The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 10 (January 2, 1939)
New Zealand … Nursery of the — Thoroughbred Horse — The Story of the Melbourne Cup from Martini Henry to Catalogue
New Zealand … Nursery of the
The Story of the Melbourne Cup from Martini Henry to Catalogue
The Melbourne Cup is the greatest race in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the half-dozen richest equine contests on earth. Interest in it is world-wide. I remember Pat Cotter, an American writer who had lived long in Alaska, telling me of the grizzled Australian prospectors simmering with excitement in the first week of November. “They waited for the Yukon river boats with the news of the Melbourne Cup winner,” he said, “and pokes of gold dust changed hands all round the Arctic Circle.”
The first Cup was in 1861, the prize-money £200, and four thousand people attended. In four years’ time a trophy of plate was added, and the added prize-money slowly rose to £1,000.
Then the boom times came, and when the New Zealand horse, Carbine won, the stake was £10,000, and there was a cup worth £150. The list of prize-moneys provides almost an index to the financial changes in Australia's condition. As depressions and booms came and went, the Melbourne Cup stake ran up and down, falling to £3,000 and rising to £10,000 and a £200 cup.
The race is for two miles, and naturally attracts the best horses in Australia and New Zealand, and this article will try to show how the glorious record of New Zealand horses in the race provides a real romance. It definitely assists the claim that New Zealand is fitted to be the thoroughbred farm of the whole world. It can be said, too, that the evolution of the New Zealand racehorse is convincing proof that the British race has a way of reproducing its distinctive characteristics, however far Anglo-Saxons and their Celtic brothers wander to make a new Homeland. If the ancient St. Bede, or gay King Charles II could come back to Trentham or Ellerslie, or better still, see the picnic races at Castlepoint, they would feel at home, knowing they were among British folk.
The first victory of a New Zealander in the Melbourne Cup was that of Martini Henry, a three-year-old colt who was a picture of equine perfection.
The last winner, fifty-five years later, was Catalogue, the veteran of the field who, on looks, would not win a prize at a country show. He was eight years of age, and no horse of that degree of antiquity had won the race for seventy-three years.
Experts of all degrees have been explaining away his runaway victory ever since the race, but assuming that Catalogue can smile, he should be wearing a contented grin from daylight to dark. He broke other records: he was the first horse ever to win with a No. 5 saddle cloth; he was the first horse ever to land this rich prize, to be trained by a woman; he had never won at more than a mile and a-quarter. This fact, that he was regarded as a “non-stayer,” made him a wild outsider in this race, but students of breeding would have pointed out that he had a good strain of Spearmint, who was the son of Carbine and the grandson of Musket. Among these believers was his New Zealand woman trainer, Mrs. Alan Macdonald, better known as “Granny Maher.” It is scientific truth that the Musket infusion of blood stands first in the world to-day for imparting the quality of endurance. As a matter of fact, the first three horses in the last Melbourne Cup, Catalogue, Bourbon and Ortelle's Star, all claimed a strain of Spearmint.
Now the sons and daughters of Musket are New Zealand's own possessions, born and bred in the pretty Sylvia Park stud farm close to Auckland. They changed the landscape of racehorse breeding all over the world.
We are inclined to overlook the fact that the settlement of Australia was a good half-century older than New Zealand. It is noteworthy, however, that the New Zealand Cup is only four years younger than the Melbourne Cup, and that the New Zealand Derby was established five years before the A.J.C. Derby and only four years after the Victorian race.
The breeding of the thoroughbred horse was handled in a planned and systematic fashion from the very first years of our settlement; our stud book, the equine Debrett, was in comprehensive book form before the first Australian compilation.
His importation of Emma at the same time as Flora McIvor was one of the factors in the extraordinary preservation of the “No. 18” family in New Zealand. It has faded in England, and desperate attempts are being made to revive it. We got such demi-gods among thoroughbreds, as Multiform, from this line.
A similar work was later carried on in Canterbury by Mr. G. G. Stead. He brought in a great son of Yattendon in St. George, and was steadily importing high-class mares.
The stage had been expertly set, but strangely enough the Auckland province was to provide the particular scene for the appearance of the star who was to make horse-breeding in New Zealand a national industry of world importance.
Musket was the leading actor in this drama. This English horse belonged to the eccentric Lord Glasgow, who had many queer habits, from refusing to name his mares, to having an annual round-up of yearlings for trial, the bad performers being condemned to be shot out of hand. Musket was among the doomed, and was only reprieved at the request of a horseman who had ridden him in work. Musket had a brilliant English career, beating all the best in the land, including the Derby winner, Blue Gown.
Lord Glasgow died, leaving a will as eccentric as himself, and great ingenuity had to be exercised when a trustee's death caused a dispersal sale. The goddess of high chance threw New Zealand a gift of priceless value. Musket, at the sale, for some reason went for about a quarter of his real value, and he was bought by Mr. Russell for a Waikato firm who wanted him to improve the standard of carriage horses! Mr. Russel actually tried to sell Musket on the way out, but he was landed from the appropriately named steamer “Hero” in February, 1879.
Soon after this, the Auckland Stud Company was formed and the chairman, Major Walmsley, impressed by the new English importation, bought out the Waikato Company, and so Musket came to Sylvia Park, to make New Zealand famous for all time in the annals of the world's thoroughbred horses.
Here arose the beginnings of New Zealand's connection with the great race across the Tasman Sea, the Melbourne Cup. In the usual New Zealand fashion that I have described, the Auckland Stud Coy. managers looked carefully at Australian equine ranks for suitable matrons. Among these was a fifteen-year-old mare called Julia, and she was promptly mated with Musket. The great figure in Australian racing in the ‘70's was the Honourable James White. His Melbourne Cup and Derby double with Chester in 1877 nearly broke the Ring, and his horses dominated the classic races of those days.
Towards the end of 1881, he was on his way to England, via San Francisco, and while the ship was waiting in Auckland, he slipped out to see Sylvia, whom he had admired in Australia. He was impressed with Musket, and delighted with Sylvia's colt by him, for whom he promptly made an offer. Major Walmsley, however, had English ideas about prices, and stuck hard and fast to the immense and unthinkable price of 1,250 guineas, at that time, the highest price ever paid for a yearling outside of England. The proverbial luck of the plucky purchaser stayed fast, and the Hon. James White thus became page 11 possessed of Martini Henry. The colt repeated Chester's performance, winning the Derby and Melbourne Cup double, both in record time. His victory sent the Melbourne crowd wild with delight as he started a hot favourite in a field of twenty-nine, and “walked home.”
Now the world of racing sat up and began to take notice of New Zealand. With almost amusing swiftness, the Sylvia Park folk entered the Australian market, sending over a batch of youngsters for the sales held three months after Martini Henry's Melbourne Cup. Once again, the Hon. James White entered the lists and his top bid gave him another son of Musket, Nordenfeldt. Once more the big Australian scored, for this fellow was to become known as the “bull-dog of the turf,” and at Musket's untimely death was destined to become the worthy successor at Sylvia Park of this great sire.
The story of the sons and daughters of Musket was only beginning, and soon they were making New Zealand famous in all the lands of the Seven Seas. In the compass of this article I can only mention a few. Trenton comes first; he was an example of classic equine beauty, he had unexampled endurance, and had a world-wide influence on bloodstock breeding. He will be best remembered in Australia as the sire of a marvellous quartette of mares, Lady Trenton, Auraria (Melbourne Cup winner), Quiver (who dead-heated with Wallace), and lastly the amazing queen of the turf, Wakeful, still rated as the greatest mare of all time under the Southern Cross. Maxim, the next son of Musket, was considered by Sir George Clifford as the greatest horse he had ever seen. He left mighty sons and daughters here, and then carried the New Zealand flag to California, where at the Rancho del Paso stud he was a brilliant success. In passing, I should add as an extra that another son of Musket, in Matchlock, was sold in 1885 to an Indian Prince and his name is still remembered. In this year, however, Carbine was born, and in a couple of years he became a world figure. His record was 43 races, 33 wins, 6 seconds, 3 thirds, and once only unplaced, that time without shoes. His relation, Martini Henry, won the Melbourne Cup in 1883, Trenton had been narrowly beaten in 1885 and 1886, and Carbine himself ran second in 1889, and duly won in 1890.
He was known as “Old Jack” to the worshipping crowds and performed every sort of miracle. He had the gift of drama. He earned all sorts of heavy penalties, was left several times, and again and again swept up to send the roaring crowds hysterical with a win by a head on the post. He seemed to know where the winning post was at least as well as his jockey, and always “knew what to do.”
His mother was Mersey, another mare brought to New Zealand after careful thought. The racecourse deeds of Carbine were wonderful, but negligible in comparison with his achievement in infusing new life into the thoroughbred families of the world. It is a long story, but it is perhaps not an overstatement to say that this strain, originating in New Zealand, remains one of the potent forces in the evolution of the staying racehorse of to-day. French horses lately have been getting an inordinate share of the long-distance races in England, and many experts ascribe this phenomenon to the plentiful supply of the blood lines of Spearmint, Carbine's greatest son, whose Grand Prix victory is still Gallic turf history.
The best filly to-day in England, Rockfel, is a direct descendant of the great New Zealander.
Now I want to repeat that when Carbine went away to Welbeck Abbey, New Zealand was already in possession of a noble array of splendid maternal families of thoroughbred horses.
This provides the enduring foundation of New Zealand breeding success. We should remember that Phar Lap descended from Carbine's granddaughter, Catherine Wheel.
The “head-work” of our sagacious pioneers, the amazing fertility of our grasslands, our limestone downs, our mild climate, all worked together to invest New Zealand with the reputation of producing the highest grade of racehorse.
The Melbourne Cup has already been described as the greatest testing contest of staying horses in this part of the world. Crossing the Tasman is no morning stroll, and consequently the percentage of New Zealand horses is always very small. However, the New Zealand record is a just cause for pride.
We got as far as Carbine's great victory in 1890, carrying the all-time record weight of 10st. 5lbs., and playing with the field. By the way, the account of the race reads very like the performance put up by our last New Zealand winner, Catalogue.
Carbine left the ruck of horses in the straight and with Ramage sitting still, tore past the post with three lengths to spare. Pandemonium broke loose; men and women laughed and wept in frenzy, and the roar of applause sounded like thunder. It was not until 1907 that a New Zealander was to win the race again, but the influence of our horses was still paramount, mainly through the potency of Trenton as a sire. His daughter Auraria won in 1895, his son Revenue in 1901, and Lady Trenton's son Lord Cardigan won in 1903. Bloodshot, a son of Maxim ran second in 1896.
New forces had arrived in New Zealand, among them a representative of St. Simon, possibly the greatest name in British breeding history. It was extraordinary page 12 page 13 that one of his very best sons, in Soult, should come to New Zealand, but I pause to say that this good fortune has to some extent been paralleled in our acquisition of Absurd, Limond, Hunting Song, and, of course, the greatest of all, Martian. Even at the risk of dislocating this story, I would remind readers that our horse Martian still holds easily the record of total sires’ winnings in Australia and New Zealand.
Two sons of Soult, in Wairiki and Solution, essayed the Melbourne Cup, both were installed hot favourites by the Australian public, who had learned to respect New Zealand contenders, and both failed, Wairiki breaking down hopelessly. However, in 1907, Apologue, again a hot favourite, won nicely for Mr. “Bob” Cleland, of Auckland, and the Queen City had a wonderful afternoon when the news came through. The habit of making New Zealanders favourite had some disastrous results; among the failures were Reputation, in 1915; The Cypher, in 1922; Sir Simper and Nightly, in 1934; Sir Regent, in 1937; and, of course, the brilliant Royal Chief in Catalogue's race. This led to the caption everywhere “Wrong New Zealander Wins Melbourne Cup.” Phar Lap was, of course, favourite whenever he started and twice he let his horde of followers down. However, his deeds need no recalling here. He truly earned the title of “world beater.” The most heart-breaking happening was the misfortune of Concentrate. I heard the account of this race on the radio and, just as the announcer excitedly said “Here comes Concentrate with a wet sail—it's all over,” the New Zealander stopped almost to a walk and even then struggled into third place. The rest of the story is that Nightmarch won in 1929, Phar Lap in 1930, Gaine Carrington was third in 1932, Wotan won in 1936, Willie Win ran second in 1937, and our ancient relic, Catalogue, won this year.
Only three horses in the past dozen years won with a greater weight than Catalogue, and they were Nightmarch, Phar Lap and Peter Pan.
It is a comforting recital, but in the pure tests of merit, the weight-for-age races, the performance of New Zealand horses is still more exciting.
Every racing enthusiast would like to own a Derby winner. In the sale ring, wealthy bidders pay for a likely youngster prices that have no relation to his possible earnings.
The New Zealand record in the richest of these races in Australia, the A.J.C. Derby, is most intersting.
(Continued on page 56).
Aboard the Rotorua Express: The man smoking the cherrywood said to his friend: “Never see you with a pipe now, old bird. Chucked it? “Had to! Throat irritation. Doctor said ‘stop.’ So I stopped.” “Ever try the toasted New Zealand tobacco?” “No. Any different from the ordinary brands?” “It can give the ordinary brands 70 in a 100 (to put it in the language of billiards), and then run out in a single break.” “How does it differ from the ordinary brands?” “To begin with it contains very little nicotine. That's why it doesn't irritate the throat or burn the tongue. You can smoke it all day and then some. It can't hurt you. Secondly it has an unrivalled flavour and a matchless bouquet. The secret of its excellence is that it's toasted! Yes. There are various brands. You try one, and I'll wager you'll soon be smoking that old pipe of yours again.” He said he would! The five brands are: Navy Cut No. 3, Cavendish, Cut Plug No. 10, Desert Gold and Riverhead Gold.*