Featured Image: Royal Sovereign and Ray Selkrig returning to scale after the AJC Derby 1964 (AJC).
The full text and photographs pertaining to Royal Sovereign can be accessed at Ian Ibbett’s excellent historical series (May 15 2018) which I duly acknowledge:
Note: Royal Sovereign was bred by my wife Sarah’s great uncle F K ‘Darby’ Mackay. He is unique in winning not only the AJC Derby but also the VRC and QTC Derbies in the same racing year 1964/1965).
The 1964 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table which can also be viewed on the website above. Keith Banks who rode Cranleigh (NZ) which failed to finish in the field of ten is now a Scone resident.
And so, the stage was set – the players ready. A field of ten accepted for the A.J.C. Derby and best backed to beat Eskimo Prince was Park Lane, the sole representative of the T.J. Smith stable. A son of the all-conquering Summertime out of a classic-winning Foxbridge mare, Park Lane had cost 2600 guineas at the New Zealand National Sales at Trentham, one of the most expensive knocked down, and he seemed the beau ideal of a Derby colt. He had been first past the post in the V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes in the autumn, only to lose the race in the stewards’ room to Boeing Boy after hanging badly in the final furlong. He then finished runner-up in the A.J.C. equivalent. In his lead-up to the Derby, he had run the minor placing in the Chelmsford Stakes won by Summer Fair before finishing powerfully for fourth in the Rosehill Guineas. In his final race before the Derby, Park Lane had won a ten-furlong trial handicap at Randwick by eight lengths. Next fancied in the Derby betting was Strauss, a son of the imported English stallion, Pipe of Peace, whom Scobie Breasley had partnered into the minor placing in the 1957 English Derby won by Crepello. Strauss’s dam was Orchestra, a full sister to that good sprinter/miler of the forties, Victory Lad, and a half-sister to the champion early season two-year-old Mighty Song. Jack Green trained Strauss for the Miller brewing family, and the colt came into the race as the winner of the Canterbury Guineas and runner-up in the Rosehill equivalent. Bunyula, a half-brother to Young Brolga, shared the next line of betting with Royal Sovereign. An interesting runner was the Maurice McCarten-trained Sun Prince, a full brother to the 1960 Caulfield Cup winner, Ilumquh, and a half-brother to the 1957 Melbourne Cup winner, Straight Draw. Like Straight Draw, Sun Prince carried the colours of tabloid newspaper proprietor, Ezra Norton, who had made a habit of buying the progeny of Sun Bride.
In an unusual piece of programming, the Epsom Handicap was conducted before, rather than after, the Derby mainly because of the involvement of H.R.H. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, in the post-race Derby presentation. The committee wanted to afford the Princess, who was on an official visit to Australia, the freedom to present the trophy in a leisurely fashion. Strong, gusty winds blew across the Randwick course on Derby Day, and those brave and hardy souls who had succumbed to the even money about Eskimo Prince in the blue riband were not on happy terms with themselves at any stage of the race. Galea himself had taken £24,000 to win £28,000 in a series of bets. Although the black colt won the jump, Athol Mulley restrained him back in the field. The race got away to a somewhat sensational start. Approaching the winning post the first time there was a crowding of horses and Keith Banks, the rider of Cranleigh, was dislodged from the saddle. A subsequent stewards’ inquiry was satisfied that blame was not attributable to any particular rider; scant satisfaction I dare say for either Banks or those of the betting public who supported him at long odds. The impeccably-bred Sun Prince twisted its near fore plate upon jumping from the barrier. Although Eskimo Prince won the start and there was no early speed in the race, Mulley tried to restrain the flashy black behind the leaders rather than allow him to stride along. But the favourite pulled badly and wouldn’t settle.
Meanwhile Royal Sovereign was running eighth early and gradually moved forward to sixth at the half-mile, tracking Strauss. Employing the same bold riding tactics that had given him victory in the two previous runnings of the race, George Moore tried to steal the race on Park Lane, taking the lead at the mile and maintaining his advantage on the home turn. Strauss joined Park Lane upon straightening and then headed him halfway down the straight but could not withstand Royal Sovereign’s powerful sprint in the last furlong. John Page, confident the son of Chatsworth II was a genuine stayer, had instructed Selkrig to relax the horse in the early stages, and then make one run in the straight. Although the horse was inclined to run in under the whip in the last furlong, he overhauled Strauss in the shadows of the post to win by a short neck going away. Park Lane, who was rather pedestrian in the last half-furlong, was two lengths away third. Eskimo Prince, who showed no dash at all in the straight, finished a dismal seventh. Despite his fractiousness in the early part of the journey, the Todman colt simply could not stay.
Despite the eclipse of the hot favourite, Royal Sovereign was accorded a good reception and proved a popular victory for his youthful trainer, John Page, for whom it was his first A.J.C. Derby and the second for the effervescent jockey, Ray Selkrig. Although the colt started at 14/1, there had been good support for him in the betting ring as he had got out to as much as 20/1 in course betting. The official presentation of the Derby prize was made jointly by the Governor-General, Lord De L’Isle, and H.R.H. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Apart from the normal blue riband, a London commercial firm of goldsmiths had donated a British Exhibition Cup as a trophy for the winner. Lord De L’Isle had made previous presentations to jockey Ray Selkrig on the occasion of him winning the 1961 Melbourne Cup on Lord Fury and the City Tattersall’s Club Cup on Travel On and when the diminutive hoop walked out for the presentation was met with a good-natured vice-regal greeting of “Oh, no, not you again!”
Royal Sovereign, an imposing, powerfully-built racehorse, was bred by Reay Pty Ltd of Aberdeen, in the Hunter Valley, and was by the imported English stallion, Chatsworth II, out of Sabah, by Empyrean. Sabah was a high-class mare who was bred and raced by Keith Mackay in those familiar colours of ‘white, tartan sash, black cap’ and trained by the loyal Fred Cush. I think that Cush throughout his fifty-odd years in training always seemed to have at least one horse in his yard that was owned by the Mackay family. Sabah was one of those strikingly beautiful mares – a platinum blonde chestnut with a silver mane and tail – whose slashing looks were matched by an ability to gallop; she first came to notice when landing a confident plunge in the Princess Handicap at Randwick with Bill Cook in the leathers. Sabah was in cracking form in the autumn of 1955 and a week later gave the former A.J.C. committeeman, Keith Mackay, his first classic win when she took out the Adrian Knox Stakes. That particular blood strain had long been in the Mackay family, and Sabah traced back through Diffidence, the 1899 Sydney Cup winner, to the great Etra Weenie, Nellie and Sappho. It was a great bloodline that had continued to flourish down the years. Royal Sovereign was only Sabah’s second living foal, although she later threw that good filly Talahi to Wilkes. I might mention that Sabah’s half-sister, Juani, by Midstream, was the dam of that champion sprinter of the mid-sixties, Nebo Road.
Chatsworth II, the sire of Royal Sovereign, was a bay horse bred in England in 1950; he was a good stayer who could accommodate hard or soft ground, winning seven races and £9,024 including the Manchester Cup (1 ½ miles) on two occasions and the Kempton Park Great Jubilee Handicap. Edgar Britt rode in the Manchester Cup in which Chatsworth II carried 9 st. 7lb. and won in a fast time, and Edgar entertained the highest regards for his ability. A son of the great racehorse Chanteur II, Chatsworth II was out of the mare Netherton Maid who was also the mother of Pirate King and the dam of Hethersett. Imported into New Zealand in 1956 by Sir James Fletcher to stand at his Alton Lodge Stud at Te Kauwhata, Chatsworth II quickly made his mark as a sire. Apart from Royal Sovereign, his best progeny would probably be those good Kiwi mares, Blyton and Chantal, although other daughters such as Clipjoint and Our Fun won good races and later went on to become high-class broodmares. Unfortunately, Chatsworth II died prematurely in the 1962-63 racing season when just twelve, only months before his best son went through the sales ring.
John Page, the successful trainer of Royal Sovereign, was a young man of just thirty-three when he won the Derby, although he boasted a maternal pedigree for the Turf every bit as distinguished as the colt himself. John’s grandfather, Bert Bellingham, had been the stud groom at Kirkham for the Hon. James White in the late nineteenth century before much later becoming a notable trainer at Randwick. Born in Muswellbrook, the son of a railwayman, John’s father had shown little interest in racing although young John spent much of his youth around horses on his grandfather’s property, Lindisfarne, near Roxburgh. Now family traits and traditions do not die, even if they go unexpressed for a generation. John’s father might not have succumbed to life on the Turf, but at the age of fourteen, John knew what he wanted. He left school and began work as a strapper in Bert Bellingham’s Bowral Street stables, two doors away from the T.J. Smith establishment. The stable enjoyed its biggest success a few years later when Mercury won the 1951 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes.