The great, unfulfilled ambition of Adolph Basser on the Australian Turf was to win the A.J.C. Derby. Each year at the Sydney Yearling Sales he bought well-bred and expensive colts, especially for this purpose. His first starter in the race had been the Midstream horse, Streamford, who had run unplaced in 1942, while in 1950 his promising three-year-old, French Cavalier, had failed to stay the journey. But, of course, the closest that Basser had come to success was with Delta in 1949, when the champion colt had been desperately unlucky in the race won by Playboy. It came as no surprise, therefore, when the younger full brother to Delta was on offer by Kia Ora Stud at the 1951 William Inglis Yearling Sales, speculation was rife that Basser would be the likely purchaser. But there was a complication. It was Basser’s habit that every two years he would embark on a sea voyage to England and the Continent as a means of relaxation and that year the cruise happened to coincide with the 1951 Easter Sales. Although the great man wouldn’t be there in person, before departing he managed to find the time to inspect the Midstream – Gazza yearling and he liked what he saw. Just a few days before the sale he sent a cable to his trainer, Maurice McCarten, with instructions to bid for the colt.
The A.J.C. Derby was Maurice McCarten’s great, unfulfilled ambition as well – albeit in the role of a racehorse trainer, although he had saddled runners-up in Delta and Montana. As a jockey, he had been successful in the race on no less than four occasions, and it was the first of those wins in 1923 partnering Ballymena that had brought him to the attention of the racing public here. In the weeks leading into those 1951 Sydney Yearling Sales, there was much conjecture as to whether it would be this younger brother of Delta, or the younger brother of Shannon, also on offer, that would be the top-priced yearling. In the end, it was Delta’s brother that got the nod, and at 6000 guineas, became the most expensive yearling sold in Australia since Dominant realised 6750 guineas in 1928. But as it transpired McCarten wasn’t the lucky buyer; he was trumped in the contest to finish as the underbidder. The successful bid, in fact, came from Charlie Robertson of the bloodstock firm Wright Stephenson, and he got the colt with just one call – an unusual occurrence in those days with such a high-priced lot. Robertson was acting on behalf of a leading American owner and breeder, John de Blois Wack of Santa Barbara, California, and the background to the bid provides a fascinating anecdote.
A feature of Australian racing in the years immediately after World War II was the wholesale transfer of some of our most outstanding horses to the U.S.A. In those years the hand of American breeders in the negotiation for international bloodstock was immeasurably strengthened by a buoyant U.S. dollar, and, forming syndications, they proceeded to import the likes of Bernborough, Royal Gem, Shannon, Russia, Reading and Ajax. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before they began speculating in our yearlings as well and Delta’s younger brother was the first real example of that policy in practice. Blois de Wack’s interest in Australian bloodstock had first been awakened when he saw the great Shannon win the Hollywood Gold Cup. He had then been one of the three principals responsible for importing Beau Gem, the younger brother of Royal Gem, into the U.S.A. When Royal Gem proved an immediate success at stud there, he sold down his interest in the younger brother and netted a handsome profit.
It served to whet the American’s appetite for the bargains that might be available in bloodstock Down Under. Accordingly, when Blois de Wack became aware of the prospective sale of Shannon’s yearling brother, he contacted Wright Stephenson to bid on the colt, on the proviso that the agent liked what he saw; it was the American’s ambition to get a well-bred Australian colt capable of winning a classic race. Charlie Robertson was the agent in question, but he wasn’t enamoured of the son of Idle Words; his preference lay with the Gazza yearling, and he sought permission to vary the commission. Such then are the vagaries of the auction ring lottery. When McCarten stopped bidding that day at Newmarket under the fig tree, he cost Adolph Basser the pleasure of owning the winner of the 1952 A.J.C. Derby. But in one of those bittersweet ironies that litter the path to success on the racecourse, it was this same well-proportioned sales topper that would give Maurice McCarten his only success as a trainer in the race. For upon purchasing the colt, Charlie Robertson cabled John de Blois Wack with the news and at the same time suggested that he leave the horse in Australia to be broken-in and to receive his early education in the stables of none other than Maurice McCarten.
Few leading jockeys make the transition to leading trainer, but McCarten is arguably the finest example in the history of Australian racing. McCarten rode his last race at Canterbury Park on May 2nd, 1942 on Metallic and was beaten a half-head by Fermanagh, ironically, ridden by Ted Bartle. Only the day before, the A.J.C. had granted McCarten the honour of a No. 1 trainer’s licence. He stepped straight into a ready-made training establishment, too, when he took over fellow countryman Jack Jamieson’s former stables, together with most of his team when Jamieson, through ill-health decided to return to his native New Zealand. Ted Bartle, Jamieson’s first jockey and a close friend of McCarten, who played a vital part in the transition, stayed on as the stable rider as did Bill Jarvis, who became McCarten’s foreman. Included among McCarten’s initial clients were such sporting luminaries as George and Harry Tancred, Ezra Norton, Adolph Basser, W. J. Smith and Harry Taylor. Within a month of getting his ticket, McCarten managed to train a double at Ascot; his first big race winner wasn’t long in coming either, and perhaps it was appropriate that the occasion was Derby Day at Randwick in 1943, the place where it had all started for McCarten in Australia twenty years before. But on this occasion, the race wasn’t the Derby, but the Epsom with Kiaree. Just on two years after securing his trainer’s badge, he was runner-up to Bayly Payten for the Sydney Trainers’ Premiership, and in the 1948-49 racing season, he won the first of what would be four consecutive titles. The stable also carried on the Jamieson tradition of big betting when the occasion demanded, with George Tancred providing much of the firepower in the ring.
When McCarten relinquished the saddle, few doubted that he would make the transition to a trainer, for he was the complete horseman. Never hard on his horses, he was particularly kind and patient with his juveniles, and only those with precocious speed appeared early in the season. He rarely gave his horses a race-morning pipe opener, a practice that had grown in popularity since the war. “I only do it with old sluggish plodders who need to be stirred up” was McCarten’s view. If the company a man keeps is the key to the judgement of his character, then McCarten’s clientele was eloquent testimony to his integrity. A number of his early patrons were men for whom he had ridden, men such as Ted Underwood, the V.R.C. committeeman and future vice-chairman, Ernie Williams and Percy Miller. Miller, in fact, came back as an owner after a long illness during the dark days of the war, when bloodstock prices were subdued, and he retained a number of yearlings that failed to meet their reserves; he shared them between his old mate, Peter Riddle, and McCarten. Monmouth was one good horse that McCarten got to train in this way. Over the years other distinguished patrons came along including Norman Robinson, the chairman of the V.A.T.C., Stanley Wootton and Mike Moodabe.
This most expensive yearling brother of Delta was registered as Deep River, and immediately after being sold the colt joined his distinguished older relation for a spell at Jim Bendrodt’s Prince’s Farm at Castlereagh. It was a rural retreat much favoured by McCarten for many of his team and particularly rising two-year-olds prior to putting them into work. Never one to rush his youngsters, McCarten delayed the colt’s racecourse debut until the A.J.C. Summer Meeting, when he ran second in a juvenile handicap over five furlongs on Villiers Day to Idlewild, a horse that he was destined to meet in the classic races the following season. In seven appearances at two with Sellwood as his constant partner, Deep River won twice, and, but for the Victorian colt, Pure Fire, would have won both the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington and Randwick. Although he had his chance in each of these semi-classics, Pure Fire came from behind and outstayed him on both occasions, although at Randwick the difference was only a long neck, after Sellwood had been forced to race wide for much of the journey. Deep River’s final appearance at two came in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes a few days later when he was again beaten into second place – on this occasion by French Echo. It was a highly pleasing season and as the colt wintered during the months of May and June, McCarten was hopeful that in Delta’s little brother he had a colt that just might happen to go one better than his distinguished relation come Derby Day.
In winning both the A.J.C. and V.R.C. Sires Produce Stakes, Pure Fire confirmed himself as the best two-year-old of the 1951-52-year and nominal winter favourite for the Derby. A nattily-built black colt by the British sire Empyrean from Fate’s Decree, by St Magnus, Pure Fire had cost John Wren 1500 guineas and was the last good horse to be owned by that controversial figure. The doyen of Victorian trainers, Fred Hoysted, prepared the colt, who was from the first crop of his sire. Empyrean, a genuine sprinter-miler bred by Lord Derby from his great champion, Hyperion, created a sensation that year as a first season stallion in Australia. Located at Kismet Park Stud at Sunbury, Victoria and the property of Leslie Aldridge, the oldest active studmaster in Australia at the time, Empyrean’s first-season representatives credited the stallion with £17,365 in earnings, easily surpassing the previous Australian first-season record stake-earnings of £7,050 established by Heroic in 1930-31. Apart from Pure Fire, who won five races in succession including both Sires’ Produce Stakes, Empyrean had five other winners. Unfortunately, although Pure Fire was given a Derby preparation and brought to Sydney for the race, he failed to regain his two-year-old form and was withdrawn from the A.J.C. Derby after a disappointing track trial in the week before the classic. Maurice McCarten pursued the traditional Derby route with Deep River and for a time in the new season, it seemed that Deep River, too, might fail to regain his juvenile form. A first-up fifth in the Hobartville Stakes on a dead track had been followed by a luckless performance in the Canterbury Guineas when ridden with poor judgement by Sellwood. However, McCarten’s Derby hopes were resuscitated when the colt showed a marked improvement in the Guineas at Rosehill, going under by a half-length after appearing the likely winner at the distance.
The 1952 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Heavy rain on the eve of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting that year rendered the Randwick course a quagmire on Derby Day. Twenty horses accepted for the classic, which equalled the record number of starters in 1948, Playboy’s year. The state of the track caused Deep River’s price to ease in course betting, while confident support for Idlewild saw the Smith-trained galloper firm sharply into favouritism. The winner of the Rosehill Guineas at his previous start in race record time, Idlewild was homebred by the imported English stallion, Bois de Rose. However, as a yearling, he had failed to attract a single bid at the sales at a time when his owner, Bill Tyler, would have happily accepted 350 guineas for him. The third fancy in the race was Silver Phantom trained by Peter Lawson. A delicate grey, Silver Phantom was bred on the same lines as the two Melbourne Cup winners, Hiraji and Foxzami, being by Nizami from a Foxbridge mare, and had run second in the Canterbury Guineas and a nice third in the Rosehill Guineas, coming home strongly after going off as the favourite. The field was not without interstate representation: Jim Cummings had brought Welloch over from Adelaide to contest the race, while Downing and Kashmir represented Victoria and Queensland respectively. Prince Dakhil, the Canterbury Guineas winner, trained by Fred Allsop, appealed as the best of the outsiders. Observant racegoers on the day might have noted that this was the first Derby at Randwick in which jockeys were permitted to wear racing goggles, and given the state of the track more than one pair seemed the order of the day.
In the capacity field, Deep River had drawn the extreme outside barrier. When the starting gates flew open, Sellwood immediately checked and switched the son of Midstream over to the inside fence and made no attempt to go the early pace, being content to lie second last going out of the straight. Six furlongs from the winning post, Deep River was in front of only a couple of runners in a well strung-out field. It was just after the passing the half-mile that Sellwood began to ride the colt along, and when the field swept into the straight he had Deep River cleverly positioned on the outside and ready to swoop. At the Leger Reserve, Flywood and Prince Dakhil were disputing the lead but then Sellwood delivered his challenge on the firmer ground out wide. The stylish colt won going away on the line by two lengths from Flywood, a 66/1 outsider trained by Pat Murray, with the ill-fated Prince Dakhil third, just in front of Gallant Archer. Idlewild after being a close second for home, tired badly to run twelfth.
It was a heady ride from Sellwood, and entirely fitting that he and McCarten had teamed up and finally won Australia’s greatest classic together. Theirs was the most stable and successful partnership on the Australian Turf during the 1950s and moreover was one based on deep and genuine respect and friendship. In this modern era of overpaid freelance jockeys where stable loyalty might be defined as nothing more than two consecutive rides for the same employer, the Sellwood-McCarten link harks back to a golden age. It was McCarten who was responsible for Sellwood moving to Sydney from Brisbane in December 1946 and thereafter the older man guided his protégé all the way to the top. Born at Ascot, a suburb of Brisbane, in December 1922, Sellwood was the son of a battling jockey-cum-trainer in Charlie Sellwood, whose greatest claim to fame was to train Hedui to win the 1947 Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap. Neville’s mother was also an accomplished horsewoman in her own right. At the age of fifteen, Neville was apprenticed to Brisbane trainer Jim Shean, the brother of jockey Fred Shean, who would establish something of a reputation as a master of apprentices. There was another youngster mucking out the stables of Jim Shean and learning the craft of the pigskin at the same time as Sellwood; his name was George Moore. Theirs was to be an intense and at times bitter personal rivalry in the years ahead, but at the time of their apprenticeship, it was the polite and articulate Sellwood who secured the better rides and promised the more glorious future.
Sellwood had his first race ride on Ashgun at Bundamba, Ipswich, on October 12th, 1938; he had to wait until his sixteenth mount, on a horse called Ourimbah at Doomben on March 11th, 1939, before he won his first race. The winners came quickly after that, however, and during his apprenticeship, Sellwood made occasional visits to Sydney and Melbourne for the major carnivals. During the spring of 1939, Jim Shean sent the young hoop to Sydney in company with Shean’s brother, Fred, a leading rider of the time. In fact, Sellwood’s first appearance at Randwick was disastrous when he fell on the three-year-old filly, Vampire, owned by Pat Osborne during the visit; Sellwood wasn’t badly hurt but the filly never raced again. His first winner in Sydney came on a horse called Bel Oiseau by Beau Pere in September 1940, but he had to survive a protest to retain the race. A few weeks later Jack Jamieson booked the youngster to ride his lightweight, Gladynev, in the 1940 Caulfield Cup, and they were beaten a head by Beaulivre despite receiving a stone-and-a-half in weight. Sellwood’s life in the saddle received a temporary check when he was called up for military service after Japan entered World War II, and he was posted to Townsville in the role of a clerk and given the rank of corporal. He was fortunate to come under a sympathetic commander who allowed the young hoop to ride at the local meetings at Cluden, on the outskirts of Townsville. It was there that the jockey met his future wife, Alwyn.
Sellwood’s first success in Sydney for Maurice McCarten came on Skip Bomber, who dead-heated with Kiaree at Randwick on November 21st, 1946. In December 1946 Ted Bartle was beginning to experience difficulty in satisfying the scales on some of McCarten’ lightweights, and, unable to make the eight-stone allotted to Wellington, a half-brother to Hydrogen, in the A.J.C. Villiers Stakes, Bartle recommended Sellwood for the mount. The pair finished third but a few days later combined to win the Chisholm Handicap at the A.J.C. Summer Meeting. Shortly after that Bartle announced his retirement and Sellwood replaced him as McCarten’s stable jockey. It was the most amicable of transitions and Bartle and his wife welcomed Sellwood and his young bride into their home to live when the couple first moved from Brisbane. It was in the 1948-49 season that Sellwood won his first jockeys’ premiership, the same year that McCarten took out his initial trainers’ title. It was a feat the pair repeated again the following season and Sellwood would have ensured a hat-trick in the 1950-51 racing season, but for his decision to accept a contract to ride for Atty Persse in England. En route, Sellwood was persuaded to ride for a number of weeks in the U.S.A., where the comedian Joe E. Brown acted as his patron. His English stint was successful for he won among other races, the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot, but like so many before him, Sellwood found both the bitterly cold weather and a sense of homesickness too great a pull; he returned to Sydney and resumed his place as McCarten’s stable rider.
John Blois de Wack and his wife, the lucky owners of Deep River, proved immensely popular figures in their brief foray into Australian racing. The strength and friendship derived from the American alliance in World War II were still fresh in the public mind, and this together with the natural charm of the couple from California ensured the warmest of receptions from the 58,000-people crowded into Randwick on that Derby Day in 1952. As Australia’s Governor-General decorated the winner with the blue riband, the crowd spontaneously burst into cheers. It was only after Deep River’s improved performance in the Rosehill Guineas that McCarten had been emboldened enough to encourage the owners to travel to Australia for the race, and it was the first time the couple had seen their horse. That night the Americans celebrated en grand seigneur, hosting a champagne reception at the Australia Hotel to celebrate the victory. Mr Blois de Wack was born in England of American parents, and his wife was a member of the fabulously wealthy DuPont family of Delaware. A leading breeder and owner in California, he had recently won the Santa Anita Maturity Stakes with a son of Beau Pere, and he also raced a number of horses successfully in England.
Deep River only started three more times on Australian soil after his Derby triumph. On the Wednesday of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, he ran second in the Craven Plate behind Hydrogen in slow going. Deep River was then taken to Melbourne. He again met Hydrogen in the W. S. Cox Plate in which he ran as equal second favourite; Hydrogen justified his favouritism with a comfortable win but Deep River flopped badly after being ridden up near the lead by Sellwood. Another three-year-old in Advocate actually led the field into the straight and doggedly held his ground to run third. Deep River’s last run in Australia came in the Victoria Derby, and, despite his failure at Moonee Valley, the colt went to the post a short-priced favourite. The main opposition consisted of horses that had already finished behind him at Randwick, but the firm ground at Flemington on Derby Day ensured an entirely different contest. Deep River raced like a tired horse and was always in the relegation zone finishing a plodding seventh. Advocate and Scobie Breasley won the race easily from Top Level and Gallant Archer, establishing a new race record into the bargain. It was instructive that all three placed horses were owned and trained in Sydney and all had finished behind Deep River in that sea of mud that constituted the Randwick course on Derby Day. There was now a nagging suspicion that Deep River owed his A.J.C. Derby more to the state of the ground on the day than to any superior staying ability.
From the fall of the hammer at the William Inglis Sales when Deep River was knocked down to American interests, the intention had always been to race him in the U.S.A. regardless of his performances here. However, given that he would have been spotting too great an advantage in maturity to horses bred to Northern hemisphere time as a two and early three-year-old, Deep River was kept in Australia until the Derbies had been run. In mid-November 1952 only a couple of weeks after the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, the colt was transported to his owner’s racing stables in California. Whether it was an aversion to dirt racing or a complete loss of form, in four seasons of racing in America, Deep River failed repeatedly.
In March 1954 John de Blois Wack invited both Neville Sellwood and Maurice McCarten over to the U.S.A. when the horse ran in the rich Santa Anita Handicap, but even with Sellwood taking the mount the colt still failed to flatter. Eventually Blois de Wack resorted to putting him over hurdles, but even in this demeaning character the one-time prince of Australian bloodstock failed to flatter, suffering a bad fall in a steeplechase at Belmont racecourse, New York. In all, Deep River managed to win only one race overseas and a paltry USD 7,725 in stakes. It was ironic after such extravagant hopes had been held that Deep River would prove a wonderful advertisement for Australian bloodstock in America, that the horse actually became something of an embarrassment. However, Blois de Wack retained his faith in bloodstock from the Antipodes, remaining a client of McCarten long after Deep River had been transported to America. The Maori, a massive horse by the English Derby winner, Midday Sun, was another galloper trained by McCarten to carry the same colours as the Derby winner, and in January 1957 McCarten paid 2100 guineas on Mr Blois de Wack’s behalf for the yearling brother to Rising Fast, who raced with moderate success as Good Fortune.
And whatever became of that class of 1952 that finished behind Deep River in the A.J.C. Derby? It seems fair to argue that Advocate was the best three-year-old to come out of the field that year even though he was still a maiden going into the race. Although he could handle heavy going, Advocate was happier on firm ground and his poor performance in the Derby at Randwick was attributed to the state of the track and Darby Munro’s suspicion that his mount received a clod of dirt in the face shortly after the start. Advocate certainly gave the lie to his Derby failure when he came out and won both the Members’ Handicap and Clibborn Handicap later at that Spring Meeting before going to Melbourne and taking the Victoria Derby. A stylish bay colt by the imported stallion Confessor, from that good broodmare, Symphony, by Eastern Monarch, he was bred by the former leading jockey, Ted McMenamin. Symphony was purchased as a yearling by Percy Miller but did not race and went to stud as a four-year-old. During the dark days of the war Miller decided to reduce the size of Kia Ora and at a special sale that took place on the Scone premises in April 1942 Symphony was one of those mares culled.
The mare attracted the attention of McMenamin, who was then just starting out as a studmaster, and he paid 65 guineas for her in partnership with two others; later the partnership disbanded and McMenamin became the outright owner. At stud for McMenamin, she produced six foals that were tried on the racecourse. Five of them won at Randwick while the sixth won at Flemington. Advocate was the best of the bunch though, and he carried the colours of Mrs Denis Allen with distinction, at one stage winning five races on the reel; apart from the V.R.C. Derby, his other important wins included the City Tattersalls’ Gold Cup, S.T.C. Cup, Chelmsford Stakes and Sir Colin Stephen Stakes, while he was also runner-up in both the A.J.C. and V.R.C. St Legers.
Advocate was bought for 1700 guineas as a yearling at the same sales in which Deep River was knocked down for 6000 guineas. The name Advocate seemed singularly appropriate for him too, given that his purchaser, Mrs Denis Allen, was the daughter of Sir Colin Stephen, the former A.J.C. chairman and once the principal partner in the law firm of Stephen Jacques and Stephen. Denis Allen was the son of Arthur Allen, the founder of that other large law firm of Allen, Allen and Hemsley. Although Sir Colin Stephen bred and raced horses extensively throughout his life he never achieved the success on the Turf that his daughter enjoyed with Advocate and Mrs Allen derived great satisfaction from Advocate’s win in the prestigious weight-for-age race at Randwick named in honour of her late father. Although the horse was initially placed in Frank Dalton’s stables he was later transferred to Fil Allotta before he had raced, and it was Allotta who prepared him for his major races.
Gallant Archer and Silver Phantom were the other two horses from that 1952 Derby field that subsequently most distinguished themselves on the Turf. Gallant Archer proved a wonderful galloper for the brothers Bon and Charlie Eastment and among the races he won were a Newcastle Cup, Chipping Norton Stakes and Alister Clark Stakes. He broke the 19-year-old Australasian record for 11 furlongs when he won the Q.T.C. Moreton Handicap by a nose with Darby Munro in the saddle. When he finally retired to the stud of S. G. White at Singleton in June 1956, he had won 19 races and around £23,000 in stakes. In later years the Eastment family continued to enjoy racecourse success with some of his progeny including the useful welter horse, Indian Harvest. Silver Phantom, who cost 3700 guineas as a yearling, proved to be something of an iron horse, as he was still winning races in his seventh year despite having broken a sesamoid bone in the A.J.C. Final Handicap a couple of seasons earlier. The grey enjoyed his greatest moment on the Australian Turf on Derby Day at Randwick in 1953 when Jack Green trained him to win the Epsom Handicap, in which he bettered by a quarter of a second Shannon’s Australasian record for the mile. Neville Sellwood rode him on that occasion and established quite an affinity with the horse. So much so that when he was retired from racing, his owner, Malcolm Campbell, presented him to Sellwood to be used as a hack on the jockey’s Cudal property, near Orange. Even after his leave-taking of the racecourse, the old grey was called upon to fulfil one last public duty, albeit a sad one. In December 1962 when Neville Sellwood’s body was flown back from France for burial, Silver Phantom, carrying the clerk of the course of the Orange Jockey Club in full uniform, headed the jockey’s funeral cortege through the town.
In a long and illustrious training career, Deep River was to be Maurice McCarten’s only winner of the A.J.C. blue riband and it came at a time when the trainer was at the height of his powers. Ironically, the season he won the Derby at Randwick was to be the season that he relinquished his crown as the leading trainer to Tommy Smith, after four successive trainers’ titles. Smith, of course, would go on to hold the premiership for thirty-three years in succession – unprecedented domination of racing in New South Wales, although it shouldn’t be forgotten that for the first twelve years of his reign, McCarten was runner-up on no less than ten occasions. Whereas Smith revolutionised training by massively increasing the number of horses in his charge to almost two hundred, there were never more than sixty or seventy horses on McCarten’s books at any one time.
McCarten conducted two establishments, at High St and the original stable block that he took over upon the retirement of Jamieson. The 1950s would see some wonderful racehorses emerge from their portals including the likes of Todman, Noholme, Prince Cortauld, Sweet Chime and Wenona Girl. A keen student of pedigree and conformation, McCarten was one of the first trainers to extensively tour the State’s breeding studs to inspect stallions, mares and foals. When it came to bidding for yearlings, Maurice had generally watched their development in the paddock from an early age. He enjoyed remarkable success with some long-standing patrons including Stanley Wootton and Bill Longworth. Wootton in particular imported a number of horses from England such as Bob Cherry, Donegal and The Pilot, and McCarten was guaranteed to get the best out of them.
McCarten could also be unconventional in his approach at times. A good example of this trait came at Rosehill on Saturday, July 31st 1954, the last day of the racing season when he won two consecutive races with Belmont Park. A son of Delville Wood out of Sweet Chime, he had cost owner Bill Dawes 3200 guineas as a yearling. Dawes had won a host of good races with the dam, including the V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes and Oaks Stakes, who was one of the best horses McCarten ever trained. On that July day in 1954, Belmont Park won the Auburn Stakes, the fifth race on the card, and thirty-four minutes later was saddled-up to take out the Welter. McCarten knew that the horse was in the peak of condition and despite the first engagement being a rather severe race, didn’t hesitate to send him round again. While Sellwood partnered Belmont Park on the first occasion, McCarten opted for a 5lb claiming apprentice in the following race when Belmont Park was hastily re-handicapped with another 5lb. The stewards didn’t swab Belmont Park until after the running of the Welter so as not to upset the horse.
The public didn’t necessarily share McCarten’s confidence. While they supported Belmont Park into 2/1 for his first win, he was let go at 7/1 a half-hour later. However, close stable supporters landed £11,000 in just three bets in the Welter. The Governor of N.S.W., Lieutenant-General Sir John Northcote was present at Rosehill that day to present both the S.T.C. Cup and the winning premiership trophies. He called McCarten over to especially congratulate him on the splendid condition in which he turned out Belmont Park. The double win was greatly appreciated by the big crowd at Rosehill and gave McCarten a resounding round of applause. It brought to mind the achievement of trainer Leo O’Sullivan and Aqua Regis who won two races on the one day at Randwick in October 1949, although that big upstanding Midstream colt had the advantage of seventy minutes between his wins. I might mention that the veteran trainer J. A. Donohoe also pulled off a double with the same horse when he trained Gregory John to win the second and fifth events at a Warwick Farm meeting in May 1958. Donohoe trained the horse for his brother and landed a good plunge in the first of those races. However, McCarten’s triumph in successive races stands supreme.
Nonetheless, I digress. It must be said that by the middle 1960s the crackling fires of ambition that once consumed McCarten had become nothing more than smouldering embers, as, haunted by the tragic death of Sellwood and beset by failing health, the winners began to dry up. During the mid-1960s much of the responsibility for managing the stables devolved upon McCarten’s young foreman, Neville Begg. When Begg elected to apply for his own trainer’s licence in 1967, many of McCarten’s former clients such as Bill Longworth, Alf Ellison, Bill Graf, and the Kelly family switched their allegiance to the younger man. The closing years of McCarten’s life chartered a sad decline as, first his High Street stables were sold off and razed for high-rise apartments, and then the N.S.W. Government Railways resumed his original stable block for the proposed Eastern Suburbs railway at a price well below market values. Although the project was eventually cancelled, the historic stables were demolished anyway. Immediately before the stables’ resumption, just two horses remained in his charge, and McCarten’s daughter owned one of them. The great man died on June 10th, 1971 shortly before his sixty-ninth birthday at his Wansey Road home overlooking Randwick racecourse – the scene of so many of his masterly triumphs. He remains the only man ever to be both premier jockey and premier trainer in the history of Sydney racing.