In January 1933 the colourful and flamboyant gambler Ned Moss accompanied both his trainers, George Price and Fred Williams, to the New Zealand National Yearling Sales. Moss was particularly interested in the progeny of Limond, the New Zealand based stallion that had become premier sire in Australia in the 1931/32 season, and he had asked each man to select him a colt by the stallion. The interest shown by Moss in this particular sire line wasn’t hard to understand given the success that he had already enjoyed in both St Legers and numerous weight-for-age races with Veilmond, one of the stallion’s best sons. He had his heart set on buying the chestnut colt by Limond from the great producing mare Homage, a daughter of Eulogy, but bidding was too lively, and when Jack Jamieson bid 1175 guineas, it was Fred Williams who cautioned restraint and urged Moss to look elsewhere in the catalogue for another Limond.
Williams rather liked the look of a big bay colt from Mirabelle II and was aware that Jamieson himself was training the colt’s older brother. When the yearling stepped into the ring and Jamieson indicated an interest by bidding, it was all the confirmation Williams required. At a final bid of 650 guineas, the canny Randwick trainer had booked the first of Moss’s colts. When it came George Price’s turn, he opted for the Limond yearling out of the mare Jewel of Asia. Price had been responsible for purchasing the dam for G. M. Currie’s stud sometime before, and he had taken a liking to her brown colt. This youngster cost Ned Moss a little more, at 725 guineas. Considering the lingering effects of the Depression and the fact that the average price of a yearling at those sales was 155 guineas, neither colt seemed particularly cheap at the time. But whereas Moss had acquired two colts that would each win classic races in their first two seasons on the Turf, the Homage colt that Jamieson bought on behalf the well-known Sydney stockbroker, Claude Quinan, and which topped the sales, would prove particularly expensive. In a rather reckless moment, Quinan registered that colt as Deep Respect, a name that proved singularly inept, although the horse did manage to land a trademark Jamieson plunge when he won a Canterbury maiden in August 1934.
Edward Aloysius Moss, or Ned ‘Skinny’ Moss as the newspapers dubbed him, was one of Sydney’s most dashing gamblers during the years between the Wars. A one-time member of the committee of the Hawkesbury Racing Club in the early 1930’s, he was immensely popular with the Sydney racing press and was often the guest of honour at the Annual Racing Press Dinner held during the A.J.C. Easter Meeting. As a lad, he started off selling newspapers at Circular Quay when he won a doubles-bet of about £100. It was this stake that funded activities in S.P. betting. There was nothing small in Moss’s character, and he soon began to accumulate considerable wealth through his gambling. His first association with racing as an owner came in the old ‘pony’ days and that grand galloper, Minerva, was one of the first to carry his colours. He became a member of the A.J.C. in 1919 and the following year started Erasmus in the A.J.C. Derby, a colt by Linacre that he owned in partnership with Bill Keogh of Coonamble. The colt ran a good third, and it was after this race that Moss had laid a series of wagers at big prices on the horse to win the Melbourne Cup and worth about £34,000 in total.
He failed, but only by a half-length, after leading the field around the home turn, and ironically it was his stable-mate Poitrel, carrying three stone more, who foiled him. Harry Robinson trained both horses. I think this marked the first of the spectacular tilts on the betting ring for which Moss was to become famous over the years. It was Moss in fact, who induced George Price to quit New Zealand and come to Sydney to train in 1922, promising him horses. Not long afterwards, Price bought Stony on behalf of Moss for 625 guineas from Percy Miller. A useful galloper, Stony afforded Moss his next big tilt at the betting ring in an important race. It came in the Sydney Cup of 1924 when Moss backed him to win about £30,000 but again he beat all bar the winner, Scarlet. He should have won, as it was one of Bill Duncan’s few ill-judged rides when the money was on. He took Stony to the front a mile from home only to be caught in the last few strides. Afterwards, the horse was put to hurdling and chasing, a career for which he wasn’t cut out, and when he later fell and broke his neck, considerable opprobrium descended upon Moss from the popular press.
It was around this time that Moss’s bloodstock purchases took on an altogether more extravagant air, particularly with the progeny of Valais. Moss was a compulsive character; when he fancied a horse, he wasn’t afraid to bet; and when he fancied a yearling, he wasn’t afraid to bid. At the 1924 Easter Yearling Sales he paid the top price of 2,000 guineas for Vaals, and two years later gave 4100 guineas for his younger brother Sion. Although each failed in the Derby at Randwick, the mile course there was much more to the brothers’ liking. Vaals won an Epsom and Sion was runner-up in both that race and a Doncaster. Along with the Epsom, Vaals won a fortune in bets for Moss in the spring of 1927, and the owner subsequently christened his mansion in Everton-road, Strathfield, after the horse. The bookmaker, Jim Hackett, recalled the settling over that particular Epsom and Metropolitan as the biggest his firm had ever had at Tattersall’s in Sydney. “My partner and I were loaded up with stacks of hundred-pound notes from the bank nearby, and when we arrived, you’d have thought we had come fresh from the Commonwealth note printing headquarters in Melbourne.” In a single wager laid at 33/1, Moss had backed his horse to win £15,000.
So this was the man that had bought those two well-bred yearlings in the company of George Price and Fred Williams at the 1933 New Zealand Sales. When it came to registering his two latest bloodstock acquisitions, Ned Moss was both circumspect and sentimental, naming them after two of his closest friends. The brown colt from Jewel of Asia that went into George Price’s stable was registered as Sir John, after Sir John McKelvey the famous surgeon and racing man. The bay from Mirabelle II that had so greatly attracted Fred Williams was named Theo, after Theo Marks, the famous architect and racecourse commission agent. This colt would become Fred Williams’ third Derby winner at Randwick, and, like his two previous winners of the classic, would also go on to win the equivalent race at Flemington. Both yearlings were left in New Zealand to be broken-in, eventually arriving at Randwick in May. Neither colt was hurried, and in private trials, both showed considerable ability although Sir John was the more precocious of the two.
George Price prepared Sir John for a first-up victory in the Kirkham Stakes at Randwick, and Ned Moss enjoyed a profitable tilt at the bagmen when his colt was able to defeat a good class field. A very big and commanding youngster, Sir John went on to prove one of the best juveniles of the year, running second in the December Stakes and setting a new Randwick record in a race at the Anniversary Meeting. Taken to Melbourne in the autumn, the stable considered him good enough to tackle the older horses in the Hawkesburn Handicap at Caulfield, which in those days was a first-class sprint and was looked upon as a dress rehearsal for the Newmarket. Moss backed him heavily for the race and the colt firmed into favouritism. But the plunge wasn’t brought off, although he did run a nice second to Press Gang, a well-named colt by The Night Patrol. However, at Flemington seven days later and back to his own age group, Sir John cleverly won the Sires’ Produce Stakes as a raging hot favourite from the fast finishing and unlucky Dark Sky. It was a different story, however, in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick when Sir John never flattered after being sent to the post as the even-money favourite. Those backers who believed that Dark Sky should have taken the Flemington equivalent were vindicated at Randwick when the Victorian galloper won easily.
Meanwhile, Theo, after a quiet introduction to racing at Rosehill just before Christmas, and a series of minor placings over the summer, finally broke his maiden status in a juvenile handicap at Randwick on Sydney Cup Day. His last start that season came five days later with an engagement in the Fernhill Handicap on the final day of the AJC Autumn Meeting. The race proved of no little interest or guide to the following season’s classics. Fred Williams had been at pains to avoid his colt clashing with Sir John, given that both were owned in the same interests. Williams was a very sound judge of his own team, although never effusive in his comments to betting owners. Nonetheless, the Fernhill Handicap was run over the mile course, the first race of the season over that distance for two-year-olds, and he now believed that Theo would be able to bring his staying prowess into play. Certainly, Ned Moss thought so and backed the colt accordingly. But Williams started another horse in the same race and one that had also shown considerable ability. The horse in question was Sylvandale, a son of Silvius, and destined to be the best of his progeny to race. Sylvandale had opened his account at Randwick in somewhat sensational circumstances. He won the Juvenile Stakes at the Tattersall’s December meeting in the stewards’ room, His jockey, a young Edgar Britt, fresh from his overseas triumphs with Winooka, successfully protested that Ted Bartle, who was first past the post on Constantine, had used his leg to impede Britt riding out his mount.
Although lazy and deceptive in his track gallops, Sylvandale had shown Williams enough to warrant advising Moss to at least save on him in the Fernhill, advice that the big-betting owner chose to ignore. Theo carried 9 st. and with Maurice McCarten in the saddle was backed into favouritism, whereas Sylvandale, receiving 3lb from his stablemate and with the services of Jim Pike, was sent off at 12/1 in the eighteen-horse field. In an eventful race, the outsider defeated his more fancied stablemate, although he was lucky to do so. Approaching the home turn, Theo seemed to gallop onto the heels of Sylvandale and dropped back several lengths. By the time the colt became balanced again, Sylvandale had the race in his keeping, although Theo did manage to get within a length or so at the finish to be a clear second. Frustrated and angry at a good gamble thwarted, in the heat of the moment Moss threatened to transfer Theo to George Price’s stable, although his temper eventually subsided after a good night’s sleep. The real irony of the story is that before the Fernhill, Williams had seriously considered gelding the Silvius colt. Had he done so, the classics the following season would have taken a decidedly different turn, and denied Williams a particular distinction in Australian racing. As it was, the race brought to a close a season in which no outstanding two-year-old had emerged to dominate Derby discussions during the winter, although Sir John and Dark Sky headed the quotations of most bookmakers.
Now the relative merits of colts can often undergo a significant change between the age of two and three as the advantages of early foaling or precocity give way to the influence of maturity and stamina, and also as the distances of races increase. Something of the like happened to the perceived difference in class between Sir John and Theo. Sir John, the classic winner at two, was considered the more likely to be Moss’s Derby representative in September, but the horse failed to come up at all in the spring. When one considers that old Ned declined an offer of some £10,000 for Sir John immediately after his success in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington, the balance of his racing career makes sober reading. As a three-year-old, Sir John only won one race – a division of a flying handicap at Rosebery worth £60, while the following season all he could manage was a mile welter of £195 at Warwick Farm. A little later Moss decided to part with him, and at auction, the once-lauded colt only realised 475 guineas for his trouble. Conversely, Theo by the spring of his three-year-old season had grown to stand around sixteen hands and matured into easily the best horse of his age.
Those people that had been looking for the prospective Derby favourite at the major Randwick and Flemington meetings earlier that autumn had been looking in the wrong place. The colt that would start a prohibitive favourite for the 1934 Derby didn’t manage to win his first race until a fortnight after the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting had concluded. Silver King, a rather nondescript bay colt from the first Australian crop of the imported Argentine stallion, El Cacique, won a maiden handicap at Moorefield rather easily and then in May created a big impression when he scattered a two-year-old handicap field at the Tattersall’s Club Meeting at Randwick. Given a let-up, he resumed his winning habit in the Hobartville Stakes by brilliantly leading all the way before his Derby preparation culminated with a stroll to win the Rosehill Guineas by three lengths, despite being eased down in the last half-furlong. A colt with a quick action, trainer Eiver Walker raced Silver King on a lease from his breeder, Reg Allen, a long-serving committeeman of the A.J.C. and owner of the South Wambo Stud at Singleton where El Cacique stood. Allen was a keen sportsman and had been an interstate cricketer in his youth, and was the uncle of the English cricket captain, “Gubby” Allen. Reg Allen generally raced his own horses, but because he had been called to London on business and couldn’t take his colt, he had leased him to Walker – certainly a fortuitous turn of events for the trainer.
A.J.C. Derby Day in 1934 affords us an opportunity to pause and review the changes in the Sydney racing scene during the previous twelve months and certain policy decisions of the A.J.C. Racing still faced considerable challenges from the effects of the Depression, but there were heartening signs that the worst of it was over. The A.J.C. had generally increased prize money for most events at their autumn and spring meetings that year, although the club had removed the £300 breeder’s subsidy to the Derby winner. The previous year the club had radically changed its policy on prize money, whereby it now retained all entrance and acceptance fees for races rather than adding such money to the value of the stakes of an event. The change hadn’t affected the 1933 running of the Derby, which continued to carry such forfeits and sweepstakes, simply because nominations for the race had closed much earlier. The 1934 renewal of the classic saw the change come into effect for the first time although the race did carry a total prize of £5,000, the same as the Victoria Derby that year.
The hard times of the early 1930s and the slashing of prizemoney had seen a greater recourse by stables to the betting ring and an increase in pernicious practices aimed at securing an advantage. The issue that most concerned racing authorities in the early months of 1934, was the question of the plating of horses off the course. In April 1934 the secretary of the Farriers’ Journeymen’s Union, George Rowland, claimed that loaded shoes were being frequently used and with brazen effrontery on Sydney racecourses to stop horses doing their best. The motorised horse-float was partly responsible for the outbreak, with heavy shoes being nailed on at the stables before going to the course, and then, after racing, the horse being whisked away by float before the stewards were able to make any inspections. The illegal plates, made of aluminium, were subsequently filled with lead. In early May, the A.J.C. passed a special resolution. It was to the effect that at all race meetings within a radius of 65 miles of the Sydney G.P.O., the owner or trainer of any horse which had been shod or plated off the course was required to notify the stewards of that fact at least one hour before the time of starting such race.
Heavy shoes or not, the A.J.C. had also seen fit to fix a time limit for some of the long-distance weight-for-age events it conducted, such as the A.J.C. Plate and Randwick Plate; it decided that the club would withhold half the stake if the time limit were exceeded. It was a condition that had once applied to races like the Champion Stakes and Randwick Plate years before, and its reintroduction was intended to ensure a genuine test of stamina rather than see such rich weight-for-age races reduced to farce as had been the Randwick Plate a year earlier when won by Rogilla. In a bid to bolster acceptances at Warwick Farm, the A.J.C. announced that the club would meet all costs of transporting horses to and from the outlying suburban course. The Depression was also causing a shakedown in other aspects of the racing game. In February 1934, William Inglis became the only agency selling bloodstock in Sydney when it purchased the business of H. Chisholm and Company, first established by Harry Chisholm in 1897. Although Chisholm had died in 1927, Ken Austin and, later, Ray Chisholm, Harry’s son, had struggled to carry on the business, but in 1934 the name of the distinguished firm disappeared altogether from the scene. The nascent economic recovery had been in evidence at both the Sydney and Melbourne yearling sales in the autumn. Average prices increased from around 114 guineas of the previous year to 145 guineas, and five colts realised 1000 guineas or better. The most encouraging sign of all, however, was the attendance at Randwick on Derby Day itself, with an estimated crowd of 60,000 people.
The 1934 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The 1934 Derby field consisted exclusively of colts, fifteen in number, and the largest contingent since 1927. All but three were by imported stallions. Custodian, prepared by Fred Jones, and Marcus Cicero, represented the Dominion, while Victoria boasted four runners in Cape York, The Earl, Dark Sky and Aztec. Dark Sky, trained by the veteran Frank Musgrave for ‘Prince’ Baillieu and W. S. Robinson, was considered the most likely of the quartet although he had disappointed since winning the Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn. Silver King remained in the red throughout course betting, although his heavily bandaged front legs seemed an ominous portent. Theo was next fancied and had finished fast after meeting interference to grab third placing in the Rosehill Guineas, his final trial for the Derby. Despite the form of the Fernhill Handicap, Sylvandale was regarded very much as the outsider of the Fred Williams’ pair. An inspection of the jockeys’ board for the 1934 Derby would have disclosed the name of Edgar Britt, a young man who although having only his second and last ride in the race, was destined to achieve significant triumphs in the saddle, albeit on foreign soil. Britt had served his apprenticeship with Mick Polson and was riding The Earl, a son of Trivalve, for the James Scobie stable, although he was a relative outsider. Both Sylvandale and the George Price-trained Gladswood were attempting to become the first horse to win the Derby in the ownership of a lady.
The story of the race is soon told. The free-going Silver King with his kindly disposition was asked by his jockey Darcy Webb to emulate his Rosehill Guineas performance and lead all the way, although it was a task made all the more difficult by the extra three furlongs of the journey and the niggling persistence of Dark Sky, who insisted on accompanying him for the first mile or so. There was no loafing at any stage, which made it a cleanly-run race and the first four furlongs were put by in 50 ½ seconds while the second four took 52. Although by the top of the Randwick straight the favourite had beaten off Dark Sky, he remained a sitting shot for any colt with a finishing kick. This was the cue for Theo. Maurice McCarten produced the son of Limond at precisely the right time and after a stubborn duel over the final furlong prevailed by a half-length. Dark Sky managed to withstand Sylvandale’s finish to retain the minor placing. After the race, Webb attracted some criticism for having made too much use of Silver King in the early stages. Indeed, it wasn’t a particularly happy day for the Sydney hoop as in the rich Epsom Handicap, the following race on the card, his mount, Dermid, went under by a head to Silver Ring. It was to be a much happier fixture, however, for the New Zealand bloodstock industry for no less than 14 of the 27 races run at that A.J.C. Spring Meeting were won by horses bred in New Zealand including the winners of the three major races, i.e. Theo (Derby), Silver Ring (Epsom) and Waikare (Metropolitan).
After the Derby, Theo was taken to Melbourne, and although it was generally thought the mile journey of the Caulfield Guineas would prove too short, the colt loitered at the rear of the field before unwinding a brilliant sprint in the final quarter mile to win the race going away. Ned Moss was then offered £10,000 for his putative champion but declined the offer because he believed the colt could win both the Victoria Derby and the Melbourne Cup. Theo went off at odds-on in the Derby, and those intrepid souls that laid the price had to survive some anxious moments before his number was hoisted victoriously. The margin was a half-head after a final furlong struggle down the Flemington straight with his stablemate, Sylvandale, who with Jack Pratt in the saddle, had bravely tried to lead for most of the journey. Moss in a doubles-wager then had Theo going for a poultice in the Cup but received anonymous calls at Scott’s Hotel where he was staying, that something would happen to Theo. Three days later in Australia’s richest race, Theo suffered a tendon injury, which effectively blighted the balance of his career. Indeed, he failed to win another race.
Silver King also proved a difficult horse to train after the A.J.C. Derby. He suffered from suspect tendons in his forelegs throughout his life, and he was probably feeling the effects of them when Theo managed to run him down in the classic. Certainly, he pulled up sore afterwards, and the balance of his spring campaign was aborted. Although he did resume racing the following autumn in the Oakleigh Plate, Silver King continued to prove troublesome. Eiver Walker patched him up to win the Liverpool Handicap at Warwick Farm at the April meeting, and the following season as a four-year-old he did manage to win a flying handicap at Rosebery and run second to Rogilla in the Warwick Stakes. Shortly thereafter, however, Silver King met an untimely end in December 1935 when he fell and fractured a leg while spelling in the Windsor district at the property of his owner, Reg Allen. Although an attempt was made to save him for stud purposes, it was to no avail, and the horse was humanely destroyed.
Returning to the autumn of that 1934-35 racing season, whereas Theo lost all form completely and Silver King was hors de combat, Sylvandale emerged as the outstanding graduate of that 1934 AJC Derby field. Sylvandale raced in the colours of ‘Miss Lorna Doone’, a fiction that hid the identity of Mrs Lorna Utz, the wife of a well-known Macquarie St specialist and A.J.C. committeeman. I think he was the first horse she ever owned. When sold as a yearling at the Inglis Yearling Sales, the colt had been the subject of a disputed final bid of 300 guineas. When re-offered to resolve the impasse, Eiver Walker ran Clive Inglis, who was acting on behalf of Lorna Utz, up to 550 guineas, almost double the previous figure, before quitting the contest. But the future Sylvandale proved cheap at the price for as an autumn three-year-old he matured to become one of the best horses in the land.
He won both the V.R.C. and A.J.C. St Legers, and the Australian Cup in very smart time, besides finishing an unlucky third in the Sydney Cup when carrying a good horse’s weight in 8 st. 12lb. In so doing, he accorded his trainer, Fred Williams, the distinction of becoming the first man to prepare the winners of all five three-year-old classics in the one season. Both Theo and Sylvandale were retired in 1936 after each suffered from recurring tendon weakness. Theo was sold privately to Dan Seaton for something like 500 guineas and stood his first season in 1936 at Kingsfield Stud at an initial fee of 30 guineas. Although mated with a number of the stud’s Wolaroi mares, he failed to sire anything of note. Sylvandale, on the other hand, was sold publicly to A. E. Thompson and Sons for 1900 guineas in April 1937 although he, too, failed to make his mark as a stallion with none of his progeny ever winning a principal race.
A long-barrelled bay with a white blaze and white markings on his near hind leg, Theo, had been bred by George Currie at his Koatanui Stud, near Wanganui in New Zealand and was to be the only A.J.C. Derby winner bred by this most successful of studmasters. Rare is it for any breeder to come by one champion stallion; two or more in the one life is a special blessing, but George Currie enjoyed that distinction in standing both Absurd and Limond at his North Island stud. Originally a renowned breeder of Hereford cattle, Currie extended to thoroughbreds just after the turn of the century. But it was his acquisition of Absurd that was to change the stud’s fortunes. The Great War hit English breeders particularly hard, and in the absence of buyers from the Continent, the December Sales at Newmarket in 1915 offered the prospect of some rare bargains. It was at these sales that Currie acquired Absurd, a Middle Park Plate winner owned by J. B. Joel, for the bargain price of 1000 guineas. If that wasn’t enough of a bargain, shortly thereafter Currie bought the mare Eulogy privately from Leopold de Rothschild for 350 guineas. Both horses were sent to New Zealand on the same ship. Absurd brought a revolution in speed to the New Zealand Turf and was to be the premier stallion in that country five times, while Eulogy went on to become one of the most influential matrons of all time in the New Zealand Stud Book.
But it is George Currie’s purchase of the stallion Limond that most concerns us here. Bred in England in 1913, Limond was successful in the Exeter Stakes at Newmarket as a two-year-old, and the following season only started twice, finishing unplaced in the Two Thousand Guineas and the Gatwick Three-Year-Old Cup. His racing career was curtailed soon after owing to leg trouble, and he was retired to the Meddler Stud after being sold as a stallion for 100 guineas. Although Limond met with poor patronage there despite a mere 18 guineas service fee, he did manage to sire a brilliant two-year-old colt named Limosin, owned and bred by Edward Moorhouse, the joint-founder of the British Bloodstock Agency in 1911 and publisher of its associated annual, The Bloodstock Breeders’ Review. In fact, Limosin was the only horse ever to carry Moorhouse’s colours. It had been Moorhouse and the offices of the British Bloodstock Agency through whom George Currie had negotiated the purchase of Absurd and when the New Zealand studmaster again approached Moorhouse to procure a stallion for Koatanui it was quite understandable why Limond came to mind.
Currie, in turn, liked Limond because he was by Desmond and descended from the Sunshine branch of the No 1 family. Lindal, his dam, was also the dam of Marconigram’s dam, Marcia Blanche. It was a bloodline that had already enjoyed much success in New Zealand through the champion stallion Demosthenes, as well as Martian and Boniform. When Limond arrived at Koatanui, Absurd was on the verge of becoming champion stallion and Limond’s opportunities in his first season were limited. In fact, in his first crop, he only managed six foals although a number of them won races. However, when Limerick and Commendation came along in his second season, the stallion’s reputation was made. Although his stock occasionally suffered from shelly feet – Limerick and Veilmond come to mind in this regard, he proved an outstanding sire of horses over all distances and of all ages and the most successful sire of classic winners ever imported to New Zealand up to that time. Limond sired the winners of no less than ten Derbies, ten St Legers, and seven Oaks, as well as a host of first-class juveniles in both Australia and New Zealand. He sired few genuine two-milers but many brilliant middle-distance horses. Two of his progeny in Ammon Ra and Theo won the A.J.C. Derby, but Limerick was arguably his most celebrated son. Limond was the premier stallion in New Zealand on only one occasion, in the 1930/31 year, while in the following season he was the premier stallion in Australia, where he was particularly highly regarded. He died at Koatanui Stud at the age of 23 in May 1936.
Mirabelle II, the dam of Theo, was foaled in Belgium in 1920 but afterwards went to England, and it was from there that George Currie imported her into his New Zealand stud. As a racehorse, she had proved quite adaptable winning a number of races over distances varying from seven furlongs to two miles. By the British horse Kroonstad, winner of an Ascot Derby and Doncaster Stakes, Mirabelle II was from an unraced mare by Missel Thrush out of a half-sister to All Black. It was this last fact that greatly influenced her importation to New Zealand, given that All Black was the sire of the great Desert Gold. Mirabelle II proved quite useful at stud in her adopted homeland, for apart from getting Theo, she later threw Sir Cameron, a winner of the A.R.C. Great Northern Guineas.
For owner Ned Moss, Theo’s victory in the A.J.C. Derby represented his proudest moment in a lifetime on the racecourse and came at his fifth attempt to win the race. Now the Australian Turf is littered with the corpses of those fearless gamblers who have won big money in spectacular plunges down through the years only to lose it all in the end. Moss avoided such a denouement. During the middle years of the 1930s as the Depression lingered and after Theo’s enforced retirement, he scaled back on the extent of both his racing string and his betting and set up a trust account for his wife and four children, which he could not touch. He died of a heart attack at the age of 62 in January 1937 while holidaying at Jervis Bay, on the very same day of the National Yearling Sales in New Zealand, the place where he had found his greatest bargains of the Turf. The trust account, which he had established, was reputedly valued at almost a quarter of a million pounds. For the lad who had started off his working life as a paperboy, it had been quite a journey.
Theo was the third and final winner of the A.J.C. Derby trained by Fred Williams. He continued to train successfully at his Alison Road premises over the next few years, preparing among other horses, Talking, before he announced his retirement, this time for good, during the 1938 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. He had been preparing the expensive French imported stallion Genetout on behalf of ‘Prince’ Baillieu and Alf Thompson and although contemplating retirement, had felt obliged to continue given the large sum Genetout had cost his owners. When Genetout broke down in the Colin Stephen Stakes at that meeting and was retired to stud, Williams, too, quit the Turf. He had enjoyed a most remarkable career. Perhaps his greatest achievement as a trainer was in preparing the three colts, Salitros, Rampion and Theo to win the A.J.C. Derby and then successfully backing all three up to annex the Victoria Derby a few weeks later in the season. In between the Derbies, Rampion and Theo each managed to win the Caulfield Guineas as well. Randwick was certainly Williams’ happy hunting ground, for the other notable statistic in his career was his training the winners of five Epsom Handicaps viz. Greenstead (1920), Claro (1923), Vaals (1927), and twice with the great Chatham (1932 and 1933). The great man was just as adept in his handling of juveniles as with Derby colts and handicappers, as his hat-trick of wins in the Breeders’ Plate in the years 1925 to 1927 demonstrates. Although he only topped the Sydney Trainers’ Winning List on one occasion, he was invariably at or near the top, judged on stakes winnings alone.
Williams retired from the training ranks a very wealthy man with extensive property interests but a man plagued by ill-health. He had long suffered from asthma and bronchial problems. His loyal foreman, Jack Mitchell, who had been such an integral part of the stable’s operations for more than eleven years, inherited many of Williams’ clients and horses, and in turn, carved out a distinguished training career in his own right. Mitchell applied for and was granted, a No. 1 trainer’s licence immediately upon Fred’s projected retirement. Indeed, few trainers have had such a comprehensive background for their profession as Mitchell. Apart from everything he had learned from Fred Williams, Mitchell’s experience went all the way back to the Kingsfield Stud in its early years. After leaving Kingsfield, Jack Mitchell went to the late Bill Booth’ s stables at Rosehill as a foreman and remained with ‘The Rajah’ for five years. Jack also acted as Frank Dalton’s foreman for some four years.
Fred Williams continued to race a number of horses over the years after handing in his licence, retaining Mitchell as his trainer. One such horse to sport the black jacket and orange cap was Veiled Threat, bred by the well known veterinary surgeon, Norman Larkin who only kept a few broodmares. Jack Mitchell trained Veiled Threat to win two Sydney Cups among other good races after Jerry Carey had originally bought the horse for Williams as a yearling for 600 guineas. Although he won two Sydney Cups, Fred sold the horse to a trio of friends only a week before the first of those Cup wins, which came in 1942 and, due to the war, was at Rosehill.
The new owners, Jim Normoyle, Bill Dawes and Reg Allcott, rather generously gave the Cup to Williams, one of the few Sydney racing trophies to elude the great man during his training career. As well as buying some yearlings outright, Williams raced a number of fillies on lease from Kia Ora Stud during his twilight years. These included Defame, who was the last horse to successfully carry his colours when she won the 1952 Princess Handicap at Randwick landing some good bets and beating among others, Golden Chariot, the future dam of Wenona Girl. Sadly, ill-health dogged the last years of Williams’ life. He died in tragic circumstances early on a Thursday morning in February 1953. It came as a result of a sixty-foot fall from a fourth-floor window of his suite at the Hampton Court Hotel in King’s Cross, a hotel he owned. He had been largely confined to his suite there for a number of years suffering from severe asthma. It was believed that he had staggered to the open window during an asthma attack and fallen or jumped to his death. He died childless although he left a widow, Edith, whom he had married in 1914.
Before I end this chapter, permit me a final word on the horse that won the 1934 Derby prize. In the light of Theo’s complete loss of form following his Melbourne Cup failure in 1934, it is easy to dismiss him as merely just another classic winner in an ordinary year. Such a judgement I believe is unfair. In winning the spring Triple Crown of the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Derbies and the Caulfield Guineas, Theo accomplished what only Rampion had done before him. When one considers that the Victorian Amateur Turf Club introduced the Caulfield Guineas in 1881 and the treble was there for the taking in all the years thereafter, it is no mean achievement. After all, to win the three events a horse needed to maintain peak form over a five-week period and cope with the exertions of at least one interstate journey from Sydney to Melbourne. Moreover, the horse must be able to mix distances, going from a mile and a half to a mile, and then back again at three quite, different racecourses. Perhaps it is worth contemplating that apart from the great but unsound Nuffield in 1938, no other colt would measure up to the exacting challenge again until a certain son of Khorassan came along in the spring of 1957.