The spring of 1900 saw the first full blossoming of Jim Scobie’s genius for training horses. I think that his first crack at the A.J.C. Derby came in 1895 when he brought Onward and Acton over to Sydney for the Randwick Spring Meeting, and Onward ran second in the race that year. A neat, ascetic man, Scobie wore his successes modestly and bore his reverses gracefully; he was always the same Jim Scobie in the same style of black felt hat – the type that curates used to wear. Never a man to advertise his prosperity, Scobie exuded a quiet confidence, although, like most successful men, he wasn’t short of enemies. He was a man dedicated to his profession and though not a total abstainer, wasn’t far removed from it. Scobie’s first important wins as a trainer had come in 1885 with that good horse Ringwood, whom he prepared to win both the Hobart Cup and Australian Cup for Norman Wilson. Of course, long before turning his hand to training, Scobie had been one of the best-known cross-country riders in Australia, his perfect seat on a horse earning him the sobriquet of ‘Handsome Jim’. It was an era of exceptional cross-country horsemen such as Tom Corrigan, Bob Batty, Martin Burke, and Andy Ferguson. In those days, when sporting colours, a steeplechaser had to be ridden to the ground: to be dislodged from the saddle when clearing fences meant disgrace.
Jim Scobie was born near Ararat, Victoria in July 1860. By his own admission, his days at school were short, and he played the wag to escape the rigours of the classroom and to indulge his passion for horses. Even from the age of eleven, he was riding work for local squatters around the towns of Dunkeld and Ararat. The first master who really improved his horsemanship was George Read, of Strathmore, whose father kept the Jack of Clubs Hotel. Read had a fair team of horses and was an accomplished rider over fences; Scobie watched and learned from him; it was through his friendship with Read that he eventually travelled about the bush meetings. A station owner, Mr Adam Smith from Naracoorte in South Australia sent George Read some horses, and Scobie joined him as they travelled to Naracoorte and Penola in South Australia and on to Casterton, in the Western Districts, winning races all the while. It was a different life in those days. The pair would take supplies in a wagon, and tether the horses to a fence at mealtime while at night they would take lodgings at some nearby station.
It was Robert Howie of Ballarat who convinced Scobie to take the plunge and head for the big smoke of Melbourne. “It doesn’t matter about wages,” observed Howie. “Rides are what you want.” It was a time when Ballarat had served as a nursery to the sport for a generation. The wealth created during the gold rush days of the Western Districts had seen fortunes made overnight and the land boasted some of the most prominent owners in the sport. I speak of men such as William Bailey, Robert Orr, Martin Loughlin and Norman Wilson; and these sportsmen would eventually provide the horses when Scobie decided to hang up the saddle for good and turn his hand entirely to training. As a rider, Scobie’s first winner in Melbourne was on a mare called Zephyr, owned by Howie, in March 1880 and the event opened the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting of that year. It was just the beginning. At the September 1883 meeting of the Ballarat Turf and Hunt Club, Scobie really served notice of his extraordinary abilities when he trained the winners of no less than six races. Dowling Forrest was the perfect idyll for training horses in those days and an Englishman visiting a Ballarat Turf Club meeting then might have fancied himself in the old land. The magnificent expanse of country which greeted the eye from the grandstand, those well-kept farms with their beautiful hawthorn and furze hedges, and bounteous crops, were all English in character.
Back in those days, every jumping rider’s ambition was to win a Grand National, either over hurdles or fences. Scobie succeeded on both counts: in 1882 he won the Grand National Hurdle with Rhesus and in 1888 the Grand National Steeple with Ruby. When Ruby won the National, Scobie collected half the stake which – including added money – ran out at £515; and apart from riding Ruby over the obstacles, Scobie had also prepared him for the race. As good as Ruby was, however, Blue Mountain was probably the best horse over timber to ever pass through his hands; with Scobie in the saddle the pair won two races at the Melbourne Cup Meeting of 1888.
In the years after Blue Mountain, the flame of Scobie’s talent for training horses had seemed to flicker and flutter. Although he managed to win the Maribyrnong Plate twice with the juveniles Dreamland and Keera, and also took out the 1890 Caulfield Guineas with Annesley, the stable wasn’t setting the world on fire. The flame was fanned when he got that good horse Paul Pry from the West, and it was that old fellow’s resilience that eventually set Scobie’s training career ablaze.
1900 was to mark the year in which the Master of Dowling Forrest really established himself as the leading trainer in the land. As luck would have it, Scobie had two cracking colts that season in Clean Sweep and Maltster, and it is the latter colt that interests us most in these pages. To tell his story, we need to go back to January 1891 when Matt O’Shanassy imported into Victoria two daughters of the great Barcaldine for stud purposes; each was to pass several years in the paddocks of the St Albans Stud. One was Oratava, who became the mother of La Carabine and the ancestress of many other high-class racehorses including King Carnival. The other was Barley, a daughter of the winner of the English Oaks in 1885 who at the time of her importation, had been covered by Harvester, one of the dead-heaters in the 1884 English Derby. The subsequent foal was the useful Harvest Lass, which over the years got a few handy performers at stud. Thus, even before her mating with Bill of Portland in the spring of 1896, Barley had well and truly proven herself. When the handsome brown colt that was the result of her tryst with Bill of Portland was offered as a yearling at the sale of Matt O’Shanassy’s Moira Stud on the Murray River, Robert Orr was forced to go to 810 guineas to get him ahead of Tom Lamond. However, Lamond didn’t leave the sales empty-handed, for he managed to get Barley for the Wilton Park Stud at less than half the sum her son bought. But it was Orr that got the greater bargain. A keen judge and a fine cross-country rider with a high opinion of Scobie’s talents, Orr immediately placed the colt in his Dowling Forrest stables.
The colt’s name appears as Malster rather than Maltster in the early Turf records, the result of a misspelling in the processing of the original registration. The name, of course, was meant as a play on that of the dam, a fact that was ultimately recognised by racing authorities many months later. Maltster began his racing career at the Caulfield Spring Meeting when unmentioned in the betting, he finished unsighted in the Debutant Stakes won by Wigelmar. Maltster was then kept pottering about at Dowling Forrest until the Flemington Autumn Meeting when for the first time he showed just what he was capable of doing on a racecourse. Freely offered at 8/1 for the Hopeful Stakes, intimates of the Scobie stable helped themselves to a tidy sum when Maltster took out the event from Haulette and the favourite Kinglike. On the same day, Scobie had preferred Clean Sweep, whom he trained for the Caulfield committeeman Frank Cumming, for the Sires’ Produce Stakes; after leading for more than half the journey, the son of Zalinski was easily cut down by another Bill of Portland colt in Finland.
Scobie then backed up both Maltster and Clean Sweep for another crack at Finland in the Ascot Vale Stakes later in the same week. Finland’s credentials in winning both the Maribyrnong Plate and the Sires’ saw him go to the post in the red, despite being burdened with the full penalty. In receipt of 3lb from the public fancy, Maltster won easily with Clean Sweep just behind the place-getters. On the same programme, La Carabine gave Scobie a memorable double by taking out the Australian Cup. It was a foretaste of the monopoly that the Dowling Forest stables would hold over so many big races in the coming years. Brought across to Randwick for the Champagne Stakes, Maltster, despite a 10lb penalty taking his weight to 9 st. 6lb had odds of 10/9 laid on him, but he had to strike his colours to the filly, Haulette. Maltster ended his initial season in the Easter Stakes a few days later, when, burdened with an additional penalty, yet another daughter of Haut Brion in Hautesse again relegated him to second. While the results of the juvenile events at that Randwick fixture may have proved a disappointment to Scobie, he was more than compensated when La Carabine confirmed her belated blossoming by adding the Sydney Cup and A.J.C. Plate to her tally of victories.
At a time when most trainers would give their Derby horses a race in public before the blue riband, it was characteristic of Scobie to produce them first up. After all, he wasn’t short of trial tackle at Dowling Forest and such reserve afforded associates of his stable the best of the betting market while outsiders were kept in the dark. Such at least was the case with Maltster whom ‘Gentleman Jim’ stripped for the Derby at Randwick in September having not appeared in public since the Easter Stakes.
The colt hadn’t grown much in the interim – he was only ever a medium-sized horse, hardly 15.3 hands – but he had thickened considerably. In a field of just six colts and one filly, he was the public’s second choice. Bob Lewis, the Victorian lightweight jockey was now doing most of the riding for the Scobie stable and was taking the reins of Maltster for the first time. He had already ridden two winners of the South Australian Derby, but this race was to mark the real threshold of that wonderful partnership with Scobie that would last for thirty years.
The 1900 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
The Derby favourite at a shade of red was Hautboy owned by William Bailey and trained by Tom Payten. It was somewhat ironic that Bailey and Orr each individually owned the two leading fancies from different stables, for the two Ballarat sportsmen had raced a number of horses in partnership over the years, and Bailey had been a long-time client of Scobie. Hautboy was one of two horses in the Derby trained by Tom Payten, the other, Lord Rudolph, being engaged to act as a pacemaker. A very gross, short-bodied horse that was to be typical of the Haut Brion breed, Hautboy was distinguished by a crimped head-carriage, but it hadn’t stopped him being one of the best juveniles in a busy year. He was out early in the season winning the Mona Nursery at the Caulfield Spring Meeting and then winning twice at Flemington during Melbourne Cup week. Freshened up by Tom Payten, he returned to win twice at Randwick during the summer, including the prestigious December Stakes against his only two rivals. In the autumn he ran the minor placing behind Finland and his stablemate Clean Sweep in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington.
Hautboy was one of two strong candidates in the Derby by Haut Brion; the other was Hautesse, a stylish brown filly trained by Joe Burton. She had first presented her Derby credentials when winning the Easter Stakes at Randwick in the autumn beating Maltster into second placing, although on that occasion she received twenty-three pounds from the colt. Nonetheless, Hautesse proved it was no fluke when she won a mile Nursery two days later on the final day of the meeting. Burton had been hoping to have the well-bred Wigelmar also represent him in the race, but she had become something of a ‘roarer’ and had been thrown out of work. The other three horses engaged in the Derby – Schimmel, Yarrabee and Phillibeg – were generally considered to be just giving their owners’ colours an airing.
Despite steady, soaking rain falling overnight, Derby Day in 1900 dawned fine and attracted a crowd estimated at fifteen thousand, including the Governor of N.S.W. and his suite, together with members of the ministry as well as both Houses of Parliament. Lord Rudolph might have been left in the race to act as a pacemaker, but he proved singularly inept at the job; he was the last to get going, and nearly a third of the journey had been covered before he appeared at the head of affairs. Hautesse, with Hautboy in close attendance and pulling very hard, set the pace until near the milepost when Lord Rudolph belatedly appeared on the scene. He then conducted business until about the five by which time he had had enough, leaving Hautesse once again in command. Shortly after that, the field was cut in half when Phillibeg fell approaching the half-mile post, and both Yarrabee and Lord Rudolph tumbled over him. The horses fell without serious injury to themselves but inflicted fractured collarbones on the two riders, Callinan and Woodgate. Meanwhile, the filly led past the half-mile post and around the home turn, where Hautboy quickly claimed her along the rails with Maltster just behind and Lewis riding a waiting race. Passing the distance, Lewis tackled the favourite and Maltster easily held him in the run to the winning post. Despite the overnight rain, it was found that Maltster’s time for the race had only been beaten twice – by Trident and Gibraltar. A resounding cheer was let out for Robert Orr, the popular Ballarat sportsman, as Lady Lygon decorated his colt with the blue riband.
Robert Orr was one of the last of that band of Ballarat sporting men who hunted and raced in the days when the likes of Martin Loughlin, William Bailey, William Leonard, John Brown and Adam Lindsay Gordon lived in the Golden City. Orr originally made his money in the cattle business, when he contracted for the driving of cattle to the bustling Ballarat market. He enjoyed a wide remit in those roaring days when the world was wide, bringing Manifold and Robertson’s stock from the Western Districts as well as large mobs down from New South Wales. Orr eventually bought a large farm at Mount Rowan, just out of Ballarat. Orr made his mark in the sport of trotting even before he took to riding steeplechasers, and Mazeppa and Sir William Don were his two best standardbreds in the 1860’s – the latter the best in the land. The first high-class steeplechaser that Robert Orr owned and rode was Ingleside, but he didn’t keep him long, and it wasn’t until he was retained to ride Martin Loughlin’s horses over timber that his name really came before the public.
Orr always maintained that Narcisso, a horse originally brought out to Australia by Mr Goyder but sold to Loughlin was the best he ever rode at Ballarat and Flemington. Orr remained Loughlin’s preferred rider until the advent of Tom Corrigan. Just about Orr’s last mount in a decent race was the South Australian galloper, All Fours, in the Cup Steeplechase of 1876. When he took to racing on the flat, he shared in the ownership of Dreamland with William Bailey, another of Scobie’s clients, and that son of Trenton won the 1893 V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate in their colours. He looked to be a promising racehorse, but it was a long time before he won another good race – in fact, the 1901 V.R.C. Australian Cup as a nine-year-old – just months after Maltster’s blue riband. After he retired from business, Orr settled down in a stylish residence fronting Lake Wendouree where his great joy was tending his garden. This noted Ballarat identity died in October 1906, barely five months after his close friend William Bailey.
Although after the Derby Maltster was withdrawn from his other engagements at the A.J.C. fixture and set aside for Melbourne, the Ballarat stable continued to dominate the meeting. Scobie had only brought three horses across and the other two – Paul Pry and Ranfurly, both owned by Sir Rupert Clarke – carved up the meeting. All told Scobie’s team managed to win seven races and take almost half the stake money back across the Murray. Paul Pry won the Spring Stakes, Craven Plate, Wycombe Stakes and Randwick Plate while Ranfurly took out both the Suburban and Final Handicaps. Needless to say, during the settling at Tattersall’s Club on the Monday the wine flowed freely in celebration of Scobie’s team – compliments of Robert Orr and Sir Rupert Clarke, and the baronet paid a graceful tribute to his trainer for his ability to keep a horse up throughout a racing campaign.
Maltster was sent off favourite for the Caulfield Guineas despite a 7lb penalty; some bumping at the half-mile put paid to his chances, and the best he could manage was third in the race won by Kinglike. The son of Bill of Portland got his revenge in the Victoria Derby, however, when only Kinglike and Barbarossa chose to oppose him in the smallest field since 1866. Scobie had withstood the temptation of challenging Maltster with Clean Sweep in the Derby, reserving him for the Cup instead. As the great man observed in his book “My Life on the Australian Turf”: “That season I could have won the Melbourne Cup with either Clean Sweep or Maltster. In their home trials, there was little to choose between these colts. Maltster was handicapped to concede Clean Sweep 11lb. This made Clean Sweep look a good Cup proposition. We withdrew him from the Derby, and, escaping any penalty, he easily carried off the big handicap, by a length and a half from Maltster. Many candidates – even a stablemate, La Carabine – were preferred to Clean Sweep and Maltster, about each of whom 20/1 could be obtained.”
That neither his Victoria Derby win nor his hard run in the Cup had failed to flatten Maltster was shown when he stepped out and won the Flying Stakes and C.B. Fisher Plate on the last two days of the meeting to complete his spring campaign. What a year Scobie enjoyed in that last of the nineteenth century! His prizes included the Australian Cup, Sydney Cup, Melbourne Cup, Moonee Valley Cup, Williamstown Cup, A.J.C., V.R.C. and S.A.J.C. Derbies, as well as a host of high-class weight-for-age events. It wasn’t a bad haul to be going on with, and just how he did go on with it will become clear in the following pages.
Not for the last time, the Sydney and Melbourne handicappers disagreed as to the respective merits of two top horses when it came to the rich plums in the autumn. In January when the weights were simultaneously declared for the Sydney and Australian Cups, it was found that whereas Maltster was asked to give Clean Sweep 6lb in the former, there was only a difference of 2lb in the latter. As it turned out neither colt won either race and who would have thought that before the season was over Scobie would have lost the services of both, albeit for quite different reasons. The best Maltster could do in the Australian Cup was run fifth and by the time the Sydney Cup came around he had already run his last race, having struck himself while being prepared at Randwick for the Cup. At least his last appearance, in the All Aged Stakes at Flemington, had been a winning one. How Robert Orr must have regretted refusing an English offer of 3000 guineas for the horse that had been made earlier during the summer. In Maltster’s enforced absence, Clean Sweep did manage to win the St. Leger at Randwick before being sold to race in England where he proved a rank failure, only to be eventually disposed of for the trifling amount of thirty guineas!
Maltster’s brief but brilliant career again emphasised, if emphasis were needed, just what a boon to Australian bloodstock had been the importation of Bill of Portland, the first St Simon horse to come here. Bill, as he became affectionately known, had been a good two-year-old in England winning the Bedford Two-Year-Old Plate at the Newmarket Spring Meeting; and a prominent English writer in ‘Horse and Hound’ regarded him as one of the best of his year, and a large price was refused for him. Unfortunately, he later became a ‘roarer’, which ruined his career on the racecourse and even rendered him something of a dubious proposition as a stallion. When he came onto the market as a four-year-old, William Allison was instrumental in arranging his purchase for 1100 guineas on behalf of W. R. Wilson’s St Albans Stud. But for his reputation as a roarer, he would never have been allowed to leave England. He arrived in Melbourne in June 1894, after a rather rough passage in the steamship Australasian around the Cape. St Albans already had a distinguished history, and Bill of Portland added one last glorious chapter. St Albans’ new stallion got away to a wonderful start when the great Bobadil came along in his first crop while his second included Merriwee – who credited Herbert Power with the Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup double – as well as the Maribyrnong Plate winner, Scorn.
In June 1900 W. R. Wilson died without an heir, and the St Albans breeding and racing establishment came on to the market. The stud was broken up. In August the racehorses in training were sold and in November the breeding stock and the estate itself. St Simon blood had become so sought after in England that the reach of British breeders even extended to expatriate sons of this emperor of stallions located in colonies on the far side of the world. Despite keen interest from Australian breeders including J. V. Smith of Bundoora Park, this was one auction where English money was always going to prevail, and Bill of Portland was sold for 4900 guineas to William Allison of the Cobham Stud in Surrey, acting on behalf of Jim Joel. In January old Bill returned to his native soil on board the Sophocles and in charge of Ernest Day, the same young man that had accompanied Carbine on his historic voyage a few years earlier. Curiously enough, Joel got a rather poor return for his money, and the horse proved disappointing in England. Joel sold him at the 1908 December sales for less than a tenth of what he’d paid, and the horse spent his final years at stud in Belgium. This does nothing to detract from the string of good horses that Bill left in Australia that would make their names as stallions in the years ahead including, apart from the hero of this chapter, the likes of Bobadil, Finland, Merriwee, Treadmill and United States. So much then for the theory that roarers merely beget roarers. The St Albans estate itself, where Maltster had been foaled and comprised some 802 acres and 35 paddocks, was eventually sold for £14,900 to Mr R. Govett, a Queensland pastoralist hailing from the Barcoo country. Its days of dominating Victorian bloodstock, however, were at an end.
Of course, at the time of Maltster’s breakdown, Bill of Portland’s reputation as a sire of sires still lay in the future and the demand for Australian-bred stallions, even if grandsons of St Simon, wasn’t great. In fact, several attempts were made by Scobie to get another race out of Maltster, but it was all to no avail. The horse was finally put up for auction in Melbourne on the last day of August 1903. Although Maltster had demonstrated his ability over all distances from five furlongs to two miles, winning eight of his sixteen races and £6,006 in stakes, no one rushed to buy him. Yet he was, in the opinion of Jim Scobie, one of the best five horses he ever trained throughout his career. Eventually, he fell to the brothers’ John and William Thompson, proprietors of Widden, who came across to Melbourne and got him for as little as 1350 guineas. Around this time the Widden Valley and the Thompson brothers collectively – whether the older John and William at Widden Stud or the younger James at Oakleigh Stud – were just then beginning to make something of a habit of owning the leading stallion in Australia.
Lochiel had stood at Oakleigh, and Grafton who replaced him there as lord of the harem was already poised to usurp the crown having been runner-up in the Australian Sires’ List for the 1902-03 season. There was considerable sibling rivalry between the brothers and the respective fortunes of the Widden and Oakleigh Studs. Whereas James Thompson had enjoyed much the greater success at Oakleigh with first Lochiel and later Grafton, the acquisition of Maltster by the Widden Stud certainly redressed the balance. Maltster started there in 1903 at a fee of just fifteen guineas. The newcomer reached the stud rather late in the breeding season, by which time the best of the matrons had already pledged their troth elsewhere. Accordingly, our Derby hero got few choice mares that year, and of the limited number that he did get, most were owned by the sons of the Thompsons rather than John and William themselves. But one of the mares he received was a daughter of Lochiel named Loch Laya, and the result of their mating proved to be the remarkable Maltine, whose victories in the Gimcrack Stakes and Maribyrnong Plate immediately stamped Maltster as a coming force in bloodstock.
Just a few weeks after Maltine burst upon the scene, another daughter also from a Lochiel mare in Maltsterdelle carried off the rich December Stakes. Maltster finished his first season with six or seven individual winners, which placed him eleventh on the Australian Sires’ Table – a remarkable performance with just one crop racing. In Maltster’s second lot came Miss Bass, Alawa and Malt Queen. The latter filly after a couple of modest victories carried off the December Stakes and then followed it up with both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Champagne Stakes, retiring at the end of her two-year-old season with an unbeaten record of six wins straight. She died without ever seeing a racecourse again, but by then Maltster’s reputation was made as breeders and buyers alike were falling over themselves to book their mares to secure his progeny. The stallion spent his entire stud career at Widden. Even when the Thompson brothers decided to dissolve their partnership in 1909 after some forty-two years, Maltster, unlike the mares, remained their joint property.
While William sold his interest in Widden to John and moved to the Scone district where he acquired a portion of the old Turanville estate, which he named Yarraman Park, Maltster remained in his half ownership and at Widden proper. In the seven years from 1909 to 1915 inclusive, Maltster headed the list of winning sires no fewer than five times and was runner-up on the other two occasions. His best year at the sales came in 1910 when thirty-seven of his progeny averaged almost 600 guineas, and no fewer than eight reached the four-figure mark – the highest being 1750 guineas for Malt Blossom. John and William Thompson might have filled a big list for Maltster at one hundred guineas a mare but instead reserved him for their own matrons except for ten taken outside. Very soon his service fee climbed to 200 guineas. While he got winners from all breeds, he seemed to favour the blood of Lochiel and Goldsbrough most, and his best winners were Alawa, Beverage, Mala, Malt King, Maltine and Popinjay. Maltster also proved to be a champion sire of broodmares as the likes of Desert Gold, Eusebius, and Wolaroi attest.
I might mention that Maltster’s remarkable success at stud and the earlier confusion over the spelling of his name, saw the V.R.C. in February 1910 pass a special resolution acknowledging the error. It stated: “that any of his progeny nominated for racing under V.R.C. rules shall be considered properly nominated if the said horse’s name be (sic) spelt Maltster or Malster and no objections founded on misspelling shall be entertained.” A copy of the resolution was sent to the A.J.C. committee for their information, and they subsequently passed a similar resolution. Whatever the spelling, there was no doubting the prepotency of the horse in question. One man who did have faith in that prepotency from the very start was Jim Scobie. Accordingly, it was Scobie who persuaded Sir Rupert Clarke to send La Carabine on that long journey overland into the Widden Valley to be mated with her former stable companion in his very first season at stud. Scobie’s faith in the then untried stallion was rewarded when that good filly Pretty Peg came along. It seemed only fitting then, that it was Scobie who got to put the polish on arguably Maltster’s best son in Alawa. When Maltster died at Widden in June 1923 at the ripe old age of twenty-five years, he was arguably the greatest stallion Australia had ever known up to that time.