The real story behind the 1928 A.J.C. Derby began on a Tuesday morning in August 1926 and the dispersal sale of E. G. Blume’s Woodlands Stud. Edward Goddard Blume was one of Queensland’s best-known pastoralists, having moved to the colony in 1889-90. In the course of a few years, he had established himself with extensive properties on the Thompson River and beyond, including Bexley, Oakleigh Park, Yamburra, Forrester and Dunrobin stations. As a racing man, he was one of Queensland’s greatest supporters. In his first forays on the Turf, Blume had raced under the pseudonym of ‘F. J. Craven’ and in 1911 struck the jackpot with Lady Medallist, whom he bought as a tried horse and later that year won both the Craven Plate and Caulfield Cup with her. It was then that he decided to start a stud, buying the old Woodlands homestead on the middle Hunter where the late Henry Charles White had bred horses so many years before.
Set amongst the limestone bluffs and the rich, alluvial soils of the Hunter Valley, Woodlands was and still is, one of Australia’s historic thoroughbred nurseries. In those days it consisted of over 1700 acres, bound by the river on one side and boasting a convict-built residence of solid stone. One of the first stallions that Blume had stood at Woodlands was the Melbourne Cup winner, Piastre, purchased after the horse had become too valuable for siring army remounts. The Caulfield Cup winner, Shepherd King, and the imported stallion Duke Humphrey later joined him at the stud.
However, it was Duke Humphrey that was to prove the most expensive and disappointing of the trio to the studmaster. A bay horse by John O’Gaunt from the mare, Valve, he had been bred by Lord Rosebery in England in 1911. It was a splendid pedigree. Valve, his dam, was a half-sister to Cicero and Chelandry, and a three-quarter sister to Ladas, the English Derby hero also owned by Lord Rosebery. Apart from Duke Humphrey, Valve had also produced Vaucluse, winner of The One Thousand Guineas. Duke Humphrey cost Blume £2,000 even in the dark days of World War I – big money at a time when significant bargains were going in British bloodstock. Alas, Duke Humphrey wasn’t one of them and as events proved he would have been expensive at half the price. The stallion arrived in Australia in June 1916 and when his ship first docked in Sydney was available for inspection at Chisholm’s yards for a few weeks. Despite his impressive pedigree, few broodmare owners were impressed on the strength of appearances. The horse began his stud career later that year at a service fee of 30 guineas.
Blume was unfortunate in losing both Piastre and Shepherd King early in their stud lives, and their removal and Duke Humphrey’s failure prompted him to conclude that perhaps conducting a thoroughbred stud on the Hunter River wasn’t meant to be his true mission in life. At the time of the Woodlands dispersal sale in August 1926, the best of the Duke Humphrey progeny to have raced was Earl of Seafield, winner of the Perth Cup in 1921. It wasn’t much of a claim to greatness and explained why there was so little interest among buyers for either Duke Humphrey or his stock. But there was one man in attendance at Woodlands that day convinced he could see a worthy purchase or two among the yearlings, and that was the New Zealand studmaster, R. G. Mackenzie. During proceedings, Mackenzie bought two yearling colts by Duke Humphrey. The first was a whole bay with black points, from the imported mare Princess Hazel and cost 50 guineas; the second colt bought later in the day for 70 guineas, was a bay with broken white marks on both hind coronets and one fore coronet, out of the mare Shepherd Princess. Both yearlings were shipped to New Zealand early the following month to mature in Mackenzie’s home paddocks.
It was early in 1927 that the Auckland sportsman, Charlie Macindoe, asked leading New Zealand trainer, Jack Jamieson, to inspect a few yearlings at Mackenzie’s stud with the intention of buying one of them. Jamieson obliged and liked the look of the whole bay son of Duke Humphrey and accordingly recommended him. In late August of that year, the colt was registered by Macindoe with the New Zealand Racing Conference as Prince Humphrey; his pedigree cited as from the mare Shepherd Princess. A sparse and lean horse, it wasn’t long before he demonstrated to Jamieson that he possessed the gift of the going, impressing in parade sprints at Marton and Wanganui before making an impressive debut at the Avondale Jockey Club’s Spring Meeting when he ran second in the rich Avondale Stakes. A fortnight later, Prince Humphrey opened his winning account with a smart performance in the prestigious Welcome Stakes at the Auckland Race Club’s October Meeting beating fourteen other two-year-olds quite comfortably.
It suggested the youngster was one of the best juveniles of the season, a fact he confirmed later in the year at the major autumn meetings when runner-up in the Great Northern Champagne Stakes at Auckland and the All-Aged Stakes at Avondale. Prince Humphrey that season assisted his coming trainer to finish runner-up behind George New in the New Zealand trainers’ premiership. In the years to come, Jack Jamieson would establish a quite fearsome reputation in the betting rings of Sydney and Melbourne when he made regular trips across the Tasman, and eventually, he even chose to leave his Glenora Park stables and settle at Randwick. But in the winter of 1928 Jamieson carefully planned what, until then, was only his second visit to these shores, convinced that in the son of Duke Humphrey he possessed a genuine Derby candidate. It was to be a tour that would whet Jamieson’s appetite for our rich stakes, and seem to confirm to him that here there lived vast numbers of rich bookmakers just waiting to be relieved of their ill-gotten gains.
If the two-year-old scene in New Zealand during 1927-28 suggested that there was no one dominant colt, the situation across the Tasman was rather different. Periodically the public learns that such and such an animal is the horse of the century. The more excitable scribes in the Australian ‘fourth estate’ that season began to bestow just such an appellation on Mollison, a strongly built gelding by the Queensland based stallion Seremond from the former top mare, Molly’s Robe. Certainly, Mollison was the best horse ever to carry the yellow and white diamonds of his big-spending Victorian owner, E. M. Pearce, and if ever a man’s lavish expenditure on bloodstock deserved the reward of a champion then the V.A.T.C. committeeman was surely that man. In the heady euphoria of froth and glitter that were the late twenties, that brilliant interval of excess before the sudden onset of the Depression, there were many high rollers in the world of bloodstock but none more so than this wealthy Melbourne wool magnate.
Initially, Pearce raced under the assumed name of ‘Mr Melrose’, but his conspicuous outlays always made that fiction a difficult one to sustain. By the time Mollison burst onto the scene, Pearce had begun racing his horses in his own name. Whereas he had established his public profile by being ringside when buying yearlings at auction, he acquired Mollison in an altogether more prosaic manner. The Brisbane pressman, A. E. Austin had spotted the youngster galloping in the paddocks of the Lyndhurst Stud on the Darling Downs and advised Pearce that he might well be worth buying even before he came to a public auction. A wink is as good as a nod in racing parlance, and Pearce agreed on a price of 600 guineas with the breeder, Mrs Hillcoat, together with a winning contingency of a further 100 guineas. After all, the colt came from one of the best families in the Australian Stud Book.
I know that I digress, but the acquisition and naming of Molly’s Robe by the Hillcoat family is one of the more endearing, romantic tales in the history of the Australian Turf. In the early years of the last century, thoroughbred yearling sales were conducted in Brisbane by the firm L. E. Walker and Co. at stables in Adelaide St, adjoining what is now King George Square. In the company’s sales catalogue of 1917, lot number 8 was a rich bay filly with black points by Syce from the sound-producing mare, Microbe. Mr Hillcoat came into Brisbane that day with the purpose of buying a confirmation dress for his daughter Molly but was deflected from his goal by a friend who invited him to attend the sales. Instead of purchasing a dress that day, he bought the bay filly for 200 guineas instead.
When he arrived home that night, his wife asked: ‘Did you buy it?’ He responded that he had indeed purchased ‘Molly’s Robe’. She proved a wonderful racehorse and one of the best in Queensland for years, winning a string of races there and later in Victoria, many with big weights including both the Oakleigh Plate and a Newmarket Handicap in which she led all the way. But she wasn’t just a sprinter. For a few years, she held the Queensland record for eleven furlongs. At stud she proved equally adept and while Mollison was her third foal and the best of her progeny, in the years to follow she would also produce the good horses, Buzzard King, Lyndhurst and Corsage. Mollison was the result of her first mating to Seremond, an imported stallion that had run third in the English St Leger and was standing at J. G. McDougall’s Lyndhurst Stud. Seremond was an impressive stallion indeed, although southerners sometimes deprecated his quality because most of his winners came on Queensland tracks.
Even at the time of his purchase, the Molly’s Robe colt though not overly tall was stout for his age, and the decision was made to cut him early and send him to Mount Martha for a spell. When it came to registering his new purchase, Pearce chose a name that was a play both on the name of the dam, as well as the name of the famous aviatrix who had recently set the record for a flight from England to Australia. Amy Johnson might have been her maiden name, but the marriage register recognised her as Mrs Mollison. The acknowledgement wasn’t long in coming that breaking the clock while flying was an attribute this dashing racehorse shared with his more famous namesake. Mollison joined the other expensive horseflesh owned by Pearce when he entered the Caulfield stables of Fred Foulsham. As a trainer, Foulsham already knew something about that thoroughbred family having prepared Molly’s Robe to win the Oakleigh Plate in 1920.
Mollison was to prove that very rare juvenile – one that retained an unblemished record in his first season. In seven starts coming in the very best of company against his own age during the spring and autumn meetings in Melbourne and Sydney, the powerful gelding never looked like losing. He came to hand very quickly and was one of the first youngsters seen out when he won both the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes at Flemington and the Debutant Stakes at Caulfield in early October. Then, despite the full 10lb penalty, he darted past his rivals in the Maribyrnong Plate on the opening day of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. Even at that early stage, people were asking the question as to whether this fellow would stay? In the autumn he resumed from a spell to lead all the way in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington, and the closest he came to defeat was at his next start in the Ascot Vale Stakes, when the 10lb penalty enabled The Happy Mutineer to get close to him on the line.
The pleasure of witnessing Mollison take out both major juvenile races at Sydney’s autumn meeting might have been denied Mr Pearce, given that he had embarked for England shortly after the Flemington carnival ended, but it was a pleasure that the Sydney racing public keenly enjoyed. It was their first opportunity of seeing the son of Seremond in action, and he could hardly have been more impressive. Neither the clockwise way of going nor a heavy Randwick track stopped his progress in the Sires’ Produce Stakes which he won easily, and four days later on firmer ground and over the shorter course of the Champagne Stakes, the result was just the same. That completed his book of engagements for the season and Mollison’s winnings from his unbeaten seven appearances stood at £17,348. I might add that a slice of Mollison’s juvenile winnings was ploughed back into horseflesh at the Sydney yearling sales held during that autumn meeting at which Mollison was so supreme. E. M. Pearce might have been on the high seas and headed for England at the time, but he was the principal party behind the Australian record price of 6750 guineas given at those sales for a handsome and well-bred chestnut colt by Saltash, a great-grandson of the famous Sceptre and from the same family as Silvius, offered by Percy Miller.
It was a fabulous price and a record that was to stand in Australia for thirty years! Certainly, when the colt stepped into the ring that day he needed no introduction by the auctioneer Reg Inglis. For weeks past his merits had been discussed and as the Sydney Morning Herald put it at the time: “there was only one conclusion to be found – he is the greatest individual of his age to enter a sales-ring”. Yet when one looks back at that 1928 Inglis catalogue it is difficult to discern what all the fuss was about. At the time Saltash was a relatively untried sire with only one limited crop racing and those of his progeny that had hit the racecourse were distinctly underwhelming. Of course, Saltash himself in terms of pedigree and racecourse performances looked the goods.
Bred and raced by Lord Astor and trained at Manton by Alec Taylor, Saltash only started in seven races but had won three of them including The Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park (10f) in 1923 when he led throughout. Moreover, being by Sunstar out of Hamoaze, he was a full brother to Buchan, who himself had won two Eclipse Stakes and was the leading sire in England. In addition, Saltash was a three-quarter brother-in-blood to Craig-An-Eran (The Two Thousand Guineas and Eclipse Stakes) and Sunny Jane (The Oaks). Saltash boasted a sound Derby pedigree, too. While he had only been able to finish sixth in the 1923 English Derby won by Papyrus, his full brother, Buchan and two his half-brothers, Tamar and St Germans, had all finished runners-up in the English Derby of their year when ridden by Frank Bullock wearing the 2nd Viscount Astor’s colours. Percy Miller paid a big price for Saltash to join Magpie, Demosthenes, Nassau and Sarchedon at Kia Ora in August 1924 and he served his first mares there a few weeks later.
So much for Saltash, the sire of this record-priced yearling sold by William Inglis in 1928? What of the dam? Well, by contrast, Weltea, the dam of this ‘wonder’ colt, had cost just 900 guineas as a yearling and had done very little racing in the colours of her owner, Frank Villeneuve Smith, a well-known Adelaide barrister. Indeed, her only win came in a Trial Stakes in Port Adelaide. Breeders of the old school used to have a great dislike for the first progeny of a mare but there was no such prejudice against the last, a fact that was confirmed by the record-breaking bids. I think the big attraction of Weltea was that she was a daughter of The Welkin and he was beginning to garner a deserved reputation as a sire of broodmares, while her dam was Lutea, by Chaucer, and a winner in Britain.
Whatever the mystique of the yearling’s pedigree, it was apparent from the outset that there would be keen competition for the Saltash colt. The opening bid was 1000 guineas but quickly escalated. James Scobie took it to 5000 guineas and then engaged somewhat reluctantly in a spirited bidding duel with R. E. H. (Robert) Hope of Adelaide who got in the final and successful bid of 6750 guineas. The Newmarket crowd burst into spontaneous applause at the pluck, or madness, of the successful syndicate. And it was a syndicate – four pastoralists viz. E. M. Pearce, Robert Hope, Joseph Fell and F. F. Robinson – all linked either by their fellowship on the committees of the Victorian Amateur Turf Club and the Williamstown Racing Club, or the board of Yarra Falls Ltd, one of the most successful woollen mills in the land. And yet for all of their collective wisdom on matters of the Turf, it was a silly price to pay and time would show just how silly it was.
So, how and why did it happen? Well, when the four men got together and decided to buy the colt, they failed to set a price limit. One partner, Robert Hope was deputed to attend the sale to do the bidding while on the day itself not one of the others was available to consult if the action got out of hand. And as we have seen, one of the group, Ernest March Pearce, was sailing for the Old Dart. And thus on that famous Thursday, April 12, 1928, the hapless Hope, hoping for the best, just kept on nodding to the pre-arranged plan. Perhaps, after all, there is some truth in the hypothesis of nominative determinism i.e. that people tend to gravitate towards activities that fit their names.
However, what the syndicate never expected was to lock horns with A. B. ‘Bunny’ Nagel, a well-known member of the Queensland squattocracy, for whom Jim Scobie was acting. Nagel, a leading light on the Australian Turf as well as being a generous philanthropist, enjoyed extensive holdings around Charleville and his Dillalah station. But he was also a fierce competitor at livestock auctions who regarded capitulation as cowardice, and on that day he was at his most rampant and combative. Scobie and he were both seated under the famous fig tree at Newmarket. As Clive Inglis later recalled: “After many efforts, Scobie finally succeeded in getting up and walking away, deaf to Bunny’s exhortations to go on.”
Now, as Oscar Wilde once observed, there are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The latter is much the worse as E. M. Pearce and his fellow syndicate confreres discovered with their expensive purchase. The colt in question later raced as Dominant and proved anything but that on the racecourse. Cecil Godby, who was his first trainer, had no luck with him, and it wasn’t until Dominant went into the Williamstown stables of Bob Sinclair that he realised some return on his owner’s outrageous outlay in the likes of the Bourke Handicap and the Leonard Stakes. Still, I suppose it is easy to pay such record prices for a yearling as E. M. Pearce did when one has the season’s champion juvenile and prospective Derby favourite in one’s keeping. And Mollison’s juvenile domination ensured that he did winter as a short-priced favourite for the classics – after all, he was a strongly built gelding and well up to carrying Derby weight. Moreover, his versatility in all weather conditions, allied to the fact that he wasn’t a tearaway speedster but a relaxed customer, induced critics to believe the Derby trip might not be beyond his compass. Pearce had made it clear before leaving for overseas that Mollison’s spring mission would indeed be the Derbies and that the gelding wouldn’t even be among the Melbourne Cup nominations.
During June and early July 1928, there was more activity on Randwick racecourse than usual for that time of the year. The reason was that it was being used as the location for much of the shooting of the film ‘Odds On’, a silent picture directed by the noted cinematographer, Arthur Higgins. ‘Odds On’ was a romantic drama of the Australian Turf and sadly is now regarded as a lost picture. More’s the pity, given that some of Australia’s champion horses, such as Limerick and Winalot, and champion horsemen, such as W. H. McLachlan, had walk-on parts, particularly in the early morning trackwork scenes. One of the characters in the picture was a racecourse ‘urger’, played by Arthur Tauchert. As the Morning Bulletin observed: “It was like a whiff from the past to see him produce an umbrella and three cards and nonchalantly ask the onlookers to ‘find the lady’.” Some of the sub-titles were snappy and clever as well, particularly that which described the scene of the betting ring as: ‘The Place Where the Bettors Meet Their Betters.’ ‘Odds On’ was screened in Sydney and Melbourne in November to coincide with Cup Week.
Mollison may have wintered for the Derby as a short-priced favourite, but Jack Jamieson was quietly confident that Prince Humphrey would be competitive in the classic; he brought his small team across the Tasman even before the new racing season had opened. Prince Humphrey made his Australian debut at Warwick Farm on the first Saturday of the new season in a minor six-furlong handicap, running a creditable second, and backed up a week later to share a dead-heat in a flying handicap at Canterbury Park. Prince Humphrey then clashed with Mollison and the other top three-year-olds in the Hobartville Stakes.
Despite not having appeared in public since the autumn, Mollison was sent to the post at Warwick Farm at the prohibitive odds of 3/1 on and won rather easily from Rampion’s younger brother, Ramulus, with Prince Humphrey a fast-finishing third. Jamieson was dissatisfied with the task that his New Zealand rider, Barry, had set Prince Humphrey in the race and promptly sacked him from the horse. Instead of then clashing again with the first two colts in the Rosehill Guineas, Jamieson elected to give Prince Humphrey his final Derby trial against the older horses in the Hill Stakes, run on the same programme. In the Guineas, Mollison extended his unbeaten sequence to nine when he was untroubled to again relegate Ramulus into second placing in a time that equalled the race record. Prince Humphrey, on the other hand, had to be content with the second prize when he chased home the mighty Limerick in the weight-for-age contest.
A crowd of 75,000 people packed into Randwick for Derby Day with the racecourse in excellent order. When the bagmen had first issued their Derby lists a few weeks before the race, the best price on offer about Mollison was 5/2, and by Derby Day he had firmed into 4/7. Now there have been other Derby favourites that have started at odds on, but 10/1 bar one as was the market in this particular classic, was something decidedly unusual. Prince Humphrey and The Happy Warrior shared second favouritism at those double-figure odds. Just how difficult it is for a man to buy a yearling good enough to contest a Derby, let alone win one, is shown by the dozen that challenged for the race that year.
Seven of the field were home-breds, while of the other starters both Mollison and Oatendale had been bought privately. The only three horses to have gone through public auction were Prince Humphrey, Coercion and Kinbally. The field boasted close relatives of some recent Derby luminaries. Ramulus was a full brother to Rampion while Roscrea was another in the race by Rossendale and he was a half-brother to Limerick and Ballymena; both Ramulus and Roscrea raced in the same interests as their distinguished forebears. Also in the field was Cimbrian, a half-brother to Heroic who ran in the colours of Alec Creswick. Jack King saddled up two in the race in the form of Oatendale – winner of the Wentworth Handicap the previous season – and Kinbally, and made no secret of his preference for the former.
The 1928 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below.
When the barrier rose, Mollison got squeezed between Coercion and Ramulus, but quickly recovered to lead past the judge’s box the first time in company with Ramulus. Shortly afterwards Coercion chopped across Mollison rather sharply to take the lead. Coercion then made the pace for most of the race until about three furlongs from home, when Ramulus headed him and briefly gave the Brien family visions of a fraternal double triumph in the classic. Throughout the race, Mollison had raced comfortably in second place, and he remained there until the field had negotiated the home bend, followed by The Happy Warrior, Cimbrian, Prince Humphrey and Oatendale. It was passing the Leger that Daniels made his move on the hitherto unbeaten Mollison, heading Ramulus only to be immediately challenged by Prince Humphrey.
In the last fifty yards, the Queensland favourite was fairly outstayed by the New Zealand colt, to lose by three-quarters of a length. Mollison just managed to hold on to second placing with a neck to spare from the fast-finishing Oatendale. Ramulus dropped out of the money near the post to run fifth with no more than three lengths separating him from the winner. The time for the race of 2 minutes 32 ¾ seconds was just three-quarters of a second outside the race record and a figure that had only twice been beaten. After nine successive victories, Mollison had tasted defeat in the race that E. M. Pearce coveted above all others. The luckless owner had missed his champion’s triumphs at Randwick in the autumn, having been in England, and he had only just returned from the Old Country. For neither the first nor the last time on a racecourse the rider of the beaten favourite, Daniels, came in for a deal of criticism after the race. He was criticised for lack of vigour in the final furlong, particularly in comparison with the lively Munro; but the pace set by Coercion for about half the journey had more to do with the favourite’s downfall than any shortcoming on the part of his jockey. Mollison was a very tired horse when he returned to the weighing yard.
Prince Humphrey was the first A.J.C. Derby winner for both trainer Jack Jamieson and jockey Jim Munro, and while Jamieson would win the race again, it was to be Munro’s only victory. The jockey was born into a racing family; his father, Hugh, trained Revenue, the winner of the 1901 Melbourne Cup, as well as the champion mare Wakeful, and Jim’s uncle, Freddy Dunn, generally rode the both of them. Three of the Munro boys will figure in this Derby chronicle: Jimmy and his younger brother Darby, both rode winners of the A.J.C. classic, while a third brother, Jack, trained one. All the boys were born at Caulfield, and it wasn’t until 1916 that Hugh decided to move his family to Randwick. Jim’s precocious talent in the saddle at early morning trackwork soon attracted the attention of both Richard Wootton and William Kelso, but his father, Hugh, resisted their offers of indentureship and apprenticed Jim himself, although the lad eventually completed his time with E. F. Walker.
Jim was just beaten in the 1921-22 jockeys’ premiership by Rae Johnstone when both were apprentices and, but for taking a holiday at a critical juncture, must surely have won the title. His first big race winner came at the early age of sixteen on Prince Charles, owned by John Brown, in the 1922 Sydney Cup. Later big race successes included two Melbourne Cups (Windbag and Statesman); King’s Cup (Valparaiso); Epsom Handicap (Amounis twice and Boaster); Victoria Derby (Liberal); Newmarket Handicap (Quintus); and the Metropolitan (Loquacious). He only won the Sydney jockeys’ championship once, that coming in the 1925-26 racing season. This seeming lack of success was almost wholly attributable to the fact that all his riding life the scales were his constant enemy, and a restricted riding book was the result, something that eventually forced him to ride overseas where weight limits were not as constricted.
Munro enjoyed remarkable success on Derby Day 1928, for, apart from winning the classic on Prince Humphrey, he also won the Epsom Handicap on Amounis, while later at the meeting he added the Breeders’ Plate, Craven Plate, Gimcrack Stakes, Sydney Handicap and Randwick Plate. Munro had only resumed riding a few months earlier, having served a twelve-months disqualification over his ride on Songift at Canterbury in July 1927. It was certainly a timely resumption, for apart from his spate of triumphs at that A.J.C. Spring Meeting, less than a month later he won the Melbourne Cup on Statesman.
Munro later rode with equal success overseas. In 1930 he went to Germany to ride for Baron Oppenheim, where he headed the winning jockeys’ list and won the German Derby on the champion colt, Alba. As triumphant as that single-season proved to be, the cold weather there cured him for all time of any desire to return to ride in England or Europe. Rather, when he later chose to extend his career by riding overseas, his preferred destination was India. The expatriate Australian brothers, Alex and Roy Higgins retained Munro’s services there for five seasons and he rode with considerable distinction numbering two Viceroy’s Cups among his victories. For Munro those five seasons in India were delightful. Big retainers, liberal percentages and substantial gratuities made riding winners there a pleasant task.
Munro’s links with the Higgins’ brothers led directly to a young Edgar Britt getting his big break in racing. On one of his trips home from India, Munro was commissioned to engage a lightweight jockey for the Higgins’ stable and his choice fell on Edgar Britt. Munro and his wife treated Edgar as a son during his time there and Munro generously shared with the lad the benefit of his hardwon experience on the subcontinent. After those international odysseys, Munro found it a struggle to ride at 8 st. 7lb. Increasing weight eventually prompted his retirement in November 1938 at the age of just 32. He then became a trainer the following year and enjoyed much success with a small team; his best horses being Tel Asur, Tahmoor and Humming Top while he also enjoyed a Sydney Cup victory in 1952 with the lightweight, Opulent. Jim Munro finally quit the Turf altogether in the early fifties, spending much of his time in England where his daughter married the leading English jockey, Geoff Lewis. Munro died at Randwick in July 1974.
Prince Humphrey ran once more at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting when under dull and threatening skies, he finished third, beaten three lengths, behind Amounis and Fourth Hand in the Craven Plate. Nonetheless, owner C. G. Macindoe at least had the satisfaction of being the leading owner at the Randwick Spring Meeting when Prince Humphrey’s win and minor placing credited him with £6,957. Taken to Melbourne, and stabled at the Mackinnon and Cox establishment near Flemington racecourse, Prince Humphrey’s only run before the Victoria Derby came when he ran last at Moonee Valley in the W. S. Cox Plate won by Highland. Rumours began to circulate that not all was well with the colt and he eased markedly in Victoria Derby betting although part of the reason for the drift was the dramatic emergence of a new wonder colt in Melbourne.
A week is a long time, both in politics and in racing. Immediately in the wake of the A.J.C. Derby, the conventional wisdom, for seven days at least, was that Prince Humphrey, Mollison and Oatendale would fight their Randwick battle all over again up the Flemington straight undisturbed by others. What dramatically changed that assessment was the performance of a stylish chestnut son of Saltash, who won the V.R.C. Stand Handicap at Flemington one week after the Randwick classic. Strephon, a late September foal and a 525-guineas yearling purchase owned by Sol Green and trained by Lou Robertson, triumphed in a field of twenty-three that included several popular Caulfield Cup candidates. Despite the disadvantage of being drawn wide, Strephon, under the guidance of the stable apprentice, Bobby Howes, had come with a brilliant late run to cut the leaders down in the straight with telling strides. Strephon, with 7 st 3lb, carried 2lb more than his Melbourne Cup weight, a race for which he now firmed markedly in the betting. Not that the bookmakers had been left untouched that day at Flemington either for his price had halved from 8/1 late in the betting on the Stand Handicap.
Strephon wasn’t an entirely unknown quantity on the day as the son of Saltash had made two previous appearances on racecourses before the public. The colt had started just once as a juvenile when unplaced in the Mernda Handicap at Moonee Valley back in February and then had resumed racing in early September at Aspendale Park when Sol Green had made a killing with him in a Three-Year-Old Handicap. The latter race was over seven-and-a-half furlongs and given that the colt had no public form to his credit, he was at a long price in the market early that day. He was not inquired for until a few minutes before the start at Aspendale Park when a couple of commissioners went down the rails and took all the hundreds to ten that were offering. The favourite for the race was a bay gelding by the name of Shadow King, a Comedy King horse for whom there was big money as trainer Darcy Eccles and owner Frank Shillabeer, the leading spirit in the new Aspendale Park Club, went to work in the ring. Despite such opposition, Strephon’s price halved – a measure of the stable’s confidence!
The start was by no means a good one and Strephon was one of the worst served with the result that he was in the rear division when the field had gone a furlong. Once he did settle down, however, he made up his ground very quickly. Despite being carried wide on the turn, he cantered away from the opposition in the run home and won with his ears pricked. Shadow King, for all of the frustrated glory that he would accrue over four successive years at Flemington on the first Tuesday of November, was never dangerous and eventually finished up a poor fifth. The Sporting Globe’s banner headline after the meeting read: “Derby and Cup Colt Wins Handsomely at Aspendale”. Now, Aspendale Park in early September wasn’t the sort of place where one usually spotted a Victoria Derby winner and Melbourne Cup favourite, but that is exactly what the large crowd at the seaside course saw for the cost of their entrance money that day.
The matter of Strephon’s breeding and the manner in which he finished saw him firm as a Derby candidate. Strephon was by Saltash, the Kia Ora Stud stallion discussed earlier in this chapter and the horse responsible for the most expensive yearling ever sold in Australia up to that time. Strephon was out of the New Zealand-bred mare, Soldier’s Love, a daughter of Martian and Lichen. Soldier’s Love had displayed some ability in her early days. She won a Sapling Stakes at Woodville, and other successes gained in New Zealand included a Nursery Handicap at Napier, while she was also placed in two or three good events. It is easy to understand why Percy Miller bought her as a broodmare for his Kia Ora Stud at Scone.
Indeed, Soldier’s Love, and therefore Strephon, boasted a very stout pedigree all through. The value of Strephon’s maternal grandsire, Martian, was widely acknowledged. No other sire up to that time in the southern hemisphere had sired so many first-class stayers. On no less than six occasions, his progeny had proven victorious in the New Zealand Cup. Cock-a-Hoop, the next sire on the distaff side of Strephon was a full brother to that great English staying mare, Pretty Polly. He was certainly not in her class but very few horses were. Next in Strephon’s strict maternal line of sires came Spearmint, the English Derby-winning son of Carbine. Little wonder that the colt began to appeal as both a Derby and Cup prospect. However, having expatiated at length about the quality of Strephon and his maternal antecedents, it may surprise you to learn that when he was offered as a yearling at those 1925 sales, Percy Miller wasn’t the vendor.
As we will see throughout this chronicle, the proprietor of the Kia Ora Stud set high standards for his broodmares as well as his stallions and if their progeny didn’t come up to his exacting standard, he had no compunction about getting rid of them. And when Percy Miller decided to cull his mares, he generally sent a batch of them to the Maitland saleyards. After having been served by Saltash in the previous spring, Soldier’s Love had developed the distressing habit of windsucking. Perhaps Miller didn’t realise that the mare was in foal, but whatever the full circumstances, windsuckers weren’t abided at Kia Ora. Thus it was that on Thursday, June 18, 1925, Soldier’s Love, carrying the future Strephon, became one of a batch of sixteen high-class thoroughbred broodmares from the Kia Ora Stud that were offered for unreserved sale at Jack Enright’s Maitland yards.
In attendance at those sales was the well-known bookmaker Eric Welch. Acting on behalf of Percy Brown of Randwick Lodge, Whittingham, Welch bought Soldier’s Love in foal to Saltash for just 17½ guineas! Taken back to Whittingham, near Singleton, Soldier’s Love dropped her little foal just on three months later. Curiously enough, so confirmed a victim of windsucking was Soldier’s Love that after she had reared the future Strephon, Percy Brown had the eight-year-old mare destroyed! Nonetheless, because Brown owned Strephon’s dam when the colt was foaled, he was technically the breeder although, of course, the real credit for the mating belonged to Percy Miller and the Kia Ora Stud.
Nineteen months later the strapping yearling was sold as lot No. 183 through H. Chisholm and Co. In those days when both William Inglis and Son and Chisholm’s shared the spotlight as bloodstock agents, the two companies dovetailed their yearling sales around the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. In 1927. William Inglis and Son opened the series at 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, the day after Limerick won the A.J.C. St Leger, and then continued their sales on Friday, April 22, and again on Monday morning. Messrs H. Chisholm and Co’s allotted dates were Thursday, 21st, the morning of Friday, 22nd, and the afternoon of the following Monday. The yearling Strephon was sold on Chisholm’s opening day, one of the first of Saltash’s progeny to go through the sales ring.
Sol Green, the lucky owner of Strephon was formerly Australia’s biggest bookmaker. As we have seen in an earlier chapter, he had started the Shipley Stud at Allansford, Victoria, with the imported horse Comedy King but had sold out and that stud was dispersed back in 1918 when it was enjoying prosperity. Green was now the proprietor of the Underbank Stud at Bacchus Marsh, and here, a decade on, he seemed poised for a successful spring like no other. Not only did he have Strephon, the ruling Melbourne Cup favourite to carry his colours, but Gothic, a five-year-old imported son of Tracery as well, and he was the ruling Caulfield Cup favourite.
Rare was it indeed for any owner to possess two different horses that were the popular public fancies in Australia’s two richest races. On the same card that Strephon won the V.R.C. Stand Handicap, Gothic was narrowly beaten into second placing by Highland in the weight-for-age October Stakes. Both Gothic and Strephon next appeared at Caulfield: Gothic winning the Caulfield Stakes to confirm his Caulfield Cup favouritism and Strephon finishing a nice fifth behind Balmerino in the Caulfield Guineas before stepping out and winning the Herbert Power Stakes at the same course four days later. In the end, Gothic could only manage to finish third in the Caulfield Cup behind Maple and Black Duchess, but in a sense, the best was yet to come from him that spring, although he would require the bigger stretches of Flemington to show it.
Derby Day at Flemington that year broke threateningly with an overcast sky and rain imminent. On the course itself, Strephon stripped an even-money favourite, with 9/2 on offer about Balmerino. Prince Humphrey, the forgotten horse, and Oatendale each shared the next line of betting at 6/1, with 10/1 and better available about the rest. Given Strephon’s Derby weight of 8 st. 10lb, Jim Pike enjoyed the mount and in so doing had forsaken the ride on his A.J.C. Derby placegetter, Oatendale. Lou Robertson’s stable apprentice, Bobby Howes, might have lost the Derby mount on Strephon but at least he had the satisfaction of knowing he’d be back on Strephon’s back the following Tuesday in the Melbourne Cup. The only question before the Derby was whether the son of Saltash would be carrying his original allotment of 7 st. 2lb in the Cup, or weight-for-age of 7 st. 6lb as a Derby-winning colt.
Once the Derby field was on its way, neither Howes nor anybody else for that matter was left in doubt for long. Pike and Strephon enjoyed a clear run all the way. At about the mile-and-a-quarter post, Stephon took the lead and thereafter it proved a procession. Approaching the turn, one or two horses came at him but Strephon was never in the least danger of being caught and ran out an easy winner from Yodelist and Balmerino. On the other hand, the A.J.C. Derby winner, Prince Humphrey, was stripped badly on one leg during the running of the Victorian classic and finished near the rear of the field, his spring campaign at an end. It was over a month before our Randwick hero could be shipped back to New Zealand and at the time it was feared the colt might never race again.
When Strephon cleaned out his manger that Saturday night, both Sol Green and Lou Robertson believed their frustrating run of luck in Melbourne Cups was about to end. At the overnight calling of the card on the big race, Statesman finished up favourite after strong demand at 11/4, with Strephon the second favourite at 13/4 and the Queensland mare Canning Queen next in demand at 11/1. However, on Cup Day itself, so heavy and insistent was the demand for Strephon that the Derby winner eventually ousted the son of Demosthenes at the head of the market. At barrier rise, Strephon went off the favourite at 9/4 with Stateman easing to 7/2 in the field of seventeen starters, the smallest since Banker won the race in 1863.
The Cup resolved itself into a cleanly fought contest, thanks largely to the sound pace set by The Happy Warrior. Bobby Howes slipped Strephon to the front near the six but wasn’t given much relaxation when Balmerino went with him. Statesman then stalked Strephon into the straight and at about the two-furlong post took the lead and went on to an easy four-length victory from Strephon with the lightweight Demost in the minor placing. Considering the state of the ground, the time for the race of 3 minutes 23 ½ seconds was smart. There was no criticism of young Howes’ handling of Strephon; at the weights, he was just beaten by a better stayer on the day. It was the third year in a row that Sol Green had seen his ‘black and white squares, red sleeves and cap’ carried into a minor placing in the race, following upon a second placing with Naos behind Spearfelt in 1926 and a third placing with Son O’ Mine in 1927 behind Trivalve.
Strephon’s gallant defeat might have dampened the ardour of Sol Green and Lou Robertson momentarily but that V.R.C. Spring Meeting proved highly rewarding for both men. Not only had Strephon won the Victoria Derby and finished runner-up in the Cup, but Gothic showcased his versatility by winning on three of the four days, his victories coming in the Melbourne Stakes (10f), Linlithgow Stakes (8f) and C. B. Fisher Plate (12f). In that last event, Gothic even clipped a second off the Australasian record for the distance when he won in a time of 2 minutes 29 ½ seconds, bettering Wedding Day’s previous best established at Randwick in January 1919. The Flemington track was on fire on that last day of the meeting for it was one of those very rare occasions in racing history when two Australasian records fell on the same card. The other record came when Bacchus won the V.R.C. Handicap over the mile and three-quarters.
In the autumn with Prince Humphrey still licking his wounds in New Zealand, Strephon briefly emerged as the outstanding racehorse in Australia. At Flemington, Strephon became the first galloper to better three minutes in the V.R.C. St Leger and followed it up with soft victories in both the weight-for-age King’s Plate and Governor’s Plate. Brought across to Sydney for the first time, he proved just as invincible in the Harbour City. Strephon won the Chipping Norton Stakes first up, beating the only really top-class field he met that autumn in either Melbourne or Sydney. Unfortunately, that race was run in an unsatisfactory fashion, in that the other runners, including Limerick and Winalot, allowed Strephon to steal too great an advantage in the first half-mile to have much chance of ever overhauling him. Next came the A.J.C. St Leger and only three others opposed Strephon viz. Oatendale, Lalique and Cimbrian. Strephon jumped to the front at barrier rise and Jim Pike in the saddle relished one of the easiest wins of his long career. In the absence of Limerick and Winalot, Strephon then extended his winning sequence in the weight-for-age Cumberland Stakes and the A.J.C. Plate later at the meeting, thereby making his haul ten wins for the season and £17,898 in stakes. It had been a rather dramatic rise to prominence for a horse that had failed to win at two and had opened his account at three in a lowly handicap at Aspendale Park.
There was a fascinating coda to Strephon’s three-year-old season. On the third day of the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting when Strephon won the Governor’s Plate, Sol Green had appeared to have bright prospects of landing a treble with his other two victories expected to come from Gothic in the C. M. Lloyd Stakes and My Lady Gay, a well-bred daughter of the 1917 English Triple Crown winner Gay Crusader, in the River Handicap. Gothic did manage to dead-heat with Mollison, but My Lady Gay could only manage the minor placing in her race. The V.R.C. stewards opened an inquiry into Bobby Howes’ riding of the filly. At her previous start in the St Clair Stakes at Caulfield, My Lady Gay had taken the lead a long way from home and won easily after being backed in from 5/4 on to 2/1 on. In the colourful language of the Truth racing correspondent that day: “When Sol Green goes for a decent plonk on one of his own horses, he doesn’t make very many mistakes. When betting opened on the St Clair Stakes at Caulfield this afternoon the Green commissioners started dobbing it on in such big lumps that it looked as if they had private keys to the vaults of the Commonwealth Bank. They never seemed anxious to stop betting and the result was that it wasn’t long before My Lady Gay had made some of the bookmakers look anything but gay.”
Not so at Flemington where there seemed little activity in the ring and where My Lady Gay missed the jump and didn’t threaten at any stage. Still, the stipendiary stewards ultimately accepted the explanation of owner and trainer. The stewards, however, did express dissatisfaction with the jockey. Green certainly wasn’t a merry old Sol when he spat the dummy and snapped: “They accepted my explanation but there is no mention of completely exonerating me, as they were entitled to. If they wanted to hurt me, they have done it. My horses are never dead. I showed the stewards where I had backed My Lady Gay for £2,007. I considered she was a certainty. When Strephon was beaten in the Caulfield Guineas, I had £800 on him, and I’d hate to tell you what I lost on Gothic in the Caulfield Cup. I buy good horses to win races, not to be run dead.” Green rather precipitously declared his intention of disowning horses for three years and swore that it would be the last time his colours would be carried at Flemington.
It meant that he was faced with either selling Strephon or campaigning him overseas. Sol Green explored both avenues. At the completion of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, he submitted the horse for auction at H. Chisholm and Co.’s sales of tried racehorses late on the Tuesday afternoon of April 9. The lots catalogued included the horses owned by Joe and the late Cecil Brien, the entire racing and breeding string of George Greenwood, as well as a shipment of English thoroughbreds, but Strephon was the star of the show. The colt was paraded for a while before a packed ring buzzing with excitement before the bidding began. Percy Brown launched proceedings with an opening bid of 5000 guineas only for interest to stop at 9000 guineas. The passing-in of the putative champion seemed in keeping with the general tenor of the market.
Green later declined a private offer from Sir James Murdoch of 12,500 guineas plus contingencies. Green’s reserve on the colt was 25,000 guineas, a price that suggested either the imbroglio with Melbourne stewards had temporarily unhinged his mind, or that he wasn’t serious about selling in the first place. Incidentally, the name ‘Strephon’ was a conventional name for a rustic lover in English literature. Strephon was the love-sick shepherd in Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ although the name is best known now as that of the character in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, Iolanthe, set in fairyland. There were some who speculated in the wake of Chisholm’s auction that it was Sol Green rather than Strephon who was off with the fairies when he valued his colt at 25,000 guineas.
In truth, the redoubtable Sol had his heart set on winning the Ascot Gold Cup. In May, Strephon, still in Sol’s ownership, was loaded onboard the Limerick and sent to England. It would have been much better for Strephon, Sol and the reputation of Australian bloodstock if the voyage had never been made. The horse became ill on the ship when travelling in the summer heat through the Mediterranean. Strephon then belatedly entered the stables of Sam Darling at Newmarket and lost his form altogether. After a series of disappointments, Sol Green decided to cut his losses and sold the horse for a ridiculously small sum, reputed to be 300 guineas. Strephon then went to the north of England to race including over hurdles. Perhaps the ultimate disgrace was when he ran last in a field of four for the Duchy Plate at Pontefract, a twelve-furlongs race for apprentices.
It was a sad demise for a horse that was widely acclaimed as a champion at the end of his three-year-old season. Collective memories harkened back to that golden autumn afternoon in April 1929 when Strephon bowled along the Randwick straight to win the A.J.C. Plate by fifteen lengths with his head on his chest and in a time that was only a quarter of a second outside Rapine’s race record. Who would have suspected those present were witnessing Strephon’s last hurrah? If one had been able to stay the hands of time and declared then and there that, come spring, Australians would be acclaiming a Victoria Derby winner partnered by Jim Pike as the greatest galloper this country had ever seen, nobody would have doubted for a moment that horse would have been Strephon.
In a sense, Strephon’s fall from grace shadowed that of his sire. Saltash is a very good example of the vagaries of bloodstock breeding and just how quickly a boom on a stallion can become a bust. I remarked earlier that Percy Miller was utterly ruthless in culling his non-performing thoroughbreds. Just as he had culled Strephon’s dam in June 1925, he did the same with Strephon’s sire in September 1930 through the agency of William Inglis and Son for an undisclosed price. The Sunstar horse went to B. J. Moran of Cowper in the Clarence River district. All up, Saltash stood for six seasons at Kia Ora and yet in those six seasons despite the best of broodmares, he managed just three individual stakes winners of twelve races and that, of course, includes Strephon with his haul of nine stakes wins. The other two stakes winners sired by Saltash were Thurles Lad (A.J.C. The Shorts and Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap) and Wexford (A.J.C. December Stakes).
I seem to have become rather self-indulgent in my pursuit of Strephon, amid the broader perspective of the Victoria Derby, Melbourne Cup, St Legers and autumn weight-for-age events of the 1928-29 racing season. Perhaps the reader suspects that there is nothing more to be said on the subject of the 1928 A.J.C. Derby and the injured Prince Humphrey. Nothing could be further from the truth, for the real story behind that race and the true identity of the winner only unfolded as the season itself was drawing to a close in May 1929, and after Strephon had quit the front pages. The first element in the denouement, however, had come at the historic dispersal of the Kingsfield Stud two months earlier.
In attendance at that dispersal was Dick Tait, the man who had been the manager of Woodlands Stud at the time of Prince Humphrey’s foaling, and whose association with the stud only ended at the time of the dispersal when the future Derby winner was sold. Tait had since moved to Toowoomba in Queensland. But as one who had spent a lifetime with thoroughbreds in both Australia and New Zealand and as any racing man would understand, Tait still retained a keen interest in the sport. The former stud manager continued to subscribe to the ‘Sydney Mail’, a newspaper published at that time that afforded a generous coverage of the Turf. In the issue celebrating the opening day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting in October 1928, there was published a large photograph of the Derby winner, Prince Humphrey, in all his glory. But it wasn’t a picture of the colt from Shepherd Princess that Tait distinctly remembered. This photograph was of a whole bay! Tait shrugged it off and assumed that there had been some mistake at the newspaper’s office, letting the matter rest.
However, it was while attending the Kingsfield dispersal in late March 1929, for which he had travelled down from Toowoomba, that Tait happened to run into ‘Musket’, the turf correspondent for the Sydney Mail, who was covering the sales for his newspaper. Tait inquired of him: “By the way did you take particular stock of Prince Humphrey after he won the Derby?” The correspondent admitted he had not. “Well,” he said, “the photograph you had in the ‘Mail’ was not that of the yearling colt by Duke Humphrey from Shepherd Princess, afterwards named Prince Humphrey. Two colts were purchased at the dispersal for Mr Mackenzie, both being by Duke Humphrey, and their dams were Shepherd Princess and Princess Hazel. The son of the latter was a whole bay with black points while the other was a bay with broken white marks on both hind coronets and one fore coronet. As soon as I saw the photograph in the ‘Mail’, I said to my sister: ‘Those two colts have been mixed somehow.’”
The story broke in the Sydney Morning Herald, a sister publication of the Mail, on Tuesday, May 7th, 1929, under the headline ‘Turf Sensation’:
“An amazing story will be unfolded if an inquiry is made by the A.J.C. into the credentials of the racehorse Prince Humphrey, the winner of important races, including the Australian Jockey Club Derby, now in New Zealand. It will be found that he has been confounded with Cragsman, a horse so far of little turf value. It is not suggested that the error is anything but an unfortunate mix-up.”
When the story was published, the Woodlands stud groom at the time, Frank Kitchener, came forward and corroborated Tait’s story. Prince Humphrey’s owner, Mr Macindoe, somewhat predictably, didn’t attach much credibility to the revelations, while Jack Jamieson stated that his only involvement in the purchase of the horse had been the occasion of his visit to the stud farm when he recommended him over two other yearlings running in the paddocks. When asked what brands were on Prince Humphrey, Jamieson claimed not to know, adding that the horse had only just been brought in from the spelling paddock and the growth of his winter coat obscured the markings; and with the onset of winter, Jamieson was not inclined to have him clipped.
The A.J.C. immediately instituted investigations concerning the disclosures. Mr Loddon Yuille, the Registrar of Racehorses and Keeper of the Australian Stud Book, was asked to make inquiries and report back to the A.J.C. committee; his report subsequently tabled on 16th July established beyond doubt that Prince Humphrey was indeed the son of Princess Hazel. And it made it quite clear precisely when the identity of the two horses became confused. After the Woodlands dispersal sale, the then registrar of racehorses, Mr Leslie Rouse, issued certificates of pedigree of the two colts as follows:
“Bay colt 1 year, by Duke Humphrey (imp.) – Princess Hazel (imp.): brands, inverted V over B near shoulder, 5 over 136 near thigh. Distinguishing marks, whole bay.
Bay colt 1 year, by Duke Humphrey (imp.) – Shepherd Princess: brands, inverted V over B near shoulder, 5 over 144 near thigh. Distinguishing marks, large star on forehead, white stripe down face and spread out to nostril; front feet white from coronet half way to fetlock; hind feet almost white to fetlock; black spots both hind feet.”
However, on 29th August 1927 when Mr C. G. Macindoe registered with the New Zealand Racing Conference a horse as Prince Humphrey, he gave the sire-dam pedigree as Duke Humphrey – Shepherd Princess. There was no mention of marks or brands. On 28th February 1929, Mr Mackenzie then registered Cragsman as being by Duke Humphrey from Princess Hazel and in so doing gave the brands and markings of the Shepherd Princess colt. Prince Humphrey’s subsequent registration in Sydney confirmed with that erroneously made in New Zealand. According to Yuille’s report, the evidence indicated that the confusion arose from the regal names of the respective dams of the horses rather than any similarity of appearance. He added: “Had the Secretary of the New Zealand Racing Conference checked the applications for registration of the two horses or had each applicant checked his own application at the time, with the certificates issued by the registrar in Sydney, the error would then have been apparent.”
The A.J.C. committee decided to call upon the owners of both Cragsman and Prince Humphrey to re-register their horses and to hold Prince Humphrey’s nominations for the upcoming Epsom Handicap, The Metropolitan and the Spring Handicap invalid unless amended. Such an amendment would be recognised upon payment of £1 in each case and upon settlement of the costs of the inquiry into the identity of the horse. Beyond that, the committee of the club was unable to move. There was never a question of fraud in this comedy of errors, for Prince Humphrey had been none other than the same horse since he began his racing career. And as the rules of racing as defined by the principal clubs stood at the time, the discovery of an error in nomination did not render that nomination invalid. Accordingly, Prince Humphrey kept the race and Macindoe kept the prize money. While the owner was naturally pleased to retain the winning stakes, he was somewhat miffed that the A.J.C. committee saw fit to offload the costs of the inquiry on to him. The fact remained, however, that the 1928 Derby had been won by a horse that wasn’t even entered for the race, for at the time entries were taken, Prince Humphrey didn’t have a name, and no son of Princess Hazel had been among the nominations.
Perhaps the most disappointed man as a result of these belated revelations as to Prince Humphrey’s true identity was the Newcastle coal baron, John Brown. At the William Inglis Sales only a matter of weeks before the exposure, Brown had outlaid 2600 guineas for a colt by Valais from the mare Shepherd Princess. Though the colt had all the hauteur of an aristocrat among thoroughbreds when paraded in the sale ring, it is certain he would not have realised the price he did had it been known that he was unrelated to the previous A.J.C. Derby winner. In the true spirit of Gradgrind that animated all of his commercial dealings, Brown explored the prospects of legal action – particularly when the colt in question proved an absolute duffer on the Turf. But in the end, the multi-millionaire didn’t proceed to the courts. After all, neither the breeder of the colt nor the auctioneers had set out with any intention to defraud: all of the parties to the sale had acted in good faith. Besides which, rich men are rarely anxious to flaunt their lack of judgement. It is said, however, that the hard-working coal miners of the Hunter Valley enjoyed many a laugh in the pubs of Newcastle and Maitland over the episode. After all, for them, schadenfreude had never been so sweet.
These were the last headlines Prince Humphrey ever commanded as a racehorse, and the A.J.C. Derby proved to be the last race he ever won. The colt never properly recovered from the injuries sustained in the Victoria Derby and despite Jack Jamieson’s best endeavours, Prince Humphrey proved too difficult to train after that. Macindoe did give a half-share to Jamieson in the autumn of 1929 in recognition of the trainer’s sterling efforts in trying to rehabilitate the horse and even had him gelded – the horse that is. But Prince Humphrey failed to race again in his three-year-old season, and the following year he appeared just four times in public, his only placed effort being a second in a flying handicap at the Wanganui Jockey Club’s spring meeting. Prince Humphrey never started in a race again, although in June 1933 he did turn up at a meet of the Manawatu Hunt and proved just as unruly as before, after a life of idleness. The injury to Prince Humphrey and his rather truncated career on the Turf, make it difficult to assess his true merits as a racehorse, but he was too easily beaten into third place in the Craven Plate in the wake of his Derby win to sustain any claims of exceptionalism. The Derby might have taken enough out of him to make his defeat by Amounis excusable, but he should have been able to beat Fourth Hand, even at ten furlongs.
Before I leave the Derby tale of 1928, allow me a word on the subsequent career of Mollison. There were some critics in the spring of 1928 that maintained that Mollison should never have been asked to extend his brilliance beyond ten furlongs, and attributed his subsequent loss of form afterwards to his exertions on Derby Day. The respected veterinary surgeon and authority, J. W. Stewart McKay, was one such person. In an article published in January 1930, Stewart McKay observed:
“I have always taken a great interest in Mollison, and have made a point of visiting his stable when he has been in Sydney, for I regard Mollison as a horse that will go down in turf history side by side with Woorak, Beauford and Heroic: horses that for six or seven furlongs could hold their own in any country in the world.
After going carefully over Mollison, Fred Foulsham, his trainer, said to me, “What about the Derby?” and my reply was “He will never win a Derby.” Well, he very nearly did; and went so close to it that my opinion was almost incorrect. If he had not had to travel so fast over the first two furlongs, all might have been well; but the pace at the outset exhausted a heart whose inherited proper distance was probably not more than ten furlongs. The race knocked him out, and he was beaten in the Caulfield Guineas but should have been placed if the judge had not made a mistake. I strongly advised that he should not be started in the V.R.C. Derby, as he had gone stale, and Mr E. M. Pearce, who thinks of his horses first, did not let him start.
He rested, and in the autumn won the Futurity in brilliant fashion, beating Gothic, and a few days later dead-heated with that horse in the mile weight-for-age race. Any horse that could equal Gothic over a mile at weight-for-age must be placed in the very highest class. Mollison then came to Sydney and beat Limerick over a mile, the mud being up to their fetlocks. True, from that time onwards Mollison has been a disappointment. He came to Sydney in the spring, and he was asked to race at Warwick Farm in the mile weight-for-age race. Some days before the event he was taken to Warwick Farm and he did a mile trial in 1-38. His trainer told me that it was the best trial he had ever seen on a course by any horse, and we naturally expected him to walk in. The day was fine, the going excellent, but there was a stiff north-west wind behind the horses for five furlongs, and when they entered the straight the wind was down their throats. Mollison led to the distance and then Limerick ran over him and played with him. He struggled into second place, but his exhibition in the final furlong was the best example of heart failure that could have been seen, and it was plain that his best days were over.
His subsequent races showed that after he had gone seven furlongs, he is no longer the Mollison of old. He is, in fact, an example of what I have been writing about for years – the horse that is ruined by the over-exertion of one race, and that race, as far as Mollison was concerned, was the A.J.C. Derby.”
Bearing in mind when Stewart McKay penned those words Mollison was still only in his four-year-old season. He didn’t race that autumn but was brought back to the racecourse as a five-year-old. After repeatedly failing to win in a series of races in the spring, E. M. Pearce finally sold Mollison to Sydney identity, owner-trainer Bill Tindall for 1100 guineas in December 1930. It was about one-tenth of the sum that the horse would have brought had he been sold at the end of his two-year-old days. Still, many considered Pearce was well rid of him at the price. The buyer was one of the most colourful and irrepressible characters on the Australian Turf, and Tindall got Mollison just as he was being granted his training licence again by racing authorities after being out for a year over the running of one of his horses.
Throughout his topsy-turvy life, Tindall made a habit of tilting with racing’s hierarchy and thumbing his nose at his critics; he was a man who approached the betting ring with a sangfroid that struck despair in the hearts of his friends and envy in that of some of his confreres. It was characteristic of his defiant, exuberant nature to take on a horse like Mollison that most considered finished. All his life Tindall had made a career of resurrecting broken-down horses, and before he died, in impoverished circumstances in September 1953, his successes included such horses as Middle Watch, Freckles and The Dimmer. The magic touch worked for a while with Mollison, too. Although he failed to win a race with the son of Seremond, under Tindall’s tutelage, he was narrowly beaten into third placing in a head-bobbing finish to the 1931 Newmarket and finished second, beaten less than a length, in the Doncaster at Randwick a few weeks later. Just how Mollison might have been helped to reach that elite level again was the subject of some speculation when the horse died prematurely soon after that 1931 autumn campaign.