Noel Hennessy and Star Kingdom

Author’s Comment: Wednesday 20th March 2019.

Today this ‘blog’ has just exceeded 1000 ‘hits’. This is BY FAR the greatest number of any strikes in about 20 months of extant life on my website. I owe much of this ‘popularity’ to the HTBA. Thank you Cameron and Julianne!

However the most remarkable facet is the extraordiany and enduring attraction of the ‘Star Kingdom’ legend? I had no idea this would be so popular!

I’m thrilled!

WPH 20/03/19

Noel Hennessy and Star Kingdom

Featured Image courtesy of Peter Pring ‘The Star Kingdom Story’ (The Thoroughbred Press, Sydney)

Noel Hennessy passed away in Denman early Saturday morning 9th March 2019. He is possibly the ‘last link’ to the great Star Kingdom? He was with him at ‘Baramul’ when he died on 21st April 1967.

Journalist Brian Russell released the following eulogy:

Death of last handler of Star Kingdom

Noel Hennessy, an iconic Hunter Valley horseman who has died at Denman at the age of eighty, may have been the last person to see and handle Australia’s most influential sire of last century, Star Kingdom, before he died on April 21 1967 at the Baramul Stud in the Widden Valley. Maitland born Hennessy had joined the staff at Baramul in 1957, a stud then owned by Sydney solicitor Alfred Ellison, and as stud groom cared for Star Kingdom for the last nine years of his life. He also looked after Todman, the son of Star Kingdom who won the inaugural Golden Slipper, when he stood at stud at Baramul, and the awesomely brilliant Biscay, both as a foal and as a sire. Biscay stood briefly at Baramul when he retired from racing. Among other horses grown under Hennessy’s care at Baramul were champion Star Kingdom filly Citius and Todman’s Golden Slipper winning son Eskimo Prince. In recent years Noel Hennessy has been living in retirement at Denman.

Peter Pring writes in his excellent tribute in ‘The Star Kingdom Story’ (Thoroughbred Press):

“Star Kingdom died at the good age for a thoroughbred of 21 (the average lifespan for a stallion is 16 years) on 21st April 1967. Noel Hennessy first became aware the something was wrong when ‘Star’ broke with his established practice of waiting for him at his gate for his evening meal. He had gone to his box and he wasn’t even looking out through the door, as he did when it was raining heavily.

Hennessy recalls that his heart missed a beat. He hurried to the box and there he found the old horse with his head down “looking dopey”. He put his feed in his manger but Star Kingdom hardly bothered to move. The groom became alarmed and went straight to the telephone to call the vet Murray Bain.

Bain arrived half an hour or so later having dropped what he was doing; but minutes after his arrival he was able to announce his diagnosis. Star Kingdom was suffering from Equine Colitis, an inflammation of the colon brought about by a thickening of the lower bowel. Bain described it as a common ailment affecting older horses. Sadly there was nothing he could do other than to help relieve the horse’s suffering; what is more, he was certain the attack would prove fatal.

And so it transpired. At 10 o’clock that night Star Kingdom, who was now under heavy sedation, got down. Half an hour later, with his head resting in his beloved groom’s arms, he passed away and so ended one of the most glorious chapters in the history of Thoroughbred breeding.”

Footnotes:

This most poignant description is redolent of that of Phar Lap and Tommy Woodcock.  Local Scone champion ‘Trevors’ trained by Betty Shepherd suffered the same fate in the same month of April 1967.

For live footage of both Star Kingdom and Noel Hennessy see also: http://sconevetdynasty.com.au/the-vet-on-the-stud-farm/

Peter Pring writes further in his in his excellent tribute in ‘The Star Kingdom Story’ (Thoroughbred Press) on the personality, character and idiosyncrasies of the great stallion as described by Noel.

“Possibly no-one knew the horse better than Noel Hennessy, his groom and personal attendant for the last nine years of his life.

The great chestnut stallion and Hennessy, who was born seven years before him in 1939, developed a special bond of affection. The proud, high-spirited Thoroughbred aristocrat loved him like a dog loves a master, and when he was in his yard, Star Kingdom would follow him about just to be near him. When Hennessy went away, on holidays or to the yearling sales, ‘Star’ would fret terribly. He would sulk, refuse to exercise himself and would mope about in the lowest of spirits.

On Hennessy’s return to Baramul, Star Kingdom would almost explode with joy. He would rear up, dance about, snort, whinny and race around him until Hennessy came over to him. He would then nuzzle into his chest, almost knocking him over in his enthusiasm. And, as soon as that was over, he would close his teeth firmly around his arm (Hennessy swears it was true) and would not let him go until he was ready. It was almost as if he were saying “Now that I’ve got you, you must promise that you’ll never leave again.”

Hennessy describes Star Kingdom as “a big, little horse … only just a shade over 15.1 but built like a power-house. Very strong shoulders, high in the hind quarters, he was perfection for a sprinter-miler. And he really stamped these characteristics into many of his best foals.

“He was big in intelligence. He understood exactly what you wanted him to do. You could communicate with him totally. I have never known a horse like him.”

Star Kingdom also had a delightful temperament. Hennessy says “He was extremely good natured. He never kicked and he never bit although he certainly didn’t tolerate fools. He knew who he was. He knew he was the ‘King’, and as long as he was shown due respect he was as good as gold.

“I only saw him take a permanent dislike to one person. A worked on the place filled in time one day by teasing him over the fence. But old ‘Star’ never forgot that he had done it and would put his ears back whenever he was around. He wouldn’t let him put a foot inside his yard.”

Hennessy recalled that he could recall three other things that Star Kingdom did not like.

“One was people who tried to shoo him away with their hats when he was just being inquisitive and taking a closer look at something.

“Then,” Hennessy adds with a laugh, “he would go for the hat and do everything he could to take a bit out of it.

“Another was that he did not like being tethered, tied up. All you had to do was to ask him to stand and he would. He was marvelous like that.”

Star Kingdom’s other pet ‘hate’ was his own son, Todman. Star Kingdom could not abide him. I will let Noel Hennessy take up the story.

“You see ‘Star’ liked to think he was the only really important horse around. When that was how it was, everything was okay. But in 1960, Todman – who was also a pretty big attraction – was retired to Baramul and visitors, instead of just coming to see ‘Star’ also went on, just a couple of yards further, to look over Todman as well.

“This Star Kingdom could not tolerate; it made him intensely jealous. And he almost had a fit if the visitors made the cardinal error of going across to view Todman first. Then he would lie his ears back, bare his teeth, and when they did, final, get to his yard he would insultingly turn his back on them and amble off.”

Hennessy said that his frustrations with Todman did not stop there. “You see Todman was a cheeky devil and he knew just how to bring ‘Star’ to the boil.

“When they were in their respective exercise yards there was only a race of five or six feet between them. And it was here that Todman would stand pressed up against his fence looking stupidly and unblinkingly at his father as if he was trying to stare him out.

“Now this capped everything. Old ‘Star’ would almost pass out with apoplexy. Although I must admit it gave us all great entertainment to watch them behaving like this.”

In the area of preferred tastes Hennessy says that Star Kingdom had a passion for apples and for milky thistles; and that he was a great ‘do-er’, never leaving a morsel of his morning or evening feeds. And neither did he ever have a sick day. He was never affected by colic, he was never constipated, he never scoured and he never even had a cold.

The only physical disability he suffered was, in his advancing years, when the soles of his feet dropped. He had special shoes made with bars at the back. “And it was then,” Hennessy added, that we started taking him into the creek for an hour or so each day to keep his hooves moist and soft. And this was something that the old boy really loved. He would splash about, looking at all the goings-on around him and when the sun was on his back he was in a state of perfect contentment.”

Author’ Note:

I have in my possession the front (fore) navicular bones of ‘Biscay’ which I harvested at the time of his death. ‘Biscay’ suffered very badly from advanced navicular changes in his later years. ‘Bletchingly’ was similarly afflicted although not to the same extent. It seems quite likely (to me) that Star Kingdom suffered the same pathology which may have been passed down to his son and grandson?

Another pastime that gave Star Kingdom great pleasure was the pursuit of fowls that were bold enough to enter his yard in search of fallen grain and other delicacies. “He always played the same game by the same rules, and he never tired of it. In a faraway corner he would appear to be sleeping but, slyly, with hardly a movement of his eyelids, he would in fact be watching the chickens’ progress. Then, when he was certain that they were too far from safety to run and that they would therefore have to fly or be trampled, he would be transformed into a raging, ranting monster. He would charge down upon them scattering them in all directions.”