by By Fife and Drum
Racing has not been of a very high-class order during the past month, but there has been the usual fearful plethora to which we are accustomed during the Christmas and New Year’s week. New Year's Day at Flemington was undoubtedly the most interesting programme of the lot, but such a quantity of the form is unreliable at this time of the year, that we cannot become worked up to anything like a simmer of excitement. Why is the form so unreliable? It might be the heat, usually rather trying during this season, or it might be Beelzebub, but it is more probably the fact that the Newmarket and Australian Cup weights will be out before long, and many horses are out for an airing, d___ them.
The tale of the Hurdle Race need not be repeated. It is unnecessary, and is best left alone. It is enough to say that the reversal of form was very surprising. No; it is no use saying we are surprised. I do not think “surprised” is the correct word. Nowadays a man who is surprised by anything which takes place on the turf is either a greenhorn or a hypocrite. You may be made sick, or sorry, or angry, or ashamed, but “surprised” is not for us, or the likes of us, in the twentieth century. Duke of Portland easily beat a good large field in the Standish, and then ran a mile and a-half or so “on his own.” It must be on this account that Mr. Miller has entered him in the three-mile championship in March, and perhaps it was the result of this bootless gallop which prevented the horse staying a mile and a-half in the Bagot Handicap later in the day. In most countries of the civilised globe an irritable, fretful horse, especially if he be of a fractious family, is prepared to win a good race, and is then laid by in lavender to get ready for another big effort. Apparently, Mr. Miller’s plan with a brute of the sort is different. It reminds one of the little Scotch boy who was seen killing a toad in a particularly cruel manner, and was heard repeating at intervals during the process, “I’ll learn ye to be a toad.” So Duke of Portland is being “learned” to be an irritable beggar, and is getting his “paiks” accordingly.
Fleet Admiral is only six years old, and, perhaps, the treatment necessary for his well-being has now been discovered. If this is so, he may still win many races. Good authorities have told me that at one time he was really a very high class horse. At any rate, he won the Bagot like a god one, and we may see this confirmed someday, when Miltiades, who ran second, has been hailed a winner of a big handicap.
Most people were pleased to see Mr. S. G. Cook win the Criterion with the Victory. His colours are not so often in front as to render the business monotonous, and mention of that reminds me that in the Bagot it was almost refreshing to see a good winner this year not trained in the Ballarat stable.
Alva won the Welter easily by five lengths, but some people said that many of the competitors were not trying. Well, more fools they; little fish are sweet, and Mr. F. F. Dakin is not a mole.
There was plenty of racing in the West during the holidays, but the form must be awfully bad. Flintlock wins the big race by three lengths; Flintlock, a, sort of pariah, and an outcast from Victoria, and Springlock appears quite a champion sprinter, a horse of very little account in moderate upcountry company in New South Wales. Perhaps, some of us old buffers, who have retired from the running path these years, might regain our form in the salubrious climate of the West—if we didn’t catch typhoid, and gave up whisky and other sins of the flesh.
Sydney Tattersalls had two days’ racing, on 29th December and lst January, and the two principal races, the Carrington Stakes and the Club Cup, were won by Fulminate and Khaki. Both of these horses are entered at Flemington in March, and they are both very nicely bred, Khaki having a particularly captivating pedigree. He is by Grand Flaneur-Goldlike, by Trenton-Aureola, by Angler-Chrysolite. A horse descended from blood like this ought to be a real tip-top smasher, or he has a very good chance of being such. Fulminate is by Gossoon from Percussion, by Musket-Sister Agnes, by Rosicrucian-Penance, by the Flying Dutchman-Rosary, by Touchstone-Crucifix. With blood like that you would almost think it was impossible to breed anything but good ones, but, look here, just you go and try it.
And now the first tinkle of the bell is heard bidding us prepare for the autumn campaign. The entries have closed for the Newmarket Handicap, Australian Cup, Oakleigh Plate and Purse, the Sydney Cup, and other great autumn events. They are most satisfactory, and out of the 106 entered in the Newmarket, we may expect to see a goodly number of high-class sprinters come sweeping across the tan there, away far up the broad green stretch of turf.
Class is well represented in the Australian Cup, which has the makings of a great race, if the fates are kind, and allow such as Advance, Seahorse, La Carabine, Malster, Clean Sweep, Finland, Kinglike, Tarquin, Lancaster, Ingliston, Merriwee, George Frederick, Khaki, Warrior II, and a few minor lights, to meet. And then the Championship has lots of material is provide a great race; in fact, all the horses I have named above are also in three-mile race, and it will be interesting to see how Mr. Dakin adjusts the handicaps of the weight-for-age horses in the Australian Cup. The Doncaster has an enormous list of entrants—125 I think it is—and, of course, almost every known good one is there.
Altogether, prospects are very bright indeed for the autumn, and let us hope, for the sake of breeders, that money will be plentiful, and prices for yearlings high.
The English season has closed, and the home sporting papers are accordingly very dull reading now that the interesting statistics of the season’s doings are done with: Old Carbine has performed very respectably among the winning sires. He has eleven winners to his name of eighteen races, worth between four and five thousand pounds, beating Trenton by nearly a thousand. His stock are staying and improving with age, and nothing will surprise me less than to see old Jack sire a winner of the Ascot Cup, or some such great race, run over a distance of ground. Of course, St. Simon is right away at the top of the pole, with about four times as much to his credit as any other sire, but his prospects for next year are not so bright, and Isinglass or Melton may give him the go-by.
And with the fall of the curtain one of the great lights of the turf world went out—Lord William Beresford.
I suppose this is the best time to answer the inevitable call, when you are at the zenith. Certainly as a winning owner Lord William had just about reached the culminating point, being second on the list to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. An item of home racing news of interest to Australians is that Captain Scott has received his congé from the turf authorities both in England and Ireland, and so mote it be. Mention of Ireland reminds me that I had an Irish sporting yarn to tell. It is not sensational, nor very exciting, but it is strictly true, and is illustrative of Irish life and character. I have an old friend, a trainer, who came out from somewhere near Punchestown, as a boy. We often foregather as he is out for afternoon exercise with his little string, and his stories beguile many a mile of road, told as they are with the most beautiful touch of the brogue in the world, and one tale leading to another just like “ wather.” Let the reader put in his own brogue; it were blasphemy for a foreigner to try to reproduce it in print.
Well, you see, it was just this way. It was about a year before we broke up the home and left the old country. My father wasn’t feeling very well, so one day he says to me, ??Johnny, me lad,” says he, “saddle the bay mare, and ride over to Lanty Brannigan's. Tell him your father’s not feeling very well, and can’t go to the cattle fair, and will he, give him the market price for the young steers and heifers?” So I rode off, and Lanty said “all right,” and I gave delivery, and came home, well pleased, for I was only a lad. Well, in a few days me father was all right again; I think it was only a touch of the gout, or whisky, or something like that, and he soon found out that Lanty had given him thirty bob a head all round too little for the cattle. Me father was fairly boiling with rage, and when he had had time cool down, who should ride into the yard but Lanty Brannigan himself. Me father was very quiet, and spoke very little, and presently Lanty says: “That’s a nice mare in the yard there, Mick Murphy.” “She is,” said me father. “Is she for sale?” says Lanty. “She is,” says fat-her, and I saw a twinkle at last in his eye.
“Has she been served, Mick Murphy?"
“She has, Lanty Brannigan, she has."
“And what by, Mick Murphy'?”
“Irish Birdcatcher, Lanty."
“And what will ye be asking for her?”
“Eighty golden guineas, no less.”
“She’s mine, Mick Murphy.”
I looked at father, but I held my tongue, although I knew she had never seen Irish Birdcatcher these four years. So the old mare was sent to Lanty Brannigan’s, and time passed, till we came to the end of March, when she was due. One afternoon, it was pouring rain, too, and I remember it as well as if it was yesterday, father says: “Johnny, ride over to Lanty Brannigan’s, and see if old Thorn's foaled yet.” Shall, I take a policeman, father,” said I, " to bring me back alive?”
However, off I went, and when I got to Lanty’s stable-yard, there was old Patsey M‘Guire at the loose-box door, and I called to him as I dismounted: “Has the old mare foaled yet, Patsey?” “Be damned to you and the old mare," cried Patsey, “Lanty’s had me sitting up with her every night for a fortnight, and never a foal yet, but she'll foal to-night, please God!” Lanty pressed me to stay the night, and Norah Brannigan, the daughter, put in a word, and I liked Norah extra well, so I put the bay mare in the stable, and made up my mind to stop, and see the pantomime out. We went to bed about ten, and all the evening Lanty was great on the colt, or the filly, that was to be, and was that keen that I began to tremble for my skin. At about three in the morning I heard old Patsey clatter across the yard, and the footfalls were those of one in haste, and bearing good news, and I jumped up and listened—I had lain down with my clothes on. Patsey knocked loud at his master's door.
“What is it, Patsey?”
“It's a colt, Master—a. colt, by gorra, and its ears would reach up the chimbley.”
“ Ah! Patsey, it shows its breed_The Birdcatcher, man, The Birdcatcher. I'll be down in a minute, Patsey."
With that I whips out to the stall, and I had the saddle and bridle on the mare by the time Lanty was at the loosebox door. I saw Lanty strut into the box with a lantern, and in a moment I heard him scream out: "An ass, by God! an ass!” and he came rushing out, crying: "Where's that young divil, Jack Murphy; I’ll break every bone in his body.” As soon as he was into the house, I on to the mare, and was off through the stable-yard with a clatter, and it was time I was, too, for I heard Lanty throw up his window, and there was a flash and a bang that nearly drove the old mare out of her skin. It was Lanty letting drive with his gun in the dark.
Well, to make a long story short, Lanty rode into our yard after breakfast, and father was standing at the door. I thought there would be bloodshed then.
“What do you mean, Mick Murphy, you murdering scoundrel, by selling me a mare in foal to an ass, and saying she was to the Birdcatcher ?”
“And what do you mean, Lanty Brannigan, by giving me thirty shillings a head all round below market price for my steers and heifers? And I never said the old mare was in foal to Birdcatcher; I said she had been served by Birdcatcher, and so she had—four years back. Come inside, ye damned old omadhaun, you.”
With that they went into the parlour, and though words were high for ten minutes, presently the bell rang for the punch, and before dinner-time they were both as full as they could hold and fast friends. The mare and her ass came back to our place, and Lanty’s cheque was returned, less the thirty shillings a head for the steers. And Lanty and my father never fell out again, for Lanty was found dead in his bed within the twelve month, and my father and the whole boiling of us came out to Australia.