By the time of the Easter Yearling Sales in April 1953, Delville Wood, with only three crops racing, was well on his way to winning the title of Champion Sire of Australia for that season – the first of five consecutive titles in that glorious reign of the new King of Kia-Ora. Buyers at those yearling sales on the quest for a prospective Derby winner were inclined to look no further than the various lots on offer by the champion stallion. The man whose fortunes on the Turf had become most closely aligned with the progeny of Delville Wood was Ernie Williams; and he had already enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing his livery sported on the likes of Hydrogen, Forest Beau, Lord Forest and Electro. Was it any wonder then that Williams spent many hours poring over the Kia Ora offerings in that year’s sales catalogue? One pedigree to which he was strongly attracted was that of a black colt from the imported mare Eternal City, whose female antecedents traced back to the legendary Canterbury Pilgrim, and whose first two foals, Fort William and Redeswood, had both shown promise. But upon inspecting the yearling, Williams was disappointed, as although he was a dapper little fellow, he wasn’t much bigger than a pony, and there seemed less of the Delville Wood about him than Williams expected. The big-spending owner resolved to look elsewhere among the stallion’s progeny, eventually paying the top price at those sales of 3500 guineas for the colt subsequently registered as Forestville.
But Williams didn’t restrict his purchases at those sales to the Delville Wood progeny alone. The tycoon had a penchant for the produce of mares that had proven themselves on the racecourse, and when Ted Hush drew his attention to the yearling by Nilo from Civic Pride, he needed little encouragement. Civic Pride had been a first-class sprinter – the first of the Ajax speedsters – and she had won the 1944 Gimcrack Stakes; she was a sister to Chaperone, another fast filly that at one time held the six furlongs record at Randwick.
Civic Pride passed through the hands of a few trainers during her racing career, including George Musson and Ted Hush, but Hush did manage to win a three-year-old handicap at Randwick with her, and also sent her out on the same course the day she ran second to Bernborough in the Carrington Stakes. Hush remembered Civic Pride as only a lightly framed filly, however, and was pleasantly surprised when he inspected the yearling and saw just what a fine stamp of a colt she had thrown. The stallion, Nilo, a three-quarter brother to the great Nasrullah, who stood at Lionel Israel’s Segenhoe Stud, had already created quite an impression with his first crop and there was keen bidding for this his second. But Williams managed to get the youngster for 2200 guineas, and at that price, he shared the distinction of being the most expensive lot sold by Nilo that year. Williams registered the youngster as Pride of Egypt.
Under the watchful eye of Ted Hush, Pride of Egypt emerged as one of the high-class juveniles of the season winning twice from five appearances. His racing debut, which was delayed until late January, came in a two-year-old handicap at Rosehill and was not without incident. Heavily supported at 11/8, the colt snapped his bridle on the home turn and gave jockey Bill Camer some anxious moments in the straight before winning handsomely. His next start came in the Kirkham Handicap, a race that attracted only three starters due largely to the presence of Adolph Basser’s crack colt, Indian Empire. Despite conceding 14lbs to Pride of Egypt, the slashing son of Dhoti for whom Basser had paid the top price of 4000 guineas at the Victorian Yearling Sales, justified the odds of two to one laid on him, although Pride of Egypt ran a gallant second.
Five days later the colt gave Ernie Williams one of his proudest moments on a racecourse. The occasion was the presence of Her Majesty, The Queen, on her historic first visit to Royal Randwick on 6th February 1954. Before a huge crowd attending to pay homage to the young monarch, Pride of Egypt won the Westminster Juvenile Handicap, the opening event of the programme.
Pride of Egypt ended his juvenile season with two unplaced runs including a respectable fourth in the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick behind Lindbergh after leading the field into the straight. A big-framed chestnut, Pride of Egypt had outgrown his strength, and his connections were confident he would develop into an even better three-year-old. At the close of the season, he was allotted 8 st. 5lb. in the Free Handicap, exactly one stone below Acramatis and Clear Springs, the two top-rated juveniles of the season.
Pride of Egypt did particularly well over the winter months, and when the horse made his seasonal reappearance at Warwick Farm in the Hobartville Stakes, Ted Hush advised Ernie Williams to keep his powder dry and wait for betting opportunities later in the spring, as he considered the gross colt was only half-fit. The chestnut had furnished into a fine big upstanding colt, albeit a touch heavy-shouldered. The bookmakers’ intelligence service at the Farm that day shared Hush’s opinion, and the son of Nilo was quoted freely at 50/1 in betting. Although an unwary stranger might have concluded he wasn’t on the job, horses don’t read betting boards. Every now and again on the track, a race unfolds in such a manner that it is more difficult to lose than to win, and the Hobartville that year was a case in point. With no expectations, Bill Cook simply allowed the big colt to find his own stride, and the easy eloquence of it found him in front soon after the start; seven furlongs later nothing had managed to run him down. The heaving of the colt’s flanks as he was being unsaddled after the race bore out Hush’s earlier caution, confirming the big fellow was nowhere near fully wound-up.
Few jockeys over the years have been more adept at partnering a natural frontrunner than Bill Cook. Those that missed the lesson at Warwick Farm, and some prominent bagmen were among them, were given another reminder at Canterbury a fortnight later in the Guineas, when, despite lugging badly on the tight turn near the six-furlong marker, Pride of Egypt defied all challenges in the straight to run him down. The win gave Ernie Williams his second Canterbury Guineas, having won the race with Forest Beau in 1951. The man from Woolworths knew a thing or two about value for money and when bookmakers opened the colt at 7/1 this time he freely supported his horse, seeing him firm into 11/2. The Rosehill Guineas fell to the big chestnut too, again in his now familiar pace-making role, and on this occasion, he equalled the Australian record for ten furlongs of 2 minutes 1 ¾ seconds previously established by Beau Vite in the 1941 A.J.C. Craven Plate. Ernie Williams wasn’t at Rosehill to witness that performance; he was attending Knox Grammar School and the service of dedication for the John Williams Memorial, a chapel and library that was a gift to the school by Williams to commemorate his son, who had been killed in action in World War II.
In his absence not only did he miss Pride of Egypt’s fighting victory but also the gallant effort of the runner-up Prince Delville, beaten a half-head. Prince Delville was the little colt by Delville Wood that Williams had inspected and rejected at the Easter Yearling Sales some seventeen months earlier. He had gone into Stan Lamond’s Kensington stables instead. Unlucky in the Canterbury Guineas, he had been set for the Derby some months before, although as Lamond now conceded, in the presence of Pride of Egypt, he would rather have sought the Derby prize in another year. But in racing, as in politics, a week can be a long time. Ernie Williams’ dream of finally winning the blue riband at Randwick, and exorcising the spectre of Hydrogen in 1951, was dealt a cruel blow when Pride of Egypt developed soreness in his shoulder in the week before the classic and had to be withdrawn. Williams was then forced to rely on Forestville, the expensive son of Delville Wood, trained on his behalf by Tom Smith, although the colt was regarded as a relative outsider.
In a bid to halt falling attendances, the A.J.C. committee had re-arranged much of the Randwick Spring Meeting. The running of The Metropolitan was deferred until the fourth day of the carnival, i.e. the second Saturday. The Epsom Handicap was removed from the Derby programme and conducted on Monday, the second day, switching places with the George Main Stakes, while The Shorts was also brought forward to the Derby programme. The Randwick Plate, which had experienced a chequered history since 1941 was finally dropped altogether. In delaying The Metropolitan, the club was also hopeful of attracting some three-year-olds into the race by providing a longer period of recovery after the Derby. The initiative wasn’t particularly successful: no colts accepted for the race and the aggregate attendance over the four days was just 190,800 – some 6,200 fewer than the previous year.
Still, 56,500 of them were there to see the Derby run. In the absence of Pride of Egypt, the favourite for the race in a field of ten was Telyar, a smallish brown colt from the first season crop of the Dominion stallion, Count Rendered, owned by New Zealand picture theatre magnate, Michael Moodabe, and trained by Maurice McCarten. Telyar had started the favourite in the Rosehill Guineas but had got a long way out of his ground that day before finishing strongly into the minor placing. Prince Delville occupied the second line of betting while El Carretero, owned by Bill Tyler of Puen Buen Stud and trained by Jack Green, was third fancy. Eight Bells, a big powerful colt carrying the well-known tartan jacket and red cap of the free-spending owner, Norman Fraser, was Frank Dalton’s representative and was the first of the New Zealand progeny of the English Derby winner, Midday Sun, while Dan Lewis ran Beaupa in the race. The cleverly-named Lindbergh, by Transatlantic from Dare, trained by Harry Darwon and winner of both the Breeders’ Plate and the Sires Produce Stakes at Randwick the previous season, was also in the field. However, at liberal odds, he wasn’t seriously considered a stayer.
The 1954 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
Prince Delville enjoyed the advantage of the rails-position and jumped smartly before his jockey Ray Selkrig restrained the little fellow to allow Lindbergh to take up the running. The pace was rather muddling and Selkrig’s only real concern on Prince Delville, who was third throughout, was in being able to get a run in the straight. It came when Telyar made the first move topping the rise; Prince Delville’s acceleration was pronounced, and he dashed away to win the race by four lengths from Telyar, with a head to Eight Bells. Forestville, Ernie Williams’ flag bearer, was outclassed to run fifth. The smallest colt in the field had proven to be the best, providing a relative newcomer to the ranks of ownership with a Derby with his first runner in the race. In fact, Prince Delville was only the third horse ever to carry the colours of Bowral master-builder, W. J. (Bill) Bradshaw. He raced the colt in partnership with his wife, Gladys, and had first become an owner four years earlier through the intercession of his friend, the former equestrian, Jim Barnes. Barnes introduced Bradshaw to Stan Lamond and the three men went to the Inglis Yearling Sales in 1950 and bought Resonant, a son of Whirlaway that eventually won the New Year’s Gift for the trio at Randwick in January 1953 at 40/1. Flush with that success, Bradshaw had attended the Sydney Yearling Sales a few months later and bought Prince Delville. The Derby marked the first of the many conspicuous victories in feature races that would fall to the famous ‘orange jacket, white sleeves, red armbands’ in the years ahead. After the Derby, Bradshaw told pressmen: “I am hard of hearing, I can’t attend movies or plays; accordingly, my medico suggested I take an interest in something I could see, without having to listen.” Prince Delville’s finishing burst would have been rather hard to miss even for the sight-impaired.
Prince Delville had made four public appearances as a juvenile, winning only a minor handicap at Rosehill on the final day of the season, although doing it in some style and setting a race record. There was some money for him in the ring that day, and astute racegoers marked him down even then as a Derby prospect. But Prince Delville was overshadowed in the headlines by the performance of another son of Delville Wood on that day – the Maurice McCarten-trained Belmont Park who won successive races on the same card for the owner, Bill Dawes. In the Free Handicap, Prince Delville had been allotted only 7 st. 8lb. or over two stone below the top colt. Stan Lamond had preferred the weight-for-age Warwick Stakes to the Hobartville Stakes to mark the colt’s seasonal debut at three, in which he ran a respectable fourth behind the imported mare, Tarien. It was then on to the traditional Derby route of the Guineas at Canterbury and Rosehill where the little Delville Wood colt was placed third and then second behind Pride of Egypt.
Whereas Prince Delville’s diminutive size as a yearling had deterred Ernie Williams from bidding, it was not so with Bradshaw. Prior to attending those sales, the newcomer had consulted widely with leading racing authorities on breeding and conformation and their universal advice was to buy a Delville Wood colt. Looking through a Turf publication one day he saw a picture of Tulyar, the Aga Khan’s English Derby winner of 1952, who, like Prince Delville, was a grandson of Bois Roussel. Bradshaw observed: “‘I was pottering around the stables at the yearling sales when I came across Prince Delville. It seemed to me that I was looking at a fair copy of Tulyar’s picture. The fact that the colt was small impressed me because Tulyar’s measurements showed that he was small. I determined to buy the colt, particularly because Stan Lamond, who was to train him, was most satisfied with the little fellow’s appearance.” I might mention that the stud fee for Delville Wood that spring had been raised to 500 guineas, which was then an Australian record, while his yearlings at the previous Easter Sales had been most eagerly sought – averaging around 2100 guineas.
Prince Delville was the 24-year-old jockey, Ray Selkrig’s first winner of the A.J.C. Derby. The popular young lightweight had been born in the saddle. His father, Frank, had served his own apprenticeship with Justin Curr at the same time as Billy Duncan, although increasing weight ensured it was a short-lived career. For a time, Frank worked for Hugh Denison at Sledmere Stud, before going on to serve as foreman to Bayly Payten at Randwick for nineteen years. Young Ray was riding horses at their exercise at the tender age of fourteen while still a pupil at Randwick Marist Brothers’ College. “The teachers granted me a thirty minutes’ ‘early mark’ every day so that I could catch the bus to be on time to ride afternoon exercise.” The Selkrig family lived in Barker Street, Randwick, within a stone’s throw of Payten’s stables and Ray had enjoyed special dispensation from the A.J.C. to live at home during his apprenticeship. Another Payten apprentice at the time was Athol Mulley, who usually took his meals at the Selkrig home but had to sleep at the stables. Young Ray applied for a licence in January 1947 and rode his first winner in October of that year. When Bayly Payten died in September 1948, Selkrig finished his time under his own father, Frank, who applied for a trainer’s licence. Ray’s first ride in the Derby came less than a month later on Freedom, in the race won by Carbon Copy.
Selkrig’s rise to prominence in the saddle had been rapid. When only eighteen he rode a treble at Randwick; in April 1950 while still an apprentice he rode four winners in the one afternoon at Rosehill, while he scored his first big race win in the 1950 Doncaster Handicap on board Grey Boots for the trainer, Hal Cooper. Selkrig officially won the Sydney Apprentices’ title twice but was denied it a third time on a silly technicality. He held a commanding lead in the race for honours upon turning twenty-one in March 1951. He was still well ahead when the season ended but officialdom deemed the title to Brian Killian, a future A.J.C. steward, instead. Selkrig remembers Prince Delville fondly: “I was very confident about winning that Derby, particularly when Pride of Egypt came out of the race. I owned a new 16mm camera, which was quite rare at the time, and I had asked a friend to capture the race on film from the top of the public grandstand. Prince Delville had bottomless reserves of courage in that small frame of his.”
Prince Delville was the second winner of the A.J.C. Derby for the 62-year old trainer, Stan Lamond junior, following on his success with Moorland in 1943. Stansfield Robinson Lamond junior was a third-generation member of one of Sydney’s most distinguished training dynasties. Tom Lamond, young Stan’s grandfather, had trained four A.J.C. Derby winners in Kingsborough, Nellie, Wheatear and Charge, while his father, Stan senior had also been a successful trainer in his own right after taking over the Zetland Lodge stables upon old Tom’s retirement, although he had failed to add to the family’s tally of Derbies. Stan junior had now doubly renewed the family’s traditional links with the great race with winners eleven years apart. Born at Waterloo in 1892 and christened with his father’s name, young Stan was apprenticed at a young age to his grandfather. He had ridden his first winner, Coppertop, a chestnut colt trained by his grandfather for Walter Hall, in a Members’ Handicap as long ago as on the last day of the 1907 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Lamond junior only achieved modest success in the saddle although he did partner Frank McGrath’s lightweight, Ungarie, when that horse went under by a head in Trafalgar’s Sydney Cup of 1909.
Young Stan secured his training licence in May 1924 and initially trained out of premises at Clovelly while his father still prepared horses at Zetland Lodge. His first big race success came when he sent out the lightly-weighted Jacko to win the 1932 Doncaster Handicap for leading bookmaker Alec Williams. Later that same year he saddled-up the seven-year-old Magnetic to win the prestigious A.J.C. Villiers Stakes in his own colours. Lamond had so improved this seven-year-old by Rossendale, that keen sportsman began to take notice. The following year he confirmed a growing reputation when he prepared Regal Son, a big black horse by Rossendale, to win the 1933 A.J.C. Metropolitan as well as winning good races like the Carrington Stakes with Jacko, which by now he owned.
At the time of Prince Delville’s Derby, Lamond maintained his stable of a dozen boxes in Ingram St, Kensington and after the closure of Victoria Park, he prepared his string at Randwick.
Lamond was fond of using the old Randwick steeplechase grass in preparing stayers, and Prince Delville had a predilection for it. With only four furlongs of the steeple grass available, it hardly constituted a staying circuit, but Lamond believed the colt enjoyed the novelty of going twice around for two short sprints and as Lamond attested, the son of Delville Wood was capable of beating even the smartest sprinters in a short gallop on this track. When Bill Bradshaw first registered his racing colours in the 1951-52 racing season, he began a fruitful collaboration with Lamond that was to stay the distance. Although unlike Bradshaw, he was never destined to win the classic again, Lamond did saddle up both Polo Prince (3rd; 1959) and Prince Regoli (5th; 1961) in the A.J.C. Derby in their respective years on behalf of the loyal Bradshaw. Lamond retired as a trainer in April 1965, at the age of seventy-two, thereby ending a family connection with the Turf that had lasted for a hundred years.
Lamond backed-up Prince Delville in the weight-for-age Craven Plate on Wednesday after the Derby and the little colt ran a marvellous race to go down to the champion four-year-old Prince Cortauld in the closest of finishes. Prince Delville was then floated to Melbourne by road, where he again clashed with his archrival Pride of Egypt in the W. S. Cox Plate. It was the latter’s first public appearance since his setback and forced withdrawal from the Derby, and as such he was not as forward in condition. The race easily went to the all-conquering Rising Fast, although the two Sydney colts filled the minor placings with Prince Delville confirming his Victoria Derby favouritism by finishing a length and a half ahead of the son of Nilo. That run brought Pride of Egypt on considerably and those that considered Prince Delville had been lucky to win the A.J.C. Derby given his enforced absence seemed to have their judgement confirmed seven days later when the big son of Nilo led all the way at Flemington in the V.R.C. classic after a masterly ride by Bill Cook.
The win gave Ernie Williams his second success in the race, following upon Hydrogen in 1951. Prince Delville, disadvantaged by a wide barrier draw that forced him to race on the outside of Telyar for much of the journey, also pulled badly in the slowly-run race and finished a disappointing sixth. Whereas lesser trainers might have hesitated in pursuing a Melbourne Cup start, Stan Lamond allowed his little black colt to take his place in the field on the following Tuesday although bookmakers extended his price to 40/1 for the race. Like many little horses, Prince Delville appreciated the drop to 7 st. 6lb that he was asked to carry in the Cup compared with the 8 st. 10lb Derby weight. He ran a most respectable race finishing a splendid fourth, just behind the placegetters in the event won by Rising Fast.
Pride of Egypt, who on breeding wasn’t expected to stay the Derby distance was never intended for the Melbourne Cup but did run second in the C.B. Fisher Plate on the last day of the Victorian Spring Meeting before being taken to Brisbane to run in the Queensland Derby a week later. Starting at the extraordinary price of 6/1 on, he was beaten rather easily by The Wash – a case of going to the well once too often. No doubt, Williams was tempted to take him north because he had won the Q.T.C. Derby the previous year with Castillo, a much inferior animal. Prince Delville, on the other hand, was put aside immediately after the Melbourne Cup. When both colts resumed in the autumn, Pride of Egypt proved that he was the better horse, winning both St Legers at Flemington and Randwick by leading all the way. He also took out a new race introduced that year at Warwick Farm on the eve of the autumn meeting, the A.J.C. Champion Stakes. However, it was noticeable that Prince Delville could more than hold his own with his archrival in open weight-for-age contests against the older horses when the pair only had to carry lighter weights. Incidentally, on the subject of that A.J.C. Champion Stakes, this new race proved to be the shortest-lived innovation ever introduced into a Sydney race programme and didn’t even survive for a second running.
The background to this imbroglio lay in the ineligibility of geldings to run in the A.J.C. St Leger. During the summer of 1954-55, a couple of well-performed geldings in Belbeiys and The Wash had burst upon the scene, and the club was anxious to promote a contest that pitted them against the best colts and fillies. The Champion Stakes (12f) run at Warwick Farm a week before the A.J.C. St. Leger with £3,000 in added money was the result. The race proved to be a complete anticlimax when Belbeiys lost form and The Wash failed to appear leaving Pride of Egypt to beat Prince Delville and his other two rivals effortlessly. The A.J.C.’s initiative had another unforeseen consequence when all competitors, including Prince Delville, cried off rechallenging Pride of Egypt seven days later in the St. Leger. The son of Delville Wood was suffering from soreness in the stifle and Lamond decided to play for time and reserve him for the Sydney Cup instead. But for the A.J.C. chairman, Alan Potter, electing to run the moderate Roebuck, the red riband that year would have been a walkover for Pride of Egypt with rival trainers unwilling to oppose him. As it was, there were no Totalisator operations and the event was chosen to open the card, although the race book still rather pathetically designated the occasion on its front cover as St. Leger Day. It was an easy way for the 25/1 on favourite to earn £2,362. While the A.J.C. St Leger tottered on for a few years more: it is fair to say that the fiasco of that autumn contributed to its ultimate scrapping as an autumn classic.
Two days after the St. Leger – on the following Monday – Prince Delville ran an inglorious last in the Sydney Cup after being sent to the post as the third favourite, despite persistent rumours before the race that all wasn’t well with the colt. That was his last appearance for the season while his nemesis, Pride of Egypt, had one more engagement to honour, and that being in the recently instituted weight-for-age Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1 ¾ miles) on the final day of the autumn meeting. The son of Nilo could only run second to Prince Cortauld on a holding surface, although the likes of Carioca and Prince Morvi did finish many lengths further behind. It proved to be Pride of Egypt’s final race on Australian soil. Turned out for a spell, he was due to resume in the Warwick Stakes in August 1955 but injured a foreleg while exercising. A gross horse, after that Hush was unable to get him to the track again on race day despite a couple of attempts after pin firing. This magnificent specimen of a racehorse was eventually sold by Ernie Williams to stand stud duty at Green Tops Farm near Descanso in California – yet another in the long exodus of Australian horses expatriated to America that included Nagpuni, Somerset Fair and Prince Cortauld. Pride of Egypt enjoyed some success there at stud before dying in 1969; his full racing record in Australia was 18 starts for 9 wins and £21,956 in total prize money.
As an older horse, Prince Delville suffered the fate of many small Derby winners, not quite a weight-for-age horse and yet struggling under big weights to win handicaps. But for all that, he was a wonderfully relaxed horse and still managed to win the odd good race. As a four-year-old, he annexed both the S.T.C. Christmas Cup and the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap while as a five-year-old he enjoyed his best season, running minor placings in both the Caulfield Cup and Moonee Valley Gold Cup besides winning a second Christmas Cup at Rosehill, and going down by only a half-head to Baystone in the A.J.C. Summer Cup. He crowned that season by then journeying to Queensland for the Winter Meeting and winning the B.A.T.C. Carnival Handicap and the rich Doomben Cup as a 5/1 favourite at his final two appearances. In those days the Queensland handicappers framed low weights to entice the quality horses from the southern States and the £7,200 first prize was not much less than he had won for the A.J.C. Derby. Prince Delville only carried 8 st. 2lb, in that Doomben Cup which was 3lb less than weight-for-age, although he did have to overcome the disadvantage of a wide draw. The natty little black never did grow much after his three-year-old days and as Stan Lamond wryly observed: “Prince Delville was a champion with eight stone.” The imposts he incurred after Doomben ensured that he never won again and Prince Delville was ultimately retired from the racecourse in his seven-year-old season.
Eternal City, the dam of Prince Delville, subsequently proved to be a wonderful broodmare for the Kia Ora Stud. Bred in Great Britain in 1943 and by the Son-in-Law stallion, Epigram, Percy Miller imported her to Australia in 1946, the same year that Delville Wood came over, and her regular meetings with that stallion in the breeding barn achieved a rare chemistry. Between the years 1949 and 1955 she produced five foals to the great stallion from as many meetings, and each of them, in turn, won at least one group or principal race on the racecourse. Apart from Prince Delville, her best foals were Caesar and Valerius. Caesar, trained by Tom Smith, was the most expensive yearling sold at the 1956 Easter Yearling Sales at 4000 guineas but more than justified that expenditure when he won the Autumn Stakes, Chipping Norton Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in 1959, having won the previous year’s A.J.C. Villiers Stakes. It was a tragedy when he broke a bone during a track gallop with Tulloch in January 1960 and had to be destroyed. Valerius, as we shall see, was himself a serious candidate for Derby honours in 1958 for whom Frank Dalton had paid 3700 guineas as a yearling, and he went on to win the Brisbane Cup and a string of good weight-for-age races before being sold as a stallion to America. But even the lesser offspring of Eternal City distinguished themselves. Some older Randwick habitués might remember when her sons, Roman Holiday and Prince Delville, fought out the finish of the A.J.C. Anniversary Handicap in January 1956.
Ray Selkrig has good reason to fondly remember the offspring of Eternal City even apart from his association with Prince Delville. In 1952 the great matron’s annual love affair with Delville Wood was interrupted and she was paired with a new stallion at Kia Ora in Brimstone, a son of the English Derby winner Dante. A filly foal was the happy result, and she was subsequently registered as Flames. It was Kia Ora Stud’s policy at the time to sell the colts, but retain the fillies for breeding purposes though leasing them out for racing. Flames was not a particularly imposing specimen, and, despite her breeding, little interest was expressed in taking out a lease until Mrs Frank Selkrig – the jockey’s mother – agreed to sign the papers with her husband, Frank, to train the horse. It proved a most fortuitous arrangement for all concerned because the filly won seven races for the Selkrigs, with son Ray warming the saddle on each occasion.
There was another tradition broken with Prince Delville in that he was to be the fifth and last A.J.C. Derby winner bred at the famous Kia Ora Stud. After the death of its founder, Percy Miller, in 1948, a private family company had continued to conduct the horse stud. Although Percy’s widow and daughter were the principal shareholders, the management of the company was by no means harmonious as there were several other branches of the extended Miller family with shareholdings who held conflicting views. Tolstoy once wrote that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The extended Miller family was unhappy about its bloodstock policies. Now family squabbles are nearly always interesting to a voyeuristic public; and the richer the family, the bigger the squabble. The public looked on as the stud steadily declined and at the Sydney Yearling Sales in April 1958, for the first time in very many years Kia Ora did not head the list of aggregates – that honour passing to Segenhoe Stud. It was to resolve the imbroglio into which the stud’s affairs had steadily descended that the decision was taken to put the Kia Ora Stud up for auction in April 1959.
In a decision to purchase driven more by sentiment than reason, the successful bidder at £128,000 was Norman Wheeler, Percy Miller’s son-in-law, who was acting on behalf of a small syndicate that included both Percy’s widow and his only child and daughter. The stock of stallions, mares and foals were sold a month later at an auction on the property itself and realised 125,045 guineas. The highlight of those proceedings was the sale of Delville Wood, then 16-years-old. At the height of his fame, Delville Wood had sired the most expensive yearling sold at the William Inglis Sales in four out of five years between 1952 and 1956 inclusive viz. Nargoon (1952) 6500 guineas; Forestville (1953) 3500 guineas; Noble Archer (1954) 6500 guineas; and Caesar (1956) 4000 guineas. Although by 1959 he was a stallion in decline, a bidding duel developed between Norman Wheeler and Ray Bowcock of the adjoining Alabama Stud, with the latter eventually securing the prize for 12,000 guineas. Although Wheeler did salvage two of the stud’s stallions in Judicate and Double Bore and acquired a number of broodmares at the dispersal to continue the legacy of Percy Miller, the fortunes of the Kia Ora Stud never recovered from the fracture. The economic recession a couple of years later saw the once famous paddocks turned over exclusively to beef cattle when all the thoroughbred stock was sold in May 1961. Nonetheless, the contributions of this once great nursery to Australian racing was honoured for many years by the running of the Kia Ora Handicap, a race for three-year-old fillies and mares over one mile during the A.J.C. Spring Meeting.