Our chapter on the 1917 renewal of the A.J.C. classic narrated the early history of the Melton Stud and the emergence of The Welkin as Australia’s leading stallion. As we have seen, over the years The Welkin sired some wonderful youngsters and older middle-distance horses, and Ernest Clarke, who owned him, retained many of them to race in his colours. But when Clarke sold Gloaming as a yearling, he lost the best horse The Welkin ever got, and the only one to win an A.J.C. Derby. It seemed rather fitting, therefore, that when Ernest Clarke finally did manage to win the Derby at Randwick, it was with a homebred colt by Cyklon, the stallion that succeeded The Welkin at his famous stud. Cyklon’s history, and how he came to be installed at Melton Park, is worth relating. The horse was owned by the Imperial Graditz Stud in Prussia, and was a son of Spearmint, and therefore, a grandson of Carbine. Before World War I the Australian jockey Frank Bullock had been riding on the continent, and he was successful on Cyklon in Germany. However, before Cyklon won his first race in that country, he had been nominated for a series of maiden plates in England.
In those days, such events were open to horses that were maidens at the time of nomination. Cyklon was victorious in four of those races and on the fifth occasion enjoyed a walkover. Upon the outbreak of hostilities, however, Cyklon was seized by the British Government as an enemy possession and subsequently came on to the market. Bullock, aware of his ability, managed to negotiate his purchase together with another horse in a package deal worth 125 guineas with the Department of Fisheries in England, which, believe it or not, at the time controlled racing there. Cyklon was then exported to Australia and eventually on-sold to trainer James Scobie, who was acting on behalf of Mrs Richard Hawker of South Australia. In Adelaide, the horse won some races of the highest class, including the 1916 Birthday Cup, as well as being successful in both the Eclipse Stakes and the St George Stakes at Caulfield. In most of his wins, Bob Lewis, who was a brother-in-law to Frank Bullock, rode him.
Cyklon stood his first season at the Morphettville Stud in South Australia that was owned by Mrs Hawker’s husband. It was Scobie, now managing the Welkin Stud on behalf of Ernest Clarke, who recommended that Clarke buy Cyklon as a replacement for The Welkin, now advanced in years. On the whole, he proved a disappointing substitute considering the quality of the mares that were laid on for him at the stud; but that’s not to say that he didn’t get the odd good performer. One of those distinguished matrons sent to him was Trey, herself the winner of a Maribyrnong Plate and one of six full brothers and sisters by The Welkin from the imported foundation mare Teppo, who all managed to win major races on the Australian Turf. I might mention that when Trey won the Maribyrnong Plate, it marked the first metropolitan winner that season for Scobie and Clarke – surely a happy portent. The pairing of Cyklon and Trey had resulted in the foaling in 1923 of Treylon, a future winner of the V.A.T.C. Debutant Stakes. However, the following season produced an even more spectacular result, a rich chestnut colt with a silver mane and tail that revived memories of Trafalgar. And let it be said that for one spectacular season at least, the comparisons with Trafalgar were not based on looks alone. Ernest Clarke registered the youngster as Trivalve and, naturally enough, he went into the stables of Jim Scobie.
A good two-year-old, Trivalve had the misfortune of being out in the same season as the outstanding Royal Feast. A massive colt by the imported Caulfield Cup winner, King Offa, and bred by Ted Underwood; Royal Feast had been purchased as a yearling by W.E.J. Craig for 700 guineas. He was one of the biggest two-year-olds seen in Melbourne for many years, and was literally and figuratively head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Trivalve ran into this giant when he made his racecourse debut at Flemington in the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes in early October 1926 – Royal Feast winning rather easily with Ernest Clarke’s colt unplaced. While Royal Feast went on to win the Maribyrnong Plate on the opening day of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, Trivalve didn’t break through until later in the same week, when at his fourth start he took out the V.R.C. Flemington Stakes on Oaks Day. He was then given a spell and brought back in the late summer to run two good races behind Royal Feast at the same course – second in the Sires’ Produce Stakes, beaten a half-length, and then third in the Ascot Vale Stakes.
It was only in the absence of Royal Feast that two days later Trivalve was at last able to show the public at large something of the promise of his home gallops. It came in the Gibson Carmichael Stakes, when with 9 st. 3lb he revealed his seemingly bottomless reserves of courage. The trick to riding him, as Lewis discovered, was to grind away but not let him hit the front too soon lest the lazy fellow just idled. Trivalve came across to Sydney for the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting but was all at sea on the water-logged track that passed for Randwick during that late and very wet Easter. April was an excellent month for umbrella salesmen. For the first time since 1919, the first day of the A.J.C. meeting had to be postponed because of torrential rain, and accordingly, the Sires’ Produce Stakes was run on Easter Monday. The course remained a sea of mud, a state of affairs that didn’t perturb Royal Feast, who ploughed through the ground to win running away with Trivalve failing to run a place.
The rains continued to tumble in the days afterwards. The Sydney Cup, which was put back to the Wednesday, was further postponed until the following Saturday, April 23rd. The Easter Stakes was also run on Cup Day, and Scobie accepted with Trivalve although not with any real hope, given the conditions. And again, he failed to run a place. Only when the ground became firmer by the third day of the meeting did Trivalve disclose anything of his real ability, when he finished strongly for the minor placing in the Champagne Stakes. In that race Royal Feast blotted his copybook when heavily in the red and burdened with the full 10lb penalty, he was beaten into second placing by the Melbourne colt, Cannon. This race brought the curtain down on the leading juveniles for the season. Incidentally, the fourth and last day of that infamous autumn meeting at Randwick finally took place on April 28th – twelve days after its scheduled start. In all the years since I doubt whether Sydney has had a wetter Easter.
There was no argument that Royal Feast was the star juvenile of the season. The big colt had started seven times, winning four races and finishing second in the other three. His earnings of £13,119 inclusive of the breeder’s premium of £250 for his win at Randwick, established a new Australian record in juvenile stakes, eclipsing Heroic’s previous figure of £11,801. In the extravagant euphoria of the moment, bookmakers installed the horse favourite for both the Derbies and the Cups. Despite the boom, there seemed to be altogether too much of him to appeal as a genuine Derby colt or a prospective stayer. Although big colts had proven capable of winning the Derby – Sylvanite was an example – most keen judges were prepared to look past Royal Feast. In the end, it was never put to the test. He resumed at his home course of Williamstown early in the new season in the Underwood Stakes but performed badly after being quite easy in the betting. Shortly after that, he was scratched from all of his spring engagements, an action that proved rather costly to the public and created quite a stir in racing circles, given that the Sinclair stable divulged as little information as possible as to the reason for his withdrawal. The truth of the matter was that the horse was undergoing an operation for a wind infirmity. Although it was later reported that Royal Feast had recovered, he dramatically dropped dead in the first week of January 1928 while doing light exercise in preparation for the Oakleigh Plate. Just how good he might have been, is anyone’s guess.
The year 1927 witnessed some changes in the racing scene. It was a year that saw the introduction of occasional races at Randwick and Warwick Farm confined to apprentices who had not ridden ten winners. The move was prompted by representations to the A.J.C. by the Breeders, Owners and Trainers’ Association to improve the overall standards of horsemanship in Sydney. Another innovation to Sydney racecourses during the year was a motor coach, built especially to transport racehorses. Placed on the roads by the Licensed Motor Transport Company, it made its first appearance at Moorefield in February. This means of conveyance had been in vogue in England and France for some time, and those Sydney trainers such as Frank Marsden who were quick to patronise it were unanimous as to its advantages over train travel.
The issue that continued to generate most discussion in racing circles, however, was the extent of illegal off-course betting and the prospect of licensing such betting shops to at least harvest some public revenue from their activities. While problems still plagued the Totalisator, it seemed that the dual system of bookmaker and Tote satisfied most racegoers and few people were now advocating the machine as the sole medium of speculation. Of course, everyone acknowledged that a degree of illicit betting occurred – without perhaps ever realising the full extent of the problem – but most believed such toleration was preferable to a break-out of gambling fever that licensing betting shops would engender. Moreover, heaven forbid, it was argued that the proliferation of off-course betting shops might encourage women to gamble! Such was the paternalism and patronisation that animated the authorities of the age. But no one could dispute that racing was in a healthy position. Perhaps a measure of this health was the fact that the A.J.C. enjoyed 612 nominations for the Derby in 1927; this compared to only 349 for the English Derby of the same year.
Seventeen horses faced the starter for the A.J.C. Derby, a record number of starters for the race. The large field was a testimony to the belief that, with the injury to New Zealand crack, Agrion, who had been brought across to Sydney by Dick Mason but hadn’t raced, and the defection of Royal Feast, no outstanding colt was out that season. It was a belief that was about to be proved spectacularly false. The Derby favourite in the fortnight before the race was Winalot, a baldy-faced chestnut colt by Rossendale trained by George Price. In six appearances as a juvenile, he only managed to win once, a minor handicap at Rosehill in May at his final outing. Harry Chisholm had bred Winalot, the first foal of a Malt King mare, Princess Volga, which although unraced, had been trained at two years of age. Chisholm, the founder of the bloodstock agency that bore his name, bred and raced many horses during his life but had never got hold of one as good as this fellow before. As a yearling, Winalot was passed in at 250 guineas, the reserve being five hundred. Harry raced Winalot during his first season and had enormous faith in the colt, something he shared with trainer George Price, who always believed the chestnut had the makings of a first-class stayer. Alas, Harry Chisholm never lived to see Winalot realise his potential.
Chisholm died in June, and the horse began the new season in the ownership of the executors of the estate. Winalot first came to Derby notice when he finished strongly to win a mile welter at Randwick at the September Tattersall’s Meeting, and then confirmed it a week later with a gritty win in the Rosehill Guineas after being last early. Merry Mint, a well-grown bay gelding by Catmint, who had easily won the Hobartville Stakes and ran second to Limerick in the Chelmsford Stakes in soft going, headed the New Zealand assault on the classic. He had blotted his copybook somewhat when he ran unplaced favourite in the Hawkesbury Spring Handicap at his most recent appearance. Statesman, owned and trained at Randwick by William Kelso junior, was a horse conspicuous in the Derby betting rather more on reputation than actual deeds. In nine starts he had only managed to win once – a weak division of a race for two-year-olds in the autumn. Already he had been supported in Melbourne Cup betting by his stable, with nice prices taken soon after weights were released, an unusual practice for Kelso.
However, Statesman’s early season three-year-old form had proved disappointing. Although Kelso had judged him worthy of a place in the company of both the Chelmsford Stakes and Rosehill Guineas, he had failed to flatter on either occasion. Also included in the Derby line-up was Sion, the chestnut son of Valais and brother to Vaals, for which Ned Moss had paid the then Australian record price of 4100 guineas as a yearling.
The strapping colt had failed to justify Moss’s faith either in the sales or betting ring, being still a maiden after twelve public appearances and some heavy support, although he had managed respectable placings in the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Hobartville Stakes. Another expensive Valais colt in the field was Glenariff, who had cost his lady owner 3800 guineas as a yearling. The best of the three fillies in the Derby was Black Duchess, a daughter of Magpie, of which much had been asked in her first season in confronting the starter ten times, but her placing in the Hobartville Stakes ensured her some support.
When Scobie delivered up Trivalve on Derby Day, the horse hadn’t raced since the autumn. Although he hadn’t grown much, he was now a more robust colt, and there was a lot of stable confidence in him. Before coming over to Randwick, Scobie had galloped him in a private trial at Moonee Valley. The horse had covered the mile and a half, outside one hurdle, in 2.40, a gallop that convinced both Scobie and Lewis that they couldn’t take the Derby away from them. An astute observer might also have noticed that Scobie had taken the unusual precaution of nominating the colt for the Craven Plate, a race in which the stable very rarely indulged. Scobie’s primary concern with Trivalve was the prospect of a soft track on Derby Day. After the rains that had deluged Sydney the previous Easter ruining Trivalve’s chance in the rich juvenile races at Randwick, Scobie must have had his heart in his mouth as the ominous night skies opened up again on Derby Eve.
However, Saturday dawned fine, and the track remained remarkably unaffected. Winalot maintained his favouritism in early course betting, but strong backing for Merry Mint saw him go the post as the joint-favourite with the chestnut. Trivalve was well supported by the big-betting battalions behind the Scobie stable, while Statesman shortened from tens into sixes in late betting. Sion met with some modest enquiries. The overnight rains, however, did serve to reduce the attendance on that first day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting when only 78,000 people attended in comparison with the 89,000 of the previous year. One change that patrons did notice was the reversal of policy on Totalisator dividends. Just a week before the meeting started, the N.S.W. Government abandoned the unpopular innovation of providing for a return of at least the amount invested on each place getter on the machine. The practice had often returned odds that were extremely poor in comparison with bookmakers. Accordingly, the Government had reverted to the old system, with the alteration that instead of 60% going to first and 20% each to second and third, after deduction of the customary 12½ %, the division became 50, 30 and 20%. This reversion at least enabled patrons to be again able to form an approximate idea of their likely return on a successful wager, and if an outsider were to win, the pool wouldn’t be depleted to cover investments on the other place-getters. Nonetheless, those of the betting public who saw virtue in the abandoned practice were afforded a smile when the backers of Limerick, in the weight-for-age Spring Stakes on the paddock Totalisator, lost 1/6d on each 10/- they invested.
The 1927 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
The big field for the Derby suggested the likelihood of a fast gallop and the outsiders Padicol and Maltfern did their best to deliver, cutting out the first six furlongs in 74 ½ seconds. Following the pacemakers at the six-furlong mark were both Winalot and Merry Mint with Chromium, Trivalve, Sacedon and Sion close up, while both Statesman and Black Duchess were conceding the two leaders many lengths. After making a quick burst coming to the half-mile, Sion held a slight lead over Winalot and Chromium with Merry Mint poised behind enjoying a glorious run next to the rails. Trivalve was placed just behind this group in the company of Maltfern and Ragazzo. Although Sion was with Winalot entering the straight, he compounded shortly after that. At the Leger, Merry Mint challenged Winalot while Lewis was grinding out a challenge from Trivalve, who was coming under heavy punishment. In the end, Merry Mint failed to stay, not a shortcoming of which Trivalve could ever be accused, and he collared Winalot in the shadows of the judge’s box to win going away by a half-neck. Lewis’s vigour with the whip for almost the length of the straight perhaps owed more to Wackford Squeers than Tom Hales and the finest tradition of Australian knights of the pigskin, but then Trivalve was a horse that needed a lot of persuading. Black Duchess made up quite a lot of ground to fill the minor placing.
There were many prepared to blame Stan Davidson for going too soon on Winalot but the chestnut’s trainer, George Price, wasn’t numbered among them. Inclusive of the breeder’s premium, the race was worth £7,301 to Ernest Clarke – the most valuable Derby prize up to that time in Australia. Considering the overnight rain, the time for the run of 2 minutes and 33 seconds was particularly good. Thus, after twenty-six years, the old firm of Scobie and Lewis was back in the Derby business at last!
The Derby was Trivalve’s only appearance at the Randwick Spring Meeting. He declined his engagement in the Craven Plate and quickly returned to Melbourne where he ran a respectable second a week later in the Caulfield Guineas to the expensive Avant Courier. Scobie then laid him out for a tilt at the Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup double, and the stable helped themselves to some good bets. The colt thrived during that Melbourne spring and on Derby Day confirmed that he had improved more than any horse he defeated at Randwick when he won the Victoria Derby most convincingly. In the race, Lewis was again hard at work on him over half-a-mile from home, and it wasn’t until entering the straight that he began to take any ground off the leaders. Statesman ran a much-improved race on his Randwick showing to take second place in the Victoria Derby to confirm that staying was his forte; something he would establish conclusively on the same course a year later on the first Tuesday in November. Trivalve’s Victoria Derby was veteran Bob Lewis’ eighth victory in the race, eclipsing the record previously held by Tom Hales. It was a hard ride for Lewis, who earned his money on Trivalve at any time, but made more so that day because he had already begun a wasting regimen to satisfy Trivalve’s Cup weight.
Lewis was widely expected to declare about two pounds overweight on the colt for the big handicap on the following Tuesday but with steady fasting the jockey was able to go to scale at precisely 7 st. 6lb. James Scobie held three chances in that 1927 Melbourne Cup field, as apart from Trivalve, he also saddled Pilliewinkie and Star d’Or. But Trivalve, running as the third favourite in the race, was the hope of the side. Lewis declined rides in early races on Cup Day and even managed to have a snooze in the jockeys’ room before the main event. In the Cup, his stoutness of heart and fighting qualities once again enabled Trivalve to pull off the prize. A furlong from home, Silvius appeared to have the race won. However, with vigorous riding from Lewis, Trivalve was going right away on the post, his one length-winning margin established in a matter of strides. It was an exhausting ride for Lewis, particularly after the wasting, and that night he declined to attend Wirths’ Olympia to receive the famous gold-mounted whip traditionally presented to the winning jockey. Instead, Lewis sent his brother-in-law, Frank Bullock.
It was the fourth Melbourne Cup for both Scobie and Lewis, but the first for the owner, Ernest Clarke. It might have been his first, but Clarke wasn’t there to see it. Each year around Cup time the wealthy owner travelled to a favourite stream on the South Island of New Zealand for his annual fishing trip. Even the prospect of a Derby and Cup double at Flemington couldn’t deflect him from this beloved hobby. In the wake of the Melbourne Cup, Scobie had no hesitation in declaring Trivalve to be the finest staying three-year-old he had trained. It was a claim that Lewis echoed, although he rated La Carabine overall the better stayer. Never a commanding colt in appearance, at first glance Trivalve gave the impression of being on the small side, although he was just a shade under 16 hands. Nonetheless, he was a sturdy individual with a deep girth. Perhaps he was a little short in the neck, but he had great power behind the saddle and blessed with a long stride seen at its best on the long stretches of Randwick and Flemington.
Following a spell at Glenroy, Trivalve resumed racing at the Flemington Autumn Meeting and seemed as good as ever. He won the St. Leger as he pleased, as the odds of 20/1 laid on him suggested he would – leading all the way and running the third fastest time in the history of the race, thereby giving Lewis his eighth victory in the classic. Later in the week, he won the weight-for-age Governor’s Plate and the King’s Plate starting at long odds-on in both. The Sydney racing public now keenly looked forward to a likely clash with Limerick at weight-for-age at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. Unfortunately, when Trivalve came across to Sydney things went badly from the start. On the Friday night before the A.J.C. St Leger, more than two inches of rain fell on the racecourse. The track was so heavy on Easter Saturday that the committee held a meeting at an early hour to consider a postponement, although in the end it was decided to go ahead. Trivalve’s aversion to rain-affected going remained, and he ran a bad last in a field of three when a 2/1 on favourite.
As it transpired, it wasn’t just the soft going that brought about his failure. Trivalve contracted indigestion during that week and was beginning to go right off his form. Evidence that all was not well, came when again he was defeated at odds-on in the Cumberland Stakes, this time on the much firmer ground. Scobie relieved the horse of his other engagement at the meeting and afforded him a brief let-up. He believed Trivalve was back to his best when he decided to travel to Adelaide and contest the St Leger at Morphettville. As we have seen earlier in this history, Scobie was fond of running his horses at the good South Australian meetings. Unfortunately, it proved to be Trivalve’s last race when he sprung a tendon in the race and finished an inglorious third behind some rather ordinary animals. Always a trifle heavy at the point of the shoulder, the injury prevented him from being trained further although Scobie didn’t give up on him easily. The season that had begun with a bang ended in a whimper. Nonetheless, Trivalve’s slew of wins resulted in Ernest Clarke becoming Australia’s leading owner for 1927-28 with £29,350 – a record that was to last until the 1950-51 season when Ossie Porter exceeded it.
Trivalve was retired to the Melton Stud, standing at an initial fee of 50 guineas and effectively succeeding Cyklon there. Alas, he proved a profound disappointment to Scobie and Clarke, who had entertained such high hopes for his progeny. One of the problems at Melton was that most of the mares there boasted the same blood as his own i.e. The Welkin and Cyklon. Nor were his services rushed by visiting mares. His son, Supervalve, did run a dead-heat for the Port Adelaide Cup while Nappatara proved useful, and other horses like Bivalve and Pulsator won in town, but overall Trivalve was a failure. The decline of the Melton fortunes after the heady days of The Welkin and Cyklon, together with the depressed level of prize money in the mid-thirties, eventually led Ernest Clarke to disperse the stud in April 1935. It was the end of an era. At the time of the Melton Park dispersal, Scobie could recollect only ever buying three yearlings for Ernest Clarke in more than thirty years of training for the owner viz. Emir, Charles Stuart and Eye Glass. The first two have already been mentioned in this chronicle, while Eye Glass won him two Adelaide Cups. All of the other horses Scobie prepared for Clarke came directly from the Melton paddocks.
Percy Miller, Clive Inglis, Doug Webster, Otway Falkiner and other racing celebrities were among the crowd of over a thousand who attended the dispersal of the Melton Stud. Trivalve brought the trifling sum of 325 guineas, offered by E. J. H. Shaw of South Australia to serve him as a station sire. Trivalve reputedly died of snakebite in the Northern Territory – a far cry from the grandeur of Royal Randwick on Derby Day. Sic transit Gloria. Gilt Edge, a son of Valais, who cost a record price of 5000 guineas as a yearling, was the other stallion standing at Melton at the time; the oldest of his progeny were two-year-olds, and he was knocked down for 600 guineas. Mistral, a rising ten-year-old daughter of Cyklon and the future dam of that top sprinter, Zonda, brought 625 guineas. The land of the Melton Stud that, apart from Trivalve, had nourished such champions as Gloaming, Furious, Greenstead, and Thrice down the years, realised a price of only £17 an acre upon sale, bought by V.R.C. bookmaker, Vic Newhouse. Although carried on as a stud, it was on a much-limited scale relative to Clarke’s tenure. Newhouse intended to breed Clydesdales but commissioned the jockey Frank Bullock, who returned to England to ride a short time later, to purchase some suitable thoroughbred broodmares with which to re-stock the Melton paddocks.
Although it continued to be used as a thoroughbred stud for many years, even for a time in the 1950’s being owned by the jockeys Edgar Britt and Harold Jones, who had formed such a close friendship in their riding days in India and stood the chestnut stallion Avignon there, the glory days of Melton were effectively over. After the dispersal sale, Ernest Clarke continued to keep a few horses in training with Scobie, a practice he maintained right up to Scobie’s retirement from the Turf on the trainer’s 80th birthday in July 1940. As we shall see, one of those horses, Hua, proved to be outstanding and he went ever so close to emulating Trivalve’s Randwick Derby triumph. When Scobie decided to lay down his stopwatch, Clarke also called it a day, after being one of the leading owners and breeders on the Australian Turf for nigh on forty years. Throughout his days as an owner, Scobie always trained Clarke’s horses, winning him more than £150,000 in prize money and most of the important races on the racing calendar. Ernest Clarke died at the age of 72 at his St Kilda residence in January 1941, less than four months after Scobie’s own death.
The relationship of Scobie and Clarke is only two-thirds of the story of a triumvirate that came to dominate the Victorian Turf and beyond, for more than a quarter of a century. The third member of the team was, of course, jockey Bob Lewis. Trivalve was the eighteenth and last ride that Lewis enjoyed in the A.J.C. Derby. All told, he won the race four times and was runner-up on just as many occasions. He was successful in both his first and last rides in the race spanning twenty-seven years. Racing correspondents of the period often drew a comparison between the relationship of Clarke, Scobie and Lewis and their domination of the Victorian Turf, and similar domination of a different Victorian Turf, that of England in the latter half of the nineteenth century by Lord Falmouth, Matt Dawson and Fred Archer. Nor is the comparison any less flattering to the former trio than to the latter. Scobie never failed to acknowledge the enormous contribution of Lewis to the fortunes of Pytchley Lodge.
In the 1929 publication ‘My Life on the Australian Turf’, Scobie described Lewis as ‘more of a friend than a servant’: “Lewis was a very great asset to me, especially in the preparation of horses for races like the Melbourne Cup. No jockey could compare with Bob in giving you information about a thoroughbred that he had ridden in a gallop. Moreover, he took very little out of a horse. By this, I mean that he always kept something in reserve, and, in fact, didn’t knock a mount about. At the end of a trial, a horse ridden by Lewis wouldn’t be half as exhausted as it would have been if almost any other boy had been in the saddle.”
Lewis held a retainer from Sir Rupert Clarke right up to the time of the baronet’s death in 1926, and although he never maintained an official retainer from Ernest Clarke, there was a tacit understanding that he would always be available to ride his horses. As we have seen throughout this narrative, during the most rewarding years of the Scobie reign, the Master of Pytchley Lodge would often send his team of horses nominated for the A.J.C. Spring and Autumn Meetings to Randwick with Lewis in charge, well ahead of his own arrival. Lewis would supervise the loading and unloading of the thoroughbreds from railway trains, settle them into stables and oversee their early track work.
In the light of the above encomium from Scobie, it is sad to relate that for a time the Scobie-Lewis relationship soured rather badly. It is never easy for any sportsman to recognise that the time for retirement has arrived, particularly for one such as Bob Lewis who had defied Father Time rather longer than most. In my experience, I think it is best to retire when people ask ‘why?’ rather than ‘why not?’ It wasn’t the case with Lewis. In December 1933, James Scobie visited Sydney and arranged for the well-known apprentice Edgar Britt, who had only recently returned from partnering Winooka successfully in the United States, to do the stable’s riding at the forthcoming autumn meetings, and, upon completion of his apprenticeship, move to Melbourne and become the stable rider. When this news leaked out, the spectre of being usurped by a younger man bruised Lewis’ pride, and rather than be sacked, he sought to resign, leaving a letter to that effect at the Melbourne office of Ernest Clarke.
That Lewis had chosen to publicly tear open a breach in a friendship that had lasted more than thirty years at a time when the other two principals, Scobie and Clarke, were both absent from Melbourne, upset Scobie more than the announcement itself. Scobie only learned of Lewis’ action when a paragraph in a Sydney newspaper was brought to his attention while waiting for the return train to Melbourne on Central railway station on a Saturday night. Lewis was 55 years of age at the time. Lewis’s action came fast upon a disagreement between himself and Scobie over the mount on Petau in the Bendigo Cup a few weeks before. At that meeting, Lewis was asked by Scobie to take the mount on Petau, a horse owned by Clarke, at the last moment but bluntly refused. It was understood that apprentice H. Moran, who had been getting many of the Scobie mounts in the weeks beforehand, would have the ride on the well-supported Petau. When Scobie, realising that Moran could not claim an allowance, offered Lewis the mount, he was dumbfounded to hear the veteran refuse.
Scobie never wholly despaired of being able to contrive a rapprochement. Indeed, the breach wasn’t to last, and the estrangement ended in September 1935. Despite resisting to the very end, Lewis finally resigned his licence in 1938 after 46 years in the saddle, to become a grazier – conducting properties at Glenroy and Ferntree Gully. Asked prior to his retirement to name the best five horses he ever saw or rode, Lewis rated La Carabine the best stayer, Trivalve the best-staying three-year-old, Manfred the fastest horse, Wolowa the smartest from the barrier, and Phar Lap, the best all-rounder. The great jockey died at Glenroy on March 31st, 1947.
And before I leave this chapter, perhaps I should mention in passing what became of the other prominent Derby horses in the class of 1927. Winalot, having raced below his best in Melbourne, was submitted at auction a few weeks after the 1927 Melbourne Cup. He was purchased for 2100 guineas on behalf of prominent pastoralist E. K. White, a man who had at various times in his association with the Turf demonstrated a willingness to spend lavishly, if not wisely, on bloodstock. Many considered Winalot well sold at the price. But on this occasion White’s judgment was sound. The strikingly handsome chestnut horse proved himself top drawer later that autumn when Joe Cook trained him to win the Warwick Farm Cup, the A.J.C. St Leger and Sydney Cup.
The following season he dead-heated with Limerick in the Spring Stakes at Randwick in the race that was the prelude to the end of Limerick’s unbeaten thirteen-race sequence. All told, Winalot won £19,129 but, strange to say, he never won a race in Melbourne despite being campaigned there over three spring meetings. After Winalot broke down in his off-foreleg in the autumn of 1930, White sold the horse to North Queensland breeder, T. J. Salmon, who installed him at the head of his stud at Burdekin Downs. Winalot only served two seasons there. He died in January 1934, destroyed as a result of injuries sustained when he galloped into the fence surrounding his yard; he was buried on the Bluff Downs in the Charters Towers district. Considering the limited opportunities Winalot received at the stud, he sired some useful gallopers although none of his progeny ever won an important race on the Australian Turf.
Sion proved an expensive horse to Ned Moss, for apart from his 4100 guineas outlay at the yearling sales, he dropped a lot of money on him on the racecourse, particularly in his two-year-old season. Moss parted company with him in January 1928 but Sion at least redressed part of his financial imbalance when he won a high-weight handicap at the A.J.C. Anniversary Meeting on the very last occasion he carried Ned’s famous green and black jacket. Bob Miller bought him for 1600 guineas although Bob himself became exasperated with the horse’s inability to live up to his track gallops, and sold out soon after. Sion won only five races in his entire career but was at his best as a four-year-old when trained by Chris O’Rourke. In the spring of that season, he finished second in the Epsom Handicap – beaten a half-length by Amounis – while in the autumn he lost the Doncaster by half-a-head to Karuma, conceding him half-a-stone. Sion did, however, develop into the fine stamp of a stallion he always promised to be and won the Royal Agricultural Society’s blue ribbon in the blood stallion class at the 1933 Sydney Royal Easter Show. He later stood at Alan Cooper’s Segenhoe Stud, where, among his progeny, was the 1943 Stradbroke Handicap winner, Ballyvista.
Perhaps the best-remembered horse from that 1927 Derby field, apart from Trivalve himself, was the other Melbourne Cup winner numbered among the starters. I refer, of course, to Bill Kelso’s old favourite, Statesman.
Kelso bred the colt from a Martagon mare, Marcelle, which he kept at the Kia Ora Stud. Statesman, after the A.J.C. Derby went to Melbourne where he beat all but Trivalve in the Victoria Derby and then ran sixth to the same horse in the Melbourne Cup. Kelso then laid out a long-term plan to win the following year’s Melbourne Cup with the handsome chestnut son of Demosthenes. The old trainer didn’t start the horse again until after the weights for the 1928 Cup were declared and Statesman allotted eight stone. The stable then proceeded to back their charge in a series of well-priced wagers that eventually saw Statesman firm to near favouritism. Partnered by Jimmy Munro, Statesman upheld his part of the bargain when he rather easily defeated Strephon for the biggest slice of the prize.
Unfortunately, he broke down during the following autumn. Kelso then took the unusual step of having him gelded relatively late in life – as a late-season four-year-old – and gave the horse a very long spell in the vain hope that the injured leg would mend. But Statesman was good for just two more starts before Kelso was forced to retire him permanently. Statesman might have only won three races over four seasons on the Turf, but they were the brand of wins that resulted in a tidy accretion to the Kelso bank account. Each of the victories involved big betting coups, and the Cup prize itself in 1926 was worth almost £10,000 to the winner. When Kelso decided to give Statesman away, the old fellow provided new and satisfying service as a lady’s hack for a certain Mrs Traill.