Twelve months is a long time in racing. The scene at Randwick on Derby Day 1914 was rather different from that which greeted Beragoon’s triumph a year earlier. The two shots that Gavrilo Princip fired in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, killing the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sofia, had seen to that. Indeed, in that famous phrase of Sir Edward Grey, the lamps were going out all over Europe. Yet the effects on Derby Day of ‘The Great War of All Time’, as various scribes had taken to calling it, were still rather muted. Australia’s baptism of fire that would be Gallipoli was still six months away, and there remained many who were convinced that the whole jolly adventure would be over by Christmas. In August 1914 the A.J.C. Chairman, Adrian Knox, offered the use of Randwick racecourse as a temporary camp for the expeditionary force, and for weeks before the opening of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting a portion of the army remained in occupation.
The question that really exercised the minds of the sporting public throughout much of 1914 wasn’t so much whether or not war would ever come, but rather whether the Totalisator would? The evidence given in N.S.W. before the commission seemed to be overwhelmingly in favour of the introduction of the machine and yet to the surprise of the public, a majority of the commission found against it. While most people favoured legalisation, they were somewhat passive in their support. This passivity was in sharp contrast to the activity in financing a strong lobby against it by the bookmaking fraternity. Strangely enough, men who entered the Legislative Assembly as Tote advocates came to alter their views and it wasn’t always a lucid, reasoned debate in the House that changed their minds. In their campaign, the bagmen were aided and abetted by the wowser – surely the most unlikely of alliances ever to conspire to frustrate progressive legislation in N.S.W. The wowser was opposed to betting in any form and the notion that it should be done under State sponsorship only aggravated his antipathy. The fact that it was impossible to check the betting habit, and that legalisation of the Tote would at least offer some measure of official regulation over promiscuous betting and raise revenues at the same time, was lost on these puritanical zealots. And Puritans they were! In that searing phrase of H. L. Mencken, the so-called ‘Sage of Baltimore’, these people “suffered from the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”.
The course of history often seems inevitable when one looks upon it in retrospect; there is a certainty about the order of things that is by no means apparent at the time. A betting compromise that accommodated both bookmakers and an on-course Totalisator was not the expected outcome, and many looked upon the debate of bagmen versus machine as a choice of absolutes. By 1914 the Totalisator was operating in New Zealand and most States of Australia, although both N.S.W. and Victoria were the notable exceptions. In New Zealand, its introduction had seen a steady increase in the levels of prize money. It was for this reason that most clubs in the country districts of N.S.W. were favourable to the legalisation of the machine. Owners and trainers were somewhat more divided. Although the virtues of more substantial stakes, lower fees and lessened corruption were attractive to many, those stables that looked to betting coups rather than richer prizes to bankroll their operations favoured the fixed odds of the ring to the blind wager on the machine. There were exceptions, of course. Frank McGrath was perhaps the wiliest plotter of betting stings then training in Sydney, and his support for the machine was unequivocal. John Brown in N.S.W. and J. C. Bowden in Victoria among the owners’ ranks, championed legalisation of the Totalisator, and each man raced large strings of horses that were always run truly in public. Jim Scobie, on the other hand, favoured a scheme that accommodated both bookmakers and the machine.
In some minds, the question of the Totalisator was linked to the issue of the growth of proprietary racing clubs and the paltry prizes these clubs offered to horse owners. The boom in racing of the last few years had seen a number of racecourses such as Menangle Park and Kembla Grange come into existence just outside the metropolitan radius of 40 miles, thereby avoiding the legislation designed to restrict the amount of racing in the metropolis. The fact remained that there was too much racing and the Government was deriving very little revenue from it. Legislation for the Tote might serve as a means both of compelling proprietary clubs to offer decent prizes and raise public revenue at the same time. The number of bookmaking licences issued by the A.J.C. demonstrated the strength of the betting ring at Randwick in 1914.
No fewer than 410 bookmakers operated the various enclosures with 140 of them in each of the Paddock and the Leger, and a further 130 in the Flat. Yet in the way of revenue, the club derived only £15,300 in licence fees, a fraction of what the Totalisator would return. Although there was pressure from the Labour Caucus for the Totalisator, the State Premier, William Holman, wasn’t in favour of its introduction and the question dragged on for another two years. Ironically, as we shall see, it was the cost of the Great War that ultimately coerced both the Victorian and N.S.W. governments to introduce it. I might mention that it wasn’t just the threat of the Tote that was getting some bookmakers excited. The A.J.C.’s decision during the year that bookmakers’ positions at Randwick should be balloted for annually wasn’t to the liking of some older members of the ring enjoying the more prominent and favourable locations on the racecourse.
Despite the absence of the Totalisator, Australian racing in general, and Randwick, in particular, was riding an unprecedented boom. In the five years from 1909-10 to 1913-14 admission money received by the A.J.C. had climbed from £52,486 to £95,132 and attendances had almost doubled. The prize money offered by the A.J.C. had increased commensurate with this boon. The club was flush with funds, and at the Annual General Meeting held in August, £10,000 was voted towards patriotic purposes. One other procedural change that was agreed to at that same meeting was the insertion in the race card of the numbers of the stands of the various bookmakers – then if the bagman absconded during the afternoon’s proceedings, one could at least identify where he once touted for business!
In all the years that the Derby has been run at Randwick, I don’t think there has ever been an unluckier owner than L.K.S. Mackinnon in failing to win the race. It wasn’t for want of trying. All told over the years, from his first runner in 1906 to his last in 1929, he started eight horses in the race, two of them running as short-priced favourites, and the closest he ever came to victory was with two seconds and a third. The year 1914 was to be the closest call of all. Yet for all his undoubted misfortune in never winning the race, I don’t think the average working man that crowded into the Flat or the Leger, or even the Saddling Paddock, ever spent much time regretting the fact. For more than any other man, Lauchlan Kenneth Scobie Mackinnon came to embody all that was elitist, privileged, and snobbish about the sport of horseracing.
Born on the Isle of Skye in 1862, the fifth son of a Presbyterian Minister, he studied for the law in London, and one of his earliest racing experiences was in seeing the great Bend Or defeat Robert the Devil in the exciting finish to the 1880 English Derby. Upon completing his legal studies, Mackinnon arrived in Melbourne in December 1884 to join his cousin Sir Lauchlan Mackinnon, and in due course, he entered one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. It was not until the 1890’s, however, that he began to take an active interest in racing and his association with Isaac Foulsham dated from around this time. Mackinnon was one of a number of prominent commercial men who went to great lengths to cloak their dealings on the Turf in the refuge of a nom de course. It was in the days when all manner of rogues and vagabonds seemed to go racing, and it wasn’t deemed politic to have the name of a prominent figure in a leading law firm, responsible for vast sums of trust money, too closely linked to the racecourse.
Lauchlan Mackinnon registered his racing colours of ‘white, orange braces, collar, and two arm-bands edged with black, orange cap’ with the Victoria Racing Club, and while he wasn’t shy in paying large sums for his horses, he initially raced them in Foulsham’s name. In 1898 Foulsham paid a thousand guineas on Mackinnon’s behalf for Lancaster, a three-quarter brother to Trenton, at the sale of Wellington Park yearlings in New Zealand. Lancaster proved one of the best horses ever to carry his colours, and among other good races he won the Melbourne Stakes and ran as the favourite in Clean Sweep’s Melbourne Cup. But the Derby was the race that our Scottish lawyer was after. A little later on Mackinnon assumed the racing fiction, Mr K.S. McLeod, and it was under this description that he enjoyed his first two starters in the A.J.C. Derby, Iolaire (1906) and Seddon (1907), both of which ran unplaced. But it was Mackinnon’s third runner in the race, and the first to run in his own name, that was to give him his greatest thrills in the Sport of Kings and go nearest of all to realising his lifelong ambition of winning the coveted classic. The horse in question was Woorak, a little colt bred by James Redfearn at the Chatsworth Stud on the Goulburn River, near Tabilk in Victoria. As a yearling, he was not taken to Melbourne for sale in the usual way because he was considered too small and backward. But Mackinnon nonetheless learned that the little fellow was for sale, and he journeyed to Chatsworth with a veterinary surgeon to inspect him. He closed the deal with James Redfearn with £500.
What was it about the colt that prompted the patrician Mackinnon to make the journey in person? Part of the answer lay in the colt’s sire, Traquair, for whom Mackinnon had the greatest respect. But of more importance was the dam’s side of his pedigree, for Woorak was a grandson of Madcap, that wonderful producer and a mare that had made the family fortune of James Redfearn. How he came by the horse is an interesting story. In the early 1880’s Redfearn had the training stables at the back of the old Williamstown racecourse, which for years were such a prominent landmark. When Etienne de Mestre came over from Sydney for the big race meetings in Victoria he usually stayed with Redfearn at those Williamstown stables, and it was on one such trip, and in gratitude for the hospitality, that de Mestre presented Redfearn with the young filly named Madcap. Some years later when sent to the stallion, Malua, she produced Malvolio whom Redfearn trained to win the 1891 Melbourne Cup, when ridden by his son. It was a very lucrative result for apart from the prize itself, those leviathan bookmakers Morris, Jacobs and Jack Cohen, who were such strong supporters of the Redfearn stable, backed the horse for a lot of money.
But it was the aftermath of the Cup meeting that caused the controversy. De Mestre, somewhat belatedly, claimed the stakes of £10,000 or part thereof, on the contention that he was the real owner of Malvolio’s dam, whom, he said, he had merely lent to Redfearn all those years before. It is surprising what the allurement of gold will do to a man’s better judgement in times of desperation, and de Mestre had by then descended into the state of penury that was to mark the last third of his life. Redfearn was able to convince Victorian racing officials that the filly had been no loan, but rather an outright gift. Madcap proved a wonderful matron, for apart from Malvolio she was also the dam of the Newmarket Handicap winner, Maluma, as well as other good horses, one of which was Madam, the dam of Woorak. Though Redfearn maintained a breeding establishment at Tabilk after Malvolio won the Melbourne Cup and bred some good winners there, he had been unlucky enough to sell the best of them. In parting with Woorak to Mackinnon for £500, he was to make the worst bloodstock bargain of his life.
Lauchlan Mackinnon sent Woorak to Sydney to be trained by Ike Earnshaw. As a rule, Earnshaw wasn’t one to ask much of his juveniles before the autumn, but Woorak showed such exceptional speed on the track that he set him for the Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack Stakes at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting of 1913. However, the colt contracted a cold just before the meeting, and because of the setback Earnshaw scratched him from the Breeders Plate (5f) and delayed his debut until the shorter Gimcrack Stakes (4 ½f), which in those days was also open to colts.
The interrupted preparation meant that the trainer wasn’t prepared to give Mackinnon much encouragement to wager. An excellent opportunity was thereby missed. If Woorak had a cold before the race, it was his eighteen rivals that had one after it, for they were simply blown away in his backdraft. Woorak showed blistering speed from the start, establishing a ten-length lead in the first two furlongs and posting an Australian record of 55 ½ seconds for the trip. At the post, he had five lengths to spare over the filly Carlita, a high-class racehorse herself and will figure elsewhere in this chapter. On Woorak’s returning to scale, pressmen noted Ike Earnshaw twisting his moustache, and sporting an expansive smile. He might not have backed Woorak on this occasion, but he now knew just what he had in his stable.
The balance of Woorak’s juvenile season was almost one similar untrammelled riot of speed. In six appearances all told that season, he tasted defeat but once and that was against the older horses in the V.A.T.C. Oakleigh Plate when, despite being burdened with 15lb over weight-for-age, he ran as the favourite. Penalties notwithstanding, he won both the Ascot Vale Stakes and Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington and the December Stakes and Champagne Stakes at Randwick, and except for the last race, all were won by significant margins. His earnings for the season totalled £6,317. The Champagne Stakes proved to be the final big race success for his trainer, Isaac Earnshaw.
Ike died less than a month later while undergoing an operation. At the time he had a splendid team of rising three-year-olds, as apart from Woorak, his Bruntwood stables also boarded Imshi, with which he had won the A.J.C. Sires Produce Stakes for Walter Brunton. Whereas Imshi found his way into Tom Payten’s yard on Earnshaw’s death, Lauchlan Mackinnon chose to transfer Woorak to his old Melbourne trainer, Ike Foulsham, who had only recently relocated from Caulfield to Randwick for health reasons. Foulsham had originally served his apprenticeship with John Tait in the halcyon days of Byron Lodge before removing to Melbourne to forge a distinguished training career. Mackinnon’s association with Foulsham went back a long way, and in due course the owner purchased Earnshaw’s famous Bruntwood training stables, eventually changing the name to ‘Kingsburgh’ after his Melbourne Cup winner, and it was from there that Foulsham proceeded to train his string.
Sometimes the acquisition of a top-class horse from another stable can be a mixed blessing for a trainer. If the horse fails to recapture his previous form, then unflattering comparisons are sure to be made, and if the horse does go on with the job, the trainer might only get grudging credit. Woorak was a particularly intriguing case because his natural speed and pedigree suggested he might not stay and yet the Derby was the prize on Mackinnon’s mind. The doubts about his stamina saw the colt quoted at liberal odds for the classic as the Sydney autumn darkened into winter. Although his dam’s half-brother, Malvolio, was a Melbourne Cup winner and her full sister, Vanity Fair, ran second in that race as well, it was the questionable influence of Traquair and the blatancy of his own speed that sowed the doubts. Indeed, it was an open secret that the little chestnut was for sale at £2,000 in early August, not something expected of a genuine Derby candidate when the owner isn’t short of a quid. But Mackinnon soon withdrew Woorak from the market when his track form suggested that under Foulsham he had returned as good as ever.
As the weather warmed in the last days of winter so did the public towards Woorak’s Derby prospects and his price shortened when he resumed at the Tattersall’s Meeting and equalled the Australian record for nine furlongs in the Chelmsford Stakes. Woorak went to the front at the milepost and simply ran his rivals off their feet. What was unusual about that race was the complete domination of three-year-olds – filling the first six places! Afterwards, the bookmakers wouldn’t even offer a price against him for the Derby and, as it turned out, Woorak didn’t run again before the big day. It had been intended to start him in the Rosehill Guineas provided the ground had been in good order. Mackinnon arrived from Melbourne by express train on the Saturday morning of the Guineas race and Foulsham took Woorak to the train to meet him. But after explaining that six inches of rain had fallen on the Rosehill course, the decision was made to leave Woorak in his box.
Despite the decline in nominations for the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, seventy less than the previous year, those doomsayers who predicted the meeting would be a failure on account of the War and the drought, were sadly disappointed. A crowd of about 40,000 attended the course on Derby Day, and although there was a falling-off of Victorian and Queensland visitors, there was plenty of money in the ring. One change to the scene at Randwick from the previous year’s Derby was the completed construction of the public tearoom with accommodation for eight hundred people. A field of eleven – ten colts and just one filly – confronted the starter for the blue riband for which the club had added £5,000 to the prize. On the evening before the Derby, as much as two to one was on offer in the clubs about Woorak: but it was another story when the bookmakers assembled on the course the following morning and opened their ledgers for business at 11 o’clock. Woorak was heavily supported into even money with sevens on offer about the next best.
The two colts that filled the minor placings behind Woorak at the Tattersall’s Meeting, Mountain Knight and Ravello, shared the second line of Derby betting. Mountain Knight was a particularly interesting runner. Trained by the veteran Harry Rayner at Randwick for E. J. (James) Watt, the colt was a son of the former A.J.C. Derby winner, Mountain King. Although he managed to win just one race from eight starts and £987 in his first season, he was placed in the best of company. Mountain Knight was widely acclaimed as the winner of the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes when he took charge at the distance, only to be run down by Imshi. He disappointed when he finished just behind the place-getters in the Champagne Stakes won by Woorak and was beginning to show the effects of a hard week of racing when he could only manage third in the Easter Stakes at his last appearance of the season. A very big colt, some were surprised that Rayner produced him as early as mid-November in his first season, but it was noticeable when he returned from his spell at Windsor at the end of May to begin his Derby preparation, that he no longer gave the impression of legginess and had thickened considerably. Rayner had chosen to only give the big fellow one run prior to his Derby engagement, and that in the Chelmsford Stakes, when with 4lb less than Woorak, he chased that colt home in record time, finishing a couple of lengths in arrears. Ravello, the other joint second favourite in the Derby, was a half-brother to the Melbourne Cup winner, The Parisian, and trained by Joe Burton. He first showed promise the previous Easter when he won a mile Nursery in good style. His minor placing in the Chelmsford Stakes ensured him his prominence in the betting market.
The only filly in the Derby field, Carlita, had a touch of romance to her background. Foaled in New Zealand at J. B. Reid’s Elderslie Stud, the Rouse Bros of Biriganbil purchased her with her mother when Elderslie was disbursed in 1912. Unfortunately, Carlita’s mother died on the sea voyage to Australia and Carlita was left alone to be reared at Biriganbil. Offered at the 1913 Sydney Yearling Sales, and given that her sire, Charlemagne II, was something of an unknown quantity, she only realised 125 guineas on the bid of veteran Sydney trainer, John Moore, acting on behalf of a couple of French merchants.
I fancy that she was the first of the progeny of Charlemagne II to race in Australia, a stallion that the Thompson Bros of Oakleigh purchased for £2,300 – the highest price of the day, at the very same dispersal sale where Carlita was sold. Carlita had already proven herself a rare bargain even before her three-year-old season opened, for as a youngster she had failed to run first or second only once in 8 starts and had returned £2,289 in stakes. At the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, she had given some anxious moments to those supporters of Woorak who had laid the 3/1 on in the Champagne Stakes when she ran the champion colt to a neck, and then later at that meeting created a big impression when winning the Easter Stakes. Her prominence in Derby betting had been assured when she rather effortlessly won a lacklustre Rosehill Guineas from which Woorak had been withdrawn on the morning of the race, run that year for the last time over seven furlongs. Other runners in the Derby included Imshi, the disappointing stable representative of Tom Payten; and Giru, a homebred owned and trained by Alfred Foley and the winner of the Hawkesbury Guineas.
The 1914 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Ravello was in a particularly sour mood at the barrier, but when Mr Mackellar eventually despatched them, Woorak fairly flew from the line on his Derby career. He led clearly going out of the straight and along the back from Silver Steel and Mountain Knight, with Giru, Secret Service and Carlita next, while Ravello was near the rear and travelling most unkindly. At the half-mile post, Mountain Knight made a bid for the inside running, but Connell allowed the favourite more rein and the little chestnut stretched out to a two-length advantage. For a moment it seemed as if Woorak might pinch the race but Mountain Knight and Carlita were quickly in pursuit. Mountain Knight challenged the favourite inside the distance, and after a short, sharp struggle, he prevailed to win cleverly if not comfortably by three-quarters of a length, with a further three lengths to Giru in third place. Carlita tired in the run home to finish fifth after looking a winning chance just after the turn. Myles Connell had his critics after the race for allowing Woorak to run too freely in front, but neither Mackinnon nor Foulsham were numbered amongst them. Woorak had proved himself the best stayer ever sired by Traquair but one not quite good enough. The race was run in a fast 2 minutes 35 ¼ seconds, a time that had only been beaten once in the history of the race.
Mountain Knight accorded his sire, Mountain King, the honour of becoming the first A.J.C. Derby winner since Robinson Crusoe to beget a winner of the same classic. John McDonald had afforded Mountain King every chance at his Mungie Bundie Stud, giving him some first-class mares at a time when studmasters greatly favoured English stallions over their colonial cousins. Mountain Knight was a strapping brown colt, more coarse than handsome, but he did much to boost his sire’s popularity. He was one of nine yearlings offered by John McDonald through H. Chisholm and Company’s sales at Easter, 1913. As a matter of fact, he was the very first yearling sold at those Easter Sales. Chisholm’s had drawn the opening day that year and the Mungie Bundie yearlings, of which he was the first, began proceedings. The batch sold rather cheaply both on account of the first crop by the stallion having failed, and the fact that this second offering had the dubious distinction of opening proceedings. The best price paid was 220 guineas, and in the case of Mountain Knight, E. J. Watt of New Zealand was able to secure him for 210 guineas. His dam, La Veille, was from Vigil, a half-sister to the dam of Wakeful; his pedigree boasted a double-cross of Musket blood through Mountain King’s sire, Wallace, and Trenton.
Mountain Knight was the fourth and last winner of the Derby at Randwick bred by 72-year old John McDonald at his famous Mungie Bundie Stud, following on from the previous successes of Belah, Mountain King and Cisco. If we also include the Victoria Derbies won by Lady Wallace and Mountain King, it will be seen that McDonald was responsible for breeding five winners of six Derbies in the twelve years leading up to the Great War – a wonderful contribution to the bloodstock industry in this State. It was shortly after the War, in 1919, that McDonald relinquished his active interest in the Turf and disposed of his stud to his loyal manager, Mr John P. Burgess, on the eve of a trip to New Zealand. Although Burgess carried on the stud for some years, the sun had already set on the golden era of Mungie Bundie.
In March 1920, a few months after selling the stud, McDonald resigned from the committee of the Australian Jockey Club. He had first been elected to the committee in April 1908 only to step down in December 1910 for personal reasons. Again, elected a committeeman in September 1911 he remained there until he finally quit for good in 1920. It was Walter Brunton who succeeded to the vacancy created. Mountain King, the sire of Mountain Knight, was probably the best racehorse to carry the McDonald tartan although there were many other high-class animals bred by the Squire of Mungie Bundie and apart from the Derby winners already mentioned these included Balarang, Braehead, Poi Dance and Pah King. John McDonald was to remain an active member of the board of the Commonwealth Wool and Produce Company Ltd for more than thirty years and retained the managing directorship of Castlereagh House Ltd up to the time of his death. Like many valetudinarians, McDonald suffered rude good health until very late in life, nodding in the half-light of old age but nonetheless, retaining a passive interest in the Turf to the very end in March 1936 during his 94th year.
In the wake of his Derby success, Charlie Kellow made inquiries as to whether Mountain Knight was for sale but as James Watt placed a price of £10,000 on the big fellow no business was done. The price itself suggested that Watt had waited such a long time for a Derby winner that he was determined to enjoy the experience for as long as it lasted. Mountain Knight did not appear again at the 1914 A.J.C. Spring Meeting but Woorak did, winning the Craven Plate on the third day, leading for most of the journey, winning easily and posting an Australian record. It was a performance that convinced many that he might turn the tables on Mountain Knight in the Victoria Derby. But the rains descended on Flemington on Derby Day and the classic was run on a greasy surface that suited neither colt, and both finished down the course in the race won by the filly, Carlita, at long odds. She went on to win the Oaks from her only two opponents later in the week. Mountain Knight had deliberately not been nominated for the Melbourne Cup or the other major spring handicaps, and his only other appearances at the southern fixture came at weight-for-age in the Linlithgow Stakes (1m.) and C.B. Fisher Plate (1 ½ m.), each of which he won comfortably. Incidentally, in those two races, he sported the livery of Sir William Cooper, in order to observe the proprieties of the age owing to the death of E. J. Watt’s youngest sister. In the autumn Mountain Knight confirmed his rating as the best stayer of his age winning the St Legers at Flemington and Randwick.
Good horse though he was, there was always the suspicion about Mountain Knight that he was neither a genuine stayer nor a first-class weight-for-age horse. Certainly, his connections seemed unwilling to test him in the big staying handicaps at three. He was struck out of the Sydney Cup on the day the weights were issued when James Watt objected to his allotted 8 st. 10lb or 8lbs over the scale, and his defeat in the weight-for-age Cumberland Stakes run over 2 miles at the same meeting raised questions as to his stamina. Whether or not he might have matured into a high-class stayer at four, the chance was cruelly denied him. There was a good reason for believing that he was got at in his stall prior to the running of the A.J.C. Spring Stakes in 1915 when he failed badly as a hot favourite. Certainly, his jockey Midget McLachlan thought so. And later that spring when he had recovered, he broke his shoulder in a fall in the Melbourne Cup won by Patrobas, which prevented him from ever racing again. Mountain Knight was subsequently sold for stud duty to the Douglas family of Hawke’s Bay. He enjoyed only moderate success, although his winners included Mount Marta (H.B.J.C. Hawkes Bay Guineas), and Toa Taua and Mountain Lion, who each won the A.R.C. Welcome Stakes. As a sire of broodmares, Mountain Knight’s reputation is even slimmer; his only real claim resting with his daughter Megalo, who produced those two good milers, Golden Chance and Golden Wings, to the English imported stallion Lackham.
His great Derby rival, Woorak, enjoyed better fortune both on the course and in the paddock. I always thought that the attempt to make a stayer of Woorak was ill-judged. Too often such a policy merely serves towards the dulling of speed with no corresponding gain in stamina. Certainly, that was the case with Woorak, who for the remainder of his three-year-old season raced many lengths below his best form. But as a four and five-year-old, Woorak was not asked to extend himself beyond ten furlongs. He proved to be a wonderful sprinter/miler and a great weight carrier. At four he won the Epsom by six lengths and later in the same season ran second in the Newmarket with 9 st. 9lb and second in the Doncaster – beaten a neck on a dull track when burdened with 9 st. 12lb. The following season as a five-year-old, Woorak won the Oakleigh Plate with 10 st. 5lb and was retired to stud later that autumn with stake earnings of more than £17,100 which at the time placed him fifth on the list of all time Australian stakes winners behind Carbine, Trafalgar, Poseidon and Carlita.
Of all the horses Lauchlan Mackinnon raced throughout his life, Woorak remained his favourite. Never one to become sentimental over anything, least of all his horses, it was the canny Scotsman’s approach to all things mercantile. Old-timers would recall that he gave 650 guineas for Realm after the Gippsland horse had won the Grand National Hurdle in 1906. It was a lot of money for a hurdler, and yet less than a month later Realm won the Australian Hurdle Race for him. The following autumn Realm was put to flat racing, and he went on to win the Australian Cup and Sydney Cup in Mackinnon’s colours. Still, Mackinnon had no hesitation in then selling him for fifteen hundred guineas to race in India. Some other horses that had proved good servants over the years were similarly discarded when the opportunity was high. But the story of Woorak is different, or at least it was for a time. After the death of James Redfearn in March 1916, Chatsworth Stud, together with much of its stock, came on to the market. Mackinnon proceeded to buy the property as well as Madam, the dam of Woorak, paying 375 guineas for the old matron. Lauchlan Mackinnon retired the gallant little chestnut from the Turf after running, appropriately enough, in the Final Handicap at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting of 1917. Woorak was installed at Chatsworth as the resident stallion, together with an impressive collection of mares, and Mackinnon even engaged his brother to manage the place.
In his first season, Woorak was available to the public at a fee of fifty guineas, although only the best outside mares were accepted. Alas, the stallion only served four books of mares in total before Mackinnon decided to sell out, ostensibly to concentrate on his extensive legal practice, although the real reason was the reluctance of breeders to patronise a colonial stallion. The first of Woorak’s progeny were just hitting the racecourse when the Chatsworth dispersal occurred, and judgement on his value as a stallion remained somewhat suspended. Although bidding reached 2200 guineas, it was less than his reserve, and he was passed in and later sold privately to Gerald Buckley and The Manor Stud at Werribee. If those prospective buyers who baulked at meeting the reserve soon had cause to rue their timidity, so did Mackinnon for his impetuosity in deciding to sell out in the first place.
Woorak proved a wonderful stallion, getting sprinters and stayers, as well as early comers and late developers, although, on the whole, I think his colts were generally better than his fillies. And the best of his progeny came from the mares he served in those four seasons at Chatsworth. For a number of years, Woorak was the leading Australian-bred sire in the winners’ lists. All told he sired sixteen individual winners of group or principal races. Unquestionably the best of his progeny was Whittier, the winner of two Caulfield Cups and a Victoria Derby among other good races for Ben Chaffey; he came from the stallion’s second crop and was sold as a yearling at the dispersal of Chatsworth Stud. Other good gallopers by Woorak included the A.J.C. Sires Produce Stakes winner, Soorak, and the A.J.C. Metropolitan and St Leger winner, Sir Andrew.
Carlita, the only filly to start in the 1914 A.J.C. Derby was to prove the best racehorse in that field. She was at her best when allowed to run to the front in her races; it was in that manner that she won the Oaks and Champion Stakes at Flemington, as well as the Randwick Plate. After the A.J.C. St Leger in which Mountain Knight beat her, the owners of Carlita complained to the stewards that Bracken had disobeyed instructions by not taking the filly to the front. Unfortunately for her owners on that occasion, McLachlan was wise to their game and adopted the same tactics on Mountain Knight, and the filly didn’t have the pace to get past him. The stewards quite rightly exonerated Bracken. I might mention that the 1915 Champion Stakes won by Carlita was the last occasion that grand old race was conducted. The King’s Plate was introduced to replace it the following year, and Carlita won the first running of this as well. It was sad to see the Champion Stakes omitted from the racing calendar but the times had changed, and the decision of the V.R.C. seemed inevitable.
It is hard for today’s racegoers to appreciate the significance of the race in the late nineteenth century. It was our colonial equivalent of the Ascot Gold Cup in England, and a horse had to win it to seal his or her reputation as a champion stayer. Considering its distinguished honour roll, it seemed most fitting that Carlita, who retired from the Turf as Australia’s greatest stakes-winning mare with £17,830 to her name, should have been the winner at its final running, leading all the way. Many expected Carlita to prove a successful matron but her relative failures in the breeding paddock caused some to develop a prejudice against dour stayers as prospective mothers. Whether it is the exhausting nature of their calling or the fact that staying mares are generally lean and hungry, many seem much less successful at stud than their sprinting counterparts, which are generally better physical specimens.
Mountain Knight was trained throughout his career by Harry Rayner and was the second and last of Harry’s A.J.C. Derby winners, Melos having been the first twenty-six years earlier in 1888. Born at Burrundulla in the Mudgee district in 1841, Rayner won renown as a trainer of stayers. As a young man, his horsemanship had come to the notice of Richard Rouse of Guntawang who installed him there as a trainer of the station horses. He acted both as a stockman and amateur rider in country races. It was at Guntawang, of course, where Michael Fennelly first made his name. It wasn’t until early 1873 that Rayner came to Sydney and he took a small cottage with four horseboxes attached, in Jane Street, Lower Randwick, which in those days was known as ‘Struggle Town’. Richard Rouse set him up there, and for five years he served as his private trainer. The pair struck instant gold when the lightweight Wanderer (6 st. 4lb) took out the Doncaster in 1873. Two Sydney Tattersall’s Club Cups followed with Viva, and Rayner’s reputation was established. Success brought other patrons to the stable including William Gannon and Alec Busby, the latter racing under the nom de course of Mr J. ‘Northern’. Although not a big bettor himself, Rayner knew how to lay down a betting coup on behalf of others when he had the horse for the job, as Bungebah proved when he landed the 1891 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. He opened at 33/1 on the appearance of weights but closed on the day of the race at something like 7/4.
Rayner retired from training in January 1919 after a severe sickness. His fellow trainers marked the occasion with the presentation of an illuminated address, and a set of pipes – Rayner was a prolific pipe smoker – in the members’ room at Randwick with Joe Burton doing the honours and with Colin Stephen in the chair. The illuminated address contained portraits of Rayner’s principal patrons together with the signatures of fifty-one of his training colleagues. Rayner did briefly come back a couple of years later to take temporary charge of Tom Payten’s team during that trainer’s final illness. Payten and Rayner had been lifelong friends, and at the time, young Bayley Payten wasn’t eligible for a licence. It was a typical kind act from the old man.
Rayner was often to be seen in his later years sauntering among the cracks in the birdcage during the Randwick spring and autumn meetings. He was a capital judge of a horse and always ready to assist any young man eager to learn about the business. Apart from his two A.J.C. Derbies, Rayner’s other big race victories included the Melbourne Cup (Arsenal); Sydney Cup twice (Street Arab and The Australian Peer); The Metropolitan (Nobleman); Victoria Derby (The Australian Peer); and the Newmarket and Epsom Handicaps with Bungebah. Although with success he enlarged his Jane Street home and built additional boxes, he was never tempted to leave the place. It was there that he died, aged 92, in June 1933, the grand old man of the Australian Turf.
At the time of his A.J.C. Derby triumph, Mountain Knight carried the famous dark blue and white colours of one of the largest owners who was then racing in Australasia, regarding sheer numbers of horses in training. E. J. (James) Watt was born in Auckland in June 1873, and he graduated at law at Cambridge although he never practised. James’s interest in racing was unsurprising as his father was the first president of the Auckland Racing Club while his brother-in-law was Tom Lowry, best remembered as the owner of Desert Gold. James Watt held extensive pastoral interests both in the Dominion and in N.S.W. and Queensland, and it was the revenue from these properties that enabled him to indulge his passion for the Turf. He first came to Australian notice when he purchased the Melbourne Cup winner, Merriwee, to serve as a stud horse in New Zealand, and he was successful with quite a number of his progeny over there.
It was in 1914 that Watt’s burgeoning pastoral empire saw him relocate to Australia and although he continued to race in the Dominion on a large scale, his racing interests now included a team trained for him by D.J. Price in Melbourne while Harry Rayner was his main retainer in Sydney. Even before his Derby success, Rayner had prepared a number of good juvenile winners for the owner including Ventura (Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack Stakes) and Athenic (December Stakes). Watt was fortunate in enjoying success so soon after relocating from New Zealand. In fact, he won the last race on Derby Day in 1914 as well, the Kensington Handicap with another of his horses, and his luck continued on the second day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting when another son of Mountain King, in Del Monte, also prepared by Harry Rayner, carried his colours to victory in the Breeders’ Plate. Watt enjoyed a particularly satisfying meeting that year when his horses credited him with four wins and a second during the week and £7,969 in prize money.
In New South Wales, Watt owned a large station in the Molong district, and conducted a thoroughbred stud there, while in Central Queensland his interests centred on the Thomson River country. His racing empire matched the sprawling geography of his sheep holdings, and over the years his colours became just as familiar on the country racecourses of western N.S.W. as at either Randwick or Flemington. In fact, apart from Western Australia, I think his livery was sported successfully in every mainland State of Australia. A gentleman of the old school, Watt was of a quiet and retiring disposition, and the wagering side of the sport never appealed to him at all; he publicly stated that he wouldn’t protest on a racecourse under any circumstances as it was against his principles. Possessed of considerable knowledge of bloodstock, he was a generous buyer at yearling sales. After Harry Rayner’s retirement, Pat Nailon and George Price trained most of his horses.
Gold Rod was probably the best horse to sport his colours in this country, and, together with Mildura, the pair scored a hat-trick of Doncaster Handicaps for their fortunate owner in the years 1939-41. Other good horses owned by him included Waikare and Pershore, which each won an A.J.C. Metropolitan, as well as those fast juveniles, Del Monte, Ventura, Cereza, Visage, Lady Aura and Athenic. But despite this roll call of top-class horses, James Watt invested far more in racing than he ever took out of the sport. In March 1934 he succeeded to the vacancy on the A.J.C. committee caused by the resignation of Fred Moses; he remained a committeeman until his death in May 1942. At the time it was estimated that his horses had won more than £300,000 in stakes. Fernleigh Castle, the well-known landmark on New South Head Road, Rose Bay, and the Sydney home of Watt and his wife, still stands today.
H. ‘Midget’ McLachlan always looked upon Mountain Knight’s A.J.C. Derby as the most satisfying ride of his career in the saddle, largely because it rewarded Watt both for the loyalty he had shown McLachlan and the lavish sums he had invested in bloodstock. The A.J.C. Derby capped a wonderful year for McLachlan, who had won the 1913-14 Sydney Jockeys’ Title with a total of 24 wins despite being suspended for almost the last three months of the season. At the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting earlier in the year, he had won both the Sydney Cup and Cumberland Stakes on Lilyveil. The year 1914 had started auspiciously enough for McLachlan when he rode a treble at the New Year’s Day meeting at Randwick – a rare occurrence in those bygone days – and an astute observer might have noted the gangling colt on which he won the Nursery, for it was none other than Mountain Knight himself.
McLachlan was first apprenticed to trainer Joe Vernon at the age of thirteen, but it was Dick Wootton to whom he afterwards transferred, who was really responsible for his success in the saddle. Wootton just then was beginning to forge his remarkable reputation as a master of apprentices. He had already groomed Norman Godby for the saddle, and in the years to come, would hone the riding talents of McLachlan and the Huxley brothers although it would be his own son, Frank, and his incredible triumphs on the English Turf that would crown his achievements in this direction. At the A.J.C. Spring Meeting in 1902, Wootton landed some good bets on his lightweight mare, Queen of Sheba, when she was successful in The Metropolitan.
The money bankrolled an odyssey to the racecourses of South Africa upon which Wootton embarked a few months later. Apart from the twenty-five horses loaded on board the steamer, Sussex, destined for the Veldt, Wootton also took McLachlan and Ted Courtenay to do the stable riding. Frank Wootton joined the party later on, although he was still far too young to be officially licensed. After surviving the wretched sea voyage and monsoon, the trip was to be the making of McLachlan as a jockey. The party won well over one hundred races in South Africa during the best part of three years and brought off some spectacular betting stings. They returned to Australia just prior to the 1905 V.R.C. Spring Meeting.
During that summer of 1905-06 a win in the Tattersall’s Cup on Fabric, a horse Wootton acquired just after his return from the Cape Colony, did McLachlan’s nascent reputation in the pigskin here no harm at all. In April 1906, Richard Wootton again left Australia, this time to take up permanent residence at Treadwell House in England and begin the family association with the English Turf that would prove so rewarding in the decades ahead. McLachlan had been expected to join his master on this exodus too, but although still a minor, marriage intervened. Besides, Mac believed big money in Australia was now within his grasp. Considering the success that the Wootton dynasty subsequently enjoyed in England, it is interesting, if fruitless, to ponder what Mac might have done had he chosen to ply his craft in the Old Country at that time. Certainly, when he did try his luck there a few years later in 1911, the relatively closed shop that was the English retainer system frustrated his ambition. Without a stable contract and arriving late in the season, McLachlan only secured fourteen mounts and managed two winners. He very quickly decided to abort the experiment, and after a sightseeing tour on the Continent returned to Australia for a decade in which as a natural lightweight – well under eight stone – he dominated the scales on Sydney racecourses.
McLachlan was a man of few words and even fewer opinions; his most articulate conversations came through his hands when he was seated in the saddle. A brilliant all-round rider he enjoyed as much success on smart juveniles in short scampers as he did on seasoned stayers over a distance in Australia’s richest weight-for-age races and handicaps. At Randwick, he won the Derby, Sydney Cup and The Metropolitan twice each. McLachlan was just at home in Melbourne, where he won the Melbourne Cup three times and the Caulfield Cup twice among a host of other big events. It was only at the very end of his career that McLachlan relented, and had another crack at English racing. His real motivation for returning to the Old Dart was to accompany his son, W. H. McLachlan junior, who was contracted to ride over there.
Father and son, rode there during the period 1922-26 although Mac senior really only had two full seasons. He rode about fifty winners during that time, and most of his rides came from Eddie de Mestre, the son of Etienne, who was then training for Solly Joel, although for a time the Earl of Zetland had the second call on his services. De Mestre valued Mac’s ability to know how well a horse was going in a track gallop without making time, and then to keep his own counsel afterwards.
Years later, Mac mused: ‘Many a tout I tricked’ when reflecting on those early morning gallops on the Limekilns. Polyphontes was probably the best horse he rode there winning both the Ascot Derby and Eclipse Stakes and partnering him to fifth place in the English Derby won by Sansovino. One day in October 1923 at Doncaster he rode a treble for de Mestre, including the winner of the big sprint, the Portland Stakes. His son also enjoyed considerable success in a brief career on the English Turf, winning both a Cambridgeshire and a City and Suburban, before increasing weight forced very early retirement and a switch to training horses. When McLachlan senior decided to try his hand at conditioning horses, the A.J.C. immediately granted him a No 1 trainer’s licence in August 1930 and his very first patron was none other than E. J. Watt. Neither father nor son was very successful as trainers, but Mac senior remained a Randwick identity for years and was a regular visitor to the racecourse well into his seventies.
Before I end this chapter, permit me to make one more observation. The irony of the year 1914 for Lauchlan Mackinnon, who coveted the Derby more than any other prize, was that he had the consolation of winning the Melbourne Cup instead. Kingsburgh, a useful handicapper, grabbed the one prize in Australian racing sought by most men who register a set of racing colours. However, to the austere racing purist that was the future V.R.C. chairman, he would have gladly swapped the gold cup for that elusive blue riband.