A feature of the history of horseracing over the years in Australia, as in England, has been the involvement of several generations of the same prominent families in the sport. In 1901 we were introduced to Samuel Hordern, who bred Hautvilliers, the Derby winner of that year at his Wilton Park Stud. He was the first member of the illustrious Hordern retailing family to be active on the Australian Turf on a reasonably large scale, but it was a family activity that wasn’t to end with his death in August 1909. His eldest son, Samuel (later Sir Samuel) embraced the sport with an even deeper passion than his father, and while this work isn’t intended to be a roman-fleuve on the Hordern family, some background information will be helpful. Born at the family mansion, Retford Hall, Darling Point in 1876 and educated at Sydney Grammar and Bath College in England, the younger Samuel was groomed to head the family business from a young age. Over six feet tall and good-looking, active and always fashionably dressed, he was described by contemporaries as ‘the last of the elegant Edwardians’. Indeed, he was the complete patrician. If I may paraphrase the expression of F. E. Smith in relation to Winston Churchill, Samuel Hordern was a man of simple tastes. He was always prepared to put up with the best of everything.
I think that it is appropriate at this page in our chronicle to introduce the character of George Dean Greenwood, given his leading role in the story of the A.J.C. Derby, over the next few years. The younger of two sons, he was born at Moorhouse Manor, near Haworth, Yorkshire, in the heart of Bronte territory. Whereas his elder brother chose the London bar to earn his livelihood, George learnt to farm in Leicestershire, and given his love of horses, proceeded to hunt with the Pytchley and the Quorn. When quite a young man he travelled the globe to New Zealand to look over some property that his father had acquired there; and upon his return to England he went to Bradford to study the wool business. Somebody had to manage the family property in New Zealand, and as fate would have it, George Greenwood was the most suitable choice. The property in question was the Teviotdale Estate at Amberley, on the South Island near Pegasus Bay. Now given that Pegasus was the name of the legendary winged horse of the Muses, it seemed a most appropriate destination for a man who was to play such a leading role in New Zealand racing and indeed, possess some notable winged horses of his own.
When the legendary figure of George Gatenby Stead passed from the scene in 1908, and his stud was dispersed, many feared that the last had been seen of the famous ‘yellow jacket, black cap’ carried by Noctuiform and so many other grand gallopers. But although his bloodstock was sold, George’s two sons, Wilfred and Gerald, each decided to continue their father’s sporting legacy, albeit on a more limited scale. The year 1916 saw each of the brothers in possession of a top-class three-year-old, Wilfred with Sasanof and Gerald with The Toff; the former was by George Stead’s great champion, Martian, while The Toff was by Martian’s half-brother, Boniform. The Toff had proven himself one of the best juveniles in the Dominion as a two-year-old by winning the Great Northern Foal Stakes, while Sasanof had run the champion mare Desert Gold to a length in the Challenge Stakes at Trentham. Alas, being geldings neither horse was eligible for the Derby at Randwick.
The full consequences of the Great War were now being felt on the racecourse. An active debate was occurring as to whether the sport itself should be curtailed to some extent. In England, all racing, other than at Newmarket, had been suspended and there were people in Australia who took their lead from the mother country demanding a similar sacrifice here. The Victorian Premier, Sir Alexander Peacock, spoke for many, in July, when, while disclaiming any desire to be a spoilsport, he expressed the opinion that “it wasn’t entirely becoming that there should be so much sport at the present juncture.” Of course, the circumstances in Australia were quite different from those in England. One of the major problems there related to the carriage of troops by train, and the fact that carrying race crowds and racehorses exacerbated the transport difficulties. Moreover, racing here was not affecting recruiting. The focus and immediacy of a war being conducted ten miles away across the English Channel was quite a different proposition to one ten thousand miles away by sea. It seemed unwise to take heavy-handed action that would affect the livelihood of so many Australians.
Twelve months is a long time in racing. The scene at Randwick on Derby Day 1914 was rather different from that which greeted Beragoon’s triumph a year earlier. The two shots that Gavrilo Princip fired in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, killing the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sofia, had seen to that. Indeed, in that famous phrase of Sir Edward Grey, the lamps were going out all over Europe. Yet the effect on Derby Day of ‘The Great War of All Time’, as various scribes had taken to calling it, was still rather muted. Australia’s baptism of fire that would be Gallipoli was still six months away, and there remained many who were convinced that the whole jolly adventure would be over by Christmas. In August 1914 the A.J.C. Chairman, Adrian Knox, offered the use of Randwick racecourse as a temporary camp for the expeditionary force, and for weeks before the opening of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting a portion of the army remained in occupation.
It is said that a man who chooses to represent himself in a court of law has a fool for a client. Something similar is often muttered about well-meaning but naive owners who wish to train their own racehorses as a hobby. Such was the prejudice that Joe O’Brien encountered when he first entered the ranks of ownership in Sydney. A successful Sydney businessman with a large station property in southwestern Queensland, O’Brien wasn’t born among horses but was one of those practical men who seemed to be able to turn his hand to most things. Self-confident and shrewd, backed by considerable wealth, he first emerged as a player on the Randwick scene with his purchase of Malt King as a yearling in the autumn of 1908. It was in August of that same year when Malt King was showing remarkable promise in training gallops that O’Brien moved a motion at an A.J.C. General Meeting that the club’s members be permitted to train their own horses privately at Randwick.
There have been few more staunch patrons of the Australian Turf than Agar Wynne. Born in London in 1850, the son of a builder, his family migrated to Victoria during his early years. Educated at Melbourne’s Church of England Grammar School, Wynne completed the articled clerk’s course at Melbourne University and went to the bar in 1874. One of his early legal practices was based at Ballarat, and it was there that he first followed the hounds, riding with the Ballarat Hunt Club and acting in the capacity as the club’s secretary at the time Norman Wilson was the Master, and James Scobie the Huntsman. Wynne’s love of the hunt exceeded his skill in the saddle, but his involvement with the club forged a lifetime friendship with Scobie, who managed Wynne’s team of hunters. It wasn’t long before the young man was racing some horses on the flat too, although his early ventures were rather conspicuous failures and he cloaked them under the nom de course of ‘A. W. Raby’.
The Edwardian years of the early twentieth century represented a golden epoch in the history of thoroughbred racing, not just in England but the mother country’s dominions and colonies as well. Having a reigning monarch who embraced the sport with passion certainly helped, and H.R.H. Edward VII had already won the English Derby twice by the time he ascended the throne in 1901, thanks, firstly to the victory of the great Persimmon in 1896, and then four years later to that of his full brother, Diamond Jubilee. The King was to achieve a third triumph in the race – and the first by a reigning monarch – when Minoru was narrowly awarded the race by the judge in 1909. The colourful and exuberant Edwardian era was quite a contrast to the doleful years of melancholy and black mourning under Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861.