On Friday, 10 September 1971, a special charter plane arrived at Sydney airport after an arduous eight-hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand. On board was a valuable cargo of six racehorses, and all were destined for the rich Sydney and Melbourne spring meetings. Three of the thoroughbreds, Classic Mission, Classic Nature and Crown Law hailed from the Woodville stables of leading New Zealand trainer, Syd Brown, who accompanied his team on what had proven to be a long, dramatic and turbulent journey. There was a further delay in disembarkation even after touchdown due to difficulties with the airport’s offloading facilities. However, all of this was to be as nothing compared to the turbulence and protracted drama that one of that cargo was about to visit upon Australian racing officialdom.
Syd Brown was not a man to transport racehorses across the Tasman lightly. Born in August 1925, Brown’s impetuous journey on the Turf began at the age of twelve when he became an apprentice jockey to Gordon Andrew, one-time strapper of Desert Gold. Syd Brown’s first winner came some two years later on an Andrew-trained galloper at Napier Park at only his second ride in a race, and after that, he rode with modest success as a flat, and later, jumps jockey, until increasing weight forced him out of the saddle. New Zealand racing authorities granted him a trainer’s licence when he was just 20-years-old – one of the youngest ever. Originally based at Te Rapa as a young man, Brown had relocated to Woodville at about the same time that Jack Bradley of Feilding gave him an immature Red Mars galloper to train in 1953. It was the horse that would put Brown on the map. The gelding, registered as Redcraze, was unraced at two and relatively undistinguished at three; but as a mature four-year-old he emerged in the summer and autumn as the best older galloper in New Zealand winning 11 of his 23 starts that season including the Wanganui Cup, Awapuni Gold Cup, the H.O. Nolan Handicap and the Oliver Nicholson Handicap at Ellerslie before ending the season by taking the Ormond Memorial Gold Cup at Hastings.
Brown, ambitious for money and worldly fame, resolved to take Redcraze, along with two stablemates, Historic Era and Summersette, across to Australia for a tilt at the 1955 Caulfield and Flemington spring meetings. It was to be a journey of mixed fortunes and would ultimately sow the seed of bitter disillusionment and profound disappointment for Syd Brown. The odyssey started propitiously enough with Redcraze winning the Turnbull Stakes and Summersette the Edward Manifold Stakes. However, Redcraze hurt himself in a sand roll at Flemington soon after he won the Turnbull and this, together with a persistent split heel severely hampered his Cups’ preparation and the rugged gelding lost form. Historic Era managed to redeem something of the stable’s reputation when the five-year-old gelding claimed the minor placing in the Caulfield Cup behind his compatriots, Rising Fast and Ray Ribbon. Although Brown’s training methods seemed idiosyncratic to his Australian critics, he did get Redcraze into the Melbourne Cup field in which he finished a most unlucky fourth behind Toparoa after receiving severe interference. Tommy Smith trained the winner – a recent acquisition from New Zealand – and in Redcraze’s performance, he spied, with his covetous eye, another galloper from across the Tasman that he desperately wanted to recruit into his Randwick stable.
Shortly after that Jack Bradley died and the ownership of Redcraze reverted to his widow, Ada. Importunity knocked in the guise of Smith, who sought to buy the gelding, but the old lady declined to sell. Smith persisted that if he couldn’t own the horse, he should at least be allowed to train him. Much to Syd Brown’s chagrin the widow Bradley at last agreed and thus was born an undying enmity between the respective Randwick and Woodville trainers. It was true that Syd Brown had made Redcraze into a very good galloper. But Tommy, and not for the last time, proceeded to transform him into a champion. Redcraze was to win 15 of his 26 races including The A.J.C. Metropolitan and Caulfield Cup in 1956 under the respective weights of 9 st. 8lb and 9 st. 13lb – the latter a weight-carrying record for the race. Redcraze was also unlucky not to win the Melbourne Cup that same spring when he failed by a half-neck to catch Evening Peal, after sustaining a run right around the field from the five furlongs post with 10 st. 3lb in the saddle. Redcraze was to retire after finishing unplaced in the 1957 Melbourne Cup as Australasia’s leading stakes winner with £71,481.
Over the years Brown would be blessed with other good racehorses although none that ever matched the deeds of the remarkable Redcraze. The unsound Halcyon, trained by Brown, was arguably the best two-year-old in New Zealand in 1965; Final Orders, whom Brown prepared for Jack Higgs, was a particularly useful three-year-old around the same time, although neither proved robust enough to bring to Australia. Brown did make a hit and run visit on the Melbourne Cup carnival in 1965, winning the Hotham Handicap with Sail Away, who then finished unplaced as the 4/1 favourite in the Cup itself. In the 1967-68 racing season, Syd Brown won the first of two successive trainers’ premiership in his homeland; it was a remarkable achievement, for the Woodville trainer had only just resumed training after suffering a two-year suspension through one of his team returning a positive swab.
However, it was the next season that was to prove even more remarkable. Included among the winners that helped Brown both to that second premiership and being named New Zealand racing’s Personality of the Year were two juveniles, a colt named Daryl’s Joy and a filly named Woodcourt Inn, and each was top class – the best of their sex as two-year-olds. Daryl’s Joy was a beautiful looking brown colt by Stunning, owned by Singaporean identity Robert Goh whom Syd Brown first met when he attended the 1968 Asian Racing Conference held in Wellington. Also in attendance at that conference was another Malaysian racing identity, Lee Kok Chee, and at the same sales where he bought Daryl’s Joy, Brown purchased Woodcourt Inn, a little filly by Pakistan II on behalf of him. Brown enjoyed remarkable success in the juvenile races with Daryl’s Joy winning the A.R.C. Eclipse Stakes, W.R.C. Wakefield Challenge Stakes, Manawatu Sires’ Produce, A.R.C. Great Northern Champagne Stakes and the Ellerslie Championship Stakes – and establishing a new New Zealand record in first-season stakes earnings of $21,810. Woodcourt Inn, by comparison, won 6 of her 8 starts that year including the North Island Challenge Stakes and the C.J.C. Champagne Stakes at Riccarton.
It came as no surprise when Brown elected to bring both his prized colt and filly across the Tasman for an assault on the 1969 Melbourne spring carnival, supplementing the pair with a useful older galloper in Hamua. It proved a rewarding excursion with Daryl’s Joy snaring both the Cox Plate and Victoria Derby and Woodcourt Inn taking the One Thousand Guineas at Caulfield; even Hamua paid his way when he landed the Caulfield Stakes. It was that visit that prompted Brown to contemplate moving his entire training establishment to Australian shores seriously; he did so eventually, but it took another Derby colt owned by Robert Goh to do it. And the particular colt in question was on board that special charter flight that arrived in Sydney on that Friday two years later.
Soon after touchdown the three horses flown across the Tasman on that seemingly interminable flight in September 1971 were in residence at Bernie Byrnes’s stables, located within the William Inglis maze of sheds at Newmarket, while Brown himself took up lodgings at the nearby Coogee Bay Hotel. Within twenty-four hours of landing, Classic Mission and the balance of Syd Brown’s team were proceeding about their ordinary business, which, it soon became apparent, meant reeling off successive furlongs on a racecourse in extraordinarily slick times. Classic Mission emerged as George Moore’s logical Rosehill Guineas’ mount after a spectacular gallop over the Guineas’ course on the Tuesday morning before the race. Moore wasn’t even in the country and was only due back the following day having enjoyed some sabbatical leave in France and on the Continent. Australia’s greatest jockey, however, was well aware of Classic Mission’ abilities, having already been telephoned while in France by Brown, singing the colt’s praises. All three of Brown’s charges that came across the Tasman were very forward in their work and ready to do justice to their abilities from the start. The first start for each of the horses came at the Rosehill meeting eight days after their arrival.
However, on the Thursday morning before the Guineas’ meeting, just as Brown was hoeing into a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausages and eggs, Bernie Byrnes telephoned the Coogee Bay Hotel with some dramatic tidings. His stables were swarming with A.J.C. stewards, officials and veterinary-surgeons together with a host of newspaper reporters who had received a tip-off that a significant racing scandal was about to break concerning one of Brown’s horses. It was enough to give any self-respecting trainer indigestion. When Brown arrived at the stables post haste, confronted by a frenzied gauntlet of photographers, Jim Meehan, the A.J.C. chief steward, told him that he must be aware that Classic Mission was, in fact, a four-year-old and thus ineligible to run for the A.J.C. Derby. Meehan explained that he had arranged for two veterinarians to inspect the colt’s mouth and each declared the horse had the teeth of a four-year-old. It was the first inkling that the wily Woodville trainer had, that both he and his horse were under close suspicion and surveillance. In a touch of bravado to a nearby newspaperman, Brown flashed a feigned smile and quipped: “Classic Mission has a beautiful set of teeth. They’re better than mine. At least they’re his own.”
Perhaps I should explain the arcane mysteries of determining a horse’s age by his teeth. ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’ is a proverb that refers to being rude or ungrateful for a gift or present. It derives from the practice since time immemorial of horse-dealers looking at a horse’s teeth to determine its age. ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ is another expression that has been handed down to posterity and one frequently used on racecourses to verify the reliability of the information concerning a sure thing on which to bet. Again, the expression relates to the fact that deception as to a horse’s age is almost impossible – particularly a young horse – if one is skilled in the art of examining equine teeth. And telling the age of a young horse is simpler and more reliable than an older horse for the reason that horses – like humans – lose their baby teeth, to be replaced by adult teeth, at predictable ages.
A yearling has six baby teeth top and bottom. The two teeth in the very front (top and bottom) are called the central incisors, and they fall out as a two-year-old to be replaced by adult teeth. The next set over are the intermediate incisors, and they fall out at about three to be replaced by adult teeth, while at about three-and-a-half there is an eruption of the milk teeth laterals on the upper and lower jaws as permanent teeth replace them. From about the age of three, the central incisors have grown out sufficiently to meet, and they begin to show signs of wear, which becomes yet another guide to age. Changes continue to occur throughout the horse’s life although such later changes bear no relevance to this chapter. According to the Sydney panel of veterinarians who examined Classic Mission, he already had his sixth molar tooth, and it was this, rather than the state of his front teeth, that first alerted veterinary-surgeons and racing authorities that no ordinary three-year-old had arrived in their midst. Instead, one that – on appearances at least – seemed to have been bred either a season earlier than recorded, or to northern hemisphere time and as such, enjoyed some seven or eight months’ maturity over his contemporaries.
It was a frantic twenty-four hours in the A.J.C. stewards’ office after the story first broke, for Classic Mission was scheduled to make his Australian debut in the Rosehill Guineas just two days later. It didn’t happen, but not because of any ruling by stewards. After an early morning track gallop on the Friday at Randwick with George Moore in the saddle, the horse was found to be lame after having struck himself and damaged a tendon sheaf in the off-foreleg. A disconsolate Brown was forced to put the scratching pen through his name for the Guineas and for a time it seemed that the horse’s entire spring campaign was in jeopardy, although not because of the state of his dentures. Only hours after Brown had withdrawn the horse on September 17 did the A.J.C. release a statement through Jim Meehan declaring Classic Mission eligible to race as a three-year-old. It read in part: “Expert advice was to the effect that, variations in eruption times of teeth have been known to occur in isolated cases. In view of the fact that the New Zealand Stud Book and New Zealand Racing Conference supplied evidence to the effect that the colt was definitely foaled in August 1968, and subsequently registered in New Zealand, the stewards have decided to accept the colt as being eligible for three-year-old races in N.S.W.”
That Saturday the Rosehill faithful might have been denied the presence of the star turn but the supporting duo that had flown in with Classic Mission more than compensated. Classic Nature partnered by George Moore, who was having his first ride on Australian soil since being suspended for his winning mount on Baguette in the Doomben Ten Thousand, started the Syd Brown bandwagon rolling. A solidly-built chestnut by Golden Plume, Classic Nature was drawn in barrier sixteen; and despite being trapped at least three wide throughout, won the Parramatta Handicap (7f) after having been backed in to start the second favourite. It was Syd Brown’s first Sydney winner.
He didn’t have to wait long for his second. In the very next race on the card, the Theo Marks Quality, Crown Law, the third member of the triumvirate that Brown had flown into Sydney, partnered by Ron Quinton, outsprinted Baguette and George Moore, to win by a length after having been backed from 15/1 into 10/1. It was hardly a fluke. After all, Crown Law had twice beaten Daryl’s Joy as a two-year-old and won the W.R.C. Wellington Stakes (6f) the following season carrying 9 st. in 69.25 seconds. Unfortunately, he had been severely crippled soon after that race and was off the scene for twenty months having bone pieces removed from his fetlock joints. The horse had only been in Brown’s stable some nine months.
It was to prove a momentous weekend for Syd Brown for, apart from the stable’s stunning debut at Rosehill, the veterinary surgeon’s latest report on Classic Mission sounded promising. The injury had proven mostly superficial, and Classic Mission was ready for his Australian debut seven days later on the same course. Partnered by apprentice John Duggan, the colt finished powerfully for a creditable second behind Baguette in the weight-for-age Hill Stakes (8 ½ f). Curiously enough, it was the first time the horse had raced beyond seven furlongs, and although both condition and distance were against the son of Persian Garden, he did enough to convince George Moore – who rode the winner – that he would do for his Derby mount. The top hoop announced his intentions, which led to another brief eruption in the jockey’s volatile relationship with Tommy Smith, who hitherto had assumed Moore would warm the saddle on his promising filly, Winking. Syd Brown, recalling the loss of Redcraze all those years before to the acquisitive genius of Tulloch Lodge, rather enjoyed the brief conflagration.
However, if Brown had thought that the imbroglio over Classic Mission’s age had gone away, he was in for a rude awakening. After the horse’s impressive showing in the Hill Stakes, reports circulated in a Sunday newspaper that some rival trainers with Derby candidates wanted the case re-opened. While the official A.J.C. response to the speculation was to stonewall with a ‘no comment’, there was frenetic activity unfolding behind the scenes. Fearing the prospect of legal action in the event of a Classic Mission victory in their blue riband, the Australian Jockey Club under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Crowley had acted. The club despatched two of its most senior officials, the Deputy-Chairman of Stewards, John Mahoney, and the Keeper of the Australian Stud Book and highly experienced veterinary-surgeon, Jim McFadden, to New Zealand to investigate the background and breeding of Classic Mission, accessing all of the relevant registration and sales transfer papers.
Meanwhile, the A.J.C. made overtures to the Jockey Club in England seeking advice from their experts including Dr Alex Fraser of Edinburgh University. He observed: “It is a very long stroke of chance that a horse of three years and three months might have the teeth of a four-year-old, but one would probably be laughed out of court if you tried to suggest that this was not a very rare occurrence. The anomaly might come about by some accident of birth, but it is very far from normal.” Michael Syme, widely regarded as Britain’s finest veterinarian, remarked: “Variation in the eruption of teeth in thoroughbreds are very unusual but in dealing with living creatures nothing is impossible…If the horse is, in fact, the age claimed, and the teeth are developed as in a four-year-old then it is a genuine rarity.” As Syme went on to elaborate, the climate or environment might be a factor and that in the Argentine, for example, the hot, dry conditions there had sometimes tended to develop teeth earlier.
This, however, was hardly likely to apply to New Zealand with a climate similar to England. The A.J.C.’s lack of candour on the investigations for a time encouraged everyone to have their two bobs’ worth, and the media encouraged the speculation. In the pages of The Australian, John Bourke, the veterinary-stipendiary steward with the V.R.C., argued that the Classic Mission case was possible while John Arnott, veterinary-consultant to the Royal Agricultural Society Victoria, as well as the V.R.C. and M.V.R.C., wasn’t so sure. Arnott observed that it would be “a freak of nature, although anything is possible in the biological world.” In America, the consultant veterinarian to the Aqueduct racecourse in New York, William Reed, added his voice to the confusion. The Australian quoted him as saying that “never, in his long experience, has a three-year-old had Classic Mission’s teeth.”
While this flurry of information was exchanged across the globe, Messrs McFadden and Mahoney proceeded on their merry way across the Tasman. Their first port of call was with the breeder of Classic Mission, sixty-eight-year-old Jack Higgs, a foundation member of the New Zealand Breeders’ Association and a long-term client of Brown’s Woodville stables. Brown had trained some Classic Mission’s close relations for Higgs in the past and currently had the colt’s one-year-older sister and one-year-younger half-brother in training. However, the best of Angelet’s progeny that hitherto Brown had anything to do with was Min Flicka, the half-sister to Classic Mission by Final Court that had won ten races including the C.J.C. Champagne Stakes and the W.R.C. Cuddle Stakes. In due course, Min Flicka would also become famous as the maternal granddam of the Melbourne Cup winner, Hyperno. Jack Higgs was a very well-known personality in New Zealand and had raced other good horses over there with other stables beside Syd Brown’s, including Vin d’Amour, who established a stakes earnings record for a two-year-old in 1983-84.
Higgs might have been responsible for breeding Classic Mission, but the horse had been foaled at the Fencourt Stud in Cambridge, owned by Tom Hogan, where the stallion Persian Garden stood. As a foal Classic Mission had certain unusual markings in that one hoof was brown on one side and chestnut on the other, markings that were noted on his registration papers as a foal and also on the insurance policy that was taken out at the same time. After branding, the colt went to a Mr Larson at Hamilton where he remained continuously until taken to Trentham for sale. Catalogued in the 1970 New Zealand National Yearling Sales as lot No. 264, he was shown as having been born on August 20, 1968, and was the fifth living foal of the dam Angelet, a daughter of the dour stayer, Sabaean, who stood at the Te Parae Stud, Masterton. Angelet was a half-sister to Town Guard, an impressive middle-distance horse in New Zealand; and closely related to Saboteur, winner of the W.R.C. Harcourt Stakes.
Three of Angelet’s previous foals had raced, and two were winners; apart from Min Flicka, another older brother, Solarium, had won races in Malaysia. When Syd Brown arranged with Wright Stephenson to buy the colt he was acting on behalf of Bob Goh, who jokingly, had asked Brown to procure him another Derby winner just like Daryl’s Joy. A fine, upstanding, bay colt, Classic Mission wasn’t spared in his first season on the Turf, starting in twelve races and managing to win five including his last three in succession. Although he failed when pitted against the best juveniles of the year in the Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes, he did win two valuable handicaps at Wellington in the soft ground late in the season.
The imbroglio concerning the age of Classic Mission was only resolved, if ‘resolved’ be the right word, on Friday, just twenty-four hours before the A.J.C. Derby was due to be run. Jim McFadden and John Mahoney had scoured countless records during their odyssey in the Shaky Isles but had failed to turn up anything that proved the son of Persian Garden wasn’t a three-year-old – although proving a negative is a well-nigh impossible and thankless task in any circumstances. John Mahoney telephoned his chief and confirmed that the colt had been foaled on the date stated and that both owners of the stud were present at the birth. The day following the birth, the insurance policy previously mentioned was taken out, and on the same day, the stud’s veterinary surgeon examined the colt and certified the markings on that proposal, markings which now corresponded with those recently taken by the A.J.C. stewards.
Moreover, the manager of Wright Stephenson claimed that he saw the colt on three or four occasions after the sales at Brown’s stable, and had stated categorically to Mahoney that it was the same animal sold at auction. Nor had the research of McFadden and Mahoney ended there: the pair had even inspected Angelet’s 1967 filly foal Milenka and confirmed that her brand and markings corresponded with her registration certificate and that her teeth were those of a 1967 foal. The two A.J.C. officials had also sighted the stallion returns for 1966 and 1967 recording the filly and subsequent services by Persian Garden. The stud returns for 1967 and foaling slip had both been lodged before the birth of the colt. The stud returns for 1968 reported the birth of a colt and the service of the mare, and Angelet had a colt at foot when served in 1968. There was nothing more McFadden and Mahoney could do and the A.J.C. Secretary Derek Glasgow made the announcement clearing Classic Mission in a terse twenty-five-word report to the waiting media.
Jim McFadden later observed of Classic Mission’s remarkably forward mouth: “Yes, he was one in a million, perhaps one in ten million.” The committee of the Australian Jockey Club sought further reassurance in the guise of Australia’s most eminent equine veterinary-surgeon and the man who acted as an honorary veterinary consultant to the club, the renowned Percy Sykes. Sykes had been overseas when the initial furore erupted, but upon his return, the committee asked him to visit the stables and inspect the suspect colt. Sykes cleared him to run, stating that teeth development wasn’t an infallible science of age identification with horses. So, the serious matter, which had called up such a storm and threatened the very integrity and working relationship of New Zealand and Australian racing authorities, was over, and the gale had blown itself out. Curiously enough, the day the gale blew out, and Classic Mission was cleared to run, was also the first time that his owner Bob Goh had set eyes on the horse, never having seen him in New Zealand and having just arrived from Singapore in time for Derby Day.
The 1971 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Eleven accepted for the classic and the only filly in the field was Winking, trained by Tommy Smith for an assortment of ladies. Bred in New Zealand, Winking descended directly from the champion Kiwi sprinter Glentruin; although her victory in the A.J.C. Fernhill Handicap suggested that she owed more of her racing style to her sire Oncidium. The overwhelming favourite in betting on the Derby and the only horse to be preferred to Classic Mission was Egyptian, a gelded son of Convamore bred by Lionel Israel at the Segenhoe Stud out of Amneris, winner of the 1957 V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes and a full sister to the brilliant Pride of Egypt. Egyptian had been bought by the free-spending Stan Fox at the 1970 William Inglis Easter Sales for $9,500 and was trained by Jack Denham at Rosehill. A big, long-striding galloper, Egyptian owed his popularity to a brilliant win in the Canterbury Guineas and an unlucky passage in the Rosehill Guineas that saw his driving finish denied victory by a head.
The third fancy in Derby betting was Latin Knight, seeking to bestow a second blue riband on the owner, Bill Clinton, following upon Wilton Park’s triumph three years earlier. Latin Knight was a son of Latin Lover, the first son of unbeaten Italian champion Ribot to have progeny sold in Australia. The colt had cost $5750 as a yearling and was trained by Morrie Anderson at Rosehill; he had won the Sires’ Produce Stakes and finished runner-up in the Champagne Stakes at Randwick in the autumn – achievements that saw him head the Free Handicap that year with a handicap of 9 st. 5lb – 1lb above the top Melbourne colt, Tolerance, who had won both the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes and the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes.
At his most recent start, Latin Knight had given a bold front-running exhibition to steal the Rosehill Guineas after jockey Ray Selkrig had elected to go forward from his outside barrier. Latin Knight, however, had again been badly served in the Derby draw and was starting from the extreme outside of the field. The only other horse quoted in the betting market at less than double figures was Altai Khan, a likely looking stayer who had most of his racing in Melbourne but had filled the minor placing in the Rosehill Guineas and was now being prepared at Randwick by Bill Wilson.
None of the other leading two-year-olds from the previous season accepted for the A.J.C. Derby. Tolerance, the top Melbourne colt who had been rated only a pound inferior to Latin Knight in the Free Handicap, remained in Melbourne. Trained by Angus Armanasco, Tolerance, a son of Better Boy, had won his first five race starts including both the V.A.T.C. Blue Diamond Stakes and the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes, before failing as the odds-on favourite in the S.T.C Golden Slipper Stakes. While he had redeemed himself to some extent by running the minor placings in both the Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes at Randwick, Armanasco had concluded that a distance of seven furlongs was probably the extent of his stamina. Indeed, not one of the sixteen horses that contested the S.T.C. Golden Slipper Stakes that year went around in the Derby. The whole pattern of two-year-old racing was changing and classic winners at three were now rarely to be sought in the Blue Diamond or Golden Slipper fields of speedsters. Remarkably, given his record, the leading trainer, T. J. Smith, had only won his first Slipper that year and it had come with the Minor Portion filly, Fairy Walk, in the famous colours of Reg Moses. But, despite lineage that traced back to Phar Lap’s sister, Raphis, when it came to the Derby, it wasn’t Fairy Walk, but another filly in Winking that was representing Tulloch Lodge.
The protracted drama that served as a prelude to this Derby was reflected in the race itself, which turned out to be the slowest since 1945, excluding the sea of mud that constituted the Randwick course on Derby Day in 1952. And as so often happens in a race lacking speed, the journey was one of rough and tumbles. George Moore, in his twenty-first and last A.J.C. Derby, later described it as one of the worst races in which he had ridden. The time of 2 minutes 36.1 seconds came on ground that was officially described as good, although blustery winds did serve to hamper the horses. I’ve often thought that an absence of pace and the presence of wind are the worst possible conditions for racehorses. The wind seems to bother them more than storms and thunder, probably because it interferes with their hearing.
Latin Knight was arguably the unlucky runner of the race, very much the victim of his outside barrier draw. Selkrig was unable to give the colt any cover early, and as behoved the hot blood of a son of Latin Lover, he didn’t take kindly to restraint. Coney’s Brother led but was travelling so slowly that his rider could have kept a diary of the trip. The favourite, Egyptian, was another who refused to settle and going out of the straight the first time, Des Lake, his jockey, suffered the misfortune of his leg hitting the running rail. Moore himself claimed that Classic Mission was severely checked twice and after being third early had been relegated to eighth at the six-furlong mark. Latin Knight was squeezed when Egyptian went past him at the five and in turn, he dropped back sharply interfering with Winking and Classic Mission. After all this argy-bargy the race naturally developed into a sprint for the winning post and considering that Classic Mission came from third last on the home turn, a seemingly impossible position, he proved himself the superior stayer on the day.
Moore was forced to negotiate a rails-run on the colt when his passage out wide was barred, but luck, or his legendary whistle, was with him and with a brilliant finish Classic Mission caught Latin Knight in the very last stride. The impossible had become the inevitable. The winning margin was a short-head with one and three-quarter lengths to the maiden performer, Daneson, in third place. Egyptian, the heavily-backed favourite who had run an errant passage but looked the likely winner at the rise, merely plodded to the line to finish fourth. It had been a masterly training feat by Syd Brown to get Classic Mission ready for the race, both on such a light preparation and amid such uncertainty on and off the racecourse. One man that was impressed and understood the task better than most was Dick Roden, who, immediately after the Derby, made an offer of $100,000 on behalf of an American agent for the colt; but Bob Goh didn’t need the money and preferred to retain the horse to race in Australia and New Zealand.
The extravagant scenes in the saddling paddock when the horses returned to scale made for an interesting study in human body language. The animated and voluble celebrations in the Classic Mission camp juxtaposed with the rancorous mutterings in their first flush of indignation of Morrie Anderson, Bill Clinton and Ray Selkrig, trainer, owner and jockey respectively of the runner-up Latin Knight. Although no reproach was made in any speech to other parties in the enclosure, their manner was more eloquent, darkly hinting at their suspicions. Bill Clinton of Somerset Park, Narellan, was confused as to whether or not to protest against the winner but, in his own words, “decided on the spur of the moment not to do, because of the action taken by the A.J.C.” in its previous investigation. In the days immediately following the Derby, sporting confreres urged Clinton to approach the A.J.C. and examine for himself the documentation held in its offices that had convinced the committee to allow Classic Mission to take his place in the blue riband. Clinton did so on October 19 wishing to resolve the matter in his own mind before the Victoria Derby. Whether or not he was ever convinced to his entire satisfaction remains academic for as events transpired, the two colts never clashed again.
The drama and uncertainty that led to the Derby rendered the post-race celebrations more muted than would normally be the case. However, one venue that for years had been the preferred choice of many Derby-winning owners and trainers was no longer available. The Australia Hotel on the corner of Castlereagh St and Martin Place had finally closed its doors on 30th June 1971 and was in the process of being demolished. It had been an important feature of Sydney’s social life for eighty years and had reigned supreme throughout the 1930s until well into the 1950s. It, together with Romano’s in Castlereagh St opposite, and Prince’s around the corner in Martin Place, had been the very pulse of Sydney nightlife, especially for the racing beau monde. Men of the Turf who stayed and celebrated at the Australia Hotel at different times included among others Lord Nuffield, Rupert Clarke, Alec Creswick, John Wren, Rodney Dangar, Sid Field, Brian Crowley, Allan Potter, Frank Packer, Chester Manifold, Bill Moses and Ezra Norton.
The old-fashioned hotel with its large rooms and high ceilings had declined into a slightly shabby gentility in its old age as new and more modern hotels such as the Menzies, Chevron and Wentworth sprung up to take advantage of a changing cityscape. Just as the racecourse itself suffered declining attendances as rival forms of gambling and public entertainment emerged during the late fifties’ and early sixties’, so, too, did the grand hotels, which had enjoyed their best years when travel seemed a far more leisurely and sedate pursuit. Country visitors, who had once formed a large part of the Australia Hotel’s clientele, were also less numerous as Australia’s dependence on sheep and cattle declined and there occurred a permanent shift away from the land. As plans emerged to redevelop the city centre of Sydney at an estimated cost of some $21 million, the Australia Hotel was sold by auction to the MLC group for $9.6 million in February 1970.
Sadly, Classic Mission only raced three more times after his memorable Randwick triumph. Taken to Melbourne, the colt ran unplaced in the W.S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley behind Tauto but returned to the winner’s enclosure seven days later when he was untroubled to win the Victoria Derby from Column and Altai Khan. The Victoria Derby proved to be George Moore’s last race ride, the legendary postillion announcing his retirement immediately upon dismounting.
Classic Mission’s last race came on the final day of that 1971 V.R.C. Spring Carnival when, in the hands of Harry White, he effortlessly beat Tails and Fileur into the minor placings for the C.B. Fisher Plate. Brought back into training the following autumn Classic Mission broke down in trackwork at Warwick Farm. It proved a persistent problem. The autumn passed on, and winter and spring, and still the leg wouldn’t heal. Reluctantly, the decision was made to retire the controversial dual Derby winner, and he was sold to stand at Mr J. Allison’s Uley Park Stud at One Tree Hill in South Australia. The only principal race winner that he ever managed to get at stud was Alician, in the 1980 W.A.T.C. Belmont Park Cup. Classic Mission died on November 1, 1993.
Latin Knight, arguably the best horse in the 1971 A.J.C. Derby field enjoyed a longer and more profitable career on the racecourse. After running unplaced in both the Caulfield Guineas and the Caulfield Cup, Latin Knight’s spring campaign ended and by the time he resumed racing early in the new year, Classic Mission had already run his last race. Latin Knight was to enjoy a profitable autumn to his three-year-old season, winning the Chipping Norton Stakes, Australasian Champion Stakes in race record time, and at his final appearance, The Q.T.C. Grand Prix Stakes. The flashy chestnut son of Latin Lover continued to race on into his six-year-old season, but the handicapper found his measure as an older horse, and he only won two more minor events, tellingly both in rain-affected going. Upon being retired from the racecourse, Latin Knight stood at the Hardwicke Stud at Yass and was by no means a failure as a stallion. He sired two stakes winners viz. Knight’s Affair, the winner of the 1982 H.R.C. Hawkesbury Gold Cup; and Saxon Slew, the winner of the 1981 M.V.R.C. Moonee Valley Gold Cup.
Classic Mission was jockey George Moore’s fifth and final winner of the A.J.C. Derby and, as noted above, his victory on the same colt in the Victoria Derby was the last ride in his brilliant career – his 2,278th winner. In the grand, temperamental traditions of another great Australian artist, Dame Nellie Melba, Moore had prematurely announced his retirement on earlier occasions, most notably after Baguette’s Champagne Stakes victory when he was absent for over ten months, but this time he really meant it. Bob Goh, the lucky owner of Classic Mission, hosted a celebratory party at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne on the Saturday night of the Victoria Derby.
For the first time in a long while Moore was able to enjoy a few drinks – the worries of wasting over – and he generously gave the Hambly saddle that he had used on Classic Mission to Syd Brown as a parting present. As the gifted horseman relaxed in the company of Brown, Goh, Colin Hayes and Roy Higgins, Moore reflected on an extraordinary career. Classic Mission apart, his major victories in the saddle in the calendar year 1971 included the V.R.C. Newmarket and Doomben Ten Thousand on Baguette, the Golden Slipper on Fairy Walk, the Doncaster on Rajah Sahib and the A.J.C. Oaks on Waikiki! I chartered much of Moore’s history in earlier chapters, particularly those relating to 1962 and 1963 when he partnered successive A.J.C. Derby winners; but Moore’s career arguably reached its zenith during his last eight years in the saddle.
There were robustness and depth to his riding, fired by an insatiable will to win, and which was matched by an uncanny judgement of pace and movement. As an artist in the saddle, he worked in dashing brush strokes. It all appeared so simple and easy and yet his sense of timing and impeccable balance had the bravura of genius. In his twilight years – if twilight be they called – his vigour was transmuted into a more austere riding style, but it remained peerless nonetheless. Just consider the statistics. From 1956, after he regained his licence, following the Flying East case, until he retired in 1971, Moore had 3,403 rides in Sydney for 1,040 winners, 620 seconds and 447 thirds. He rode 119 group-one winners and captured the Sydney jockeys’ premiership ten times despite extended riding stints overseas that saw him elevated to the role of Australia’s outstanding international racing ambassador.
George Moore’s triumphs in the saddle across the globe included many of the best races in England and France. Sir Noel Murless, the leading British trainer on no fewer than eight occasions, never forgot the impression the gifted Australian horseman made when he partnered the remarkable Petite Etoile in the 1959 Free Handicap at Newmarket, a filly owned by Prince Aly Khan and trained by Murless. The memory lingered, and when the great Lester Piggott refused to commit himself to Warren Place in the winter of 1965-66 for the coming season, preferring to ride freelance instead, Murless followed Prince Aly Khan’s initiative of a few seasons before and invited Moore to come to England and replace Piggott as the stable jockey.
Prince Aly Khan quite simply regarded Moore as the greatest jockey in the world and Murless in his association with the Australian hoop would have no cause to question Prince Aly’s judgement. Moore was honoured by the invitation and at the time said: “One of the big factors is that I’ll have the honour of riding for The Queen. I would only have to do nearly as well as I did in France for Prince Aly Khan for this to be better than that job.” Never mind about the ‘nearly as well’ qualification; it was to be a sensational 1967 flat season for George and Warren Place that saw them win three classics in the first five weeks with Fleet in the One Thousand Guineas and Royal Palace in the Two Thousand Guineas and English Derby.
Nor did the winners stop there. As the season rolled on the combination won the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot (Fleet) giving Moore his 2000th career winner; the rich News of the World Stakes at Goodwood (Sucaryl); the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Busted as well as scoring four wins on H. M. The Queen’s Hopeful Venture. Still, behind the glamour and triumph on the racecourse, the ugly and dark elements of the gambling underworld were conspiring against Moore off it. Apart from anonymous murder threats against his wife, Iris, and young daughter, Michelle, if the jockey didn’t obey instructions, there came more open attacks from standover men such as paint thrown onto his car and the ransacking of his apartment. It was for the sake of his family that Moore reluctantly chose not to renew his association with English racing at the end of that remarkable season. At the time Moore commented: “I prefer riding in France to England. The courses are better, and racing is far more centralised. The travelling in England is the real killer. On the whole, prize money is worth five times more than in England.”
That great knight of the pigskin, Sir Gordon Richards, who was Champion Jockey of England on no fewer than twenty-six occasions observed: “This George Moore’s the greatest today because, like Steve Donoghue, he’s got something the rest of us haven’t got – and Steve was the greatest I ever knew or rode against. It’s unfair really. The rest of us, Lester, Scobie, Saint-Martin or I – have our horses perfectly balanced, ready to slip through a gap the moment it opens up, always ahead of the next fellow. But this chap, like Steve, is different. With a wall of horses in front of them, they go for a gap which isn’t there. But always, just as they go for it, it opens up.” What might George Moore not have achieved in Europe, had he so chosen to end his career there?
The final vintage years of Moore’s career in the saddle afforded Australian racegoers some great memories. There would be occasions when he would ride each of the favourites on a race card such as happened at Randwick on New Year’s Day 1965. At the 1969 A.J.C. Easter carnival the champion horseman, who was a few months shy of his 46th birthday, won 15 races from 25 rides, including the A.J.C. Oaks on Flying Fable. Age had not wearied him, nor had the years condemned his skill and judgement. If anything, George was more outstanding in his profession than he had ever been before. During these years no matter what horse one backed in a race, one was always aware of just which horse George was on – and exactly where it was in the running.
There were the celebrated clashes with racing officialdom that were not always restricted to Sydney. George boycotted the Invitation Stakes at Caulfield on three separate occasions and earned the ire of the V.A.T.C. committeemen when he refused to accept mounts in the race that he regarded as no-hopers. The race itself was intended as a window to Australia’s jockey talent with invitations being extended to the leading jockeys in each State. Nor were such tantrums restricted to invitation races in Australia. In March 1969 the rider was invited by the Japan Racing Association to ride in their $11,500 special international event, but George upon inspecting the track took an immediate dislike to its dirt surface and pronounced it unsafe. He promptly gathered up wife Iris and son Gary and flew back to Australia without bothering to unpack his saddle. As journalist Pat Farrell observed at the time: “when he projects himself into the glare of national or international controversy, George Moore neither expects – nor cares – to be judged by normal behaviour standards.” I might add that Moore extended a similar boycott to Canterbury racecourse near the end of his career, again because he regarded the track as unsafe. It had always been a hoodoo course for him going back as far as 1947-48 when he suffered terrible falls there, on Ducal Gem and Puffham.
Moore had given plenty of thought to his intentions upon retirement and at times had entertained the role of either studmaster or trainer. Indeed, for a time during the 1960s, George Moore conducted Yarraman Park Stud at Scone in the Upper Hunter. Although the stud went back some one hundred years when the Thompson family raised many good horses there including Eurythmic, who was foaled in 1916, it was Moore who did much to modernise the property including the construction of the yearling barn, which incorporated some of the beautiful timber that came from Moorefield racecourse that had closed down in 1951. Moore lived at Yarraman Park during much of the sixties, commuting to Sydney for race engagements and it was while domiciled there that he taught his three children to ride.
The jockey imported two stallions from England as his resident sires, namely Dawn Watch, a rugged English sprinter by the St Leger winner Tehran; and Sword Hilt, a modest middle-distance galloper by Court Martial, although neither horse made much of a mark at stud. At the 1964 William Inglis Easter Sales six yearlings offered by George Moore’s Yarraman Park Stud at Scone realised 10,450 guineas. Moore also briefly owned in England the good-class sprinter, Vibrant, but sold him to Stanley Wootton, who later sent him out here to stand at Baramul, where, among other stakes winners he sired the 1971 Blue Diamond Stakes winner, Forina, as well as that excellent mare, Miss Personality, who Tommy Smith trained with such success.
However, by the time George came to retire in late 1971 he had sold Yarraman Park and had resolved to try his hand at training. Initially, he intended to train in France – negotiating on stables at Chantilly comprising 66 horse-boxes and five acres of ground – but he received an unusually generous offer to settle instead in Hong Kong in 1972 during the first season of professional racing in the colony there, an offer he ultimately accepted. Unsurprisingly, Moore proved just as successful a trainer as a jockey. Although the training ranks on the island were perhaps not as competitive as they might have been at Newmarket or Deauville, he finished the leading man in Hong Kong in eleven of the thirteen seasons he trained there, preparing 628 winners in all. Although never knighted, George was invested with the Order of the British Empire.
The family was always crucial to Moore and the qualities derived from his own childhood he, together with his wife, Iris, imparted to their children. In the most successful Sydney season of his career, amidst Easter 1965 and the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Moore excused himself from his busy racing schedule to partner his only daughter, Michelle, in an equestrian event at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show; they finished runners-up in the father-daughter class. Moore went to great lengths to see that his two sons, John and Gary, became successful at their chosen professions. John wasn’t intended by nature for a career in the saddle, but when George retired from training in Hong Kong in 1985, John took over the stables, winning seven Hong Kong trainers’ premierships up to the time of his father’s death.
Gary was a brilliant international jockey in his own right winning classics in both England and France. George had Gary spend some months in France with Alec Head even before apprenticing the lad. Gary Moore was the first non-Frenchman to become Champion Jockey in France, and George and Gary, join Yves and Eric St Martin as the only two fathers and sons who have achieved the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe-French Derby double. Gary won the Hong Kong jockeys’ championship as well before leaving the colony in the mid-eighties, after earning an indemnity for giving evidence against other jockeys in an infamous investigation. Gary eventually followed both his father and his older brother’s career path after he retired, becoming a successful trainer, first at Randwick, and then later in Macau before returning to Sydney for another training stint.
Following the transfer of his training stables to son John in 1985, George Moore retired to Queensland’s Gold Coast. It was also the year in which Pre Catelan, a Lunchtime colt owned by George and Iris Moore, won the A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate and S.T.C. Silver Slipper Stakes, partnered in the latter by Gary, who made a special trip back to Australia to do so. Like Ol’ Man River, George just kept rolling along, although old age was to prove an uneven patchwork of swelling pride in the achievements of his two sons interspersed with failing health. In November 2006 Moore lost part of his right leg after it had gone gangrene in an operation at the Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick.
Other problems followed including a mild stroke and advanced Alzheimer’s disease and the man who was widely regarded as Australia’s greatest jockey ever, died in a Sydney nursing home on January 8, 2008, aged eighty-four after a long illness. His last ride at Randwick as it turned out wasn’t on the back of a horse, but rather in the back of a hearse – as part of his funeral celebrations. Following the service at All Saints’ Anglican Church, Woollahra, on Thursday, 17 January 2008, a wake was held in the Panorama Room at Randwick Racecourse with the hearse doing a stately final circuit of the track. Apocryphal it might be, but there is a story that no sooner had the driver negotiated the home turn and was headed down the famous straight towards the mourning public than he distinctly heard a voice intoning from the casket: “Whatever you do – don’t make your run until you top the rise!”
Syd Brown was just two years younger than George Moore, and while Classic Mission triggered Moore’s retirement, in the case of Brown the colt prompted his long-contemplated relocation to Australia, where prizemoney was so much superior to New Zealand. Establishing himself at Warwick Farm and granted a No. 1 trainer’s licence in August 1972, Classic Mission wasn’t the only reason Brown decided to settle in Australia when he did. While the son of Persian Garden II was acquiring blue ribands, Brown knew that back in his Woodville stables he had two gallopers that were more than capable of holding their own with any Australian rivals.
One was a chestnut colt, a year older than Classic Mission, by Pakistan II owned by Jim Cameron, the president of the Foxton Racing Club. Unraced as a two-year-old, the colt had enjoyed a tremendous three-year-old season when he won all six of his starts culminating with the Auckland York Handicap. After winning the Christchurch Winter Cup on resumption as a four-year-old, Brown lost no time in bringing over the baldy-faced stallion for a crack at the Doncaster. Beaten into second place by Gunsynd, Triton – for that was the chestnut’s name, proved both a brilliant calling card for Brown and some compensation for the breakdown of Classic Mission when later that year he won both the Q.T.C. Stradbroke Handicap and the A.J.C. Epsom – denying the great Gunsynd the prize by a mere half-head, albeit in receipt of two-and-a-half kilograms.
Veterinary-surgeons warned Brown that Triton had an enlarged heart and was a high risk of having a heart attack in a race. It didn’t happen in a race but rather at stud. Triton was retired as a seven-year-old stallion and after serving one of his first mares was walking about in his paddock when he dropped dead. The second galloper that Brown brought across from his Woodville stables in 1972 proved almost as useful. Stormy Seas, a son of the Irish stallion Whistling Willie, finished runner-up in the Caulfield Cup behind Sobar and later that spring won both the Mackinnon Stakes and Sandown Cup, but broke down soon after that Sandown engagement and was retired.
Syd Brown never again matched his training achievements of that first year domiciled on Australian soil. Yes, there would be other good gallopers in the years to come – horses such as Kista, Crimson Cloud and Our Poverty Bay – but they were mere intermittent flashes of a training talent that had once burned like brilliant phosphorus. There was a bitter tragedy as well – particularly the horrible injuries sustained by his jockey son Errol in a race fall. After seventy tumultuous years on the Turf, none more so than 1971, the veteran horseman retired in July 2007 just a few weeks short of his 82nd birthday.