In 1923-24 Valais won the first of what was to be five successive Australian sires’ premierships, and he did it with just two crops racing; in that season he had 15 individual winners of 29 races, and £28,379 in stakes. No single statistic is more telling of either his dominance or the immediacy of it. Apart from Heroic, his second crop included the brilliant Fuji San (A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap and All Aged Stakes; V.R.C. October Stakes); Metellus (winner of the A.J.C. Epsom Handicap; V.A.T.C. Toorak Handicap); and Valiard (winner of the V.R.C .Newmarket Handicap), as well as numerous other good class horses. It was little wonder that at the 1924 Sydney Easter Yearling Sales the more discerning buyers, or at least those with big cheque-books, were keen to secure a colt or filly by this wonder stallion. Will and Fred Moses consigned eight yearlings for sale through the offices of William Inglis and Son on the first day, Tuesday, April 22nd, 1924. What a wonderful day’s selling it was when one considers that no less than three outstanding champions of the Australian Turf went through the ring.
The first champion sold as it turned out, however, wasn’t by Valais. Lot number 124, a strapping brown colt by Magpie from Loved One, was offered on account of Percy Miller of Kia-Ora Stud at Scone. He was knocked down for 300 guineas to Randwick trainer, Joe Cook. Because of his size, he would eventually be gelded, but he was destined to play a part in the 1925 A.J.C. Derby, although it would not be his finest hour. Still, before his racing days were over – and it was to be a Turf career renowned for its longevity – Amounis would win £48,297 in stakes, thereby establishing an Australian record. The most expensive of the yearlings on offer by Valais sold a short time later. Lot number 144, a chestnut colt from the mare Galtee Queen, was the first of the Valais progeny to go through the ring that year. Clive Inglis once observed that, after Heroic had established himself as a champion, chestnut became the most sought-after colour among the progeny of Valais, who himself was a chestnut.
After a spirited bidding duel, this particular chestnut colt went to the prominent owner and punter, Ned Moss for 2000 guineas. He would be registered as Vaals, and among other races, Fred Williams would train him to win the A.J.C. Epsom Handicap and V.R.C. Cantala Stakes; he too would find his way to the post for the 1925 A.J.C. Derby. If not a champion, Vaals was at least a clinking good racehorse. Lot number 150 was a lovely bay filly by Valais from the very good broodmare, Courante. The future A.J.C. committeeman, Pat Osborne, had to go to 1700 guineas to get her but she was worth every penny and then some. She would become famous as the flying Valicare, one of the fastest fillies ever bred in Australia. Unraced at two, she would win nine of her eighteen races, including the Adrian Knox Stakes at only her fourth start by five lengths, and, at her sixth start, the Doncaster Handicap, burdened with 8-9lb or 3lb over weight-for-age. Yes, the lady was a champ.
However, sandwiched between the sale of Vaals and Valicare, at lot number 146, came another Valais, a stoutly bred bay colt, an early October foal and only the second born of the dam, Otford. A very lightly raced mare, Otford had only managed to win a two-year-old race at Newcastle and a provincial welter the following season when handicapped on the limit; but her breeding could not be faulted, and her maternal granddam was a half-sister to Martian, one of the greatest sires of stayers ever in New Zealand. It was also the family of Sun God and the unbeaten Boniform. If not handsome, the youngster on offer possessed a fine head and a long rein, and he stood over quite a bit of ground. He had caught the eye of Ben Chaffey, the committeeman and future chairman of the V.A.T.C, who, weighing in at more than 16 stone, stood over quite a bit of ground himself. A big, bluff, genial man full of ebullience for life, Chaffey was a prominent and popular Victorian owner who had won the 1922 Caulfield Cup with Whittier. He liked what he saw in this Valais colt and decided to pay 1400 guineas for the privilege of owning him. True, it wasn’t to be the easiest of relationships, but for his money ‘Big Ben’ had secured for himself the third of the champions sold on that famous day as well as a supporting role in the most sensational Derby ever run at Randwick. The colt would race as Manfred.
Ben Chaffey was no stranger to owning a champion racehorse, but his purchase of Manfred would subject the big man to both the heights of exhilaration and the depths of exasperation. Born in Whittier, California, Chaffey had come to Australia as a very young boy when his parents migrated and settled at Mildura; and it was Chaffey’s father who first pioneered the concept of irrigation on the rich Murray Flats, a development that was to transform the Riverina district. Ben Chaffey was attracted to the Turf from a young age, owning a few racehorses and acquiring a reputation for placing bets of a size that matched his ample frame. For a long time, he was regarded as an unlucky owner, but it is surprising what a difference just one magnificent horse can make to the esteem in which the general public regard a set of racing colours. Whittier, was the horse in question, a horse who took his name from his owner’s place of birth, and despite the brilliant and erratic achievements of his later champion, Manfred never quite displaced the older horse in Chaffey’s affections.
Chaffey bought Whittier for 250 guineas when Lauchlan Mackinnon dispersed his Chatsworth Park Stud and having done so; he had to withstand some good-natured banter afterwards from his friends for buying such a runt. The little fellow was sent to Bendigo and Harry McCalman; Chaffey instructed his trainer to geld the colt and forget about him until he grew. However, McCalman rather took a fancy to this son of Woorak and chose to ignore the instruction to have him cut. The horse won as a two-year-old and, then, just at the beginning of the next season, he surprised his trainer by running a particularly brilliant mile and a quarter on the Bendigo course in early morning work.
Chaffey enjoyed retailing the story of this trial in later years. When McCalman informed him of what Whittier had done, he telegraphed back telling the trainer that his watch must have gone wrong and that he was sending him another. McCalman then invited Chaffey to journey to Bendigo to see for himself. As Chaffey later admitted, “There was nothing wrong with Harry’s watch.” The owner returned to Melbourne and proceeded to back Whittier for the Caulfield Cup, getting as much as 100/1 about his money in late winter. Whittier subsequently won the big handicap a couple of months later, the race that year particularly remembered for the events of the night before the running, when the Melbourne underworld figure, Squizzie Taylor, burnt down the official stand. Whittier then went on to win the Victoria Derby at his next start. The following season as a four-year-old Whittier, along with other races, practically led all the way to win the Doncaster Handicap.
Whittier, then, was the calibre of horse that McCalman and Chaffey had as a measuring stick when Manfred joined those Sandhurst stables at Bendigo in the spring of 1924 to begin his career on the Turf. Chaffey named the colt after the character and the play conceived by Lord Byron when the famous poet toured the Valais district and Bernese Alps of Switzerland in 1816. Byron never intended his play to be performed; rather it was devised as a form of ‘mental theatre’ and the central character, Manfred, is seemingly bent on self-destruction. Given the particular form of mental theatre in which the racehorse Manfred engaged his various supporters during three erratic seasons on the Turf, and his self-destructive bent and intention not to perform at times, Chaffey’s choice of name seems remarkably apt. Manfred was a horse that continued to improve throughout his two-year-old season – and by the end of it, was widely acclaimed as a coming champion. Although he appeared in the early spring and during summer in good class juvenile races in Melbourne, it wasn’t really until the autumn that Manfred began to reveal the greatness that lay within.
The colt managed minor placings in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Ascot Vale Stakes at Flemington, but when he was brought over to Sydney for the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in 1925 he was by no means regarded as the best of the Melbourne youngsters. But in Sydney, he became a different horse. At Warwick Farm in his first start here, he played with a big field in the Fairfield Handicap, which saw him installed a hot favourite for the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick a week later, this time with Jack Toohey in the saddle. This was to be the first occasion upon which Manfred manifested those delinquent tendencies at the start for which he would later become notorious and which so marred his career on the racecourse. He refused to leave with the field when the barrier lifted, and, consequently, he took no part in the rich race, which was fought out by those two Absurd fillies, Los Gatos and Poetaster.
Just what a travesty the Sires’ Produce result had been, was brought home with Manfred’s two later appearances at the same meeting, when, again with Toohey in the irons, he comported himself admirably at the barrier. On the Monday following the Sires’ debacle, the colt easily won the Easter Stakes despite being kicked at the barrier, a result that saw him incur a 5lb penalty for the Champagne Stakes on the following Wednesday. The penalty made no difference when Manfred produced the best performance of a juvenile that season in winning in course record time with eight lengths to spare to his nearest rival, Los Gatos, who had proved too good for him in Melbourne. It was true that he was wind-assisted over the final three-and-half furlongs, but we should not forget that the breeze was available to his rivals as well. And for a two-year-old to clip a quarter-second off the race record previously held jointly by Glentruin and Greenstead, while humping 9 st. 1 lb, meant that for the second season in succession Valais had sired a cracking good colt that would winter as Derby favourite. Incidentally, Victorian gallopers dominated that 1925 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting with no less than fourteen races falling to the southern State.
The Derby favourite made his first appearance of the new season in a mile handicap for three-year-olds at Flemington in mid-August where he was asked to concede from 7lb to 46lb to his opponents. Melbourne racing men were satisfied with his comeback even though he only ran fourth. However, the question as to whether Manfred would stay began to exercise the minds of some racegoers. That there should ever have been a doubt is a puzzle given the stoutness of his pedigree on the dam’s side. The doubts were largely removed, however, with Manfred’s fine performance in the Heatherlie Handicap at Caulfield at his next start. Chiron, the veteran turf correspondent of ‘The Australasian’, ranked it alongside Artilleryman’s Melbourne Cup, as the finest performance he had ever witnessed on a racecourse. In a taste of what was to happen at Randwick on Derby Day, Manfred was badly left at the start, and he must have been at least a hundred yards behind the leaders when Duncan swung him around and got him going. This, in a nine-furlong race when the young Manfred with 3lb over weight-for-age, was meeting a field of good-class older horses that included a future winner of an Epsom Handicap and Caulfield Cup respectively, in Metellus and Textile. Yet Manfred gathered them in to win comfortably. The result caused the young colt to displace Windbag as Melbourne Cup favourite at the Victoria Club that night.
McCalman then brought Whittier and Manfred over to Sydney for the spring meeting. Manfred’s only appearance before the Derby came in the Hill Stakes at Rosehill, a race in which he was surprisingly beaten at 3/1 on by the high-class New Zealand gelding, The Hawk. After that defeat, some people began to wonder if the erratic son of Valais might not be over-rated. Such doubts assailed neither McCalman nor Chaffey, particularly when a week later Whittier easily beat The Hawk in the Warwick Stakes. Both men knew Manfred had Whittier’s measure on the training tracks and each was supremely confident about the Derby, provided the colt was in the mood. The high drama that later became associated with Manfred’s classic wasn’t restricted to antics on the racecourse alone.
In the very early hours of the Friday morning before the race, there was a deliberate attempt by intruders to get at the horse. McCalman had his team lodged in the Randwick stables belonging to Dan Seaton. The disappearance of a key earlier in the week had aroused McCalman’s suspicions, and he had procured a new lock and instructed two stable lads to maintain an all-night vigil on Manfred’s box. The two boys woke up to the muffled sound of someone filing through the lock on the stable door; their movement startled the nocturnal intruder who fled the scene. A subsequent examination of the lock showed that it had almost been filed through. Chaffey posted a reward of £500 leading to the arrest of the culprit, but nothing more came of the incident and meanwhile the police were called in to guard the horse for the remainder of his Sydney visit.
The 1925 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
For the second year running, the presence of a wonder colt by Valais bluffed most owners of prospective Derby colts into looking elsewhere for money and, as a result, again only seven sets of colours were unfurled for the classic. Five of them had met previously in the Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn. The public at large was prepared to overlook Manfred’s Rosehill defeat, and the Melbourne colt was quoted at the prohibitive odds of 2/5, while only Amounis was considered capable of beating him. It was 16/1 bar this pair. Amounis had already managed to acquire quite a reputation. When Joe Cook gave 300 guineas for him at the yearling sales, sentiment played a part, for Cook had trained his dam, Loved One, to win a number of races. A strong, thickset colt, Amounis suffered an accident in the stables as a rising two-year-old that, in retrospect, probably proved a blessing in disguise. One night the horse managed to get his foot under the stable door and when struggling to pull it back, severely injured his pastern. Even then the big fellow was subject to grossness, and the prospect of an enforced holiday in the spelling paddock induced Cook to geld him first before turning him out. Consequently, his racecourse debut had been delayed until very late into his two-year-old season.
It came in July when he was given two educational runs at Canterbury Park and Rosehill and, lacking stable support, ran last in each. Cook then gave himself three weeks to furtively prepare Amounis for a killing in a six-furlong handicap for three-year-olds at Moorefield. Cook worked his commission in the ring securing 20/1 in early betting before the price of Amounis had tumbled to 7/1 by flag-fall. What followed was an extraordinary exhibition of speed, when, after getting away none too well from the barrier, Amounis finished all over the top of the opposition despite racing erratically in the final furlong. Joe Cook landed his series of wagers but had to survive the anxiety of a protest before actually collecting.
Amounis was an unusually handsome horse, and looked more like a colt than a gelding; he was a typical Magpie with all of the quality that remarkable stallion infused into his stock. Being a gelding, one usually expects some meanness about the neck and lightness in the flanks, but Amounis had a pronounced barrel and the crest and carriage of a stallion. It was after the big fellow came out and destroyed a field of three-year-olds at Rosehill at his next start that the prominent cattle dealer and sportsman, Paddy Wade, persuaded Cook to pass over ownership in a deal worth £2,500 plus contingencies, though the latter continued to train him. Amounis sported Wade’s colours for the first time in the Hobartville Stakes, which he won easily from the high-priced Vaals. Three weeks later, Amounis looked something of a bargain for Wade when he stepped out in a somewhat lacklustre Rosehill Guineas and again beat Vaals into second place with quite a deal in hand.
Manfred and Amounis apart, the outside contingent in the A.J.C. Derby included the high-priced Hampden, the winner of only one minor juvenile race at big odds, although he had been placed in the Ascot Vale Stakes; and Petunia, a son of The Welkin, representing the Clarke-Scobie team. Petunia had won the V.R.C. Mimosa Stakes during Cup Week as a two-year-old and had been campaigned in South Australia at the end of his first season, winning both the S.A.J.C. Stakes and the A.R.C. Adelaide Stakes at the May meetings in his final two appearances there. As was so typical of Scobie, this son of The Welkin was making his seasonal debut in the Derby. Tibbie, a beautiful daughter of Mountain King, was the only filly in the small field.
So, what was it that happened in that famous running of the Derby in 1925 that had hardened racegoers many years later still rapturous and proud to proclaim that they were present among the 80,000-throng on that very day? Certainly, there was nothing to suggest the extraordinary performance to come as Manfred walked around the weighing-yard in his usual contented fashion. Manfred and Amounis aside, there was practically no betting on the race. Concerned that Manfred might once again manifest his recidivist tendencies at the barrier, McCalman went down to the start himself. The favourite was drawn on the rails, and the photographer for the Sydney Mail newspaper captured the very moment of his transgression, with a distraught Harry McCalman looking on from inside the rail. When the barrier was released into the air, Manfred seemed to swerve behind the other horses and ran sideways over to the outer fence. The packed grandstands groaned in anguish. The Clerk of the Course flourished his whip at the favourite who half-heartedly meandered towards the judge’s box. In any other race Duncan might not have bothered; but, apart from the prestige of the Derby, he was on a promise of £1,000 from Chaffey if he won.
The field had already gone about a hundred yards by the time Manfred began to race, and when Hampden and Avrom led past the judge’s box, Manfred must have been fully eighty yards behind the main body of horses. Fortunately for the wayward colt, the pace was slow. At the milepost, Manfred was only four lengths behind the second last horse, Vaals. By the time the field reached the half-mile, he was running fourth, just behind Hampden, Avrom and Amounis; and rounding the home turn Amounis and Manfred looked to have it between them. In the straight Amounis raced rather sourly and failed to run out the journey, and inside the last furlong, it was apparent that Manfred had the race in his keeping. It was left to two relative outsiders in Petunia and Tibbie to complete the minor placings.
The official time for the race was 2 minutes and 35 ¼ seconds, and the first mile had taken 1 minute and 45 ½ seconds. Just how much time Manfred’s antics conceded his opponents, has been the subject of much conjecture in all the years since. Some credited him with covering the journey in 2 minutes 28 ¼ seconds, but it is likely that the watch-holders were too astonished at his tantrum to time his run accurately. Conservative estimates of the cost of his petulance were some five or six seconds, which credits him with running the journey well inside the race record. Jack Dexter, the much-respected racing correspondent for The Referee at the time, reckoned Manfred to have run no slower than 2 minutes 30 ½ seconds if that, while Tom Willis of the ‘Sydney Mail’ put it at 2 minutes 29 ½ seconds.
It was a wonderful bit of horsemanship by Duncan on a memorable day when he also shared the Epsom prize on Metellus and piloted Whittier into second place behind Windbag in the Spring Stakes. It was to be his only victory in the A.J.C. Derby during a short but remarkably successful career in the saddle. Born at Northcote on March 25th, 1900, Duncan served his five-year apprenticeship from the age of fourteen with Jos. Curr, based at Caulfield. A natural lightweight, Duncan went to scale at about 7 st. 6lb but possessed a disproportionate strength for such a slender frame. A brave rider willing to take risks, he demanded the same bravery from his mounts; it was a remarkable sangfroid and typical of a young man’s belief in his own immortality. But such daring inevitably has its cost, and Duncan suffered two bad falls in the pigskin.
The first came on the rather inappropriately named Quick Reward in November 1929 when he suffered a fractured neck and was out of the saddle for a long time. Few expected him to return but when he did his courage and skill were undiminished. The second serious fall, in June 1933 on Rose Valais at Williamstown brought about his premature retirement some sixteen months later. Having won his first Melbourne jockeys’ title in 1919-20, he won eleven such titles in all, including that of his final season, before bowing out of the saddle at the age of just 33. Among other good races, he twice won the Melbourne Cup (Nightwatch 1918; Peter Pan 1932) as well as two Caulfield Cups (Maple 1928; High Syce 1929). Duncan enjoyed a wonderfully rewarding association with Jack Holt’s stable at a time when the Wizard of Mordialloc was arguably the finest trainer in the land.
Duncan proceeded to take out a trainer’s licence, and though he wasn’t as successful in this branch of the Sport of Kings, his Caulfield stables nonetheless sent out many winners over the years including the 1945 V.R.C. Oaks winner, Cherie Marie. A nature as reckless and wilful as Duncan’s was bound to have clashed with authority. Perhaps the worst excess of his riding career and the one that tarnished his public image most came with his antics surrounding the 1928 Melbourne Cup. Duncan made overtures for a share of the prize to the holder of a valuable sweep ticket on Maple, the Caulfield Cup winner and Duncan’s mount in the Melbourne Cup. As a result, the V.R.C. stewards withdrew his licence for eight months. The sensation of his training career was the warning-off imposed over alleged doping with Benzedrine of the horse Dick Turpin at Flemington in August 1948, although the sentence was later overturned on appeal. Despite the widespread activity, it was very difficult to prove the administration of drugs in those years immediately after the war.
Harry McCalman, the trainer of Manfred, was a native of Casterton and had spent his early days as a jockey in the Western district of Victoria. In 1904 he quit the saddle and established himself there as a trainer and meeting with early success in races like the Hamilton and Ballarat Cups. He eventually removed himself to Bendigo, attracted by the warm, dry climate as he was beginning to develop that weakness of chest that would prove so debilitating in his later years. For a time, his name was linked more closely with winners over timber than on the flat. He trained Tinana when that horse started the favourite and fell in the Grand National Hurdle, although he did manage to win the Grand National Steeplechase with Clan Robert for Norman Falkiner only a few months after Manfred’s Derby victory. Another horse McCalman trained with success was Epilogue, with whom he won the V.R.C. St Leger for Lauchlan Mackinnon.
But it was with Whittier and Manfred that McCalman’s name will always be associated. I think it was in the 1918-19 racing season that Chaffey first became a patron of the stable. Thanks largely to Whittier in the 1922-23-year, McCalman realised his ambition to top the list of winning trainers in the Melbourne metropolitan area with nineteen wins. Jack Holt also trained the same number, but thanks to Whittier’s Caulfield Cup and Victoria Derby, McCalman’s horses won the more money. He never headed the premiership again, but it heralded the start of McCalman’s most rewarding five years on the Australian Turf. Having the likes of Whittier and Manfred in his care, early in 1925 McCalman took possession of the Flemington stables formerly occupied by H. W. Morton, although he continued to spend most of his time at Bendigo. Apart from winning the Derby with Manfred that day at Randwick, McCalman was also largely responsible for the victory of Metellus in the Epsom, having prepared the horse at Randwick in the absence of his regular trainer, Jack Holt, who could not travel interstate.
The Derby was Manfred’s only appearance at the 1925 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Chaffey believed that his colt would have been a match for Windbag in the Craven Plate on the third day, but being a V.A.T.C. committeeman, he was anxious to return to Melbourne with his horses in time for the opening day of the Caulfield Cup meeting. Those intrepid souls who laid the 4/11 about the new wonder colt in the Caulfield Guineas must have sorely regretted Chaffey’s notions of club loyalty when Manfred once again manifested his recidivist tendencies at the start. The horse refused to take any part in the contest despite the best efforts of Bob Lewis on Petunia grabbing hold of Manfred’s bridle to coax the favourite up to the barrier. Whatever the disappointment of Chaffey and McCalman, it was soon forgotten when Whittier came out to win the Caulfield Cup a week later.
Then, with Frank Dempsey supplanting Bill Duncan in the saddle, came Manfred’s win in the W.S. Cox Plate. Manfred ran a race record and just headed The Night Patrol, after matching strides with the imported horse over the last half-mile. Chiron, the veteran racing writer, always regarded this race as the best that he ever witnessed. Manfred and Dempsey ran another race record in the Victoria Derby when the prodigal son of Valais streeted the field by twelve lengths. That performance saw Manfred go the post as the favourite for the Melbourne Cup three days later in the culmination of his spring campaign. Teddy Knight the well-known commissioner, alone, put £8,000 worth of commission on the horse. Great galloper though Manfred was, over the two-miles journey Windbag proved superior by just a half-length over the young champion. Each horse carried 2lb more than weight-for-age and the time for the race matched the Australasian record for the distance.
The St Legers were expected to be a soft snap for Manfred in the autumn, but such calculations didn’t factor in the insouciance of the horse. Frank Dempsey, the jockey who had seemed to forge a reasonable understanding with the colt in Melbourne in the springtime, had departed for England and a contract to ride for owner Sir Charles Hyde and trainer Norman Scobie. In his absence, Jack Toohey, who would have ridden Manfred in the A.J.C. Derby and other races in the spring but for a broken leg, reclaimed the ride. Things looked good when Manfred ran a useful third in the Futurity Stakes upon resuming. But disaster struck with double strength a week later on the opening day of the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting. In the St Leger Stakes Manfred went to the starting post at the restrictive odds of 6/1 on. Alas, for his supporters, the starting post was as far as he got. When the barrier rose, the colt wheeled around and dislodged Toohey, taking no part in the race. Manfred was stirred, and Toohey was shaken, and it was evident that no special bond existed between horse and rider.
Still, Chaffey and McCalman didn’t entirely abandon hope, and an hour later Manfred and Toohey were given a chance to make amends when the horse was paid up for the weight-for-age Essendon Stakes. In those days, acceptances could be declared thirty minutes before the scheduled starting time of the race. It says much for the spirit of the jazz age that Manfred was again installed as favourite although this time at the rather less constrained quotation of 6/4. The price might have changed, but the outcome was the same. Once again Manfred refused to leave the post. It was little wonder that Toohey, who was recovering from a broken leg, and seeking to prove that he had lost none of his guile, resolved not to renew acquaintances with the son of Valais after that. A couple of days after his transgressions on St Leger Day at Flemington, he was taken back to the course for a schooling lesson at the barrier but injured himself when he fell through some hedging. The A.J.C. Autumn Meeting was then denied the dubious pleasure of his presence when his connections were forced to scratch him from both the St Leger and the Sydney Cup and turn him out for a spell. In the Cup, he would have been asked to carry 9 stone 1lb or a pound more than Carbine carried to victory at the same age, but despite the weight, Manfred was the second favourite at the time of his scratching. In Manfred’s absence, Belgamba, who had previously taken out the Victorian equivalent on the occasion of Manfred’s tantrum, won the A.J.C. St Leger rather easily. Good horse though he was, he had been no match for Manfred in the Victoria Derby.
When Manfred resumed as a four-year-old later in the spring, Bob Lewis was engaged to ride him. It was a fruitful partnership highlighted by his victory in the Caulfield Cup when with 9 st. 6lb, Manfred posted a weight-carrying record for the race. Despite incurring a penalty that lifted his handicap to 10 st. 1lb, Chaffey was confident his champion could win the Melbourne Cup as well, particularly after taking the Melbourne Stakes on the Saturday prior. But the latter race aggravated an injury to Manfred’s fetlock, sustained earlier in the week in trackwork, and Chaffey had no option but to scratch the horse. In 1927 after twice refusing to take part in races at the Caulfield Autumn Meeting, and with concerns about his leg, Manfred retired from the racecourse. The horse’s capricious prodigality by then had even exhausted Chaffey’s patience and bonhomie. From a total of 28 starts on the racecourse, Manfred’s record stood at 11 wins, 5 seconds and 2 thirds and £29,830 in stakes.
Yet those bare statistics do not really tell the whole story. On six occasions Manfred had refused to leave the barrier at all. This recalcitrance at the starting tapes in both Manfred and Heroic suggested the trait was inherited from their sire, Valais. In Manfred’s case, it was also probably exacerbated by having been kicked by other horses while standing at the starting tapes in some of his juvenile races. He received a nasty lash at Warwick Farm before he went on to win the Fairfield Handicap and was the subject of some buffeting a week later when he refused to have anything to do with the Sires’ Produce Stakes. Perhaps if he had been handled more firmly as a young horse, his roguishness might have been contained, but Harry McCalman was himself never in robust health the entire time Manfred was in his stables. Nor did it seem to make much difference whoever rode him. For a time, it was believed that both Dempsey and Lewis had managed to establish a special rapport with the wayward colt, only for such exaggerated notions to be smartly disabused when neither jockey could extract cooperation on those very last two occasions the horse confronted the starting ribbons.
It was a puzzle to racegoers that both in the saddling paddock and on the way to the start, neither Manfred nor Heroic ever gave an inkling of misbehaviour; each was the model of sobriety and responsibility. It was this Jekyll and Hyde part of their make-up that induced backers to convince themselves that somehow this time it would be different. Then, upon reaching the barrier, the ugly transformation would take place, with a display of absolute mulishness, albeit without viciousness. Whereas Heroic generally backed into the tapes, Manfred joined them but refused to move or swerved away when they lifted. Certainly, the source of the behaviour puzzled Fred Moses, one of the brothers who imported Valais into Australia, who commented: “It is hard to understand. A better-tempered horse than Valais was impossible. I have often seen his groom get on him in his box without bridle or saddle. A light boy used to ride him out for two or three miles each day, and there was never a quieter stallion at Arrowfield.”
Some owners of Derby-winning colts have been tempted to launch a stud into existence using their champion as the resident stallion. Sir Hugh Denison with Poseidon and Joe Brien with Beragoon are experiences that come to mind. Rarely though, are such ventures successful. Chaffey was never tempted in this direction largely because he had already travelled down that road. During the years of the Great War, Chaffey had conducted Sherwood Park Stud, sixteen miles out of Melbourne. He began there by leasing All Black, the sire of Desert Gold and Nigger Minstrel, from E. J. Watt, subsequently buying the stallion outright at a high figure when the horse landed in Australia. Chaffey later leased the imported stallion, Bright Steel, as well and spent a king’s ransom on broodmares, but it was all to no avail. The ground on which the stud was built was unsuited to bloodstock, and when Chaffey came to accept the fact, he handed over responsibility for the disposal of the whole enterprise to Jack Brewer and abjured from ever again owning a stud.
Accordingly, when Manfred was retired, Chaffey came to an agreement with Les Aldridge, the proprietor of the Richmond Park Stud in the suburbs of Adelaide, to stand the horse there. The previous year Chaffey had lent Whittier to the studmaster for a season or two free of charge. This time, a value of £10,000 was placed on his horse, and Aldridge paid £6,666 for a two-thirds share. Chaffey retained one-third ownership for ten of his own mares each season. It was a happy coincidence that both Heroic and Manfred were retired to stud in the same season. Being the best sons of Valais to race, there was much speculation as to which might turn out the better stallion; Chaffey made a sporting bet with Charlie Kellow that Manfred would prove superior. I’m not sure of the period over which the wager was to extend, but it was only a season or so before the genial Chaffey had hoisted the white flag. Misfortune marred Manfred’s first season at the stud. Within a week or two of his first foals touching the ground, they became sickly, and after lingering for a few weeks, most of them died. The foals of the other two stallions serving at the stud, Whittier and St Anton, died in the same manner. Altogether the stud lost thirty-nine youngsters, and nineteen of them were by Manfred.
It would have been better for Manfred’s reputation as a stallion if all of his first season foals had died because those that did survive were nonetheless affected, and, although they won some races, they were weak and weedy individuals. The mares were probably still carrying the infection when they bred their next foal. A pneumonia epidemic was the suspected cause, and subsequently, Les Aldridge decided to vacate Richmond Park, a stud his father had first established in 1899, and relocate to Kismet at Sunbury in Victoria. Aldridge booked two special trains, and with the Victorian Commissioner of Railways ensuring a clear run, the complete stud transferred. At Sunbury, the Kismet Park Stud adjoined the racecourse and sprawled over a thousand acres. It might be tempting to observe that, come Kismet, Manfred was a stranger in paradise, but it wouldn’t be true. He had already served two books of mares before taking up his new residence and was clearly enjoying his post-racing career. While it took him some years to live down the failure of his early progeny, live it down he did. Eventually, he was to enjoy considerable success and among the best of his offspring were The Trump, Red Manfred, Mildura, Manolive and Manrico. Manfred ended his life at Sunbury, contracting an ailment similar to the one that closed the stud career of Heroic. For the last two years of his life, he was a pensioner at the stud and then, rather than risk the old horse seriously injuring himself, in June 1940 Manfred was humanely destroyed.
As successful as the Chaffey-McCalman team proved, it wasn’t a partnership destined to last to the very end. The pair parted company as a result of the running of the 1928 Adelaide Cup, which McCalman won with Altimeter, prepared on behalf of other clients; while Chaffey’s Finsbury, also trained by McCalman, could only manage third in the same race. How often has one seen such a conflict of interest on the Turf rupture a relationship? McCalman died in July 1933 at the age of only 53, having taken little active interest in racing during his last years. Chaffey died at his home Woodlands, Oakland Junction, in March 1937. Throughout Chaffey’s tenure as chairman of the V.A.T.C., the reputation of the club grew. While Manfred and Whittier were his best gallopers in a long life on the Turf, he raced some other good horses including Caserta, winner of the V.R.C. St Leger, and Ninbela, the V.R.C. Oaks winner. Maurice Cavanough in his delightful book, ‘The Caulfield Cup’, relates a humorous anecdote that captures the mischievous spirit of Ben Chaffey: “He liked a bet and on one occasion had a lot of money on one of his horses which ran a shocker. As the horses were coming back to scale, a stranger alongside him said: ‘Isn’t that Chaffey a bastard.’ ‘Too right,’ Ben agreed, ‘let’s go and boo his horse.’
Chaffey was an immensely popular figure with the racing public at large, accessible to pressmen and one who took the general public into his confidence as regards his stable of racehorses. He was never shy about paying big prices for bloodstock even though he often had later cause for regret. At the 1926 Sydney Easter Sales, for example, Chaffey gave 2750 guineas for Manfred’s yearling brother – an amount that at the time was second only to the record price paid by Hugh Denison for Orcus, the younger brother of his Derby winner, Poseidon. The colt raced in Chaffey’s colours as Murthong, but never looked like recouping his cost. Chaffey’s outlays also extended to portraits of his horses, and he commissioned the renowned artist Martin Stainforth for a large oil painting of Manfred. The result was one of the artist’s best works and at the foot of the canvas, reproduced in actual proportion, is the half-furlong the field had travelled before Bill Duncan had induced Manfred to give chase. For a time, the painting was on view at Paling’s at 206 Pitt-street, before its presentation by Ben Chaffey to the A.J.C.
Before I leave the year 1925, something must be said about Amounis, the horse that was expected to trouble Manfred most on that famous Derby Day. So often the field for the blue riband fails to host a really top-class racehorse. The remarkable feature of the 1925 running was the presence of not one champion but two, for as impressive as Manfred’s post-Derby career proved to be, that of Amounis was even better. The big, strong gelding was to prove something of an iron horse over the years, winning in the very best of company over six consecutive seasons. Amounis disappointed in the Derby and for much of the balance of his three-year-old season. So much so that Paddy Wade in April 1926 decided to put the horse through the sale ring on the eve of his departure on extended travels through Europe. As Clive Inglis later recalled, there was considerable suspicion among prospective buyers at the time. The notion that any owner would part company with a horse of such potential, merely for the sake of a European jaunt, seemed spurious and many felt that there was something wrong with Amounis. Bill Pearson, a retired bookmaker and one of Frank McGrath’s principal clients, however, wasn’t numbered among the sceptics. Pearson instructed his sixty-year-old trainer to attend the sales and keep on bidding until he got him. Just in case the trainer’s resolve weakened, Pearson also attended the auction unbeknownst to McGrath. He got the horse for 1800 guineas, and Amounis joined ‘Stormy Lodge’.
The shrewd McGrath soon discovered that the secret to Amounis was to space his races and thereby keep the big gelding fresh. Banjo Patterson once observed of the older Amounis that ‘he always remained the same swag-bellied, John Falstaff of a horse’ and McGrath’s diagnosis remained ‘the bigger he is, the better he runs’. It was a happy formula that snared some of the Turf’s richest prizes. As a four-year-old, Amounis won the Epsom Handicap in Australasian record time, a race that he came back to win again two seasons later. In fact, the big fellow seemed to be at his best at an age when most racehorses have passed from the racecourse. He won some of Australia’s top weight-for-age races against the likes of Phar Lap and climaxed a wonderful career by winning the Caulfield Cup as an eight-year-old under 9 st. 8lb. In so doing, Amounis established a new weight-carrying record for the race, two pounds more than Manfred had carried in 1926 and at the same time, he eclipsed Gloaming’s Australasian stakes-winning record.
When he finally ended his racing career after 78 starts, the hardy gelding had won 33 races and earned a total of £48,297. The only real chink in his armour had been an aversion to soft going, a trait shared by many of the Magpie stock. After his retirement, Amounis proceeded to live a life of leisure as a pensioner on W. T. Badgery’s Redbank Stud at Scone. The hapless Paddy Wade had much cause and time to rue his decision to embark on that European holiday. Selling Amounis wasn’t Wade’s only lapse in judgement in horse-trading. Some years earlier he had sold Night Raid to New Zealand before the stallion had shown his potential. Wade had extensive pastoral interests at the time he sold Amounis and must have been worth around £250,000 when he stepped onto that ship bound for England. Apart from his miscalculations on the Turf, the onset of the Depression and the Second World War saw his wealth diminish sharply and when he died on Christmas Eve 1941, very little of his fortune remained.