Sydney Cup on his horse, The Prophet, a handsome little chestnut by New Warrior, handicapped at just 6 st. 10lb. There is no more difficult task in the saddle than to ride a waiting race in front, but again Mark Thompson betrayed a maturity beyond his years when he landed the big prize. After that, his future as a jockey was assured. Quiet and imperturbable, Thompson brought those same qualities to bear on the horses put in his charge; his twin strengths as a jockey were a sound judgement of pace in distance races and an ability to get the best out of an unruly mount. In 1873 he won the Australian Cup on Warrior in Phil Glenister’s popular colours, and later the same year the Great Metropolitan Stakes at Randwick on Etienne de Mestre’s Horatio. Thompson always regarded the latter as the best racehorse he ever rode and considered that had the horse been fully sound he may well have denied Joe Thompson the pot of money won in Don Juan’s Melbourne Cup. Thompson partnered Horatio into third placing in that race – beaten a bit over three lengths.
When Thompson arrived at man’s estate, he combined riding with training and usually had a selling-plater or two with which to pick up an extra crust. His first major step on this dual riding-and-training career came when he worked for Andrew Loder at Colly Creek, Murrurundi. Afterwards, Thompson did drift out into the backcountry where among his training successes was the Central Australian Handicap run at Bourke in May 1884, worth £250, won with Hastings, a son of Wilberforce. Eventually, Thompson found his way to Quambone, a well-known station on the Marthaguy owned by the famous pastoralist, Edward Flood, where he managed to pull off some significant victories at places like Walgett, Warren and Coonamble. It is usually true of any leading trainer than one horse more than most makes his reputation and fortune.
It was most certainly true of Mark Thompson, and that horse, or rather, pony – for that is all she was – was Cerise and Blue. A beautiful daughter of the imported English stallion Wilberforce, out of the 1874 Doncaster Handicap winner, Myrtle, and bred by Richard Rouse, it almost seemed fated that the paths of Cerise and Blue and Thompson were meant to cross. Among Myrtle’s other accomplishments, she had finished second to Horatio in the 1873 Great Metropolitan Stakes at Randwick in 1973 when Thompson had ridden the winner. Cerise and Blue, owned by Edward Flood but racing in the nomination of Mark Thompson, first made her name in the far West with victories in the Shorts Handicap at Dubbo and the Jockey Club Handicap at Bourke in May 1885, prompting Thompson to bring her to Hawkesbury and Randwick for the 1885 spring meetings. Alas, she failed in the best of company in the Hawkesbury Grand Handicap and the Squatters’ Handicap but did manage to win the A.J.C. Free Handicap on the last day at Randwick when neglected in the betting. Going on to Rosehill, Cerise and Blue won a double, only for leading Sydney bookmaker Humphrey Oxenham to step in and buy the mare for a reputed £300. However, in a move that would profoundly change Thompson’s life, Oxenham agreed to leave her in the care of this up and coming young man.
In 1885 Humphrey Oxenham wasn’t a bad patron for a well-established trainer to attract, let alone a 28-year-old tyro. The flamboyant and colourful gambler was just three years Thompson’s senior and the pair hit it off at once. Born in February 1854 at Wattle Flat in the Bathurst district of New South Wales, Humphrey Oxenham was the third son of English immigrants who had been drawn to Australia in general, and Bathurst in particular, by the gold rush. A natural extrovert with a flair for self-promotion, Oxenham had first brought attention to himself when, at the May 1878 meeting of the Bathurst Jockey Club, he won a remarkable double. The champion jumps jockey, Tom Corrigan, was at Bathurst for that meeting to ride James White’s Goulburn and related the story to The Argus in July 1893. According to Corrigan, at one of the hotels about four miles out of town there was a huge pumpkin, and while some patrons tried to lift it, Oxenham wagered that he could carry it on his head into Bathurst. Bookmakers laid him long odds on the double – the pumpkin and Goulburn handicapped on 11 st. 10lb for the steeplechase and Oxenham won, so it was said, £100 to one shilling. He folded a towel into a ring so that the pumpkin could rest on it comfortably, and marched into Bathurst followed by a curious crowd.
Afterwards, he began business by making a book on country race meetings in the district. It was in 1875 that the young Humphrey permanently shifted to Sydney after landing a tidy betting coup with his own horse, Hogmanay. By the mid-1880’s when Mark Thompson first crossed paths with him, ‘Oxey’, as he was affectionately known, with his portly figure, receding hairline and trademark moustache, was a familiar figure on Sydney racecourses. He was soon to rival the King of the Ring, Joe Thompson, as Australia’s biggest bookmaker. Certainly, Oxenham’s association with Mark Thompson further promoted the bookmaker’s celebrity, for the young trainer prepared Cerise and Blue to land Oxenham a series of tidy stakes, including second money in the 1886 Australian Cup, before delivering him a £15,000 plus fortune with the mare’s triumph in the 1886 Sydney Cup. On the third day of that same meeting, Cerise and Blue showed her versatility by winning the All-Aged Stakes – beating among others the great Trident. Thus, began a firm friendship between bookmaker and trainer that was to remain unspoiled to the end.
It was with Cerise and Blue’s winnings that Mark Thompson built himself his comfortable home and fine stables in Coogee-street, Randwick, within a good stone’s throw of Coogee Bay and which, appropriately enough, he christened Cerise and Blue Cottage. Happy to be beside the seaside, it was to remain his home and stables until the end of his life and not only afforded natural recourse to the Randwick track itself but offered the option of a refreshing dip in the briny for his charges during the hot days of summer. Apart from the immediate winnings, Cerise and Blue marked the beginning of Thompson’s long connection with Humphrey Oxenham as his private trainer. Thompson led in a string of high-class winners during this period that included: Phaon (1887 Epsom Handicap); Solanum (1893 A.J.C. Mares’ Produce Stakes); Waterfall (1895 Caulfield Cup); Cabin Boy (1896 V.R.C. St Leger); Pilot Boy (1892 S.T.C. Queen’s Birthday Cup), and The Gift (1889 Tatt’s Carrington Stakes). One win that gave Thompson particular satisfaction came in the 1898 Doncaster Handicap with Syerla, a daughter of Cerise and Blue by Gozo. Indeed, Cerise and Blue was to foal another good daughter to Gozo but more of that anon. The great mare died at the Tucka Tucka Stud in November 1899, reportedly of snakebite.
Mark Thompson was a shrewd judge of a thoroughbred, and while Oxenham could afford to buy the richest of blood, it wasn’t always necessary to break the bank. Waterfall, who carried Oxenham’s violet and gold striped jacket and violet cap to victory in a Caulfield Cup, only cost his owner a hundred guineas – the breeder’s valuation. He only purchased the little brown colt because Thompson had previously encouraged him to buy The Gift, who was out of the same mare, Little Wanzer, and The Gift had carried Oxenham’s colours with distinction. Oxenham hadn’t even set his eyes on Waterfall, but his trainer recommended him – and that was good enough for Oxey! Thompson was a firm believer in running families and had no trouble convincing the leviathan bookmaker of the soundness of the philosophy. It was borne out even more starkly in the case of the Kingsborough mare, Kathleen.
Out of an imported English mare, Washed Ashore, Kathleen was to enjoy a remarkable relationship at Jack Smith’s Tucka Tucka Stud with the stallion Gozo. In the space of six years the mare threw three high-class gallopers in Pilot Boy, Cabin Boy, and Sailor Boy, and Oxenham – at Thompson’s urging – purchased all three. Never a sentimental man when it came to racehorses, Oxenham readily sold-on when the time and price seemed right, as is evidenced by the sale of Waterfall when a five-year-old stallion to the Indian Government for 150 guineas in May 1897. Mark Thompson always enjoyed an easy relationship with his employer and Oxenham was quite happy for him to lease and train horses on his own account and race them in his own colours. This, then, is how Thompson came to saddle-up Picture and it was no accident the colours that jockey Austin Delaney sported on that famous Derby Day, were the cerise and blue. Not that Humphrey Oxenham lost out either, for in the Epsom Handicap, run immediately after the Derby, Mark Thompson recorded a memorable double when he sent out the bonny chestnut mare Alemene to win in his old patron’s livery.
Three days after the Derby, Picture ran in The Metropolitan, despite having to carry a 6lb penalty, taking her weight to 7 st. 12lb. Unsurprisingly, she failed to fill a place, which was also the result of the Duff Memorial Stakes in which she ran on the third day of the meeting. Those three hard races in five days exacted a terrible toll on the filly. Taken to Melbourne, Picture lost all form and didn’t accept for the Victoria Derby, won narrowly by Cocos from Bobadil; and she could only manage the minor placing against four of her own sex in the Victoria Oaks won by Symmetry. Returned to Sydney, Picture ran at both the A.J.C. Summer Meeting and the Tattersall’s Club New Year fixture but failed to earn a penny. The daughter of Russley proved a difficult mare to train thereafter, becoming touched in the wind and favouring her off-hind leg when placed under pressure. In retrospect perhaps the 1898 A.J.C. Derby field did lack depth, but this is not to diminish the filly’s very real achievement in winning the race.
Certainly, Cocos proved a decent colt to beat, for he was in slashing form later that spring. Not only did he eclipse the great Bobadil in the Victoria Derby but he ran third in the Melbourne Cup – beaten less than a length – after receiving a bump on the bend that William Delaney claimed cost him the race. I might mention that Cocos broke down in his near fetlock when cantering on the Randwick sand not long after, and this, together with Picture’s loss of form, left the Victoria Derby runner-up Bobadil free to dominate the autumn racing at Flemington if not Randwick. The son of Bill of Portland won five races in succession including such fine plums as the Futurity Stakes, V.R.C. St Leger, Australian Cup, All Aged Stakes and Champion Stakes – the distances ranging from seven furlongs to three miles. Following his injury and vain attempts to patch him up, Cocos was later imported to stand stud duty at Waverley, Tasmania, by H. P. Harrison. Although one of the quietest and most generous of racehorses when in training at Newmarket, at stud, he suffered an outbreak of savagery. In December 1905 he sank his teeth into the biceps of his attendant groom and had to be shot dead to free the victim.
But it is Picture that really concerns us here. In March 1900 the filly was sold to James Barnes for an undisclosed sum. In a rich and full life devoted to the sport, Barnes was a founding member of the NSW Trotting Club, a director of the Moorefield Racecourse Company and for thirty years sat on the committee of NSW Tattersall’s Club. Indeed, it was during his thirteen-year-tenure as chairman that the club moved from Pitt St to its Castlereagh St premises in September 1927. Barnes was a prolific breeder of both standardbreds and thoroughbreds and although the daughter of Russley made one last appearance on the Turf – an unplaced effort in the Exeter Stakes at the 1900 A.J.C. Winter Meeting – Barnes had really acquired her for breeding. He came to an understanding with John McDonald and domiciled the mare at the Mungie Bundie Stud in the Moree district. Consequently, for much of Picture’s stud life, she was mated with the Mungie Bundie stallions, Mostyn and San Francisco. Unlike some of our other Derby heroines, at stud, she was the essence of fecundity, and although none of her eight foals ever won a principal race on the Australian Turf, five of them were winners – and some good winners at that. Although Mark Thompson got the odd one to train, the majority were retained by James Barnes to race in the ‘all white’ and placed in the stables of Ike Earnshaw.
The best of them was arguably the first, Lest We Forget, a daughter of Haut Brion. Although she didn’t race until a four-year-old, she won three races that season including the Tattersall’s Club Winter Stakes (10f) by five lengths. Picture’s next foal, Picturesque, by Mostyn, was a very smart two-year-old and winner of both the V.A.T.C. Gwyn Nursery and the V.R.C. Flemington Stakes at the 1904 spring meetings. Picture’s later foals included Demolition, a son of San Francisco that won the V.A.T.C. Federal Stakes in the colours of L.K.S. Mackinnon, and his younger brother the promising Manana, who was an unlucky second in the V.A.T.C. Alma Stakes before dying of lockjaw the following season. Ironically, the one filly foal that showed no ability on the racecourse despite persistent attempts was Mother’s Day, and yet she was the only one that did later succeed at stud, throwing Satmoth, winner of the 1932 A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap and 1934 Tattersall’s NSW Club Cup for James Barnes. Picture, having nourished her progeny with the rich decay of her own talent, died at the Mungie Bundie Stud in January 1912.
For Mark Thompson life on the Turf after the departure of Picture continued to be one dominated by fast and sometimes controversial ladies. Thompson was disqualified in June 1903 for two years over the inconsistent running of Australia, a four-year-old chestnut mare by Gossoon bred by Samuel Hordern, that he both leased and trained. A.J.C. stewards found that in winning the Princess May Stakes when the 3/1 favourite on a wet, bleak and cold first day of the Prince of Wales Meeting, Australia’s form was inconsistent with her running in the Flying Handicap at the Tattersall’s Club May meeting. The jockey Jim Brooks was also put out for two years. Thompson appealed to the A.J.C. committee, but the charge was sustained. Oxenham was travelling overseas when the incident occurred and was thereby forced to transfer his racehorses to Bert Wills, another Randwick horseman that occupied stables in Coogee-street. The disqualification proved particularly disastrous for Thompson because one of the horses transferred to Bert Wills was a daughter of Cerise and Blue named Acrasia.
Just seventeen months into Thompson’s disqualification Acrasia landed Humphrey Oxenham the biggest prize of all when she won the Melbourne Cup. While Thompson was pleased to see his long-standing patron win Australia’s richest race, he must have bitterly rued the A.J.C.’s disqualification. Thompson, who had been responsible for training all of the progeny of Cerise and Blue on behalf of Humphrey Oxenham, had been particularly diligent in allowing Acrasia to mature. At the 1903 A.J.C. autumn meeting, Acrasia was the reigning Sydney Cup favourite when she experienced a disastrous fall in the Doncaster on the first day of the gathering. So severe was the fall that Thompson borrowed the Clerk of the Course’s hack to ride down the course and he picked up the mare. At the time it was feared she might never race again. Despite the disqualification, Thompson was the man who really superintended Acrasia’s Cup preparation although it is interesting to observe that our modern-day scribes of Melbourne Cup history all but ignore his role. Humphrey Oxenham didn’t, and when hosting celebratory drinks at the Victorian Club upon settling day, he very publicly regretted that his long-time friend wasn’t able to lead the Cup winner back to scale at Flemington and be credited with the victory.
Thompson was to remain on good terms with Oxenham and was frequently a guest at the bookmaker’s luxurious mansion situated on about two acres of land on the eastern side of Randwick-road, overlooking Randwick racecourse between the Denison turn and the seven-furlong post. Architect-designed in the Queen Anne style and completed in 1887, Oxenham regally entertained his sporting confreres there, as he was to do later at the Villa Maria in Bennett-street, Neutral Bay, upon relocation. A self-made man himself, Oxenham respected it in others such as Mark Thompson, and the fact that each of them had, at one time or another, fallen foul of the authorities lent empathy and understanding to their relationship. Thompson’s transgressions were few and in a minor key compared to those of Oxenham, who enjoyed jousting with the pompous. Oxenham was entrepreneurial in his approach to gambling, extending his business through an intercolonial chain of betting shops and a mail order sweepstakes business that soon rivalled that of George Adams’s Tattersall’s. It was these off-course activities that saw him clash with racing authorities in the 1890’s and 1900’s when legislators attempted to restrict betting to the racecourses.
Oxenham’s difficulties were one of the factors that determined Mark Thompson, upon serving the term of his disqualification until June 1905, to shun a return to Randwick as a public trainer, at least for a time. Instead, he elected to take charge of the Motto Farm stables of John and William Brown succeeding Walter Tyler there. While the stables were notionally in the name of each brother, William was Thompson’s real employer, and it was an arrangement that lasted until December 1908 when, following his marriage earlier in the year, he resolved to break with his erstwhile employer and return to headquarters, this time as a public trainer. Eleven more years were to be afforded Thompson in his chosen profession before his death by heart attack in October 1919, and they were not to be locust years. Again, it was the fairer sex that was mainly to prove his salvation and included among the good class winners he prepared in the twilight of his career was Wedding Day, a lovely chestnut mare by Antonio bred by Reg Allen, and who was part-owned by Thompson. A brilliant performer at Randwick, she won the 1916 Villiers Stakes and the following year both the Challenge Stakes and Doncaster Handicap. Thompson was winning high-class races right to the very end. In September 1917 he also trained Ardrossan to win the Tramway Handicap for George Main. In the last twelve months of his training life, Wedding Day won the Tattersall’s Club Cup while Hem, a daughter of Featherstitch, gave him a third Doncaster in 1919. Hem’s Doncaster was to remain in sportsmen’s minds for a generation because of the deluge that had struck the course.
As we have seen throughout this chronicle, the depression of the 1890’s cast a dark shadow across the land and saw many fine pastoral establishments broken up or change hands. Duckenfield Park House was just one more of the lavish estates that succumbed to the times. After the death of the Hon. John Eales in May 1894, the sons valiantly tried to maintain the thoroughbred stud, but the depreciation in the value of the bloodstock and the value of the rich Hunter pastures for more profitable pursuits saw them reluctantly decide to disperse the stud. The sale took place on the estate at Morpeth, on April 20th, 1898 conducted by Messrs Chisholm and Company. The Eales family retained Grandmaster, the old stallion who had done so much to establish the stud, to enjoy his remaining days in the Duckenfield paddocks, but the other stallions went cheaply enough, although John Eales bought in The Australian Peer for 120 guineas on the request of an American breeder. Tom Lamond bought Russley for 165 guineas on behalf of Philip Morton, a breeder in the Shoalhaven district. Morton formed the Russley Stud on a nice patch of Upper Hunter country placing the good-looking son of Doncaster at the head of affairs, although the studmaster later moved his enterprise to Barrengarry, in the beautiful Kangaroo Valley. Russley did manage to get a couple of useful horses when owned by Morton, but he wasn’t a great success. In April 1904 the stallion was sold for 50 guineas at the Sydney autumn bloodstock sales, intended for duties at Oxford Downs station in the Mackay district of Queensland. Unfortunately, Russley became quite sick on the voyage there by steamer and died shortly after his arrival.
The well-bred mares that John Eales had acquired over the years brought fair prices including the likes of the imported Red and Black, Goldmine, Paradox, Naomi and Scotch Mary. Queen’s Head herself was knocked down for 35 guineas to G.E. Jones who was buying for the Eales family, and the mother of the Derby winner spent her remaining days in the Duckenfield paddocks. Time would reveal a couple of bargains were to be had that day. Scotch Mary, the future dam of Great Scot and Iolaire went for just 75 guineas; while Australian Star, who would one day win the rich City and Suburban Handicap and the London Coronation Cup in the Old Country, was sold as a yearling for just 30 guineas. The dam of Australian Star was the six-year-old mare Colors, by Grandmaster, and she together with a foal at foot by The Australian Peer was knocked down to Francis Foy for 85 guineas. The real beneficiary of the transaction, however, turned out to be J. J. Macken, a partner with Francis Foy in the well-known drapery establishment, Mark Foys. Foy made a gift of the foal to his partner, and it turned out to be Australian Colours, who not only sported Macken’s livery successfully in Australia but, like his older brother, also won races in England for him. Four seasons after foaling Australian Colours, the mare threw Tartan to Lochiel at Francis Foy’s Monastery Stud, and Macken bought this half-brother to his former favourite. A really fine galloper, Tartan credited Macken with the 1905 Sydney Cup among a host of other races.
Though the five Eales brothers as a firm gave up breeding the thoroughbred, Walter Eales continued to dabble in the business for a while longer but met with little success. For almost twenty years the sprawling and palatial pile that was once Duckenfield Park House remained deserted. The times were not conducive to the expense of running such an aristocratic establishment, and in March 1916 during the dark hours of the First World War the house and its contents were sold and the property sub-divided. Soon after, all of the buildings were demolished and the materials sold for second-hand value with some of the stone used in the construction of three houses for executives of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company in Newcastle. All that remains today of what was once one of Australia’s grandest mansions, host to the rich and the royal and the birthplace of a Derby heroine, is a small two-storey section of the house and an Italianate courtyard overgrown with grass. Not a pretty picture.