Back to the ‘Deen
By Harley Walden 2000
Featured Image: Courtesy of Harley Walden. (I believe the trainer is ERNIE Cribb. It looks like a very young apprentice Alan Robinson in the background?)
The Aberdeen Jockey Club was founded in 1898; down through the years suffering a number of setbacks, including three floods, the first in 1913, the second in 1955 and the one that finally ended horse racing in Aberdeen was in February 1971.
It’s near on thirty years since the Aberdeen club last unfurled its flag at the pretty Riverside racetrack situated in the bend of the Hunter River at Aberdeen (Jefferson Park). Long gone are the times when the quietude and lethargy gave way to the pounding of hooves and raucous and staccato voices of the men supporting their satchels, those were the good old days, the roarin’ days when the ‘Deen boasted one of the most progressive clubs in Northern NSW.
Although we are in the year 2000, and the past seems a long time ago, a cursory glance through memorabilia will revive memories for the younger of the district whose parents and grandparents were involved when racing was at a pinnacle in “Tiger Town”.
Sportsmen and women, like good horses, go the way of all flesh, but the long list of some familiar names still finds their place in the treasure-trove of local racing history.
The name Fleming will be remembered and Tom Fleming was a doyen among judges, his verdicts still unchallenged. Likewise Tom Gallan, whose deft fingers and clear vision enabled him to carry out the important post of timekeeper. He and his old gelding, Ogo, will be recalled, the old horse must have known every blade of grass on the Aberdeen track, regulars losing count of just how many times the old fellow negotiated the undulating, yet safe surface.
Arthur Hardy in the Secretarial chair giving a hand to welcome all and sundry, Arthur was a prince in the game, many times filling in as judge for the Scone Race Club in its fledgling years.
The name Day is closely related to all aspects of sport in and around Aberdeen, and a stroll through the paddock finds Roy Day, who holds his hands up in racing – just cannot recall the many changes that passed through his hands.
Harry Oakes, whose success with Allunga, Flying Knight and Co., are well known, while Tom O’Brien would have mirrored the days when he had a hand in Aberdonia and Cortuena, both consistent and brilliant gallopers with whom Scott Johnston and “Toss” Gardiner likewise, had a big hand in.
Scott Johnston was always on hand and with him a string of no less than six horses, among them Kinetic, Ruby Queen, Willie Ploma, and that slashing mare Blue Tilly, who had a sequence of six wins (three doubles) at meetings between Armidale and Newcastle, all in the space of eight days.
Frank Whyte, from out Tooloogan way was right in his element, keeping with his consistent support of the club, with his charge Our Voyage, a many times winner on the course.
Sid Whitehead, it was that honest and great old mare, Mater, that made the old gentleman famous, and in her many triumphs Aberdeen supported her to a man. The mare and Ogo were for many years the idols of the local racing fans. Others who frequented the track in those days included Les Haigh of Rogilla history, who received his “leg up” at Aberdeen, like many other successful mentors of the day. Frank Cronan, whose bold galloper Pandora reached grand heights, even to the downing of the mighty Beauford, when the champion was in his heyday.
Albert Hussey and the Sevil boys were regulars and with Jingo Joss and Anne Boleyn carried off more than one well-placed plunge. Then there was the Alford Bros., with Ruby King, Rorie Queen and other lesser lights. Jack Almond, over form Denman, always had a handy one. Bill “Chummy” Gardiner kept the best of them striding at their top with his more than useful gelding, Longmark. Last, but not least, Charlie Fittock, official and owner, Albert Friedman of Wingen and Tom O’Donnell of Scone, Jim Sweeney and Dan Perkins who plied their calling as bookmakers for many years, later their places taken by Ernie Marks, and his second-lieutenant, Arthur Fox.
The Aberdeen Race Club was always blessed with a host of top committeemen, as well as members and supporters. It was he manager of Aberdeen Meatworks, from 1924 to 1954, Lou Davies, who is credited with putting the club back on its feet after the First World War. Not only was he President for many years, but also ran his string of good horses trained by Ernie Cribb.
Such was the strength of the committee, Aberdeen business man Mr. Arthur Taylor served as treasurer for 32 years, later becoming the President.
The club ran meetings, three or four times a year and was able to race through the Depression years because of constant employment at the meat works.
During the early nineteen-forties the Aberdeen club hosted several meetings for the Scone Race Club before local racing settled into White Park. One such meeting was held on November 11, 1944, resulting in Valiant Hero, trained at Scone by Scott Johnston, winning the Scott Memorial Hospital Cup, run over seven furlongs. Another feature of the program was the dual success of Red Kennel in the Maiden and Probationers Handicaps, the gelding prepared at Aberdeen by Jerry O’Brien. The best performance of the fixture, however, went to Jungle King, the brown son of Harinero, landing the Nurses Handicap, over six furlongs, with the steadier of 11 stone (70kgs), which included 42lb (19kg) of dead weight.
Over the years, if there had to be a highlight singled out for mention on the old track, it probably would have occurred on a Saturday in September 1950; a memorable day for Scone apprentice, Ross Snowdon, who rode a double hat trick. The young horseman rode all six winners on the program, four of those for his “master”, Scone trainer, Scott Johnston. (Amanuensis note: Ross is father of champion trainer Peter Snowdon; grandfather of Paul).
It seems ironic that the Aberdeen track should become the scene that almost cost Ross Snowdon his life. It was at this course with its famous “dip” that almost claimed the life of the Scone horseman, when three horses came down in a sensational fall. The year was 1952, and the fall occurred as the field was about to come up out of the “dip”, a furlong and three-quarters form home. For no apparent reason, Snowdon’s mount, Deep End, crossed his front legs and fell heavily. In a flash, Pacobah (N. Bell), and Gay Cup (K. Clement), were over the top of the fallen horse. Clement was unharmed, with Bell suffering a hip injury. The head injuries received by Snowdon were substantial, and left him in a coma for several days. Ross Snowdon lived in Singleton up until his death a couple of years ago’ often recalled the fall and his close brush with death.
The devastation left by the 1955 flood left the track and the amenities in complete ruin, but after a long idleness and with plenty of voluntary labour, racing at Aberdeen resumed on May 2, 1959. With a new President, Mr. Arthur Taylor in the charge, the two Vice-Presidents, Mr. J. P. Fleming, then 89 years of age and Mr. W. R. D. Stephens, 82, said they had not seen a better meeting.
It was Scone trainer Scott Johnston and Merriwa grazier, Mr. G. Hordern, who scooped the pool at the meeting, winning the Aberdeen Cup with Pitlochry, ridden by Scone horseman Martin (Herbie) Eveleigh. Pitlochry’s full brother, Lord Stranraer was successful in the Corinthian Cup for the same connections.
When the Aberdeen Club held its New Year race meeting on Saturday, January 9, 1971, little did they realise that this was to be the final outing on the old track, with the floods that arrived some weeks later laying it to rest for ever.
By all reports the final meeting was well attended with winners coming out of the stable of Wilf (“Wiffo”) Barker, Ron Englebrecht, Reg Fletcher and Roy Hinton. Crown Prince was successful in the Aberdeen Handicap for Scone owner/trainer, Tom Easy. Secret Tom, racing in the colours of Gloria and Stan Wicks won the final event on the old track, the gelding prepared in Scone by Tom Ollerton and ridden by the trainer’s brother, Jim.
Looking back over the history of the Aberdeen Race Club, it is not hard to imagine why those who still remember, speak of the old track, its committees, supporters and competitors with pride, horse racing in days gone by kept communities together, acting as a leisure outlet.
There is no doubt that down through the years the people of Aberdeen who have copped their share of hard knocks had looked to their racing for lift, but sadly though the elements and various other reasons, Aberdeen, like manty other smaller country race clubs have hauled down their “flags”, never to be hoisted again.
Footnote: I attended the final meeting at Aberdeen. I recall the win by Secret Tom; and also that Roy Hinton won with a beautifully bred bay filly/mare by Pipe of Peace (‘Peace Prize’?) which R. F. Moses (Fairways) desperately wanted to buy! He had lost a Pipe of Peace mare of his own ’Peace Offering’.