Bluebloods Horse of the Year 2017

the missing years 1922-1923

 

By the lofty standards of the decade there was little that was particularly exceptional about the 1922-23 racing season. But there were two exceptional exceptions.

When the committee of the fledgling Moonee Valley Race Club added a 9.5 furlong weight-for-age event to its feature Gold Cup program, run then, as now, on the Saturday between the Caulfield Cup and Victoria Derby Day, not one person in the land could have dreamed of the future significance of that race, the first W.S. Cox Plate. Worth £500 less than the Moonee Valley Gold Cup, the inaugural Cox Plate nevertheless attracted a quality field and its place in the racing calendar was secure from that day on.

Victory went to the high-class imported horse Violoncello, the 1921 Caulfield Cup winner, who came away in the straight to defeat the WA galloper Easingwold and the star mare Furious by a comfortable margin. The grand Sydney stayer David was fourth while following Eurythmic’s race day withdrawal, his stable mate Tangalooma started the 6/4 favourite before finishing sixth.

The 1922 W.S. Cox Plate was exception number one. The form lines from the race will lead us in due course to exception number two.

The mighty talent of Eurythmic was on the wane in 1922-23 and although the champion won his first two starts for the year, the Memsie Stakes and six weeks later the Caulfield Stakes (both for the third year running), his dominance of the Melbourne weight-for-age races came to an end. The great horse did not run badly but he failed to win in his final six starts. Following his Caulfield Stakes win, Eurythmic’s record stood at just one narrow loss from 21 starts under the scale in Melbourne since arriving from WA two years earlier. And so when Purser had his measure in the Herbert Power Stakes and then Eurythmic was only third in the Melbourne Stakes on Derby Day to Harvest King and the AJC Derby winner Rivoli, time appeared to be catching up with the six year old.

 

In the autumn, Eurythmic was runner-up at each of his four starts, beaten by Easingwold in the St George Stakes, by Salitas in the Futurity Stakes, where he again carried the maximum 10st 7lb, and then by Harvest King in the Essendon Stakes and finally by the up-and-coming filly Maid of the Mist in the C.M. Lloyd Stakes. Connections called it a day and retired their champion to stud with the outstanding record of 31 wins and 10 placings from 47 starts. (NB: The Australian Stud Book lists Eurythmic as the winner of the 1923 C.M. Lloyd Stakes, which is an error.)

Even now, it is still sad to report the outstanding Eurythmic died within a few years, leaving little of note, although a few may know that he appears in the extended pedigree of the 1961 Sydney Cup winner Sharply, conqueror that day of Tulloch no less. But Eurythmic’s brief stud career in no way diminishes his legend and it is only fitting that “the best from the west” was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.

Beating the handicapper was the name of the game in those times and in 1922 both Cups went to lightweights without a single doubles bet being laid against the combination, so well timed were their respective preparations. As a two year-old, Whittier had shown promise winning three times in moderate company while rated some way below the best of his age, but as his classic year commenced the son of the leading sire Woorak began to show his astute trainer Harry McCalman signs of his real class.

On August 19, Whittier resumed in a 3YO Handicap over the Flemington mile and on a waterlogged track he weighed-in third to Heventree, with the odds-on favourite The Cypher second. And therein lies a tale of what might have been by the end of the Spring Carnival. Whittier won his next race, an open class sprint at Williamstown, before a narrow loss to the older Heir Apparent in the Heatherlie Handicap over 9f at Caulfield, which represented very smart form for any colt heading to the Derby. McCalman and owner Ben Chaffey looked ahead and plotted an ambitious course.

A brilliant early morning gallop a fortnight later, well away from prying eyes at his Bendigo headquarters, was all that McCalman needed to know. Six weeks after the Heatherlie Handicap, Whittier took his place in the Caulfield Guineas when well supported in the market at 5/1. Whittier found another son of Woorak too good around The Heath that day but losing to Soorak after striking trouble in running was no disgrace as the latter had been the outstanding juvenile the season before. Whittier, unquoted in most markets until now, accepted for the Caulfield Cup the following Saturday.

 

One interested observer was leviathan punter Darcy Eccles, the owner of The Cypher, and with form around each other Eccles backed the three year-olds in all four combinations to win both Cups. The grandstand at Caulfield may have burned down in mysterious circumstances overnight but the 1922 Cup went ahead regardless. Notorious Melbourne gangster “Squizzy” Taylor, escorted by police from Caulfield the previous Wednesday, later ‘fessed up and entered the realm of colourful Australian racing characters.

Whittier landed the first leg in style coming from just off the pace to defeat old mates Tangalooma and Purser with top weight Violoncello in fourth place. The Cypher, a 25/1 chance, was seventh across the line after meeting interference in running. Despite this impressive victory over the classic trip, punters made Soorak the 7/4 favourite for the 1922 Victoria Derby ahead of Whittier at 5/2, with double figures available the remainder, even though Soorak had been one of the first beaten in the Caulfield Cup. The Cypher was not engaged in the Flemington Blue Riband nor was the AJC Derby winner Rivoli and Whittier outclassed his 10 rivals to win easily, firming to the head of the Melbourne Cup market by the end of the day.

On the same program, the very good four year-old Harvest King won the Melbourne Stakes from the fast-finishing Rivoli with Eurythmic third, but other Cup fancies such as David, Speciality, Furious and Purser ran moderately and gradually drifted out of favour for Tuesday’s big race, while, in contrast, the James Scobie-trained lightweight King Ingoda came into reckoning with an impressive three length victory in the Hotham Handicap. Finishing midfield as the 7/2 favourite was the three year-old The Cypher but a bungled start saw the colt go down on his haunches losing a conservative 50 yards and all chance thereafter. But in the straight The Cypher was seen making up ground at the rate of knots until eased down over the final stages. Darcy Eccles’ faith in his colt’s Cup chances remained rock solid and he was about to back his judgement to the hilt.

When the Derby Day form was studied the market for the 1922 Melbourne Cup was turned upside down, spearheaded by two massive plunges on the lightweights The Cypher and King Ingoda. Bookmakers had every reason to fear those behind the support. Darcy Eccles was an astute student of form and fearless in the ring while King Ingoda’s trainer James Scobie was the master of his craft.

As a three year-old the season before King Ingoda had shown distinct staying promise by winning the South Australian St Leger at Morphettville, but his return to racing at four was delayed until the middle day of the VATC Carnival when unplaced in the Coongy Handicap as a rank outsider. More than one media report from the day mentioned he caught the eye late. At that stage, as much as 200/1 was obtained by stable supporters about King Ingoda’s Melbourne Cup chances and over the next fortnight the mystery horse from across the border came in for more and more backing as rank and file punters followed the famous stable’s lead.

By post time on the first Tuesday in November, Eccles had backed The Cypher from 12/1 overnight in to 6/1 favouritism, holding a slight call over fellow three year-olds Whittier and Rivoli, while King Ingoda continued to firm on the day from double figures into an 8/1 chance. Despite what was a strong field with every top class stayer in the land engaged bar Eurythmic, the lightweights dominated the race as well as the betting and in a tremendous struggle over the final furlong it was the James Scobie “smokey” King Ingoda holding a narrow advantage over the luckless The Cypher to score by a half-neck. A massive gamble had been landed but doubles bookmakers had been spared as the Cup winners Whittier and King Ingoda were well hidden in advance. The only “live” doubles bet of significance on Melbourne Cup Day was Darcy Eccles’ coupling of Whittier with his own colt The Cypher. Alas, racing can be character building!

King Ingoda ran right up that form when winning the Williamstown Cup at his next start soon after, while The Cypher finally had his time to shine when defeating David in the VRC Handicap by almost three lengths. The Cypher started the 3/1 favourite and surely the kind-hearted bookmakers on course that day let Darcy Eccles get on.

The undoubted star of Cup Week was the Cox Plate winner, the imported Violoncello. Backing up on Derby Day and carrying top weight of 9st 7lb, Sir Samuel Hordern’s chestnut bounded away to win the Cantala Stakes by a widening three lengths and then later in the week he added the Linlithgow Stakes just as easily. Two days later Violoncello won the C.B. Fisher Plate over 12f, although this time Tangalooma made it a close call before the odds-on favourite won by a narrow margin.

Violoncello did not race again and was retired to stud where he met with some success. His record for the 1922-23 season was 10-4-0-1, noting that his four victories were in races of the highest class in the space of 14 days. It is the races he did not win which will soon become the focus of the Bluebloods HOTY.

But in the major autumn carnivals in the New Year many of the established stars of the turf won the odd race but none achieved the dominance required to press their HOTY claims further.

Whittier (11-3-4-1) ran well in races such as the Doncaster Handicap (4th) and the All-Aged Plate, when runner-up to Purser, and he would prove top class in the seasons ahead. Harvest King (12-3-1-1) added the Essendon Stakes and King’s Plate at Flemington to confirm his quality without quite getting to the next level. The Cup winner King Ingoda (11-4-0-1) failed to measure up at weight-for-age but won the Adelaide Cup to round out a fine year.

David (19-4-3-2), the last of the great long distance runners, was one who did hit peak form over the AJC Autumn Carnival, when winning the Cumberland Stakes and the AJC Plate at weight-for-age just days after landing the Sydney Cup under 9st 6lb as a 20/1 chance, his only major victory under handicap conditions.

But the 1922-23 racing year, unexceptional in the main especially when compared to the second half of the decade, delivered something no other season can match. Four races in the space of 25 days saw Beauford and Gloaming, the champions of Australia and New Zealand, clash head on. No other rivalry (and there have been many over many years) quite compares in my opinion. It was racing and the spirit of racing at its absolute best.
The wonder horse Gloaming had compiled an amazing record in Australia and New Zealand to that stage, having won 42 of his 47 starts in the previous four seasons. His career had begun in sensational fashion when streaking away from 20 rivals to win the 1919 Chelmsford Stakes by eight lengths before success in the AJC Derby next time out. Returning to New Zealand, Gloaming’s first loss was to the 1916 Melbourne Cup winner Sasanof. Later in the season the champion mare Desert Gold won the first of their three meetings when defeating Gloaming in the Taranaki Stakes, only for the three year-old to reverse that result at their final two encounters, all within the space of just eight days.

 

Gloaming revisited Sydney as a four year-old, winning at Rosehill before a narrow loss to Poitrel in the Spring Stakes and a facile success in the Craven Plate, the first of his famous 19 straight victories. Following this race, Gloaming sailed back home and during the next 14 months he was unbeaten at distances from 4f to 12f as his winning run went on and on. Defeat finally came at the hands of the top-class three year-old Thespian in the Islington Plate at Auckland. In typical fashion, Gloaming bounced back from that loss to win his remaining nine starts of his six year-old season. Another trip to Sydney and the inevitable confrontation with the local hero, Beauford, now began to take shape.

Ironically, the story of the four Beauford vs Gloaming epics is simply told (the pair dominated each race), but capturing the excitement generated across two nations at the time is the key to the enduring legend. The first clash came in the Chelmsford Stakes over 9f at Randwick on September 2, two years to the day after Gloaming had bled in trackwork when preparing for the same event in 1920. Both horses were first up. Punters, including a large faithful contingent from Newcastle, made Beauford favourite at 9/10 ahead of Gloaming at 2/1.

Drawn on the outside of the field Beauford stood calmly ahead of barrier rise, with Gloaming on his inside. But several horses were playing up and the starter made the unusual decision to move the New Zealand star into post position two. As it turned out this may have worked in Beauford’s favour as his great rival jumped in front only to be taken on for the lead by two others along the back straight, with the Newcastle horse settling into a perfect trailing position in fourth place. Over the famous Randwick rise the two market elects singled out but Beauford gained the upper hand over the final furlong to win Round One by a length, with David a distant third, Furious fourth and Violoncello in fifth place.

Round Two came just one week later in the Hill Stakes at Rosehill. In 1922 the race was run at weight-for-age with penalties and under those conditions Beauford was now asked to concede Gloaming 7lb. This time the roles were reversed with Beauford running very freely in the lead in the middle stages to lead out by four lengths but George Young on the New Zealand champion made ground coming to the turn and ran past the front runner in the final furlong to score by 1.25 lengths, with the future Caulfield Guineas winner Soorak a “bad third”. The pull in the weights may have been the difference.

The two equine stars were now the talk of the town and their third clash in the Spring Stakes over 12f at Randwick quite overshadowed the day’s two main events, the AJC Derby and the Epsom Handicap, at least in the eyes of the 90,000 racegoers on track that afternoon and turf historians ever since. The Spring Stakes is the most famous of the Beauford vs Gloaming clashes for a number of reasons. Firstly, the race was run on the biggest stage in front of a maximum crowd who filled every vantage point on the famous racetrack. Secondly, the race delivered exactly what it promised, an absolute thriller between two magnificent and worthy rivals. And finally, the finish became the subject of what is arguably the most iconic painting of the Australian Turf, Martin Stainforth’s “AJC Spring Stakes 1922”.

For their third meeting, the weights were again level under the true scale and the pair dominated the betting as usual with Beauford holding a slight call at even money a point shorter than Gloaming. There were six other starters including David, who was given a chance at 7/1, Furious, Violoncello, Speciality and the promising stayer Wirriway, the ruling Melbourne Cup favourite.

Violoncello made the early running but Wood moved Beauford to the lead a mile from home as Gloaming was taken wide on the track by another runner on that far turn. Beauford led at a good clip but Gloaming loomed as a serious threat over the rise and the pair once again drew well clear of their opposition in the run home. Gloaming looked the winner but his challenge faltered ever so slightly over the final few strides as Wood and Beauford found the extra reserves required to edge out the New Zealander to win by a neck, with the best of the rest, Speciality (winner of The Metropolitan two days later) four lengths away on the line. Imagine the thought of being there that day.

The Craven Plate brought the two champions together for the fourth and final time. Even-money each of two was the call at post time amid concerns from the Beauford camp that their stable star had not done as well as hoped since Saturday’s energy-sapping race. The Craven Plate confirmed those fears as Gloaming raced in the stalking position as Beauford made play in front before the famous son of The Welkin came away in the final furlong to win easily by three lengths. Beauford was second and Violoncello improved on his recent form for third, ahead of his successful Melbourne campaign.
If Violoncello, David, Soorak and Speciality and company are a guide, the form shown by Beauford and Gloaming that spring is clearly superior to that of any other horse in the land. Although Beauford did not race again in 1922-23, Gloaming returned to New Zealand and won his only other race a short time afterwards. Their Australian records for the season are obviously identical at 4-2-2-0. Who can split them though?

But the other nominees have solid credentials too, or maybe our judges will somehow rate one champion above the other. Or perhaps, more than 90 years after the event, the 1922-23 season will throw up a third exception . . . a tie between Beauford and Gloaming for our Bluebloods HOTY. Like those racegoers in 1922, we are about to find out.