When America’s racing royalty met up with its Australian equivalent at Claiborne Farm in 1985, it was reasonable to hope that something great lay in the cards. But, of course, had it been that straightforward, there would be no point in telling the story……
The sire-to-be was none other than the incomparable Secretariat.
The mare in question was the Australian champion filly, Rose of Kingston (1978). She herself had come into the world as the result of the connection between Australian golfer and racing enthusiast, Norman Von Nida, and “The Master of Dormello,” the brilliant Frederico Tesio.
Although his name is less bandied about today, Tesio was the one man who likely came closest to breeding the “perfect” thoroughbred, at his Dormello Stud in Italy, in the first half of the twentieth century. Putting his breeding acumen into practice, Tesio bred many champions, the most influential of which were Donatello II (1934), Nearco (1935) and Ribot (1952). Happily for the breed worldwide and North America in particular, Tesio was not inclined to jealously hold on to either his breeding theories or the champions he produced. And a good thing, too. Without Nearco’s sons — Nasrullah (1940), Nearctic (1954) and Royal Charger (1942) — it is impossible to imagine the modern thoroughbred as we know it today. And although his influence was less pervasive than that of Nearco, Ribot also played an important role in the development of the breed, through progeny like Tom Rolfe (1962), Graustark (1963) and His Majesty (1968).
In the case of Rose of Kingston, it was a Tesio homebred and winner of the Italian Derby, with the inauspicious name of Claude (1964), who takes at least 50% of the credit. However, like most narratives, there are twists and turns, as well as a dash of fate, before the sire of Rose of Kingston makes his entrance into the story.
It all began over a game of golf, where Norman Von Nida became acquainted with the Australian businessman, David Hains. Hains had been looking for something to occupy him in his leisure time and Von Nida quickly convinced him that that “something” must be thoroughbred horses. In 1959, Hains purchased Kingston Park Farm and, under Von Nida’s continuing tutelage, began to breed and race thoroughbreds. Charged with procuring promising broodmares for Kingston Park, Von Nida attended auctions in the Southern Hemisphere looking for Nearco and/or Ribot bloodstock, convinced that these bloodlines would be a perfect match with the right Southern Hemisphere stallion. Von Nida’s faith in the Tesio breeding method turned Kingston Park Farm into an almost overnight success.
By the 1970’s, Von Nida’s allegiance to Tesio bloodstock was given its fullest expression: travelling to Italy, he bought six Dormello broodmares for Kingston Park. One of these, Ada Hunter (1970), a granddaughter of Ribot, became the dam of one of the greatest Australian horses of the last century — and of all time — the Hains’ mighty Kingston Town (1976). Then, in 1977-78, Dormello sold one of its stallions, Claude (1964), to David Hains and the stallion took up duties at Kingston Park. There he was bred to Kingston Rose (1971), a granddaughter of My Babu (1945), acquired as a 2 year-old by Hains in 1973. Racing in the Kingston Park silks, Kingston Rose won six races at distances from 5f to 8f before her retirement.
Rose of Kingston, her second foal, was sired by Claude and she was a filly who was nothing short of wonderful.
Kingston Rose and Claude’s little daughter was a chestnut as bright as a copper penny, with great bone and an intelligent, decidedly feminine head.
As a 2 year-old, under the guidance of renowned trainer Bob Hoysted, Rose of Kingston took the AJC Champagne Stakes and the VRC Oaks. The following year, the filly became the first 3 year-old in 38 years to win the AJC Derby against colts. Rose of Kingston rounded out her career with wins in the VRC Craiglee Stakes, the SAJC Derby and the Queen of the South Stakes, and was crowned 1982 Australian Horse of the Year. Retired at the end of the season, the filly was despatched to Lexington, Kentucky, where David Hains had set up his Kingston Park Stud. As some will know, the 1970’s was a decade of champions worldwide and the USA was no exception. By the time Rose of Kingston arrived in Kentucky, there were a number of stallions that her owner was keen to have her visit. High on the agenda was a date with the great Secretariat, which took place in 1985 at Claiborne Farm, where “The Great One” held court.
Even in the choice of Secretariat, Frederico Tesio’s influence hovered: the majestic chestnut was the great grandson of Nearco, through his grandsire Nasrullah and sire, Bold Ruler. Rose of Kingston’s future offspring would therefore boast Tesio thoroughbreds on both the top and bottom of its pedigree.
One can only guess at the excitement when the young broodmare gave birth to a coat foal in March, 1986 as coppery-red as his parents. The colt also sported two white feet and a wide blaze down the centre. The stud manager’s notes described the colt as “chestnut…magic.”
There was magic alright, although it would take still another character to conjure it: the legendary trainer, Bart Cummings, whose accomplishments include an unprecedented 12 winners of the Melbourne Cup with champions like the great Galilee (1963) and Cummings’ homebred, his beloved Saintly (1992). North Americans will know Cummings from one of his more recent superstars, So You Think.
Rose of Kingston’s colt was christened Kingston Rule and sent off to France, to the stable of noted trainer Patrick Biancone. However, the flashy chestnut who physically so resembled Secretariat that it was uncanny, showed little promise. Unwilling to give up on the colt, David Hains had him shipped back to Australia and into the hands of the great Tommy Smith, who had trained the Hains’ fabulous gelding, Kingston Town. One can only imagine how the Secretariat colt must have seemed to Smith after the likes of Kingston Town. In his first start at Warwick Farm in 1989 over a heavy track, Kingston Rule finished 35 lengths behind the winner, prompting the trainer to advise Hains to geld the 3 year-old in the hopes of getting more out of him.
Hains, as the story goes, couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not only was Kingston Rule a beautiful individual, but those bloodlines were just too good to neutralize. And shortly thereafter, Hains moved the son of Rose of Kingston to the stable of one of Australia’s most notable trainers, James Bartholomew (“Bart”) Cummings. In a way, the arrival of the colt was a kind of homecoming for Cummings: it was he who had advised Hains to buy Kingston Rose, the colt’s grandam, in partnership with himself and it was Cummings who had trained her. In his autobiography, Bart: My Life, Cummings says he realized that Kingston Rule had no taste for heavy ground and then set about trying to understand “what was bothering him.” For all his crusty directness, with horses Bart Cummings exercises nothing but patience. Although it remains unclear what magic Cummings wrought on the youngster, we would observe that the colt may well have lacked the dominant instinct that often drives colts to conquer all before them. He certainly proved a kindly, sweet stallion in retirement. But in the hands of a horseman who by 1990 had racked up 6 Melbourne Cups and had many years under his belt of breeding his own horses, Kingston Rule found the “horse whisperer” he so desperately needed.
Under Cummings’ firm, patient conditioning, Kingston Rule stepped up, first taking a race at Sandown in 1990 before moving on to a win in the Group 2 Moonee Valley Cup which punched his ticket, in turn, for the 1990 Melbourne Cup. As he does with all his horses, Cummings worked Kingston Rule hard, while making certain that he ran him over firm turf, which the colt appeared to relish. In his run-up to Melbourne, Kingston Rule also finished second in a pair of stakes races.
Melbourne Cup day dawned fair and clear, and as Bart Cummings took his place in the grandstand with the Hains’ he felt absolutely confident that Kingston Rule was ready to run the most important race of his life. Young Darren Beadman, who had never won his nation’s most prestigious race, was in the saddle.
(NOTE: The 1990 Melbourne Cup featured a typically huge field of runners. Watch for the white blaze, white forelegs, sheepskin noseband and the yellow silks/red cap on the jockey.)
Beadman gave the colt a brilliant ride, overcoming a less-than-ideal start, a bumping mid-way through the race and the loss of ground immediately thereafter. And Kingston Rule ran his heart out, stopping the clock in record time that stands to this day.
Most thoroughbreds will achieve something spectacular just once in their racing lives. It may come early or late in their careers. But whenever it happens, it is this achievement that defines them for all of time. So it is that we hearken back to a host of shining moments, like Secretariat’s Belmont or Personal Ensign’s final race, where she struggled through the mud to win the BC Distaff over another equally valiant filly, Winning Colours, or So You Think’s second consecutive victory in the Cox Plate.
Kingston Rule’s Melbourne Cup was such a moment.
Terrific footage of Nearco and Frederico Tesio, as well as shots from Dormello Stud as it looks today. The voice-over is in Italian, but you don’t really need to know the language to understand 90% of the video!
1) Kingston Rule: To read about American equine photographer Patrricia McQueen’s trip to Australia to visit Secretariat’s champion son, please click on the link:
2) Kingston Rule: To read another summary of Kingston Rule’s career, please click here:
3) Bart Cummings: To learn more about this phenomenal breeder and trainer, please click here:
4) Nearco: A thumbnail summary of this great thoroughbred’s impact on the breed:
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