It was in the spring of 1912 that a 38-year-old country trainer by the name of Frank ‘Sandy’ Marsden of Doughboy Hollow, outside Murrurundi – Ben Hall country – bought rail tickets to Sydney. He had just sold out of his Bloomfield-street house and stables in Gunnedah for £300 and was prepared to gamble it all on a chance in the big smoke. Not that Marsden was entirely a stranger to the city. Although he was born in Murrurundi in 1874, as noted in an earlier chapter, when just a 14-year-old boy he had ridden a double at the very first race meeting conducted at Warwick Farm in March 1889. Moreover, a crack footballer later in his youth, he had represented the northern district of New South Wales in several big matches in Sydney. Increasing weight during his late teenage years soon put an end to any thoughts of a career in a jockey’s saddle, and Marsden had taken his horsemanship and gone a-droving instead before later turning to horse-training in Gunnedah.
Now, together with his young wife, three children and scant baggage, he led just a single racehorse, Allingamite, a nondescript daughter of St Alwyne, along the dusty road to the train station. As Marsden emerged from the great canopy of Central Railway Station after the tiring journey, a grim determination was already etched on his face as he once again looked out upon the city that was to be the theatre of his ambitions. His only patrimony was shrewdness and horsemanship that was second to none. Hailing a nearby cab, he directed the driver to the old A.J.C. Hotel in Alison Road, directly opposite Randwick racecourse. After depositing his family and paying a week’s rent in advance on two rooms and a loose box, he returned to the goods yards at Central to reclaim his horse. There were no horse floats in those hard days before the Great War, and Marsden rode the four-year-old Allingamite back through the unfamiliar city streets to the rented loose box.
Frank Marsden then made a single telephone call about a modest training stable that he knew was on the market in nearby Bowral Street, a short, obscure street that ran from Kensington’s main road and terminated at the edge of Randwick racecourse, a stone’s throw from the St Leger reserve. The subsequent purchase might have cost the ex-drover the entire £300 that he carried in his pocket, but it secured him an establishment that would eventually grow and prosper into the most famous stables in the land. Not that anybody could have foretold that future in 1912, for then all it consisted of was a neat little cottage and some loose boxes at the rear. Up until that time, the place’s only pretension to racing fame was an ambiguous nameplate nailed to the gate on the side lane with the inscription ‘Gaulusville’. Now, Gaulus won the Melbourne Cup in 1897, and although his trainer William Forrester prepared his team at Warwick Farm, rumour had it that Gaulus for a time at least, had been stabled on the site during his Cup preparation. Directly opposite was a vacant lot with a few cows grazing on the verges and Marsden observed that one day, if he could accumulate enough funds, it would be useful as an exercise and spelling paddock.
Marsden’s arrival at Randwick racecourse happened to coincide with an ambitious building programme that was then being conducted under the auspices of the Australian Jockey Club’s chairman Adrian Knox and was beginning to transform the scene. Only two years earlier the Ladies’ Stand had been erected and in the year after, had come the St Leger Stand, while new tearooms for both the Paddock and St Leger enclosures were already on the drawing boards and would be completed in 1914. It was a reflection of the healthy state of racing in New South Wales in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of the First World War. It seemed a serendipitous moment for a promising country trainer to try his luck in the city. Hitherto, Marsden had brilliantly displayed his talents in the provinces so to speak, running his horses at the dry and dusty courses of Manilla, Narrabri, Gunnedah and Tamworth. Now the broad, green swathes of Randwick lay before him, and a much grander theatre beckoned. As Marsden surveyed the scene, he succumbed at once to the ancient blandishments and rich heritage that the racecourse had already come to represent. Our man from Murrurundi resolved there and then to become the number one trainer in Sydney.
Gaulusville’s only immediate occupant was the aforesaid Allingamite. The trainer soon came to an understanding with the local hay and feed merchant and then sat down and wrote a letter to an old friend and grazier at Gunnedah named Bert Wills-Allen for whom he had trained several winners in the northwest of New South Wales. A few weeks later, Allingamite was joined at the Bowral-street establishment by three other gallopers of Wills-Allen including Nombi, a smart chestnut colt by Maltster, and Marsden soon set about landing some clever betting coups in an era when prizemoney was somewhat meagre. These were the days when just one metropolitan win at Randwick or perhaps even Rosehill or Canterbury Park in a season – provided the money was on – could pay a stable’s feed bill for an entire year. And these were the days when a trainer would deliberately run his horse down in the weights to ensure a suitable handicap on the particular day chosen to pay those feed bills.
Marsden placed Allingamit carefully in races until he got her into an eleven-furlong open handicap at Rosehill in March 1913 with just 6 st. 7lb on her back. Marsden supported the mare into 7/1, and she scrambled in to win by a head! Francis Joseph Marsden, at last, was on his way. Only a small animal, the handicapper had Allingamite’s measure after that day although some indication of her ability is given by the fact that she was good enough to finish fourth in the A.J.C. Metropolitan later that year and in 1914 was placed in the Hotham Handicap before running unplaced in Kingsburgh’s Melbourne Cup. If weight was stopping Allingamite supplementing the Marsden family budget, no such impediments slowed the brilliant Nombi. This colt first landed the money for Marsden at Clarendon in the Park Stakes on Hawkesbury Guineas day in September 1913 and later proceeded to win a number of flying handicaps on Sydney courses. The first, fragile blossoms of prosperity for Frank Marsden were beginning to appear.
The young man applied unto himself Horace’s invocation, ‘Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna’ – work by night, work by day. Important people began to take notice. One of Marsden’s close acquaintances in Sydney was Ken Austin, who had first come to respect Marsden’s abilities with a horse when he served as a stipendiary steward for the NSW Western District Racing Association and had observed first-hand his shrewd horsemanship. Fortuitously for Marsden, Austin had gravitated to Sydney around the same time to take up a position with the bloodstock firm, H. Chisholm and Co and it was Austin that was indirectly responsible for getting Marsden his first good galloper. It was Austin who introduced Mrs O. C. Flemmich, wife of a wealthy Queensland grazier, to Marsden and in due course, the family passed some horses onto Marsden to train including the aged stallion, Cagou.
Cagou, a son of Ayr Laddie, had won the 1913 A.J.C. Metropolitan and the following autumn took out the A.J.C. Plate. Up until then, he had been raced in other interests and it was only after the A.J.C. Plate that Mrs Flemmich stepped in and bought him. Cagou immediately repaid the new owner’s faith by winning both the Q.T.C. King’s Plate and Brisbane Cup in the Flemmich colours. Marsden did well with the horse and in 1917 prepared the eight-year-old to win a second A.J.C. Metropolitan as well. Not all of Marsden’s recruits from Queensland matched Cagou. Around the same time, Tom Jennings sent down the top sprinter, Amberdown, for Marsden to train. The colt had won the 1916 Stradbroke Handicap among a host of other races and was regarded as something of a freak on the sand at Breakfast Creek. Although Marsden managed to win a couple of events here with the son of Downshire, the horse never went within coo’ee of matching his northern reputation. Amberdown eventually returned to Tom Jennings’s Greenmount property in Queensland where he did stud duty – at the same stud where Spearfelt was to earn renown.
Cagou’s successes happened to coincide with the emergence of Baltic Sea, a black colt by Linacre that Marsden bought in his own interest as a yearling for 375 guineas. Here we have another aspect of Marsden’s future training career. Brimful of confidence in his own abilities and judgement, in the absence of a willing client, Marsden was quite prepared to put down his own money to acquire a yearling that he particularly fancied. Linacre was renowned for getting precocious juveniles, and Baltic Sea was no exception.
Marsden set the colt for the Breeders’ Plate and pulled off a tidy betting coup when at 7/1 and in the experienced hands of Keith Bracken, the son of Linacre showed a clean pair of heels in a field of twenty-three. Baltic Sea won other good races including the Q.T.C. Hopeful Stakes before sadly breaking a fetlock at the peak of his career. The important triumphs of Cagou and Baltic Sea were supplemented by other big race wins for other clients and by other horses. Marsden trained Chantemerle in 1917 to win the Tattersall’s Club Cup for Mr J. S. Love and in 1919 Ian ‘Or to win the 1919 Sydney Cup for Messrs Cockram and Nicholas.
It was as a result of these big race wins and their associated betting stings that Marsden was able to buy that adjacent block of land in Bowral-street behind the Kensington school. The original Gaulusville property had only included five horse boxes although in the intervening years he had been able to build five more. However, as his list of clients continued to expand additional stabling became a necessity and it was this second plot of land that, as we shall see in due course, was to become, in three quite separate pairs of hands, the most famous training establishment in the Commonwealth. In March 1920 at a cost of £2,600 for both land and buildings, the 45-year-old trainer completed his new stables in Bowral-street, Kensington. There were fifteen boxes in the new establishment, supplementing the ten in the old. Moreover, the fact that it was located behind the back of the Kensington school was looked upon by Marsden as an unalloyed advantage, as the horses got used to the noise and accustomed them to the buzz of the racecourse on race day. No sooner had the new establishment been completed than it received the royal imprimatur. In June 1920 during the Royal tour of H.R.H. Edward, Prince of Wales, when the prince expressed a wish to ride in a track gallop on the Randwick course, it was Prince Sandy, one of Marsden’s team that was chosen as his mount.
Actually, he wasn’t a bad horse. Bred on the Wills Gully property of his owner, John Brown, in the year following the Prince of Wales’s visit the horse with 6 st. 10lb and ridden by Jim Munro finished runner-up to Laddie Blue in The A.J.C. Metropolitan.
In a sense, Frank Marsden was one of the first modern trainers prepared to try new ideas. He approached each racehorse as an individual study and repudiated almost every article of the old faith of conditioning a racehorse. Gone were the long old-time gallops that had racehorses covering miles of trackwork most days and sweating profusely into the bargain. Marsden believed in fast work in more ways than one, and it won him an immediate following. Modern he may have been, but he still retained an old bushman’s pharmacopoeia alongside veterinary science when it came to administering physics and tonics to his charges. Perhaps the most notable among his new stable clients was the Newcastle coal baron, John Brown, who, it must be said, had a penchant for changing trainers on the slightest pretext.
We met him in our 1919 chapter in connection with Richmond Main, one of the dozen gallopers that he transferred from James Barden to Brown in that winter of 1919. This new ‘partnership’ if that it could be called, got away to a profitable start when Richmond Main, in the hands of the lightweight, stable apprentice, Reg Marsden, a nephew of the trainer, won the Chelmsford Stakes at his seasonal reappearance. The Derbies at both Randwick and Flemington, together with the Williamstown Cup, followed shortly after that to cement Frank Marsden’s growing reputation among the cognoscenti. Norman Falkiner and Ernest Clarke, two prominent Victorian sportsmen who were regular visitors to the A.J.C. Spring and Autumn Meetings, now became increasingly enamoured of Marsden’s horsemanship. Each man owned a leading stud in Victoria, and each was, in turn, to send Frank Marsden a chestnut filly of quite exceptional ability in the autumn of 1920.
Born in Ararat, Victoria, in 1872, Norman Falkiner began his working life with his father’s pastoral firm managing Moonbria station at Jerilderie, before moving onto places such as Moira, Boonoke North and Perricote stations. In 1915 he struck out on his own making a great success of breeding Clydesdales and shorthorn cattle as well as Border Leicester sheep at his famous and historic Noorilim homestead, near Murchison in the Goulburn Valley. Noorilim was originally built in 1879 for William Winter Irving and still stands today, one of just a handful of graceful nineteenth-century residences in rural Victoria, nestled amidst its extensive botanical gardens and sprawling vineyards. An active sportsman, Falkiner was president of the Murchison and Dargalong Coursing Club as well as a committeeman of the Williamstown Racing Club; and just a few years before, Falkiner had decided to breed for the thoroughbred market and purchased Pranjip Park, only a couple of miles from Noorilim.
To launch his new endeavour, Falkiner bought a batch of well-bred yearlings in England at a time when the threat of the Great War had made bargains of such bloodstock. For his foundation stallion, he gave 4000 guineas for the 1914 Irish Derby winner, Land of Song, with whom he won a couple of races before he broke down, a disappointment that was quickly forgotten with his early success at stud. Alas, Land of Song met with an accident in 1917 and killed himself but not before leaving behind among his foals in the 1918 breeding season at Pranjip Park the filly Even Song, a daughter of one of Falkiner’s well-bred English matrons. During 1919-20 Falkiner decided to remove his stud from Pranjip Park to Noorilim where the mares and foals could enjoy the benefits of the paddocks fronting the Goulburn River. The stallion and yearling boxes were then in the course of construction and Falkiner had only recently bought both of the imported horses, Spearhead and Comedy King, as stallions when he decided to send Even Song to Frank Marsden to be trained on his behalf. The heavy-betting Falkiner’s leading trainer was Jack Holt, but such had been Marsden’s impact in a short time that Falkiner felt disposed to patronise him.
The second important Victorian Turf identity to become a client of Frank Marsden around the same time was Ernest Clarke, the proprietor of the Melton Stud. The early history of Ernest Clarke, the Melton Stud and the emergence of The Welkin as Australia’s leading stallion, was told in our 1918 chapter relating to Gloaming. The Welkin had produced for Ernest Clarke a succession of precocious colts and fillies that dominated the rich juvenile events during the years of the Great War and its wake. One of the earliest of them was Spica, winner of the 1913 Debutant Stakes although she died early in her career. Then in quick succession came those brilliant youngsters Two, Three, Deneb, Thrice, Trey and Angelia. What a haul those six horses yielded – three Ascot Vale Stakes in successive years, two Champagne Stakes, a Maribyrnong Plate, Debutant Stakes and both the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. It was in the autumn of 1920 that Clarke decided to send a well-bred daughter of The Welkin to Frank Marsden to be trained.
The filly in question, Furious, was a half-sister to Danaus, winner of the 1910 Caulfield Guineas and 1911 V.R.C. St Leger. Danaide, the dam of the pair, was by Wallace and a full sister to another very successful broodmare in Ardea, the dam of Gallipoli, Bobadea and Bob Cherry, who in turn was the dam of the great Eurythmic. It was an extraordinary pedigree, for the Wallace and The Welkin nick had proved very successful. Alas, Furious was to be the last of this particular line because Danaide had died in September 1919.
It was, therefore, an unusual move for the Victorian studmaster to have the filly prepared in Sydney because until then all of his horses as well as those of Sir Rupert, his brother, had been trained exclusively by James Scobie who would continue to do so until retirement. Indeed, around the same time as Marsden received Furious, Scobie received Isa, yet another daughter of The Welkin and a full sister to Three, Deneb, Thrice and Trey. Rumour had it that Clarke expected big things from both fillies and didn’t want them in the same stable. If big things were expected, then big things were what he got. Whatever Ernest Clarke’s motive in consigning Furious to Frank Marsden instead of James Scobie, the results certainly didn’t disappoint him. A fine, raking filly if a trifle light behind the saddle, Furious was a beautiful golden chestnut and was distinguished by a white blaze and two white stockings on her near side.
After being broken-in, both Furious and Even Song had Frank Marsden licking his lips at the prospect of the rich Gimcrack Stakes, worth £1,505 that year. One thousand people turned up at Randwick to watch the official two-year-old trials in late September. Those trials were conducted with shoes off and the colours up, and the majority of Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack Stakes winners in the past had been showcased at these trials. In the second heat for fillies run in the fastest time of the morning, Furious ran a bad second to Aeon, which resulted in the winner going to the post a firm favourite for the Gimcrack on the Wednesday of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting while each of Furious and Even Song was served up at the rather generous odds of 4/1 and 8/1 respectively.
Marsden saddled up four of the twelve runners and the result, for him at least, smacked of something from the world of the Brothers Grimm. Not only did Furious show them a clean pair of heels from the half-mile, but Even Song nudged the favourite out of second money. Ernest Clarke had been trying to win either a Breeders’ Plate or a Gimcrack Stakes for years via James Scobie, and here he’d done it with a Sydney trainer. From the moment Furious squandered that Gimcrack field, greatness beckoned. Both fillies went to Melbourne for the Maribyrnong Plate, and it was only the penalty that stopped the flying daughter of The Welkin from landing the coveted spring double, going under by a neck to Antarian, to whom she was conceding 5lb.
That 1920-21 racing season proved memorable for Ernest Clarke. As if owning the best filly north of the Murray wasn’t glorious enough, the canny proprietor of the Melton Stud also owned the best in the south. Isa, in the hands of James Scobie, was proving every bit as worthy as her illustrious siblings. Although she showed precocity on the training tracks in early spring, an accident caused her to be put by, and her racecourse debut didn’t come until the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting. In 1921 the V.R.C. had considerably enhanced the stakes for both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Ascot Vale Stakes over previous years, and Isa managed to pull off the double, winning the Sires’ on debut to continue The Welkin’s remarkable record in those races. Unlike Furious, Isa wasn’t a tall filly but was of a neat, stout conformation, and in the Sires’, she showed far more speed than both the minor place-getters, Antarian and Sefton, respective winners of the Maribyrnong Plate and Debutant Stakes. When James Scobie announced that he was taking Isa as part of his team to Randwick, it set up the intriguing prospect of a clash between Ernest Clarke’s two brilliant chestnuts to determine just which one was the season’s champion juvenile filly. Business commitments prevented Clarke from making the trip. He missed a classic duel.
Furious had meanwhile resumed from her midsummer spell in late January to win a Juvenile Stakes at Rosehill with 9 st 10lb, although perhaps the more significant aspect of the performance was that on a track far from lively she went within a tick of cracking the course record for 4 ¾ furlongs. Marsden only gave her one more run before the Sires’ when with 9 st. 12lb, she went down narrowly in a Rosehill juvenile race to the future Summer Cup winner, Oranian. As a result of that eclipse, the wise men of Tattersall’s extended the price of Furious to 10/1 for the Sires’ Produce Stakes preferring to install her stablemate, Pelaw Main, the younger brother of Richmond Main and the winner of the A.J.C. December Stakes, as the 2/1 favourite with Isa a firm 5/2. Bob Lewis as Ernest Clarke’s retained rider had the choice of mounts but plumped for Isa, while Bill McLachlan secured the ride on Furious. Lewis might have landed the money, too, had the Victorian filly not gone wide at the entrance to the straight and then bored out near the winning post. As it was, she only went under by a half-length to Furious, who finished resolutely after spotting the leaders three or four lengths at the top of the straight.
Ernest Clarke was at Moonee Valley when the news of his quinella came through. On Monday, the second day of the meeting, both Furious and Isa again clashed in the Champagne Stakes, although the latter was suffering from a sore mouth; this time Woodville and the big Victorian colt, Salatis, were expected to provide the real competition. Despite the 10lb penalty, Furious put up her now trademark finish to win by a half-length, and upon unsaddling the filly, McLachlan declared to Marsden that she would win both Derbies in the spring! It completed Furious’s first season on the Turf with the enviable record of four wins and two seconds from six starts and £7,943 in prize money.
Furious, Even Song and Pelaw Main notwithstanding, Frank Marsden’s stables sheltered a couple of other smart youngsters that season viz. Duke Isinglass, another homebred from the Wills Gully stud of John Brown, as well as Vodka, a daughter of Buckwheat out of Lager, that good Maltster filly of just a few seasons before. Duke Isinglass, a rangy son of Brown’s former high-class middle-distance galloper, Duke Foote and a half-brother to Wallace Isinglass, only appeared three times in his first season, winning the Nursery Handicap in the hands of Reg Marsden on the same card that his more illustrious stablemate won the Champagne Stakes. John Brown harboured great expectations that Duke Isinglass might go one better than his celebrated half-brother come the first Saturday in October. Vodka was owned in the same interests as Lager and showed distinct promise, having won twice at Canterbury Park as well as at the Sydney Tattersall’s meeting at Randwick.
Furious might have wintered as the firm favourite for the A.J.C. Derby but doubts remained as to her pedigree for staying the trip. The Welkin for all his ability to produce precocious juveniles hardly figured as an influence for stamina, despite the successes of Gloaming and Greenstead and the likes of Hyades who had won both the V.R.C. Oaks and the South Australian St Leger. Marsden placed more faith in the distaff side of the pedigree allied both to her conformation and what Furious had shown him in training gallops. Daius, her full brother, had won over a mile-and-a-half, while, as we have seen, Furious was closely related on the dam’s side to the great Eurythmic. Ardae, maternal granddam of Eurythmic, and Danaide, dam of Furious, were sisters being by Wallace from Danae, by Calma. Now Eurythmic’s sire, Eudorus, was really only a sprinter-cum-miler and yet Eurythmic, of course, was responsible for that wonderful performance in the Sydney Cup earlier that year when he carried 9 st. 8lb to victory – the third highest-handicapped winner in the history of the race behind The Barb and Carbine. Physically there was no question that Furious was up to carrying the Derby weight, for she was a big framed filly with broad hips, although inclined to go light behind the saddle after heavy racing.
Certainly, Marsden gave Furious the very model of a modern Derby preparation. She resumed in mid-August to finish a close-up fourth behind Greenstead in a six-furlong open handicap at Rosehill and followed it up a fortnight later at Warwick Farm with the minor placing in the Liverpool Mile. An unplaced run in the Chelmsford Stakes behind Syce Knight, when she nonetheless beat all the other three-year-olds, brought Furious to her peak for the Rosehill Guineas (9f) for which she was sent out the 2/1 favourite in a field of fourteen with Reg Marsden in the saddle. It proved an eventful contest with Furious claiming the prize, but not before young Marsden had forced a passage past the stablemate, Duke Isinglass, and caused interference. In the stewards’ room aftermath, Reg Marsden was suspended for two months although it didn’t cost him the Derby mount on Furious for it was never his to have. Melbourne jockey, Bob Lewis, enjoyed a retainer with Ernest Clarke and was always slated to partner the strapping daughter of The Welkin at headquarters.
The 1921 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Perhaps the most notable new feature at Randwick since the running of the previous Derby was the new judge’s box, and it was the subject of as much fascination to a number of racegoers as the Derby field itself. Frank Marsden succeeded in getting four of his representatives into the classic viz. Furious, Pelaw Main, Even Song and Duke Isinglass – all home-breds. While Furious remained a firm favourite with the public on Derby Day, best backed to beat the filly was the Melbourne colt, Harvest King.
Bred by his owner from the good-producing mare, Harvest Home, the colt was got by Comedy King during his last season at the Shipley Stud. Trained by J. McCann, Harvest King owed his market prominence to having won at both Flemington and Caulfield at the backend of his two-year-old season, before resuming for third in the Memsie Stakes behind Eurythmic. Popaway, a 180 guineas yearling trained by Eiver Walker, was third fancy for the Derby. Bred by Francis Foy at The Monastery Stud, near Parkes, and foaled just a few weeks before the death of Foy, the gelding had taken the minor placing in the Breeders’ Plate during his first season and in his latest showing had finished third in the Hill Stakes behind Beauford and Violoncello.
Pelaw Main, the good-looking brother to Richmond Main, was the best fancied of the three stablemates of Furious to upset the market. A jet-black colt, he was a much bigger-bodied fellow than his distinguished brother. Vaccine, a half-brother to the outstanding Queensland galloper, Molly’s Robe, was an interesting runner. James Barden trained the horse on behalf of Victor White, the father of the future Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Patrick White, who was a nine-year-old boy at the time. A brilliant winner of the Breeder’s Plate at his first start, neither his pedigree nor his subsequent performances suggested that Vaccine would be at home over the classic distance. While only a handful of the field had been acquired at the fall of a gavel, easily the most expensive of them was Braehead, a fine-looking son of Mountain King, bred by the redoubtable John McDonald at Mungie Bundie. Just a few months before Braehead went through the sales ring as a yearling, McDonald had disposed of his stud to his manager, John Burgess.
Hence Braehead was among Burgess’s first draft when he was knocked down to trainer Richard O’Connor for 1450 guineas, acting on behalf of the prominent financier, John Garvan, the force behind the M.L.C. Assurance Company. Braehead was specked at good prices in the Derby, largely as a result of his good second in the Rosehill Guineas. Perhaps the best outsider in the race was Honey Bee carrying the colours of Dan Seaton. This Kenilworth colt, whose dam was a sister to two Melbourne Cup winners in Gaulus and The Grafter, had been backed for some money at Rosehill and finished in a manner that suggested he would stay another half-mile. Even Song, the filly that gave Marsden a memorable quinella in the Gimcrack Stakes upon debut, had failed to train on during her two-year-old season and wasn’t regarded as a serious chance, although Norman Falkiner had joined Ernest Clarke in travelling up from Victoria to witness the classic.
Braehead led the Derby field at a good gallop to the six-furlong post where Duke Isinglass joined him, just ahead of Vaccine and Pelaw Main. At this stage of proceedings, Bob Lewis had Furious well-positioned, immediately behind the leading division. Braehead led into the straight with a very slight advantage over Vaccine, Furious and Even Song, with the favourite ready to pounce. When Lewis surged Furious to the front at the foot of the straight, the race looked to be all over to those cheering in the grandstands. It wasn’t until the distance that danger presented itself in the looming shadows of Cupidon and Honey Bee. George Young had hugged the inside running rail for much of the journey on Cupidon and in the last furlong Furious was unable to withstand his challenge, going down by a half-length. Even Song, fourth in the race, finished many lengths behind the third-place getter, Honey Bee. Much to the chagrin of her many supporters, Furious had been outstayed on the day, although Lewis had done the filly no favours by charting a wide course.
The result was another triumph for New Zealand, and following upon earlier victories by Biplane and Gloaming, the third time that lucky owner George Greenwood had seen his colours carried to glory in the race in the space of five years. Moreover, Dick Mason had trained all three horses, although Cupidon represented the trainer’s fourth win overall because he had prepared Noctuiform in 1905 as well. Cupidon was certainly the least glamorous of the Greenwood trio; measuring only 15.1 he looked even smaller because of his well-muscled frame. Cupidon had been bred in New Zealand by Ian Duncan and was by the great stallion, Martian, out of the New Zealand mare, Bebe. Martian had been imported into New Zealand in utero by George Stead after he had acquired the broodmare Otterden. Martian was the first of Otterden’s foals although her next two, Sun God and Boniform, as we have seen, were also high-class racehorses.
Still, Martian was the best of the lot and although he only won 4 races from 17 starts those wins included the 1904 A.J.C. Randwick Plate, C.J.C. Challenge Stakes and Canterbury Cup. Sold by George Stead after the Canterbury Cup to J. F. Buchanan, Martian stood his entire stud career at the Kinloch Stud, Little River, where he headed the New Zealand Stallions’ List for six seasons from 1913-14 before being beaten by Demosthenes in 1919-20. He returned to add another premiership in 1920-21 before finally giving way to the dominance of Absurd. Martian is commonly regarded as one of the two or three most significant sires to stand in New Zealand in the twentieth century. On the other hand, Bebe, the dam of Cupidon, was unraced and apart from the Derby winner, her only other claim was that her daughter, Inoe, got the winner of the 1936 C.J.C. Winter Cup at stud.
Cupidon had been bought by the crusty and querulous George Greenwood for 525 guineas as a yearling. Unraced as a two-year-old, Cupidon had been brought across to Sydney on the steamer Ulimaroa in mid-June as part of Mason’s small team that also included the champion, Gloaming. At the time Mason declared that the horse was untried, but few believed that the canny Kiwi was the sort of man to embark on such a voyage without some inkling of the colt’s ability. Something of the sort was confirmed when in his first essay in public he beat a big field in a novice handicap over the Randwick mile in early September. Cupidon had then been strongly fancied for the Rosehill Guineas but had run such an ordinary race that he quietly dropped out of Derby contention. However, the contingent from New Zealand didn’t forget to back him for the Derby on the much-loved tote, although the ultimate return proved to be half the bookmakers’ odds at flag-fall. Doubtless, they expected to have the machine’s business to themselves!
George Young, the jockey who successfully navigated Cupidon around the Randwick course was one of five brothers who all made a reputation in the saddle. Young had the distinction of actually being born on a racecourse, his father having been the caretaker of the Reefton racecourse in the South Island of New Zealand in 1901 when George came into the world. Young served his apprenticeship with Fred Tilley and after a few seasons of riding for both Tilley and later, Sir George Clifford, succeeded Ben Deeley as the first horseman to George Greenwood. Cupidon’s Derby notwithstanding, Young is best remembered in the service of the ‘red and yellow stripes’ for his successful association with Gloaming. However, his finest season of riding in Australia came in 1924 when in the space of a month he won the Epsom Handicap, Breeders’ Plate, and Gimcrack Stakes at Randwick before moving on to Melbourne and winning that sensational Caulfield Cup on Purser and the Victoria Derby on Spearfelt. Young later settled in Australia and trained at Randwick enjoying success with Havaspot, although he relinquished his licence in 1941 in the face of wartime economies. For a while during the fifties’ he worked in Maurice McCarten’s stables, renewing an association that went all the way back to the days of Fred Tilley.
After his Derby victory, George Greenwood returned Cupidon to New Zealand to be prepared for the Canterbury Jockey Club’s Spring Meeting. Greenwood was keen to win his homeland’s Derby Stakes, but his gelding ran into two superior stayers in Winning Hit and The Hawk. Two days later, Cupidon ran unplaced in the Canterbury Cup in his final start for the season. Dick Mason had tried to persuade Greenwood to sell Cupidon immediately after the Derby at Randwick, but Greenwood was reluctant to do so. Very rarely was Mason wrong about the potential of any horses in his care and when he urged clients to sell the outlook was generally bleak for the buyer. He certainly wasn’t wrong about Cupidon.
The balance of the horse’s racing career was rather ordinary. As a four-year-old, he was again brought across the water as part of the Greenwood team, for a crack at the A.J.C. Metropolitan, but although starting an 8/1 second favourite, he finished down the course in the race won by Speciality. In twelve appearances that season, Cupidon only managed to win one race, a minor handicap at Canterbury. After similarly inconspicuous exhibitions the following year, George Greenwood belatedly accepted Mason’s advice and sold the horse. Cupidon ended his days in New Zealand mixing his racing between the fences and the flat at country courses such as Otautau, Wyndham and Southland. Perhaps the distinguishing feature of his twilight years came at the Birchwood Hunt Club’s October meeting in 1928 when the old fellow enjoyed the distinction of winning both the Hunters’ Hurdle and the Hunters’ Flat Handicap on the same card.
Cupidon was the last A.J.C. Derby winner to be either owned by George Greenwood or trained by Dick Mason and while the team continued to bring horses to Australia for another decade or more, neither man was to again experience a big race triumph at Randwick. By a curious coincidence, both owner and trainer died in 1932, within a few months of each another, and in Mason’s case, only eight days after their great champion Gloaming also slipped his bridle in May of that year. All told, Mason won about £200,000 in racing stakes for George Greenwood including eleven Derbies in Australia and New Zealand. Greenwood’s estate was valued for probate at approximately £750,000 (excluding property in England worth another £63,000) and provided for all his racing and stud horses to be sold. Teviotdale Station went in trust to his son for life. Mason died at his home at Yaldhurst; at the time of his death, he was credited with having trained the winners of thirty Derbies in all, on both sides of the Tasman.
In the wake of the A.J.C. Derby the consensus was that a better ride had beaten Furious. Nonetheless, considering the weight disadvantage that confronted the fillies vis-a-vis the colts in the early spring Derby, it was a remarkable performance. On the Wednesday after the Derby, a large crowd attended Randwick to see her and six others challenge the Newcastle coalfields’ champion, Beauford, in the Craven Plate. Beauford was in cracking form at the time, having won the Epsom Handicap effortlessly the previous Saturday with 9 st. 2lb and he now proceeded to give another exhibition. Beauford led most of the way – swinging for home two or three lengths clear with Furious in second place, who just led up Syce Knight and David. Beauford drew away at the distance to win as he liked beating Syce Knight by three lengths with Furious a length-and-a-half further back in third place. It might have seemed a failure for Furious until one looked at the clock and realised that Beauford in running the ten furlongs in 2 minutes 3 ¼ seconds had established a new Australian record. The only other assignment for the daughter of The Welkin at that A.J.C. Spring Meeting came on the last Saturday when, despite a 10lb penalty, and with Albert Wood in the saddle, she was untroubled to win the Clibborn Stakes.
Next stop was Flemington and the Victoria Derby, the race that Ernest Clarke dearly wanted to win for a second time, having already been successful with Wolawa in 1912. The filly thrived in the weeks after the Randwick fixture and went to the post for the Flemington blue riband as a warm 7/4 favourite. Well placed to the home turn but with her spirit chafing at the delay, Lewis let her go at the top of the straight, and the effortless surge Furious produced resulted in a new race record by the time she reached the winning post three lengths clear of Bassi, with Harvest King in the minor placing. In retrospect, it was that last furlong of the Victoria Derby that ensured her name lived on in the racing almanacks.
Furious was saddled-up for the Melbourne Cup as the 8/1 fourth favourite in a field of twenty-five but burdened with 7 st. 4lb she found the distance beyond her in a race that nonetheless was won by another three-year-old filly in Sister Olive, and carried 9lb less. Despite the rigours of the two-mile journey, Furious returned to stables and cleaned out her manger that evening and Marsden had no hesitation in producing her for the Victoria Oaks on the Thursday together with Even Song in a select field of five. Despite both the presence of the Cup winner and a colic scare on race morning, Furious went to the post as the 5/4 favourite, and for Marsden at least, it seemed bookmaking benevolence. And so, it proved. It was Ernest Clarke’s second winner of the race within three years, his first Oaks having come in 1919 with Hyades, another daughter of The Welkin. Even Song, to the disappointment of Norman Falkiner, could only run fourth while the Melbourne Cup winner Sister Olive filled the minor placing.
Furious was returned to Sydney and turned out for a spell after the V.R.C. Oaks but for some of the time she was in the paddock, she suffered a recurrence of the colic. Although her preparation for the V.R.C. St Leger was hurried, Lewis rode an intelligent race in that classic to defeat her only two rivals, Harvest King and the high-priced Heir Apparent, for whom the V.R.C. committeeman and prominent pastoralist, Harold Armytage, had paid 3300 guineas in the spring. Still, Harvest King franked the form when he came out later at the meeting to lead all the way in the Australian Cup. The A.J.C. St. Leger, however, was to be a different story to its Victorian counterpart. Ninety thousand people crowded into Randwick on that Easter Saturday, but they came not so much to see the red riband, but rather to witness the clash between Beauford and Eurythmic in the Autumn Stakes, in which the coalfields’ champion caused an upset.
The St. Leger was always going to a supporting act on that racecard, particularly with only five starters, but it, too, served up an upset when the odds-on Furious went under to Harvest King. Run at a strong gallop, the race suited Jack Toohey on the son of Comedy King, and while Lewis was criticised in some quarters for his restrained and patient ride on the filly, she was simply beaten by a better stayer, as Harvest King’s subsequent record proved. The only other start that Furious had at the meeting came in the weight-for-age Cumberland Stakes over two miles. Although she managed to beat Eurythmic and others, she found Norman Falkiner’s genuine champion, David, too strong. Exasperated with the failure of Even Song and others to live up to their early potential, Falkiner had paid a big price for the four-year-old David in December 1921, following the death of the horse’s original owner.
Curiously enough, Furious went right off the next season, disappointing the public quite a few times, although she did manage to win four races from her sixteen starts. As an older horse she proved more difficult to train because of her shelly, fleshy feet and Marsden at times had trouble keeping her sound. She opened her four-year-old season well enough, carrying 9 st. 3lb and Jim Munro to victory in the Liverpool Handicap at Warwick Farm. After that she failed at both the Randwick and Melbourne spring meetings and only regained some semblance of form towards the season’s end when she won both the Rydalmere Mile at Rosehill with 10 st. 1lb, after being allowed 7lb for her claiming apprentice – a young Fil Allotta, and a week later the Rawson Stakes on the same course. Although looking well, Furious failed in her major assignments at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, but she did manage to close out the fixture and the season by winning the Final Handicap (10f) by a neck with 10 st. 4lb, despite a track in which she was hock deep in mud. Dr Stewart Mackay, the distinguished veterinarian-surgeon held the view that Furious was suffering from a weakened heart. It would have been better for Furious’s reputation had her career ended there and then with that Final Handicap as a fitting swansong. But it wasn’t to be.
Furious resumed racing as a five-year-old mare in September 1923 but failed to train on and after three unplaced runs that month, Marsden turned her out in a paddock at the back of his stables. It was while resting there that one day she scratched her neck on a rail and dreaded tetanus, or lockjaw, set in. Just a couple of weeks later and the toxin had worked its sinister alchemy. The mare’s gait stiffened, and the muscular rigidity associated with the disease saw the champion daughter of The Welkin die in the Bowral-street stables on Saturday evening, 1st December 1923. The name ‘lockjaw’ refers to the way the particular toxin prevents muscles from relaxing. Once a muscle has been stimulated to contract – such as the jaw – it cannot return to its original relaxed state. Death, as in the case of Furious, results subsequently from both an inability to breathe and seizures.
It is interesting to reflect that it is now a malady that has all but disappeared from the equine world. Tetanus toxoids today confer immunity to the once-fatal disease, while antitoxins are effective in protecting horses made susceptible by wounds. And so, the career and life of this champion filly ended as T. S. Eliot might have observed, not with a bang but a whimper. In her three seasons on the Turf, she had started in 41 races for 13 wins, 5 seconds and 7 thirds and had won £20,222 in stakes. At the time of her death, Desert Gold was the only mare in Australasia to have won more money. Despite the stakes, critics often deny Furious that appellation of a champion because she invariably failed in weight-for-age contests. However, what is frequently overlooked is the quality of her rivals at the time, such as the likes of Beauford, Eurythmic and David and the fact that she usually finished in the minor placings.
To the extent that Furious is remembered today, it is largely for two reasons. The first is the A.J.C.’s decision to institute a listed race for three-year-old fillies, started in 1986, called the Furious Stakes. In the years since, its status has been upgraded to group three in 1995, and to group two in 2005. The second reason why the image of Furious has survived down the years is far more romantic. The coming of Furious happened to coincide with that happy epoch during which the great Martin Stainforth wielded his brushes and oils at Randwick and in this fetching daughter of The Welkin he found a subject worthy of his genius. The result was a rich and sympathetic portrait of the chestnut filly standing in repose outside her stable door in Marsden’s yard. Frank Marsden, the man who knew Furious best of all, regarded Stainforth’s study as a wonderful likeness. Unlike much of Stainforth’s work, this particular piece of art has reached a much larger audience in more recent years as a result of it being made available to the general public by way of a limited print edition.
The early 1920’s, the period that embraced the three seasons that Furious graced the Australian Turf, came to represent the golden years of Frank Marsden’s all-too-brief career as a public trainer. He had reached that moment when the Turf’s rich prizes began to fall on him like leaves in autumn. Apart from the string of victories from his champion, Marsden won successive Adrian Knox Stakes at Randwick with the fillies Vodka and All Wheat in 1922 and 1923 respectively, the first time the race had been conducted after a gap of twenty-eight years. Vodka was also fast enough to give the Marsden stable success in The Shorts on the same course. In 1922 Marsden won his second Sydney Cup when he trained Prince Charles to win the race on behalf of his breeder, John Brown. Those years ushered in the glittering froth of brilliance that so characterised the Jazz Age. A general tide of luxury overspread the country and swept everything before it; all was gaiety and excitement and the racecourse provided the ultimate diversion. Some, knowing no other criterion for greatness but the ostentation of wealth, discharged their affluence without taste or discretion. How else could one explain the astonishing sum of 6750 guineas bid for a yearling colt at the 1928 William Inglis Sales – a record that would stand for years!
In that era, the Marsden ‘family’ comprised two nephews, Reg, as we have already seen, a senior jockey, and Carl, an apprentice, while the senior apprentice in the stable was Fil Allotta who rode Furious in two of her wins. In an age when returns from the betting ring were more significant than the prize money on offer, many a master couldn’t be trusted to keep his hands off his apprentices’ earnings. Frank Marsden was impeccable in his fiduciary duties in this regard, and Allotta for one emerged with funds intact to launch a successful training career. Apprentices in those days were paid £1 per week and their keep for the first two years; 30/- for the third year and £2 for the last two. It wasn’t bad money although the young Fil Allotta supplemented his savings with the occasional winning bet on the filly he strapped.
Still, as useful as Reg Marsden and Fil Allotta may have been as journeyman jockeys, it was Jim Munro who was to partner so many of the Marsden gallopers during the twenties. Jim Munro achieved his first big race win as a mere sixteen-year-old when he rode the Marsden-trained Prince Charles in that 1922 Sydney Cup. There was plenty of open ground around Maroubra in those years, and Marsden with the largest team in work at Randwick wasn’t alone in using the beach and the wide expanse of sandhills to exercise his team as the first streaks of dawn flushed the eastern sky. Jim Munro often rode the lead horse and occasionally brought along his six-years-younger brother, David, to partner another. The Marsden string was readily identifiable, for the accoutrements with which the horses were equipped consisted of brilliant white bridles and horsecloth of the finest raiment. Not for nothing was Marsden renowned for doing everything en prince. Moreover, on the racecourse in a tailored suit and dashing fedora he was as well turned out as his horses.
1923 was a significant year in the training life of Frank Marsden for not only did it see the premature death of Furious, but also the departure of John Brown as his principal client. In February 1923 with that rage of personality that was peculiar to him, John Brown, who was in England at the time, fired off a cable to his agent, the Newcastle sportsman, John Grisdale. It ordered him to remove his horses and gear from Marsden’s Kensington stable and to effect a complete transfer to Zetland Lodge and Stan Lamond instead. Out went the likes of Prince Charles, Prince Sandy and Duke Isinglass among others. Never mind that in just over three years Marsden had won around £36,000 for the irritable, old martinet. As we have seen, Baron Brown changed trainers almost as often as he changed shirts and rarely was any reason given. However, the circumstances, in this case, were unique and related to the racehorse, Prince Cox.
This son of Prince Foote had been bred by Brown at his Wills Gully Stud and was originally one of Brown’s large team trained by Marsden. However, his form proved disappointing, and the horse was put up for auction and purchased by a Peter Fox of Western Australia for 200 guineas and returned to Marsden’s stable. With maturity, his form improved quite markedly, and Fox sold him at a considerable profit to Sir Samuel Hordern and Fred Smith (alias Mr Constable) who also kept him in the Bowral-street stables. Prince Cox repaid the faith of his new owners by winning the 1923 V.R.C. Australian Cup and it was this particular piece of intelligence that saw Brown’s truculence froth over into paranoia and trigger the famous cable sacking Frank Marsden.
Brown might have departed but other impressive clients of the ilk of Hordern and Smith continued to patronise Marsden. In 1924 Marsden won the City Tattersall’s Cup with his own horse Master Cagou and in 1925 the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap with Valiard and the Villiers Stakes with Hemisphere for outside clients. In 1927 with the retirement of the great Fred Williams, albeit temporarily, Marsden picked up clientele such as Joe and Cecil Brien of the Kingsfield Stud and the colourful Ned Moss, and for the latter, he won the 1928 City Tattersall’s Cup with the high-priced Vaals.
In 1931 Frank Marsden developed a nasty carbuncle on the back of his neck. In July of that year, he underwent a serious and belated operation at St Vincent’s Hospital, and although the wound superficially healed, he was never the same man again. The bacterial infection had spread to other parts of his body, and after a prolonged illness, he finally succumbed at his ‘Arcadia’ residence in Roma Avenue, Kensington, on the last Thursday evening of October 1931. Frank Joseph Marsden was only 57-years-old and was survived by his widow, Mary, three daughters and two sons. The funeral took place on Victoria Derby Day, exactly ten years after the great victory by Furious, and he was buried in the Roman Catholic portion of the Botany Cemetery. Pentheus, the 1929 Caulfield Guineas winner, was the last good horse that he trained and during the final months of his illness, Pentheus was transferred to Fred Williams’ stable. For all of the wonderful training triumphs realised during his truncated career, the real legacy that Frank Marsden bequeathed to Australia’s Turf heritage came in the guise of those Bowral-street stables.
Apart from Furious and the other top gallopers sheltered there during Marsden’s ownership, for a time those stables also housed the immortal Phar Lap. During Phar Lap’s first season on the Turf his trainer Harry Telford used to rent a box from Frank Marsden. Marsden’s death saw the lease on the stables pass to Peter Riddle, whom we shall see in due course, trained the mighty Shannon from the same yard. Upon Riddle’s own death in June 1947, the stables remained under the lease. Tommy Smith first occupied them in December 1949 only months after Playboy’s Derby set him on the road to prosperity.
Smith, much to the chagrin of Sir Alan Potter, bought the property outright on the strength of those Derby winnings. The stables remained known simply as 16 Bowral Street until Smith decided to rechristen them ‘Tulloch Lodge’ – out of deference to the champion that he trained there in the late fifties and early sixties. Of course, Smith trained many other greats there as well during the years of his winning 33 consecutive Sydney trainers’ premierships, 34 titles in all, before handing the establishment over to his daughter Gai, who has succeeded in trainers’ premierships in her own right. Such a small piece of real estate; but such vast and glorious associations! Frank Marsden would have been pleased.