On a midsummer’s day in 1943, Peter Riddle happened to be at the Newmarket yards of William Inglis and Son when the yearlings from Kia-Ora Stud were being unloaded from the horse float. In those days, the yearlings arrived at the yards well before Easter to be prepared for the sales, and the Kia-Ora stock was generally the first, some three months before the auction. Although Peter Riddle’s brother, Bert, was the manager of the stud at the time, Peter hadn’t been given any privileged information concerning this particular batch. But for a reason which he later had difficulty explaining, he took a liking to one little colt as he emerged from the float. “I followed him around to his box and found out that he was by Midstream from Idle Words. He wasn’t a particularly impressive yearling in the accepted sense, being rather on the frail side. Brother Bert evidently thought he was the worst of Kia-Ora’s nine Midstream colts because he had placed him last on the list. But I seemed to have a sort of inspired fancy for this colt and the hunch, fortunately, remained with me until the sale. I got him for 350 guineas although he did have a bit of a bump on his leg at the time of the sale.” I should point out here that breeders then tended to catalogue their yearlings to be sold from each sire in an assumed order of merit. The idea behind this approach was that if the horse which most buyers preferred was placed first, those unsuccessful bidders might be induced to bid for the next best by the same sire, and so forth.
The 1943 draft was the third crop of Midstreams to be offered for sale. Percy Miller, acting through Clive Inglis, had bought the horse in England in December 1937 for 3500 guineas without ever having seen him. He was the last stallion imported to Kia-Ora before the War. Miller cabled instructions to his London representative to select in order of preference the best looking young horses being offered at the December bloodstock sales. Midstream got the verdict and when Miller analysed his pedigree and racecourse performances he, in turn, was fired with enthusiasm. A son of Blandford who had sired four English Derby winners (Trigo, Blenheim, Windsor Lad and Bahram), Midstream was a horse of impressive power and symmetry and looked every inch a prospective stallion. He had only been lightly raced in England over three seasons and during each had proved himself a first-class performer winning 5 ½ races from 17 starts and being placed in the prestigious Sussex Stakes. All told he cost Miller around £5,000 to land in Australia, but he was worth every penny of it. Midstream would become the second stallion standing at Kia-Ora during Percy Miller’s lifetime to head the Australian Sires’ List, and it was the little colt bought by Peter Riddle that made it possible. His name, of course, was Shannon.
Idle Words, the dam of Shannon, was only a slight-framed filly when Claude McIntosh of Quirindi bought her at the Sydney Sales in 1935 for 110 guineas. She had been broken in immediately and put into work with Danny Swanson at Warwick Farm. She had two starts for him, finishing unplaced each time before being sent to her owner’s property at Quirindi for a three months spell. During that time, she was hacked about the property doing regular station work, but showed McIntosh enough dash that he fancied her as a first-up proposition in town. This time Idle Words was sent down to Chris O’Rourke to train, and about six weeks later she appeared in a Welter at Moorefield. Claude was inclined to have a dash at her in the ring on the strength of what he had seen her do at home, but O’Rourke cautioned that he didn’t think the mare had been in work long enough. Deferring to the trainer’s better judgement, Claude forgot about his dreams of a sting and returned to Quirindi going about his station work on the day of the race. It isn’t hard to imagine his feelings when he turned on the wireless that evening and heard the race results from Moorefield. Idle Words had won the Flying Welter by ten lengths at 33/1! It was the apogee of her racing fortunes, however, and she only managed to win two other races.
Towards the end of her career, Idle Words was even taken to Grafton in an attempt to win a race but failed to do so. The mare was a bad traveller and when she returned to Randwick after her long journey to the Clarence River district, she was as poor as a gallicrow. With no pretensions to glamour and only three wins in modest company to show for her four seasons on the racecourse, Idle Words went into the William Inglis sales ring in July 1938. Being a daughter of Magpie, Percy Miller was prepared to risk 75 guineas on her as a matron but was slightly ashamed to have the name Kia-Ora announced as the buyer. So, he got Sydney trainer Bob Mead, to do the bidding. She must have been one of the cheapest mares ever bought for Kia-Ora and one of the best money-spinners in the Stud’s history.
Shannon might have only brought 350 guineas, but once he showed what he could do on a racecourse, buyers fell over themselves for his younger brothers. Percy Miller retained the filly foals, but he disposed of the colts, and those sired by Midstream, brought some fabulous sums. Her 1944 foal, Lysander, fetched 4,000 guineas; in 1945 came Bernbrook, who brought 3,500 guineas; 1949 was Canute who realised 5,200 guineas; and in 1952, Jaseur brought 3,800 guineas. As we shall see, just like Shannon some of these expensive younger brothers also made bids for the Derby crown at Randwick. I might mention that Idle Words was mated with stallions other than Midstream at Kia Ora, including Pantheon, Delville Wood, and Channel Swell, but it was with Midstream that she clicked, and for Percy Miller at least, the cash register never stopped ringing.
The man who had acquired this bargain yearling that was to become the famous Shannon was one of the most knowledgeable horsemen in the land. Born at Cowra fifty-eight years earlier, Peter Riddle was the son of a trotting enthusiast who, in the late nineteenth century established the Normanhurst Stud at South Granville in the western suburbs of Sydney. Both Peter, and his brother Bert, each followed their father into the light-harness sport before ultimately moving on to thoroughbreds. It was in 1913 following the death of Gus Millsom that Peter Riddle took over as trainer-driver for Percy Miller, then the outstanding trotting owner of the times. In the next fifteen years that Riddle worked with Miller, there were few trotting races of importance that he didn’t win either for himself or his patron, including the Sires’ Produce Stakes in Sydney and Melbourne for six years in succession and a Sydney Cup with Maoriland. However, the best horse that Riddle came across during all his years in the light-harness game was one he owned himself, Sheik, a horse that he initially leased before purchasing outright. When Sheik was in his prime (1922-25) Riddle campaigned him and other horses in New Zealand for more than four years, winning such valuable races as the Canterbury, New Zealand and Otahuhu Cups.
It was in 1927 following his return from New Zealand that Riddle announced his intention to switch his allegiance to gallopers as from Easter the following year – initially as a private trainer for Miller, although later on going public. At first, he took out stabling at the William Inglis yards at Newmarket. As we have seen, Percy Miller was never as successful with the gallopers that carried his colours as he had been in harness racing, but there were some notable victories nonetheless with Riddle, including the VRC Oaks winner, Session. When the former leading trainer, Frank Marsden died in 1931, Riddle assumed the lease on the famous Bowral Street stables that Marsden had constructed in 1920 at the cost of £2,600. The establishment had once sheltered the likes of Furious and Richmond Main, and more recently, the immortal Phar Lap during the time that Harry Telford rented boxes there. Immediately after Shannon’s first early morning gallop at Randwick, Riddle realised that this latest lodger of Bowral Street was going to uphold the finest traditions of the place that housed him, and certainly would not shame his association with those ghosts of greatness past.
Riddle was actually blessed with two good juveniles that season, for also in his care was Bravo, a very speedy colt by Le Grand Duc, owned by brother Bert. Shannon was supported to pull off a good thing at his racecourse debut in the Breeders’ Plate, despite the presence of the odds-on Majesty, who had been the top-priced colt at the Sydney Yearling Sales when he set Monte Walker back 1600 guineas. Ridden by Fred Shean, who was entrusted with the mount in each of the colt’s seven starts at two, Shannon went under but only by the narrowest of margins to Victory Lad, ridden by a then little-known Queensland apprentice named George Moore.
Moore was indentured to Fred Shean’s brother, Jim, and was staying over as a free boarder in Fred’s house. Perhaps upsetting a betting sting wasn’t the most diplomatic means for a young lad to ingratiate himself with a generous host but Fred showed no resentment. Shannon was runner-up again a fortnight later in the Canonbury Stakes, before winning two races at Randwick in late November. Rested, Shannon was set for a campaign aimed solely at the rich Sires’ Produce Stakes at his home course. Pitched in against eleven rivals, Shannon went to the post in the Sires’ as the public fancy; and he justified the support although it was a close-run thing. The race was a roughhouse affair in the straight and interference cost some of Shannon’s rivals dearly; but thanks to Shean’s decision to trail the pacemaker, Shannon missed all the trouble to win by a half-neck from Tea Rose, while his stablemate, Bravo, filling the minor placing three lengths away.
You can be sure that Peter Riddle took a close measure of the rangy Mr Standfast filly that got so close to Shannon at the end of the Sires’ race. The filly in question, Tea Rose, was a lovely, tall chestnut of exquisite quality marked by a white blaze and one rear-white stocking. Bred in Queensland by E.E.D. White and partly owned by the leading Brisbane trainer George Anderson, she was being raced in Sydney by Anderson along with other members of his team, because all but the sand track at Albion Park had been closed in Brisbane due to the war. Tea Rose was already the winner of a juvenile stakes race at Rosehill and had been runner-up to Shannon twice in minor races at Randwick prior to the Sires’. Ted McMenamin, her jockey, was convinced that but for the severe interference suffered in a melee in the straight, she would have beaten Shannon. A deep, incisive wound on Tea Rose’s near hind leg, just above the pastern, bore testimony to McMenamin’s tale of woe; it bled profusely in the unsaddling paddock, and immediate veterinary attention was required. Promise is a quality often attributed to young racehorses on the slightest of pretexts, but there was no question here. This was a young lady in a hurry!
The Sires’ race marked the end of Shannon’s first season on the Turf, with Peter Riddle choosing to rely instead on the speedy Bravo for the Champagne Stakes, run a week later. Anderson, however, persevered with Tea Rose for the same race, although due to the injury, he was unable to gallop the filly on the track during the interim. In the circumstances, she only failed by a half-neck to catch the flying Scaur Fel, winner of the Gimcrack Stakes who carried her seven-pound penalty with distinction on rain-softened ground. Bravo, the short-priced favourite disappointed the Riddle brothers by finishing out of a place for the first time in his career, unable to handle the going. Unlike Shannon, the colt looked to be just a precocious youngster. Tea Rose, on the other hand, was beginning to shape as the genuine staying article; like Shannon, she was now turned out into the paddocks for a few weeks before being brought back into work to begin her Derby preparation.
Given the almost certain absence of interstate challengers for the Derby crown, discussions on the race during the early weeks of winter focused almost exclusively on the colt and the filly that had fought out the Sires’ Produce Stakes. Tea Rose emphasised her Derby credentials when she resumed from a three-month spell to hump 9 st. 10lb to victory in a nursery handicap at Moorefield on the last day of the season with Harry Darke returning to the saddle. It was this run that saw her preferred to Shannon in the betting for the Hobartville Stakes five weeks later. A week before the Hobartville, Shannon blotted his copybook by finishing unplaced in his seasonal re-appearance against older horses in a flying handicap at Randwick. The Hobartville Stakes in 1944 was on a card conducted for the benefit of the Australian Red Cross as part of the AJC’s war effort. And what a difference a week makes! Shannon was untroubled to win the semi-classic, while Tea Rose finished out of a place. The race marked the first occasion that Darby Munro rode the colt in what was to become a famous – if controversial – partnership of the Turf. Previously Fred Shean had been Shannon’s rider, but the jockey’s disqualification in 1944 over the infamous Cameron Handicap at Newcastle effectively cost him the mount on a legend.
Whereas Shannon was then put aside for the Rosehill Guineas, George Anderson – nonplussed by the rangy filly’s failure – decided to pit her against Flight and company the next Saturday in the Canterbury Stakes; and was duly rewarded with an upset victory at the juicy odds of 33/1! Not everyone was convinced of her imminent greatness for Tea Rose was allowed to start at double figures in the Rosehill Guineas for which Shannon ran as an even-money favourite a fortnight later. Alas, for those souls who snapped up the short price, Shannon was kicked in the abdomen at the barrier but still allowed to start by the club’s veterinary surgeon. The colt suffered similar wretched luck in running when he was involved in a scrimmage and twisted a plate, finishing out of a place, with Tea Rose winning in imperious fashion.
It was quite obvious now just which horse would go to the post as Derby favourite, and the price firmed even more when the daughter of Mr Standfast easily won the weight-for-age Craven Plate, defeating Mayfowl, Katanga and Flight, on the opening day of the spring meeting before a huge crowd. Despite the drastic reduction in the number of race meetings, the sport was booming in Australia as the 1944 AJC Spring Meeting unfolded. New attendance records were continually being set, with free entry for men and women in uniform; and tote revenue soared to unprecedented heights. Much of the apparent prosperity was attributable to the cash freely circulating amongst war workers and the overseas allied servicemen stationed in Australia.
The 1944 AJC Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The American humorist Mark Twain once wrote: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” This was the sort of faith Peter Riddle had in his champion bay colt when it came to staying the Derby course! He believed that if it was a slowly run affair, Shannon might just do the filly for speed at the end. On the other hand, if there was pace, and stamina came into play, Shannon would probably be found wanting. Nor had an inflamed heel that had developed in the days after the Rosehill Guineas assisted Shannon’s Derby prospects and the injury flared up again after the colt’s final trial gallop over ten furlongs with Bravo at Rosebery. Viv Davis had been called in to treat the split in the near forefoot and Ray Stewart, the AJC veterinary surgeon, inspected Shannon before the horse was even allowed to take his place in the Derby field.
Unlike the autumn, Anderson now continued to repose the reins of Tea Rose in the hands of 24-year-old Harry Darke. Although there were eleven acceptors, on paper it looked a two-horse race. However, if there was to be an upset most fancied Removal, a brilliant winner of the Clibborn Stakes the previous week partnered by the sensational apprentice, Athol Mulley, and, together with Silver Link one of two entries in the race from the Bayley Payten stable. Next in demand came Beau Monde and Accession, colts that had finished third and fourth in the Rosehill Guineas and were trained by Frank Dalton and Fred Cush respectively. The well-bred Murray Stream was Frank McGrath’s stable representative, which he trained for the Mace family, pastoralists with extensive holdings just outside of Rockhampton, Queensland. Murray Stream had won the Fernhill Handicap in the autumn, but McGrath believed that the Derby had come too soon for the immature colt.
Shannon had drawn three at the starting post with Tea Rose alongside him at four. Anderson’s only instruction to jockey Harry Darke on Tea Rose was to ensure a reasonable pace that would allow the filly’s superior stamina to come into play. When the pace was assured in the early furlongs, Darke was content to rein in his mount just behind the leaders, before launching his challenge in the final stages. It played out just as George Anderson expected too, with the only filly in the field easily outstaying her male rivals in the last furlong to beat Removal by two lengths with Prince Verity a good third. As suspected by many, Shannon failed to stay and finished a well-beaten sixth. In winning, Tea Rose had become the first filly to take the race since Picture forty-six years before, although a general newspaper strike in Sydney at the time prevented the merit of her performance from being fully appreciated by a broader audience.
The Derby represented the career highlight of the fifty-year-old trainer, George Anderson. Commencing his life in racing on the famous Darling Downs of Queensland he had first become a public trainer in Brisbane in 1922 and was immediately successful, very quickly becoming the leading trainer there with clients such as Messrs J.H.S. Barnes, E.E.D. White, J.F. Banks, JJM Redmond and the Mace family. Anderson’s status of the leading trainer wasn’t just based on the number of races won but also on the number of horses he trained. For several years the cream of the yearlings from the famous Canning Downs Stud, the property of the long-time QTC committeeman, J.H.S. Barnes, found their way into Anderson’s stable either by lease or purchase by himself or his many clients. Anderson boasted the distinction of once having trained all of the winners on a six-race card at Warwick during a particularly wet season.
However, the trainer’s journey hadn’t been one untrammelled rise to the top, and one of his setbacks was when he was disqualified together with one of his apprentice jockeys over the running of Blackbeard in a novice handicap at Eagle Farm in January 1932. As already noted, it was the wartime restrictions in Queensland that brought George Anderson to Sydney in the autumn of 1942, and he was to spend nearly four years training here. Apart from Tea Rose, he won a number of good races during his stay with the likes of Eureka and Falcon Knight and the latter was to credit him with a King’s Cup in 1947 when he returned to Brisbane after the War. He was rarely without a good horse in his stable and trained both High Jip and Basha Felika in the years after the war. He never lived long enough to see Basha Felika win the 1951 Caulfield Cup, dying a few months before at the age of fifty-seven following a prolonged illness. Even at the time of his death after twenty-nine years of training, Anderson headed the Queensland trainers’ list of stakes won for the season. Rarely forthcoming with pressmen, Anderson believed he only owed his loyalty to his coterie of owners. After all, he argued, it was the owner who paid his bills.
The Derby also represented the high point of life in the leathers for lightweight jockey Harry Darke. The twenty-four-year-old had begun his working life assisting a professional fisherman, and while young Harry pulled in plenty of fish, quite a few of the bigger fish pulled in Harry. Lack of size was no impediment to a life in the saddle, however, and so Darke cast about for a master and was initially apprenticed to the Ascot trainer, Stan Hobby. A year later Hobby was disqualified and Darke transferred his indentures to the Randwick veteran, Paddy Nolan. Nolan at the time was training for Richard Wootton, who happened to know a thing or two about the art of jockeyship, and Nolan quickly drew Wootton’s attention to the lad’s possibilities.
Wootton spent considerable time instructing Darke before the lad was allowed to ride for his permit. The grounding was valuable and upon being licensed Darke quickly outrode his allowance, his first win coming at Canterbury Park at only his third ride in February 1938. In fact, quite a few of his early wins were on horses owned by Richard Wootton. The jockey’s link with the Anderson stable was first forged in 1943 when he was asked to partner the two-year-old Falcon Knight in the Fernhill Handicap at Randwick. Although he had ridden Tea Rose in trackwork and her early two-year-old races, Darke was overlooked for the mount in preference to the veteran Ted McMenamin when she tilted for the rich juvenile prizes at the Randwick Autumn Meeting. It was a different story six months later. However, for Darke, the glory that was Derby Day quickly subsided, when he returned to his wartime duties of making buttons for soldiers’ uniforms the following week.
Mr Standfast, the sire of Tea Rose, hailed from a most remarkable family. Bred in England in 1931, he was by Buchan, Lord Astor’s great racehorse that had been runner-up in both the Two Thousand Guineas and English Derby of 1919. Cinna, the dam of Mr Standfast, is one of the most famous foundation mares in history and Ross du Bourg in his excellent book ‘The Australian and New Zealand Thoroughbred’ argues that: “she has possibly exerted a greater influence for good than any other broodmare on the development of the Australasian blood-horse this [twentieth] century”. A first-class filly, Cinna won both the One Thousand Guineas and Coronation Stakes and was beaten only a neck for the Oaks in 1920. At stud, apart from Mr Standfast, she produced the great stallions Beau Pere and Balloch – so influential in this part of the world – in addition to Gay Shield and Dink. Cinna’s two daughters, Belle Mere and Celebrity, also feature in the pedigrees of a host of good horses in Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Standfast took his name from the novel written by John Buchan and published in 1919. It was a clever play on the common name of both author and sire, and although not as well known as ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ both books featured the adventures of Richard Hannay and the British Secret Service. Mr Standfast only ever won one minor race and a paltry £100 in stakes and had a season at the stud in England before being imported to New Zealand by Te Awamutu owner-breeder, Martin Tims. The stallion didn’t stay long in New Zealand and was sold to Queensland interests to stand at the Alma Vale Stud at Greenmount before his New Zealand progeny even had a chance to prove their worth. In fact, he had left behind in Lord Chancellor a slow-maturing horse that in time was to emerge as the best stayer in New Zealand. Apart from Tea Rose, the best two of the progeny of Mr Standfast to race in Australia were probably Prince Standard and Hoyle. The stallion dropped dead in his yard at Alma Vale in August 1947, coincidentally the same month that Beau Pere died in Kentucky.
Tea Table, the dam of Tea Rose, was by the former AJC Derby winner, Rivoli, who did such good service at the stud in Queensland. George Anderson had trained both her and her dam Tea for Two for Mr J.H.S. Barnes. Although only a moderate performer on Queensland racecourses and not raced beyond her third season, Tea Table had the distinction of winning her only race as a two-year-old at Albion Park by ten lengths! Tressova, the third dam of Tea Rose was a three-quarter sister in blood to Otford, the dam of Manfred. Tea Table was sold at the dispersal sale of the Canning Downs Stud in May 1938 belonging to J.H.S. Barnes where Ernest White gave 160 guineas for her. The mare was sent to Mr Standfast in his first season in Queensland and produced Tea Rose. Given that Ernest White decided not to race any horses during the war, he agreed to lease the filly to George Anderson for her racing career; and Anderson went partners with Walter Devon in the lease. Devon had previously raced that good filly, Early Bird.
Tea Rose had not been entered for the big spring staying handicaps in 1944, as George Anderson didn’t believe a filly was mature enough for the demands of those races, although she had been entered for both the Victoria Derby and Oaks Stakes. However, the wartime transport bans then in force, made interstate travel difficult. Racehorses could legally travel by sea, but limited space on vessels in the days following the Derby complicated the matter. And given the glittering prospects of her future, both on the course and in the paddock, Anderson decided not to risk overtaxing the filly at the Victorian Spring Meeting. Accordingly, Tea Rose went for a spell. In her absence, San Martin won the Victoria Derby, only to be destroyed three days later after snapping a leg during the Melbourne Cup.
George Anderson’s concern for the welfare of his valuable filly deserved a better fate than that which unfolded in the years ahead; but when the gods deal in destiny, they heed neither pity nor justice. Sadly, the AJC Derby proved to be the last victory for Tea Rose on a racecourse. She returned from her spell a bleeder and never recaptured the form that had made her almost invincible in the spring of 1944. She was ignominiously beaten at the prohibitive odds of 1/3 in the Adrian Knox Stakes at Randwick in midsummer and failed to win in seven other appearances that season. Brought back to racing as a four-year-old, Tea Rose sported silk on four occasions but failed ingloriously each time, and her owner reluctantly retired her to his stud.
The misfortunes that had marred her closing days on the racecourse extended to the breeding paddock. She failed to produce even one living foal. In her first season at stud Tea Rose visited Emborough, the sire of Bernborough, who was standing in Queensland. The following year she was booked to Dhoti, the resident stallion at Ted Underwood’s Warlaby Stud in Victoria. To break the long journey, Barnes arranged that Tea Rose would rest a few days with her old trainer, George Anderson, in Sydney. She slipped her foal on the day she arrived there. In due course, however, she kept her appointment with Dhoti, getting in foal and everything went well until a few weeks before the birth was due. Then with complications, an operation was necessary to remove the foal and save the mare. She was given a year off and then served in three successive seasons at Warlaby Stud, to Dhoti (twice) and Helios. She missed each time and died while foaling in 1954. And so, this wonderful filly – the only member of her sex to win the AJC Derby in the twentieth century in the spring – passed from the scene without issue.
Shannon’s post-Derby career was altogether more distinguished if a trifle understated. Neither Shannon, nor his owner-trainer Peter Riddle, were particularly robust characters, and as a result, the bay was only lightly raced in Australia. In his first four seasons on the Turf while in Riddle’s ownership, Shannon only started in twenty-one races, largely because Riddle was a very sick man and for much of the time wasn’t able to properly supervise the horse’s training. The split in Shannon’s near forefoot that had prompted a veterinary inspection before the Derby was aggravated during the race and that, together with Riddle’s own health problems, saw the horse miss the balance of his three-year-old season completely. The bay resumed racing over ten months later, in late August 1945, when he easily won the Campbelltown Handicap at Randwick.
Again, Shannon’s four-year-old season like the previous one was restricted just to the spring, and in five starts he tasted defeat only once – in the weight-for-age Craven Plate when the ten furlongs was a distance more to the liking of Flight. It was a campaign highlighted by a win in the rich Epsom Handicap when handicapped with 8 st. 10lb as well as victories in the Tramway Handicap and Hill Stakes. Shannon’s five-year-old season followed a very similar pattern. Again, the great horse was restricted to just five starts – all in the spring and with the Epsom as his main target. Again, he tasted defeat but once and it was that historic occasion that guaranteed the son of Midstream a prominent place forever in the Turf folklore of this wide brown land.
The occasion was, of course, the famous 1946 Epsom Handicap at Randwick racecourse where despite the burden of 9 st. 9lb, Shannon was sent to the post as the very popular odds-on favourite. I might observe here that the honour of introducing the first flag start actually belongs to the Roman Emperor, Nero. In the chariot races conducted during the Empire, there was no official starter; like all things in that Roman society, their races had to await the pleasure of the Emperor, and when unduly delayed, the crowds were known to express their impatience. On one famous occasion, the shouts of a frustrated crowd reached the ears of Nero who was still at dinner, and rather than stop eating, the great man merely threw his napkin out of the window. Afterwards, this was referred to as the first flag start – the napkin serving as a sign that the chariot race was permitted to commence. It might have been the first, but it certainly wasn’t the last occasion on which a meal was made of the start – a fact that anybody who was at Randwick racecourse on Derby Day 1946 could attest.
Munro and Shannon were standing well away from the line when starter Jack Gaxieu released the tapes. After being left fifteen lengths behind by the rest of the field, Munro conjured a remarkable performance from the son of Midstream who, according to the judge, went under by a mere half-head to the winner, Blue Legend. Forty minutes earlier Darby had also been beaten in the shadows of the post aboard Flying Duke, the even-money favourite in the Derby; and despite a copybook ride considering the circumstances when Munro returned to scale on Shannon, the crowd bayed for his blood. Perhaps Darby’s swarthy features had never intended him for the role of leading man, but to be re-cast as pantomime villain so quickly in the public’s eye through no fault of his own was hard to bear. In due course, Jack Gaxieu got the blame for Shannon’s defeat, but the real culprit was an indolent AJC committee that had invited the farce upon itself by failing to embrace progress and technology in the form of either starting barriers or photo-finish equipment immediately after the war.
Rarely has a committee’s failure been more cruelly and publicly exposed. The fledgeling Sydney Turf Club, created by special State legislation in only 1943, had already installed a fixed barrier at two of their course locations as well as camera finish photography. It is difficult now to fully comprehend the extent of the furore that the Shannon incident created, but let it be said that even four days after, the Sydney Daily Telegraph was still fulminating, and devoted an editorial to the excoriation of the AJC committee. Some good came out of it, however, because a few weeks later the club announced that a flag recall system of starting would be instituted at meetings to cater for false starts. Just what ‘a good thing beaten’ Shannon had been in that Epsom, was emphasised later at the meeting when the stallion set an Australasian record in winning the George Main Stakes. The son of Midstream then rounded off the week with an effortless win in the King’s Cup – the very last occasion he carried the famous pale blue and black halves.
Early in 1947, Peter Riddle’s health deteriorated still further and he was compelled to relinquish the training of all horses, with the single exception of Shannon. Riddle died in late June 1947 before he could get Shannon to the post again and the horse was put up for auction at the William Inglis yards at Newmarket in August. More than three thousand people crowded beneath the famous fig tree and the surrounding ground to witness the proceedings. The auctioneer dilated long and eloquently on the virtues of the horse – not that it was necessary for there wasn’t a soul present who was oblivious to that famous Epsom. After a preliminary bid of 10,000 guineas, the price quickly ran up to 25,000, before W. J. Smith lived up to his name and knocked out all rivals by offering a thousand more. It had taken all of seventy-five seconds. The price was a new record and easily eclipsed the £16,000 that Charlie Kellow had paid for Heroic. Talking, of course, had gone for £19,000 but that had been by private treaty and not a public auction.
Smith was non-committal as to whether or not he was acting for American interests, but meanwhile, the horse went into Frank Dalton’s stable. Shannon’s first appearance in the orange and white stripes of Smith came in the Warwick Stakes, run that year at Randwick while the Farm was still recovering from its wartime occupation. This race was quite a sensation, too, when the son of Midstream cost himself the victory by attempting to savage one of his opponents in the last half-furlong. Although he won at weight-for-age at his next two starts, Shannon’s defeat by Russia in the Craven Plate convinced Smith that the horse wasn’t quite himself. The new owner announced the horse would leave for America the following week to campaign there in some rich races in California.
Incidentally, the sale of Shannon and the subsequent profit realised by Riddle’s estate, which was shared equally between Riddle’s wife and daughter, became the subject of a somewhat celebrated High Court challenge by the Commonwealth Taxation Department. The taxation commissioner regarded Shannon as ‘stock-in-trade’ whereas Mrs Riddle contended the horse was a capital asset – and some asset at that! During the proceedings, Peter Riddle’s love for the horse was put officially on record in the cold and lofty precincts of the High Court. In a notable judgement, Mr Justice McTiernan held that Riddle’s regard for, and refusal to part with, Shannon – despite lucrative offers to do so – was the complete answer to the tax claim. The trainer Harry Plant gave evidence that, after he had taken Bernborough to America and returned to Australia in March 1947, he made offers for Shannon on behalf of Louis B. Mayer, first for £15,000 and then £20,000, only for Riddle to reject each offer on the spot. The judge concluded the horse was no ordinary stock-in-trade but more in the line of a family pet.
Shannon’s voyage to, and career in, America were not to be without incident. It was during his sea voyage over that his sale was announced to Harry Curland, only for that sale to fall through when doubts surfaced as to Shannon’s eligibility for inclusion in the American Stud Book. The problem arose because Shannon’s maternal granddam, Peptamint, was by Finland, a horse whose taproot in the Australian Stud Book was Spaewife; and for years, Spaewife’s pedigree was confused with another mare that died on the same voyage out from England in 1836. Ultimately, Spaewife’s pedigree had been proven to the satisfaction of the Keeper of the Australian Stud Book. After some initial resistance, the American authorities fell into line, but not before some delay, and another buyer had to be found for Shannon. The new man was Neil McCarthy of Los Angeles who secured the Australian stallion for a reported £32,000. However, before beginning his life at stud, Shannon was to continue his racing career on American soil, where, in nineteen starts in McCarthy’s colours he won six races including the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup and over $US200, 000. Twice he equalled world records at nine and ten furlongs. When he did finally go to stud, it was to join another Australian expatriate in Bernborough at the Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.
If not quite as successful in the stallion barn as Bernborough, Shannon nonetheless proved a valuable acquisition for the stud. Before being destroyed in May 1955 after snapping his leg while running in the Spendthrift paddocks, Shannon left the winners of more than $US3 million including the two outstanding gallopers Clem and Sea O’ Erin. It had been quite an adventure for the frail little colt that Peter Riddle had watched being unloaded from that horse float at Newmarket way back in the summer of ’43.