When Tommy Smith first took the A.J.C. Derby in 1949 with Playboy he was a young man with his way to make in the world; by the time Tulloch gave him his second success in the classic eight years later, the boy from Jembaicumbene had well and truly arrived. Indeed, as the man himself observed: “Playboy made me; he really got me going. People started giving me horses to train.” Smith’s abilities and his expanding clientele enabled the trainer to win the first of his Sydney premierships in the 1952-53 racing season with fifty-four wins, seventeen more than Maurice McCarten, who had been the leading trainer in the previous four years. Smith’s tally of wins and his margin of victory were the greatest since Sydney training records began. Once in a generation in every sport there comes a man whose genius is such that things can never be the same again.
Few realised it at the time, but Smith was that defining man of genius in post-war Australian racing who would change the methods of training racehorses forever. In recognition of Smith winning his first premiership, George Ryder organised a dinner at the Australian Golf Club at Kensington in July 1953 attended by a large and representative gathering. Even through the dense clouds of hyperbole, cigar smoke, and obligatory tribute that hung over the dining tables that evening, it was clear that Smith’s life as a trainer extraordinaire was only just beginning. Maurice McCarten proposed the toast to his younger rival while Frank Dalton regaled the faithful with a tale of a frank exchange with Tommy on the training tracks not long before: “I suppose you’ve got enough horses in your stable now and won’t be looking for more at the Yearling Sales?” “Too right I will”, replied Tommy “I wouldn’t mind if I had a hundred.” “In that case” Frank replied, “I’d better get to work and lock my clients up.”
Many a true word is spoken in jest, but the exchange reveals Tommy’s vaulting ambition even in those days. Smith would pioneer the training of horses in large numbers and together with his unerring eye for realising just what each was capable of; it would become the key to his domination of Australian racing for the next thirty years. And so, we come to the 1956 New Zealand National Sales at Trentham and where Tommy Smith proceeded to purchase seventeen yearlings. Some were bought for specific clients, but the majority were acquired on spec, yearlings that appealed to him because of conformation or pedigree that he would then offer in turn to prospective clients on a first-come basis. One such buy was Lot No. 178, a bay colt by the imported Big Game stallion, Khorassan, an early October foal and the first from the mare Florida. The yearling was offered by Seton Otway and had been bred by Dave Blackie at the renowned Trelawney Stud at Cambridge on the North Island. Blackie bred from selected mares and often raced horses of his own breeding; but he wasn’t interested in retaining this weedy-looking colt with his imperfect hocks, swamp back and heavy shoulders. Smith, however, liked what he saw. Although small – he would never be much more than 15.2 hands – the colt boasted a beautiful game head and powerful neck and was possessed of a magnificent walking action. The trainer got him for just 750 guineas. Sometime after the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer, Seton Otway ran into Tommy and politely suggested that the trainer might have done better, bidding for the other Khorassans.
Many other people shared Otway’s pessimism. Upon Smith’s return to Sydney, all of his various purchases were snapped up by stable clients; all of them that is, bar the little Khorassan colt. Almost three months after the sales, Smith still hadn’t found a buyer. Then, around Easter 1956, Tommy Smith was having a drink at Tattersall’s Club in Elizabeth St, when he chanced upon Evelyn (Len) Angus Haley. The octogenarian breeder and grazier was in town for the Royal Easter Show and already owned the useful Welter horse, Top Ruler, in the Smith stable. The old man was the proprietor of Te Koona Stud, situated among the hills of Wimbledon, about 12 miles on the Orange side of Bathurst, and had spent a lifetime with horses.
Up to that time, the best horse that Haley had ever raced was King’s Head, a son of Bullhead whom he had bred from a Redfern mare. Placed in the Mahon stables, King’s Head developed into a high-class miler, running second to Synagogue in the 1935 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap before protesting unsuccessfully against the winner. King’s Head improved with age and went on to win the 1936 Villiers Stakes and the 1938 Epsom Handicap, the race he had been denied by stewards three years earlier. But now, almost twenty years later, Haley was about to get a much better horse. Smith’s conversation swung to the little New Zealand colt still on his books; he asked if Haley was interested. The veteran breeder agreed to take him for the same 750 guineas Smith had paid, without even putting himself to the bother of a visit to the stables for an inspection. For sentimental reasons, Haley named the colt, Tulloch: it had been the name of a shorthorn cattle stud established at Deep Creek, 16 miles from Melbourne, by Haley’s maternal grandfather when he had first come over from Scotland in the late nineteenth century. This newly acquired little colt was destined to make an accretion to the Haley fortunes in more spectacular fashion than any shorthorn cattle stud ever did.
Smith had purchased Tulloch as a Derby prospect and was pleasantly surprised when the colt came to hand so early in the season. On the basis of some early trials, Tulloch started the favourite at his racecourse debut in the 1956 Breeders’ Plate. Alas, he raced greenly and was relegated to second by Flying Kurana, with a baldy-faced chestnut named Prince Darius claiming the minor placing just behind him. A week later in the Canonbury Stakes, Tulloch opened his winning account, with Prince Darius, not for the last time in his career, trailing him home in second place. It was then off to Melbourne where Tulloch won both the Gwyn Nursery at Caulfield and the Byron Moore Stakes at Flemington, although he suffered defeat in his main mission when beaten easily by the Sydney filly, Concert Star, in the Maribyrnong Plate. An ambitious autumn campaign was then planned that involved an unprecedented assault on the Sires’ Produce Stakes in three States – Victoria, N.S.W. and Queensland. Racegoers were beginning to wonder whether there was a finer colt in the Commonwealth.
Maurice McCarten had his suspicions. For weeks McCarten had been preparing a chunky chestnut son of Star Kingdom from the imported mare, Oceana, for his racing debut. The colt, owned by his breeder, Stanley Wootton, had only been given one serious gallop – away from the curiosity of the professional clockers – and the scorching speed of the youngster had left those few who witnessed it, breathless. His galloping companion on that occasion was a stablemate, another Star Kingdom colt, the year-older My Kingdom, owned by Adolph Basser. A 4800-guineas purchase as a yearling, My Kingdom was a first-class racehorse in his own right and had already won good races in both Sydney and Melbourne in smart times with big weights. In fact, only a matter of months after this famous trial, My Kingdom would win the Challenge Stakes at the 1957 A.J.C. Anniversary Meeting. Yet the younger Oceana colt had completely eclipsed him in the gallop. It was clear from the time of that first serious hit-out that the youngster’s hooves were on fire and that his course lay with the stars. Although McCarten harboured dreams of a first-up plunge, the conspiracy of silence that shrouded the gallop was always going to be difficult to hold, particularly when the colt’s first race start was continually being postponed through shin soreness. It wasn’t as if the stable lacked a yardstick for measuring his talent. Maurice McCarten was blessed with another fast youngster that season in the brilliant and unbeaten filly, Concert Star. A daughter of Star Kingdom, she had become the first filly ever to win the early spring triple crown of juvenile races, the Gimcrack Stakes, Debutante Stakes and the Maribyrnong Plate, in the last of which, as we have seen, she easily beat Tulloch. And yet it was common knowledge around the traps that McCarten had a better one at home.
McCarten finally got the powerful little chestnut to the racecourse on Villiers Stakes Day, 1956. It was in the opening event, the December Juvenile Handicap that Todman – for that was the name of the juvenile – made his debut. Bookmakers opened him at 11/8 only to see the weight of money reduce the price to 9/10 at flagfall. The colt jumped smartly, and Sellwood then scrubbed him along for the first half-furlong. As the field came towards the bend, he was already clear by ten lengths. It might have been only his first public appearance, but as the pair swept around the turn, Todman gave Sellwood a corner of which Jack Brabham would have been proud. And in truth, the blur as seen from the grandstands suggested the colt was moving at about the same speed as a Cooper-Climax. At the post, Todman was still ten lengths clear. Moreover, he had broken the sixteen-year-old Australasian speed record for five furlongs, first established by All Love in 1940. The record had stood at 58 ¼ seconds; Todman’s time was 57.8 seconds! It was an exhibition of fluid athleticism at its best and dare I say it: on the racecourse, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as sheer speed. Clearly, a new star had arrived upon the scene. McCarten produced Todman again four days later on Boxing Day in the A.J.C. December Stakes over six furlongs. Starting at a prohibitive 4/1 on, Todman was eased down to win again – this time by a more modest three lengths. And so, with just those two appearances and a sporting public agog, Todman’s summer programme was complete.
Tulloch resumed racing in mid-February, running second in a juvenile handicap on a dead Rosehill surface. He was then taken to Melbourne where – despite showing a propensity to lug in – he comfortably won the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes after being blocked for a run at the top of the straight. Evelyn Haley made his first trip to Melbourne in eighteen years to see Tulloch triumph on that occasion. It was his only win there in three starts, but it had become clear that the seven-furlong trip was much more to his liking than the shorter journeys of the Merson Cooper and Ascot Vale Stakes, in both of which races he was runner-up. Returned to Sydney, he was eased in his work, and, ineligible for the inaugural running of the S.T.C. Golden Slipper, readied for the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and a clash with the wonder colt, Todman. Todman had resumed from his summer spell to beat older horses in an open (6f) Welter, and in Tulloch’s absence at Rosehill, started at long odds on to win the Slipper effortlessly by eight lengths. After such an exhibition few thought Tulloch could match the flying chestnut in the Sires’ Produce at Randwick, even with a furlong further to travel.
Bookmakers sent Todman to the post at 1/6 with Tulloch at 6/1, and Prince Darius at 10/1, the only other horse in the race. However, racing is a funny game, and the big crowd was stunned into silence when Todman tasted defeat for the first time: Tulloch triumphant by two lengths from Todman with Prince Darius only a half-neck away. Five days later in the shorter Champagne Stakes, Todman regained the mantle when he ran faster than any two-year-old ever had before over six furlongs at Randwick to beat Tulloch by six lengths. Whereas that completed Todman’s season, Tulloch was taken to Brisbane the following month to win the Q.T.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes easily in race record time and thereby eclipse Mollison as Australia’s highest stakes-winning juvenile. While Tulloch then enjoyed a spell in the winter sunshine of Queensland, Tommy went on a cruise to the Far East, pondering the riches awaiting him and his swamp-back colt in the spring. When the weights for the Free Handicap were released at the close of the season, it was found that Tulloch and Todman were rated equal topweights with 9 st. 5lb while Prince Darius was rated 8lb inferior on 8 st. 11lb.
Tom Smith and Maurice McCarten warily dodged each other with their respective charges in the preliminary races in the lead-up to the 1957 A.J.C. Derby. Smith for his part was determined not to expose his putative champion to Todman’s blinding speed at any distance less than ten furlongs. It was Todman that resumed first, winning the Hobartville Stakes effortlessly, while Tulloch didn’t appear until a week later at the same course to defeat the older horses in the weight-for-age Warwick Stakes when ridden by Smith’s stable apprentice, Frank Leman. Whereas McCarten opted for the Canterbury Guineas as Todman’s next assignment, Smith – rather uncharacteristically – waited for the Rosehill equivalent. In Tulloch’s absence, Todman was sent to the post at Canterbury at 3/1 on to win by eight lengths from Turkestan. Whether or not Todman could be developed by McCarten to extend his brilliance as far as the classic journey now became the big sporting question of the moment. Sadly, it was a question never to be answered. Tulloch and Todman were expected to clash in the Rosehill Guineas, but the latter was a late scratching after suffering a minor setback in training – indeed, McCarten was forced to ease the chestnut in his work for several days. In a muddling race on the Rosehill course Tulloch, in his final trial before the Derby, won the Guineas by four lengths from Prince Darius and Turkestan. It was an exhibition that had the colt’s effervescent trainer declaring to pressmen that no three-year-old would beat Tulloch in a distance race that season!
Any chance that Todman might contradict the great man’s opinion was scotched a week later in the Hill Stakes when the son of Star Kingdom suffered a fracture to his off-hind fetlock joint as he was about to unwind and make his run. Todman had been heavily bandaged even before the race, and was badly distressed as he hobbled back to the saddling paddock afterwards; it was all but the end of a brilliant career. The injury proved quite troublesome; it wasn’t a clean fracture, but rather splinters of bone were left floating in that region of the joint and kept the horse off the racecourse for more than two years. Swimming was the therapy that eventually saw him make a comeback, albeit a brief one, when he won his only three starts including both a Lightning Stakes and a Futurity Stakes. However, shortly after Futurity, Stanley Wootton announced his retirement to stud, the winner of 10 races from his only 12 starts and £20,805 in prize money. In a distinguished career at the Baramul Stud in the Hunter Valley, the imposing chestnut was to resuscitate the reputation of Australian-bred stallions completely.
The 1957 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below.
As is so often the case when a champion arrives upon the scene, the A.J.C. Derby cut up into quite a small field – five starters only and the lowest number to confront the starter since Belah won the classic in 1903. Tulloch was installed at 9/4 on – the same price at which Hydrogen had been beaten in 1951. The only two horses remotely considered a chance to beat him were Prince Darius and Turkestan. Prince Darius was an interesting runner trained at Randwick by Clyde Cook, and he had already trailed in Tulloch’s wake on more than a few occasions. Well-known Sydney rails bookmaker, Jack Mandel, bred the colt but had sold him to his son-in-law, Horace Abbott, who proceeded to race him in partnership with his brother. A relaxed galloper, there was some doubt as to the amount of stamina in his pedigree, given that he was by Persian Book, a horse that was a miler and no more. However, this was countered on the dam’s side by the fact that Prince Darius was descended from one of the stoutest strains of the Australian Stud Book in the famous imported mare, Teppo. On his best two-year-old form, Prince Darius had claims; after all, he had won the A.J.C. Fernhill Handicap in April, carrying 9 st. 9lb, conceding up to 36lbs to some of his rivals and coming from nearly last in a field of fourteen to hit the front inside the furlong post.
Another powerful finish had seen him beat the champion Redcraze in the Chelmsford Stakes only weeks before, although Tulloch had lowered his colours in the Guineas at Rosehill in his final Derby lead-up. Turkestan, a stylish brown colt out of a half-sister to Delta and Deep River, was trained by Gordon Brown, and had been the other minor place-getter in the Guineas and had then won the Rosehill Cup at the same course a week later. Young Idealist, a well-performed two-year-old in New Zealand the previous season, was Frank Dalton’s representative in the field.
Few in numbers it was a quality field nonetheless, and in the fullness of time, only one of the starters would fail to win a principal race on the Australasian Turf. The exception was Ranchipur, a gelding trained by Fil Allotta, and a full brother to Prince Morvi; but even he deserved his place in this company for it was he – together with Sellwood’s bold riding tactics – which set up the classic for Tulloch’s assault on the clock. Rumour had it that Smith had taken precautions to ensure a smart pace and, unlike the previous occasion when only five had started for the A.J.C. Derby, there was no upsetting the odds-on favourite this time. Sellwood was to get his reward on the winner later in the spring.
The story of the race itself was simple. Neville Sellwood on Ranchipur started to ride his mount before the field had gone half a furlong. He made it a good gallop up to about the five-furlong pole where he led by two lengths from Prince Darius with another two or three lengths to Tulloch and the other two starters, Turkestan and Young Idealist, trailing the field badly. When Prince Darius moved forward to join Ranchipur at the half-mile post, Moore clicked Tulloch up a gear. At the entrance to the straight, Prince Darius still held an advantage of about a length-and-a-half but only on sufferance. When Moore changed his hands, the crack shot to the front and won with contemptuous ease by six lengths from Prince Darius, with Turkestan eight lengths further back in third place. There are few bromides in the Australian racing archives more compelling than the famous photograph of Tulloch passing the winning post in that Derby with his ears pricked. Here was a horse that had broken Phar Lap’s long-standing race record, and he had done it easing up. Even nearly fifty years later, that image still burns with an emotional resonance, which for me, at least, has never been matched on a racecourse. Sadly, Len Haley was denied the experience, being ill in hospital when the Derby was run. Whether from the intoxicating moment of a winning wager or the poverty of language, some racing journalists at times have rather indifferently bestowed the appellation of ‘champion’. But there was no doubting that title belonged to Tulloch now, and somehow it no longer seemed sacrilege to be drawing comparisons even with Phar Lap at the same age.
Let us ponder for a moment on the pedigree of Tulloch. Khorassan, his sire, was by Big Game, a winner of The Two Thousand Guineas in the royal colours and a son of H.H. The Aga Khan’s unbeaten English Derby winner, Bahram. Khorassan only went to the racecourse on seven occasions, winning twice – the Dee Stakes at Chester and the Kempton Coventry Foal Stakes. He had already sired one outstanding horse in Coleridge, even before Tulloch came along in his third crop. Florida, the dam of Tulloch, was a very good race mare and although she only won four races from sixty starts, one of those victories came in the prestigious Avondale Cup (11f). Florida was by Salmagundi, a half-brother to the English St Leger winner, Salmon Trout, and a horse that Stanley Wootton trained in England for Viscount Furness. A splendidly topped horse, he proved difficult to train, and it was Pat Osborne and Etienne de Mestre junior who were responsible for bringing him out to Australia. Osborne sold him in the depths of the Depression for 300 guineas to Alan Cooper, and for a time Salmagundi stood at the Segenhoe Stud before his sale to New Zealand. The horse proved to be a good broodmare sire in Australia, and a number of his daughters produced some high-class winners. Upon her retirement to stud, Florida missed in her first season but dropped Tulloch in her second.
Immediately after the Derby, Tulloch was whisked to Melbourne and seven days after his Randwick triumph he had the Victorian public bewitched when he pulled his way to the front at the half-mile in the Caulfield Guineas to run out an easy winner by eight lengths. This race set the stage for the Caulfield Cup in which the stable had heavily backed him. George Moore couldn’t get down to Tulloch’s handicap weight of 7 st. 8lb and Smith had taken the precaution of booking Neville Sellwood for the mount at least a month before. Of all Tulloch’s magnificent victories, it is the Caulfield Cup that shines most brightly. Despite drawing barrier seventeen, the colt was sent to the post at 6/4 on and won running away in an Australasian record time of 2.26.9 – officially the third fastest-timed twelve furlongs ever run anywhere in the world. It was an exhibition that was appreciated by a larger audience than usual, as, with the wonder of television, the race was screened to Melbourne and Sydney viewers that night. Tulloch was immediately installed as the shortest pre-post favourite in Melbourne Cup history, despite incurring the full 10lb penalty, taking his weight to 8 st. 4lb.
Thus, began one of the great controversies in Australian racing: whether or not a three-year-old with 12lb over weight-for-age should take his place in the Melbourne Cup field. Even before the Caulfield race, Len Haley had expressed his opposition to a start; but the ebullient Tommy was all for it. The trainer was crestfallen when Haley held his ground and on the Tuesday before the race, the scratching pen went through Tulloch’s name. The ailing Haley, who had not been able to get to Melbourne, said: “I love horses too much to run a three-year-old, any three-year-old, not only Tulloch, in the Melbourne Cup. I will not risk breaking the colt’s heart.” If this was the case, many wondered why Tulloch had ever been entered in the race in the first place. Years later, George Moore expressed a view that part of the difference of opinion between owner and trainer may have been to do with betting; whereas Tommy had backed Tulloch heavily to win the Cups double, Haley had not.
Tulloch did, however, take his place in the Victoria Derby on the first day of the Cup Meeting, and starting at tens on, swept majestically past the winning post eight lengths clear of Prince Darius. “That’s how he would have won the Melbourne Cup”, declared Tommy to the surrounding pressmen as he awaited the horse’s return to scale. The truth of the remark resonated around Flemington the following Tuesday when Tulloch’s erstwhile rival, Prince Darius, was able to run second in the rich handicap, beaten a neck by Straight Draw. Tulloch’s only other appearance at the meeting came on the last day when he easily beat his only two rivals to take the weight-for-age C.B. Fisher Plate. A week later Tulloch was at Eagle Farm, where, opposed by just three, he ran out an effortless winner of the Queensland Derby; after that race, Smith left the horse in Brisbane for a few weeks rest. As if Tulloch’s string of victories hadn’t been reward enough for Evelyn Haley: his other horse, Top Ruler, completed a memorable year by winning the rich Villiers Stakes at the Randwick Summer Meeting.
The extended spring campaign, taking in the Q.T.C. Derby after the V.R.C. carnival meant that the colt only had a brief let-up before resuming work for the autumn, And when Tulloch did return from his northern sojourn to the Bowral Street stables, he was light in condition and dull in the coat. Whether it was the rigours of hard racing or the hot, dry summer that provided little in the way of decent pasture, Tulloch didn’t come to himself as quickly as Smith would have liked. The remarkable string of eight victories in his three-year-old season now had the clack and chatter of racing journalists and commentators comparing him with Phar Lap and Peter Pan. The colt’s every movement became the subject of considerable media focus and attention; even the great Lester Piggott, over from England on a working holiday, made a pilgrimage to Randwick to take the champion’s measure. It came therefore as a major shock when Tulloch was beaten at his first two appearances in 1958 although Smith wasn’t altogether surprised.
The horse had only enjoyed the benefit of a couple of exhibition gallops when he resumed in the St George Stakes (w-f-a; 9f) at Caulfield in mid-February. The race fitness of Prince Darius was superior that day, and he beat Tulloch by a length and a quarter. The highlight of that year’s autumn racing was the rich Queen Elizabeth Stakes (w-f-a; 13f) run at Flemington a fortnight later. The presence of the Queen Mother herself enhanced the prestige and pageantry of the occasion. Indeed, the race in general and the finish, in particular, proved fit for a Queen. In a punishing climax, the three finest stayers in the land went across the line locked together. The camera confirmed that Sailor’s Guide had beaten Prince Darius by a short half-head with Tulloch a further half-head away third. Arthur Ward, the jockey on Prince Darius, offended the sensibilities of the V.R.C. committee and some of the more conservative elements of the Victorian racing establishment, by firing in a protest against Bill Williamson, the rider of Sailor’s Guide, alleging interference in the straight. ‘That was not at all the sort of thing to be done in the presence of royalty’, puffed the John Bulls of Victorian aristocracy. Looking back on the episode from the vantage of sixty years, this reaction to a legitimate protest seems at once quaint and absurd. That there was reasonable ground for the objection was generally agreed, although it perhaps came as no surprise when the stewards somewhat peremptorily dismissed it.
Those two defeats in Melbourne were the only occasions on which Tulloch’s colours were lowered during his sixteen starts at three. The 13-furlong journey in front of the Queen Mother had come about one week too soon in Tulloch’s campaign, a fact that Smith himself acknowledged just seven days later after Tulloch had scattered his only two rivals in the V.R.C. St Leger. That race for the red riband became something of an anti-climax with the scratching of Prince Darius at 1.17 pm on race day itself. The late withdrawal of Messrs Abbott’s crack colt, due to a disordered stomach, caused dyspepsia as well among many thousands in the crowd who had come to Flemington to watch perhaps the most intriguing St. Leger for years. In his absence, Tulloch coasted home by twelve lengths.
Any suggestion that Tulloch had not regained his authority was quickly scotched when the bay won his only five races on the reel at the Sydney autumn meetings. Hollow victories in the Rawson Stakes at Rosehill and the Chipping Norton Stakes at Warwick Farm were followed by a hat-trick at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. The A.J.C. handicapper, Ken Goodwin, had ensured the defection of ‘Haley’s Comet’ from the Sydney Cup field when he allotted the colt 9 st. 7lb or 19lb more than weight-for-age – equal top weight with the two-years-older Sailor’s Guide. Tulloch was thus restricted to set weight races: in the St. Leger, he beat Prince Darius by twenty lengths and then four days later dropped back in distance to take the All-Aged Stakes, before completing his season with an effortless win in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes on the final day of the meeting. In sixteen starts that season he had won fourteen times and not once finished unplaced; his stakes now amounted to £66,148/10/-, easily eclipsing the previous mark for a three-year-old held by Sailor’s Guide and not far behind the all-time record £71,481 amassed by his recently-retired stablemate, Redcraze. On the relative merits of Redcraze and Tulloch, I might add one observation. Smith only ever worked the pair together once, and it came about in the lead-up to Tulloch’s A.J.C. Derby. Tulloch generally refused to try in his track gallops, but on that occasion, the colt realised he had a rival worthy of his mettle. Albeit the powers of Redcraze were beginning to wane, but Tulloch took the outside running, carried more weight and still tossed the old champion by three lengths. Was it any wonder Tommy thought Tulloch a living certainty for that A.J.C. Derby?
In July 1958 when the Melbourne Cup weights were declared, it was found that Tulloch had been handicapped with 10 st. 1lb – fifteen pounds more than weight-for-age. The little champion was due to resume racing in late August in the Warwick Stakes – the very same race that had kicked off his spectacular season the year before – when he was abruptly withdrawn on the Thursday before because of a stomach complaint. It was the first inkling that the racing world had of the scouring disease that was to keep the son of Khorassan off the racecourse for so long and very nearly cost him his life. Tommy Smith had only just returned from a holiday in America and had already made tentative arrangements for a tilt at the rich Santa Anita Handicap with the horse after he had completed his Australian spring campaign.
In fact, it was almost nineteen months before Tulloch was able to race again and for most of that time the great horse hovered on the outskirts of the valley of death; his climb back to health wasn’t to be an easy journey. That he made it at all was thanks to one man: Percy Sykes, a young English veterinarian who henceforth would become something of an eminence grise of the Smith establishment. Tulloch was almost put down more than once during his sickness; he spent time at his owner’s Te Koona property as well as alternating between a spelling paddock at Richmond and Percy Sykes’ veterinary clinic. Attempts were made to train the horse for the 1959 Brisbane winter meetings, including a half-mile exhibition gallop at Randwick on Anzac Day, only for a recurrence of the stomach complaint to lay him lower than ever. Almost in despair, Sykes managed to save Tulloch by recourse to a very old, unfashionable remedy that had once been used for scours in calves. Sykes later remarked: “It seemed to be absolutely miraculous. I’ve tried it on other horses since and it hasn’t worked. Yet within a matter of seventy-two hours, Tulloch was absolutely normal.”
The scene was now set for one of the magnificent moments in Australian racing history. From the jaws of death to the long stretches of Flemington and the (10f) weight-for-age Queen’s Plate in March 1960 – Tulloch’s comeback race. There might have been only three rivals for Tulloch to confront but one of them was Melbourne’s glamour weight-for-age champion, Lord. With George Moore riding overseas once again, Neville Sellwood warmed the saddle on Tulloch, and he gave the horse a rousing preliminary on the way to the post and kept him moving until the moment the stalls were loaded. The huge Melbourne crowd backed their local hero to run as the 9/4 favourite with Tulloch easy at fours. Those Victorians loyal to Lord might have foregone their bets, but they got their money’s worth when Tulloch and Lord raced head and head over the last three furlongs, with Tulloch emerging the winner by the shortest of margins. The thunderous applause accorded the champion on his return to scale, shook the very foundations of the Flemington grandstands. In all of his five starts that season Tulloch remained unbeaten, including once again taking the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the Randwick Autumn Meeting.
Tulloch’s six-year-old season was to be his last on the racecourse, and while the furnace could be no longer heated to the old temperature, the old warhorse still managed to win ten of his nineteen races that year, including an Australasian record in the W.S. Cox Plate after Sky High had set a scorching pace. Considering that Tommy Smith always maintained that Tulloch was about 7lb inferior to the horse he had been before his prolonged flirtation with death, the horse’s record after his illness is a wonder to behold. His only unplaced run in fifty-three starts came that year in the 1960 Centennial Melbourne Cup, when, burdened with both 10 st. 1lb and some inept navigation by Sellwood, Tulloch could only manage seventh. By now the six-year-old stallion had his mind on other things and was becoming quite a handful in the stables. Evidence of this newfound temper came in an exhibition gallop at Randwick in January when he savaged his strapper Neville Johnson, who had to be taken to St Vincent’s Hospital for precautionary X-rays.
Tulloch was perhaps unlucky to go down to Sharply, in that famous 1961 Sydney Cup when he carried 9 st. 13lb and conceded 32lb to his younger rival. George Moore always blamed himself for that loss. Speaking at a luncheon at the Sydney Journalists’ Club following his retirement from the saddle in 1971, Moore regarded it as the worst ride of his career believing that he delayed too long in making his run. The loss temporarily checked Tulloch from becoming the first horse to win £100,000 in stakes in Australia. The honour eventually fell to him when he ventured across to Adelaide’s Cheltenham racecourse to win the Pullman Stakes (1 ½ miles). He then completed his career at the Brisbane winter carnival by winning his last two races, the P.J. O’Shea Stakes and the Brisbane Cup, the latter with 9 st. 12lb and beating Sharply, his Sydney Cup conqueror, comfortably before fifty thousand people. Despite Smith’s pleas to the contrary, Len Haley confirmed the retirement of his great champion.
Len Haley’s Te Koona Stud to which Tulloch retired, sprawled at an altitude of nearly 2800 feet and was subject to a bracing climate all year round, with even occasional snowfall in winter, although most of the paddocks were in sheltered valleys. Beautifully grassed, as a stud, it was nearer the conditions under which English horses were bred than most other parts of Australia. The first stallion to stand there had been the St Denis horse, Redfern. Redfern was eventually replaced by Bullhead, which Haley purchased during a visit to England in 1930. Other stallions had come and gone during the intervening years but none with the fanfare and heightened expectations of the general public that surrounded this latest recruit. After Tulloch’s first mating to determine his fertility, the stud groom was heard to whisper in Tulloch’s ear: “Now that’s got to be better than having George Moore kick you in the ribs.” Tulloch’s initial stud fee was set at 500 guineas, and Haley was overwhelmed in a rush by broodmare owners.
Tulloch’s first yearlings went under the hammer at the Sydney Yearling Sales during March 1964, and although only ten were sold, it was for an aggregate sum of 20,450 guineas thereby enabling Tulloch to top the list of first-season sires. Among the buyers was Tom Smith, who gave 4000 guineas for a filly on behalf of American owners. The yearling was subsequently registered as Florida Bound and became the first of Tulloch’s progeny to win a race when she took a juvenile handicap at Canterbury in November. Sadly, though, she was also the only one of Tulloch’s progeny to win during that season. It soon became apparent that what the great horse had achieved on the racecourse was never going to be matched in the stallion barn. Although there were other winners in the years to come such as Dahma Star, Valide and Tulrigo, Tulloch was to be an inglorious failure at stud. Whether the scouring disease from which he suffered for so long, and that almost cost him his life, also sapped his procreative richness, is a matter for speculation. Tulloch died in late June 1969 at the Coonabarabran property of Peter Haley, the son of the great horse’s owner. Whatever his failings at stud, nothing could detract from Tulloch’s deeds on the racecourse. Had he been spared to race as a four-year-old and spring five-year-old, what might he not have done – what might he not have been! In all the years since he remains by common consent the greatest horse to race in Australia since Phar Lap until, perhaps, the coming of a certain daughter of Street Cry.