Since THE VAULT first published, it has been my goal to research and write about the development of the thoroughbred and the sport in Australia and New Zealand. While the story of Phar Lap is universal and the exploits of the incomparable Black Caviar and So You Think turned world attention to thoroughbreds from “down under,” these contemporary champions are only the most recent in a star-studded history. In fact, Australia and New Zealand have produced absolutely brilliant individuals that could hold their own in the company of great thoroughbreds anywhere and the history of how these stars came to be is rich and fascinating. As well, uncovering some of this history has only reinforced my sense of how intermingled the families of thoroughbreds are worldwide and how these connections have brought us the individuals who light up the turf from Great Britain to the USA to India to Japan today.
This, then, is the first of a series on thoroughbreds from Australia and New Zealand and begins, quite properly, with a thumbnail history of the origins of the sport.
(NOTE: Being Canadian and having few contacts in either Australia or New Zealand, it has been very difficult trying to discern what books to buy that would give me a good history of the Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred, including significant people as well as thoroughbred champions. Any suggestions from VAULT readers would be deeply appreciated!)
The horse wasn’t indigenous to Australia, but with the arrival of British colonists it quickly became an essential component of settling the “new” land (i.e. “new” to the settlers, that is).
As is the case worldwide, the Australian and New Zealand (AUS + NZ) thoroughbred owes its origins to Great Britain, where the breed originated. However, AUS + NZ have a history of close collaboration in the development of their thoroughbred horse, much like that of England and Ireland. Although often lumped together for this reason, AUS + NZ are, of course, different cultures with different histories, even though Australians have embraced New Zealand-bred champions as their own. To this day, prestigious trainers like Bart Cummings (So You Think, Kingston Rule, Saintly and countless other great individuals) visit the New Zealand bloodstock sales looking for future stars — and they are seldom disappointed.
There are, of course, differences in the breed and the sport itself in AUS+ NZ that make comparison with other countries difficult, if not impossible. In the Southern Hemisphere (SH), a thoroughbred’s birthdate is August 1, not January 1 as it is in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). In other words, in any given year, a NH thoroughbred is more than half a year older than a SH thoroughbred. The best way to compare individuals has always been to race them against each other, but SH horses have historically done poorly when shifted to NH climes, and vice versa. There have been a few exceptions, of course, but they are too few and far between to aid in any serious comparison. Even Black Caviar seemed at a distinct disadvantage at Royal Ascot; the same might be said of So You Think, a great champion in his native Australia who adjusted rather poorly to his new digs at Ballydoyle.
Another unique feature of AUS + NZ racing is that geldings are invited to run in classic races. And a good thing, too, since a number of AUS+ NZ’s greatest thoroughbreds have been geldings, among them the mighty Phar Lap, who was bred and born in New Zealand and became one of Australia’s best-loved thoroughbreds during the Depression era.
From the beginning, the primary goal in breeding thoroughbreds in AUS + NZ was to get individuals who combined strength and endurance. If they also had speed, that was a bonus. None of this was made easy in the 1800’s by a steady influx of British governors who either countenanced or reviled horse racing, banning it when the latter was true. Despite the interruptions caused by racing bans, classic races were set up in AUS over distances of 1.5 -3+ M as a means of culling out horses who didn’t meet the breeding criteria. In 2014, with the advent of a market demanding speed and precocity, many races have been pruned down to shorter distances, although the greatest of the classic races, notably the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups, the AJC and VJC Derbies and AJC Oaks, are still contested at distances from 1.5-2+ M. (And just as there are those who despair at the change in thoroughbred tastes in North America, Great Britain and elsewhere, so the trend has been decried in AUS + NZ.)
The first recorded instance of a thoroughbred to land in Australia (AUS), Rockingham (1790), arrived on a ship from the Cape of Good Hope in 1799. His sire is not known for certain, but he is believed to be a son of another Rockingham (1781), a talented thoroughbred who raced in England. Precise details about the earliest thoroughbred imports are skewed by the fact that the earliest individuals in AUS linked to the development of the thoroughbred were either Arabians or mixed with Arabian blood, and this may well have been the case with Rockingham (1790). However, in 1802 the thoroughbred stallion Northumberland (nd) was imported directly from England, arriving in the company of Hector, an Arabian stallion. This would appear to indicate that the mix of different breeds — particularly that of the Arabian or “Persian” horse — was still popular amongst AUS breeders at this time and did, in fact, play a pivotal role in establishing the AUS + NZ thoroughbred breed. The first Thoroughbred mare of proven origin, Manto (1822), arrived in Sydney, AUS in 1825. The Godolphin Arabian appears in Manto’s fifth generation and her pedigree is spotted with the names of prominent early thoroughbreds, such as Woodpecker (1773), Diomed (1777), Herod (1758), Matchem (1748) and Marske (1760).
By 1840 the Australian Racing Committee was formed, re-named the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) in 1842. In keeping with their mission to nurture the development of a unique AUS thoroughbred, one known for strength and stamina, the AJC inaugurated and organized a program of Classic races, the chief among them the VJC Derby (AUS oldest derby), the AJC Derby and the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups. All of the races accepted into the Classic program were at distances of 1.5 miles or better. Other states and jurisdictions in Australia developed their own racing clubs in the 19th century, including Victoria, which inaugurated its own Victoria Jockey Club in 1864, as well as Queensland, Southern and Western Australia and the island of Tasmania. By 1883, 192 racing clubs were registered with the AJC.
Under the influence of horseman like Captain Henry John Rous, Australian breeders became increasingly convinced that it was through importing British bloodstock that they would achieve a fine thoroughbred of their own and interest in Arabian bloodstock fell sharply. Rous was a British Naval Officer who came from a horse racing family that had great influence in British racing circles and was destined to become, according to Peter Willett, “the third great dictator of the British turf.” In fact, it was Rous who came up with the “weight for age” handicapping. During his visits to Western Australia in 1827-1828, Rous made connections with thoroughbred breeders and was responsible for importing the stallion, Rous’ Emigrant (1822). Another leader in the field, Charles Smith, established Bungarribee Stud at Doonside, New South Wales in 1830. The stud boasted only English-bred horses and it was Smith who gave Australia its first important homebred, Sir Hercules, who was foaled in 1843. Sir Hercules’ sons Cossack (1847), Yattendon (1861) and The Barb (1863) won the St. Leger and AJC Derby, respectively, as well as other classic races. Today many Australian thoroughbreds can still be traced back to Sir Hercules.
Another important early influence was Fisherman (1853), a British stallion imported by Hurtle Fisher in 1860 to stand at his stud in Victoria, Maribyrnong .
If ever a horse was the incarnation of stamina and strength, it had to be Fisherman who, during his racing career, won 70 races, including 21 wins from 35 starts in a single racing season. Winner of 26 Queen’s Plate trophies and two Ascot Gold Cups, Fisherman on the occasion of his win of the first Gold Cup, was rewarded by being saddled up the very next day to run in the 3+ M Queen’s Plate — which he won stylishly, ears pricked. Fisherman was one of the best British stayers of the nineteenth century and it was little wonder he exercised such a potent influence on the AUS + NZ thoroughbred: in a short 5 seasons before his death, the champion sired 10 stakes winners and his progeny boasted a total of 25 stakes wins.
BEGINNINGS: NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand began to import its earliest thoroughbreds from New South Wales (AUS) in the 1840’s- 1850’s, having been infected by the “racing bug” through the commerce and exchange with its larger Australasian neighbour. What New Zealand brought to the table was a lush, fertile environment for raising horses, in contrast to the markedly small territory that Australia could offer, given its vast reaches of dry, arable land. By 1890, NZ racing had been organized under a central authority when all of its racing clubs were affiliated with the NZ Racing Conference. What began as the influence of one neighbour upon another continues between AUS + NZ to this day, a recent example being M.J. Moran and Piper Farm’s (NZ) superstar, So You Think, who quickly earned the love and respect of Australian racegoers. So You Think is just one of many champions to travel from NZ to AUS, where they earned the love and loyalty of a racing public who would never forget them.
The mare Lucy Banks (1839) is the first British-bred thoroughbred to be imported to New Zealand, although another mare, Moonshine(1853), together with three sons of the excellent British stallion Melbourne (1834) — Incledon(nd), The Peer(1855) and Towtown(1850) — arrived at nearly the same time, between 1857 – 1865 (approx.). What NZ breeders were after was a tough individual with middle distance ability and stamina. Like their AUS neighbours, NZ horsemen subscribed to the theory that thoroughbreds should be run “hard and often” since this seemed the best way to select out those horses that should be bred. In turn, this explained their great interest in the progeny of a British stallion like Melbourne, who sired the British Triple Crown winner West Australian (1850), the St. Leger winner Sir Tatton Sykes (1843) and the peerless winner of both the Epsom Derby and Oaks, the filly Blink Bonny (1854). So, although Melbourne never set foot in NZ, he is one of the important early sires of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred.
Still another sire of great importance to the flourishing of the breed in New Zealand was Traducer (1857), a son of The Libel (1842) who was imported in 1862. Despite his reputedly savage temperament, Traducer got 9 winners of the NZ Derby and another 8 winners of the Canterbury Cup, a weight-for-age race run over a 2.5 M course.
The greatest influence among the early imported mares was that of Flora McIvor (1828), an AUS-born daughter of Rous’ Emigrant out of Cornelia (AUS, b. 1825), a daughter of Manto. Brought to New Zealand by Henry Redwood, the “father of the NZ Turf”, the 25 year-old Flora McIvor produced two daughters by Sir Hercules: Io (1855), the ancestress of the important stallion Trenton (1881) and Waimea (1857), the ancestress of Phar Lap’s contemporary, Nightmarch (1925), and the superb filly, Silver Scorn (1929), acknowledged to be one of the best of her sex to ever race in NZ. The following short video celebrates the contribution of Redwood to the NZ thoroughbred industry, while giving viewers a glimpse into the early history of the sport:
The next major event in the development of the breed is the arrival of Musket (1867) in 1878, for it fell to this sire to produce the kind of brilliance that would put New Zealand “on the map” as a place where fine thoroughbreds could be found. Bred by Lord Glascow, Musket was a sturdy bay with a winning heart and he put both to good use, winning at distances up to 3 miles in Great Britain, including the Flying Dutchman H. (10F at York), the Ascot Stakes (2 1/2M at Ascot), Her Majestys Plate at Lincoln (2M), Her Majestys Plate at Shrewsbury (3M), the Seven Cup (2M) and the Alexandra Plate (3M) in which he carried 132lbs.
As great as were Musket’s gifts on the turf, in the breeding shed he lent his superb genes to sons Trenton (1881) and Martini-Henry (1880). From the latter would descend the 1946 Epsom Derby winner, Nimbus (1943), and the superb Grey Sovereign (1948), twice leading sire in France. The brilliant Trenton excelled at stud, producing 404 winners over 9 seasons; a daughter, Rosaline (1901), became the grandam of the great British sire, Gainsborough (1915).
But Musket’s most superb gift of all came in 1885, when Carbine was foaled.
Carbine, aka “Old Jack,” was as loved as Phar Lap (who is a direct descendant) by all who saw him race. He is considered one of the best thoroughbreds ever produced in AUS + NZ to this day. Carbine proved himself a consummate runner, embodying the strength and endurance that AUS + NZ breeders were aiming for in the horses they bred. In 1890 at the Randwick Carnival, the colt proved his mettle, taking five top-class races in eight days over distances ranging from 1 mile to 3 miles. That same year Carbine won the Melbourne Cup, where he faced a field of 39 other horses (today the field is limited to 24). Not only did Carbine win: he set a new race record, even though he was carrying 66 kg (146 lbs.), the most weight ever carried by a Cup winner. It seems unbelievable, does it not, that a 16h horse could carry that much weight over 2 miles and set a track record? That alone speaks loud about who Carbine was. Racing in Australia until he was retired at five, the best son of Musket won 33 times in 43 starts and was unplaced once throughout his career on the turf. He was the first AUS+ NZ champion to win 15 successive races, which he did in his remarkable season as a four/five year-old.
Sent off to the breeding shed, Carbine stood four seasons in Australia before being sold in 1895 to the Duke of Portland, the owner of St. Simon (1881). Shipped to England to the Duke’s stud,Welbeck Abbey, Carbine was installed as the “second” to St. Simon. The champion might not have gotten the choicest mares, but his genes were so potent that he made an indelible mark on the thoroughbred anyway. Even before leaving Australia, Carbine had sired three very good individuals: Wallace (1892), winner of the VATC Caulfield Guineas, the Sydney Cup and Victoria Derby, among others, who would top the Australian sire list in 1915/16; the superb filly, La Carabine (1894), winner of the VRC Australian Cup, the Sydney Cup and two-time winner of the AJC Plate, who went on to be a black-type producer; and Amberite (1894) winner of the Victoria Derby, VATC Caulfield Cup, the AJC Derby, the AJC St. Leger and the AJC Plate. All in all, in his short stud career in Australia, Carbine sired winners of 203 races with combined earnings of 48,624 APS.
At Welbeck Abbey, Carbine continued his career as a sire of champions, the arguably most famous among these being the English Derby and Grand Prix de Paris winner, Spearmint (1902). Although of delicate constitution himself, Spearmint became a sire of classic winners. He also turned out to be a brilliant BM sire. Among other Spearmint progeny: the great sire Chicle (1913) who sired America’s Mother Goose (1922) and was the BM sire of Shut Out(1939); the 1920 Epsom Derby winner Spion Kop (1917); Johren (1915), winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1918 and an American HOTY; the 1922 St Leger Stakes winner Royal Lancer(1919); as well as Spike Island (1919), winner of the 1922 Irish Derby; the exceptional filly Fausta (1911), winner of the 1914 Italian Derby and Oaks; and Spelthorne (1922), winner of the 1925 Irish St Leger Stakes.
However, Spearmint’s greatest success as a stallion was through his daughters, of whom the most influential was arguably Plucky Liege (1912), dam of Bull Dog (1927), Sir Gallahad III (1920), Bois Roussel (1935) and Admiral Drake (1931). Seaweed (1916), another daughter, was the dam of multiple stakes winners Hotweed(1926) and Broulette (1928). Yet another daughter, Catnip (1910), was the dam of the great blacktype producer, Nogara (1928), whose son, Nearco (1935), exerted an enormous influence on thoroughbred pedigrees worldwide through his sons, Nearctic (1940) the sire of Northern Dancer (1961), Nasrullah (1940) the founder of a dynasty and sire of Bold Ruler (1954) and Royal Charger(1942), sire of the important stallion Turn-To (1951) and of American champion, Mongo (1959). From Turn-To comes First Landing (1956), sire of Riva Ridge and Sir Gaylord (1959), sire of the British champion miler and good sire, Habitat (1966), as well as the great British champion, Sir Ivor (1965). Another son of Turn-To, Hail To Reason (1958), made the greatest impact of all, through his sons Halo (1969), the sire of Sunday Silence (1986) and Bold Reason (1968), the BM sire of Sadler’s Wells (1981).
NEXT TIME: The series continues with a look at some of the greatest AUS+NZ champion thoroughbreds in the first part of the twentieth century.
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