historian Keith Ray, the author of Nags to Riches, has delved back into history
in a bid to answer the much asked question – Where are the Aussie bred
Keith Ray writes - 1956 was something of a watershed year in Australian racing. It was the year that advertising executive and breeding authority Douglas Barrie completed his seminal work 'The Australian Bloodhorse'.
It was also the year that champion stallion Delville Wood's daughter Evening Peal defeated the great Redcraze to win the Melbourne Cup.
And in the dying days of 1956, a two-year-old colt called Todman debuted at Randwick with the most devastating exhibition of speed ever seen at that old racecourse. Indeed the colt was going so fast down the side that jockey Neville Sellwood feared he would never negotiate the home turn. But Todman railed like a greyhound to win by ten lengths in the Australian record time of 57.8 for the five furlongs.
It is interesting to look back at Barrie's book. It remains a wonderful history of our racing and breeding, from its inception in the early nineteenth century up till the mid 1950's.
Unbeknown to Barrie, while he was putting this book together, the seeds were being sown for what was to become a fundamental game-changer in the Australian breeding and racing industry.
The English stallion, Delville Wood, had arrived in Australia in 1947. Delville Wood was based at Percy Miller's 'Kia-Ora Stud' on the Pages River, east of Scone in the NSW Hunter Valley. He established himself as a champion sire of middle distance horses and stayers and topped the sires list on five occasions.
Indeed, in Barrie's chapter on 'Famous Australian Racehorses', he highlighted the 1948 foaling, Hydrogen.
This son of Delville Wood became one of the great gallopers of the early 50's, winning two Cox Plates, a Rosehill Guineas, Caulfield Guineas, both the A.J.C. and V.R.C. St Legers, Brisbane Cup and other WFA races.
Douglas Barrie was always interested in the female lines and noted the influence of Hydrogen's third dam, a classic winner in New Zealand called Golden Slipper.
Barrie of course had no way of knowing what influence another Golden Slipper
was about to exert on Australian racing.
In 1950, at a time when Delville Wood's stock were starting to be noticed, another English stallion arrived in New South Wales and settled into the 'Baramul Stud' in the beautiful Widden Valley.
His name was Star Kingdom and he was to become the most influential stallion ever brought to this country. From his first crop in 1952, it was obvious that this new stallion was going to sire very fast horses when Kingster won the Breeder's Plate; then followed up in later seasons to win both the 1955 Cox Plate and the 1956 V.R.C. Newmarket. Another top two-year-old, Starover, followed in the second crop.
And then in 1954 Todman (pictured) was foaled.
Warwick Hobson, in 'The Story of the Golden Slipper Stakes', told how the race 'was foaled on a stormy night when the fledgling Sydney Turf Club was still in its infancy, just over a decade old, and struggling to assert its place among Australia's leading race clubs.'
'The STC Committee wanted to sponsor a new and prestigious race, a crowning jewel to highlight their Autumn Carnival. The man, who came up with the idea of the Golden Slipper Stakes was studmaster George Ryder', a founding member of the Club.
Eleven horses paid up for that inaugural Golden Slipper in April 1957. Dominating the betting at 6 to 1 on, Todman came away with an electrifying sprint to win by eight lengths. And the Golden Slipper was on its way.
The Golden Slipper was to capture the imagination of racegoers like no other Australian race, with the exception of the Melbourne Cup. Star Kingdom sired the first five winners, and when his son Todman went to stud, he also started siring Slipper winners.
Other notable sprinting sires like Wilkes and Rego joined the party in the 60's. Wilkes sired the great Vain, who demolished the 1969 Slipper field.
It seems Australian breeders and owners went speed crazy. Stallions in the mould of Delville Wood slowly disappeared from the scene.
Trainers like Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings made annual pilgrimages to New Zealand in pursuit of Derby and Cup horses, coming home with the progeny of staying stallions like Le Filou, Alcimedes, Agricola, Oncidium and Summertime.
Even with this input from New Zealand however, it started to become noticeable in the 80's that our great staying races like the Melbourne Cup were often being won by second-grade plodders.
The solution found by the V.R.C., after some earlier exploratory efforts by the S.T.C., was to go looking overseas for proven stayers. Once identified, they were invited to Australia. And with our relatively high levels of prize money in this country, more and more British trainers, in particular, started to make the trip.
In more recent years, we have started to see Australian owners and trainers looking for tried and proven stock from the northern hemisphere. This has been in recognition that quality staying horses are very difficult to source in this country.
So every year, punters look at the field for the Melbourne Cup, and ask, where are the Aussie-breds? A few do exist of course, but not in any real numbers; certainly not in the numbers prevalent in the 1940's and 1950's.
So, what for the future? I do believe that we are starting to see a few bright lights on the horizon.
The auction houses are realising they are losing revenue to the British sale yards. Money that was once being spent at Aussie yearling sales is now being spent on imported stayers.
Inglis recently announced some new initiatives to promote staying stock via its 'Blue Riband' sale.
Perhaps the brightest light may lie in the recent retirement of So You Think (pictured) to the 'Coolmore Stud'. A champion middle distance performer in both hemispheres, perhaps Bart's old champ may provide a key to the return of quality staying stock to the Hunter Valley.
At the very least, his patronage by top class broodmares is assured; something which has not been all that common for Aussie stayers.
Bart is sure the horse could have won a Melbourne Cup if he had stayed in Australia. Winning Melbourne Cups (as opposed to Golden Slippers) has unfortunately proven a kiss of death for would-be stud horses.
So without that
millstone around his neck, let's hope So You Think can help lead the way back
for Aussie stayers.