Two of the most influential breeders of bloodstock in Australia in the first half of the century were the brothers Will and Fred Moses of Arrowfield Stud. The twins, as they came to be known, began at Combadello, their magnificent sprawling sheep property, about 25 miles from Mungie Bundie on the Sydney side of Moree. In the early 1890’s they had raced a few minor winners, although their involvement at that time with the Turf was somewhat desultory: rather than breeding horses, their real commitment was in breeding sheep. Nonetheless, the family had enjoyed a long-term association with the Turf, their father Henry Moses having been a steward of the Hawkesbury Race Club away back in 1871 in company with Andrew Town and others. The twins’ flirtation with the Turf deepened into an altogether more passionate affair when Courallie, sporting their own livery, won the 1896 Doncaster Handicap at Randwick and subsequently, Will and Fred Moses decided to establish a stud of mares on the fertile Combadello pastures.
From the very beginning, the brothers’ adventures in breeding seemed blessed with a touch of serendipity as they chanced upon the best of bloodstock in a series of happy adventures. As we have seen, Ike Earnshaw purchased on their behalf those two very good Derby winners, Poseidon and Parsee, as foals at the break-up of Neotsfield and Tucka Tucka Studs respectively, and both were reared in the paddocks of Combadello. The brothers’ biggest slice of luck came, however, when their father, the Hon. Henry Moses paid a visit to England early in the century and purchased St Alwyne and Flavus for them to use as stallions. Considering the influence that both were to achieve (albeit with Flavus in ownership other than the Moses’ family), that particular excursion to England by Henry Moses was most fortuitous for the development of the Australian blood horse. When the two stallions arrived in Australia after their voyage from England, Flavus was thinner than a drover’s packhorse in drought time, but St Alwyne had travelled well and was in fine fettle. Only needing one stallion for their stud, Will and Fred Moses decided to retain St Alwyne and leased Flavus to E. R. White, although White was so taken by the first foals of Flavus that he purchased him outright at a stiff price a little more than a year later.
St Alwyne was to become the foundation stallion of the Moses’ stud. Bred by Baron Rothschild in England, the horse was a half-brother to an English Oaks winner and a son of that outstanding racehorse and stallion, St Frusquin. St Alwyne had proven to be a good second-class galloper over a bit of ground in the Old Country finishing out of a place only once in his nine starts. Considering his breeding, many people at the time expressed surprise that a horse of his quality was even sold to Australia. But in those days the Rothschild Stud tended only to retain classic winners for their own breeding programme, and St Alwyne, for all of his aristocratic lineage, really hadn’t measured up to the exacting standards demanded by Baron Rothschild on the racecourse. St Alwyne’s progeny first appeared on the winning statistics in Australia in 1909.
Among the good horses he had already got by the autumn of 1919, were the sisters Lady Medallist (Caulfield Cup) and Moorilla (Sydney Cup), St Carwyne (A.J.C. Metropolitan), Gladwyn (M.V.R.C. Moonee Valley Cup twice) and Swagger (Adelaide Cup). In the previous spring, St Alwyne had also sired his first Melbourne Cup winner in Nightwatch. And at the A.J.C. 1919 Autumn Meeting, Poitrel – retained to race in the familiar yellow jacket, white sleeves and black cap of Will and Fred Moses, after buyers had shied away from him at the Sydney yearling sales – crowned St Alwyne’s reputation as a sire of stayers by dominating the weight-for-age events and sweeping the board with the Autumn Stakes, Cumberland Stakes, and A.J.C. Plate. In short, with the singular exception of the V.R.C. Australian Cup, by the autumn of 1919, the sons of Henry Moses had either bred or reared the winner of every major Australian staying event on the Australian Turf calendar. Moreover, the extraordinary successes of Poitrel had helped propel Fred Moses onto the A.J.C. committee, filling the vacancy created by the resignation of Adrian Knox.
It was in the summer of 1911-12 during the period of St Alwyne’s dominance and their burgeoning influence as thoroughbred breeders, that Will and Fred Moses decided to separate their bloodstock interests from their extensive pastoral holdings of Combadello. Combadello had proven to be somewhat isolated from the more established horse-breeding districts and broodmare owners often had difficulty getting their mares there. The brothers cast around for a property in the Hunter Valley to which to relocate their stud farm; they finally settled on more than 2,000 acres at Arrowfield on the Hunter and about five miles up from Jerry’s Plains. The river country with its deep deposits of brown and black soil well fused with lime and other mineral salts was ideal pastureland for thoroughbreds. Will and Fred Moses then set about stocking the property with some very valuable Australian and English mares. By the autumn of 1919, however, St Alwyne was 20 years old, and the Moses’ brothers began making various inquiries through British bloodstock agents for a necessary replacement stallion. Their choice eventually fell upon Valais, a very well-bred son of the 1905 English Derby winner Cicero, after Lord Rosebery’s racing manager, C.C. Edmunds, had recommended him to them. Valais had been a first-class racehorse. Although unplaced at his only three starts at two, at three he had won the Newmarket Windsor Stakes (9f) and run fourth in The English Derby finishing only a half-length from the winner, Fifinella. Valais boasted a double classic cross of Bend Or and Hampton, although in appearance, being a chestnut with one white half-stocking, he threw distinctly towards Bend Or.
As rich and glorious as the pages of the Arrowfield Stud Book already were with the deeds of St Alwyne’s progeny, the Stud’s most golden chapter was about to be written and with it, the whole course of Australian thoroughbred breeding would change forever. In May 1919 the first advertisements for Arrowfield’s new stallion, at a fee of 50 guineas, began to appear in the Sydney sporting journals. In late June he arrived and all up cost about £3,500 to land in Australia. For Valais, those rich and fertile pastures of the Hunter Valley into which the Brothers’ Moses had delivered him, would be the ‘promised land’. Although the stallion suffered a fertility problem – he only got on average about half his mares in foal – most of his progeny were outstanding, especially the colts. When one considers his smaller numerical representation compared to other stallions, his record of producing class racehorses is truly marvellous. He would prove to be the leading sire in Australia for five successive seasons.
In his first Australian spring in 1919 Valais only served a very limited book of mares, almost all of them drawn from Arrowfield’s own paddocks. This, together with the horse’s limited fertility, explains why in the autumn of 1922, Will and Fred Moses only sold five yearlings publicly through the Sydney sales, although three others were sold privately, while the brothers retained a few of the more backward yearlings to race themselves. The five youngsters auctioned at those 1922 sales realised an aggregate sum of 1895-guineas with the most expensive, the future A.J.C. St Leger-winning filly Lady Chillwick realising 825 guineas. The first hint of what was to come occurred later that year at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day when, in the November Nursery Handicap, the race preceding King Ingoda’s Cup, that smart daughter of Valais named Valrona flashed past the post a length clear of the field at odds of 50/1. She was a good filly and in the following season took out the Adrian Knox Stakes. It wasn’t long before bookmakers and punters alike began to pay more respect to the breed.
In the following weeks, Valwyne and Vallary consolidated the stallion’s nascent reputation by running placings in good company. But as it turned out, the best horse of that first crop was being given a little more time to develop and did not appear until the autumn of 1923. Then in March, Quintus, the future winner of the V.R.C. Newmarket and Standish Handicaps, put in a winning appearance at Flemington and later that same month, at the same course, was beaten a head in the prestigious Gibson Carmichael Stakes. On the same day in Newcastle, the most expensive yearling of Valais’s first crop sold through a public auction, Lady Valais, won at her debut by four lengths. Rarely, in the course of Australian thoroughbred history, had a first season sire achieved so much with so few. It is hard to believe now, but the speed shown by that first crop of Valais at the time gave forth a prejudice about the stallion’s inability to sire stayers. Nonetheless, there was intense speculation as to the prices that the second offering by Valais might realise through the sales ring, as the Sydney Easter Sales of 1923 approached.
William Inglis and Son Ltd disposed of 444 yearlings at those sales, and even before the auction hammer had fallen for the first time, it was widely expected that Lot No 20 would top the lot. When one studies the pedigree in the yellowed sales catalogue now, it is not difficult to understand why even without making any allowance for the handsome chestnut colt’s faultless conformation. The yearling was by Valais from the imported mare Chersonese.
A bay that had failed in her only two appearances on a racecourse, Chersonese came from one of the most distinguished families in the General Stud Book. By Cylgad, she boasted the wonderful Chelandry as her dam, a mare who had won five races including The One Thousand Guineas and had finished second in both the English Oaks and the English St Leger. Chelandry’s performance as a broodmare was no less impressive, and her offspring included Neil Gow, The Two Thousand Guineas winner, as well as Traquair, Skyscraper and Popinjay. Of course, this colt being sold was heavily inbred, but Will and Fred Moses were not averse to a bit of inbreeding provided it was to the very best of stock and so long as the size was retained. And this fellow would come to represent the apotheosis of the theory in practice. The opening bid on the colt was 500 guineas and quickly advanced until he was knocked down to the Victorian trainer Cecil Godby for 1800 guineas. It was a price that did, indeed, top the Inglis sales. Of course, all of the Valais’ stock was in keen demand and on the first day of the Inglis Sales, Arrowfield sold nine yearlings by the stallion for an aggregate 6785-guineas, the majority being sold to Victorian buyers.
The price paid for this Chersonese colt, however, fell well short of the Australian record, and it was eclipsed at the Chisholm and Company yearling sales only six days later, when Rosehill trainer Bill Booth paid 2600 guineas for a Comedy King – Ramson colt, on behalf of Mr Otway Falkiner, which was subsequently registered as King David. Incidentally, that price was the second highest ever paid up to that time, after the 3050 guineas paid for Orcus, Poseidon’s brother. But for all that, the 1800 guineas bid by Godby was big money in those days, and the history of bloodstock auctions is littered with expensive yearlings that belied their pedigree and conformation when tried on the only Turf that mattered. But Godby had chosen shrewdly. He had been acting on behalf of big betting Melbourne owner Jack Corteen; and from that moment until October 23rd, 1924 when the V.R.C. would deny Corteen the privilege of racing horses, the flashy chestnut would give his owner every reason to bet big. The colt was subsequently named Heroic.
The stable that Heroic joined that autumn was then the most successful in Victoria and the one most feared by Australia’s bookmakers. Only the previous season, the man conducting it, Cecil Godby, had beaten Jack Holt for the Melbourne trainers’ premiership, and it was the Allendale Stock Farm located down on the bay at Mentone, which supplied the horsepower that enabled him to do it. Allendale, complete with its extensive stabling and a private training track, had been in the Tye family for years, and George Tye along with Jack Corteen were Godby’s two biggest clients. Shortly after the purchase of Heroic, the two owners decided to amalgamate their racing interests, with all of their horses being jointly owned in partnership. Heroic, who was showing brilliant promise at the time, was the single exception to this arrangement and remained in the sole ownership of Corteen. The private training facilities of Allendale suited the gambling propensities of the happy triumvirate, affording the opportunity to ready horses away from the prying eyes of track touts.
Cecil Godby hailed from a racing family and was born in Adelaide in 1885, but had begun his career in racing as an apprentice jockey in Armidale, NSW. After riding a few winners, he came to the attention of John Gough at Randwick and completed his apprenticeship there.
A talented jockey, Godby enjoyed much success riding for W. H. Mate, the Tarcutta studmaster and Gough’s most prolific client. His best wins came on the progeny of the stallion Gossoon, winning a Maribyrnong Plate, Champagne Stakes and Caulfield Guineas on Ibex; and a Villiers, Carrington and Challenge Stakes on Fulminate. Increasing weight forced Godby into the ranks of jumping riders at a young age but he continued to ride winners even over the timber. But as successful as Godby was as a jockey, his brother Norman, who won a Melbourne Cup on Lord Cardigan among other good races, eclipsed his feats. It was around 1911 that Cecil Godby first took out a trainer’s licence and long before Heroic walked into his life, he had trained the winner of a Futurity Stakes (Wedge), a Grand National Steeplechase (Confide) and a Caulfield Guineas (Demetrius). It was this success that had attracted the attention of George Tye and Jack Corteen, and on the sequestered sands of Mentone, he now had upwards of thirty horses in his care.
There is a delightful story, perhaps apocryphal, that when the popular veterinary surgeon T. G. Doyle first set eyes upon Heroic – this perfect colt with the perfect pedigree – the good doctor immediately turned to examine the colt’s feet to see if they bore wings, although Doyle would be called upon later to examine Heroic in an altogether more serious vein. Early in his two-year-old season, the horse suffered from an eye affliction that at one stage was thought might threaten blindness. The veterinary surgeon diagnosed ‘recurring ophthalmia’, which he then treated successfully with drugs. Despite this temporary setback, Heroic proved a brilliant two-year-old. Cecil Godby brought him over to Sydney for his first race start as part of his stable’s assault on the 1923 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Heroic scattered a field of twenty-six in the Breeders’ Plate, going to the front after half-a-furlong and winning in hollow fashion by two lengths. It was clear, even then, that here, was something out of the ordinary.
Returned to his Victoria, he was surprisingly beaten in the Debutant Stakes at Caulfield before completing his spring campaign with victories in the Gwyn Nursery and the Maribyrnong Plate. In the latter race and burdened with 9 st. 6lb, Heroic had a half-length to spare at the finish from Fuji San; the pair scooting over the Flemington course in exactly 60 seconds, establishing a new race record for the prestigious juvenile classic. Fuji San was yet another son of Valais and was to prove to be the other really outstanding horse from the sire’s second crop. In the autumn Heroic confirmed his reputation as the finest two-year-old colt seen out for years, although both the V.R.C. and A.J.C. Sires Produce Stakes eluded him, the latter when he was left at the post as a very short-priced favourite. It was one of the first hints of a waywardness that was to become quite pronounced in the years ahead. However, the colt atoned completely a few days later at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting when he established a new race record in the Champagne Stakes and in so doing set an Australian high for the earnings of a two-year-old with £11,826.
Heroic’s splendid performances in his first season merely served to confirm the immense value of Valais as a stallion to the Australian bloodstock industry. Moreover, this foal, bred and weaned on the Arrowfield pastures, served as a wonderful advertisement for the dispersal of that great stud itself. During the summer of 1923-24, Will and Fred Moses decided to sell-up, attributing their decision to ‘a family matter’. In fact, Will Moses was in very poor health and brother Fred wished to travel extensively in England and on the Continent. William Inglis and Son Ltd, and H. Chisholm and Company were appointed to act in conjunction as the sales agents and the auction was conducted on the Arrowfield property itself, on Wednesday, 16th April 1924 in the week prior to the beginning of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. The sale attracted widespread interest and it came as no surprise when Valais was sold for a record 14,400-guineas, eclipsing the 13,000 guineas paid for Carbine more than a quarter of a century earlier. The successful bidder was Herbert Thompson of Oakleigh and Tarwyn Park, who was bidding as part of a joint enterprise with his cousins, the Widden and Caneema studmasters. Chersonese with a fine foal at foot by Valais, and served by that stallion again, brought the top price for a broodmare at the dispersal when she was sold to Alec Creswick for 5100 guineas.
Actually, Creswick spent 8,000 guineas in purchasing three broodmares that day. As well as Chersonese and her fine colt foal, he parted with 1,800 guineas and 1100 guineas respectively for the broodmares, Scanty and Pistole. Neither Scanty nor Pistole achieved any good class winners but the money paid for Chersonese proved to be worth every penny. The foal she had at foot was Thracian who turned out a really good racehorse and probably would have ranked high among Australian performers had he not been troubled with his kidneys in his racing days. He ran second to Rampion in the Victoria Derby and later was an outstanding stud success getting Alec Creswick a Victoria Derby winner in Feldspar. The foal Chersonese was carrying turned out to be a lovely yearling but she broke her leg while being handled one day and had to be destroyed. Later Chersonese became the dam of Cimbrian, a really top handicapper and the winner of a Williamstown Cup and Hotham Handicap, among other good races. In all, 136 lots changed hands for 60,575 guineas – a record for Australia. It was the end of an era. Before giving 14,400 guineas for Valais, Herbert Thompson, concerned about the fertility of Valais, had asked Clive Inglis to make a report on the stallion’s record with his mares. To do so, Inglis had to wade laboriously through several volumes of the Australian Stud Book. The task was made more difficult by the fact that when mares missed in those days the offending sire was not named. This practice was subsequently changed in the Australian Stud Book, which also began to show a fertility table for stallions, an innovation for which Jim McFadden was responsible.
After his winter spell, Heroic’s A.J.C. Derby campaign got off to an inauspicious start at Warwick Farm in the new season when he showed all the worst traits of the Valais breed, by being left at the post. Next start was the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick. During the week before this race, the Godby stable went to extraordinary lengths to try and curb the colt’s aversion to facing the starting barrier. On the Thursday prior to the race, with Ashley Reed in the saddle and sporting the colours, Heroic was taken to the Randwick start. There, alongside, was the official A.J.C. starter, Mr Mackellar, mounted on a hack, and Heroic’s regular postillion, Hughie Cairns, sartorially resplendent in the red coat of the clerk of the course. Yet, what made the lesson particularly instructive for the horse wasn’t so much the smartness of Cairns’ attire but rather the stock whip the jockey was wielding in one hand. Several times Heroic baulked, but he was eventually coaxed into jumping off fairly well; Reed galloped him smartly for seven furlongs and the colt pulled up in a lather of sweat. The next morning there was another barrier lesson with the same players and stage props, and on this occasion, Heroic worked really well, certainly well enough to inspire the stable to have a dash at the Sydney ring. Incidentally, some attributed Heroic’s antics at the barrier due to his inbreeding. In point of fact, he inherited this waywardness from Valais, whose second greatest son, Manfred, as we shall see, was much worse although he was certainly not inbred.
The Sydney Tattersall’s Club meeting of 1924 marked the opening of Gloaming’s final Australian campaign and Dick Mason, the champion’s trainer, expected the previous year’s Derby winner Ballymena, to prove the horse to beat. But at a distance of nine furlongs and with the pull in the weights enjoyed by the three-year-old, the Godby stable was supremely confident of their charge; and Heroic was backed down to start the second favourite. The band regaled the 40,000 strong crowds with a rousing rendition of ‘In the Gloaming’ as the field proceeded to the start. An interesting feature of the race was that the field, including Rivoli, contained four winners of the A.J.C. Derby – three actual and one prospective. At the barrier, the old champion was a bit restive and the young champion troublesome, but both were despatched on terms. Rather than make the running, Reed steadied Heroic and dropped him back to race with Gloaming. At the home turn, Gloaming and the others left the rails and Reed dashed Heroic up on the inside. The old horse responded gamely but could not match strides with the young colt. At the post, Heroic had set a new Australasian record of 1-minute 50 ¼ seconds for the journey. It was a splendid performance from Jack Corteen’s champion. The equivalent Melbourne race meeting on that afternoon was at Moonee Valley where patrons keenly watched the posting of the Randwick results; there was much satisfaction when it was seen that their local hero had triumphed over Gloaming. And it suggested the testing mile and a half of the Derby, against his own age group, was well within Heroic’s compass. Godby now put the colt away in readiness for the Randwick classic.
There were heavy rains at the beginning of Derby week in Sydney although they had the effect of enhancing rather than detracting from the condition of the course come race day. Derby Day itself was overcast with intermittent rain but 78,000 racegoers still made the pilgrimage to Randwick.
The 1924 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The race attracted seven starters, although only three genuinely serious candidates. Heroic retained his position at the head of the market right to the very end. Second elect for the race was Nigger Minstrel, a workmanlike bay by All Black, and a full brother to that wonderful staying mare, Desert Gold. Like his famous older sister, Nigger Minstrel was raced by his breeder, Tom Lowry of Hawke’s Bay, and trained by Fred Davis. He was rated the best colt in the Dominion that year and crossed the Tasman with a tremendous reputation. As a juvenile, he had won both the Fitzherbert Stakes and the Great Northern Champagne Stakes and been placed behind Gloaming and Glentruin at weight-for-age. It was not unusual for two-year-olds in those days in New Zealand to challenge the older horses in special weight events. Nigger Minstrel’s first appearance in Australia had come at Rosehill where he won the Guineas with such contempt that he was immediately pronounced the likely Derby winner even though he had not been seen in public over the Derby distance. Unfortunately, an incident occurred immediately in the wake of the victory that severely inhibited his Derby preparation. Before his rider had weighed in, the lad in charge of Nigger Minstrel began to lead him away. He was called back, and upon swinging the colt round rather smartly, the horse wrenched himself. It was thought for a time that he might not even be able to honour his Derby engagement and was stopped in his work for a week.
The third favourite in Derby betting was Spearfelt. Bred in Victoria and by the Spearmint stallion, Spearhead, this little colt had endured a rather romantic struggle for survival in the early days of his life that lent a certain sentiment and colour to this particular chapter of the Derby history. As a foal he was sold at foot with his dam, Lady Champion, to Widden Stud in the Hunter Valley; the mare and foal were actually bought by William Inglis and Sons acting on behalf of Alf Thompson at Widden. During the voyage by steamer carrying them both to Sydney, however, Lady Champion died and the youngster had to be bottle-raised at Newmarket until he was old enough to be transported in a cattle wagon to Widden. Subsequently, the colt was returned to Sydney as a yearling and sold at Easter 1923 for 120 guineas to Doug Grant, a Melbourne racing identity. At two, although found wanting over shorter trips, Spearfelt had confirmed his class by winning both the Gibson-Carmichael Stakes and the A.J.C. Easter Stakes over seven furlongs. He had served notice of his Derby credentials when he went under to the good older horses Polycletan and Purser in a head-bobbing finish in the Rosehill Cup, an open handicap over eleven furlongs only a fortnight earlier. The other starters in the Derby that year were Noscitur, the high-priced son of Lady Wallace owned by the Victorian ‘S. A. Rawdon’; Arendal, another Victorian challenger, carrying the colours of ‘E. M. Melrose’; Dan Lewis’s colt, Solidify; and Sir Dighlock.
It was a race that was the subject of some very heavy wagering, particularly from the Godby stable. By the time the bell summoned the Derby horses to the enclosure, steady rain had begun to fall. From barrier release, Sir Dighlock set off at a good gallop and was already twelve lengths in front of Solidify, Heroic and Nigger Minstrel before the milepost. The order remained much the same until just before the home turn when the tearaway leader was grabbed by both Heroic and Solidify, although Nigger Minstrel and Spearfelt were within striking distance. Heroic got to the front only to be challenged almost immediately by Nigger Minstrel with Spearfelt matching strides although running in slightly under the whip. Getting the utmost out of his mount and himself, Cairns kept the colt going as if for his life. In a magnificent final furlong, Heroic lasted to win by a head from the New Zealand colt, with Spearfelt a further head away third.
That last furlong of the race confirmed George Orwell’s dictum that sport is an alternative form of war, but Heroic absorbed the venom and came back for more. Given the closeness of the result as the horses flashed past the post, the crowd remained hushed until Heroic’s number was hoisted. The A.J.C. judge on that famous occasion was Dudley Smith, who upon his eventual retirement in 1948 after 27 years in the job, unhesitatingly nominated it as the most memorable finish of the thousands he had seen. Few of those privileged to be at Randwick on that day would have disagreed. Jack Corteen later presented to the club a large framed photograph depicting the finish; it currently hangs on the walls of the Stud Book department. As narrow as the winning margin might have been there was nothing plebeian about this performance from Heroic; it bore all of the hauteur and divine grace of an aristocrat among thoroughbreds. We were reminded yet again that, yes, breeding does count.
Few doubted that three cracking colts filled the placings, although opinions were divided as to whether or not the best horse had won. Certainly, the Derby post-mortem suggested that Heroic may have been a rather lucky winner. Nigger Minstrel had met with considerable interference during the race, as had Spearfelt to a lesser extent, and the latter had also been baulked at the start. The chequered passages received by the two minor place getters and the volume of money lifted from the betting ring by connections of the winner created uneasiness within the racing establishment. It was an uneasiness that eventually found public expression in an editorial in “The Australasian” of October 18th under the headline ‘The Evils of Betting’. The paper observed:
“………….There is a phase of betting which is strongly condemned, not only by social reformers but even more so by racing men who place the good repute of the Turf above every other consideration. We refer, of course, to the wagering of large sums on single events won by individuals known in the vernacular of the racecourse as “plungers”. These heavy bettors are a danger to themselves and a menace to the Turf. From the earliest days of British racing to the present time, few indeed of these ‘plungers’ have escaped financial ruin, and the magnitude of their operations has inevitably led to reports of jockeys and trainers being bribed and horses being pulled. Probably many of these sinister rumours were totally without foundation, nevertheless even when they were false the good name of the Turf suffered, and the faddists who oppose racing were thereby furnished with effective ammunition.
Unfortunately, the ‘plunger’ was strongly in evidence at the recent Randwick meeting and his operations in connection with the A.J.C. Derby probably were the cause of the rumours, which were circulated in Sydney that the race was to be ‘fixed’ for one of the competitors. Some little colour was given to the canard – for we are certain in this instance rumour was a lying jade – by the announcement that an attempt was being made by the parties connected with one of the favourites to buy a dangerous opponent. As a matter of fact, the would-be buyer of Spearfelt was Mr McCaughey, a veteran sportsman and wealthy station owner who has bred some good horses in New South Wales and would like to own a prospective Derby winner. Betting considerations do not trouble Mr McCaughey. The ‘plunger’ we have referred to, is reported to have won a very large sum over the success of Heroic in the Derby, and on his own admission lost £10,600 on the second day of the meeting. Again, betting on the same colossal scale, his winnings on the third day are said to have approximated £15,000. Now, we feel certain that there was no valid reason for supposing the operations of the ‘plungers’ at Randwick were not perfectly straight and above board in every way, there is no blinking the fact that this heavy betting caused much uneasiness in some quarters and much idle and harmful talk. One leading owner went so far as to express doubts regarding his jockey to the stipendiary stewards. These officials were able to reassure the owner, and there is no doubt the jockey did his level best to win the race in question, but the incident serves to show the kind of poison that is distilled from the noxious weeds of inordinate betting.
An individual may have the legal right to gamble on a race in thousands of pounds as if they were marbles if he has the money to pay with it if he loses, but morally he has no right indirectly to cast suspicion on other people in this way. Anyhow, let us hope that the plunging at Randwick was only a temporary obsession and that there will be none of it during the spring carnival in Victoria.”
It was to prove a curiously prophetic piece of journalism.
Heroic returned to Melbourne to win the Caulfield Guineas one week later but it was to be the last time that the chestnut sported the now famous colours of Jack Corteen. Within a matter of weeks, the big betting owner was banned by the V.R.C. from owning racehorses. The seeds of his destruction were sown in the Coongy Handicap, run four days after that Caulfield Guineas. Corteen and George Tye jointly owned Purser, a rather well-named horse by Sea Prince from Paper Money. He was friendless in the betting ring for that event and drifted out to 20/1 before running accordingly. Three days later, in the Caulfield Cup, Purser was rather sensationally backed in from 50/1 to 15/1 before running out an easy winner, despite being burdened with 9 st. 5lb. The press during the following week rang with declamations against the plunderers. Although the V.A.T.C. stewards said nothing on Cup Day itself, the following Tuesday they opened a retrospective inquiry into Purser’s running in the Coongy; at noon on the following Thursday, the stewards announced their findings.
The panel concluded that Purser was not allowed to do his best in the Coongy Handicap, and disqualified George Tye and Jack Corteen, together with Cecil Godby and Hugh Cairns as well as the horse for a year. The decision meant that Tye and Corteen had to sever all relationships with the Turf for the term of the disqualification. Moreover, the V.R.C. also had the option of disqualifying the horses owned by the pair and the disqualification could extend even beyond any sale. Had this option been exercised, the racing public would have been denied the pleasure of Heroic. The V.R.C. did not pursue this course but their decision prompted Tye and Corteen to offer their racing stock at an auction in November. The majority of their twenty or so horses were sold but the reserve of £20,000 placed on Heroic deterred buyers, the highest bid being 16,000 guineas. Jack Corteen said: “I have a sentimental regard for Heroic that makes me loathe to part with him. I have had several tempting offers from would-be buyers but their prices do not reach my reserve.”
Three weeks later it was announced that Martin Wenke, a Sydney hotelkeeper who had won the 1918 Victoria Derby with the Eudorus colt, Eusebius, had agreed on the terms of purchase with Corteen with the price given at £14,000. The crack colt was then entered for some of the major races at the 1925 autumn meetings. However, the V.R.C. committee was not entirely satisfied that the Corteen/Wenke transaction was bona fide and at arm’s length. A committee inquiry was instituted at which the enigmatic Mr Wenke was invited to appear. Wenke refused to answer certain questions and at the conclusion of proceedings, the V.R.C. committee decided to reject the horse’s nomination for the Newmarket Handicap. The following week the A.J.C. endorsed the decision by similarly refusing to recognise Heroic’s nomination for the Doncaster Handicap and Sydney Cup. Yet again the colt was submitted to auction and this time it was at the famous Newmarket grounds of William Inglis and Sons. The moment was captured for later generations by the camera and a framed photograph of the sale hangs in the administration office of that establishment today. Five hundred people crowded into Newmarket sale yards to see the bidding begin at 10,000 guineas with a call from Charles Kellow. A duel developed between Kellow and one other buyer that saw the price climb to 16,000 guineas before the latter was silenced. And so, for the second time within a year a new Australasian record for a thoroughbred had been established, this time the son assuming the honour from the father.
For Jack Corteen the 16,000 guineas sale price together with the prize money and winning wagers landed on Heroic represented a healthy return for the 1800 guineas he paid to acquire him as a yearling in the very same ring only two years before After having been forced to part with Heroic, Corteen effectively dropped out of racing as an owner although he didn’t relinquish his interest in racing, seldom missing a meeting in Melbourne, but the days of his spectacular betting plunges were over. Corteen was one of the two principals associated with Heroic – Hughie Cairns was the other – who met with a violent and premature death. In April 1939 Corteen was killed in a motor accident in St Kilda, at the age of 60. Like so many colourful racing identities both before and since, Corteen died bankrupt, the money from the plunges and the profits on Heroic having been spent. The chief creditor of his estate was the E. S. and A. Bank with an overdraft of £15,628 and just on £11,000 of this amount was unsecured. Corteen’s widow, Annie, and his son, Leslie, were left nothing.
However, disqualification did not spell the end of Cecil Godby’s career on the Turf. He was forced to leave the Mentone establishment but arranged to have the best of his boxes moved to Caulfield and a residence and stable overlooking the famous heath. For a time, he toyed with the idea of buying Fred Williams’s stables at Randwick but the reluctance of the A.J.C. committee to grant him a No 1 license caused him to abandon the scheme. He spent much of his year in exile in England, buying bloodstock and watching his son K.D. ‘Bill’ Godby, who was riding over there. When he did resume training it wasn’t without success, and Heroic apart, he is best remembered now for training three winners of the Caulfield Cup viz. Purser (1924), Gaine Carrington (1933), and Northwind (1936). However, his big race wins were by no means restricted to either the flat or his home course and home State.
In 1934 Godby landed a tidy plunge when Prismatic easily won the Grand National Hurdle; and in 1935 he plundered a king’s ransom from the Randwick ring when he brought across Synagogue, owned by the well-known bookmaker, Jack Phillips, to win the Epsom Handicap and survive a protest. The men of Tattersall’s didn’t forget that day in a hurry, for not only did Godby win the Epsom but he parlayed much of his winnings onto another horse he trained for Jack Phillips, Great Legend, in the last race the Kensington Handicap, which the son of Great Star won in a cakewalk. There were other good horses too, including Ortelle’s Star and Burberry. But a few short years later with the outbreak of the war Cecil Godby’s star had begun to wane, and although he continued to train until the close of the 1956-1957 racing season, his days of being the bookmakers’ bogeyman with mammoth plunges were over. I think his last big race winner was Murray Glen in the 1952 Australian Cup. Cecil Godby died in November 1963 at the age of 79. His son followed his father into training when his riding career had ended and enjoyed a deal of success including winning a Summer Cup with Double Blank and a Doomben Cup with Rio Fe, although he is probably best remembered today as the owner of the famous filly, Wiggle.
So much for the principals involved with Heroic. But we should turn our attention back to the real hero of the 1924 A.J.C. Derby – the horse himself. After his sale, Heroic entered the stables of that great Victorian trainer, Jack Holt. For a time, it seemed that Charlie Kellow had made a rather bad bargain. Heroic’s late three-year-old form proved rather ordinary with Kellow only seeing his gold and green colours carried to victory once – in the A.J.C. Autumn Stakes – from six public appearances. Likewise, the horse’s four-year-old season lacked consistency, although he did manage to win the Newmarket Handicap and two or three other good races. In fact, that 1926 Newmarket down the straight six at Flemington, marked Heroic’s first really big win in Kellow’s famous livery and it came with the horse renewing acquaintances with Hughie Cairns, his partner in crime at Randwick on Derby Day. For reasons never made public, the V.R.C. committee actually withheld Cairn’s riding licence for a much longer term than the original disqualification. Cairns had only just resumed his career in the saddle a couple of weeks before that Newmarket, notwithstanding the fact that the official twelve months disqualification had expired the previous October. Heroic, of course, was never the easiest of rides and at times his barrier etiquette could be heartbreaking. Cairns understood him better than anybody. In just a few weeks during that autumn Heroic emphasised what a remarkably versatile horse he was. In the Newmarket, he carried 9 st. 8lb – the heaviest weight ever borne by the winner of the big sprint up to that time – and scored comfortably from a brilliant pair in Perspective and Fuji San in a time that had been excelled only once in the race.
Then just over five weeks after that Newmarket sprint victory, Heroic was beaten less than a length in the Sydney Cup over two miles when burdened with 9 st. 7lb. Charlie Kellow had coupled the horse with the Doncaster winner Valicare in a series of colossal doubles. A huge payout was only narrowly averted when the race was won by the 200/1 shot, Murray King, giving the bagmen their best doubles result in the history of big betting on the A.J.C. autumn double. Kellow was rather unlucky not to collect as many respected pressmen, Jack Dexter among them, considered that only interference had cost Heroic the race. It was after that A.J.C. meeting that Kellow, who was due to go to England for a holiday, offered Heroic at public auction through William Inglis and Son. With a 20,000 guineas reserve placed on him, I don’t think it was a serious overture to the market and bidding only reached 10,500 guineas before the chestnut stallion was passed in. As events transpired, it was just as well for Kellow’s fortunes on the Australian turf that buyers weren’t willing. In the spring and early autumn of his five-year-old season, Heroic returned to his very best, winning seven races including six in succession against the likes of Manfred, Limerick, Pantheon and others.
It was in early January 1927, just as Heroic was being prepared for his final racing campaign, that Charlie Kellow announced he had completed negotiations with Herbert Thompson for a three-year-lease on his great champion for stud duties to begin later that year at Oakleigh and Tarwyn Park Studs. Thompson, a good friend of Kellow, had been given the first offer on the horse and the terms were an annual rent of something over £2,000 p.a. with Kellow reserving the right to send five mares of his own to the stallion free of charge each year. Despite the friendship of the two principals, it was a stiff price even for those heady days. The great horse demonstrated that he was still at or near his best when he resumed racing a few weeks later and proceeded to lead all the way in the William Reid Stakes at Moonee Valley setting a new course record. Heroic was successful in both the Orr Stakes and St George Stakes before finishing an unplaced favourite in the Newmarket when burdened with 10 st. 3lb. At his final appearance at Flemington in the weight-for-age King’s Plate, Heroic managed to win for the first time around Flemington’s turns and over the two-mile trip. Brought to Sydney, he became a victim of the torrential downpour that marred the autumn meeting that year and ran unplaced at each of his four Randwick starts. Charlie Kellow had hoped that the close of that A.J.C. Autumn Meeting might have seen Heroic eclipse Gloaming’s Australasian record of stakes won, but it wasn’t to be. Hughie Cairns rode the chestnut at his final appearance on the Turf, which came when he ran unplaced in the City Tattersall’s Cup on the last day of April. His career statistics were: 51 starts for 21 wins, 11 seconds and 4 thirds, with prize money of £38,062.
Heroic appeared to have all the credentials to be a success at stud – a distinguished pedigree, a wonderful conformation and constitution, and that magical blend of speed and stamina that had seen him successful on the racecourse at the highest level in each of his four seasons and from distances of five furlongs to two miles. The only question marks related to his heavy inbreeding and moody temperament. But breeders rushed him and long before his racecourse career had ended Herbert Thompson filled his book for the breeding seasons of 1927 and 1928. The arrangement was that each broodmare sent to him had to be for two seasons at 200 guineas a season. It was to be a stunning career. Heroic was to top the Australian winning stallions’ list on no less than seven successive occasions from 1932/33 to 1938/39. His first crop of yearlings was offered in the autumn of 1930, at a time when the Depression was beginning to bite. As a consequence, only six lots at those Easter sales realised four-figure amounts, and yet two of them were by Heroic. It was an interesting debut because two other Australian-bred stallions in Manfred and Windbag had the first of their progeny on offer at the same sales.
The buyers’ faith in Heroic to achieve as much in the stallion paddock as he did at the post was soon confirmed; his colts and fillies showed brilliant speed from the moment they first appeared in public. Heroic was only just deprived of siring a Maribyrnong Plate winner in his first season when Bold Bid went down to La Justice in the last few strides. Other smart juveniles like Gloriole, Gallantic, Lady Heroic and Heroic Prince that same year assured his reputation. That first season Heroic had 10 individual winners of 18 races worth £7,550, which placed him 20th on the list of winning sires. It was a record for an Australian-bred sire. This compared with the leading stallion Night Raid with 4 individual winners of 21 races and £27,449 and, after all, he had Phar Lap to help him.
In his second crop, Heroic franked his reputation for getting early comers when his son Vauntry was the crack juvenile of the spring winning both the Debutant Stakes and the Maribyrnong Plate. In his second season, Heroic had 29 winning horses that between them won over 50 races in that 1931-32 season, which placed him 6th on the Winning Sires’ List. Heroic then won the Sires’ Championship for the first time the following year with only three crops racing. Thereafter he remained at the top of the list until impotence prematurely ended his stud life. During this time, the success of outside mares with Heroic was extraordinary. E. L. Baillieu only sent him one mare, the imported Medmenham, and was blessed with Ajax as a result. But the biggest beneficiary turned out to be Charlie Kellow himself. Apart from the lease income, he derived from Heroic, Kellow, with the few mares he sent to the great horse each season, managed to breed two champions in Hall Mark and Nuffield. As we shall see, each of them was destined to give Kellow the blue riband of the A.J.C. Derby.
Before I leave this particular chapter of our Derby history, permit me to return for a moment to the men and horses that made the 1924 renewal such a fascinating contest. We should not lose sight of the distinguished career at both post and paddock that awaited Spearfelt after being narrowly beaten by Heroic on that famous day. In the absence of Heroic, Spearfelt took out the Victoria Derby by six lengths and then three days later went within a head and a neck respectively of winning the Melbourne Cup when third in the race. The following autumn he won both the St. Leger and King’s Plate at Flemington before coming to Sydney and going down to Windbag after that wonderful duel down the Randwick straight for the A.J.C. St Leger. On the following Monday in the Sydney Cup, Spearfelt was one of the favourites when he fell with five other horses. That fall left the horse without confidence for a long time and his trainer Vin O’Neill made a mistake when he forced him to race as a four-year-old. But as a five-year-old he was magnificent. That season when partnered by Hughie Cairns, who probably did more than anybody to bring Spearfelt undone in the A.J.C. Derby, the stallion won the Melbourne Cup when burdened with 9 st. 3lb equalling the Australasian record for the distance. The following autumn Cairns steered Spearfelt to victory in the Australian Cup, establishing both new time and weight records for the race with his impost of 9 st. 13lb.
Brought to Sydney for the 1927 A.J.C. autumn meeting, Spearfelt went in the suspensory ligament when racing in the Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm. O’Neill was doubtful that the horse could race again and, after conferring with the owner, put the horse up for auction at William Inglis and Sons’ annual sale of racing and breeding stock a few weeks later. The son of Spearhead was passed in at a paltry 500 guineas. The so-called breeding experts shunned him because he was from a Challenger mare. Spearfelt returned to Victoria and was sent to the Yarra Bend Stud, near Bendigo, which was conducted by Messrs A. H. Wilson and S. Sargood. There, in November 1927 he commenced his stud career with just a few mares, but this first instalment was to be rather short-lived. The horse thrived so much that his connections made an ill-judged decision to again try him on the Turf and he was back in O’Neill’s Melbourne stables before the end of the year. Spearfelt’s racing record would look so much better had he not been asked to race eleven times as a six and seven-year-old, for he finished unplaced each time. He was finally retired for good in October 1928. His full racing record stood at 57 starts, for 9 wins, 8 seconds and 8 thirds and £28,173 in stakes.
Offered once again as a prospective stallion, this time at Yuille’s in Melbourne, he realised 1350 guineas. It was at the Alma Vale Stud of Queensland breeder Tom Jennings, at Greenmount on the Darling Downs, where Spearfelt got his real chance as a stallion. There he became one of the most successful sires in the Commonwealth. Despite the clear disadvantages of a Queensland base vis-à-vis N.S.W. or Victoria where prize money was so much more liberal, Spearfelt was twice runner-up to Heroic on the Leading Sires’ List as well as finishing third to the same horse and The Buzzard in 1938-39. Just when the title looked like eluding him, Spearfelt topped the list in the 1942-43 racing season thanks largely to Abspear and Dark Felt. In the Sydney Cup of that season, four sons of Spearfelt ran for the prize including the favourite, Eureka, who missed a place; but the other three led by Abspear ran first, second and third. Spearfelt proved a wonderful acquisition for Queensland bloodstock and went on to sire the winners of four Queensland Derbies, five Queensland Cups and three Brisbane Cups. One of his sons, Spear Chief, was responsible for arguably the greatest upset in Australian racing when he defeated Ajax at 40/1 on in the Rawson Stakes.
Earlier in this chapter, I mentioned that Hughie Cairns, who seemed so perfectly suited in the saddle to both Heroic and Spearfelt, met with a violent and premature death at the age of just 45. It came on a Saturday in July 1929 at Moonee Valley when he partnered a horse called Quick Deal in the Gellibrand Hurdle. It was at the very last hurdle both horse and rider fell. Cairns appeared to be thrown clear but the horse turned a complete somersault and his hindquarters landed across the jockey’s head and chest. Cairns died shortly after being admitted to the casualty room. This fearless jockey was one of the few who had combined both riding on the flat and cross-country with equal success.
A native of Palmerston North he found the saddle quite by chance. His first job was as a cadet steward on a ship that now and then conveyed racehorses from one coastal town to another in New Zealand. A chance conversation with one of the trainers led him to relinquish the sea for the Turf and in due course, he joined the Otaki stables of F. Highett. Cairns fell in his first nine rides over steeples but persevered to eventually master his craft. After riding successfully for about seven years he came across the water to join the Caulfield stables of fellow Kiwi, D. J. Price in the years just before the Great War. Success came quickly in his adopted land and Cairns won both the Grand National Hurdle and the Australian Hurdle twice. But it was the link with the Foulsham and Godby stables that made Cairns famous. Apart from Heroic and Spearfelt, other good horses with which he enjoyed success on the flat were King Carnival, Demetrius and Cannon. He was one of those exceptional Victorian jockeys – equally at home at Randwick as either Flemington or Caulfield.