At 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning of 15 April 1952, the firm of William Inglis and Son Pty Ltd commenced their Sydney Easter Sales of yearlings at their Newmarket stables in Barket-street, with the auctioneer, Reg Inglis on the podium. It was an attractive catalogue of 750 lots to be sold over the course of four days. One man with a particular interest in bidding on that first morning was 39-year-old Ernie Fellows jr, an emerging trainer who had only been granted his No 1 licence eight months earlier. The yearling for which Fellows was determined to bid was Lot No. 32, a bay or brown colt by Gaekwar’s Pride out of the mare Sincerity and was one of three yearlings being offered on the first day by Arthur Meehan’s Marylands Stud at Castle Hill. Ernie Fellows frequently visited the stud to inspect the mares and foals and had taken a shine to the little fellow when he was just a few months old and grew even more enamoured of him as he matured into a yearling. However, while Fellows won the bidding at 1050 guineas, he was forced to go much higher than intended and beyond the budget of the person for whom he had the colt in mind. The client wasn’t prepared to pay that much for the progeny of such an unfashionable stallion as Gaekwar’s Pride.
Fellows was making his way to the auctioneer’s rostrum to determine whether Meehan was prepared to go halves in the colt when he ran into the popular sporting figure of Joe Harris, who had just entered the William Inglis premises. Harris and his partner Stephen Blau, who raced under the nom-de-course of ‘H. Tanks’, had only the day before won the Sydney Cup and a fortune in bets when their horse Opulent ploughed through a sea of mud at Randwick to beat the hapless Dalray by a head. Although the prize money for the Sydney Cup was £10,000, it represented less than a quarter of their total winnings from having backed the successful Doncaster – Sydney Cup double of Prelate and Opulent. Harris and Blau generously proceeded to distribute some of their windfall amongst Sydney’s leading charities while at the same time buying a couple of yearlings at the Newmarket sales. When Fellows explained his dilemma to Harris, the latter agreed to take ownership of the Sincerity colt on behalf of himself and his partner and leave it to Fellows to do the training. Harris and Blau registered the horse as Prince Morvi. Harris subsequently quipped that his fortuitous meeting with Ernie on the day of the sales was very much a case of “Hail Fellows, well met!” So, who was this horseman in whose judgement and ability Joe Harris and Stephen Blau reposed such confidence?
Ernie Fellows was born in Balmain North in the year before World War I, and the eldest son of a struggling trainer, Ernie senior who supplemented his income by teaching the trumpet at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. It was a unique combination of skills, although the Fellows family proved to be something of a unique family. Ernie Fellows senior as an owner-trainer had won races with Blushing and the ponies Cynthia and Miss Gaby. However, he won greater fame with the trumpet, teaching at the Conservatorium for fifteen years and in that period immediately after World War I playing principal trumpet for Henri Verbrugghen’s symphony orchestra, which ultimately became the N.S.W. State Orchestra. Fellows senior enjoyed a good relationship with Verbrugghen, as both shared an interest in racehorses and their breeding. After Verbrugghen left Australia, Fellows became the deputy musical director of the R.A.A.F. attached to Eastern Area Headquarters with a rank of flight-lieutenant. Ernie junior and his five-years-younger brother Billy each became jockeys. Ernie started his apprenticeship with Bill Kelso at Orville Lodge before transferring his indentures to Joe Cook and coming out of his time in September 1932.
Ernie rode for about five years and achieved only modest success. His first win came aboard Waipori at Warwick Farm in May 1927 for A. J. Shirlaw in an all-apprentices race, while his most important victory came on Magnetic in a Cup race at Moorefield. Increasing weight saw him gravitate to Harry Telford’s Braeside property in the mid-thirties where he served as one of Telford’s trackwork riders. It was Billy, who began his apprenticeship with the Associated Racing Clubs (pony) trainer ‘Roley’ Griffiths, but ended his time with his brother Ernie when the latter took over their father’s Dowling-street stables in Kensington, that was far more successful in the saddle. Billy is now remembered most of all for winning the Melbourne Cup in 1949 on Foxzami. The Braeside experience eased Ernie Fellows’ transition to the training ranks and the young man prepared his first winner as a trainer in July 1937 with Gold Sheen at Victoria Park in the third division of a Maiden Juvenile Handicap. It was very much a family affair. The filly was raced on lease from H. S. Thompson by Ernie Fellows senior and was ridden by Billy Fellows. Alas, Ernie senior wasn’t present as he was blowing his own trumpet at a band rehearsal. Nonetheless, the family didn’t forget to back the filly, whose price halved in the market from eights into fours. It was the sign of a stable that knew what it was about.
Curiously enough, it was on that same Victoria Park card that the erratic Alan Cooper, who had taken out an owner-trainer licence, trained his first winner, Joan Darling, in the first division of the Maiden Juvenile Handicap. Ironically, it was to be the same Alan Cooper a couple of years later who boosted Ernie Fellows’ early training career by giving him a few horses to train. Indeed, Fellows was a little unlucky not to win the 1940 Carrington Stakes with Petruchio for Cooper after the horse had been backed from 20/1 into 8/1. Unsurprisingly, the galvanic Cooper fell out with Fellows just eight months later and transferred his team yet again, this time to Ossie Pettit. That classy mare Early Bird, owned by Walter Devon and the winner of both the V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes and A.J.C. Adrian Knox Stakes in other hands earlier in her career was another good horse for Ernie Fellows. The young horseman won a mile-and-a-half race with Early Bird at Flemington and later a Canterbury Cup. However, Devon, like Alan Cooper, was somewhat less than constant in his stay with trainers and Fellows subsequently lost the mare.
The racehorse that really kept the wolf from the door for Fellows before the coming of Prince Morvi was Melhero, that flaxen-maned chestnut that he trained at Victoria Park for the popular Thirroul hotelkeeper, Bill Hogan. A son of the English stallion Melfort out of a Heroic mare, Melhero, who was a cheap yearling at 220 guineas, won the 1945 S.T.C. Railway Handicap but is better remembered for what might have been. The horse finished runner-up to both Tea Rose in the 1944 Rosehill Guineas and to Shannon in the 1945 Epsom Handicap. In the Epsom, Melhero gave Shannon 2lb in weight and was only caught by him in the last few strides. Hogan always enjoyed retailing the story of Melhero’s run in a three-year-old handicap at Rosehill when Fellows tried to tell him to back the horse. Before the event, Hogan thought his trainer said: “Melhero could very easily win this.” What Fellows actually said was: “Melhero could win this very easily.” He did – by six lengths! In language, as in racing, placement is everything. Shortly after, Hogan bought himself a hearing aid! Melhero’s win that day proved a belated wedding present for Fellows, who had married for a second time after his first marriage at the age of eighteen, had failed. Mavis, his second wife, was to be his most loyal supporter to the very end.
Fellows training and placement of Melhero saw other owners beat a path to his Dowling-street door. Bill Tyler of the Puen Buen Stud gave him High Tide to train and he managed to win a couple of races at Canterbury in the 1946-47 turf season with the horse who had been in and out of various stables. Kathleen Frauenfelder and Bill Kemball were other high-profile owners to come on board. It was on July 31st 1951 that Ernie Fellows was granted a No. 1 licence authorising him to use Randwick racecourse. Fellows and Les Quinlan were the two trainers so promoted following upon the deaths of Bill McGee and Pat Nailon. Not that Fellows took great advantage of his access to headquarters as in 1952 he left Victoria Park for his newly-built stables at Warwick Farm. I might observe that Billy Fellows, Ernie’s brother, beat him to his No. 1 licence when, upon hanging up his boots and saddle due to ill-health, the A.J.C. granted it to him in February 1951. Billy trained his first winner when he scored a double at Gosford during August 1951. For a time it seemed that Billy might make the bigger splash as a trainer too, particularly when he prepared Apple Jack to win the 1952 V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate for the former tennis champion, R. O. Cummings. However, while Billy was the better jockey, it was Ernie’s training career that really prospered.
That 1952 William Inglis Sale of thoroughbred yearlings proved more interesting than most years. For one thing, it was the closest that any yearling had ever come to displacing Dominant as the most expensive ever sold in Australia. As you will recall, that record had stood since the irrational exuberance of 1928 when the son of Saltash realised 6750 guineas. As usual, the 1952 sales were dominated by the Kia Ora stock although the demand was not so much for the stud’s established and ageing king, Midstream, but rather for the heir apparent to his crown, Delville Wood. Eight colts and six fillies by the son of Bois Roussel realised £30,500. This was a remarkable result for a stallion whose oldest stock were still only three-year-olds. And due to the draw of selling positions in the catalogue the most attractive of the Delville Woods came on the second day of the sales.
The aggregate returns for yearlings at those 1952 Newmarket sales were 55,875 guineas lower than the previous year. Reg Inglis estimated that the drop for the sale was 16% but was more noticeable in the ‘500 guineas and under’ yearlings. During the four days, 613 lots were sold for an aggregate 302,082 guineas at an average of just around 485 guineas. This compared with 1951 when 643 lots were auctioned for 357,955 guineas at an average of 557 guineas. In 1952 no less than 68 yearlings sold for 1000 guineas or more. Much of the explanation for this boom in yearling prices of the past two or three years was the boom in the price of wool. From a historical perspective, the prosperity of Australia’s wool industry peaked in 1950-51 when the average greasy wool price reached 144.2 pence per pound. This short-lived but extreme increase in price was due to the American demand for wool which was generated by the Korean War. This was the era when Australia was said to be ‘riding on the sheep’s back.’
On the Sunday prior to the start of the Newmarket sales, a retiring, quietly spoken man who lived 115 miles south-west of Bourke and who had never raced a horse on a metropolitan track flew to Sydney. His name was Gregory J. Newman of Nargoon station at Tilpa, a property of some 80,000 acres, where together with his son Ken, he ran six thousand sheep. He spent the Sunday inspecting various yearlings at the Inglis stables and resolved to bid for the brown colt out of a Magpie mare named Blackbird, herself the winner of a Nursery Handicap at Canterbury Park. Perhaps he hadn’t spent a lifetime poring over yearling catalogues, but Newman certainly knew how to read one. The colt that he had selected was widely expected to top the sales. And he did.
A prepossessing individual with a real presence about him, he was a half-brother to Swan River, Wirralie, Dark Warbler and Rippling Tide – all good metropolitan winners. Swan River, Wirralie and Rippling Tide had been trained by Maurice McCarten and the first-named had almost won the 1946 Sydney Cup when he was just caught at the post by the fast-finishing Cordale. Wirralie, out in the same season as Flying Duke, was in cracking form in the winter of 1946 and for a time looked an A.J.C. Derby prospect. It wasn’t surprising then that when Newman set out to bid for the youngster, McCarten was one opponent. However, the first bid of 4000 guineas – a record opening call at Newmarket – came from Ernie Williams, who was enjoying such success with Hydrogen, Delville Wood’s most distinguished son to date, and the winner of the A.J.C. St. Leger just three days earlier. But Williams’s early enthusiasm didn’t last. The man from Woolworths knew a thing or two about value for money and once the Blackbird yearling’s price reached dizzying heights, he left the bidding to Maurice McCarten and the stranger from Tilpa.
McCarten was bidding for Adolph Basser but when the price reached 6750 guineas against him, implying that his next bid would need to be 7000 guineas, McCarten stopped. Accordingly, Greg Newman of Nargoon station got his colt. Asked almost immediately into whose stable the horse would be placed, Newman expressed a preference for Maurice McCarten, even though he acknowledged that he had never met the great man. An introduction was hastily arranged by an obliging Melbourne newspaperman and the high-priced colt was on his way to High St. Remarkably, then, for the second year in succession at Newmarket, McCarten had been the underbidder on the most expensive yearling sold – in 1951 it had been to Charlie Robertson for Deep River – and yet in both cases the horses became his to train.
Greg Newman quickly completed the paperwork with the A.J.C. registrar to race the colt as Nargoon – the name of his Tilba station. He wanted the name, not just for that reason, but because it also contained seven letters – something common to so many of Australasia’s greatest gallopers such as Carbine, Tulloch and Phar Lap. Problem was that ‘failure’ was also a seven-letter word. Like Deep River, Nargoon would also make his way into an A.J.C. Derby field. However, whereas the former covered himself in glory and rendered famous his owner’s silks of ‘green and red hoops, dark blue sleeves and cap’, Nargoon would ultimately prove an embarrassment for Newman and condemn his owner’s colours of ‘green and pale blue halves, yellow cap’ to obloquy.
In the years immediately after World War II, racecourse rumours were rife in Australia about the prevalence of horse doping. Some believed the stories to be highly coloured and imaginative; others saw dark conspiracies lurking whenever a short-priced favourite was beaten. That there was some doping taking place was certain and the problem, of course, was not confined to Australia. It was within this context that, after extensive consultations with the Jockey Club in Great Britain and other racing clubs around the world, the A.J.C. decided to engage its own analyst and establish a drug-testing laboratory. Accordingly, in 1947 the club appointed Jean Kimble, a science graduate from Sydney University, as Australia’s first full-time drug tester. In 1948 the A.J.C. constructed its own laboratory funded by £5,500 received from the liquidator of the Rosehill Racing Club and on Villiers Day 1947 the A.J.C. began to drug test horses at random.
It wasn’t until the twenty-eighth test that a positive swab was returned and it came from Frontal Attack, trained by Raymond Denham after the horse had finished a very close third in the James Barnes Plate on 8th May 1948. It was later in the same month that A.J.C. stewards announced the disqualification of both horse and trainer for life. Although the A.J.C. committee dismissed the subsequent appeal, it eventually lifted the life disqualification and substituted a penalty of three years instead. Other incidents were to follow, and by January 1949 four trainers had been debarred after traces of benzedrine and caffeine were found in the bloodstreams of horses they trained. Later that year the A.J.C. decided to enhance its drug-testing policy by swabbing every winner while continuing to test other horses at random. It seemed that the issue of drugs had been resolved, at least for the time being, when no further positive swabs emerged during the next two years or so. Then came the dramatic aftermath of the 1953 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting!
At that meeting, the respective winners of the Doncaster Handicap, Tarien, and the Sires’ Produce Stakes, Cromis, returned positive swabs. Tarien, an imported mare trained by Tom Smith, was owned by prominent N.S.W. sportsmen, R. O. Cummings and David Chrystal junior; and Cromis, a Victorian colt trained by Bob Sinclair, was part-owned by none other than Ted Underwood, the vice-chairman of the V.R.C. and proprietor of the Warlaby Stud. Underwood was one of the most prolific patrons of the Turf in Australia and raced his horses throughout the land. Bob Sinclair trained most of his big team at Flemington, although Maurice McCarten had kept some horses for Underwood in Sydney since the late 1940s. Although the connections of the doped horses appealed, the appeals were dismissed in August 1953, and Triclinium and Royal Stream respectively were duly promoted as the winners of the Doncaster Handicap and Sires’ Produce Stakes. At the time of the dismissed appeals, A.J.C. chairman Alan Potter declared that the club was under no illusion as to the need for constant vigilance in its anti-doping crusade.
Tracing the five-year history of the campaign, Potter observed: ‘At first it was caffeine; next it was benzedrine, and now, after a lapse of two years during which no positive reactions were found, we find a sudden outcrop of doping by coramine.’ In the written findings of the appeals, the A.J.C. committee reprimanded Tarien’s trainer Tom Smith for leaving the horse unsupervised by anyone other than a part-time employee attendant for some fifteen minutes shortly before the race. It was the closest Smith came to a career-threatening disqualification in these, his emerging years. The A.J.C. committee resolved that the respective owners were entitled to have the benefit of the stewards’ findings in favour of their trainers, Tom Smith and Bob Sinclair. The fallout from the affair was considerable. Apart from the negative publicity retailed in the newspapers and on wireless broadcasts, some of the Victorian racing establishment refused to bring horses over for the Randwick Spring Meeting.
Despite all of the damage done to the public image of horseracing, as a result, the relegation of Cromis in the Sires’ Produce Stakes refused to alter the general perception that Ted Underwood’s colt was the best juvenile of his year. Although the horse had won only once in nine outings, he had run second in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and Ascot Vale Stakes at Flemington before his being first past the post in the controversial race at Randwick. At the end of the 1952-53 racing season, for the first time in Australia weights were issued on a notional Free Handicap for rising three-year-olds.
It brought the country into line with England and France by providing an official comparison of the leading juvenile colts and fillies before their classic year. Until then the only guide offered to the public of the handicapper’s opinion had come with the first release of weights for the big spring handicaps, the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, although with three-year-olds usually grouped there between 7 st. 6lb and 6 st. 7lb, the spread had been too narrow to be an effective guide. Cromis was accorded the honour of top weight of 9 stone in this inaugural year of the notional race over one mile framed within a maximum of 9 st. 7lb and a minimum of 7 stone. Cortauld (N.Z.) and Royal Stream were ranked next, both on 8 st. 13lb. Prince Morvi, the eventual winner of the A.J.C. Derby was weighted on 8 st. 10lb. or equal seventh in the handicap.
Once again bookmakers reduced a big field for the A.J.C. Derby on the opening day of the 1953 Randwick Spring Meeting to one or two likely winners with the local colt, Prince Morvi, installed a warm favourite. However, Royal Stream, the Midstream horse that was the beneficiary of the positive drug test from Cromis in the Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn, also met with spirited betting on the course. Prince Morvi had grown into a big powerful colt out at Warwick Farm. Backward and lazy at two, Ernie Fellows delayed the colt’s racecourse debut until late March when, after a couple of educational runs in Sydney, he was taken north for the Q.T.C. Autumn Meeting and created a big impression winning his only two starts there, including the Sires’ Produce Stakes by four lengths. Since resuming from his winter spell, Prince Morvi had easily won the Canterbury Guineas landing some big wagers, before being controversially and narrowly beaten when an odds-on favourite in the Guineas at Rosehill.
In that race, won in a photo finish by the 100/1 Victorian interloper, Silver Hawk, jockey Allan Thompson on Prince Morvi had seen his horse fail narrowly after chartering a somewhat maladroit course in the straight – an error of judgement that resulted in the substitution of Neville Sellwood for the Derby. Sellwood had previously partnered the colt in Queensland and the Canterbury Guineas, but at Rosehill had been required to ride the Maurice McCarten-trained Cortauld (later Prince Cortauld), who after a disappointing performance there, wasn’t persevered with as a Derby prospect. Royal Stream, a 1900 guineas’ yearling trained by the veteran Fred Cush and ridden by Billy Cook, owed his market prominence both to his juvenile form and his annexation of the weight-for-age Chelmsford Stakes earlier in the spring. Moreover, his pedigree suggested he would stay, as he was a direct descendant of Bob Sievier’s celebrated mare, Sceptre, his dam being an import by Colombo from a half-sister to Tiberius, winner of an Ascot Gold Cup.
Silver Hawk, the massive grey colt by Star of Baroda out of the good producing mare Adoree, trained by veteran Harry Telford, was third elect. For many people, watching Telford saddle-up Silver Hawk stirred memories of another giant three-year-old the trainer had sent out in the same race almost a quarter of a century before. Australia’s leading owner, Ernie Williams, had two representatives in the field in Electro and Castillo; while the Singaporean millionaire, Rumne Shaw, had the well-named Krakatoa engaged in the race trained by Tommy Smith, who also prepared Castillo. Perhaps the best-named horse in the classic was the A.J.C. Fernhill Handicap winner Reveniam trained by Jack Morgan. Sired by MacArthur, reveniam in Latin meant ‘return’ and he was the first horse raced by Dr J. Abbott who served at the Yaralla Hospital. Another in the field – although not seriously considered – was the Maurice McCarten-trained Nargoon, the famous, or rather by now infamous 6500 guineas-yearling from the 1952 Inglis Sales. McCarten’s other representative, High Forest, out of a sister to Shannon, had also been an expensive purchase, setting Adolph Basser back 4,500 guineas at those same sales. Queensland was represented by Callide River, a full brother to the A.J.C. St. Leger winner Sea Sovereign, and he had most recently been the minor place-getter in the Rosehill Guineas. Emphatic after a rushed trip to Sydney was flying the flag for New Zealand.
With an eye on the approaching visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Randwick in February 1954, the A.J.C. committee had appealed to its members to adopt formal dress on Derby Day, intending the occasion as something of a dress rehearsal. Very few responded to the committee’s unequivocal leap back to the Dark Ages, although some younger members compromised with bowlers and homburgs. In balmy spring weather the elderly that had accepted the committee’s sartorial challenge of tails and top hat, soon doubted the intelligence of their sacrifice. The question of dress fashion wasn’t the only controversy that concerned the committee on that first day of the meeting. The seeds of what would be the sensation of the carnival were sown even before any of the feature races had been run. It had come to the attention of the A.J.C. chairman, Alan Potter, that because of ‘doubles betting’ considerations, the public’s favourite horse Carioca, who had been heavily supported for both the Epsom and Metropolitan, might not start in the latter race if he failed to win the former.
Potter and the club secretary, W. N. Parry-Okeden, approached ‘Duck’ Hoysted, the trainer of Carioca, and informed him that the club expected he would keep faith with the betting public regardless of the Epsom result, provided the horse was fit and well. Burdened with 9 st. 7lb in each race, Carioca ran third in the Epsom after leaping a fallen horse and was subsequently declared fit to take his place in The Metropolitan by a panel of four veterinary advisers. After a magnificent duel with Hydrogen, Carioca triumphed in the rich staying handicap as a warm favourite. The pressure applied to Hoysted by the A.J.C. committee was the subject of considerable press coverage at the time and came to represent a celebrated if controversial precedent on the respective rights of owners vis-à-vis the authority of race clubs. It eventually prompted the A.J.C. to determine that all scratchings from major races after the declaration of acceptances would be at the behest of stewards. No such controversy attended the Derby, either before or after its running.
The 1953 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
In the race, Prince Morvi enjoyed a glorious journey. Sellwood ensured the bone-idle colt was fastest away at the gate, but with a genuine pace provided by others, he was able to restrain the big fellow back in fourth place in the run to the milepost, just behind Electro. He was content to remain thereabouts until coming to the home turn when the colt was still on the steel. Sellwood elected to take charge just below the distance, and after a brief tussle with Electro, held on to win by three-quarters of a length from that horse, with a further length-and-a-half to High Forest, who was ridden back in the field, and ran on fairly without ever threatening the first pair. The time for the race was the fastest since 1942, and the equal third fastest in its history, although still 2 ¾ seconds outside Beau Vite’s course record. Considering the overall time, the last half-mile in 49 ¾ seconds was rather slow for a Derby and didn’t suggest much of a staying future for any of those horses that had raced back in the field during the first mile.
In winning, Prince Morvi managed to deny the new Kia Ora stallion, Delville Wood, his first A.J.C. Derby, relegating that stallion’s three representatives viz. Electro, High Forest and Nargoon, into second, third and fourth places respectively. It is interesting to reflect that both Ernie Williams and Adolph Basser fancied the yearling who ultimately raced as Nargoon but opted out of the bidding at Newmarket when his price escalated. In so doing each man had gone looking for better value in the progeny of Delville Wood and Williams in buying Electro ( 1600 guineas) and Basser in buying High Forest (4500 guineas) each man’s representative had beaten the high-priced colt home in the Derby. Nonetheless, on paper at least, Nargoon’s run seemed impressive.
Third last in the field of sixteen at the mile-post and eighth on the turn, Nargoon had finished strongly in the straight to just miss a placing. It was the first time he had attempted a journey beyond ten furlongs and some now believed distance might lend enchantment to the colt’s performances. However, when one considered the sectional times for the classic, and particularly the pedestrian last half-mile, Nargoon was entitled to finish closer than he did. If the Derby minor placings provided heartburn for the Kia Ora studmaster, Percy Miller, it proved a tonic for winning owner and big bettor, Joe Harris, who remained at home, confined to bed with influenza, although he did manage to listen to the race on the radio. Harris was no stranger to winning, having raced Spear Chief many years before. In his enforced absence, his co-owner Stephen Blau organised a celebratory party at Romano’s that night.
Prince Morvi, by Gaekwar’s Pride, derived his name from the Maharajah of Morvi, an Indian prince who emerged onto the racing scene in England in the years after World War II. Immensely wealthy, the prince relished a tilt at the ring and thought nothing of wagering £20,000 on a horse. Edgar Britt supposed him to be the biggest punter for whom he ever rode. In the circumstances, it seemed to Harris and Blau a singularly apt name for a racehorse that would afford them both ample opportunities for a profitable dash at the men of Tattersall’s. Prince Morvi was the first of two A.J.C. Derby winners to be sired by Gaekwar’s Pride, who initially stood at the Marylands Stud of Arthur Meehan at Castle Hill. A bay horse bred in England in 1942, Gaekwar’s Pride had been the winner of nine races there, including eight handicaps over a mile. Owned by the Maharajah of Baroda, the colt had been Edgar Britt’s mount in the 1945 English Derby. A son of Fair Trial and a half-brother to Ruthless, a successful sire in New Zealand, he was closely related to The Two Thousand Guineas winner, Garden Path, and Watling Street, the last of the 17th Earl of Derby’s three English Derby winners. A good weight carrier, Gaekwar’s Pride had once carried 12 st. 5lb to victory in a mile handicap at Salisbury. His first yearlings sold in March 1951 and Prince Morvi was amongst his second crop.
Sincerity, the dam of Prince Morvi, was a brown mare by Beau Pere from an imported matron in Rossolis, and was bred and raced by Fred J. Smith who cloaked his racecourse activities under the nom de course of ‘Mr Constable’. As a two-year-old, Sincerity scrambled in to win a nursery handicap at Rosebery in the hands of Jack Thompson while the next season she ran a series of placings at Rosehill and Randwick before being sold by Smith in April 1944 for 800 guineas. While her racing record left something to be desired, Sincerity boasted a valuable distaff pedigree; her grand dam was a half-sister to the legendary matron, Scapa Flow, the dam of Fairway and Pharos. Retired to the Marylands Stud in the spring of her five-year-old season, Prince Morvi was Sincerity’s fourth foal. It is interesting to note that although Prince Morvi hadn’t earned a penny for his owners by the time the William Inglis Yearling Sales rolled around the year after his purchase, Fellows didn’t hesitate to buy his year-younger full brother for 1800 guineas at Newmarket when offered in the Marylands Stud draft during Easter 1953.
Now generally a Derby winner brings great distinction and prestige to a stud, particularly where the stud owns both sire and dam. Arthur Meehan wasn’t to enjoy the full benefits that breeding a Derby winner usually bestows. The creeping spread of the Sydney metropolis during the decade meant that the land of the Marylands Stud was becoming much too valuable for bloodstock breeding, which saw the stock dispersed in September 1955, with the last of the stud’s yearlings sold at the April 1956 Yearling Sales. After that, the property was used mainly for dairying. The younger racegoers of today probably marvel that residential Castle Hill was ever the site of a successful thoroughbred stud as recently as the 1950s.
Taken to Melbourne after his Derby victory, Prince Morvi ran a most respectable race in the W.S. Cox Plate, despite a bad draw, when beaten a length into second place by Hydrogen, with Cromis, Victoria’s best three-year-old, relegated to third. This race then set up a wonderful return match between the two minor-place-getters one week later in the Victoria Derby. Cromis had been given just one run other than the W.S. Cox Plate to fit him for his tilt at the classic, and yet he staged a magnificent duel down the Flemington straight to go under to the Sydney colt by a head, with the balance of the field trailing in their wake. As disappointed as Ted Underwood was with the result, he enjoyed redemption three days later when his horse Wodalla won the 1953 Melbourne Cup in the hands of Jack Purtell. It was certainly a year in which Underwood had understood the wild vicissitudes of the world of racing.
The Victoria Derby ended Prince Morvi’s highly lucrative spring campaign which ranked him as the best-staying colt of the season. Sadly, a troublesome foreleg marred Prince Morvi’s subsequent career on the racecourse. The problem, which was variously diagnosed as a form of arthritis, caused Fellows to miss the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, and particularly the A.J.C. St Leger, with the horse. But even without the services of his crack colt, the St Leger that year proved a triumph for the small Warwick Farm stable when Fellows won the red riband with his second string, Monarch. Monarch, who landed a nice touch in the ring, was ridden in the race by brother Billy, who had made a comeback to the saddle after surrendering his trainer’s licence only a couple of months before. Prince Morvi’s delayed preparation induced Fellows to freshen up the Derby winner for a crack at the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap. The trainer did manage to get Prince Morvi to the racecourse for two flying handicaps in late May although he failed to run a place on either occasion. Taken to Brisbane, the horse had been the subject of good wagering for the Stradbroke, only to be withdrawn on the Thursday before the race because of a recurrence of troublesome arthritis. Now, men who have worked together in prosperity can often fall to quarrels and recriminations in the darker days. A difference of opinion between Harris and Blau as to whether or not to retire Prince Morvi or persist on the racecourse saw the horse go under the auction hammer in August 1954.
Joe Harris was determined to retain possession of his Derby winner, albeit in his wife’s name, and McCarten, who was doing his bidding, was forced to go to 7800 guineas to get him in a lively session at the Inglis Sales. As circumstances panned out, it didn’t prove a bad bit of business for Harris. Maurice McCarten experienced difficulties in keeping the big horse sound with his leg splint, but he managed to get him to win four of his remaining eleven starts in Australia over the next two seasons, wins that included the S.T.C. Rawson Stakes, A.J.C. All-Aged Stakes and George Main Stakes. His last start here came in the A.J.C. Craven Plate at the 1955 Spring Meeting in which he ran second to the real star of McCarten’s stable that spring, Prince Cortauld. A little more than a week later Joe Harris announced that the big horse had been sold for an undisclosed price to an American agent acting on behalf of Frank Rand, a New York-based shoe manufacturer. Rand was the owner of a large string of racehorses in the U.S.A. prepared by a private trainer. In a period when an increasing number of Australian racehorses were finding their way onto American racecourses, Prince Morvi held a special appeal for American buyers because his dam was by Beau Pere, who had become something of a celebrity in America as the sire of their great champion, Swaps.
Air freighting horses all the way to America was a relatively new concept in 1955. The successful journey with Prince Morvi involved covering a distance of 16,000 miles in nine days, albeit with breaks in Singapore and London, but it did open the way for a significant increase in the transporting of bloodstock by aircraft. Prince Morvi arrived in first-class condition and proceeded to win a few races on American soil, perhaps most notably the Sussex Turf Handicap at Delaware Park. Retired to stud, Prince Morvi promptly injured himself and had to be destroyed very early in his stallion career. Nonetheless, Prince Morvi’s racecourse successes encouraged Frank Rand to seek more bargains in Australian bloodstock, and his dealings with Joe Harris led to the latter acting as his Australian agent and brokering a number of high profile deals. Harris sourced quite a few of his purchases from McCarten’s own yard including the good horse, Knave, which carried Rand’s livery to success in the United States. Rand later emulated John Blois de Wack’s example with Deep River, and started to purchase well-bred Australian yearlings through Harris – Australian Star was an example of this policy, where the horses first proved their merit here with Maurice McCarten before incurring the additional cost of being transported to America.
So what became of the other horses that finished behind Prince Morvi in the 1952 A.J.C Derby? The runner-up Electro proved to be a very good horse although Ernie Williams sold him before his greatest win in the 1957 Sydney Cup. All told, Electro won thirteen races and £43,375 in stakes. Among his principal wins were the A.J.C. Sydney Cup, Autumn Stakes, Colin Stephen Stakes, Tattersall’s Chelmsford Stakes and James Barnes Plate. This son of Delville Wood also ran some good placings including finishing runner-up to Rising Fast in the 1954 Caufield Cup and third in The A.J.C. Metropolitan. After an eventful career, he was sold to Ferd Calvin as an eight-year-old stallion. Electro then stood a light stud season at Windsor serving some six mares thus proving his fertility, before being sold to America where he stood at the Laguna-Seca Ranch in Monterey, California. Castillo, Williams’s other runner in that A.J.C. Derby also carried the ‘black and white stripes, red cap’ with distinction, winning both the 1953 Q.T.C. Derby and the 1955 Tattersall’s (NSW) Club Cup in the hands of jockey Arthur Ward.
Royal Stream never did achieve the flood of victories that his Chelmsford Stakes defeat of Carioca had suggested back in the spring of 1953. In truth, the horse developed quirks, being particularly fractious at the barrier, although a brilliant ride by Billy Cook saw him win the 1954 S.T.C. Canterbury Cup. Ironically, within a fortnight of that victory his owner, Robert Carter, a Brewarrina grazier, removed the horse from Cush and transferred him to trainer Keith Duggan. Perhaps the unsung hero to emerge from that 1953 Derby field was Compound trained by E. D. (Peter) Lawson for Pat Crennan. Particularly good in soft ground but not a true mile-and-a-half horse, over the next few seasons Compound won seven stakes races including the N.J.C. Newmarket and Cameron Handicap; S.T.C. Canterbury Cup, Frank Underwood Cup, Lord Mayor’s Cup, Festival Handicap; and the Tattersall’s Tramway Handicap. The unfashionable jockey Fred Hickey enjoyed some notable victories on the gelding.
Emphatic, New Zealand’s disappointing representative subsequently won a number of good races including the Waikato Guineas a month after the Derby as well as the Avondale Cup and A.R.C. Handicap as an older horse. Cromis, Victoria’s best three-year-old of his year, never raced in Sydney again after the brouhaha surrounding the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. The vice-chairman of the V.R.C., Ted Underwood who raced Cromis in partnership with his sister-in-law, Mrs J. W. Underwood, vowed never to race a horse again in Sydney after the positive drug test. Moreover, it was a vow that he stuck to for seven years before eventually relenting and allowing his colt Reinsman, by Landau, run in the 1960 Rosehill Guineas. Cromis, however, left to race in Melbourne, developed into a good weight-for-age horse after winning the V.R.C. St Leger and his wins over the next couple of seasons included the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, J. J. Liston Stakes and Craiglee Stakes at Flemington and the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield.
Ted Underwood also collected a tidy sum for Cromis when later he sold him to the well-known Californian, George Bucknam. But, I hear you ask, whatever became of the hugely expensive Nargoon? Greg Newman, the Tilpa grazier, came to regret his impulsive trip to Newmarket to purchase the son of Delville Wood. The horse still hadn’t won a race at the time of the 1954 A.J.C. Spring Meeting and it was in its wake that Nargoon went back into the Newmarket sales ring rumoured to be broken-winded. He wasn’t; he just lacked ability. This time Nargoon realised a mere 550 guineas from a bid by Jack Denham on behalf of Norman Fox. Nargoon did manage to win both a maiden at Newcastle and a novice at Hawkesbury in his first three starts for his new stable, but nothing more. Assuredly, when it comes to horses, it is a wise man who knows how little he knows.
Prince Morvi was the first horse Fellows had saddled up in the classic, and the colt served to bring much well-deserved attention to this most capable of horsemen. Throughout the remaining years of the decade, Fellows attracted more clientele from further afield, although it wasn’t until January 1959 that he trained his first double at Randwick with Royal Conquest and Tamberan. When the top New Zealand three-year-old Fountainhead campaigned here for the Stradbroke that same year, it was Fellows who trained him. And it was to Fellows that Maurice McCarten and Stanley Wootton turned for help when Todman broke down. Fellows’ Warwick Farm stables were close to the Georges River and the astute trainer determined upon a swimming programme to assist Todman’s convalescence. Fellows cared for Todman for some fourteen months. The same regimen was applied to another of McCarten’s crocks, Indian Empire, whom Fellows nursed back to health to win the Festival Handicap at Rosehill in 1957. It was the subsequent friendship with Wootton during and after the Todman episode that saw Fellows get some of Wootton’s horses to train including the imported sprinter, Fuss. And it was Wootton who convinced Fellows at the age of forty-six to leave Australia in August 1960 and try his luck in England, initially working for Wootton at Treadwell House at Epsom.
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Australian shores, for at the time he was preparing a rising two-year-old from Edmundo’s first crop, who was showing considerable promise on the training tracks and for whom he had paid 2000 guineas as a yearling. Her name was Indian Summer. But leave Australia he did, with his lovely wife, Mavis, and 13-year-old daughter, Susan, and 10-year-old son, John. During that visit, a serendipitous trip across the Channel to see George Moore, who was then riding for the Aga Khan in France, was to change Fellow’s fortunes. Impressed with Fellows’ skills and reputation, a prominent French owner invited the Australian to take over control of a small stable he was conducting at La Morlaye, four miles out of Chantilly. French racing was in a more healthy state than English racing during this period and having seen the stabling and training facilities at Chantilly compared to those on offer at Epsom Downs, Fellows accepted the offer. He never looked back. His success was immediate and thus began his brilliant career on the European Turf. Very soon his clients included among others, Winston Guest (Sir Winston Churchill’s American cousin), Howell Jackson and Eric Coupy. In 1963 he trained Corpora and Royal Cypher, who ran minor placings in the English Two Thousand Guineas and One Thousand Guineas respectively.
By 1964 Fellows had thirty-six racehorses in work for no less than seven different millionaires and success saw him residing on Chantilly’s swanky Avenue de Joinville at No.29. It was one of the best addresses in Chantilly with the racing headquarters of Prince Karim, the Aga Khan, very nearby and at the back of the Fellows’ home was the base of Marcel Boussac, a leading French owner and head of French racing’s famous Societe d’Encouragement. For a time, Neville Sellwood together with his family lived right next door. Having made his move across the globe, Fellows prospered in this sophisticated and international milieu in a manner which he could never have imagined when based at Warwick Farm. French racing had boomed in the years after World War II, and the all-Tote system of betting applying in France ensured that prize money remained buoyant. Not that Fellows could ever have felt homesick for long.
There seemed to be a constant stream of visitors to No. 29 Avenue de Joinville from the Antipodes including Billy Pyers and Athol and June Mulley, while George and Iris Moore lived nearby with their family during the period of George’s retainer with the Alec Head stable. Such was the frequency of Australian visitors to No. 29 that Mulley nicknamed it ‘Australia House’. In 1964 Ernie Fellows won both The Two Thousand Guineas and the Champion Stakes at Newmarket with Baldric II, a first season son of Round Table, for Mrs Howell Jackson of the famous Bull Run Stud in Virginia. In the same year and for the same owner, he also won the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with Nasram II. The Australian jockey, Bill Pyers was to establish his European reputation riding for the Fellows’ stable. Indeed, when Pyers partnered Baldric II in the classic at Newmarket it was his first win in Europe.
Sadly, Ernie Fellows wasn’t destined for a long career in France. in March 1971, at the age of just fifty-eight, he died from cancer at the Jockeys’ Surgical Centre in Chantilly. The English Protestant Church of Chantilly was too small to accommodate the thousand-odd mourners, led by Fellows’ wife, his son John, and daughter Susan. Many leading jockeys including Australia’s Bill Pyers, Tommy Young and Bill Williamson and France’s Yves St Martin, Freddy Head and Maurice Philipperon attended the service. Mme Suzy Voltera was among the horse-owners present together with Herbert D’Ailleres, president of the French Trainers’ Association and trainers William and Alec Head. An impressive floral tribute included wreaths from the French Jockey Club and one from Australia’s Roy Higgins. After the church service which was conducted in French and English, the body was taken to a vault in Lamorlaye Cemetery. It had been quite a journey by horseback from Ernie Fellows’ humble birthplace in Balmain. I might add that for all of his wonderful successes on the Turf, Ernie Fellows’ greatest legacy to racing proved to be his son, John, who was to become a leading trainer in his own right in France.
For the successful Derby jockey Neville Sellwood, France was in due course to assume a much darker significance. Prince Morvi was Neville Sellwood’s second successive winner of the A.J.C. Derby, having been victorious on Deep River the year before. Prince Morvi wasn’t Sellwood’s only winner, for he combined with Silver Phantom to take out the Epsom and with Hydrogen to win the Colin Stephen Stakes, thus sweeping the three feature events on that memorable Derby Day. Sellwood was eventually to win six Sydney jockey premierships in all, including establishing a post-war record of 87 wins in the last of them during the 1959-60 racing season, but he was never destined to win the Derby again. During an era when there were far fewer race meetings, he captured the headlines on many occasions. At a Randwick meeting during February 1954, he partnered five winners, all trained by Maurice McCarten, while at the 1960 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting he won no less than ten races. It was a most lucrative career and one that enabled Sellwood in 1957 to pay £37,000 for an 840-acre property at Barragan Creek, Cudal. About 30 miles from Orange, the land afforded him the opportunity to run sheep as well as breed a few racehorses on the side.
In 1961 with little more to prove in the saddle in Australia, he again considered the prospect of demonstrating his talent on European racecourses and accepted an offer from Alec Head, who trained in France for the Aga Khan among others. It was a strong stable, although that season lacked a champion. He returned to Europe the following year and in that 1962 season by a stroke of good fortune, the Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien offered him the mount on his second string at Epsom in the English Derby, the 22/1 outsider Larkspur. In a rough and tumble affair that saw seven horses lose their riders on the long downhill sweep to Tattenham Corner, Sellwood deftly managed to avoid the carnage to secure the prize on the Irish colt who was owned by Raymond Guest, the American Ambassador to Ireland. Post-race film footage showed just how close the Australian jockey had come for his mount to succumb in the pile-up.
Nevertheless, as fortunate as Sellwood had been at Epsom in June to avoid the melee, death was stalking him. The divine messenger came with quick but noiseless tread on the rain-sodden ground at Maisons-Laffitte only five months later. Sellwood was riding a filly named – ironically enough – Lucky Seven, owned by Madame Alec Head, in the last race on the card on November 7th. Through the mists and the vapours, by late afternoon the ground had become fairly muddy, and the filly had travelled about a thousand yards when, without any crowding, she crossed her legs and fell to the ground crushing Sellwood under her weight. The jockey was carried unconscious to the hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. He was just thirty-nine and with 1,860 winners to his credit had been riding at the peak of his powers. That season, Sellwood, who had ridden 102 winners, seemed certain to be presented with the golden whip, the annual prize awarded to the French champion jockey, and thus he would have become the first foreign rider to win the coveted title. In fact, Sellwood had initially intended to return to Australia earlier in the week in which he died, to ride in the Melbourne Cup and only decided to stay on in France to make sure of the jockeys’ title.
As it was, the great French rider Yves St Martin went on to take it, but the Frenchman forwarded the whip to Neville’s widow, Alwyn, in a generous and moving tribute to his fallen colleague. Sellwood’s death deeply affected Ernie Fellows, and their firm friendship had continued in France where they had been neighbours at Chantilly. The jockey left an estate valued at £59,687, bequeathing his 840 acres property at Cudal to Alwyn, who for some years after continued to breed thoroughbreds there. An excellent ambassador for Australian racing, Neville Sellwood always exuded a certain glamour and won a lot of admirers both in Australia and during his brief visits to Europe with his friendliness and easy-going charm. An accomplished after-dinner speaker, he was keenly sought out for such engagements. An indication of the loyalty and friendship Sellwood was able to inspire, is that Adolph Basser, on his own death two years later in October 1964, bequeathed his collection of racing trophies to Sellwood’s son, Neville John, who was also Basser’s godson. Sellwood’s premature death was a sad ending to the life of a man who had made such a significant contribution on the Australian Turf.