Biscay

Biscay

By Star Kingdom out of Magic Symbol (by Makapura by Big Game) foaled 1965

Featured Image of BISCAY at Bhima Stud, Scone with groom Peter Gleeson (‘The Star Kingdom Story’ by Peter Pring: ‘The Thoroughbred Press’, Sydney)

It’s a very close contest. I declared for my favourite stallion as Vain with Biscay and Bletchingly very close behind in an extremely tight finish. I’ve asked the judge for a review of the photo finish. He announced a triple dead-heat; for the second time in history.

The story of Biscay’s racing and stud career is remarkable by any standards. Biscay showed exceptional precocious speed in his early races. Trained by Angus Armanasco in Melbourne for owner/breeder S T Wootton he arrived in Sydney to contest the Golden Slipper Stakes in 1968. He was a short priced favourite at prohibitive odds. History proclaims that Scone-bred Royal Parma won the race in style while Biscay ‘compounded’ in the straight to run fourth. He was branded a ‘speedy squib’. This was grossly unfair. What is not generally known is that Stanley Wootton ‘commandeered’ his training regime at Rosehill. He attempted to impose Epsom, England training methods instead of the accepted sprint preparation routine familiar in Australia. Angus Armanasco was livid; but the owner’s rules prevail. How do I know all this? Good friend Hilton Cope was a Sydney apprentice jockey at the time (Vic Thompson). He watched the whole drama unfold.

Biscay later redeemed himself with some sparkling wins as a three year old. He proved himself to the fastest sprinter in the land. Biscay only started eight times in a concatenated racing career. This was the Wootton mantra; ‘you do not push the old boys too hard or too much’ (his words). Biscay went to stud at Baramul as a 4yo in 1969 covering a small book of select mares. Baramul was dispersed at that time and Biscay relocated to Segenhoe Stud (1970) then run by owner Lionel Israel and his son David. A few of the mares I escorted to the USA by ship in 1970 were carrying some of Biscay’s unborn progeny from his first crop. This further diminished his very limited representation in his first ‘get’. Biscay had earlier suffered a traumatic spinal injury at service which affected his sacrum. This meant he did not ‘flag his tail’ on ejaculation. David Israel took exception to this and could remonstrate in a forceful way to Biscay’s ultimate distress. Despite V C Bath’s blustering protestations; ‘I don’t want Ellison’s and Israel’s cast-offs at Bhima’; Murray Bain managed to persuade him ‘to take Biscay for David’s sake’ in 1971. It was a prescient decision.

Biscay remained undisturbed in his latest and final home at Bhima. It was luxury living. He richly deserved it. Zephyr Bay was a product of Biscay’s first foray as a sire at Baramul. Lionel Israel must have liked him because he sent the dam. Zephyr Bay won the VATC Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield in sensational style; he later retired to stud and was an instant success. Another early Biscay racetrack star was Bletchingly. Bred by S T Wootton out of his mare Coogee (USA) by Relic by War Relic Bletchingly ran only five times for four wins and one second placing. I’ll devote a separate encomium to my retirement superannuation provider Bletchingly.

Biscay was a magnificent physical specimen; so serene with temperament to match. He’d inherited his massive hindquarters from his dam Magic Symbol by Makapura by Big Game. Biscay had the ‘longest barrel’ of any stallion I have ever seen. His dam had the same conformation and muscular physical presence. In beef cattle parlance they were almost ‘double muscled’. Her last foaling produced a massive Vibrant (by Vilmorin) filly who later raced as ‘Risca’.

In his later years Biscay suffered very badly from chronic navicular disease. This is a common ailment of horses affecting the navicular bones in the (mainly) fore hooves. He required constant attention from expert blacksmiths including legendary Master Farrier Albert O’Cass. It’s doubtful if medication made any significant difference to the progress and/or pathology of the disease process. The eventful fatal outcome was that Biscay reached the stage where he was unable to rise from his specially prepared sand roll. Lethal injection was the only option. Biscay was 23. With David Bath’s conditional permission I harvested the navicular bones from both of Biscay’s fore hooves. I have them still today. They are remarkable from a scientific point of view with extensive bone ‘erosion’ and cartilage ulceration pathology. Dr Chris Pollitt at the University of Queensland was especially intrigued. Chris is a pioneering global expert on laminitis and hoof diseases in horses. I lent the bones to him for further study. I also secured Biscay’s last set of special shoes. Mounted on a signed wooden plinth by John Flaherty they have been recycled several times at charity auctions between David Bath and me. They are now in the proud possession of Bo Ridock of ‘Kitchwin Hills’.

Biscay’s best sire son Bletchingly suffered the same affliction but to a lesser extent. I followed his progress with vested avid interest also. Old school scientific wisdom has declared navicular disease as a consequence of hard ‘wear and tear’ (concussion) in working life? It would appear both Biscay and Bletchingly contradict this maxim. The former only had eight starts and his coruscating sire son only five. As active sires they achieved more ‘resting’ of fore hooves in the work environment. It begs questions about the inheritability and/or predisposition of navicular disease. I’ll deal with Bletchingly and Kingston Town in another eulogy.